News & Reviews News Wire Union Pacific to open new international intermodal terminal in Phoenix

Union Pacific to open new international intermodal terminal in Phoenix

By Bill Stephens | November 29, 2023

The facility, which will handle containers moving to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, is being built in the railroad’s downtown yard

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Union Pacific intermodal trains roll across the Arizona desert. UP

OMAHA, Neb. — Union Pacific will open an intermodal terminal in Phoenix early next year to handle international traffic moving to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The terminal will be located in UP’s downtown yard, which has capacity to allow expansion of the terminal as demand warrants, UP said today.

The fast-growing Phoenix metropolitan area, with 4.85 million residents, is the 10th largest in the U.S.

“We are excited to offer regional shippers and receivers in Arizona a fast, sustainable rail option to move product into and out of Southern California that is cost competitive and removes trucks from our nation’s congested highways, with an ability to expand offerings and grow in the future,” Kenny Rocker, UP’s executive vice president of marketing and sales, said in a statement.

The new facility will open with drayage support provided by Duncan & Son Lines, a family-owned logistics firm in Buckeye, Ariz., that primarily focuses on international container drayage from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Duncan & Sons will dray all imports to its 25-acre container yard at Laveen Village, Ariz., which is about 15 miles from the terminal.

UP says it will begin daily service between Phoenix and the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and its Intermodal Container Transfer Facility in Long Beach during the first quarter of 2024.

The railroad estimates that converting tens of thousands of truckloads per year to intermodal will allow shippers to avoid 25,214 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. UP would not disclose the terminal’s annual lift capacity.

The terminal will open with the ability to handle 20-foot and 40-foot international containers. UP says it will evaluate expansion of the terminal and its service offerings in the future.

The Phoenix facility follows the “pop-up” intermodal terminal strategy that UP has used to test the market before committing the capital required to build larger, permanent terminals. The others are at West Colton, Calif., in the Inland Empire transload district, and in the Twin Cities.

Intermodal analyst Larry Gross says there’s a lot of international container volume moving to the Phoenix area today, but it’s all on the highway. The 381-mile highway move is short-haul intermodal business for a railroad.

“But moving this freight on the highway will become more difficult in the future as California Air Resources Board regulations in Southern California will make low/zero emission trucks a requirement. This may be a factor in UP’s thinking,” Gross says.

“It is interesting that UP appears to be doing this without port support,” he adds, noting that makes the service different than Norfolk Southern’s short haul service from the Port of Charleston, S.C., to Greer, N.C. The South Carolina Port Authority was a prime mover behind that service. “Of course, the fact that this will be an interstate move might have something to do with the difference.

“In the past, issues holding back the implementation of intermodal mainly centered on pricing and lack of terminal capacity in L.A.,” Gross says. “For this service to be successful it will need to be competitively priced. Service speed is less important but it will need to operate in a reliable and consistent fashion. It’s good to see another example of the railroads offering new intermodal services. The railroads have been speaking about a pivot to growth for some time, but it is initiatives such as this that will be needed to convert the talk into a market reality.”

Union Pacific is building an intermodal terminal in its Phoenix yard. Google Maps

10 thoughts on “Union Pacific to open new international intermodal terminal in Phoenix

  1. Not the best place for an intermodal terminal..in the downtown area and requiring crowded city streets for in/out entry.

  2. every container will be a truck on the highway, so does it really take trucks off the road? dock to dock with a railcar is the only true way to take trucks off the road. as for reliable service. that’s a laugh. our UP service continues to get worse.

  3. I doubt there is going to be a dedicated intermodal train right out of the gate, so we can calm down the panic about blocking crossings in Phoenix while splitting up huge IM trains. Do you really think, when the service is launched, that every single truck load will come off the highway overnight and be carried by rail? Not likely. The article states, this is a pop up yard. The traffic out of the Minneapolis pop up yard, which opened a few years ago, was (and still is) moving on manifest trains out to North Platte. My guess is the Phoenix traffic will move to Tucson on an existing stack train, and then be taken up to Phoenix on a manifest train.

  4. Nothing new under the sun. SP ran a hot Pig train from The Shops (LATC) to PHX (LAPXT) in the 1970s. As PHX is a destination rather than an origin, the service was 100% empty return. Looks like it will be so for the containers also.

  5. Opening photo appears to be Shawmut, west of Maricopa. UP has several online customers west of Phoenix. It is only beyond them the line is unused.

  6. It seems logical they would eventually reopen the line to Yuma. But we are talking about logic and good thinking. Not something UP seems to posses much of these days.

  7. Good idea for UP/ The ~~ 120 mile detour by way of the Maricopa bypass will cause some what longer enroute time of the containers. At least there is a wye about 1/2 way to Tucson.

    Will that + the regular freight from the west cause UP to consider reopening the ~~ 100-mile direct route to Yuma? One factor is that the UP yard is only about 5000 feet long which will cause doubling of long IM trains. There are many grade crossing just west of the yard that can cause political problems when doubling trains or splitting them. Doubt reactivation but there is the wild card of Amtrak also wanting to use that route. probably the direct route would need 2 – 3 15,000 foot controlled sidings?

    If UP finds it will need a substantial upgrading of the present route toward Tucson that might push UP to activate the direct Yuma route? Also have an alternate route to Yuma is a consideration.

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