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Rail News: Intermodal

Washington state port signs pact to lease cars in North Dakota; Alabama port authority acquires land to expand container business

The Port of Vancouver USA and North Dakota Department of Agriculture (NDDA) yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for the Washington state port to provide dedicated rail service to move North Dakota agricultural products westward in box cars.

The port will lease blocks of rail cars to NDDA based on customer commitments, designate load centers, manage the cars, coordinate service with BNSF Railway Co. and provide monthly service reports. NDDA will collect product and production data, and communicate with agriculture producers and small to mid-size shippers.

"We're looking at moving the first full rail cars back to Vancouver as early as mid-September," said Port of Vancouver USA Chief Executive Officer Todd Coleman in a press release.
Cargoes such as energy industry supplies already move by rail eastward from the Pacific Northwest to points in the Midcontinent, and the rail cars often head back west empty. The dedicated rail service introduces more control and efficiency into the process by leasing the rail cars, which will be filled with agricultural products for the return trip to Vancouver, port officials said. Bulk ag products are one of the port’s key service areas and grain is its top export by weight.

The dedicated rail service essentially fills the gap between railroads’ capabilities and farmers’ growing needs for product movements, said Coleman. The port is working with BNSF to provide the service and plans to eventually expand it to unit trains if demand grows.

Meanwhile, the Alabama State Port Authority on Monday finalized the $25 million purchase of two industrial properties from Walter Energy Inc. that will help the authority expand container business in Mobile.

The transaction includes a 35.3-acre riverfront tract and 63-acre industrial tract at the Port of Mobile. The riverfront tract will support much-needed expansion land for the port's rapidly growing container terminal, while the industrial tract will provide additional acreage to support warehousing, distribution and light manufacturing applications, said James Lyons, the authority's chief executive officer, in a press release.

The authority and Walter Energy also agreed to extend their coal-handling agreement and amend terms to require certain improvements at the port's coal terminal to accommodate future export production at Walter Energy’s Alabama coal mines. The authority owns and operates the state’s port facilities, which have access to five Class Is and two interstates.

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More News from 8/28/2014