Citing Lighter Load, BNSF Puts Brakes on New Kansas Freight Hub

In light of slowing freight demand, BNSF Railway Co. is putting the brakes on plans for a 2008 construction start of a 500-acre intermodal hub in Gardner, Kans., about 25 miles southwest of Kansas City. Together, the intermodal center and a neighboring 600-acre logistics center make up the $735 million Logistics Park Kansas City. Still, BNSF insists that the move marks only a delay, not a cancellation. “We’re still proceeding with the project,” a spokesperson for BNSF told CPN. “We’re not to stick with the previous 12- to 18-month time frame.” The spokesperson explained that BNSF will eventually need the new hub to replace its current local facility, a 45-acre hub in Kansas City. That hub is strategically located on BNSF’s vital Los Angeles-to-Chicago corridor and serves portions of Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Iowa. The spokesperson declined to speculate on what might prompt BNSF to re-examine the decision, but it seems likely that the railroad company will primarily watch for signs of increased freight traffic. Only a few years ago, growing freight traffic indicated the need to find a replacement for the Kansas City location, which is landlocked and therefore allows no room for expansion. By 2007, the Kansas City location was generating some 370,000 units of all sizes. But last year the calculus changed when volume dropped to about 330,000 units, and the urgency of replacing the existing facility began to diminish. BNSF’s decision also appears to raise questions about the timing of the neighboring logistics center planned by The Allen Group. At complete build-out, the distribution facilities will encompass some 7.1 million square feet. The developer could not be reached for comment late last week, but last September Allen Group obtained approval from Johnson County, Kans., officials for $52 million in infrastructure improvements. As BNSF waits for the market to improve, it is moving forward on several fronts that will put it in position to start work when its executives sign off. By May, the railroad expects to receive permission to re-route a stream the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And BNSF still expects to take delivery of five massive container cranes this summer.