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Rail News Home BNSF Railway

August 2014

Rail News: BNSF Railway

New Denver-area facility a 'Big Lift' to BNSF's automotive business

By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor

For BNSF Railway Co., bigger is better — especially when it comes to automotive facilities. On June 1, the Class I opened a new auto facility in Littleton, Colo., near Denver that features three times the acreage, twice the trackage and significantly more parking spaces than the Irondale, Colo., facility it replaced.

The Big Lift facility — named after a former Santa Fe Railway intermodal terminal in Denver — features 2,200 parking spaces and 12,000 feet of track, and can accommodate the unloading of 65 rail cars from an automotive unit train each day. About 28 to 35 cars could be unloaded daily at the Irondale facility, which housed 1,474 parking spots.

Big Lift features directional LED lighting systems that shine upward to prevent light "bleed out" from the auto facility.
Photo: BNSF Railway Co.

The Class I needed the larger facility because Denver’s population continues to grow and Irondale ran out of room to keep up with vehicle demand, says BNSF Director of Automotive Facilities Dan Meyers.

“We had studied Irondale and determined we couldn’t make it work long term,” he says.

BNSF began planning Big Lift in 2012, when space at the Irondale facility maxed out, says Meyers. BNSF purchased 57 acres in Littleton, acquiring the property through a swap with transloading service provider Savage Cos., which relocated its operations to the Irondale facility.

The railroad also acquired an additional 35 acres adjacent to the site, 15 of which were used to accommodate the project, says Meyers. The extra land is projected to house an additional 4,000 parking spaces at some point.

Big Lift can handle 130,000 vehicles annually and is designed to process up to 300,000 vehicles per year if expanded. The Class I relies on the Denver-area facility to serve nearby dealerships as well as customers as far west as Salt Lake City, as far north as Cheyenne and other parts of Wyoming, and as far south as Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M.

“The facility will help us grow the customer base into Denver,” says BNSF Assistant Vice President of Automotive Dave Fleenor.

BNSF coordinates unloading operations at Big Lift with contractor American Auto Works, which helps the railroad provide 24-hour, dedicated switching services and a faster turnaround for carriers delivering vehicles to nearby dealerships. Dedicated switching and on-time deliveries are key to helping boost rail-car velocity at the new facility, says Meyers. In addition, Big Lift features 61 unloading spots — more than double Irondale’s total — to help reduce dwell time.

“Now, we can provide better service, and better access to highways with less congestion,” says Fleenor.

Big Lift is BNSF’s first automotive facility to fully employ directional light-emitting diode (LED) lighting. The system features LED fixtures on 40-foot poles that shine upward to prevent light “bleed out” from the site that could be annoying to local residents, says Meyers. In addition, the lighting helps reduce energy costs.

The automotive facility can process 130,000 vehicles annually.
Photo: BNSF Railway Co.

Big Lift’s directional LED lighting will serve as a template for future automotive facilities, says Meyers. And there’s more work planned for the auto network: The Class I is in the midst of spending about $200 million from 2012 through 2015 to boost capacity and improve facilities, says Fleenor, adding that capacity has been added at virtually every ramp.

Next month, the railroad plans to open a new auto facility at Argentine Yard in Kansas City, Kan., that will provide more space for growth and help increase velocity, he says. Space at the yard became available for redevelopment after BNSF relocated its intermodal facility to Logistics Park Kansas City in Edgerton, Kan., late last year.


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