On Track: Longer trains arrive at Oregon coop

By Chris Lusvardi

Morrow County Grain Growers (MCGG) Cooperative General Manager Kevin Gray knew there was something special about the 8,500-foot-long train that arrived Nov. 15 at the coop’s rail-to-barge receiving facility along the Columbia River near Boardman, OR.

The 142-car train hauling 550,000 bushels of corn from Farmers Elevator Co., Honeyford, ND for local livestock producers is part of a push from the Canadian Pacific Kansas City Railroad (CPKC) to be more efficient.

It marked the first time such a large train had been unloaded anywhere in the United States.

The coop’s employees spent about 15 hours unloading the shipment, which nearly filled one of the coop’s three 105-foot-diameter steel tanks.

“We’re proud to be the first ones to do it,” Gray says. “It wasn’t too big of a deal for us to take in a train with 30 more cars.”


From left: Mark Patton, chief operating officer, Port of Morrow; Kevin Gray, general manager, Morrow County Grain Growers, Inc.; and Jayson Bisbee, national accounts manager, Canadian National Kansas City Railroad. Photo courtesy of the Port of Morrow.

Gray considers the larger trains filled with corn and wheat from the Upper Midwest to be part of the next generation of grain transportation.

He says the coop is expecting more of these large unit trains to arrive every month starting later in the year.

“The trains will only become longer as we go forward,” Gray says. “It’s the way of the future for a small co-op to handle trains this big. Every train coming in could be between 140 and 147 cars.”

Rail-to-Barge Facility

The MCGG cooperative, headquar-tered in Lexington, OR, was founded in 1930 and is owned by about 800 growers. It operates eight grain elevators with a total licensed capacity of 6.2 million bushels. The coop also handles fertilizer, chemicals, feed, seed, propane, and farm equipment sales.

Gray says the coop primarly handles corn and wheat that is fed to local livestock and dairy producers. It also handles soft white winter, in addition to hard red winter and dark northern spring wheat.

The coop and the Port of Morrow co-own the Boardman facility. In 2019, the site, located in the East Beach Industrial Park, received a $6.5 million Connect Oregon grant from the state’s Department of Transportation for rail improvements. The project included the construction of a 26,000-foot loop track.

That project, says Gray, along with a 8,500-foot track at Alto Ingredients’ ethanol plant next to the elevator, allows the coop to unload the 140-plus unit trains.

“In our case, an existing track was there, and a new track was built,” Gray says. “It worked out really well for us. None of the Pacific Northwest exporters could handle the 8,500-foot trains.

“One hundred forty cars goes out quite a ways,” Gray continues. “The East Beach loop gave us the ability to handle these bigger trains.”


Morrow County Grain Growers’ 2.4-million-bushel rail-to-barge elevator at the Port of Morrow near Boardman, OR. A new 603,000-bushel Sukup steel tank was erected in 2023 (right). The facility can load barges to be shipped on the Columbia River to export terminals in Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA.

Gray explains the recent improvements to the facility have meant that it can function as a trans-shipper from the Midwest, not just a handler of local grains.

He states grain barges from its Boardman and Hogue Warner facilities can reach port terminals in Portland, OR, along with Kalama and Vancouver, WA within 18 hours, instead of the couple days it takes with railcars due to congestion and slowdowns.

Expanded Tracks

Although the railroad would like to utilize larger unit trains such as the 1.6-mile-long one unloaded in November, Gray says most elevators are not equipped to handle such a lengthy train.

Gray notes the existing 11,000-foot tear-drop loop can fit between 112 and 120 cars, which is the size of previous trains coming into the facility.

Increased Storage Capacity

To handle the larger unit trains, the coop secured a $2.1 million state grant in 2022 to increase the facility’s storage capacity. The grant covered two-thirds of the project’s $3.6 million cost.

J&M Fabrication, Cheney, WA, was hired as general contractor and millwright in late 2022 to erect a 603,000-bushel Sukup corrugated steel tank, measuring 105 feet in diameter and 102 feet to the peak. The tank has two 60-hp fans providing 0.077 cfm per bushel on corn and 0.0641 cfm per bushel on wheat. The tank is filled by a 60,000-bph Schlagel drag conveyor. Grain is reclaimed from the tank by a 10,000-bph Springland bin sweep and returned to the shipping system by a 60,000-bph AGI Hi Roller enclosed belt conveyor.

“We did not have enough storage capacity to be a consistent, reliable supplier to our local feedyards,” Gray says.

He adds that with the added storage capacity, the coop isn’t as limited in what types of grain they can bring in.

“We don’t get tied in knots by just corn,” Gray says. “More storage definitely allows us to put different types of grain through the facility.”

The location started with six grain tanks when the rail-to-barge facility was first built in 1984. Gray says MCGG has since expanded storage by adding two steel tanks. There is still room on the site for five more tanks and a grain bunker.

Changes to Trains

The facility changes come as the railroads are designing new designs for their trains.

Gray says most unit trains are about 7,000 feet long with 112 cars that can carry 10,400 tons of wheat.

He notes the CPKC has designed a new model using “High Efficiency Product,” or HEP cars, which are shorter, wider, and lighter. The HEP design boosted weight capacity by 10% and volume by 15%, he says.

So instead of 112 cars, the train minimum is 134 cars spanning 8,500 feet with the capability of carrying 12,000 tons of wheat.