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Tucson's first rail export headed to Japan

Tucson's first rail export headed to Japan

A local company is the first to take advantage of the new capability at the Port of Tucson to directly ship ocean freight to outbound ports.

The makers of Azmira pet food previously had to rent an empty freight truck to pick up their product and drive it to the Los Angeles port for export.

Last week, they simply drove it a mile down the road to the Port of Tucson and loaded it onto an ocean container where it rolled away by rail to the L.A. port, destined for Osaka, Japan.

“As a small company competing in a big pet-food industry, for us to be located a mile from the port is huge for us,” said Rob Carr, chief operating officer for Azmira Holistic Animal Care, which makes all-natural pet foods and supplements.

Aside from eliminating the round trip to California, the exporter was able to load more product onto the container.

“Over the road, we’re restricted by weight to 40,000 pounds,” Carr said. “Now we can load upwards of 55,000 pounds. Just there we’re adding value.”

He estimated an export savings of at least 20 percent with the tightened transportation cost.

“There’s not that extra leg in the trip,” Carr said. “It’s a wonderful asset for us to have and is really going to help us compete in the marketplace. Shipping more weight for less money is really positive.”

The company’s first shipment via Tucson’s port was of dry and canned dog and cat food.

The voyage is expected to take about 25 days, and within a month, “Pochi” and “Tama” — popular Japanese dog and cat names — will be dining on Tucson-made kibbles.

A first for Arizona

Tucson became Arizona’s first port to service international cargo in June.

Like Azmira, exporters previously had to rent trucks to drive their products to California to be loaded onto ocean liners.

Earlier this month, the Port of Tucson received a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to build a ramp that will allow a train to run through the facility to be unloaded or loaded without having to break the train cars apart.

Hundreds of empty containers come through Tucson out of Texas every day and — with the port’s new designation — are a potential vehicle for exporters to reach seaports, said Stefan Baumann, director of business development for the Port of Tucson.

“Texas is a consumer market, and they import a lot of ocean freight from Asia to El Paso, Dallas, and then those empties roll right through Tucson, back to California,” Baumann said, noting that more than 60 percent of containers on westbound trains are empty.

“We can now stop them here and load them and send them along,” he said.

Port of Tucson officials were thrilled that the first exporting transaction was for a Tucson company.

“It goes to show,” Baumann said, “the locals benefit first.”

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at

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