Government, industry build showplace with Westmoreland Logistics Park
Dec 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Charles E Wilson
A FREEPORT Transport dry bulker transfers plastic pellets from one in a long string of hopper cars at the newly opened Westmoreland Logistics Park. Located in New Stanton in western Pennsylvania, the operation is getting busier by the day.
That's good news for the entities involved in Westmoreland Logistics Park, an intriguing partnership between government and private industry. The transload facility was built by the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation with approximately $10 million in state and federal funds. It is operated under contract by Safe Handling Inc, which has its own rail transload operations in Auburn, Maine.
“As the operator, we're committed to a good start up and strong growth,” says Paul Turina, Safe Handling chief technology officer. “We believe there is excellent potential for this new facility, which offers a variety of intermodal benefits to shippers and receivers in this area. We are operating at projected startup levels in terms of traffic and revenue, and terminal usage will grow because this is one of the most sophisticated intermodal operations in the region.
“This is a real showplace. We'll operate it as an open rail transloading facility. Any tank truck carrier can haul loads out of here. We think there will be plenty of business to go around.”
Similar optimism comes from officials at Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation (WCIDC). They point out that Westmoreland Logistics Park is the only truck-rail transfer facility in Pennsylvania and one of just a few in the United States that is served by three Class I railroads. They expect several thousand railcars a year to pass through the facility as it reaches its full potential, and there is ample room for expansion.
Westmoreland Logistics Park was designed to concentrate on business within a 100-mile radius. However, the opportunities may extend much farther. “We believe there is potential to serve companies throughout western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and eastern Ohio,” says Jim Gerolium, Safe Handling's director of business development at the new intermodal facility.
The terminal is part of a 1,200-acre industrial park, and it can accommodate more than 145 railcars on 20,000 feet of track. A 38,000-sq-ft temperature-controlled warehouse was designed for storage and distribution of high-value specialty chemicals and other products used by local manufacturers. A two-bay chemical and foodgrade tank wash rack is part of the warehouse building. At the front end of the facility is a lumber transloading operation.
Lumber and plastic pellets are the primary cargoes moving through the facility at this time at a rate of about 20 railcars per month. Other targeted products include grains, anhydrous ammonia, shingles and other roofing materials, sweeteners, cornstarch, paper rolls, soda ash, sulfuric acid, flour, fuel additives, toluene, crushed limestone, sand, cement, adhesives, steel, and wire.
“We have the size and capabilities to handle an extremely broad range of intermodal cargoes,” Gerolium says. “We'll probably have some hazardous materials cargoes, but they won't dominate the business. We're looking for products that offer opportunities for a range of services, such as repackaging.
“We can provide container depot services for tanks and boxes, and we're already working on some of those deals. We have plenty of space for container handling.”
How did the Westmoreland Logistics Park come about? Very simply, development work on the area now occupied by the intermodal facility started in the 1970s and encompassed 1,200 acres that are strategically located at a key crossroad of two Interstate highways.
Initially, a 2.8-million-sq-ft building was constructed for Chrysler Corporation, but the deal fell through. Volkswagen moved into the facility in 1980, eventually producing some 200,000 cars and employing 5,000 workers at peak production. Just as tax breaks expired in 1988, Volkswagen moved to a new plant in Mexico, leaving behind an empty building and thousands of people unemployed.
A new tenant, Sony Electronics, arrived in 1990 and began manufacturing television sets. The Sony plant remains in operation today. The Westmoreland Technology Park was opened in 1994, followed by the Westmoreland Distribution Park in late 1999.
Back when the main factory building was modified for Volkswagen, the state of Pennsylvania had paid to build a nine-mile rail spur that connected to the main line of what was then Conrail. While Sony didn't need the rail service, WCIDC officials knew that there would be a future use for the rail spur. So, WCIDC bought the spur in 1995 to make sure it wasn't abandoned or lost.
Conrail is long gone, but its rail network was acquired by CSX and Norfolk Southern. WCIDC also bought some of the Conrail line, giving it a 39-mile network of track that is operated by the Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad, a short-line operator, that interlines with the NS system at Greensburg, Pennsylvania, to the north and CSX at Connellsville, Pennsylvania, to the south. A recently completed connection at Everson links to the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Co, which in turn connects to the Canadian National Railroad. This diversity helps ensure some very competitive rail freight rates, according to WCIDC officials.
Those rail links are key reasons why WCIDC officials were attracted to the possibility of adding intermodal services to the manufacturing complex that was already in place. By 1999, serious planning for an intermodal facility was underway.
In the course of their research, WCIDC officials contacted Safe Handling to discuss the potential for truck-rail transfer operations. It became clear that there was a need in the area for a new transloading facility, and the WCIDC already had key components in place, including its own spur and rail line.
