Nationwide, food represents about 5 percent of all products shipped by rail, but the numbers are increasing. In fact, Cryo-Trans alone maintains a fleet of about 1,000 railcars that haul fresh and frozen items, produce, dairy products and more.
McCain Foods, which is based in New Brunswick, Canada, has been using rail for the last five years and now makes it a prerequisite that any third-party logistics provider with which it deals must be rail-accessible. The company owns 150 railcars on its own.
Timothy Egan, McCain’s director of warehousing, reports a 15 percent capacity advantage in moving inbound shipments to rail.
"It’s safe to say that there are millions and millions in savings and efficiency," says Haksteen. "There are a lot of long-term benefits."
Improved Reliability, Visibility
In addition to the obvious financial impact, moving product by rail has meant greater reliability and better product availability. Martin-Brower often faced difficulty getting trucks out of Canada consistently during brutally cold and snowy winters.
With rail, Hopkins also has greater visibility into product movement. The Cryo-Trans railcars are equipped with two-way GPS systems, allowing all the parties involved to locate cars at any time, monitor temperatures inside the car, track door openings and even log reefer unit performance. The GPS units send signals back to Cryo-Trans every 12 hours, but anyone can ping the units at any time for up-to-the-minute data.
Then there are the environmental and traffic impacts of taking trucks off the road. "The traffic situation in the [Washington] area is unbelievable at times," says Hopkins. "We have a responsibility to the community to limit the amount of traffic."
To that end, Martin-Brower will also begin accepting into its Manassas facility French fries for another McDonald’s distributor about 200 miles to its south. Martin-Brower will add that company’s inbound shipments to its own, and then truck the product to the other facility. In return, the other company will help Martin-Brower with backhauls.
The rail lines welcome the additional business.
"What Martin-Brower has been doing is an opportunity for us to invest in new markets," says Norfolk Southern’s Plain. "It’s a great opportunity, a growing opportunity for us. We are absolutely committed to it and would like to see it expand even further."