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Rail feasibility study launched for Central Coast ag industry

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted July 22 to match the city of Salinas' investment in a rail-feasibility study that will be administered by the Salinas-based Grower-Shipper Association of Central California.

The county and city will each contribute $15,000 to a study that will evaluate the feasibility and industry interest in using rail carriers for the transport of agricultural products.

The study will determine whether returning some shipments to a rail delivery system is a more cost-effective method of providing much of the nation and surrounding countries with the Central Coast's fresh produce.

"The Grower-Shipper Association's board of directors feels that this is a critically important opportunity to evaluate transportation needs for the next several decades," Dennis Donohue, chairman of the association's board, said in a statement. "The fact that we're looking to our past in rail makes this project all the more interesting."

Jim Bogart, president of the association, said that the study presents an excellent opportunity for the industry and its customers. "It's the first step in a long journey," he said. "First, we'll assess the feasibility of and/or industry interest in rail transport of agricultural products from the Central Coast."

Salinas-based agricultural consultant Steve Collins has been enlisted by the association to conduct the study. Mr. Collins told The Produce News that the study should be completed within a couple of months.

Salinas could be the central spur that runs down the Salinas Valley. "Serious infrastructure is in place," Mr. Collins said.

Trailers filled with product could be loaded onto a train's flatcars. The trains are moving electrical systems that can keep the cold chain intact, Mr. Collins said.

Among the many unknowns currently are a plethora of logistics issues and questions on ownership of the system.

Mr. Collins said that a likely scenario for a rail system for agriculture is that it would be privately financed.

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