• Nittany & Bald Eagle Railway Age Shortline of the Year

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Pennsylvania
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in Pennsylvania

Moderator: bwparker1

  by bwparker1
Short Line Railroad of the Year: Nittany & Bald Eagle

The Nittany & Bald Eagle Railroad (NBER)—one of eight North Shore Railroad Co. properties in North Central Pennsylvania—operates 70 miles of track owned by the Lewisburg, Pa.-based SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority.

The North Shore Railroad Co. was established in 1984 with two roads (including NBER), five employees, and approximately 850 carloads interchanged on 80 miles of track. Now, it has nearly 80 employees and operates over 280 miles with 23 locomotives. Carloads interchanged in 2003 exceeded 30,000 revenue loads, and NBER provided 30% of that total or 10,000 carloads.

While quality service is a keystone for NBER, retaining core customers hasn’t been easy. In Fall 2001, Mead/Westvaco closed a paper mill in Tyrone, Pa., resulting in a loss of more than 500 carloads a year. Soon after, the International Paper Mill in Lock Haven, Pa., was shuttered, accounting for a drop-off of more than 6,000 carloads a year. In 2003, Corning Asai Video Glass, a long-time NBER anchor customer, discontinued operations at its State College, Pa., plant, triggering a loss of another 1,000-plus annual carloads. And in October of the same year, RJ Corman Material Sales announced that it was concluding operations at its Tyrone, Pa., railroad materials yard, reducing NBER carloads by about 60 a year. Prior to the closings, NBER traffic was 16,000 carloads annually.

How did NBER deal with the unexpected shortfall of nearly 8,000 carloads or 50% of its business? "We aggressively marketed our services and expanded operations," says Todd Hunter, director of marketing for the short line. "And we’re proud that not one employee was laid off or let go due to the loss of customers." An expansion of aggregate business was the first priority. What started as an 8,000-ton stone move in 1984 rose to a 1.1 million-plus ton move in 2003. NBER now runs a 12-car shuttle twice a day over eight miles, which has eliminated more than 20,000 truckloads from area highways. In 2003, NBER was awarded ASLRRA’s marketing award for this business growth. The short line also was selected as one of the top "100 Best Businesses in Central Pennsylvania" by PA Business Central Newspaper.

NBER developed several other short-haul moves (between five and 70 miles) to regain market share; these have added up to $1 million a year in revenue. Among them: a pulpwood log haul for Pine Creek Lumber from Lock Haven, Pa., to Tyrone. And new customers continue to come online. In Fall 2003, the former Mead/Westvaco Paper Mill in Tyrone reopened as American Eagle Papers. First Quality Non-Woven purchased the former International Paper Mill property in Lock Haven, and the company is now building a new paper mill, which will grow NBER business further.

Despite the sluggish economy, a number of NBER customers posted record carloads in 2003, including 84 Lumber, Avery Dennison, Croda Chemical, Smith Eagle Logistics, and Webb’s Super Gro.

In 1998, NBER sold Avery and Smith Eagle on rail service and both have been increasing rail shipments ever since. "Avery Dennison was a cold call," Hunter says. "They were located near the railroad, but never used it." With state funding, the short line assisted Avery with the construction of a siding into the company’s Mill Hall, Pa., facility. NBER also helped Smith Eagle construct a rail siding to a 250,000-square-foot warehouse near Tyrone. And in 2003, the warehouse was expanded to 450,000 square feet. NBER is currently pursuing new opportunities with the logistics provider, including food stuffs, paper, lumber, and other similar commodities shipments.

Traffic from Norfolk Southern also moves over NBER lines. Under a trackage rights agreement, NBER serves as a "short cut" for the Class I, carrying more than 22,000 carloads of coal each year.

"The Nittany has been able to weather significant hits by taking advantage of and creating new opportunities," sums up Jeff Stover, executive director of the SEDA-COG JRA. "Through our classic public-private partnership, we are trying to make it easy for companies to do business with us. It’s not ‘no, we can’t do that,’ but ‘how can we help you do that?’"

In addition to business development, NBER is improving track infrastructure. Working with the SEDA-COG JRA and the state of Pennsylvania, NBER completed installation of 12 miles of new continuous welded rail and 4,300 new crossties in Fall 2003, under the direction of Track Supervisor David Keith. The railroad has installed 36 miles of welded rail in the last five years. Also in 2003, NBER’s parent company brought in a full-time track surfacing gang to resurface the entire main line. The railroad now operates as a 40 mph Class III on its 55-mile, 286K compliant main line.

General Manager Phil Lucas is helping NBER grow safely. In 1999, the small road received a "Jake" safety award. Additionally, the 19-man Maintenance-of-Way Department that serves NBER and all other North Shore Railroad Co. railroads has worked seven and one-half years without a single lost-time injury, and the Train and Operations department has been working more than 500 days with out a single lost-time accident.

Two years ago, the SEDA-COG JRA and North Shore Railroad Co. were selected by the Federal Railroad Administration to serve as the eastern test bed for a highway-rail grade crossing project. The short line company, including NBER, cataloged nearly 400 public and private crossings and added a toll-free emergency telephone number to crossbucks and signal masts at each. The general public is encouraged to use the number to contact railroad personnel if crossing equipment malfunctions. "The system could be easily expanded to all short lines across the country," points out SEDA-COG’s Stover. "The FRA and Pennsylvania Homeland Security officials appreciate the system’s ability to provide another set of eyes and ears to railroad properties."

This small railroad’s success story, says CEO Richard Robey, is attributed entirely to "our excellent team of employees who have an amazing history of traffic development and recovering from setbacks."

Pictures at NBER Shortline of the Year