Riding The Fresh Express

Today's rail providers are offering reliable transcontinental times that rival those of trucks. Shippers are developing innovative programs to get products to market on time-and fresh.


"But at Railex, we take this idea one step further," says Esposito. "Even though the railroads were trending that way, transit times for refrigerated produce was still not fast enough. We believe that conversion from long-haul truck to rail was not only good for the industry, but good for the environment as well."

Railex negotiated with two Class 1 railroads: UP in the West and CSX Transportation in the East. It built the infrastructure to load, ship, receive and then ship again an entire trainload of 55 refrigerated boxcars (the equivalent of 200 truckloads of produce) carrying refrigerated products in one cycle. Trains leave Wallula, WA every Thursday and arrive in Rotterdam, NY, every Tuesday.

"The major growing area in Washington State was really feeling the angst of conventional rail services," continues Esposito. "With our services, shippers can get guaranteed transportation from the Pacific Northwest to the highest consumption area in the Northeast, all within a period of 124 hours or less. In just under a year after we began operating these services back in October of 2006, we've proved to the industry that this is the correct model."

Products arrive by truck to the 200,000 square-foot Wallula facility, housing six separate temperature-controlled rooms. The facility is built on a 2.5-mile loop track, which means the train never uncouples while loading.

"We load while it's intact and inside the building on a dock with just the right temperature required for particular food shipments," explains Esposito. "We are not affecting the temperature of any commodity brought into the building." All cars are pre-cooled before they enter the building.

The facility has dedicated rooms for products like onions, potatoes and apples. On both the north and south sides of the building, Railex runs large fans specifically for onion freight so onions have a continual flow of air on them as they await loading onto a train to prevent damage due to moisture-causing mold.

"We use a racking system so no pallet sits on top of another pallet, allowing a continual airflow in boxcars carrying onions," says Esposito. "We really drilled down to minute levels to protect products as they travel cross-country." [See sidebar, page 33].

The onion industry had traditionally moved product by rail only during certain times of the year, notes Esposito. "Our guaranteed transit times and the way we hold onions by controlling temperatures and keeping the humidity low puts us in a position to allow customers growing red and white onions to ship by boxcar."

Trains stop only six times during the transcontinental journey to change crews and once to fuel up so there is no coupling or uncoupling, eliminating jostling of shipments, reports Esposito. Trains are tracked via GPS for both location and temperature and every train is monitored by UP, CSX and Railex.

"In addition, each of our customers has Web access to their inventory from the moment it's received into Wallula right through to final destination," says Esposito.

The 200,000 square-foot Rotterdam facility has 10 different temperature-controlled rooms. Products move by truck from the facility, delivering primarily within a 250-mile radius. Recently though, the company has been experimenting with a longer reach south to North Carolina and West Virginia, west to Indiana and even north into Toronto and Nova Scotia.

Customers need not worry about consolidating loads or moving products in LTL capacities because Railex owns the origination and destination locations, explains Esposito. "This model allows shippers to enter markets they had never been able to get to before."

On the westbound return trip, Railex moves Tropicana Juice, Anhueser-Busch Beer and imported fruits.

Esposito reports the company plans to open facilities in California, Florida and the central region of the U.S. so more unit trains can pick up from and deliver to more areas throughout the country.

"There will be a controlled lane of transit running from California to New York; from California to Florida; from Washington State to upstate New York; and from Washington State to Florida on a continual basis-with guaranteed product starts and guaranteed product arrivals throughout the country," says Espositio.

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