R A I L
Tacoma Rail came under City of Tacoma ownership in 1914 as the Tacoma Railway and Power Company. In October of 1924, it was chartered as the Tacoma Municipal Beltline Railway and came under Tacoma Public Utilities auspices in 1953 when a Tacoma City Charter amendment created the latter. Since then, Tacoma Rail has worked to meet its primary goal of providing efficient, cost-effective rail service and 2018 was no exception. Tacoma rail provides service to the Port of Tacoma and Tacoma’s industrial areas, to Lakewood and to Frederickson.
In Tacoma’s industrial area, line haul count was up by nearly 10% or 24,000 units in 2018 over 2017. An increase in both intermodal platforms and unit train railcars led to a corresponding increase in line haul revenue of approximately $1.9 million.
The Northwest Seaport Alliance experienced volatility in international intermodal trade, which led to large monthly volume swings throughout 2018. However, Tacoma Rail’s agreement with the Union Pacific to assemble 10,000-foot intermodal trains on a daily basis proved a major success this year: Over 29,000 domestic intermodal platforms were handled by Tacoma Rail on behalf of Union Pacific, generating nearly $1.5 million in incremental revenue in 2018.
In addition, unit trains were up versus the prior year at 15%. Commercial business growth was more restrained with an overall increase of 7% in 2018.
New Washington State environmental rules mandating the development of oil spill contingency plans were a focus area for Tacoma Rail. In October 2018, the utility successfully completed its first Department of Ecology supervised tabletop spill drill.
The Capital Division provides service to customers in South Tacoma and Lakewood through a freight franchise on the rail line owned by Sound Transit. With 686 carloads in 2017, total traffic on the Capital Division increased 10% to 753 carloads in 2018.
In 2018, expenses increased on the Capital Division as Positive Train Control (PTC) continued to be implemented. (PTC is an advanced system of functional requirements for monitoring and controlling train movements.)
Tacoma Rail operates the Mountain Division on behalf of the City of Tacoma. Within this Division, carloads handled grew from 1,515 in 2017 to 1,594 in 2018. This increase was led by Hardie Building Products, which had more than 23% growth in line haul traffic.
Expenses have also increased on the Mountain Division as PTC becomes functional. Additionally, a new tariff was implemented in 2018 to mitigate the expense and change the Mountain Division’s relationship with the BNSF from a Handling Carrier to a Switching Carrier.
SUPPORTING GROWTH AT THE PORT
In 2018, Tacoma Rail also partnered with Wallenius Wilhelmsen Solutions to move their auto transport business to the Port of Tacoma. Tacoma Rail owned a 90-acre parcel of land on the tide flats near the port that was the former site of a Kaiser Aluminum smelter. Work began on a 12-month construction schedule to build an auto transport facility capable of processing 100,000 cars for Nissan. The project brought new industries, new jobs, and new economic activity to Tacoma.
Today, Tacoma Rail continues to work hard every day to ensure success of meeting the utilities goal of providing efficient, cost-effective rail service. Despite unpredictable volumes in intermodal trade, Tacoma Rail saw a net increase due to seeking new opportunities and partnerships that ultimately led to economic growth in the area.