Thursday, June 01, 2006


Back to the Future

[This has to happen everywhere. Long-haul trucking is an unsustainable waste that we never really could afford except that we acted like oil was infinite.]

* Produce trains will speed delivery, cut fuel costs


June 1, 2006

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Buildings large enough to drive a freight train through and refrigerated cars tracked and monitored by satellite are the key components in a plan to move fresh produce quickly from the West Coast to Rotterdam, N.Y.

A Long Island-based produce distributor is nearing completion of two new warehouses, one in Wallula, Wash., and the other in Rotterdam Industrial Park. They will serve as end points on the 3,000-mile route of the weekly 55-car produce express trains.

Until now, the fastest freight trains took up to nine days to go from coast to coast. But Ampco Distribution Services Management LLC of Riverhead, N.Y., has an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad and CSX Transportation to cut the trip to five days. That's comparable to truck.

But the two trains -- each of which will carry as much produce as 200 tractor-trailer trucks -- also will use less fuel, giving them an advantage that grows as the price of diesel fuel rises.

If all goes well, the first train will roll in late September.

When Ampco began its planning, diesel fuel cost $1.50 a gallon, said spokesman Paul Esposito. Today, it's twice that. Switching to rail will save 84,000 gallons of fuel a week, or more than 4.3 million a year. With the doubling of fuel prices, the $6.4 million in annual savings grows to $12.8 million.

The trains are expected to cut fuel consumption by about two-thirds, according to figures from Esposito. . . .

The 200,000-square-foot climate-controlled building is under construction next to a $15-million Golub Corp. frozen-foods warehouse that was completed in December. The new produce distribution center will employ as many as 300 people when in full operation.

A similar warehouse is nearing completion in Wallula, in Walla Walla County.

Both warehouses are large enough so the trains can be loaded and unloaded inside, under climate-controlled conditions.

"The train only stops for crew changes," Esposito said. Satellites will track the shipments and even the conditions inside each car so customers can monitor their inventory.

Spoilage has been an issue if a train is delayed or if refrigeration equipment fails.

"A boxcar-load of asparagus is a high-dollar perishable," said Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis. "Any damage to that the railroad would have to pay for. Until the advent of today's more dependable refrigerator units, the railroads would allow that business to go to truck."

Esposito said his company will have a guaranteed supply of cars, locomotives and crews to keep the trains running on time.

Union Pacific's current Express Lane service for perishable items now takes up to eight days to move shipments from California to New York City.

Ampco's Esposito expects the savings on energy will make the produce more price-competitive and attract supermarket chains looking to cut costs. . . .

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