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Rail company completes Coldwater, Michigan rail upgrade

By News Coverage

From WTVB:

COLDWATER, MI (WTVB) – The Indiana Northeastern Railroad Company celebrated the completion of the Branch County Rail Users Association Project with their partners on Thursday.

They showed off the upgrading over the last year of nearly 10 miles of railroad right of way from Coldwater to east of Quincy to a group which included members of Coldwater city government and partners in the project.

The project addressed the deteriorating conditions of the rail line and the need to increase the weight capacity of rail cars serving local companies.

The R.U.A. was awarded a grant from the Rail Division of the Michigan Department of Transportation for 50 percent of the project cost which came out to $625,000.

The Coldwater City Council and the Indiana Northeastern Railroad both approved $312,500.

The Railroad’s investment included a provision to become a full voting board member of the R.U.A..

The I.N.R. later made an additional investment of over $233,000 to cover cost over-runs which brought the total amount of money spent on the project up to over $1-point-4 million.

As for the repairs that were made, The R.U.A. was created for the purpose of purchasing the old Conrail Railroad line that served two counties and local industries.

Besides the railroad, the R.U.A. board is comprised of representatives from Sekisui Voltek, Panel Processing, Star of the West Milling, the City of Coldwater and Branch County Economic Growth Alliance.

Indiana Northeastern upgrades, repaints ex-Reading GP30

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The Indiana Northeastern’s effort to upgrade a 1960s-era diesel locomotive was recently featured in Trains Magazine:

Tractive-effort upgrade, other improvements to EMD product

HUDSON, Ind. — Mechanical staff of the Indiana Northeaster Railroad is in the process of completing upgrades and repainting of ex-Reading Lines locomotive No. 2185, one of the two GP30s on the 105-mile system which operates in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.

Travis Bloom, chief mechanical officer for the railroad, leads a staff of four mechanical employees at the railroad’s state-of-the-art locomotive shop in Hudson. The locomotive has received new power assemblies and an electrical upgrade, Bloom says, including the installation of a BOA (Bolt-on Adhesion) tractive effort system from ZTR Control Systems, which designs upgrades for older locomotives. This addresses a common complaint about the storied GP30s, that they are prone to slipping while starting a heavy train.

“The system takes the wheel-slip control and load regulator that was factory-installed by EMD and removes that,” Bloom says. “It is all microprocessor controlled now. Instead of using current sensors, it uses other methods to determine wheel slips and how much it can load before it slips. It helped it a lot; they were very slippery. I would compare it to a good-pulling GP9 now, but with a little more horsepower.”

Says engineer Jeff James, “As slippery as the old GP30s are, this new hardware is a great improvement. It has made a noticeable difference on dry rail.”

The locomotive awaits lettering and numbers as part of the repainting process. The railroad has repainted six units at its two-stall shop in the eastern Indiana town, which replaced a one-stall engine shed in Hillsdale, Mich.

“When we repaint a locomotive, we strip the cab, replace the flooring, repaint the cab, put everything back together then go over the engine compartment.,” Bloom said. “We are just finishing the (car body) striping.’’

EMD’s GP30, introduced in 1961, is the only locomotive that features styling from GM automotive designers, the source of its unique “skyline casing” along the cab and carbody.

Indiana Northeastern improves tracks to Branch County

By News Coverage

As originally reported in the Daily Reporter:

The railroad also brought in 5,000 tons of new stone for ballast under the rails.

The city of Coldwater is one of the owners of the Rail Users Association, which purchased the Quincy-Coldwater section of the rail services from the federal government in 2002.

When those ties and ballast are installed over the next few month “It’ll look like a railroad again,” according to Andrew Hershman who does marketing and sales for the railroad.

He is also a part-time locomotive engineer.

“I was an engineer three weeks ago on a train and I don’t operate that much through Branch County. When I do, I’m reminded of just how much this project is needed,” he said.

Work to repair the bridge east of Coldwater over the Sauk River has begun.

“With the addition to the ties and the surfacing work, that will improve the condition on the track,” Hershman said. “It will bump us to the next class that will allow us to do 20 mph on that stretch of road.” The limit is now 10 mph.

The big advantage comes with heavier freight. The national lines use rail cars with a 286,000 pounds per car load limit. Because of the poor condition of the local line, businesses here face a car load limit of 268,000 pounds.

The lower limit resulted in Panel Processing moving work to its other plants.

“Panel processing was hoping that they could get some heavier boxcars in here,” Hershman said. “With the heavier loadings, you get better economies of scale with your freight rates.”

