Pamplin Media Group – Trucking Problems Drive Urban Railroad Business

MATT WIEIDERHOLT - Rock salt is just one of several new commodities getting shipped by rail to the City of Prineville Railway for distribution in Central Oregon

Truck driver shortages have prompted businesses across the west to turn to rail to haul goods to central Oregon

The trucking industry is in trouble, and Matt Wiederholt is as aware of the difficulties as anyone in the transportation and warehousing industry.

As Managing Director of the City of Prineville Railway, he has seen a shift from trucking to rail as various businesses grapple with a shortage of trucks and drivers to deliver their goods.

“There’s a lot of freight moving right now, the economy seems to be coming back quite strong,” Wiederholt points out. “But because there are so many staffing shortages in the trucking industry right now, we’re attracting a lot more people who are interested in rail.”

Over the past month, the city railroad has put freight for several central Oregon businesses on the rails that have historically relied on trucks for shipping purposes. Because struggles lengthened trucking, rail became a more viable option.

“So we’re taking advantage of that,” he said. “Our warehouses are extremely busy with this inbound freight because it’s converting to rail because they can’t find trucks.”

That’s especially true with inbound freight from California and Montana, Wiederholt said, and trucker protests over COVID vaccination requirements in Canada have had an impact.

“Our rail volumes from Canada have at least doubled,” he said.

Wiederholt did not actively seek more railroad business when the problems in the trucking industry surfaced. The transition happened more organically, he said, as people within 500 miles of central Oregon — a distance where trucking service is more viable — started to seek rail service.

“We see that circle shrinking now simply because of trucking availability,” he explained. “Fuel prices go up, labor prices go up. So rail has become more viable inside that circle.”

He added that a company can ship four truckloads of product on a single railcar, which is four trucks that companies don’t have to find. However, the increased use of rail will not completely eliminate trucking. Once the product arrives at the Prineville City Railroad, local trucks will transport it to its final destination in central Oregon.

The increase in the use of rail is considerable. Wiederholt estimates that at this time last year, the railroad was moving about 70 to 75 truckloads of different items. Recently, they have seen some months pass close to 200 truckloads through rail warehouses. In addition, the railroad carries new goods – grains different from those of the past as well as road salts and new building materials.

As the railroad handles these goods, it makes money in several different ways. The railroad picks up some from BNSF or Union Pacific to haul the cars from Redmond to Prineville, and it charges a fee for unloading the car, storing the freight in the warehouse, and reloading the truck. for outbound shipment. If the product remains in the warehouse for a longer period, the railway may also charge storage costs.

Although the change in activity is new, Wiederholt sees it as a potentially long-term situation. He points out that the trucking industry faces more restrictions, whether it’s hours of service, DEQ emission standards or other issues.

And while that helped the railroad, Wiederholt pointed out that it was not a good development.

“There aren’t a lot of people getting into the trucking industry. It’s good for rail freight but it’s unfortunate for the trucking industry, even though it’s a great career, a great opportunity for people,” he said. “We can go long distances, but you still need trucks to go the last mile. Rail and trucks are a partnership. Although we are starting to reap that benefit, rail and trucks are a partnership. always have been, and always will be.”

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