Coalition Seeks Funds to Study
by Matthew Weaver
A coalition of legislators and city officials hopes to raise funding to study
improvements needed for a reconfigured rail interchange in Connell, Wash.
State legislators and city administrators hope to obtain federal funding to improve a railroad interchange at Connell, Wash., that would resolve a bottleneck in moving agricultural commodities.
Officials want to reconfigure the Connell Rail Interchange to accommodate more traffic from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and the Columbia Basin Railroad.
The Columbia Basin Railroad line intersects at the interchange with BNSF's Lakeside Subdivision line, which links Spokane and Pasco, Wash.
The interchange was built roughly 100 years ago.
"The configuration is outdated and inefficient, and it needs to be upgraded," said Jed Crowther, Connell city administrator.
As currently proposed, the interchange would be moved south to an industrial zone, away from vehicle and pedestrian crossings, Crowther said. The changes would end a "pinch point," he said, increasing efficiency and allowing timely delivery of products moving through the region. About $2 billion in agricultural products are shipped by rail through the region, he said.
Rail lines from the interchange serve Moses Lake, Wheeler, Schrag, Warden, Bruce, Othello and Connell. Crowther said the Columbia Basin Railroad hauls more than 10,000 rail cars annually carrying agricultural commodities and industrial freight.
"As (Burlington Northern) increases its capacity, it doesn't do any good to have a bottleneck," said Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg. "Connell will be a bottleneck if we don't fix it."
The current configuration of the interchange allows longer trains to enter Connell only from the south, said Pat Boss, public affairs consultant for Columbia Basin Railroad. Most of the trains entering Connell come from the north, and must go south roughly 35 miles to Pasco to turn around and return to Connell.
"If we can configure it correctly, the trains that are coming from Spokane could directly access the Connell interchange and not have to go all the way down to Pasco and turn around again," Boss said.
Stakeholders formed the Connell Rail Interchange Coalition in December. Connell city council members on Jan. 5 directed staff to prepare a state Community Economic Revitalization Board planning grant application to determine the cost of the improvements.
The coalition also wants to work with other communities whose interchanges have similar issues to apply for federal grant money, Manweller said.
"We've got a 21st-century economy running on 1920s train lines," Manweller said. "Something's gotta give here."
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