This is nothing new since various types of rail service, whether using refrigerated rail cars or piggy trailers, has been tried since at least the 1970s. But after a long lull, some new services have been introduced. We’ll get more specific on these in a future feature story. For the time being, here are some observations by veteran individuals whose focus is on transporting fresh fruit and vegetables by truck, and their take on the efforts to increase rail service.
Kenny Lund, vice president of the Allen Lund Co. of LaCanada, CA notes rails only account for one to two percent of the fresh produce being shipped. There are only so many tracks and it would take billions of dollars worth of equipment to increase produce volume rail to say, four to eight percent.
“Refrigerated rail is increasing,” Lund notes. “They are doing more with wine, dairy and more temperature controlled products. But we don’t see a massive shift to rail and don’t see a pathway to do that.”
Fred Plotsky is president of Cool Runnings LLC of Kenosha, WI. He says new services such Rail Logisitics Cold Train, a rail operation based in Overland Park, KS, bases its freight rates on truck rates.
“The rails understand the market and they are taking advantage of it. Cold Train….will set a rate of say $3600 when the truck rate (to the same destination) is $4000,” Plotsky observes. Then when the truck rates increase to $4500 or $4600 Cold Train will increase its rates accordingly.
“Their service (Cold Train) is good and you can load them Monday for delivery Friday 0ut of Washington or California to Chicago,” he says.
However, Plosky adds if a shipper has a mixed load of produce spread out over 100 miles with three pick ups you are not going to use that rail service. Now if the rail service involved is a straight load or two pick ups in the same town, that is feasible.
At Des Moines Truck Brokers in Norwalk, IA, President Jimmy DeMatteis says they have working relationships with companies using the railroads.
“But there have been problems with claims. With some loads the rails don’t want to take responsibility for it. There’s not enough rail equipment yet and the rail infrastructure is poor. But the rails are making inroads,” DeMatteis says.
Lund at Allen Lund Co. adds, “The rails don’t like produce and they don’t like the claims that come with it. They won’t go out of their way for produce like they will wine and other temperature controlled items. What the rails like is consistency. Produce is opposite of consistency, because growing regions change, and demand changes. The rails build their world around schedules. The rails and trucking are major competitors, and the rails don’t want to do anything to help trucking.”
Doug Stoiber is with Raleigh, NC-based L&M Transportation Services. The company vice president had expected a “greater impact” from rail related companies such as Railex LLC of Rotterdam, NY, that partners with the Union Pacific Railroad and CSX Transportation.
“Railex is successful and they are growing and they are encouraging some competition. I’m surprised they haven’t taken more truck loads of freight off the highways than they have,” Stoiber states.
He notes 98 percent of all consumer goods are delivered by truck and about 95 percent of produce is handled by truck. Stoiber says while the rails can take a lot of long haul produce off the highways, instead of “eliminating” transportation, it tends to “re-arrange” the movement of product.
“You still have to pay (a truck) for that first mile and the last mile, because the rails can’t deliver to the store doors or distribution centers, at least not yet. The cost comparatively for that first mile and that last mile is a lot higher than if it is delivered from shipping point to destination on a truck,” Stoiber says.