Not Using Rail? Maybe You Should

The news keeps getting better for shipping food via intermodal rail. New equipment and services offer shippers attractive and reliable options.


The Railex model offers four services weekly from the West Coast to Rotterdam, NY. Two services originate in Delano, CA in the San Joaquin Valley; one train departs every Wednesday and arrives every Monday evening in Rotterdam. The other train from Delano departs Friday night, arriving Wednesday in Rotterdam. Two other services originate in Wallula, WA; one train departs every Wednesday night, arriving Tuesday morning in Rotterdam, while the other train departs every Friday night, arriving Wednesday in Rotterdam.

 

Railex works with two Class 1 railroads: Union Pacific from the West Coast interchanges with CSX out of Chicago to points east and south. Union Pacific’s fleet of 64-foot refrigerated railcars provides GPS tracking and temperature control for Railex shipments, reports John Philp, assistant vice president, food and refrigerated products for Omaha-based Union Pacific Railroad. “Our dedicated unit trains deliver shipments from coast to coast in a mere five days. We are proud to work with Railex to link growers in the West with shippers to the East Coast.”

Each of Railex’s three locations is supported by a refrigerated 22,225,000 cubic-foot mega-transload-temperature-controlled distribution center with multiple temperature zones. This service operates 55 new 64-foot cars with the capacity to transport the equivalent of 1,120 trucks refrigerated products every week. Railex operates 19 railcar unloading locations on the West Coast and 14 in Rotterdam. “Railcars are loaded inside cooled facilities to keep the cold chain intact,” reports Esposito. “The trains stay intact throughout the journey, so products avoid shifting, bruising, temperature issues, and time delays. It’s a point-to-point route similar to flying direct instead of flying with several layovers.”

Esposito points out that this platform was designed with the help of the industry to fulfill a need. “When we were researching doing this in the early 2000s, we went to the industry and presented our idea to foodservice receivers, distributors, and shippers,” he explains. “We asked them to poke holes in the program because we wanted to make sure we were covering all the bases. Of course, service consistency was at the top of the list. But so was security in assuring the cold chain never got broken in order to keep the integrity and freshness of the products intact. They told us they wanted visibility of their products and they wanted to be able to assure that their products were being kept at the proper temperature throughout the transit.”

The company has been experiencing double-digit growth every year. “It is not just about the amount of customers we have,” explains Esposito. “It is about the amount and types of products our customers are entrusting to us. When we originally began the service, we got what I call the hardware goods like potatoes, onions, and carrots. But now we are hauling broccoli, lettuce, and organics that shippers never would have considered transporting by rail. We are even moving perishables like cherries and berries. So we gained a lot of trust with our customers over these few years we’ve been operating.”

 

The market is still ripe for potential growth, notes Esposito. “There are still shippers out there who had bad experiences 15 or 20 years ago with rail and said they would never use rail again. But we have managed to flip many of them. Our program is simple: we offer consistent point-to-point service while securing your products. Our facilities are under continual surveillance and our customers have the ability to trace their shipments so they know exactly where their products are at any given moment.”

All Aboard!

It’s clear that the intermodal network is providing more and more unique services to accommodate the requirements of food shippers. And the uncertainty over the future of the trucking industry is influencing shippers to choose rail more and more. “There is the anticipation of a major shortage of truck drivers because of HOS and EOBRs which will impact a reduction in the hours a driver can drive,” says Prince of T. Prince & Associates. “The required medical checkups will also take drivers out of the equation. Then there is the issue of the California Air Resources Board, which will impose limits on the types of equipment that will be allowed to operate in California.”

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