Friday, August 08, 2014

Cold Train cites BNSF congestion, suspends service

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Earlier this year, congestion and trackwork on its Northern Corridor forced BNSF to increase transit times for intermodal shipments between the Pacific Northwest and Chicago, a move which has driven some customers to ship via Union Pacific. Now, a segment of Northwest perishables traffic is looking elsewhere as well.

On Aug. 7, 2014 Cold Train announced it has suspended shipment of doublestacked, containerized fruits, vegetables, and other food products from its terminal in Quincy, Wash. The company blames congestion on the Northern Corridor, along with intermodal service adjustments that BNSF implemented in April. Cold Train says, "BNSF not only reduced expedited intermodal service to only one train a day from Washington State, but the service immediately became about two to three days slower from Seattle/Quincy to Chicago. As a result of BNSF's decision to terminate Cold Train's three-day service and replace it with six-day service, it now takes twice as much equipment, refrigeration fuel, etc., to move the same freight."

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas tells Railway Age, "We were disappointed to hear they were suspending their operation as we had been working with Cold Train for the past few months to provide them with options that would allow them to continue to operate this service. And we will keep working with them or another operator should they wish to provide service to/from Quincy." Indeed, BNSF and Cold Train were on the verge of a major expansion of the Quincy terminal with new arrival and departure tracks that would allow entire intermodal trains to clear the main line while making their pick-up.

Cold Train says it has recently lost more than 70% of its business, most of it being fresh produce shippers who went looking for "other transportation service options." It remains to be seen whether any of Cold Train's customers will truck their products south to the Railex terminal at Wallula, Wash. From there, UP launches a unit train of refrigerated boxcars eastward toward a terminal near Albany, N.Y. Railex currently advertises five-day service Washington-to-New York, averaging one train per week.

"While BNSF continues to see improvements in our network velocity and on-time performance, schedule changes were required to provide more accuracy in transit times," says BNSF's Melonas. "We have seen increased volumes across multiple sectors, particularly on our Northern lines in the past year. This is a case of rapid growth for several commodities, and we are not favoring one commodity over another. Our customers will see improvements in our railroad and have our commitment that we are making the necessary investments to handle all of our customers' business."