Railex on track for economic, environmental benefits

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Railex’s innovative transportation model to ship Pacific Northwest produce and other perishable commodities by rail to the East Coast in less than five days is proving to be a great economic success story. The environmental benefits are impressive as well.

The business model is straightforward. Pacific Northwest produce and other perishable commodities are hauled via short-haul trucks into a strategically located temperature-controlled mega transload distribution center in the Port of Walla Walla’s Dodd Road Business Park in Wallula.

The produce is loaded into 55 state-of-the-art refrigerator rail cars. The Union Pacific Railroad and CXS Railroad then transport this unit train some 2,800 miles to Schenectady, N.Y., in less than five days.

The rail cars are then off-loaded and Pacific Northwest produce is distributed throughout the East Coast. Most importantly, the end users receive our produce in as good a condition as when it left Wallula.

Railex shipping volumes have been impressive. Each week, 52 weeks a year, two 55-rail-car units leave Wallula. Each unit represents about 8 million pounds of produce. This equates to 832 million pounds of produce being shipped to the East Coast per year.

The news gets better. Railex just announced it will invest $105 million in building a receiving facility in Jacksonville, Fla. When the building is completed, two 55-rail-car units per week will leave from Wallula to the Jacksonville facility in addition to the two trains per week already going to Schenectady.

Railex recently opened its new $18 million, 500,000-square-foot wine distribution center at the Port’s Dodd Road Business Park. This new facility is adjacent to Railex’s 200,000-square-foot produce distribution warehouse.

Railex is the third-party logistics provider and manages all of St. Michelle’s wine distribution requirements, both by rail and truck.

Often overlooked is the environmental benefit of Railex. Each 55-rail-car unit keeps 200 long-haul trucks off the road.

By moving the produce by rail rather than truck, about 100,000 fewer gallons of diesel fuel are used each time a unit train operates from Wallula to Schenectady. This results in not only less fuel being consumed but a substantial reduction in CO2 emissions.

Since the start of Railex, more than 400 million gallons of fuel savings have been realized and more than 800,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions have not been released into the atmosphere.

The Port or Walla Walla has played an instrumental role in securing the original Railex produce distribution center and in assisting Railex to expand into the wine distribution business.

The Port — with the assistance of Walla Walla County, state and Federal partners — has installed roads, a water system and the 1.5-mile looped rail line.

The overall public investment in the Railex project has been approximately $10 million, which in turn has leveraged $70 million in private investments.

Railex has also created more than 100 jobs and is quickly becoming one of the largest taxpayers in Walla Walla County with an estimated annual property tax bill of $500,000.

However, the biggest economic benefit for the region is providing Pacific Northwest produce growers cost effective access to East Coast markets for their products.

Ron Dunning is vice president of the Port of Walla Walla commission.

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