The fledgling refrigerated domestic intermodal sector is growing this summer as industry pioneer Rail Logistics Cold Train adds 200 53-foot reefer containers and moves into new service lanes on the East Coast.
Kansas City-based Rail Logistics has had a fleet of refrigerated boxcars that it leased and managed for customers since 1998. In 2010, the company created the domestic intermodal reefer niche when it designed and purchased the first domestic refrigerated containers. The Cold Train runs as part of a BNSF double-stack intermodal unit train from the Port of Quincy, Wash., to Chicago five days a week and has grown steadily since its April 2010 debut. Eastbound, the containers are packed with produce, frozen french fries and nursery products for the three-day trip. Westbound, the trains are filled with a mix of temperature-controlled cargoes, including some household products.
The growth and interest has convinced President Steve Lawson to concentrate the company’s future investments on the intermodal side. “We’re at capacity with Cold Train until we get new equipment,” he said.
One of Rail Logistics’ former customers was the Washington state, which leased 25 reefer boxcars so farmers had access to rail transportation and weren’t dependent solely on trucks to send perishable products to distant markets. “We ended that contract at the beginning of the year and made a decision that we were going to concentrate on our intermodal business,” Lawson said.
That decision was made easier when Iowa Pacific Holdings, which owns Permian Basin Railways, signed a long-term lease for the company’s 110-car reefer fleet, which Rail Logistics manages for the short line company. “We had a good customer base, but we really want to put our capital into reefer intermodal in the future,” Lawson said.
Cold Train currently has 127 of the reefer containers, but will add 200 within weeks. “We got a production slot date in July (to manufacture the units), and we are expecting to take possession in mid-August,” Lawson said. “Over the past year, we’ve done test loads to various points on the East Coast. Once the new containers get here, we’re going to push into Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania. We’ve been running into those markets on a spot basis, and we’ve been able to maintain our service times and quality.”