Quincy, WA, April 25, 2010 --(PR.com
)-- On-track for two weeks, a new shipping option for Central Washington’s fruit and produce already has national grocery retailers testing a multi-million-dollar, door-to-door rail service that guarantees quick arrival of this area’s perishable and frozen foods to Midwest outlets.
Cold Train Intermodal, a company using high-tech refrigerated rail cars, has the capacity to ship hundreds of tons of fresh produce daily while reducing costs, saving energy and — most trips — shaving time off the same 1,600-mile route made by truck, company officials said last week. Expected transport time: four days.
“We’re set up to deliver Columbia Basin products to five states and more than 60 million people in the Midwest,” said Steven Lawson, a Cold Train vice-president and engineer. “Major players, major retailers are interested.”
Cold Train is a sister company of Kansas-based Rail Logistics, a company offering rail shipping services to a wide variety of industries across North America.
Lawson said his company’s four east-bound shipments in the service’s first 10 days contained test cargo by national and regional grocery chains curious about potential time and cost savings. “We’re not saying (retailers’) names yet,” he said. “But the business is there.”
The new rail service, called the PNW-Chicagoland Express, uses the Port of Quincy’s Intermodal Terminal as its regional hub. Key partners also include Columbia Colstor, the Moses Lake-based refrigerated warehousing company, and Interstate Distributor Co., the Tacoma-based trucking company that provides specialized trailers to haul the refrigerated containers to and from regional growers. Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railway hauls the loaded container cars to Chicago.
Potential customers include fruit and produce growers from Oroville to Yakima, said port spokesman Patrick Boss, “or just about anyone in the region who needs fast, refrigerated shipping to the Midwest.”
Planning for the eastbound rail service began more than 18 months ago when another rail project connecting Quincy to Seattle fizzled, said Boss. Crowded train schedules and tracks meant deliveries to the Puget Sound sometimes took three days and offered little in time or cost savings, he said.
“But trains headed east? Interest grew quickly,” Boss said. With upward of 12 million boxes of fruit shipped annually to the Midwest from Central Washington, “this kind of fast, economical delivery just makes sense,” he said.
Boss said rail service advantages include:
• Reduced handling: Local growers load the refrigerated containers at their own facilities. The cargo isn’t touched again until it’s unloaded in Chicago.
• Reduced damage: Less handling provides fewer opportunities for bruising fruit or scarring produce.
• Reduced costs: When compared to cross-country truck transport, Cold Train saves an estimated 5 to 15 percent, depending on the cargo.
• Reduced eco-impact: Estimates show a reduced carbon footprint of 50 percent or more when shipping larger amounts of cargo long distances by rail.
• Reduced travel time: This isn’t an exact science, admitted Boss. But the Cold Train transport time between Quincy and Chicago is estimated to be between 3.5 to 4.5 days, which either equals or betters highway delivery times. Most trips will take four days.
• Increased highway safety: More rail traffic means less highway truck traffic.
“It seems like we’re going head-to-head with the trucking industry, but we don’t really see it that way,” said Boss. “We may be cutting the number of (truck) long-haul miles, but we’re increasing the number of short hauls. We get the fruit and produce to this spot, this terminal, by truck.”
The task at hand now is twofold, said Boss.
First, we need to show local growers and shippers that this is a viable shipping option that can speed their products to market. “This aspect goes well,” he said. “We get more inquiries every day.”
And, secondly, Cold Train, Columbia Colstor and the Port and other partners in the Midwest are looking at options to fill those refrigerated containers with return-trip cargo — frozen meat, chicken or seafood, etc. — that could be sold regionally or shipped on to Asian markets.
“Ideally, we’ll be providing this service in both directions,” said Boss. “Our fruit and vegetables go east. Meat, chicken and fish come west.”