By DAN WHEAT
QUINCY, Wash. -- The use of Cold Train -- fast, refrigerated, rail service for produce from Quincy to Chicago and points farther east -- has increased dramatically in the past year.
Availability of trucks is an issue some years but may not be this year since fewer trucks will be needed to haul lighter Midwest and Eastern apple crops, said Charles Pomianek, manager of the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association.
Nonetheless, Washington apple shippers have increasingly turned to Cold Train because it is a fast, efficient and price-competitive service, Pomianek said.
Cold Train, operated by Rail Logistics of Overland Park, Kan., shipped 250 containers a month between Quincy and Chicago (both directions) a year ago. Now it is shipping more than 800 containers and expects to be over 1,000 by January, said Steve Lawson, president of Rail Logistics.
Cold Train provides four-day service from Quincy to Chicago, five-day from Quincy to the Ohio valley and six days to the East Coast, Lawson said.
"We offer service, capacity and competitive rates," Lawson said. "Over a year, our rates are 5 to 10 percent less than truck. We're a capacity player, not spot markets."
Cold Train has 300 refrigerated, 42,500-pound-capacity containers and plans to have more than 1,000 available in the next two to three years, Lawson said.
The company has focused in the past year on expanding operations into Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New England, he said.
"All of our increase in shipments over the past year and new capacity has been in response to increased demand," he said.
In Quincy, Interstate Distributing Co., a local trucking company, picks up and delivers containers. Up to six containers can go on a single Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railcar. The service utilizes the BNSF Seattle-Chicago line.
Columbia Coldstor offers frozen storage next to the Port of Quincy's intermodal center used by Cold Train. The port has 60 acres that can be developed and wants to attract food distributors to locate facilities there, said Curt Morris, a port commissioner.
Railex offers refrigerated boxcar service from the Port of Walla Walla to the East Coast but can require more loading and offloading of goods as boxcars are individually loaded versus Cold Train's lift of containers from trucks to railcars, Pomianek said. But Railex offers good cold storage availability on the East Coast for pears headed from Washington to Brazil, so Railex and Cold Train are somewhat different, he said.
September to November apple shipments via Cold Train exceed 1,000 containers versus 600 to 700 a year ago, Pomianek said.
"It's way ahead of last year and gaining momentum," he said. "It's a smaller carbon footprint, more efficient and less fuel."
The problem with rail has been shipping time but Cold Train has solved that, he said.
Still rail remains a small part of total apple shipments, Pomianek said. Out of 23,000 truck loads of apples shipped out of Washington from September to Nov. 5, the equivalent of 1,500 have gone by rail, he said.