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SHORT LINES, GREAT WINE

Not so long ago, the California Northern Railroad (CFNR), a short-line railroad owned by RailAmerica, Jacksonville, FL, a short-line and regional railroad operator, began providing expedited express train service to the California wine industry. Dubbed "The Wine Connection," the program is a coordinated effort between CFNR and Class 1 railroads Union Pacific and CSX.

The Wine Connection's cross country journey begins at a warehouse in American Canyon, CA, where wine is loaded onto boxcars that travel on an express lane to Ogden, UT and then to North Platte, NE. From there, the train is split up and moved to Chicago, for Northeast destinations and to St. Louis, for Southeastern destinations.

"A number of years ago, there wasn't any wine that moved through boxcars. It was primarily truck traffic. The trucks would haul the wine from the Napa Valley over to Oakland and San Francisco, thereby putting them on the highway," says Larry Gomez, associate vice president of sales for the western region, for CFNR.

CFNR, who already served Napa Valley warehouses, where the major wineries would bottle, store and ship wine from, was eager to get involved when the other companies approached them. They began to put programs together to generate rail boxcar traffic for wine.

The railroad has seen its relationship with the California wine industry ripen into a profitable business that moved 2,200 carloads of wine in 2007. Currently, there are four wine warehouses on the CFNR and two more are scheduled to open in 2009.

"It's healthy for everyone. The wineries can move their freight cheaper, so they can sell more. The distributors can buy more if they save money. It's good for the railroads and it also takes trucks off the highway," says Gomez.

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