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Published August 24, 2011, 01:27 PM

Montana grain elevator to get upgrade

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — The Central Montana Cooperative plans to build a 110-car grain train shuttle loader at the site of its current elevator just west of Fort Benton, making it the fifth loader announced in recent months.

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — The Central Montana Cooperative plans to build a 110-car grain train shuttle loader at the site of its current elevator just west of Fort Benton, making it the fifth loader announced in recent months.

"There will be a lot of competition," said Keith Schumacher, general manager of Central Montana Cooperative.

The co-op owns the current 52-car train loader near Kershaw and has leased it to United Harvest for the past several years. The lease ends in October and the co-op plans to take back the lease and upgrade the existing facility. Construction is scheduled to begin in September and be completed by fall 2012, Schumacher said.

The decision to upgrade the facility was made in part because spring flood damage to the Central Montana Rail line's train trestle northwest of Lewistown cut off rail service to co-op elevators in Denton and Geraldine.

The trestle is being repaired, but Schumacher said the investment makes sense.

"We look forward to positioning ourselves for the future with this 110-car facility," he said.

The elevator is within 15 miles of Columbia Grain's 110-car shuttle loader at Carter. EGT announced plans last week to build a new 110-car grain elevator east of Carter. Both EGT and Gavilon Grain are building shuttle loaders in Chester, while EGT is also building one near Galata. Over the past eight months, companies have announced plans to build five shuttle loaders in Montana, which already has 13 shuttle loaders.

"It's nice to be wanted, to be so competed over," said Lola Raska, executive vice president of the Montana Grain Growers Association. "There's not only competition now with more grain companies building shuttle loaders, but also competition for acres between crops."

BNSF Railway offers lower shipping rates to shuttle loader elevators because the cars don't sit idle as long.

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