Two OmniTRAX short lines, two Class Is move longest wind turbine blades in U.S.

The year-in-the-making, complicated rail move involved transporting 12 264-foot-long wind turbine blades from Windsor, Colorado, to Brownsville, Texas. OmniTRAX Inc.

By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor 

Danish company Vestas is a wind turbine manufacturer with operations all over the world. Its Vestas Blades America Inc. subsidiary has spent more than $1 billion to establish several manufacturing facilities in Colorado. 

One of those plants is located in Windsor in Broe Real Estate Group’s Great Western Industrial Park. Last year, the facility began producing a new wind turbine blade, the V163-4.5 MW™, that’s designed for the North American renewable energy market but is garnering orders globally, as well. 

The V163-4.5 MW blade is very long, stretching 80.5 meters or 264 feet. To deliver the blades to customers overseas, Vestas Blades America needs to rail them to a port since trucking the lengthy cargo over highways poses too many clearance and logistical problems. 

That’s where Broe Real Estate Group subsidiary OmniTRAX Inc. comes in. The short-line holding company has served Vestas Blades America’s rail needs in Windsor since 2008.  

OmniTRAX recently arranged and played a key part in the first rail move of V163-4.5 MW blades — which ultimately became the longest wind turbine blades transported by rail in the United States. 

OmniTRAX’s Great Western Railway of Colorado LLC (GWR) and Brownsville & Rio Grande International Railway LLC (BRG) teamed up with BNSF Railway Co. and Union Pacific Railroad to move 12 of the V163-4.5 MW blades from Vestas’ Windsor plant to the Port of Brownsville in southern Texas.  

Vestas The move was carried out by BNSF Railway Co., Union Pacific Railroad and two OmniTRAX short lines: the Great Western and Brownsville & Rio Grande railways. OmniTRAX Inc.

The 1,650-rail-mile move began on Feb. 21 and took seven days to complete. In northern Colorado, GWR interchanged with BNSF, which moved the blades to Texas. BNSF then  handed the train off to UP, which interchanged with the BRG in Olmito, Texas. The short line completed the move to the port. 

The unique shipment was a “pitch and catch” for OmniTRAX, with the GWR providing service on the front end and the BRG handling the back-end transport to the port, says OmniTRAX Chief Commercial Officer Ryan Higgins. 

“It means we handled it twice for the customer,” he says. 

The move required 36 modified 89-foot flat cars and lots of load securement equipment. 

During his nearly three years with OmniTRAX and 14 years with CSX, Higgins has witnessed a steady lengthening of wind-turbine blades. 

“They have gone from 5 meters to 80 meters,” he says. 

So, what was the biggest challenge in moving the unusually long blades? 

“Doing something that had never been done before,” says Higgins. 

To pull it off, planning the move was critical, he adds. All the parties involved spent about a year devising the customized rail service. They needed to ensure all clearance requirements were met and the entire route was clear. One signal mast needed to be relocated to accommodate the move. 

Vestas The unique rail move involved 36 modified 89-foot flat cars and a lot of load securement equipment. OmniTRAX Inc.

The good news is all the planning paid off: The blades made it to the port without a hitch. 

“The move went very well,” says Higgins. 

Now, OmniTRAX is working with Vestas on future rail moves of the V163-4.5 MW blades. They won’t always head to the Port of Brownsville for overseas orders — that will depend on the orders that come in, Higgins says. 

While the initial pilot move involved a partial 36-car train to transport 12 V163-4.5 MW blades, future shipments will require more cars to transport more blades. 

“We hope to get to 72-car trains with 24 blades,” says Higgins. 

OmniTRAX’s long-term business relationship with Vestas in Windsor continues to be quite mutually beneficial. 

“As they have grown, so have we,” says Higgins.