Rochelle Intermodal Transload Center construction nearing completion

On Aug. 16, City of Rochelle Economic Development Director Jason Anderson said that concrete, asphalt and gravel work has been completed at the Rochelle Intermodal Transload Center at 1851 S. Steward Road.

‘I think we're going to see some real success in it’

ROCHELLE — On Aug. 16, City of Rochelle Economic Development Director Jason Anderson said that concrete, asphalt and gravel work has been completed at the Rochelle Intermodal Transload Center at 1851 S. Steward Road.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new intermodal container yard in the heart of Rochelle’s industrial park last fall. 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. 

Anderson said he anticipates construction on the current phase of the RITC will be completed by mid-to-late September. Light poles need to be installed and Rochelle Municipal Utilities power needs to be pulled into the yard. A gate and fencing need to be put in place as well. Once there is power, the whole facility can be lighted and the operation could potentially run 24 hours a day.

The first phase of the startup for intermodal service has begun, Anderson said. Containers can be seen in the yard on chassis. Currently, CHS Rochelle is bringing the containers across the street for the purpose of having them contained for the purpose of fumigating grain. Trucks come and get the containers and take them to Joliet.

Anderson said the second phase will start later this fall, where a whole trainload of containers will come in empty and be offloaded and stacked. Those containers will later be loaded and put on another train later in the week, which will bring more empty containers. That process will likely start sometime in October, Anderson said. 

“We expect there to be a train a week to start with,” Anderson said. “One train a week is 110 rail cars or 220 containers. That's 220 containers in and 220 containers out per week. With that, it'll start to generate a significant amount of revenue.”

Developing the yard’s operations has brought about “a lot of complexities,” Anderson said. Customers have come about wanting to import into Rochelle due to the fact that they don’t want to take containers into the larger yard in Chicago. Those customers have a desire to bring loaded containers into the RITC and put them on a truck and ship them to destinations in Wisconsin, Iowa or Southern Illinois. 

That demand coming about has added a level of complexity to planning, but could bring added revenue, Anderson said. 

“This has now kind of complicated things because we were originally set up to be just an export terminal,” Anderson said. “Now we're working with multiple freight lines and railroads to talk about import and export. The great opportunity there is that the revenue that the city generates through this process is based on loaded containers. If you have loaded containers coming in, you get paid for that. And if you have loaded containers going out, you get paid for that. So even though the process is taking longer to get the whole thing put together, it looks as though we're going to be in a much better position on revenue if we can handle both the import and the export.”

The City of Rochelle has had discussions about its own intermodal yard for almost 15 years, Anderson said. The RITC site already has a transloading operation there, which involves freight going from one form of transportation to another. Current items transloaded at the facility include sunflower seed oil and grain. 

The City of Rochelle Railroad has equal access to the Union Pacific and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads. 

“I don't know how many transloading facilities or intermodal facilities are actually served by two class-one railroads,” Anderson said. “We may be the only one, I don't know. I think it's interesting that we now have the flexibility to provide service to a lot of customers that otherwise didn't have service.”

The Greater Rochelle Economic Development Corporation (GREDC) purchased 10 acres next to the transload center 10 years ago with the hopes that intermodal service could be established. Anderson said most of the project has come together as anticipated, but there have been challenges in understanding the complexities of how intermodal services are actually provided.

“All of the entities have to work in concert with each other,” Anderson said. “It's been pretty exciting to see it come together. But everyone is trying to figure out what their role is. I think it's going to take us a good 18-24 months to really get this thing off the ground. I think we're going to see some real success in it. It's getting all the players to work together.”

The city has been awarded multiple grants for the RITC. One was received this past winter to expand it east to city-owned land, and the $7 million project will go forward in 2025 after design and study work next year. 

In the city’s long-range plan, the current phase of the RITC is the first of three. The first phase will have capacity up to two trains a week, with potential for the railroad to generate $1.5-2 million per year. If expanded to the next phase due to demand, Anderson said that could add another $1 million to yearly revenues. The third phase would expand to a 50-100 acre opportunity, which could yield “somewhere in excess” of $4 million per year, Anderson said. 

“Mayor Bearrows made the statement in 2019 when Global III closed how difficult this was going to be on certain industries who basically depended on having local intermodal service,” Anderson said. “And now that we're going to reestablish that, at a smaller scale than what Global III was, it's very, very rewarding. It's very rewarding to feel that not only are we helping local businesses and industries to lower their logistics costs by having local intermodal service, but it's also going to be a tremendous amount of revenue to the city itself. That's kind of what the whole idea behind the city's enterprises are, to basically create opportunities that really help support the quality of life, help support businesses, and help to bring new revenue into the community.”