Railroad: No deal on freight facility in Kingman

KINGMAN - From the sounds of it, Kingman politicians are likely to see a booming economy, real estate agents will sell some homes, local restaurants and merchants will see an increase in profit, and Kingman residents looking for jobs will secure them.

According to one local official, the largest railroad company in North American is looking to build a freight facility in Kingman that would serve several states' distribution needs, provide 2,000 jobs in the Kingman area, induce a surge in the housing market and generate an overall increase in the local economy.

The City Council has been informed of it, Miner readers have received word. The only people not up on the railroad's plan, it seems, is the railroad, which has said numerous times that such a plan does not exist.

BNSF transload facilities take a manufactured product from operation plants and transport it to intermodal facilities, which serve as hubs where trailers are loaded with goods then trucked out of the area. Phoenix is home to the only BNSF intermodal freight facility in Arizona, according to the company Web site.

City Economic Development Director Jeff Weir recently took a trip touring several freight centers in Illinois and California, on the taxpayer's dime.

These facilities, he said during a September City Council work session, are similar to the one proposed for Kingman.

Unfortunately for job hunters, real estate agents and local businesses, the railroad has no such plan to bring a facility of any kind to Kingman.

At a Council work session on Sept. 18, Weir showed a Powerpoint presentation outlining the feasibility and benefits of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad locating a transload or intermodal freight facility in Kingman.

He said Kingman is competing with two other tri-state communities for the railroad's next processing center. But according to the railroad, the proposed facility is not so much a "when" as much as an "if" - one that already has cost taxpayers $4,500.

The railroad says it's looking to expand its relationship with Mohave County, but although it would not specify what that entails, representatives did say a freight center was not part of the potential expanded relationship.

Two representatives from BNSF stated on the record, "we are not building an intermodal facility in Kingman." Further, one said there isn't even an intention, let alone a proposal, to build a facility here.

Weir used the word "potential" throughout his presentation to City Council, but he spoke with conviction about Kingman being the next destination for BNSF because of the city's prime location.

Kingman has the space and accommodations necessary to make the freight facility a success, he said. It is an ideal city because the location would provide access to Nevada, California, the rest of Arizona and other states.

BNSF's regional manager of economic development LaTonya Finch said she met with city officials and talked about potential expansion, but plans for an intermodal or transload facility were not involved in the discussion. Kingman officials "have a very strong interest in having BNSF develop an intermodal facility," she said.

"We have no intentions and/or plans to develop an intermodal facility in the town of Kingman," Finch said.

Nonetheless, Weir is pursuing an economic feasibility study to determine how accommodating Kingman would be to the railroad. He's recruiting private firms and pursuing the federal government to pay for the study, he said.

"Where we're at right now is all of these involve a very lengthy process of determination," he said.

After hearing the railroad's denial of building a freight center in Kingman, Weir clarified his language.

"There's absolutely real opportunity," he clarified. "We're not saying, we never have said, that there will be (a freight center), we're talking about potential."

"Kingman is a strategic location for transloading opportunities."

He said Lena Kent, the BNSF public affairs regional director and first to renounce Weir's proposal, was the wrong person to ask about the intermodal and transload centers. He then directed the Miner to Finch, who repeated and expanded on what Kent said.

Another problem between the railroad and the city is the discrepancy between who proposed to whom the idea to tour the Illinois and California facilities.

The summary of a 20-page report presented to Council says BNSF suggested to city officials they visit freight centers in Illinois and California. According to Finch, the $4,500 trip was initiated by Kingman representatives, not the railroad.

Several city officials did attend a four-day combined tour of the Illinois and California facilities in June.

According to Kent, however, the tour was not to see what kind of facility is proposed for Kingman, but served more as an educational, fact-finding trip for the officials, not a part of a larger plan. She admitted that BNSF has been talking with Kingman officials about improving its relationship with the community, but clarified that BNSF is simply talking about Kingman's interests.

Two-thirds of cities in which BNSF has some kind of freight facility are in the top 100 most-populated cities with at least 200,000 citizens. Fourteen of those are in the top 50 most-populated cities, and the remaining cities not in the top 100 average 87,000 people.