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Rail News Home Short Lines & Regionals

December 2007

Rail News: Short Lines & Regionals

Columbia Basin line on comeback trail

From an economic drain to a business community gain for Clark County, Wash. That’s the thinking behind the Columbia Basin Railroad Co.’s ongoing revival of a 33-mile line between the Port of Vancouver and Chelatchie, Wash.

Since it obtained a 90-year lease from the county to operate the line in February 2004, Columbia Basin has been upgrading track and developing a customer base. Now, the line that handled 69 rail cars in 2004 is projected to handle about 1,000 cars in 2007 and more than 3,000 cars in 2008.

“The line was in bad shape and had no freight base,” says Eric Temple, president of the Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad (PVJR), which Columbia Basin is forming as a spin off to operate the line. “We took a railroad that everyone wanted out of the ground and grew it. The key is a public-private partnership.”

The Washington State Department of Transportation provided the county $300,000 in the last state budget to help fund track improvements. The current state budget calls for the county to receive $1.1 million to help refurbish the line, which dates back to 1887. The line still has 56- and 76-pound rail, and “old ties in mud,” says Temple.

“In our dream of dreams, we’d like to get the line to Class II [standard], but that would take $20 million,” he says. “We’ve applied for a RRIF loan, but how do you pay it back?”

But track upgrades alone won’t spur business. BNSF Railway Co. has had difficulty maintaining velocity on its mainline to ports in Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore. PVJR can use that situation to its marketing advantage, says Temple.

“Getting shippers off their mainline and onto our railroad is the goal,” he says.

In addition, Clark County officials are trying to rezone 1,400 acres from agricultural to industrial to entice the development of an industrial park, which would be located on PVJR’s line.

“It could mean over 10,000 cars to us in five or six years,” says Temple.

Land development also poses traffic-growth potential for Columbia Basin, which operates an 84-mile line between Connell and Moses Lake, Wash. The Moses Lake area offers large tracts of land and inexpensive utilities, which is helping to attract major facilities, such as those recently built by Microsoft and Yahoo, says Brig Temple, Eric Temple’s brother and president of the Columbia Basin Railroad.

“Moses Lake has thousands of acres with cheap power and water,” he says. “We could go from 8,500 carloads to 10,000 or 12,000 in five years.”

— Jeff Stagl

Breaking out the hardware
Three short lines win BNSF awards; one earns Chrysler honor

BNSF Railway Co. presented its annual Short-Line Achievement Awards to three railroads last month.
The winners were the Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad (which is owned by The Watco Cos. Inc.), Otter Tail Valley Railroad (owned by RailAmerica Inc.) and Portland & Western Railroad (owned by Genesee & Wyoming Inc.).

“These awards recognize the resourcefulness and achievements of three short lines that have gone beyond our expectations through innovation, determination and hard work to build new business for our railroads and new service products for our shared customers,” said BNSF Vice President of Network Development Pete Rickershauser in a prepared statement.

BNSF interchanges with 200 short lines, regionals and switching carriers. Through August, BNSF shipments that originated or terminated on short lines accounted for about 18.5 percent of the Class I’s 2007 revenue.

Meanwhile, the Ann Arbor Railroad picked up some hardware from a shipper. The 54-mile short line received Chrysler Corp.’s Gold Award for superior supplier performance.

Three times running
Ann Arbor is the only railroad to receive the honor for high quality management standards, total customer satisfaction and superior service for three consecutive years.

The Association of American Railroads and Railinc recently conducted origin and destination quality reviews at the Ann Arbor Railroad’s multi-level loading and unloading facilities.

The loading facility obtained a 98 percent score and unloading facility, a 99 percent mark.

The Ann Arbor Railroad operates a line between Ann Arbor, Mich., and Toledo, Ohio. The short line interchanges with Canadian National Railway Co., CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway.


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