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Raritan transloading services prosper in NJ complex

When Eyal Shapira, owner of shortline railroad companies, heard about the Raritan Center Business Park in Edison, New Jersey, in 2000, he realized that the 2,350-acre logistics center just south of Newark and adjacent to the Northeast corridor was a perfect spot for his business to expand and reach new markets.

After obtaining an agreement with the owners of the center for a long-term lease and pledging an investment of $8 million in a six-year, 17-mile rail improvement project, Shapira hasn't lost his enthusiasm for the venture.

“The Raritan Logistics Center has over 200,000 square feet of office and warehouse space and 39 acres of land available for development,” says Shapira, president of Raritan Central Railway, the short line railroad that serves the property. “Full access to rail and road, as well as short sea shipping via ports in New York and New Jersey, makes the center perfect for a variety of transloading and storage services.”

The Raritan Central Railway is a switching terminal railway operation, having served Raritan Center for seven years. Today, railcars are lined up in a new terminal where foodgrade products, such as sugar and flour, are being transloaded into pneumatic trailers. Service soon will be available for liquid foodgrade products.

In another area, railcars unload on a warehouse siding where product is either transloaded to pneumatic trailers or packaged inside the warehouse with the use of a computerized conveyer system.

“All of these services are located within minutes of each other,” Shapira points out. “The industrial complex has changed in New Jersey where manufacturing once was the leader. Now, the area is a consumer market. That means that the use of rail takes on other priorities as the different products gain a foothold.”

Historic changes

The changes Shapira talks about are reflected in the Raritan Center Business Park itself. Born during World War II as an ammunition depot, the property was allowed to languish until 1965 when it was purchased by the Visceglia family. The family continues to own and manage the property that stretches across the townships of Edison and Woodbridge in Middlesex County.

Both CSX Corporation and Norfolk Southern Corporation interchange with the Raritan Central, which has about 350 railcar spots available. Additional track construction and siding paving continue around the park to accommodate additional transloading services. The project comes with the assistance of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Township of Edison, and the Raritan Center Business Park, and involves restoring or replacing existing rail rights-of-way.

“Total investment in rail capacity and infrastructure will be about $2.6 million during 2007,” says Shapira. “We have just completed the construction of two new plastics storage and transloading tracks bringing our total storage-in-transit capabilities to almost 450 cars.”

In addition to rail, Shapira plans to rehabilitate a dock and add a 2,000-foot pier on the Raritan River that flows along the center's property. The dock area is scheduled to be in operation for barges and coastal vessels in 2008. “I expect most of the traffic to come from goods being moved between East Coast ports on smaller vessels in order to avoid land-based congestion,” Shapira says. “Many industry observers view short sea shipping as the key to transportation growth in the coming years. This facility will be poised to take advantage of that situation as it emerges. The port's strategic location and quick ocean access will bring other ports throughout the country and the world within easy reach.”

Shapira also points out that with security a major concern in transportation today, having the port surrounded by the Raritan property on three sides is an extra bonus. Additionally, Raritan Central train crews participate with the Raritan Center fire and police departments in first responder training in security and emergency procedures for, in, and around railroad equipment.

The newest transloading project to be completed — construction of the foodgrade service — involved new track, a containment area, and lighting. “It allows shipments to be loaded and unloaded in a secure environment with on-site third-party provider companies handling warehousing, packaging, and delivery,” Shapira notes. One of the center's carrier clients, Plastic Express based in City of Industry, California, now operates a 123,000-square-foot bulk terminal and warehouse on site where it transloads plastic pellets from railcars.

In addition to self-loading pneumatic trailers used for transloading product, Plastic Express installed a state-of-the-art computer-controlled system that typically handles eight railroad cars per day for packaging plastics in super-sized sacks, boxes, and bags. The automated system is designed to weigh product and fill and label bags to customer specifications. If market demands are greater, the system has the capacity to package product from as many as 12 railcars per day, says Scott Pillsbury, operations manager for Plastic Express in New Jersey.

Shapira sees the Plastic Express operation as an excellent example of the opportunities provided by the Raritan Logistics Center for carriers seeking facilities for transloading services.

“In an area of the country where space is at a premium, this facility enables our customers to meet their business needs,” says Shapira. “At the same time, their presence helps make possible our plans for an integrated logistics network by retaining quality storage, warehousing, packaging, and distribution services together in one location.”

Shortline railroads

Shapira's vision for the New Jersey transloading site followed the establishment of two other short line railroads, the New Jersey and Northern in Hillsborough, New Jersey, and the Pennsylvania and Southern in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, both of which he also is president.

In Chambersburg, F T Silfies, a Nazareth, Pennsylvania, tank truck carrier, is the core carrier at the transloading facility. “F T Silfies is working with us to provide services from Chambersburg to locations throughout the region,” says Shapira. “We strive to ensure that our customers have a full range of shipping and logistical options available to them. That includes offering specialty services in areas of the country beyond our reach through our network of logistics partners that provide transloading, warehousing, trucking, and crossdocking throughout the Midwest and New England.”

From its inception in New Jersey, the Raritan Central Railway and its divisions have increased business more than 300%, Shapira says. With its success in place and a diversified base well established, the future looks bright for the company.

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