‘Road of Anthracite’ Tops 1MM Tons

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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RBMN photo

Class II Reading & Northern (RBMN), “The Road of Anthracite,” has surpassed hauling one million tons of the coal that provides its nickname.

“Ever since December 1990 when Andy Muller Jr. purchased from Conrail the rail lines serving Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region (the Reading Cluster), it has been his goal to exceed a one million tons of anthracite moved over the tracks,” RBMN said. “For many years prior to Conrail’s sale, the tracks had been in disrepair and rail tonnage had been in decline. When Muller, now owner and CEO, acquired the lines, he began investing in the properties. He brought the tracks back into operating condition, and little by little he acquired freight cars to handle the coal business. And from the beginning he called the railroad The Road of Anthracite,’ which has been displayed on RBMN locomotives starting in 1991.”

RBMN Hazelton Shaft. RBMN photo

“Owning this rail line has been a dream come true,” Muller said. “Watching our company grow has been the accomplishment of my lifetime. We now own more than 400 miles of track, 1,800 freight cars, more than 65 locomotives and employ more than 350 full- and part-time people. It’s thanks to those great employees that we have now accomplished that seemingly unattainable goal.”

“Thanks to Andy Muller’s laser focus on growing our business, we have been able to cross the million-ton threshold,” RBMN President Wayne Michel noted. “Andy pursued this business like a true entrepreneur. He risked millions of dollars in buying hundreds of coal cars and investing in facilities both on and off the railroad, which was unprecedented in the industry. Andy has invested in infrastructure at distant ports not directly served by RBMN as well as customer facilities hundreds of miles away from the railroad. He has also invested in building the best coal marketing organization in the industry. Led by SVP Bill Clark, formerly of Norfolk Southern and PPL, the team includes VPs Jim Cerulli and Mike Sharadin and a team of customer service men and women who manage the fleet and the day-to-day business. Thanks to the foundation provided by Andy we are well-positioned for continued growth in the years to come.”

Muller was named one of Railway Age’s 2023 Influential Leaders, who are selected by subscribers. He wasd featured on the May 2023 issue’s cover. “The growth potential of this railroad, it just keeps going,” said Muller. “We didn’t miss a beat during the pandemic. We’re up 15%-20% in revenues every year. We’ve had record growth every year for the past 15 years. There’s so much potential. When the railroads started deteriorating in the ’70s, the people who lived in our area were still buying stuff. It just wasn’t coming on this railroad. It was coming into Philadelphia, being trucked out. It has taken me 30 years to gradually get these commodities back, because it’s hard to break that chain when it’s moving.”

RBMN’s success really flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that says, you give up traffic and it’ll never come back,” Railway Age noted. “It may take some time, but it can come back and grow.”

“It takes a lot of time and a lot of work,” added Muller. “We chase new business all the time. Eventually, people say, ‘Wow. Andy and Wayne Michel really have an interest in it.’ And then there’s our reputation for service. You can just about set your watch to our fast freight. It’s within five minutes every day. Our customers have a service window. There’s no, ‘Just when we get there.’ We ask when they want us there, and we get there. I don’t have any answering machines at this railroad until after five o’clock. You’ve got to answer the phone. If you call Reading & Northern, my people must answer the phone. They can’t look at the number and say, ‘Well, I don’t want to talk to them today.’ I think people can see my passion for the railroad business.”

RBMN’s passenger excursions are often hauled by former Reading Railroad T-1 2102, seen here at Jim Thorpe, Pa. Anthracite coal powers the 4-8-4 Northern type. William C. Vantuono photo

Reading & Northern, with its corporate headquarters in Port Clinton, is a privately held railroad serving more than 80 customers in nine eastern Pennsylvania counties (Berks, Bradford, Carbon, Columbia, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Northumberland, Schuylkill, and Wyoming). It has expanded its operations during the past 40 years, and now handles nearly 40,000 carloads of freight, which removes more than 200,000 trucks from highways. RBMN’s Passenger Department handles 300,000 riders annually. RBMN has been repeatedly honored as one of the premier railroads in the nation, including being named Regional Railroad of the Year four times (2002, 2011, 2015 and 2020) by Railway Age.

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