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Washington a good partner with the railroads

By Charles H. Featherstone

Herald of the Columbia Basin

OLYMPIA — Washington has been very proactive in addressing infrastructure issues and getting people and goods moving across the state, according to French Thompson, general manager of public and private infrastructure development for Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Railroad.

“We’re looking to Washington, you’ve done such a great job of not sitting down,” Thompson said during an online roundtable on keeping cargo flowing across the state on Tuesday, hosted by the Washington Council on International Trade. “They are making investments on their own to tackle the projects that need to be built.”

Thompson, who spoke with Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett and Washington State Transportation Secretary Roger Millar during the 90-minute discussion, said while the BNSF Railroad is working with the states in its coverage area, as well as the federal government To secure the necessary funding for improved lanes, bridges and tunnels, Washington lawmakers and officials are doing a better job than most of anticipating the future needs of the state.

“Getting ahead of projects before failure, and what are the next five to 10-year projects needed, and then leveraging federal funding to get there,” Thompson said.

“In our state, we do a better job of moving forward rather than waiting for failure,” Liias added. “We try to stay one step ahead.”

With approximately 32,500 miles of track across 28 states, the BNSF is one of the largest freight railroads in North America. The BNSF operates the freight line from Spokane to Bellingham which winds through Ephrata and Quincy.

Millar said the biggest challenge facing freight supply chains is not building new infrastructure, or even repairing or replacing older infrastructure, but connecting current management systems and get them to talk to each other in order to improve the current system.

According to Millar, the past two years of COVID-19 have strained U.S. and global supply chains, and the various tracking systems used by shipping carriers, port operators, trucking companies, owners of warehouses and the railways must be able to talk to each other. better for shippers to know where their goods are.

“The company that owns the boat knows where the containers are, but they can’t share that information,” Millar said. “This inefficiency is costing us time and money, and should have been resolved years ago.”

Thompson agreed and noted the current inefficiencies of port operations — most ports don’t operate 24 hours a day — while locomotives pull mile-long unit trains every hour of the day.

“BNSF is a 24/7 business, but ports and distribution centers may not be. A box may be ready to go,” Thompson said, referring to a shipping container, “but no one is ready to pick it up.

Thompson said this problem has a downstream effect on the entire transmission system and that it may be necessary to create excess transmission and transmission capacity to smooth it out.

Millar advocated for the creation of more truck stops and other safe places for truckers to park and rest, noting that adding parking spaces for large tractor-trailer trucks has not followed the request.

“The Department of Transport is part of the solution,” he said. “I’m not sure public facilities are the answer, but we need more truck stops.”

Millar also called for the creation of more intermodal transportation facilities in eastern Washington similar to the intermodel facility, noting that locations outside of Puget Sound where trucks can load and unload containers can unload port, road and rail facilities in Seattle and Tacoma.

The Port of Quincy owns and operates a small intermodal hub, primarily focused on loading reefer containers filled with processed potato products.

Finally, Millar and Thompson see a future for electric trucks and even train locomotives, although they won’t haul goods over long distances. At least not yet.

“We have a pilot project with a locomotive manufacturer regarding fuel cells, and we’re seeing a lot of interest in switching motors in rail yards, where there’s a lot of idling,” Thompson said.

Railroads are very efficient at moving freight, Thompson added, but right now it takes the kind of power that can only be generated by a diesel engine to pull a unit train through the Rockies and the Waterfalls.

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