A long, low railroad tunnel on Snoqualmie Pass could help Spokane County’s Geiger Spur railroad project.
A consultant told county commissioners recently that westbound trains from the East Coast might justify a proposed “transloader” facility where loads would be transferred between trucks and trains.
Local businesses probably can’t generate enough rail traffic for a loading and unloading center on the county-owned railroad, consultant Don Moody told commissioners recently.
But he said a transloader might become a paying proposition by helping the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway cope with a tunnel too low for double-stacked shipping containers.
Seattle-bound trains could get most of the way across the country with efficient double-stacked cars and unload in Spokane, Moody suggested.
“I am convinced that the people who figure out how to get the cars that are coming back from the East are the ones that are going to make the money,” he said.
Moody was commissioned by Greater Spokane Inc. to help develop a West Plains economic development plan. He is first vice president of CB Richard Ellis, a Tacoma real estate brokerage.
Robin Toth, Greater Spokane director of business development, said Moody has been helping the economic development organization find ways to develop land on the West Plains.
GSI officials introduced Moody and Gust Erikson, president of the Bothell-based PugetWestern development company, to county commissioners last month in a get-acquainted session.
“Hopefully, we’ll have more concrete ideas come out of that, and some strategies,” Toth said.
Moody said county officials’ idea of trying to develop a market in loading 20 to 26 train cars a week with ash from the Spokane waste-to-energy plant is “intriguing.” But, he added, “I can guarantee you there is going to be a lot more traffic coming from the East.”
Eastbound trains from Seattle are full, “but they’re relatively empty coming back,” creating an opportunity to woo freight away from truckers, Moody said.
Although trains are 30 times more efficient than long-haul trucks, 70 percent of freight is moved by trucks, Moody said. But trucks are more efficient over distances of a few hundred miles.
He said he thinks Spokane is close enough to Seattle to allow double-loaded trains to take advantage of both facts.
“You can offload here, put it on a truck and take it to anywhere in the Northwest easier than if you take it all the way into Seattle or Tacoma and then start shipping backwards,” Moody said.
He suggested that a transloader project should start small, perhaps with used equipment, and that it should be a private venture.
“This has got to be private money,” he said.