Grain industry promotes short line rail funding
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Washington grain farmers and shippers are voicing support for short line rail systems to state legislators deciding on transportation funding.
Tom Dooley, lobbyist for a coalition of grain shippers on the CW Line of the Palouse River and Coulee City rail system, and Jim Jesernig, lobbyist for the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, organized a Short Line Rail Day in Olympia March 29.
Former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed budget included $2.6 million per biennium for maintenance and rehabilitation for the next three biennia, Dooley said. Current Gov. Jay Inslee's budget and the state House and Senate budgets are pending.
"We would like to keep that money there, and keep it from getting siphoned off into something else," said Ben Barstow, chairman of the WAWG transportation committee and a Palouse wheat farmer.
The state purchased several short rail lines in the 2000s because it's cost-effective to ship and maintain rail compared to shipping via roads, Barstow said.
Before the state purchased them, they had been allowed to deteriorate, so there's a lot of maintenance to catch up on, he said.
The state purchased the lines in the 2000s intending to bring them up to a "class 2" status, which allows speeds of 25 mph, Dooley said. Portions of the lines have that status, while a significant number of parts have "accepted" status, running at 10 miles per hour or less.
Regional stakeholders would assist the state to prioritize rehabilitation needs.
"The trains have to speed up and slow down," Dooley said. "It's hard on the engine, the operators and the rail line itself. It would be best to get these up to a class 2 status, the faster the better."
The CW line of the system moved a state-owned record last year at 4,700 cars. Under previous owners, the record was 4,800 cars, with an annual average of roughly 2,700 cars, Dooley said.
Dooley expects traffic to continue to increase, particularly with Co-Ag's new 110-car rail loader facility and a McGregor Co. fertilizer facility in Creston, Wash.
The majority of traffic on the system is agriculture, Dooley said.
Barstow hopes to voice support for the growth potential of small rail car loads. He serves on the board of a small grain cooperative that occasionally ships small loads of malt barley or specialty wheat, one to five cars at a time. It's important to maintain small amounts of cars in an economical means, he said.
"If we don't speak up for it, it's not likely to be funded," Barstow said. "That's why it's worth me not getting my spraying done and getting over there to talk to them."