VANCOUVER, Wash. — Railcars dispatched from the Port of Vancouver with supplies for North Dakota’s energy fields will return with farm commodities, according to an agreement between the port and North Dakota agriculture officials.
Right now, some of those railcars rumble back to the West empty. Meanwhile, North Dakota farmers and shippers are struggling to move food to Asia and Latin America, the state’s agriculture commissioner, Doug Goerhring, said Thursday.
“Everybody is experiencing problems with rail service,” he said. “It’s crucial we find modes of transportation.”
Goerhring and Port CEO Todd Coleman signed the agreement Wednesday in Fargo, N.D.
The port will supply the railcars, put the commodities on ships and coordinate rail service with Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
North Dakota officials will publicize the service among the state’s farmers and shippers.
Goehring said he hoped the shipments of soybeans, peas, lentils, dry beans and other commodities will start arriving as early as mid-September.
The idea originated with the Columbia River port, a daily launching point for railcars carrying supplies such as steel pipes and bauxite for North Dakota’s coal, oil and gas fields.
The port approached North Dakota officials about filling those railcars for the return journey more than a year ago.
The port is already a leading West Coast handler of bulk commodities. Some 16 percent of the wheat grown in the U.S. flows through Vancouver, according to port officials.
The port will obtain and control a supply of railcars by leasing them for $625 each per month. Initially, the port will lease 50 railcars. Port commissioners have authorized leasing up to 180 railcars.
The port’s return on its investment will depend on interest shown by North Dakota farmers and shippers.
Port spokeswoman Abbi Russell said the port expects to at least break even, but does not have revenue projections.
The agreement calls on the port to make upgrades to its handling facilities if necessary. No improvements are planned for now, Russell said.
The port began a $275 million project in 2007 to improve rail access to the port. The port expects to complete the project in 2017.