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Rail Supporters Voice Freight Concerns

by Matthew Weaver, Staff Writer
Columbia Basin Herald, April 28, 2006

Equipment availability pushes intermodal start-up to June

WENATCHEE -- Area residents turned out in force to voice their support for several Columbia Basin freight projects.

The Washington State Apple Commission played host Thursday morning to the Central Washington Regional Freight Summit, in which several area players offered their perspectives on freight issues in the central part of the state.

Washington State Transportation Commission member Elmira Forner told the audience that the meeting was to gather feedback for the state's 20-year transportation plan, presently being prepared to determine long-range investment priorities. The nine key issues the commission is focusing upon include freight, health and environment, bottlenecks, efficiency and jobs.

The 20-year plan is almost completed, Forner said, but the next step is for the commission to prepare a 10-year investment plan and determine what is top priority. The meeting's purpose was to clarify and solidify the issues identified as most important to freight viability for the plan.

Sen. Joyce Mulliken, R-Moses Lake, offered her views as one of several legislators at the meeting, while Columbia Colstor regional manager Russ Lytle, Port of Quincy public affairs consultant Pat Boss and Northwest Container Services vice president Art Scheunemann were among the regional carriers and shippers who made presentations during the three-hour-long summit meeting explaining their needs and priorities.

Mulliken stressed the importance of completing construction on Interstate 90 at Snoqualmie Pass to agricultural communities after avalanches closed or reduced the pass' traffic capabilities in November. "We can't afford any more unnecessary closures," she said.

In the constitutional definition of highway system, which includes roads, bridges and ferry systems that carry human passengers, Mulliken said, rail is not funded by or protected by gas taxes, but rather out of weight, vehicle fees and sales on used car taxes.

"You have a three-way partnership -- we have the DOT, that is the public, that is us, that is taxpayers, that's who we all work for," Mulliken said. "We also have the people who own the rail lines and different companies do that, and they're in the business of making a profit. We also have the shippers who need it. If one of those entities doesn't work, the other two can't."

Lytle shared Columbia Colstor's plans for its new facility, presently under construction at the Port of Quincy.

"The goal for us as a storage company and trans-load company is to gather this produce and fruit at our facilities that's coming out of this area that's exporting; do combination loads, bringing smaller shippers together where you can't fill one rail car or one container," Lytle said. "All these containers come in loaded, two-thirds of them go back (to the ports of Seattle and Tacoma) empty."

The company wants to capture the containers, take them to Quincy, dispatch them through the intermodal yard at the Port of Quincy, fill them with local product and send them back on the trains to Seattle and Tacoma.

"What you're seeing today with the rural traffic won't increase any," Lytle said. "We're already doing that. What you will see is all the highway traffic go away. The Interstate 90 corridor will get opened up, the I-5 corridor ..."

Short-term priorities at the Port of Quincy include the start of shipping containers by rail this spring to the Port of Seattle, and working with the state's Department of Transportation on the produce railcar program that will provide more refrigerated railcars to shippers, Boss said. Long-term, the port would like to see the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe rail line double-tracked from Seattle to Spokane, and widening of Highway 28 from Quincy to Wenatchee.

"We have concerns about regional infrastructure, we have concerns about whether or not trains are actually going to stop in Washington," Scheunemann said, echoing comments made by Boss earlier about long-haul freight being given higher priority than short-haul by the main lines, which are already operating at capacity. "What about the stuff that stays here?"

Another concern is that import containers will eventually have to be moved inland to support facilities.

"Part of the Quincy business model is finding others like the Yahoo!s and the Microsofts, but those that support the import retail traffic," Scheunemann said. "We think there needs to be land-use policy that the state embraces that directs and moves that cargo to those types of facilities. You don't need 1,000 of them, you only need two or three strategically placed, and we have perfect strategic locations -- Quincy, Pasco."

Scheunemann and Lytle said such facilities would cut the cost of transportation in half, because containers shipped inland would be unloaded at such facilities and reloaded with central Washington products and returned to the western side of the states for export, rather than coming in empty and leaving full, or vice versa.

Scheunemann called the intermodal system at the Port of Quincy, where Northwest Containers is operator, his company "next big step," and said they are very close to start-up. Scheunemann would not give an actual start-up date, explaining that equipment availability issues have pushed the launch back from the spring, but customers are lined up to use the facility. Scheunemann said the beginning date would probably take place in June.


QUINCY -- The Washington State Transportation Commission is adding a Regional Listening Session in Central Washington for the Rail Capacity and System Needs Study. The meeting will address the same key questions as meetings in Vancouver, Puget Sound, Spokane and the Tri-Cities:

What are the most important rail issues and challenges in the state right now?

What are the state's major strategic opportunities regarding the rail system?

The most important thing the state could do for the rail system is?

Join the WSTC in Central Washington for a session sponsored by Grant County Economic Development Council, Port of Quincy and the Central Washington Alliance for Freight Transport Monday from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Quincy City Hall, 104 B St. SW.

Matthew Weaver, Staff Writer
Rail Supporters Voice Freight Concerns
Columbia Basin Herald, April 28, 2006

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