If plans progress to reactivate as a rail site the long-slumbering former JATCO site, just south of the former main General Motors plant property on Janesville’s south side, that could happen as soon as this fall, owners of the defunct industrial property say.
In a public junket Wednesday on the south side, site owner Commercial Development Company and two commercial freight operators unveiled some details of a plan to convert 30 of the 122-acre JATCO acres to an intermodal freight hub. The vision is for such a hub to—at some point—ship in and out dozens of train and semitrailer boxcar cars a day.
The site, if built out, would be a crushed-gravel lot where dozens of freight shipping containers, designed to be transported by rail and hauled by semitrailer truck, would be stored. It would turn about a quarter of the southern half of the former GM site into a place where boxcars fitted for trains, trucks and large container ships would come and go.
The boxcars would be filled with freight bound by truck for urban population centers in Wisconsin, or outbound freight being shipped back to Chicago for national or global distribution. If built, it would be the first intermodal facility of its type in Wisconsin. Developers say it would alleviate mounting freight bottlenecks, where freight cars are offloaded onto semitrailer trucks at Chicago’s massive network of rail shipping yards.
In a public meet-and-greet Wednesday at Rock County’s Human Services Center on Center Avenue, Commercial Development, Minneapolis intermodal freight broker Valor Victoria and logistics firm Jaguar Transport Holdings pitched the emerging proposal.
Valor Victoria operations Vice President Adam Swift said most of the freight cars that would come into the site would be inbound into Wisconsin from Chicago on a major Union Pacific freight rail line. The line sweeps past the former JATCO and main GM plant sites and connects to a six-line rail spur that’s been on the JATCO site since its days as an auto haul-away yard for GM.
Swift likens the proposed rail yard to a pressure-release valve for an increasing logjam of freight cars being brought into Chicago amid a truck driver shortage. Allowing some shipping containers bound for Wisconsin cities to bypass the logjam and run straight through Janesville could shave days off trucking delivery bottlenecks.
“You have to find a trucker in Chicago to pick that container up, drive it up here to Janesville. When Chicago is super busy, and there’s a scarcity of truckers, a lot of the Chicago truck drivers now simply won’t leave,” that metropolitan area, he said.
Initially, the intermodal operation is envisioned to be set on the north side of the JATCO site in a cleared, paved area that has sat vacant and overgrown with bushes and trees since the GM plant was shuttered in 2009.
Commercial Development has owned the JATCO site and the 115-acre main GM plant to the north since 2018. The whole 250-acre swath of land has sat idle since 2020, around the time Commercial Development finished removing most of the 2.5-million square-foot GM auto manufacturing factory complex.
Swift said the intermodal plan has come together over the last year or so, during a time when more and more goods have been shipped via intermodal cars, both via highways and rail.
Swift said Valor Victoria and the operator, Jaguar Intermodal, would initially run about 30 cars a day in and out of the site. But at capacity, it could handle as many as 90 freight cars coming and going, according to ground plans made public this week.
The intermodal site would operate in some ways similar to JATCO’s former operations, which included offloading hundreds of auto parts from rail to the main plant to ship out new cars. The site’s visual footprint is not intended to be a boxcar jungle with train cars stacked four-high, Commercial Development Vice President Stephen Collins told The Gazette on Wednesday.
“The idea is not to store freight there, you keep it moving. The whole idea is to get it to the customer, fill it up and get it sent back,” Collins said.
The operations on the initial shipping yard site would be spartan, with a modular work trailer as home base for eight or so employees.
Commercial Development over the last year has tried to package both the main GM plant site and JATCO in property auctions. Both sites have letters of environmental closure from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, but neither has sold.
The intermodal yard would be operated through a ground lease, likely a long-term one, Collins said, but the JATCO site in the future could flower into a multi-phase redevelopment, including large-scale industrial or logistics developments alongside the intermodal hub.
A second-phase plan that Collins said could roll out in a year could bring a large grain terminal that would be used to ship grain and soybeans from local sources to the west coast, where the grain would subsequently be loaded onto massive shipping container boats bound for China and other Asian markets.
Joe Stadelman, a lead architect with local design firm Angus-Young, that designed ground plans for the proposed intermodal site and future developments at JATCO, said full plans call for site upgrades including a new street to keep truck traffic to and from the intermodal site off of a mainly residential section of Kellogg Avenue.
He said the intermodal site doesn’t need rail upgrades. It could be launched for a “soft start” by November.
The whole former GM site including the JATCO site is in an overlay district that would allow intermodal operations, although that would need city plan commission review and a conditional use permit.