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City of Boise plans study of freight rail opportunities

Train service southeast of Boise could be seeing greater traffic under a new agreement.

Freight train service southeast of Boise could see increased traffic following a development study.

Improving freight rail opportunities for businesses in the Boise valley has moved to the forefront of the city of Boise.

Mayor Dave Bieter, working with Boise Valley Railroad (BVRR), will soon begin exploring the construction of a transload and intermodal services facility on city-owned property in southeast Boise. When built, the proposed facility would allow freight container cargo to go from rail to truck and truck to rail, and would be the only facility of its kind between Ogden and Portland.

“This agreement represents a major advance for economic development in our valley,” Bieter said. “One freight train can carry the load of 280 trucks. We must look to install this kind of large scale infrastructure in order to ensure the city’s future economic vitality and to maintain our high quality of life.”

John Brown, the chief operating officer for BVRR’s parent company, Watco Companies Inc., said the partnership goes beyond the railroad and the city and brings in the other communities in the Treasure Valley, the State of Idaho and the Union Pacific railroad.

He said the transfer yard would develop a “strategy that grows, promotes and diversifies the greenest form of ground freight transportation for the benefit of our communities while providing quality rail service to our customers.”

The agreement calls for the city and railroad to pay for the feasibility study.

As part of the plan, the city has agreed to become the provider of service and maintenance for all 18.2 miles of city-owned rail, which will allow businesses located in the growing East Gateway Industrial Park access to freight rail service.

The service and maintenance agreement signed between the two parties will ultimately allow for BVRR to provide rail freight service for all city-owned rail. BVRR would provide service by delivering carloads to customers along city-owned track and transporting goods from those customers to the main line operated by Union Pacific. The agreement’s maintenance provisions would call on BVRR to provide upgrades to the existing track as well as ongoing maintenance including track inspections, switch inspection and adjustments, tie replacement, weed spraying, periodic ultrasonic rail inspections and bolts, joint bars and other minor track materials. Upgrades would allow trains to travel at higher speeds and provide a potential testing range for Boise locomotive manufacturer MotivePower.

Both the intermodal/transload facility and the service and maintenance agreement could provide future revenue to the city under a standard revenue sharing model.

Boise Valley Railroad, a year ago, won the contract to provide freight service along the Boise Cut-Off. Boise Valley Railroad is a subsidiary of Watco, which also operates the Eastern Idaho Railroad and the Great Northwest Railroad in Idaho as well as 19 other railroads in 18 states.

Boise Valley Rail expects to transport 770,000 tons of freight in 2010. Freight rail is often praised for its environmental benefits. A locomotive can haul a ton of freight more than 450 miles on one gallon of fuel.

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