McKay TransCold and National Logistics and Cold Storage are about to open a 49,000-square-foot refrigerated facility in the Chicago area, a hub for an express boxcar service carrying produce from California.

A grand opening is set for May 21 at the RidgePort Logistics Center, a 1,500-acre industrial park in Wilmington, Ill., about 40 miles southwest of Chicago. Rail service for McKay’s TransCold Express from Selma, Calif., will start in the first or second week of June, said Jason Spafford, vice president of business development.

It will be a four-day route to the Midwest on the BNSF Railway. That’s the same speed as trucking but will cost 5% to 15% less, according to Edina, Minn.-based McKay TransCold.

The primary fresh produce cargo will be carrots, citrus, stone fruit, potatoes and onions, Spafford said.

“We’ve also got butter, cheese and some other finished goods that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as coming out of the Central Valley or California, and juices as well,” he said.

Midwest product will include frozen foods, eggs and other consumer items.

The original plan was for an April or May start to the express service, but construction delays caused by a difficult Chicago winter put that off until June, Spafford said.

National Logistics and Cold Storage will operate the new RidgePort facility, which allows for eight boxcars to be unloaded at once. It’s 70 feet wide, designed for minimal transfer distance.

TransCold Express will start off with 30 boxcars and later expand to 50, Spafford said. Each is designed for racking, with capacity for four truckloads.

“We want to start out smaller and build up,” he said. “A good portion of the 30 is already booked.”

No other company is operating a boxcar unit train between California and the Midwest currently, he said.

“There’s plenty of manifest service that can take eight to 12 days, and intermodal service, but nothing strictly boxcar.”

The most common rail transport now is intermodal, according to Spafford.

“People now are used to hearing the word intermodal used interchangeably with train service,” he said. “Intermodal is when you take the 53-foot trailer you’re pulling behind a truck, remove the wheels and put it onto a rail flatbed. The boxcar service is a different animal. You’re taking the same refrigerated truck trailers and moving the products over a cross dock and into the boxcar.”