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Rail News Home Short Lines & Regionals

April 2008

Rail News: Short Lines & Regionals

‘We’ve got you covered’


You only have one chance to make a first impression. So when Finger Lakes Railway officials saw an opportunity to win over new customer Nucor Steel, they jumped at it.
In 2001, Nucor Steel bought out Auburn Steel, located on the short line’s mainline in Auburn, N.Y. Nucor also built a plant for steel building joist subsidiary Vulcraft Corp. in Chemung, N.Y.

Nucor originally trucked steel about 80 miles from its Auburn plant to the Vulcraft facility. But Finger Lakes execs thought they could offer a more efficient service, one that would get the steel to Vulcraft in better condition than if it were trucked — even though it required the central New York short line to develop a special rail-car cover.

“We wanted to demonstrate to Nucor that we were a capable company — one that was very interested in their business and willing to invest in their business,” says Mike Smith, president of the railroad, which operates over 168 track miles.

The short line also had to work with Norfolk Southern Railway to develop a service package under which Finger Lakes would transport the steel from Auburn to Geneva, N.Y., and interchange with NS, which would move the steel to Chemung. Because the move was a two-line haul, many railroads might have passed on the opportunity, says Smith, but Finger Lakes execs saw it as a challenge.

“We wanted to prove to Nucor, ourselves, NS and Vulcraft that no matter how short the distance or how complicated the service and rate package, railroads are competitive in these types of markets,” says Smith.

Protect and serve
One major obstacle: ensuring the steel stayed protected during transport. Because the steel rolls hot off the production line and is quickly loaded onto a rail car, Nucor officials were concerned about condensation developing and rust forming. In addition, the steel couldn’t be exposed to the elements en route.

Finger Lakes officials worked with local company Vance Metals to develop a steel cover for the 66-foot gondola cars used to transport the steel. Comprising two pieces that lock together and are secured on the car by gravity, the covers are ventilated, so a rail car’s natural movement helps exchange the air to prevent condensation. The steel arrives at the Vulcraft plant in cleaner condition than when trucked because there’s no road grime, says Smith.
“The steel can be unloaded and go right into production — it saves them money and a handling step,” he says.

The short line continues to work with NS to transport the steel. Business has grown from 15,000 tons annually to 33,000 tons. Today, 95 percent of the steel shipped from Nucor’s Auburn facility is handled by rail, says Smith.
“They rarely ship it by truck anymore,” he says. 

— Angela Cotey


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