Backers of a Midwest intermodal terminal are hopeful the facility could eventually handle fresh produce containers.

Planned upper Midwest intermodal terminal could move perishablesMinnesota City, Minn.-based Seven Rivers Intermodal Terminals LLC plans to open its containerized rail operation by early to mid-autumn.

The Winona, Minn., terminal would connect rail and trucking freight with Mississippi River freight and help bypass bottlenecks at Chicago and Minneapolis, said Vicki Markussen, executive director of the 7 Rivers Alliance, a La Crosse, Wis.-based regional economic development organization.

Markussen said the intermodal station should including fresh and processed food distributors and manufacturers closer to using rail for product transportation.

Lack of refrigerated rail cars, however, remains a barrier to handling refrigerated containers, she said.

“The close proximity of this intermodal station means that the importing of food into this area is easier, closer and much more cost-effective for those bringing food products in,” Markussen said. “There are many food producers here. The facility isn’t courting perishables shipments yet. It needs to get to the critical mass to bypass Chicago, the first hurdle.”

Lee Stoltman, a project partner and chief operating officer of La Crosse-based Supply Chain Solutions Inc., said the terminal could handle perishable shipments.

“Step 1 is to get it open and start operating with dry freight initially,” Stoltman said. “As time goes by, hopefully we can find some options to work with. It’s a little difficult to find refrigerated containers unless it’s something the customers can provide themselves.”

Markussen cited interest in the terminal by distributors including La Crosse-based Potato King Inc., and Organic Valley Family of Farms, a La Farge, Wis., broadline organic distribution cooperative.