Tag Archives: railroad cars

Where’d all the idle RR cars go?

The in basket: A couple of years ago I wrote a column explaining the long row of empty container-carrying railroad cars that lined I-5 for what seemed like miles just north of Centralia.

They had been idled by the economic slump, I had learned, and were essentially mothballed until they were needed to resume container shipments from the West Coast to other parts of the nation.

On a trip through that area the second week of July, I noticed they were gone. I decided to find out if they had been put to work, when they were hauled away and to where.

The out basket: Dale King of Tacoma Rail, an arm of the city of Tacoma which owns those tracks, said they aren’t actually all gone. But a lot of them have been removed, some to be scrapped.

“The cars are not all gone but some are just no longer in sight of the adjacent highways,” he said. “The cars have been slowly moving out of storage for rehabilitation by their new owner, Greenbrier Leasing.

“Those that are not repairable are being scrapped at Schnitzer Steel in Tacoma and Portland,” he said. “At the rate they are moving, there is still about two years’ supply hidden in the woods.”

Though Tacoma owns the tracks, he said, “they are currently operated by a new start-up company, Western Washington Railroad, who is leasing the line from Maytown down to Chehalis.

“This portion of the Mountain Division is for sale and the city is currently negotiating a purchase agreement with Lewis County.

“The intermodal flat cars were owned by GATX Leasing when they were put into storage and then sold by GATX to Greenbrier Leasing about two years ago,” Dale said.


Chehalis area’s string of unused railroad cars

The in basket: The Road Warrior was actually on the road the past couple of

weeks, motoring to Southern California and Las Vegas. As I often do on such

trips, a take note of things the readers back home might notice, wonder or appreciate a heads-up


Take tlhe stretch of I-5 between Grand Mound (that’s where Great Wolf Lodge

is) and Chehalis. It’s hard to miss mile after mile of seemingly abandoned

railroad cars just west of the highway. They’re the kind that carry metal

containers that arrive on ships, one container stacked upon another.

They were there in July when I passed through, and they were there again in

late October. I couldn’t tell if there were any more or fewer than in July,

but there seemed to be thousands of them.

The out basket: Not quite thousands, according to a June 28 report in the

News Tribune of Tacoma.

There were 1,900 then, 1,500 of the container carriers and another 400 that

carry lumber. They were among 365,343 such cars idled nationwide in June

and that number was growing by 700 to 1,000 a month, the article quoted an

railroad industry spokesperson as saying. So maybe it really is thousands north

of Chehalis by now. .

They are a glaring measure of the recession that tell the tale much more

clearly than the economic numbers that try to do the job. It also says a lot

about just how much stuff we import in the good times.

As the June article put it, “During better times, they would be moving

between the West Coast and the Midwest carrying containers loaded with

electronics, auto parts and consumer goods made in Asia to American retailers and


It called them “a casualty of a precipitous drop in import and export

activity through American ports,” including Tacoma’s.