Small-Road Briefs: R.J. Corman Railroad Group, Reading Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
Wimmer's collection spans more than 10,000 railroadiana artifacts with a special focus on railroad engineering memorabilia.

Wimmer's collection spans more than 10,000 railroadiana artifacts with a special focus on railroad engineering memorabilia.

R.J. Corman Rail Group donates to the Sarpy County Museum’s Wimmer Railroad Collection. Also, Reading Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad (RBMN) breaks its records for freight traffic and excursion passenger ridership in 2022.

R.J. Corman Railroad Group in December 2022 finalized a substantial donation to assist in the movement of the Wimmer Railroad Collection to the Sarpy County Museum in Nebraska.

Donated by Bill and Judy Wimmer, the private collection includes more than 10,000 unique pieces of railroad history with a special focus on railroad engineering memorabilia.

R. J. Corman Railroad Group’s substantial donation, along with others from around the industry, will help this private collection go public by assisting in the movement of the pieces to the museum. The collection, R.J. Corman Railroad Group says, will help educate the public about the impact of the railroad industry, its history, and its example of adaptability and innovation through the years.

Founded in 1934, the Sarpy County Historical Society is “committed to protecting, preserving and promoting Sarpy County’s rich history” through the Sarpy County Museum by hosting a variety of free programs, archiving local records and assisting with genealogy research.

According to R.J. Corman, Wimmer’s passion for railroads led him to dedicate more than 50 years to building one of the foremost private collections of railroad artifacts in the U.S. His extensive career in the railroad industry spanned more than 50 years with Union Pacific Railroad (UP) and Chicago & Northwestern Railway. He was also a valued member of R. J. Corman Railroad Group’s Board of Directors for ten years. In 2007, Wimmer was named Railway Age’s Railroader of the Year.

“Thank you for R. J. Corman’s generosity towards supporting the project,” said Sarpy County Museum Executive Director Ben Justman. “We’re excited about what the future holds for the museum and the new opportunities made possible by the Wimmer family’s commitment to share their amazing collection. It is truly an amazing collection, and I am grateful for R. J. Corman’s commitment to help preserve and ensure that the public can enjoy the more than 10,000 artifacts.”

“The railroad industry has helped to shape the America we know today and remains an integral part of our future,” said R.J. Corman Railroad Group President and CEO Ed Quinn. “We are honored and excited to help preserve Mr. Bill Wimmer’s wonderful collection of railroad memorabilia and artifacts. He has been a stand-out leader throughout his career in the railroad and helped to shape the industry. His collection will help to educate and inspire future generations.”

RBMN announced Jan. 10 that its 2022 revenue freight traffic rose more than 4,000 carloads, or 15.4%, compared to 2021; RBMN also entertained more than 250,000 riders in 2022, an increase of more than 10%, allowing the railroad to “break its own records for freight traffic and excursion passenger ridership.” This compares to the 1.5% decline in overall North American railroad volume.

For RBMN, which attributes its 2022 success to anthracite coal shipments and the opening of its new Tunkhannock frac sand terminal, and much of the world, “everything changed when Russia invaded Ukraine,” the railroad said. As a result of the invasion and resulting western embargo on Russian goods and raw materials, RBMN saw a huge uptick in demand for Pennsylvania anthracite. Russia and the eastern portion of Ukraine were major international suppliers of anthracite.

“Without those sources the world looked to Pennsylvania anthracite, and those producers did a great job of meeting much of that global demand in 2022,” RBMN said. By the end of the year RBMN’s coal business increased by 2,624 carloads, almost 40%, with much of this additional traffic going to international markets.

To handle the huge surge in export business, RBMN said it worked together with Norfolk Southern Railroad (NS) to move the business in manifest service, instead of traditional unit train service. This shift, RBMN says, allowed more regular shipments to the export terminal and eliminated the need for NS to provide power and crews to move unit trains. RBMN was able to make this alternate transportation plan work because it had purchased more than 550 rapid discharge cars for the export market.

According to the railroad, RBMN’s domestic coal business also continued to increase as more electric arc furnace facilities expanded and came on-line. “Steel mills are increasingly looking to use anthracite as their charge carbon,” RBMN said. To meet this growing demand, the railroad continued to invest in purchasing additional rail cars and in expanding its rail-truck transfer network. With new steel facilities opening in Texas and Ontario, and continued growth in the export market, RBMN says it is also forecasting double digit growth in 2023.

