The Des Moines Metropolitan Area Planning Organization has received proposals from two companies seeking to win a contract to operate a proposed rail transloading facility in Des Moines, including a leading national firm with rail, port and terminal operations across the country. 

The companies that met the Nov. 6 bidding deadline are Denver-based OmniTRAX Inc. which is the second-largest U.S. operator of short-line railroads, and Merchants Distribution Service, a Des Moines-based distribution and storage company. 

The MPO’s executive committee, chaired by West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer, received an update on the project today. Zach Young, MPO principal planner, told the committee the response was lower than he had hoped for after hearing interest from seven firms, among them other companies with national rail operations. 

Young told the committee he plans to follow up with non-responding companies to determine reasons they didn’t bid, and said he may ask the committee to extend the RFP process, depending on the companies’ responses. A review committee made of MPO, Greater Des Moines Partnership and city of Des Moines staff is scheduled to meet next week to review the proposals. 

Merchants Distribution had responded to an earlier bidding process for the facility, but the MPO had determined its proposal was not adequate.  

The proposed transload facility would provide shippers with new options for shipping raw materials and other goods in and out of Central Iowa. The planned facility east of downtown at 200 S.E. 15th St. would provide access to three major railroads — BNSF Railway Co., Norfolk Southern Railway and Union Pacific Railway — as well as the regional Iowa Interstate Railroad. 

“We’ve been pushing this really hard from the MPO side,” Gaer said after the meeting. “We know it would spark a lot of economic development opportunity for Central Iowa.” 

The Des Moines City Council had authorized the MPO to issue a request for proposal on Sept. 24, after the MPO’s executive committee voted to terminate an earlier agreement with the owner of an Omaha transloading company.

The city in September canceled the contract with owner Steve Braithwaite, following reports that Braithwaite was indicted by a federal grand jury for alleged fraud related to an investigation of the Omaha facility’s safety procedures.