Unit trains bound for ethanol plant schmooze VIPs

by: Art Heerwagen,  P&W President Bruce Carswell thanked county and Port of St. Helens for its 
support of new ethanol plant.

Corn-based ethanol is being touted by many as an important alternative fuel of the future, and on Monday, more than 70 area decision-makers boarded a train and rode the rails to Port Westward while listening to Portland and Western Railroad (P and W) and Cascade Grain officials explain the significance of the newly completed ethanol plant to the economy of Columbia County.

Starting at 9:45 a.m., the special executive-car train picked up officials in Scappoose, St. Helens, Columbia City, and Rainier before arriving at Port Westward for a special 'banner-cutting' ceremony at the entrance to Cascade Grain. Prior to the locomotive breaking the banner, county and company officials commented on the success of the project, following by lunch in the dining car, and a relaxing and scenic return trip.

According to railroad and plant executives, 110-car shuttle trains loaded with 440,000 bushels of shelled corn for ethanol production (it takes one bushel of corn to produce 2.8 gallons of ethanol) will begin running twice a week in May, with the first tanker cars, trucks, and barges loaded with the finished product scheduled to leave the plant by month's end

Cascade Grain's Chief Executive Officer Charles Carlson said that the company's annual projection is 10,000 carloads inbound and approximately 4,000 carloads of ethanol and its byproducts outbound.

Josh Fleming, a senior account manager for the public relations firm of Pac/West Communications in Wilsonville, pointed out that using the rail line to transport the corn and ethanol will keep 56,000 trucks a year off Highway 30.

'We know there has been concern about the time it takes for the unit trains to pass through each community and possible conflict with emergency vehicles,' said Fleming. 'But when a 'trial' train recently came through the county, there were no problems during the approximately 10-minutes it took to pass through Scappoose and St. Helens.'

During the ride, it was pointed out by P and W representatives that the length of time it takes to pass through crossings in each city will be cut in half when the Phase I rehabilitation of about 23 miles of 100-year old rail is replaced between Scappoose and Goble.

'When this project is completed by the end of this year, trains will be able to safely travel at 25 mph and take just over three minutes to clear a typical grade crossing,' said Bruce Carswell, president and general manager of P and W.

At trip's end in the middle of the afternoon, passengers could be overheard thanking their hosts for the well-planned fact-finding excursion and expressing hope for the economic future of not just Clatskanie near where the plant is located, but for the entire county.

Cascade Grain is located on Port of St. Helens-owned property, employs 48 people, and will add about $6 million in valuation to the county's tax base. A public forum has been scheduled for Wednesday, May 14, at the Columbia Learning Center in St. Helens. Watch for more information and time of the meeting closer to the forum's date.