“As the Russian invasion caused havoc in the international anthracite market, it also caused wild swings in the energy market,” RBMN said. As a result, the demand for domestic sources of energy also increased, which led to an increased demand for Marcellus Shale gas. Thus, the opening of RBMN’s new Tunkhannock Marcellus Shale terminal was timely, the railroad added. Completed at a cost of more than $1 million in 2021, this facility is “well on its way to becoming a resounding success,” stated RBMN.

RBMN says it built the facility in Tunkhannock “due to its excellent location and great local truck routes.” Over the course of the year, more and more drilling companies decided to try the Texas Sands-run facility and “were impressed with the superior service, free local storage and excellent location.” By the end of the year, RBMN had handled more than 2,000 carloads of new business, a figure it expects to triple in 2023.

“One of the continuing strengths of RBMN is its diverse traffic base,” the railroad said. In addition to coal and now frac sand, RBMN has “very successful” forest products, plastics, food products, metals and chemicals business segments, which contribute to more than 20,000 carloads a year. In 2022, RBMN says, those market segments were “generally flat” as RBMN customers dealt with supply chain issues, inflationary pressures and the same problems other businesses had with staffing shortages and difficulties in getting equipment and parts. Nonetheless, these market segments remain critical parts of the railroad’s network, and RBMN says it “expects continued growth in these areas.”

According to RBMN, the railroad’s passenger business also took a huge leap as RBMN entertained more than 250,000 riders for the first time in its history, an increase of more than 10%. Under the direction of General Manager Matt Fisher, RBMN added more train trips, more equipment and more origins.

In 2023, RBMN says there will be further expansion of its passenger service as Jim Thorpe trains are now operated year-round. Later this year, RBMN will be starting excursion service from the Wilkes Barre/Scranton area out of Pittston. Also, of much interest to rail fans everywhere, RBMN’s steam locomotive 2102 will continue to operate in train service. As “further proof of the commitment to the passenger business,” RBMN Owner/CEO Andy Muller, Jr. purchased three additional rail diesel cars and one passenger coach in 2022. “The future looks very exciting for RBMN passenger operations,” the railroad said.

Andy testing the highly acclaimed “2102” steam engine in early 2022. (Photo Courtesy of John McCardell)

“All this growth does not come without continued investment,” said RBMN. “It is only because Muller purchased an additional 100 rapid discharge cars at the end of 2021 that RBMN had sufficient equipment to handle the export surge in 2022. It is only because Muller built the Tunkhannock sand terminal in 2021 that RBMN was able to handle the surge of sand business in 2022. It is only because Muller continued to purchase conveyors and additional coal cars that RBMN was able to expand service offerings to steel mills across the country.”

According to RBMN, this year Muller made a substantial real estate investment when he purchased the Nesquehoning Campus of eight buildings on nine acres along the railroad’s main line from KME for more than $2 million. The Campus, RBMN says, is already being used by many of the railroad’s departments as it offers a centralized location for equipment and parts and repairs. Muller also invests in RBMN’s human resources, which are “the backbone of RBMN’s success,” the railroad said. In 2022 RBMN hired more than 50 full-time employees to join the company and help it handle the growing business.

In summarizing the year’s success, Muller said, “Our performance in 2022 was amazing. Faced with an unprecedented surge in business, our employees stepped up and handled the additional business perfectly. It was all hands-on deck. We needed more people and HR found us more people. We needed more equipment and supplies and our finance and purchasing people made it happen. We needed to acquire property and protect our existing property to keep our employees safe, and real estate and police delivered. We needed more locomotives, freight cars and vehicles in service, and our shops got it done. We needed our tracks and signal system kept operational and expanded at the same time, and MOW and signals delivered. We needed our trains to keep running on time, but with more traffic, and transportation kept everything running smoothly. And we needed customer Service and marketing to keep close to our customers so we could provide the service they needed, and the commercial team made sure we kept our customers satisfied. That’s why I always say it starts with our employees. I couldn’t be prouder of the men and women of the Reading & Northern for what they did in 2022 to take care of our freight and passenger customers. On to 2023!”

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