No Stoppin’ This Train

North American railroads and intermodal operators are on a mission to convert truck freight to rail.


Bob Jones, vice president, West, at RailAmerica, is quick to mention a number of success stories, starting with it’s Napa wine business, which launched in 2002. A turning point came early on when Biagi Bros., a California-based transportation and logistics company specializing in wine shipments, turned to RailAmerica to help move wine from Napa down to Stockton, California during the busy 2003 holiday season.

“We spotted them three times a day, loading 9 to 12 cars every day for about a 7-day period. We helped them avoid having to truck the wine, and most importantly, demonstrated our reliability,” says Jones. Since then, Biagi Bros. has grown from a 3-door warehouse to a 20-door warehouse and RailAmerica has grown along with them. RailAmerica now sends about 5,000 carloads a year of finished bottled wine to distributors all over the U.S.

Jones believes that volume can double, though, to 10,000 cars annually. “There are three other companies that have wine warehouses and there’s no reason we couldn’t turn that into more business for us.”

For Biagi Bros., RailAmerica transports the wine from Napa to Fairfield, California, where it’s then interchanged with Union Pacific. UP takes it to Roseville, California where it’s transferred to their Express Lane service heading eastbound.

Union Pacific’s Express Lane service was “designed in 2000 by Union Pacific and CSX Transportation to expedite the shipment of perishable goods from California and the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast,” according to the company’s Web site. “Express Lane on-time delivery averages more than 96 percent from shipper to receiver. Union Pacific has dedicated the largest refrigerated rail car fleet in the industry to this program. The fleet totals 4,925 cars, consisting of 1,493 cars 64 feet in length and 3,432 cars 50 feet in length. In addition to the initial investment in the equipment, $18 million has been invested since 2008 for California CARB Emissions Compliance.”

The wine shipments move in insulated railcars, explains Jones. “Wine is stacked on a regular railcar pallet, shrink-wrapped, and placed in the railcars. The cars have large air-filled bladders that are positioned inside the railcars to pack the wine tightly, which prevents damage.”

RailAmerica also moves beer for Anheuser-Busch, the largest brewing company in the U.S., which operates a 700,000 square-foot facility in Fairfield, California that serves customers in the Pacific Northwest. The beer is transported every night from Fairfield to Roseville, where it’s turned over to the Union Pacific for transport to Portland.

“We have bottles, cans, kegs, all of their products from Bud to Michelob, which are moved on 10 to 20 cars each night to Portland,” says Jones.

Leprino Foods, one of the largest cheese producers in the world, especially for pizzas, also uses RailAmerica to transport its refrigerated and frozen cheese from the West Coast to destinations throughout the U.S.

Meanwhile, “The other big story is the tomato products that we handle out of the San Joaquin Valley,” says Jones. “We get some out of the Tracy, California area and some out of Northern California. Most of it is bulk and shipped in large bins to places like Ohio, a lot goes to Campbell’s Soup in Paris, Texas, and to companies like Hunt’s, Contadina, and Heinz, where it’s processed into tomato paste, ketchup, salsa, and other products. It all originates from the California Northern and San Joaquin Valley Railroad. We’ll have days where between the two railroads we’ll have 60 carloads of tomato product going east.”

Bakersfield, California-headquartered Bolthouse Farms is another significant food shipper for RailAmerica.

“They’re the largest carrot producer in the world; they grow carrots year-round,” says Jones. Not only does RailAmerica handle carrots, but Bolthouse Farms’ juices too, both of which are distributed throughout the U.S. (In July, Campbell’s Soup announced plans to pay $1.55 billion for Bolthouse Farms).

Refrigerated cars are used to transport the products, which are then interchanged with BNSF in Fresno, California for transportation eastbound on that railroad’s express service.

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