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Cold Train amends BNSF lawsuit

SPOKANE, WA: Cold Train Express, the innovative intermodal service that used Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) capacity to ship perishables from Washington State to Illinois, has amended its US$41 million lawsuit against the rail company following Cold Train's demise in August 2014.

The lawsuit claims BNSF engaged in "unfair and deceptive trade practices" by requiring Cold Train to use BNCF for 95 percent of its traffic - effectively prohibiting it from using other rail carriers – and then refused to revise the requirement despite promises to do so.

Cold Train also claims its business was harmed by a slowdown in BNSF's service on its Northern Corridor line in 2013 because the rail company began hauling larger volumes of oil and coal from the Northern Plains region; and by its decision to reduce its intermodal train service from one instead of two and increase the transit from three to six days.

Cold Train intermodalAs a result, many customers, especially fresh produce shippers, began looking for other service options and Cold Train says it subsequently lost most of its fresh produce traffic which was more than 70 percent of its business.

Cold Train claims that by April 2014 BNSF's on-time performance had "dropped to a dismal 3.0 percent" and it warned the rail company that it could cease trading without an improvement.

In its amended filing, Cold Train says BNSF would not restore its 72-hour service "nor was it willing to provide any substantial concession or compensation to the Cold Train to make up for the ruinous effects of its abrupt change of service".

In 2009, Cold Train founders Steven Lawson and Mike Lerner began discussions with BNSF about starting a refrigerated intermodal service to ship fresh produce grown in central Washington State to retailers in the Midwest. The concept was dependent on a consistent 72-hour rail service between an intermodal terminal at the port of Quincy, Washington and BNSF's intermodal ramp in Chicago, Illinois.

The Cold Train lawsuit claims BNSF promised a 72-hour service schedule that enabled the company to acquire intermodal reefers for produce to be loaded directly from the grower's site, delivered by truck to the port of Quincy, and then loaded onto an eastbound train the same day.

By May 2012, Cold Train had 175 containers in service and by September 2013 the company had over 400 reefers delivering refrigerated cargo from Quincy, Washington and Portland, Oregon to terminals in 19 Midwest and East Coast states and one Canadian province.

Lawson and Lerner filed their original lawsuit in April 2015 seeking compensation from BNSF as a result of terminating the Cold Train intermodal service.

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