Burlington Exec Meeting
by Matthew Weaver, staff writer
Rail supporters persevere in face of long-haul priorities
COLUMBIA BASIN -- A top Burlington executive will begin meeting with area shippers today, as part of a series of meetings related to local rail line woes.
Last year, Port of Quincy public affairs consultant Pat Boss claimed the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway decided to drop its dedicated refrigerated rail service from central Washington to the Puget Sound, after informing the port that it would begin shipping containers from the intermodal service when commitments were in place to ship 30 containers.
At the time, Burlington spokesperson Gus Melonas said dedicated intermodal service had not been offered to the area market, but the situation was under further review and discussion with management.
Burlington senior vice president Cal Reynolds was scheduled to begin meeting privately with Columbia Basin shippers today and Thursday, following meetings in Seattle Tuesday between steamship lines, the Port of Quincy, the port's intermodal operator Northwest Container Services and Burlington Northern.
Boss said Reynolds and the port will discuss a "doable" arrangement to move containers by rail from Quincy to steamship lines in the Puget Sound in terms of transit time.
"This week the BNSF will be meeting with representatives to further discuss the Port of Quincy issue," Melonas confirmed, declining to comment further.
The goal is to work with Burlington decision makers to come up with a plane to service local shippers of agricultural products like apples, onions and potatoes who need a reasonable transit time to get from the Grant County area to the coast.
"In a nutshell, we're trying to determine, and so is the railroad, I think, what is going to be feasible for perishable shippers in the area," Boss explained. "Is it going to be one day transit time, two days, three days?"
While the cost of shipping by rail is competitive, Boss said, if a shipper has another option in trucks with less transit time, "then it's difficult to attract shippers to a rail service that's going to take three to four days."
Boss is hopeful the meeting will give Burlington executives a feel for the area's needs, and said it was better they hear directly from the shippers themselves.
"The good news is (Reynolds) is coming here personally," Boss said. "We've moved a long ways from October when we were having the big problems. We're to a point now where we're having good dialogue. Having the senior vice president come up to Grant County and the Columbia Basin is a very positive sign. It tells us we're moving the ball forward, getting closer to the goal, which is to get a decent service put into place in Grant County."
Boss said Burlington Northern has made a decision to look at more long-haul rail shipping, from Chicago to Seattle, for example, at the expense of short-haul shipping like Quincy to Seattle.
"It doesn't really help us, it doesn't really help our area," he said. "We're trying to refocus the company and executives on how we can work together on short-haul."
Being in the biggest agriculture county in the state, it's important to have good rail service from Quincy to Seattle and Tacoma, especially with continuing difficulty on passes over the mountains. He said the port and the area continue to move forward on a number of fronts on a long-term focus.
"It's very evident that we continue to have a very precarious situation by having only one mode of transportation," he said, adding that many of the companies looking at expanding into the county also require some sort of rail service. "It's very important from an overall economic development perspective that we continue to push for decent rail service."
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