Whether you’re talking about apples, onions, cheese or wine, the efficient and cost–effective way to ship perishable goods coast to coast is by freight rail.
Fifty–two weeks a year, four roundtrips weekly, Railex works with Union Pacific and CSX to transport refrigerated unit trains loaded with perishables on a 3,000 mile cross country journey. Empty rail cars wait to roll into Railex’s 1,500-foot refrigerated warehouse in Washington State. The two-and-a-half mile long loop track sits on 185 acres adjoining the Columbia River.
Nineteen cars at a time pull into the warehouse for simultaneous loading. Both the warehouse and each of the 64–foot long rail cars are refrigerated, ensuring that all perishables are kept cold throughout the entire loading process and arrive fresh at their final destination. The moving rail dock plate panel (foreground) allows Railex to adjust dock position and minimize damage during the loading process.
In 2010, Railex shipped a whopping 134 million pounds of Washington State onions. Onions are finicky travelers; because of their extreme sensitivity to both humidity and temperature, onion shippers require Railex to keep rail car temperatures between 45 and 60 degrees. Railex also uses fresh air exchange technology to maintain humidity levels inside the rail cars. The humidity and temperature of each car are closely monitored by both Railex and the rail company and can be adjusted quickly using GPS technology.
Matt Martin/Trains Magazine
Railex estimates that each 70-car unit train removes 250 trucks off highways, alleviating highway congestion and reducing CO2 emissions by 135,000 metric tons annually. The trains, like the ones shown here, are taken by Union Pacific to Chicago and then moved by CSX to New York State. A single train carries 4,800 tons of onions and other perishables during the five-day eastbound trip, then makes the return westbound trip loaded with perishables like wine, juice, dairy products and seed potatoes.
The 14 Railex cars shown here hold various goods that are unloaded inside the cooled distribution center in Rotterdam, NY. Some are ready for immediate pickup and others are stored in the warehouse for up to seven days. Loading and unloading goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Railex estimates that more than 1,500 people are involved with every train journey.
Railex guarantees that these pampered Washington State onions will make the 129-hour trip undamaged and on time. Here, in the warehouse facility, just as they did when traveling cross country by rail, the onions are kept cool and the air is constantly monitored for humidity to prevent any rotting.
Frozen potatoes are also transported cross country on Railex trains. Unlike onions, these potatoes require arctic temperatures of minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit throughout their five-day journey. Advanced technologies allow for independent climate control of individual boxcars, allowing for 45 degrees in one car and minus 10 degrees in another.
Last year, Railex carried 10 million bottles of fine Washington State wine to the East Coast and Eastern Canada. In its Rotterdam, NY, warehouse, hundreds of cases of wine are stored alongside bags of newly arrived onions, all ready to make their final trip to American tables.
These table grapes, which just arrived on a unit train from Railex’s California warehouse, are a popular, but delicate, fruit. Not only must the individual rail cars they travel in be kept cool, the dock temperatures for their unloading need to be between 40-45 degrees. In 2010, Railex transported 30 million pounds of California table grapes to the East Coast.
Perishable items, like the carrots shown here, are counted and inspected for quality at loading and again during unloading. Each refrigerated boxcar holds three to four times more product than the average truck, shipping it at two-thirds the cost in the same amount of time. Using Railex instead of trucks to move perishables saves 300,000 gallons of fuel per week or 15 million gallons of fuel per year.
Through their seamless, coordinated transportation partnership, Railex and freight rail streamline farm to market distribution, keeping transportation costs low while maintaining quality in order to bring Americans the freshest agricultural products available.