Fruit express train falls victim to rail congestion

The high volume of coal and crude oil trains between the upper Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest has killed another burgeoning business.

A four-year-old business transporting fresh fruits and and vegetables from the Pacific Northwest to Chicago and beyond by rail has announced it is halting its operations. Cold Train Express blamed its shutdown on rail congestion that has lengthened the journey from three days to six.

The company said that its rail service provider, BNSF, recently told Cold Train it could no longer guarantee three-day delivery to big, Midwestern markets.

The railroad has been struggling of late to provide timely delivery of grain shipments from the upper Midwest to Columbia River and Puget Sound ports for export. Grain growers and dealers had complained that their shipments were running late to the ports because of the growing volume of coal and crude oil trains clogging the rails on the only transcontinental route that crosses the upper part of the U.S. between Illinois and Washington, BNSF’s northern corridor.

BNSF said it is investing hundreds of millions of dollars buying new locomotives, hiring new employees and upgrading track to handle new traffic.

Cold Train had been sending six container trains weekly from its Quincy base of operations to the Midwest, and it had plans to expand when the rail delays diminished its business.

As recently as March, Federated Railways Inc. said it planned to increase its container inventory from 400 to 1,400 over the next five years. Federated announced its intention to buy Cold Train’s owner, Rail Logistics, in March.

Washington growers say they’re now hiring truckers to carry their fruits and vegetables eastward. Truck service, too, has encountered problems because of a shortage of drivers and higher fuel costs than rail transport.