A new contract between the Pacific Northwest’s busiest railroad, BNSF, and Tacoma’s home-grown Tideflats shortline railroad, Tacoma Rail, could give the Port of Tacoma an additional competitive edge over rival ports.
Dale King, Tacoma Rail’s superintendent, said the new maintenance and fueling contract for BNSF locomotives could shave one to three hours from the turnaround time for trains leaving the port headed for the Midwest.
Under the new contract, Tacoma Rail is refueling, doing minor maintenance and stocking the locomotives with supplies to allow them to get back on their transcontinental runs more quickly.
Tacoma Rail has provided similar services for the region’s second-largest railroad, Union Pacific, for several years.
Before last month, BNSF locomotives that hauled unit trains of oil, autos and containers to the port were disconnected from the trains they powered and sent across the Puyallup River for servicing at a BNSF facility.
That servicing is now being done by Tacoma Rail in its Tideflats yard.
Tacoma Rail services about 60 locomotives a day, and the number could rise to 90 as traffic at the port increases.
The close proximity of Tacoma Rail’s maintenance area to port terminals makes it easier to cut the turnaround time for the locomotives.
Tacoma Rail is hiring three employees to handle the locomotive servicing work, said King.
No BNSF employees who formerly handled that work will lose their jobs, said King. Some, however, are being transferred to a maintenance facility in Seattle.
King said the new contract is the latest bit of good news for Tacoma Rail. The arrival of the Grand Alliance shipping consortium in Tacoma from Seattle three years ago has bolstered the port’s and Tacoma Rail’s volume.
The municipally owned railroad also is embarking on several track improvement projects to better serve growing Tideflats industries.