Just five months after the first Cold Train rolled out of Quincy, Wash. en route to Cicero, Ill., the dedicated train system is ready for the state’s 2010-11 apple crop.

“The route has met our expectations with regard to volume,” said Mike Lerner, a managing partner of Overland Park, Kan.-based Rail Logistics LC, the third-party logistics firm that specializes in turn-key rail services to industries throughout North America.

While produce industry members were interested in the rail option that came online in April, they made the Cold Train prove itself.

“Because we were new, we had to pass a number of tests,” Lerner said. “Customers wanted to make sure that we could deliver on our promises.”

Volumes have increased 40% from April, said Pat Boss, spokesman for The Port of Quincy, the western home of the intermodal container, rail and distribution service.

“In April, fewer than 15 containers a week departed for Illinois, but that figure is now at 25 containers a week and growing,” Boss said.

Each of the 53-foot-long containers can carry as much as a refrigerated trailer, Lerner said, making it competitive to shipping by road.

The containers also enable Rail Logistics to offer door-to-door service. Company trucks pick up loaded containers at Northwest packinghouses, and at the other end of the line deliver the produce to retailers’ distribution centers.

“We’re averaging about 4 ½ days door-to-door,” Lerner said.

The company serves shippers throughout the Columbia River basin, he said, including shippers as far away as Abbotsford, B.C.

Upon arrival in Illinois, Rail Logistics’ trucks deliver throughout the Midwest and as far east as Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky, Lerner said.

The Port of Quincy has received positive feedback from shippers and receivers, alike, Boss said.

Among what Lerner calls anchor customers are The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, and Jewel Food Stores Inc., Melrose Park, Ill.

Apples, potatoes, onions, cherries and frozen vegetables represent the bulk of the Cold Train shipments to date, with about 80% of the shipments containing apples, Boss said.

“Cold Trains have been running as often as four days a week, but with the apple season about to start, the departures could grow to six days a week,” he said.

A key neighbor to the intermodal terminal is Moses Lake, Wash.-based Columbia Colstor Inc., which operates nearly 1 million square feet of cold storage warehousing with consolidation, cross-docking and storage services.

Columbia Colstor has been operating near capacity, but purchased more ground adjacent to the terminal and is planning to expand, Boss said.