Anyone who commutes knows even the slightest change in gas prices can dramatically increase costs to get to and from work. The same can be said for companies that rely on a variety of means of transportation to keep their businesses efficient and operational.

Transportation costs typically account for more than 50 percent of total distribution costs, compared with inventory/carrying and administrative costs. If those transportation costs can be shaved even a little bit, then it’s likely a company can generate more income and profit or offer its goods at a lower cost — and what company doesn’t want a cost advantage against its competitors?

BNSF Railway’s new Logistics Park Kansas City intermodal rail hub had its long-awaited grand opening last week in what is now Edgerton, but sits a few hundred feet from residential Gardner in Johnson County. The facility is among the most efficient and technologically advanced intermodal sites in the country. Of course, the initiative’s most important aspect — as far as Franklin County residents likely are concerned — is the facility’s impact on the local job market.

Logistics Park Kansas City is expected to eventually help create an estimated 7,400 jobs in the immediate area of the development and 13,000 jobs in the state, according to BNSF. Those are jobs many in Franklin and Anderson counties would like an opportunity to secure. BNSF employees being displaced from the company’s Argentine yard in downtown Kansas City, Mo., will have first dibs at open positions since 65 percent of the BNSF rail volume will shift to the new intermodal and the company’s lift-capacity will more than double at the new site.

A key part of the facility’s mission is to reduce truck traffic on the nation’s roadways, Chuck Burriss, BNSF general director of hub operations, said. The intermodal accomplishes that goal by transporting freight containers or “boxes” of largely foreign goods from ports by rail to be distributed onto semi-trailers and chassis that take the containers on the final legs of their journeys.

A vital measure of the intermodal’s success is the amount of time it takes to get a driver through the facility, Burriss said. Because of the automation offered by the Logistics Park Kansas City’s automatic gate system, truck loads are expected to be processed in than five minutes — courtesy of optical character recognition equipment that dramatically reduces the time needed for inspections.

“It is a pretty big puzzle to put together,” Burriss said during an Oct. 17 media tour of the site preceding its official grand opening. That puzzle includes deciding how deep and tall to stack “boxes” to knowing how to distribute the weight of the boxes evenly. Because of the heavy weight of some shipments, such as grain, all those pieces have to be determined quickly for peak efficiency among the 4,300 container stacking spots.

The intermodal’s towering orange cranes, which are about 90-feet high, can handle about 500,000 lifts per unit per year. Straddling five train tracks, a crane drops down a clamp that attaches to the four corners of a freight container, picking up the box and moving it along to keep shipments processing. Most containers are expected to be on-site in fewer than 48 hours, so the action must be quick. Not surprisingly, the crane operators are among the highest paid workers at the site.

The BNSF Railway invested more than $250 million in the 1,550-acre master-planned distribution and warehouse development, which is expected to enhance the Kansas City region’s position in the global supply chain, helping it to compete with operations in Chicago. Our area is fortunate to be the new home of the only full-service BNSF facility in the western two-thirds of the United States. Location is key in real estate, and BNSF made a logical choice for its location that can’t help but benefit Franklin County too.

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher