Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Pennsylvania bulk transfer facility opens

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It is fitting an expansion project at the Newberry Rail Yard would be dedicated on Veterans Day, said Lycoming County, Pa., transportation planner Mark Murawski, according to the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. The railroads were instrumental in helping the nation win its wars by transporting men and equipment vital to the war effort. Today, railroads still are vital to the nation, he said Nov. 11 during a ceremony marking the opening of a bulk transfer facility at the rail yard.

The facility, which will be operated by Bulkmatic subsidiary Railway Unloading Services LLC, greatly will enhance the area's ability to transfer commodities via long-haul rail to short-haul truck transportation.

For many years, Railway Unloading Services has operated a Bulkmatic bulk transfer facility on Maynard Street. It soon will begin transitioning its Maynard Street operation to the Newberry Yard facility, which is owned by the SEDA-Council of Governments Joint Rail Authority. The Lycoming Valley Rail Railroad, one of five short lines the authority administers in an eight-county area, provides rail service to the yard and businesses in the county.

The new facility will double the old transfer facility's capacity, according to Fred Flaxmayer, company vice president. The facility will employ about 35 workers, Flaxmayer said. Another 18 short-haul truck drivers will work out of the facility.

According to Joint Rail Authority executive director Jeff Stover, the facility will handle commodities such as plastic resin, flour and sweeteners, ethanol and scrap rail. The facility cost $4.1 million, for which the authority received a $1.5-million state Department of Transportation Capital Grant. The rest of the cost was financed through a $700,000 loan from the state Department of Transportation Infrastructure Bank and a $1.9 million loan from Jersey Shore State Bank.

The authority's debt will be covered by lease agreements with tenants, said authority board chairman Jerry S. Walls.

The new facility provides many benefits, Stover said. It provides trucks with direct access to Route 220, expands the rail yard's track capacity, brought water, sewer and gas infrastructure to the central part of the rail yard and improves rail yard efficiency.

Embarking on the project required a "leap of faith" by the authority, Walls said. It was a leap of faith that will pay off, he said. According to Walls, the investment will allow the rail system to grow in the future, enable Bulkmatic to double its capacity, provide cost competitive commodity transport to other local companies, enable other companies to locate at the rail yard, and improve the efficiency of rail switching operations.

The authority has begun working with the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce to expand rail service to new industrial parks in the eastern part of the county, he added.

Walls said the authority has made millions of dollars in capital improvements in the county, including grade crossing replacements and safety upgrades, rail signal upgrades, railroad bridge repairs and maintenance, new rail sidings, and additional trackage and facilities.

The seeds for the new facility were planted several years ago when a study by the Lycoming County Planning Commission revealed the region needed a rail-to-truck transfer facility and Newberry was the ideal place to build that facility, according to Murawski. The study coincided with information that Bulkmatic was experiencing "growing pains" at its old facility, he said. There simply was no room for the company to grow.

A partnership was formed among the county, Joint Rail Authority, Bulkmatic and other entities, and funding was secured for the project, he said.

Evidence of the rail yard's strategic importance is the fact that 18 major companies are located within the rail yard or in close proximity to it, Stover said. Among those companies are Moran Industries and High Steel Corp.

According to Murawski, increasing rail capacity is vital to the economic future of the region, especially regarding the movement of freight related to the gas drilling industry.

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