ROCHELLE — On Wednesday, the City of Rochelle and the Greater Rochelle Economic Development Corporation (GREDCO) hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the Rochelle Intermodal Transload Center (RITC) at 1851 S. Steward Road, a new intermodal container yard in the heart of Rochelle’s industrial park.
The project will return intermodal services to the city after the Union Pacific Railroad’s decision to close the intermodal ramp at Global III in Rochelle in May 2019. The RITC will be served by the City of Rochelle Railroad, a city-owned short line railroad that connects businesses and industries to both the Union Pacific (UP) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) main line Railroads.
City officials aim for the facility to give local and regional industries a cost-effective alternative to moving freight through Chicago.
“To see this project come to fruition today makes me very proud to say the least,” Mayor John Bearrows said. “It represents a public-private partnership that is truly in the best interest of the region. This is truly a monumental milestone for this area relative to the shipping business. With the current fuel cost, labor shortage, supply chain troubles and many other issues that face our smaller and larger shippers alike, this will be their saving grace.”
The container yard will be operated by the Burlington Junction Railway (BJRY) of Burlington, Iowa. The creation of the intermodal container yard is a collaboration between the city, GREDCO and the BJRY. The BJRY has operated the city’s railroad for nearly 16 years.
BJRY General Manager AJ Martin has worked with the city since 2017 and said he’s been “amazed” with what can be accomplished in the community.
“This is a prime example of something you don't find anywhere else in North America,” Martin said. “People come together and push back on things like this to make it possible for industries to grow. That's a testament to the tenacity of this community. Rochelle sees rail as a tool to better the lives of people in this community.”
Intermodal service could begin as early as spring 2023. The project includes paving the entrance to the RITC, construction of an 1,100-by-60-foot concrete lifting pad and constructing an intermodal container yard adjacent to the existing transload center.
In addition to adding intermodal services within the RITC, the facility can handle a variety of shipments including dry bulk, liquid bulk, dimensional, oversize, machinery, metals and other commodities and products.
GREDCO Board Vice Chairman Claude McKibben spoke at the groundbreaking and touted the city and GREDCO’s investment in Rochelle’s industry sector.
“Through GREDCO's vision and leadership, the city's railroad was created, the industrial park we stand in was developed, along with numerous other projects that have attracted over a dozen industries bringing over 1,000 jobs,” McKibben said. “The development of the RITC is yet another example of GREDCO's role in collaborating with the city to bring about economic development opportunities where businesses can thrive.”
City Economic Development Director Jason Anderson was tasked with working to return intermodal service to the city after Global III closed. He called Wednesday “a monumental day” and said the RITC will create opportunities for dozens of industries to reduce freight costs.
Anderson said that over the past four years, at times his faith wavered on whether or not the intermodal facility would come to fruition.
“Today we're here to celebrate it,” Anderson said. “I've thought and dreamed and believed for 18 years that this project would come to fruition. We've overcome many obstacles. Today we celebrate a new beginning where local and regional businesses will begin to have access to a new rail and truck intermodal service, saving millions of dollars in transportation costs.”
When Global III closed, Bearrows told local media that it would affect the area adversely and said that the city would do everything it could to provide a city-owned intermodal rail service. It accomplished that goal Wednesday.
Bearrows believes the project will have “a huge impact” on the community and region for “many years to come.” Anderson said the new service will attract new businesses that offer good-paying jobs to citizens in Rochelle and the region.
“We’re celebrating the laying of a new foundation where businesses seeking a friendly place to do business can know that this group of leaders will go the extra mile to bring profitability and success to these businesses,” Anderson said. “I call this the Rochelle way.”