Cold Train suspends service, blames rail congestion

Dan Wheat

Capital Press

A refrigerated rail service from Washington to the Midwest and East has shut down after four years.

QUINCY, Wash. — Cold Train, a refrigerated rail service from Quincy and Portland to Chicago and points east, has gone out of business, blaming a reduction in services by BNSF Railway.

Cold Train, owned by Rail Logistics of Overland Park, Kan., issued a news release Aug. 7 announcing the service suspension. Curt Morris, a commissioner at the Port of Quincy, said the company is not just suspending service but going out of business. A Cold Train official verified that in response to an email from Capital Press and said service is ending in Quincy and Portland.

The Port of Quincy leased its yard, facilities and rail car loading equipment to Cold Train based on usage. Lease payments averaged $75,000 per month. The port hopes to find a new tenant, Morris said.

A surge of oil and coal shipments on BNSF’s northern line late last fall increased rail congestion and caused the railway to fall from a 90 percent on-time record for Cold Train to 5 percent on-time, according to Cold Train’s news release.

On April 24, BNSF told Cold Train it would reduce intermodal train service from Washington to one train per day, which nearly doubled Cold Train’s rail transit time and caused its costs to double, the news release said.

As a result, Cold Train lost most of its fresh produce business, including apples, onions, pears, potatoes, carrots and cherries, which was more than 70 percent of the company’s business, the news release said. BNSF’s scheduling changes affected many retailers and wholesalers in the Midwest and East Coast that purchase fresh produce and frozen foods from Washington, the news release said.

Most all of the fresh produce business shifted from Cold Train to long-haul trucks in April and Cold Train’s last frozen food shipment left Quincy Aug. 6, Morris said. Incoming product from the East will be handled for another week, he said.

In a July 15 letter to Morris, Charles Pomianek, manager of the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association, said over 4,000 containers of tree fruit, mostly apples, were shipped east on Cold Train in 2013. He wrote that shippers expected to double that with the 2014 crop and that loss of service would put more pressure on trucks that are already in short supply.

A similar letter from Kirk Mayer, manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association, noted Washington ships 97 percent of its apples out of state.

Cold Train began service in April 2010 and grew to about 700 refrigerated containers per month in 2013 from Quincy and Portland, the news release said.

To keep up with growth, Cold Train expanded its Washington-based fleet of refrigerated containers to more than 400 state-of-the-art, 53-foot units that could be temperature controlled in transit and added East Coast destinations.

By late 2013, Cold Train provided service six days a week from Quincy to 24 states and Ontario. It was based on three-day service to and from Chicago. Six-day service caused “millions of dollars in operating losses and millions of dollars in capital investment losses, both of which were simply unsustainable,” the news release said.

“For the past three months, we have worked with BNSF and our customers to accommodate these service changes. Our efforts have been unsuccessful,” the news release said.

In March, Cold Train announced its acquisition by Federated Railways, Farmington Hills, Mich., and said Cold Train’s fleet of refrigerated containers would be expanded to 1,000 in five years. But the sale was never completed, Morris said.

Meanwhile, the port of Quincy is continuing to seek a $16.2 million federal grant to lengthen its spur line and add another one at its yard, Morris said. Losing its tenant doesn’t do anything to help its chances, he said.



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