Tank-car repair service, requalification function retains fix outlets busy

Northern Plains Rail Cos. is setting up its second maintenance facility, located close to Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Picture – Northern Plains/©Lorrie Tiegs Pictures

The decrease in U.S. freight-rail site visitors continued via Oct. At recent market trade exhibits, railroaders and suppliers weren’t shy about acknowledging the sluggish and unsure financial state, noting that freight-rail cash expenditures have been down for the most portion this year, and could be down all over again in 2020.  But not all rail execs have been utilizing the “D” term this slide.

Previous thirty day period, Progressive Railroading attained out to a cross-section of rail-auto mend store officers. We requested if they’d been viewing more function coming their way this year, or at least in modern months — and, if so, what variety of business they ended up getting. In brief: They’ve been busy, they explained to us, particularly on the tank-car or truck maintenance and requalification fronts. And they assume to proceed to be busy for at least the near term.

Witness Midwest Railcar Repair’s full-provider fix facility in Brandon, South Dakota. The shop — the place the organization cleans, paints, lines and repairs rail vehicles — has professional an uptick in tank-auto operate.

“Although 2019 is not a record year for vehicle-shopping functions, it definitely has been a sturdy 12 months over-all,” President David Smook claimed in e-mail. “Tank autos have dominated. We have also expert an unforeseen increase in tank-car or truck inside coatings work. Tank requalification was a main factor in the energy of our 2019 [success].”

The emphasis on tank-car repairs seems to be a carryover from 2018. Extra fleet homeowners have been inquiring outlets to support them meet tank-car requalification requirements above the past two several years to comply with the Federal Railroad Administration’s HM-216B, which was issued in 2012, shop executives mentioned.

The conventional calls for tank-car entrepreneurs to adhere to requalification systems that ensure a tank car or part will not fail prior to its following scheduled inspection or take a look at. 

Large demand for the two tank- and box-motor vehicle repairs also have characterized the year for Progress Rail, which repairs freight cars and tank vehicles, as well as materials new, reconditioned, re-qualified and employed freight-car or truck components.

“Tank-automobile store room has verified a requirement, as tank auto qualifications carry on to cycle via for fleets,” mentioned Ryan Davis, the company’s vice president of freight auto operations, in an email. “We’ve found ongoing need for regulatory testing and tank-auto qualifications, and [we’ve] skilled a movement of freight autos returning from leased services, which amplified the need for storage, as effectively as repairs. This has partially offset sector segments that parked or saved some vehicles, these as coal and seasonal slowdowns in frac sand deliveries.”

Which is a significant modify from last 12 months, when Progress Rail — which also is the biggest provider of reconditioned car wheels, axles and bearings in North America — mentioned “some upswing” in the sand section, Davis stated.

Climate also a issue

Tank-automobile operate has not been the only factor holding some retailers chaotic. In an email, officers at Herzog cited an boost in mend operate thanks, in large portion, to climate-linked track troubles. Serious flooding in various states has been driving the will need for observe upkeep and repairs, they explained, which also has resulted in elevated machines utilization and don.

Herzog performs a wide range of operate on freight and specialty cars at services in St. Joseph, Missouri, and Fall Town, Nebraska

The demand for more restore get the job done will prompt at the very least a person rail-car or truck fix organization to open up a new store in 2020. Headquartered in Fordville, North Dakota, Northern Plains Rail Cos. is developing its second repair service facility in the vicinity of Grand Forks, North Dakota. Slated to be operational by April, the new store will be substantially bigger than the company’s latest maintenance facility in Erskine, Minnesota, and will feature 13,000 feet of monitor and six motor vehicle spots, states Jesse Chalich, president of Northern Plains, which also operates a shorter line in Minnesota and North Dakota.

In the beginning, the store will focus on normal repairs and cleaning, with painting and tank-car or truck cleansing solutions quite possibly extra at some level.

“We’re talking to a large amount of prospects proper now and seeking to determine out what they need to have,” Chalich claims. “We perform with a whole lot of food stuff-quality vehicles, which just cannot have any contamination. It’s critical to preserve them cleanse and up to standards.”

Northern Plains also reported “significant mobile repair business” this yr — a development Chalich expects to continue on.

Wanting forward to 2020

Some store execs also anticipate the enterprise uptick to continue as the calendar turns to 2020.

“Our 2020 aims are to greatly enhance inner course of action enhancements, with an increased emphasis on bettering turnaround periods,” Smook mentioned.

Herzog officials have famous an maximize in restore get the job done due, in significant aspect, to weather conditions-connected observe problems.


“The demand for tank-motor vehicle skills ought to continue being dependable, owing to the qualification cycles and necessary maintenance and tests,” Davis extra. “Based off of field needs, which can generally fluctuate, we foresee regimen freight-motor vehicle repairs and storage needs for conclude-of-lease repairs to go on.”

There are caveats. Up coming calendar year is an election year. And some railroads could possibly continue on to be conservative with capex.

“Like most crystal balls, ours is only as great as our customers’,” Herzog President Mike Mastio claimed in an email, adding that Herzog will be prepared for whatever will come.

“We continue on to devote and advertise new innovations for our shoppers and to increase our operations,” he extra. “Our employees are qualified to go after more recent, extra productive options, so they are armed to handle our workload more successfully and safely and securely.”

Meanwhile, Midwest Railcar Repair’s Smook is cautiously optimistic.

“Although 2019 was more powerful than expected, the continuous falloff in rail visitors shouldn’t be ignored,” he mentioned, citing Affiliation of American Railroads’ info that displays visitors slowdowns in each carloads and intermodal units this yr. “Strength in the tank-motor vehicle requalification section will need to have to go on for potential car or truck-browsing occasions to continue to be solid.”

Michael Popke is a Madison, Wisconsin-dependent freelance author. Electronic mail responses or inquiries to [email protected].