Railroad working on transload site
JANESVILLE Thousands of tons of plastic pellets and animal feed will begin flowing to local companies on the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad in the coming year, the railroad told The Gazette.
The railroad has begun work on a site just south of Janesville where the products will be unloaded.
The new "transload" site is off Delavan Drive, in the same place where Amtrak briefly established a passenger stop around 2000 to ferry people between Janesville and Chicago.
A spokesman said three companies that will use the rail service did not want to be identified at this time.
The new business is one of many such cases in which Wisconsin & Southern's rail service has boosted business development across southern Wisconsin in the past five years, said spokesman Ken Lucht.
The transload site will not be much more than a couple of driveways with gravel or dirt roads along the tracks where trucks can access the rail cars, Lucht said. WSOR workers cut brush and graded the site before the snow fell.
The railroad expects to start using the site in early summer.
Specially equipped trucks will vacuum the pellets from covered hoppers in rail cars, Lucht said. Other goods will be offloaded from boxcars.
WSOR plans to unload about 40 rail cars a month, representing about 50,000 tons of product. Three to four trucks are needed to handle one railcar's load, Lucht said.
The trucks will come from the east and south, using nearby highway exits, not city streets, he said.
WSOR has other transload points in Horicon, Madison and Milwaukee and on Pearl Street on Janesville's west side.
The new stop has easier access to highways than the Pearl Street site, which appeals to the new customers, Lucht said.
The railroad said in a news release that the Janesville project is one small effort in a larger commitment to serve southern Wisconsin.
WSOR said it has added more than 44 companies to its customer list across southern Wisconsin over the past five years. Those expansions or new businesses represent 1,100 new jobs with $1.8 billion in annual sales, the railroad said.
Among those companies are Cargill and United Ethanol in Milton and North American Pipe Corp. in Janesville, Lucht said.
"It's definitely an increase beyond the previous five years," Lucht said of WSOR's business.
The increased business reflects a renaissance in freight rail nationwide because of the economy of shipping by rail at a time of high fuel costs. It's also the result of new people in WSOR's management team who have pushed for new business, Lucht said.
WSOR is a private company, but it runs its trains on state-owned tracks. The state has spent tens of millions of dollars to improve the tracks.
A soon-to-be-completed upgrade of the line between Milton and Madison cost $17 million, 80 percent of which came from the state.
The upgrades reflect a national trend. Railroads have invested heavily in infrastructure improvements during the economic downturn, including a record $20 billion in 2011, according to the Association of American Railroads.
Lucht hinted at plans for a much larger investment in the Janesville area but said nothing could be announced until later this year.