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<< Rail News Home: Mechanical

12/3/2004    Freight News

Rail News: Mechanical

Washington DOT obtains federal funds to maintain refrigerated car supply for perishable product shippers

Last month, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) received $1 million from the 2005 federal omnibus appropriations bill to fund a statewide "Produce Rail-Car Program."

In 2001, the Washington State Potato Commission and Washington Potato & Onion Association proposed the program because rail-car shortages were becoming an annual problem for perishable product shippers. At the time, commission and association representatives met with Burlington Northern Santa Fe officials to try to resolve the issue.

Last year, Washington passed a produce rail-car law, which authorizes WSDOT to establish and fund a program aimed at renovating or purchasing refrigerated cars. The department would strategically place cars in agricultural areas to provide a more consistent car supply to perishable and frozen commodity shippers. However, the law did not provide WSDOT funds to refurbish rail cars offered by BNSF and Union Pacific Railroad.

BNSF's perishable and frozen product traffic has reached record highs, causing a tight car supply during peak potato and onion harvests. In addition, trucking company bankruptcies and driver shortages, as well as barge capacity constraints on the Columbia River, are limiting transportation options in the state, according to a prepared statement.

In May, all nine Washington members of the House sent a letter to the chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads expressing strong support for a one-time federal appropriation to fund the rail-car program.

"This is truly a victory … for growers of perishable crops who are frustrated trying to get their crops to markets," said Pat Boss, executive director of the potato commission.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.