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Right people, right place
Ground broken for the much-anticipated Great Bend Transload Facility
new deh transload facility ground breaking main pic web
Dignitaries representing the Great Bend Transload Facility partners turn soil during the official ground breaking ceremony at the site west of Great Bend Wednesday afternoon. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

It’s been a long time coming, but ground was finally broken Wednesday afternoon for the new transload facility west of Great Bend. The ceremony took place at the site of the operation in the Great Bend Industrial Park.

“We all need to think about the magnitude of this event,” said master of ceremonies Mark Mingenback. “This team has done a marvelous thing.”

He was referring to the many public and private partners involved in the project. They include the Kansas Department of Transportation, Watco Companies (K&O Railroad), the City of Great Bend, Sherwood Construction, the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce and Fuller Industries.

“They are making Great Bend a transportation hub,” Mingenback said. “This is an amazing partnership.”

Transloading is the moving of goods from one mode to another, in this case, from truck to rail and rail to truck. This can provide flexible and cost-effective solutions for customers who don’t access to rail service or need expanded warehousing.

The Kansas Department of Transportation/Kansas Turnpike Authority Transload Facility Site Analysis Committee selected the finalists from 111 proposals. Great Bend and Garden City made the final cut.

It will serve wind energy, cement, pipe, lumber, construction materials, chemicals, canned goods, oil related businesses, among other industries.  

“It will bring good economic development to Great Bend,” Mayor Mike Allison said. “We will become the center of Kansas transportation.”

A grand vision

The idea for a Kansas facility was born several years ago, said Kansas Transportation Secretary Mike King. It happened after he visited a larger transload operation in Kansas City.

“We thought about what we could do on a smaller scale to impact more Kansans,” King said. 

The idea took off, he said. After inviting Kansas communities to apply for a facility, 111 responded. However, “Great Bend rapidly rose to the top of that,” King said.

Only eight cities were invited to submit proposals. Only Great Bend and Garden City were picked.

King attended the ground breaking in Garden City earlier Wednesday. He stressed that the two are not in competition.

“This is truly a regional center,” King said. “That’s what we want to do – create opportunities and know when its time for government to invest.”

“It takes a community like Great Bend to do this,” said Pat Cedeno with the Pittsburg-based Watco Company. Watco owns the K&O Railroad which will serve the planned facility.

“I’ve been involved with this site for four years.” Cedeno said. He’s been working with officials in Great Bend to figure out how to make this happen.

He credited King’s initial vision of Kansas being a global player, KDOT’s appreciation of rail transportation and the relationships he’s established for the project’s success. “It’s the right people and the right place.”

Cedeno said they want to bring value and creative ways to grow businesses. “We want to create jobs and economic development to the area.”

Matt Richie of Sherwood Constrution said doing business in western Kansas presents many logistical challenges. Such facilities help “bridge the gap.”

“It will make them more competitive,” he said.

Sherwood is a long-time partner of Watco and will be managing the transload site.

An ideal location

The ceremony took place under two large tents set up in a large field that will be the site for the facility. An aerial photo showing the location stood at the front of the large crowd gathered in the shade to get out of the sweltering summer heat.

Following the introduction of the local and state officials and after their remarks, things adjourned to a row of shovels stuck in the ground outside the tents.

Representatives of the many partners each manned a shovel and turned the first spade-fulls of dirt for the project.

The operation will be on 17 acres leased from the city for $400 per month. When running, there will be three tracks for loading and unloading, as well as staging, for up to 45 rail cars. 

Watco is a small railroad company that works with 35 shortline railroads and services about 890 miles of track in Kansas and into Colorado. It manages 65 to 70 terminals or transload facilities across the country.

“Kansas is in the middle of the United States and Great Bend is in the middle of Kansas,” Cedeno said. This and the fact the Great Bend Municipal Airport, two trucking companies and other businesses are nearby make Great Bend an ideal fit.

In addition, the location near the airport has access to more than one rail line, on-ground storage and, through an agreement with Fuller Industries, warehousing options.

It is be K&O that signed the final state contract. 

According to KDOT, the facility should be operational by the end of the year. Things that have to happen first include the improvement of roads in the area, the rehabilitation of the existing rail lines and the construction of the new lines.

A pit also has to be dug to hold the aggregate (a mixture of crushed rock, concrete and sand used in construction) that will be one of the staple products handled at the site.

The other finalists included that didn’t make the cut were Abilene, Concordia, Eldorado (Refinery Road site), Great Plains Industrial Park just south of Parsons and Norton.