The only other intermodal facility in the region was in Pitcairn, Pennsylvania, and was served only by Norfolk Southern, according to Larry L Larese, executive director of WCIDC. By building a new facility near Sony and the Westmoreland Technology Center, the industrial development corporation would give shippers new options and access to less expensive rail service.
It also became clear that WCIDC had already found a likely partner to run the facility — Safe Handling. It didn't hurt that Paul Turina, one of the Safe Handling principals, had grown up near New Stanton.
“At Safe Handling, we were interested in being involved because we could see huge potential in the project,” Turina says. “There was good infrastructure. Lighting and steam were already in place. We were already looking for expansion opportunities for Safe Handling, because we didn't want to be tied to a single location or industry.”
Safe Handling was a good choice for partner because it is one of the largest transload operators for quality sensitive materials in northern New England and eastern Canada. In business since 1989, the intermodal operator was named one of the 500 fastest growing companies by Inc magazine. It has ISO 9002 quality certification and is a Responsible Care partner with the American Chemistry Council.
Under the agreement with the WCIDC, the facility belongs to the industrial development corporation, and Safe Handling is the contract operator. The WCIDC receives a share of the gross revenues.
Ten million dollars in development money for the intermodal terminal came from the state of Pennsylvania (80%) and the federal government (20%). The funds were provided through TEA 21 (Transportation Enhancement Act of the 21st Century). Another $10 million in TEA 21 funds went to a new interchange from US Route 119, which improved access to the terminal.
“This intermodal facility is a different way of using transportation funds,” Turina says. “It isn't traditional, but it fits the objectives of reducing traffic congestion and air emissions. We've gotten a lot of requests for information on this project, and Safe Handling has already been approached about another project like this.”
Once the funding was arranged, the contractor was selected in 2000. While the WCIDC had overall control of the project, Safe Handling managers had considerable input into the way the facility was designed and outfitted. Construction was underway by May 2002. The Westmoreland Logistics Park was dedicated June 30, 2003, and the first rail cars arrived in August.
Some of the money was used for major upgrades in the rail system at the facility, consisting of 20,000 feet of siding for bulk cargoes and 4,400 feet of track for container operations.
The track itself was in excellent shape, with 132-lb rail in place. However, ties and ballast needed replacement. “This is the sort of rail you'd find on a main line with high-speed trains,” says George Church, WCIDC project manager. “It's very stable and hard wearing. The track here will be very low maintenance.”
Transfer stations with steam, compressed air, and electricity were put in place. Spill containment was installed under 18 carspots that will be used for hazardous materials. Piping under the tracks will allow liquids to flow back to a collection area in the warehouse.
At the end of the main siding is the 38,000-sq-ft temperature-controlled warehouse. It has nine rail dock doors and eight truck docks. Inside the warehouse are areas for dry and liquid repackaging machinery and a quality assurance laboratory.
Two-stage lights are among the special features in the warehouse. Illumination levels increase when there is movement. “This facility has a lot of energy-efficiency measures due to the government financing and ownership,” Gerolium says.
A large amount of space in the warehouse building was set aside for the tank cleaning operation. The two-bay system can handle tank trailers, tank containers, and intermediate bulk containers at this time.
“We expect to clean 10 to 20 tank trailers a day, but we have capacity to grow,” Gerolium says. “We can even add railcar cleaning in the future.”
Niagara National manufactured the entire cleaning system, including work platforms and wastewater treatment. Two four-vat wash units are used: one for chemical cleaning and the other foodgrade products. The cleaning system is fully automated. A Fulton vertical boiler supplies steam.
The scaffolding and work platforms are new products for Niagara National and were developed specifically for this project. Raised and lowered hydraulically, the platforms give wash operators a spacious and safe work area above the tanks that are being cleaned.
A wide variety of wood products can be transloaded in the lumber area of the terminal. Lumber facilities include a 32,000-sq-ft open-sided transload shed adjacent to a laydown yard. One section of track can accommodate center-beam lumber cars.
Considerable thought went into security at Westmoreland Logistics Park. “Most of the development work on this facility came after September 11, 2001,” Gerolium says. “We have plenty of access-control security in place.”
Trucks enter through a single gate in the front of the facility, and drivers must check in at the office. Trucks are weighed on a digital scale at the rear of the office. Vehicles and personnel are under sophisticated video observation at all times and in all areas of the terminal. Motion sensors also are in place.
Managers and workers at the terminal aren't the only ones who monitor the video cameras. The system can be accessed and controlled by managers at Safe Handling's home office in Maine.
Shipment security is arranged in accordance with customer requirements. “We can seal and lock out anything that needs it,” Gerolium says. “For high-security products, we're using keyed padlocks. Most customers just want tamper evidence, though.”
In all, WCIDC and Safe Handling have teamed up on an intermodal facility that is truly a showplace.
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