Prime location benefits GKA Enterprises

Dec. 1, 2002
SHIPMENT volumes continue to grow steadily at the GKA Enterprises Inc rail transfer facility at the Port of Stockton in California's San Joaquin Valley.

SHIPMENT volumes continue to grow steadily at the GKA Enterprises Inc rail transfer facility at the Port of Stockton in California's San Joaquin Valley. Open only two years, the facility has benefited from a prime location that serves the heart of California.

Growth in the local economy and at the Port of Stockton have been key factors fueling the success at GKA Enterprises. The transloading facility just recorded the busiest three quarters of its short existence, and the management team is optimistic that 2003 will be even better.

“We're very pleased with what we've done in the two years that GKA Enterprises has been operational, and there is more to come,” says Gary Alegre, president of the company. “We've exceeded all expectations on growth so far. We're handling about 50 railcars a month now and moving 16 to 20 loads a week.

“A number of other factors also contribute to an optimistic outlook. We have a 25-year concession for the only public scale at the Port of Stockton. We're building a foodgrade wash rack that should open in mid-2003. Finally, we hope to add significant rail capacity over the next year.”

Transload initiation

Alegre identified the potential for a transloading operation at the Port of Stockton while working for his family's trucking company — Frank C Alegre Trucking Inc in Lodi, California. Alegre spent 17 years with the family business, serving as director of sales and marketing and leading the company's push into foodgrade hauling in 1990.

Transporting foods gave Alegre his first exposure to rail transloading. By 1994, Alegre Trucking was moving flour and granulated sugar shipments out of rail transfer facilities operated by other companies.

The advantages of rail transloading and its future growth potential were immediately clear to Alegre. “I enjoyed the foodgrade business we developed at Alegre Trucking and the opportunities offered by intermodal activities,” he says.

Alegre saw a chance to build his own rail transfer operation when the 1,433-acre US Navy supply base in Stockton was transferred to the Port of Stockton in July 2000. That land transfer made the Port of Stockton the third largest landowner of California maritime oriented ports.

With an extensive network of rail track and warehouses already in place, the former Naval facility provided an ideal location for a rail transfer operation. Union Pacific Railroad and Burlington Northern Santa Fe already served the Port of Stockton, ensuring that competitive rail service was available.

Steady growth

Alegre moved ahead quickly, and GKA Enterprises was born in November 2000. The transloading operation serves customers throughout California and into Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon.

Starting with a 12-car siding at the port, the company signed up its first account, a producer of plastic pellets. Today, the rail transfer operator has eight plastics accounts and 30 carspots dedicated to them.

In all, GKA Enterprises has developed five sections of track at the Port of Stockton with a total capacity of 60 carspots. All of the transfer areas are paved and lighted. Closed-circuit television cameras are in place throughout the facility. Port police patrol continually to ensure a high level of security for all aspects of the GKA Enterprises operation.

Six workers handle the transloading operations at GKA Enterprises, and responsibilities include daily inspections to verify that no one has tampered with the cargo seals on the railcars. Hoppercars may have seals on as many as 20 points.

Most of the dry bulk trailers used by GKA Enterprises are pneumatic self-loaders, but the company also has its own conveyor for transferring dry cargoes. The company is discussing construction of a covered loading area for transferring food products, such as brewer's malt.

For customers who need more than hoppercar storage for dry bulk products, GKA Enterprises has two 50,000-cubic-foot silos at the Alegre Trucking terminal in Lodi, California. “If demand for storage grows, we'll probably move the silos to the Port of Stockton,” Alegre says.

Looking down the road, he says additional services will be added in coming months. This includes steam for heating rail tankcars handling viscous products, both edibles and non-edibles.

More products

The rail transfer operator continues to work aggressively to expand the range of products handled at its facility. In addition to plastic pellets, GKA Enterprises is transloading flour, sugar, and brewer's malt.

“We have two shippers moving malt, and we are delivering 10,000 to 12,000 pounds per brewery,” Alegre says. “The breweries are microbreweries, and we are supplying about 30 of them in northern California. It's developing into a nice niche business.

“With regard to our other customers, we've got a contract for 12,000 truckloads a year of flour at the ConAgra facilities in Oakland and Colton (California). We're also moving three to four hoppercars of plastic pellets everyday.”

Other products, such as molasses, have been identified as having good potential for the transloading operation. GKA Enterprises currently hauls four to six loads of molasses a day from area plants, but more suppliers could use rail to serve the region from more distant plants.

Looking beyond food, Alegre has targeted asphalt as a growth area. The non-food transfers would be on sidings that are totally separate from the foodgrade activities. GKA Enterprises would provide just the transfer services.

“We want potential customers to realize that we have such a versatile facility that we can do a wide range of products. We won't focus solely on foodgrade, but we will have dedicated areas to ensure that incompatible products are kept apart.”

Plenty of additional trackage is available to meet whatever expansion is initiated by GKA Enterprises. In the two years since the rail transfer operation was launched, the Port of Stockton has continued to upgrade rail capabilities to commercial level.

More than $20 million is being invested in facility improvements at the port, and projects include more than 42 miles of rail track first installed in the 1940s that was upgraded to standard 112-lb capacity over the past year. Areas along the track are being paved to allow transloading operations.

A large percentage of the upgraded trackage is close to the public scale that GKA Enterprises installed earlier this year as part of its operation. The company received a 25-year concession to operate the only public scale at the Port of Stockton.

Transload expansion

Alegre says he is already working with the Port of Stockton to expand his transloading operation by using some of the trackage that runs in front of the scale. “Ideally, we'd like to add 150 to 200 carspots in front of the scale,” he says. “We also plan to keep all of the other sections of track that we are currently operating.”

The high-tech digital scale from Mettler-Toledo Ltd is open to customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every truck weighed on the scale is photographed with a digital camera, and the photo is included with the scale ticket.

“The scale serves the whole Port of Stockton,” Alegre says. “It was operational in May, and we can weigh 100 to 200 trucks a day.”

GKA Enterprises also is in the process of building a foodgrade wash rack just outside the Port of Stockton and just off I-55. Scheduled for completion in 2003, the wash rack will consist of two wash bays, one of which will be dedicated to dry bulkers. A third bay will be for exterior washes, and trailers will be dried in a fourth bay.

Truck fleet

Transportation is part of the package of transloading services offered by GKA Enterprises. The company runs eight tractors and has 30 trailers. In addition, Alegre Trucking is available as a backup carrier.

Most of the trailers are pneumatic self-loaders for dry bulk applications. GKA Enterprises runs dry bulkers from J&L Tank, Heil Trailer International, and Beall Corp. Trailers are dedicated to specific products.

For instance, Heil Super-flo bulkers with a 1,625-cu-ft capacity were selected for flour because they have a 54,000-lb payload capacity. J&L trailers with 1,600-cu-ft capacity are used for plastic pellets and brewer's malt.

The fleet, like the rest of the GKA Enterprises operation, is tailored to specific customer needs. It is a strategy that continues to pay dividends for the two-year-old transloading operator.