BIG BUSINESS: Port railroad takes delivery of massive wind turbine blades

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BY STEVE CLARK STAFF WRITER

The Brownsville & Rio Grande Valley International Railroad, which serves the Port of Brownsville, has its hands full with some plus-sized Vestas Wind Blade Vesselcargo these days: gigantic wind turbine rotor blades, manufactured in China and bound for Iowa.

Ninety individual blades, each of them 128 feet long and weighing 77,000 pounds, were offloaded from the Chinese freighter “Gong Yin 1” at the port and are now being loaded onto railcars.

The blades were manufactured by Vestas Wind Systems, a Danish company, and are bound for a terminal in Manly, Iowa, that handles wind turbine components. The blades are composed of carbon and glass fiber.

“They’re pretty impressive things,” said B&RGV spokesman Ron Margulis.

He said the port would also receive shipment of the nacelles, which contain the power-generating apparatus, though they haven’t been shipped yet. There are three blades per rotor, which attaches to the nacelle.

The size of the blades requires specially outfitted railroad flatcars — two flatcars for each blade, Margulis said. The B&RGV will hand off the railcars to Union Pacific for the trip to the Midwest, he said.

It’s not the first time the port has handled giant rotor blades, though in this case they’re coming through Brownsville and other Gulf ports due to a dock worker labor dispute that has effectively shut down ports on the West Coast.

Norma Torres, B&RGV president and chief operating officer, said the goal is to load 10 flatcars a day until all 30 cars are loaded, which will take several days. For safety’s sake, stevedores are moving slowly at first until they get the hang of it, she said. Moving each blade requires two cranes operating in tandem.

The port has loaded rotor blades onto trucks before but never rail cars, Torres said, adding that this is among the biggest cargo the railroad has ever handled. She’s expecting another blade shipment sometime in May.

“We did a couple of big reactors a while back, but it’s been a while,” she said. “This is probably the longest cargo we’ve ever handled. It’s a new experience for everybody.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com