City-owned Tacoma Rail experienced its biggest revenue month ever in July, thanks to the move of a big container-shipping consortium to the Port of Tacoma last month.
Dale King, superintendent of the shortline rail operation, said the railroad moved about 20,000 rail cars last month. That compares with a usual volume of about 12,000 rail cars.
That new business was generated in large part by the move of the Grand Alliance shipping lines from the Port of Seattle to the Port of Tacoma last month.
The Grand Alliance includes four container lines: NYK, OOCL, Hapag-Lloyd and Zim. Those shipping lines now are calling on Tacoma’s Washington United Terminal on the Blair Waterway instead of Seattle’s Terminal 18.
Their cargoes are expected to boost the Port of Tacoma’s container numbers by as much as 25 percent. Much of that cargo moves from Tacoma’s docks to the East and Midwest aboard container trains. Tacoma Rail provides switching services for those trains, moving them from the port terminals to the two mainline railroads, BNSF and Union Pacific.
King said Tacoma Rail hired nine additional workers to handle the increased volume. Three of those nine left after they discovered that much of their work would be done at night, he said. The railroad is in the process of refilling those vacancies.
The move of the four shipping lines, which share capacity in trans-Pacific service, is generating hundreds of new jobs for the Tacoma area. Those jobs include the longshore workers who directly handle the containers, mechanics and technicians who maintain equipment used on the docks, and truck drivers who haul some of the imported containers to local destinations.
The additional cost of hiring more workers means the new volume won’t immediately create new profits for the city-owned rail line, but other new services brought with the Grand Alliance could generate about $500,000 in profits yearly for Tacoma Rail to begin paying for new capital improvements to enhance service to the port, said King.
In addition to the trans-Pacific service, new routes will also serve the Mediterranean and the South Pacific from Tacoma
Volume for the first few days of August is up about 20 percent, said King. Total business may not match the level of July, he said, because that business included one-time repositioning of cars from Seattle, but the volume is expected to increase handsomely nonetheless.
Meanwhile in another sign that import business may be picking up, Tacoma Rail is gradually removing dozens of container rail cars it has been storing on unused tracks in Thurston and Lewis counties. Those cars had been stored there for years after import and export rail movements began falling four years ago. Tacoma Rail had leased space on those lines to the car’s owner, Greenbrier Leasing.
Now Greenbrier is gradually pulling those cars out of storage and shipping them to Portland where they are either being rehabilitated or scrapped, said King.
BNSF spending big on improvements
BNSF Railway will spend $106 million to maintain and improve its 1,020 miles of track in Washington this year, the railroad said Friday.
That work is part of $3.9 billion of work the railroad plans to do nationwide to keep up and enhance its rail network.
BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said that work will include rail resurfacing and tie replacement on the railroad’s mainline through Tacoma. BNSF and Union Pacific, which has trackage rights on the line between Seattle and Portland, operate about 60 trains a day on the route. That includes a few Amtrak passenger trains each way. Among the projects is a new lead track to the Port of Longview.john.gillie@ thenewstribune.com email@example.com 253-597-8663