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VOL. 124 | NO. 13 | Wednesday, January 21, 2009

BNSF Offers Express International Container Service

By Eric Smith

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HEAVY LIFTING: Wide-span cranes like these are part of the BNSF Railway Co.’s $200 million expansion of its intermodal yard near Lamar Avenue and Shelby Drive. -- PHOTO COURTESY OF BNSF RAILWAY CO.

Already in the midst of a $200 million expansion to its Memphis intermodal yard near Lamar Avenue and Shelby Drive, BNSF Railway Co. is making another substantial investment in the city.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based railroad is offering express international container service from ports in Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., to Chicago and Memphis.

The shipping time from those ports to Memphis will decease by about a day,

enhancing the city’s already integral role in the railroad’s U.S. network and giving America’s Distribution Center another bullet point for its ever-growing rail resume.

Coupled with BNSF’s intermodal yard expansion – which incorporates five wide-span cranes and will double the number of annual lifts to about 700,000 – the express service makes Memphis a more efficient link on the supply chain for shippers, third-party logistics firms and retailers.

“It makes things much faster,” said BNSF spokesman Jim Rogers, adding that the expansion is 80 percent complete. “The express service shows our commitment to our customer, but it also shows that we’re going to be using our facilities in Chicago and Memphis even more. This service really puts us into a competitive position with the times of other railroads that go from west to east.”

Point of origin

Meanwhile, work continues on Canadian National Railway Co.’s $100 million revitalization of the company’s Johnston Yard freight car switching facility off Horn Lake Road in South Memphis to increase efficiency. The railroad recently filed a series of smaller – but still multimillion-dollar – building permits related to the project.

“(Memphis) really is the breadbasket of the United States, in many respects. … So it’s almost like all roads lead to and from Memphis when it comes to the shipping of freight.”
– Danny Simpson
Assistant vice president for safety and environment for Canadian National Railway

CN, whose U.S. headquarters are in Homewood, Ill., ratcheted up those efforts once it moved its intermodal operation to Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park, the 3,000-acre complex near the Mississippi River just south of Downtown Memphis.

Danny Simpson, the assistant vice president for safety and environment for CN, said that the railroad “knows the strategic value and significance of Memphis” as a major freight distribution center.

“It really is the breadbasket of the United States, in many respects, especially in respect to intermodal transportation and the tie to the air freight capability here in Memphis,” Simpson told The Daily News recently. “So it’s almost like all roads lead to and from Memphis when it comes to the shipping of freight.”

Rolls and butter

With Union Pacific operating in Marion, Ark., and Norfolk Southern Corp. looking at locations around the area for its new intermodal yard, the investments that railroads are making here is impressive.

Martin Lipinski, director of the Intermodal Freight Transportation Institute (IFTI) at the University of Memphis, said increased rail and intermodal competition in Memphis – one of only three U.S. cities with five Class I railroads – will be a boon for the city’s distribution players, who rely on fast delivery for containers coming from Asia into the ports of Long Beach, Calif., Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., or Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

“We’re sitting very pretty with all that direct connection to the West Coast,” Lipinski said.

Clifford Lynch, executive vice president for Memphis-based CTSI, a global supply chain technology and services company, agreed that the efficiency of trains coming from California, Washington or Canada will aid Memphis’ status as an intermodal nexus and perhaps draw more related businesses here.

“When you put the container on the train, you have to have somewhere for the container to come off, and you need an intermodal yard to do that,” Lynch said. “By putting those yards in Memphis, companies can open distribution centers in Memphis and have the containers unloaded in the city in which they’re located.”

Traffic jam

The expansion of intermodal facilities here already has benefited Memphis as a link among companies’ supply chains, and the news that BNSF will transport goods more quickly is welcomed by those who handle them, noted Buzz Fly, vice president of marketing at Patterson Warehouses Inc.

“The faster that they can get product from the West Coast to Memphis, the better as far as being able to get the goods to market whether it’s the retailers or their current customers,” Fly said.

BNSF’s beefed-up intermodal yard does bring some headaches with it, however. Anyone who has passed through the Lamar Avenue-Shelby Drive intersection has seen it clogged with trucks. Lipinski said improvements are needed to increase capacity along the Lamar corridor to accommodate the growth and allow Memphis to become an even bigger intermodal player.

“It is vital to our community to get that corridor improved because if it connects with the I-22 corridor toward Birmingham and Atlanta, developments can then spread out along that finger leaving out of Memphis,” Lipinski said. “It’s really key.”

PROPERTY SALES 56 56 9,658
MORTGAGES 49 49 10,665
BUILDING PERMITS 212 212 21,170
BANKRUPTCIES 49 49 6,157