KINGSBURY | A deal for shipping farm products such as fresh produce in refrigerated train cars between an intermodal facility in LaPorte County and Florida has taken another major step toward reality.
A major financial backer has signed on with Green Express, the company trying to get the freight trains running, to deliver produce throughout Indiana and other states along to other countries.
News of a major financial backer for the project was revealed after officials in LaPorte County returned Feb. 22 from Florida following a series of meetings with officials at ports at Tampa Bay and near The Everglades.
The talks involved other major players from other countries included Panama.
"There have been some significant developments that are encouraging to us as we try to keep the project moving forward," LaPorte County attorney Shaw Friedman said.
Friedman said a "deep pocket equity partner" has signed a letter of intent to be a majority financial backer of Green Express, which wants to build and operate facilities in both states where produce would be loaded and taken off trains and stored in cold storage warehouses for distribution to markets in the U.S. and abroad.
Friedman said the financial backers are not being identified yet because the deal must still be finalized.
However, he said the equity partner has a wealth of experience with projects similar to the operations in the works in Kingsbury and Florida.
"We're not at liberty to reveal that yet," Friedman said.
Specifically, the proposed financial backer of Green Express is involved in industrial warehousing and renovation of old industrial sites and military installations.
During World War II, the military made ammunition at the Kingsbury site.
"Any project needs financing with deep pockets and some experience and some clout in the industry and we think Green Express has landed that with the folks they signed the letter agreement with," Friedman said.
He said talks were also productive with officials at the sea port in Tampa Bay and the 5,000-acre inland America's Gateway near The Everglades port.
Produce at those two sites would be loaded and unloaded from refrigerated CSX train cars making non-stop round trips with produce and other farm products such as pork and chicken.
Officials at both ports are waiting for the tentative partnership between Green Express and its financial backers to become official before making a decision on opening their ports to CSX trains, Friedman said.
Friedman said a vote by officials at each of the ports could happen as soon as next month depending on how fast a partnership between Green Express and its financial backers can officially be inked.
"Those were good, productive visits," Friedman said.
The project is viewed as a potential major job creator that will also grow the opportunity for farmers to reach new markets with more products.
Having a line of freight trains carrying strictly produce non-stop from both locations will speed up the time it takes for farm produce to reach customers and longer shelf life.
Friedman said the proposed rail line would be able to reach each destination in less than 56 hours and with more volume from having strictly farm products on all of the train cars.
The cost of transportation factored into the cost of produce for consumers also would be reduced.
Friedman said no more meetings are scheduled right now, but a lot of communication will occur in the coming weeks to try and finalize the arrangements.
"A lot of pieces are coming together and I think that's the encouraging part of the trip," Friedman said.
The potential for farmers is large enough for the project to be on the radar screens at the Indiana Department of Agriculture, which was hoping for good news from the trip to Florida.
"It's very exciting," said Ben Kenney, director of communications for the IDA in Indianapolis.
Kenney said trains full of produce running non-stop back and forth to the ocean is new to Indiana.
He could not predict how much of an impact that would have on the agriculture industry in the state.
However, he said the potential is enough to definitely catch the attention of the IDA, which has been following the project while it's been coming together the past several years.
"We believe once this is operational this will open a door for Hoosier farmers and producers for new international opportunities," Kenney said.