On Aug. 7, Cold Train Express Intermodal Service announced it would be suspending service at its location at the Port of Quincy, WA. Cold Train, operated by Rail Logistics of Overland Park, KS, developed a transportation model which allowed fresh producers in the Pacific Northwest to take advantage of refrigerated rail service that moved commodities to Chicago, IL, and points beyond in a timely and efficient manner.
The port provided the physical facility, rail track, rail siding and loading equipment. Cold Train owned the containers and worked with producers to load and deliver commodities to the port.
The facility includes one million square feet of cold storage warehousing providing perishable and produce shippers with distribution, cross-dock and storage capacity in and out of Washington. Cold Train had an established track record moving fresh commodities such as apples, potatoes and onions.
Cole Jessup, who handles domestic sales at Columbia Marketing International in Wenatchee, WA, provided some producer insights to The Produce News on Aug. 8, hours after the announcement was made.
“One minute, we have things up and running. The next minute we don’t. It really puts us in a bind just because transportation has been such a big issue over the years,” he stated. “Cold Train was a fantastic service. We just got the news yesterday afternoon. We are looking at a big crop for pears and apples and need all the transportation options available.”
According to data made available by Cold Train, use of intermodal transportation was growing from the Pacific Northwest. During 2010, Cold Train moved approximately 100 containers of perishables per month from Washington to the Midwest. By 2013, that number had risen to approximately 700 containers per month shipped from Washington and Portland, OR.
By the end of 2013, Cold Train anticipated it would be shipping 1,000 containers each month from the region.
Jessup said Cold Train made significant infrastructure investments at the Port of Quincy, and the service was invaluable to CMI. “Getting fruit to the market has been a chore, especially in the winter,” he continued, adding the trucking industry continues to suffer from a lack of available trucks and drivers.
CMI, he went on to say, is watching developments closely to see what action Cold Train may be able to take to restore service in the future. Jessup said CMI will continue to use Railex service to move fruit.
“The announcement by Cold Train follows a number of scheduling issues on BNSF Railway’s Northern Corridor line that have been occurring with BNSF beginning late last fall because of increased rail congestion as result of a surge of oil and coal shipments on the Northern Corridor line,” Cold Train said in a statement. “In fact, from November of 2013 to April of 2014, BNSF’s On-Time Percentage dramatically dropped from an average of over 90 percent to less than 5 percent.”
This past April, BSNF Railway announced an initial reduction in intermodal service out of Washington to one train a day with transit times being two to three days slower than prior timetables.
“As a result of the scheduling change in April, the rail transit time nearly doubled,” Cold Train stated. “Unfortunately, this caused Cold Train’s costs of equipment, fuel and other costs to double, and caused many customers — especially fresh produce shippers — to look for other transportation service options. In fact, because of BNSF’s scheduling issues from November of 2013 until present, Cold Train lost most of its fresh produce business, including apples, onions, pears, potatoes, carrots and cherries, which was more than 70 percent of the company’s business. In addition to adversely impacting many Washington State fresh produce growers and shippers, BNSF’s scheduling changes have affected many retailers and wholesalers in the Midwest and East Coast that purchase Washington State fresh produce and frozen foods.”