Washington Grain Train

What is the Washington Grain Train?

Grain Train car (side view)

The Washington Grain Train serves over 2,500 cooperative members and farmers in one of the most productive grain-growing regions in the world. The Washington Grain Train helps carry thousands of tons of grain to deepwater ports along the Columbia River and Puget Sound for transport to ships bound for Pacific Rim markets.

The Washington Grain Train began operations in 1994 and currently has 125 grain cars in the fleet. The Union Pacific Railroad, BNSF Railway Company, and Washington short-line railroads operate the cars and carry the grain to market.

2017-2027 Grain Train Strategic Plan Complete

The 2017-2027 Grain Train Strategic Plan (pdf 2mb) is complete. This plan includes history of the program and outlines the vision and goals for the program as well as identifying operational improvements and policy changes that will ensure the program continues to enhance the economic competitiveness of Washington state. (Those needing the plan in an alternate format should submit a request at Rail@wsdot.wa.gov.)

Why did WSDOT start the Washington Grain Train program?

Grain Train car with silo

In the early 1990s, a national shortage of rail hopper cars made it difficult and expensive for Washington state farmers to get grain to market. To help alleviate this shortage of grain cars, the Washington State Energy Office and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) used federal funds to purchase 29 used grain cars to carry wheat and barley from loading facilities in eastern Washington to export facilities in western Washington and Oregon.

Public benefits of the Washington Grain Train

The Washington Grain Train produces a number of important public benefits. The Washington Grain Train:

  • Helps move Washington products reliably and efficiently to domestic and international markets.
  • Helps preserve Washington’s short-line railroads by generating revenues that may be used to upgrade rail lines and support the railroad’s long-term infrastructure needs.
  • Helps support a healthy rail network that may maintain and attract new businesses in rural areas of Washington.
  • Saves fuel over shipping by truck.
  • Supports air quality improvement initiatives.
  • Helps reduce wear and tear on local roadways by using rail.
  • Was started with federal “seed” money and operates without any taxpayer subsidy.

Who manages the Washington Grain Train?

WSDOT jointly manages the Washington Grain Train program with the ports of Walla Walla and Moses Lake, and Whitman County. WSDOT oversees the entire program and the port districts collect monthly payments for the use of the program’s 100 cars (Port of Walla Walla collects for the other 18 cars). The ports can use up to one percent of the payments they receive from the railroads for fleet management services.

Which communities are served by the Washington Grain Train?

The Washington Grain Train collects wheat and barley from grain elevators in eight cities in eastern Washington. These include: Warden, Schrag, La Crosse, Prescott, Endicott, Willada, St. John, and Thornton. The grain is transported to export facilities in Kalama, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver, WA, and Portland, OR.

How well is the program performing today?

Use of the grain cars remains strong. Since its beginning in 1994, the Washington Grain Train program has moved more than 5 million tons of grain from Washington to national and international markets. 

For more information, contact:

Mark Nickerson
Freight Rail Coordinator