Thursday, January 28, 2010

Working on the railroad: Projects could add hundreds of jobs to region

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Two large-scale projects being pursued by Riverport Railroad, LLC, in Savanna, Ill., have the potential to add 350 to 400 new jobs to the Carroll County area, said Jack Koster, Riverport's president and CEO, the Freeport Journal Standard reports. The projects in question will not only create jobs, but generate significant property tax revenue and establish a "Rail Car Mall" serving companies across the U.S., Koster said.

"Carroll County is one of the poorest counties as far as jobs in the state," Koster said. "Carroll County and Jo Daviess County should benefit largely from this. ... The tax base is going to jump."

Over the next three years, Riverport Railroad plans to substantially expand its operations at the former Savanna Army Depot site with two major projects. Working with Rescar Companies from Downers Grove, organizers will establish a Rail Car Mall where rail cars can be cleaned, inspected, re-stenciled, repaired or disposed of, Koster said. The project involves building a "huge" cleaning facility that would utilize 10 miles of track, he said. Several new buildings would have to be constructed as part of the project. The mall would create about 160 jobs once it's fully operational, Koster said. The jobs are not exportable offshore and would remain on site, he said.

Congressman Don Manzullo, R-Egan, said the proposed Rail Car Mall could put Carroll County on the map by providing a unique, profitable service that would attract rail companies nationwide.

"This is massive," Manzullo said of the mall project. "This could be the freight car repair, inspection and refurbishing facility in the country. It has that possibility. It could be hundreds and hundreds of jobs."

In addition, Riverport officials are looking to turn their company into the premiere "transloader" facility for BNSF, Koster said. This will involve a substantial investment to fund infrastructure improvements at the depot site, he said.

Including both projects, Riverport and its partner companies will likely invest more than $25 million in the next three years, Koster said.

"We would be producing jobs," Koster said. "In about five years, we could have 300 to 400 jobs if you include both projects."

With a transloading facility, Riverport would transfer food products and other items from rail cars to trucks and transport those items to various locations, Koster said. In some cases, items would be transferred from trucks to railcars and then transported.

Koster did not specify salary amounts, but said transloading jobs are "high-paying" and that there are different salary levels.

Northwest Illinois, and Carroll County in particular, have been hit hard by job losses in the last 10 years, officials said. In general, manufacturing jobs have been lost overseas and the recent recession has added to the sluggish area economy. The closing of the Savanna Army Depot in 2000 resulted in the loss of more than 400 jobs, according to a Riverport news release. Also, the failure of the Milwaukee Road Railroad in the 1970s and 1980s created substantial job losses, the release states.

Riverport Railroad lease purchased the Savanna Depot rail service in 1999, one year before the base was officially closed. In 11 years, Riverport has invested more than $8 million to improve and add rail services both for domestic shipments and to reach export markets, the release states.

Savanna Mayor Larry Stebbins said Riverport's proposed new projects should greatly benefit the region. Stebbins said people forget how devastating the depot's closure was to Carroll County, in terms of families moving away.

The projects should begin creating new jobs as early as next month, Koster said. Consulting and engineering jobs have already been created, he said.

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