A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Rail activity at reloading site: What’s up?

Written April 22nd, 2024 by Hasso Hering

Railroad cars were parked at the Intermodal center on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

On my bike ride to Millersburg Saturday, I happened to see, from a distance, railroad cars sitting under the giant crane at the Mid-Valley Intermodal Center, which otherwise has remained unused since it opened in December 2022.

Built at a cost of more than $36 million — $23.8 million from the state and $12.9 million from Linn County — the reloading center was intended to connect mid-valley shippers with worldwide markets. It hasn’t worked so far, and everybody says the reason is that it can’t get containers.

Did the presence of about a dozen rail cars mean anything? The gates were closed, and I couldn’t ride onto the property to take a closer look.

Don Waddell, who managed the project remotely when I traded emails with him last October, told me today (April 22) he no longer works for the Mid-Valley Intermodal Center.

The Linn County Board of Commissioners has taken an active role in supporting the center since the Oregon legislature approved funding for it in 2017. So I asked the board chairman, Roger Nyquist.

In an email he said the “rail activity” I saw there Saturday was “Union Pacific related.” I assumed he meant the UP was using the center’s tracks as sidings to park some cars. “Yes,” he said. “Not often, though.”

The center is still staffed by the same person who was there last fall, keeping the machinery functioning for the day that it is actually needed.

As for what’s next, Nyquist said: “We are in negotiations with an intermodal operator and it is our hope that we have a signed agreement sometime next month.”

I wondered whether the announced end this October of container handling at Terminal 6 at the Port of Portland would improve the outlook for the mid-valley center. Nyquist said it was too early to tell what the impact on area shippers will be.

“Long term it reinforces the need for a successful matchback program to and from the Millersburg location,” he said.

“Matchback”? I looked it up. The term refers to “the matching of import and export containers to minimize the miles driven, increase container velocity and reduce emissions,” according to the interweb.

In other words, whether the Millersburg terminal will achieve its intended purpose still depends on containers coming in so they can be loaded and sent out again. (hh)

11 responses to “Rail activity at reloading site: What’s up?”

  1. Hartman says:

    Am I correct in thinking that not even one of our esteemed County Commissioners has resigned in embarrassment over Linn County’s financial support of this white elephant? Has the Albany/Linn County electorate become so entranced by the County Commissioners charisma that they no longer recognize a boondoggle even when it slaps them in the face?

  2. Don says:

    Really sad that the site is up and running. We just keep getting run around on why it isn’t

  3. JIMMY says:

    Roger the Dodger. After spending a cool 100K Plus in the failed lawsuit against the state we now have this major debacle thanks to Roger. It’s time to show Roger the door in the next election.

  4. Richard Vannice says:

    If I read the above about “matchback”, it means containers loaded with items for the nearby area have to come in, off loaded, then reloaded with merchandise from this area to go out.
    Does the mid valley really have that quantity coming in and going out often enough to make this happen? Seems like another pie in the sky situation.

  5. Al Nyman says:

    I think the impetus for this boondoggle came from the state and Linn County went along with the plan. I think they thought they could send straw around the world but that market has crashed.
    By 1980, the only lumber being shipped by train was going to the east coast and all other lumber shipments were going by truck because of the slowness of trains. You have to build a train cargo shipment before you can transport it and they may take a week or better depending on how many cars are going south, north, or east so truck cargo is at least 10-14 days faster getting delivered within a 1000 miles or so and not that more expensive. And I have to believe that a truck shipment to Seattle or LA is quicker and cheaper than a train.

  6. Bill Kapaun says:

    If the Longshoreman’s union wasn’t tying up the ports, this facility would likely be doing what it was intended to do. It’s a matter of the Democrats & unions scratching each others butt.

  7. Douglas Bauer says:

    A couple weeks ago I emailed the Millersburg City Manager regarding the status of the tank farm at Conser and Old Salem Rd.; passing it almost everyday I found it a horrible eyesore, and I asked Mr. Kreitman what was being done about it…low and behold, several days later the tanks were down (I’m so not sure my query resulted in the dismantlement) – unfortunately, the fate of the fuel racks is apparently still to be determined. At least it’s a huge step forward. Before I first moved up here from SoCal I didn’t realize that it was actually a suburban/industrial area (at the time [2007], it seemed semi-rural)…I recently discovered that the acreage on the SW corner of Old Salem and Conser has been zoned commercial/industrial. So much for semi-rural living. It would be nice to get some positive activity going with the Intermodal site. Hasso, I missed you in the Democrat-Herald…I sent a lot of editorial opinions to you. The paper has declined in quality, so I cancelled my subscription….glad I found you online. Best to you, Sir.

    • Al NYMAN says:

      Why do city folk who are surrounded by concrete, asphalt, street signs, neighbors, etc. take offense to concrete tanks in the countryside which bother nobody who lives in the country as I have done my entire life since spending 4 years in Portland. Do you people take offense to tanker trucks which deliver in the city?

  8. david pulver says:

    lowes and target both have distribution centers here. containers with grease marks roll in and out every day on trucks. they can be off loaded from Z trains and trucked to albany much faster than awaiting transfer via portland/vancouver rail yards and the next manifest going west to albany.

  9. L Brunell says:

    Isn’t the person in charge at the reload center a woman and how is she qualified to keep equipment ready when the time comes when the yard is ready for use? Where did all of the millions of dollars go for this boondoggle ? Someone must be getting the benefit and it sure isn’t us taxpayers.

  10. west end gal says:

    M. Brunell, I won’t dignify you with a response. However, several weeks ago, very large hay trucks were snaking along Queen Ave. by the schools, heading back-and-forth presumably to the off-load site on Bryant Dr. They degrade a fairly new suburban thoroughfare. It is a shame that area farmers won’t take a reduction in revenue to try to jumpstart a program they demanded. Are they writing our senators and reps? Are they being proactive in getting action on the container crisis?


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