An 8,500-foot train filled with corn from Honeyford, N.D., arrived at Morrow County Grain Growers' Columbia River terminal near Boardman, Ore., on Nov. 15. It was the first time such a large train was unloaded in the U.S., made possible by a recent rail-to-barge expansion at the facility.

BOARDMAN, Ore. — Kevin Gray knew the 8,500-foot-long unit train bound for Oregon would be impressive. Yet he was still amazed to see it up close and personal.

“It’s one thing to see it on paper,” said Gray, general manager of the Morrow County Grain Growers cooperative. “But when you see it roll in, and the end cars are probably a half-mile away ... it’s just massive. That was my initial impression.”

The 1.6-mile-long train arrived Nov. 15 at the co-op’s grain terminal along the Columbia River near Boardman, with 142 cars hauling 550,000 bushels of corn that will be used to feed local livestock.

Workers spent about 14 hours unloading the shipment, which nearly filled one 105-foot-diameter storage bin at the facility.

It marked the first time such a large train had been unloaded anywhere in the U.S., and was made possible by a publicly funded rail-to-barge project allowing MCGG to bring in trains filled with corn and wheat from the Upper Midwest.

Gray called it the next generation of grain transportation.

“It’s been truly transformational seeing our employees and the grain facility develop to the point where we can handle a major feat like this,” he said.

Rail improvements

MCGG is a co-owner of the river terminal with the Port of Morrow. In 2019, the port received a $6.5 million Connect Oregon grant from the state Department of Transportation for rail improvements in its East Beach Industrial Park.

The co-op then secured another $2.1 million state grant last year to increase capacity at the Boardman elevator, adding a new 600,000-bushel storage bin.

The idea, Gray said, was twofold. First, agricultural shippers could avoid rail congestion and delays in the Columbia River Gorge by allowing trains to offload. Then the grain would transfer onto barges bound for exporters in Portland and Vancouver, Wash.