Local railroad suffering from decrease in business

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Terminal Railroad, COLT, is seeing a decrease in its rail traffic.

The short line railroad runs across the state and hooks up to the main railroad.

Connie Kacprowixz, the city of Columbia’s utility services specialist, said this year the railroad is operating on a deficit.

“Since the recession hit, several commercial customers here in town have lowered the amount of materials they are bringing in,” Kacprowixz said.

Just in the past five years alone, carloads have dropped 55 percent. Last year, 772 carloads came in, which is down from the previous 1,403 carloads in 2011.

Going back even further, before the recession hit in 2008, a total of 2,400 carloads used the rail.

Kacprowixz said it’s important the city comes up with a new business plan to keep the railroad operating.

“Rail is a great way of shipping large commodities. When you’re looking at things like I-70 being overburdened with a lot of traffic it helps alleviate those traffic concerns on major roadways because you’re using rail instead of highways,” Kacprowixz said.

In addition to alleviating traffic, she said rail produces fewer emissions and is more cost efficient. She also said many local businesses rely on the rail.

Vice President of Production Chuck Clark for JM Eagle, which manufacturers PVC and PE plastic pipe, said the success of Columbia’s JM Eagle facility depends on the rail.

He said the Columbia facility makes a product, called PVCO, which is only made at two other locations in the United States.

“In order to make that product we have to get raw material, 1.5 to 2 million pounds a month, delivered to the facility from Pasadena, Texas,” Clark said.

He said trucking is an option, but it would greatly increase its operating costs. 

“One rail car is about 194,000 lbs. It would take four trucks to equal that one rail car,” Clark said.

Additionally, Kacprowixz said the rail is great for transporting huge metal coils. 

“Metal coils are so heavy you can only put one on a truck. Can you truck those in? Yes, but it's limited by the weight,” Kacprowixz said.

She said the city’s hope is to figure out a way to make the local railroad, and its warehouse, a viable entity in the city again.