The heavy loads will help “especially over at Ceres Solutions. With their inbound fertilizers, some of the potash and the dry fertilizers, it will be a little bit cheaper if we can handle the heavier cars,” Hershman said of the farm co-op..

Darling International rendering plant could not fully load outbound rail cars. Other users include Voltek, Star West Milling and Sungrow of Quincy.

Rail traffic was down in 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic. Hershman said the numbers might have been “slightly depressed” yet “we saw about 800 cars out of Coldwater last year.”

He believes sales will rise.

“A person now looks at the railroad and they’re kind of discouraged, and rightfully so. With the improvement in the track structure and in its appearance, it would be an easier sell,” he said. “We’re open for business, the red carpets out. We can handle your freight.”

It’s all about price. Andersons were trucking corn oil from its Albion biofuel processing plat to Coldwater to load into rail cars for shipment to Louisiana. Canadian National Railroad gave a better price so now the corn oil is trucked to Lansing to connect to that rail line.

Hershman said in the current market with shortages of trucks and higher fuel prices rail shippers can save 25% to 40% on rail freight.

“The further the distance, the more competitive rail is,” he said. “Generally speaking, a rail car is about the equivalent of four trucks.” Cost goes up if trucking is needed at either end of the haul.

Indiana Northeast Railroad is a 105 mile short line railroad. It owns from Quincy to its national connection at Montpellier, Ohio.

The railroad will pick up a quarter of the $1.2 million “corridor improvement” costs. Coldwater will use $312,500 of its Capital Improvement fund to pay a quarter of the cost. A grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation pays the $625,000 remainder.

Short line railroads provide vital links

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As featured in KPC News:

Do you drive over a section of railroad track and wonder when the last time it was used?

While some of tracks in northeast Indiana no longer have the connections they once did, the shortline railroads that use them provide important links in a larger chain.

The longest, the Indiana Northeastern Railroad, measures nearly 105 miles in total length, across northeast Indiana, northwest Ohio and southern lower Michigan. Forty-five miles are in LaGrange and Steuben counties.

It operates with 13 employees and serves 22 customers, including 12 in Indiana, according to Andrew Hershman, director of marketing and sales for the railroad.

In LaGrange County, the railroad serves the South Milford Grain Co. and Edd’s Supplies, a fertilizer location. The railroad also maintains administration and offices in South Milford.

The railroad serves several companies in Ashley: Carper Farm Supply, Klink Trucking, K-Tech Specialty Coatings and Stoy Farms. In addition, there are two locations where transload customers — who do not have access to a rail spur — can drive trucks to ship products.

In Fremont, the railroad serves New Horizons Bakery, Padnos and Berry Global. Two more Steuben County customers could be added soon.

“The Indiana Northeastern is very eager to handle the traffic needs of industry in northeast Indiana,” Hershman said. “We are always looking to work with our local business to see how rail can benefit their operations.”

The railroad handles between 5,000-6,500 carloads a year, he added. A carload reflects one loaded trip, but not the return trip back to the origin or destination.

“A week could see anywhere between 50 to 300 cars depending on traffic ebbs and flows,” Hershman said. The railroad handles a variety of commodities, including flour, plastic resins, liquid and dry fertilizers, steel, lumber, scrap, limestone, asphalt, rendering by-products, coal, coke, salt, corn, soybeans, wheat, corn oil, and large equipment such as overweight and oversize transformers.

As a handling line for Norfolk Southern, Indiana Northeastern’s share is combined with that railroad so a customer pays only one freight invoice, Hershman explained. Indiana Northeastern is paid for the traffic it handles directly from Norfolk Southern.

In Hudson, the railroad operates a mechanical shop where locomotives are inspected, repaired and overhauled. Hershman said the railroad maintains 10 locomotives at the Hudson facility.

In Indiana and northwest Ohio, the east-west line was once part of the Wabash Railroad’s Fourth District, that ran between Toledo, Ohio and Chicago, passing through Hamilton, Steubenville, Stroh, Topeka and Wolcottville.

The line also operates on portions of the former New York Central’s Fort Wayne & Jackson line, running through Steubenville, Pleasant Lake, Angola and Fremont before crossing into Michigan.

“The shortline railroad story is usually a very unique one,” Hershman said. “Often formed out of the dust of a larger railroad on the verge of abandonment, desperate shippers and communities, knowing they would be at a disadvantage without rail access, would often save these lines from being forever torn up.

“They are usually the most robust, creative and determined railroads to survive against the odds.”