Northwest to Midwest: New rail service builds on NWSA’s intermodal growth

When most imported goods arrive in Puget Sound after weeks at sea, their voyage is far from over. Roughly 70% of the cargo that flows through The Northwest Seaport Alliance travels onward by rail to stock store shelves across the Midwest.

The NWSA provides a critical link in the intermodal supply chain that connects Asian markets and the U.S. interior—a network that recently became more efficient with the addition of a new direct rail service to Ohio by BNSF Railway.

“Our business model has always been to grow with our customers by expanding our markets and expanding our reach,” said Todd Carter, BNSF’s vice president of domestic intermodal. “Our latest service offering positions BNSF as an important link for shippers who are seeking fast and reliable transit between the Pacific Northwest and the greater Northwest Ohio region.”

The new route’s success reflects the ongoing growth of transload shipments originating at the NWSA, said Mike Reilly, the NWSA’s director of intermodal business development. “The Seattle-Tacoma region is strongly positioned for this business, with the second largest concentration of warehousing on the West Coast, as well as more than 125 transload facilities within 15 miles of NWSA marine terminals.”

Among them, BNSF’s South Seattle Intermodal Facility in Tukwila had a solid year in 2019, with more than 203,000 container movements. Its 170 employees plus 100 contractors and vendors manage 16 outbound trains each week destined for Chicago, West Coast destinations and cities throughout the country. The NWSA forecasts that the dramatic increase in e-commerce, along with ocean carriers’ increasing focus on port-to-port services, will expand demand in Tukwila and among the NWSA’s other intermodal partners.

Schneider National is among the intermodal marketing companies transloading and moving the shipments by rail to the Midwest for beneficial cargo owners (BCOs), including shipments along recently introduce BNSF routes in the Pacific Northwest and California. 

“At Schneider, we are eager to build upon the success of the BNSF-CSX joint services from California into the Ohio Valley. With the most direct route from the Pacific Northwest into the upper Midwest the transit time and service from this new routing should be something that excites shippers,” said Jim Filter, Schneider’s senior vice president and the general manager of Schneider’s intermodal division.

Fifty-three-foot containers on the new route arrive at a large intermodal facility in North Baltimore, Ohio, with easy access to other cities in the state, including Toledo, Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, as well as Detroit, Pittsburgh and Louisville, Kentucky. The growing volume of NWSA freight headed to the Midwest also opens the potential for shipments of international containers transferred directly from ships to on-dock rail in the future.

The North Baltimore service began in June 2020 and has already received positive marks from BCOs that rely on the NWSA.

Photo courtesy of BNSF Railway.

New 53-foot domestic service to North Baltimore, Ohio


Available Cutoff time Trip time
Wednesday – Sunday 10 a.m. 163 hours


Available Cutoff time Trip time
Sunday – Thursday 8 p.m. 167 hours