For R&N, a coal-fueled record year

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Port Clinton, Pa.-based Class II railroad Reading & Northern (R&N) set a business record in 2017, handling 31,175 carloads—a 15% increase over 2017, and a cumulative 50% increase over the past five years. Anthracite coal traffic played an important role.

“This unprecedented growth came across all of the many commodity lanes handled by R&N,” the railroad said. “Our anthracite coal business was up more than 40%, so once again, R&N is ‘The Road of Anthracite.’ This explosive growth was fueled by a late-year announcement of a major sale of Pennsylvania anthracite to the Ukraine, replacing Russian coal. Following a July announcement of the deal at the White House, R&N was told to prepare to move more than 300,000 tons of anthracite by year end. We stepped up and managed to provide all the cars needed for the business and served as many as eight different origins as the entire anthracite community pulled together to fill this huge order. We are hopeful that this business will continue in 2018.”

Another significant development in the anthracite business was completion of seven years of work to connect Hazleton Hiller LLC’s Hazleton Shaft and its new state-of-the art coal dryer to the R&N. That project was completed during the summer, and the process of shifting more than 100,000 tons of truck-delivered dried coal to rail began. By year end, R&N and Hazleton Hiller had shifted 40,000 tons of coal to rail for delivery to a Midwestern steel mill. To accomplish this, R&N purchased 121 hopper cars and a new conveyor to assist with the unloading at a transfer station in Indiana. “We expect to convert more of this truck traffic to rail in 2018,” R&N said.

There were other successes in 2017. Several ongoing industrial development projects reached fruition, adding hundreds of new cars of business. R&N’s transload facilities and warehouse attracted new customers and added more cars. The Forest Products group handled more than 10,000 carloads in 2017.

In order to handle this growth in business, R&N purchased additional freight cars and locomotives, added more employees, opened new facilities and invested in track and signal systems. “At year end, we had more employees, track, locomotives, freight cars, facilities and customers than at any point in our history,” said CEO/Owner Andy Muller, Jr. “2017 was the culmination of more than 25 years of investment and risk-taking. It is never my intention to rest on our success and to pocket our profits. My goal is to build the best railroad in the nation. And to do that we have to constantly invest in the railroad. Our investment decisions might not make sense to outsiders, but the proof of our strategy is apparent to anyone looking at our record of constant growth and success.”

“R&N has a two-pronged formula for ongoing success,” said President Wayne Michel. “We take care of our employees with great pay, excellent benefits and profit sharing. The result is a 98% retention rate. And R&N takes care of its customers. Our goal is to provide our customers with service superior to any railroad or trucker. We offer guaranteed on-time delivery and meet it 99% of the time. We provide special service to customers who are in need of an expedited delivery. We have one of the best customer service and marketing teams in the industry. And we keep our prices competitive.”

The future looks bright for R&N as it has more than 20 active industrial development projects in various stages of development. “Growth is built into the R&N DNA,” said Muller. “I expect our railroad to grow. Our superior service will help our customers grow and as they grow we will benefit. I expect our reputation to encourage more businesses to locate along our lines. We will always take care of our customers and our employees. That is the cornerstone of our success.”

Reading & Northern, a two-time Railway Age Regional Railroad of the Year, is a privately held company serving more than 70 customers in nine eastern Pennsylvania counties (Berks, Bradford, Carbon, Columbia, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Northumberland, Schuylkill and Wyoming). It has expanded its operations over the past 20-plus years and has grown into one of the premier railroads in Pennsylvania. R&N operates freight services and steam- and diesel-powered excursion passenger services through its Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, owns almost 1,200 freight cars, and employs more than 200.

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