Intermodal Rail Service Schedules Slow in Washington State to Allow for More Coal and Oil Shipments

BNSF Railway Marketing News - April 24, 2014

Seattle, Washington – On April 24, 2014, BNSF Railway abruptly sent out an announcement to customers indicating that it would be reducing intermodal train service from Washington State, effective immediately on Monday, April 28.

The sudden announcement (above) caught intermodal customers by surprise as BNSF not only reduced expedited intermodal service to only one train a day from Washington State but the service immediately became about 2 days slower from Seattle to Chicago.

Unfortunately, the sudden decrease in intermodal rail service by BNSF Railway has left many Washington State shippers (of imported goods, food, agricultural products, dry goods, consumer goods, etc.) scrambling to find other transportation options to ship cargo eastbound from Washington State.

As a result, many Washington State intermodal shippers are now in the precarious situation of having to try to secure more long-haul trucks, which have also been in declining supply as many long-haul truck drivers have been retiring due to demographics as well as new hours of service regulations.

The sudden new need for long-haul trucks will likely leave many Washington State shippers at a competitive disadvantage and create supply chain problems in getting Washington State products to eastern US markets.

According to various industry experts, it is increasingly evident that the Northern Corridor Line is being systematically transitioned to a rail line that will primarily haul coal and oil from the Northern Plains region to ports in western Washington. Many believe that the drastic rise in oil and coal shipments on the Northern Corridor rail line is quickly choking off many other shipments of other types of cargo on that line.

In fact, at a recent energy-trade conference in Seattle it was projected that Asian demand for energy could pull about 100 million export tons of coal annually through terminals in the Northwest and western Canada, indicated Mark Thurber, an expert on energy economics. “If you look at the three coal ports still under consideration in Oregon and Washington, the total amount that is being projected is a bit more than 100 million tons a year, he said. …within a few years you could be exporting these amounts.”