Progressive Rail plans Piedmont & Northern service improvements

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Progressive Rail EMD SW1500 No. 38 is headed for North Carolina to work the Piedmont & Northern.
Steve Glischinski
LAKEVILLE, Minn. — When Progressive Rail began operation in 1996 at Airlake Industrial Park in Lakeville, there was little rail business remaining. But Progressive began a transloading service that allowed customers to transfer cargo from rail to truck, and also provided storage services. Business grew and so did that railroad; today Progressive operates seven railroads in six states.

This month Progressive added North Carolina’s 14-mile Piedmont & Northern to its stable. The short line operates between a Norfolk Southern connection at Gastonia and a CSX connection at Mt. Holly. The track is owned by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Progressive Rail was selected to operate the line through a competitive bidding process to succeed Iowa Pacific Holdings, which had operated the line since 2015. Before Iowa Pacific, Patriot Rail operated the line.

Progressive Rail owner and president Dave Fellon said his company plans to put its transloading and industrial expansion formula to work in the Tar Heel State.

“Really our strength is industrial development,” Fellon says. “That’s what we feel most comfortable doing, we’re good at it. It’s like planting an apple orchard. With the seeds you can’t expect results the first two or three years. It takes time but we get out there and plant a lot of seeds and it will bear fruit in time. It’s all about relationships; it’s about finding the niche and value of what we can bring to customers. It’s the same set of people you have in the Midwest – bulk oil dealers, powdered cement people, you’ve got all the same things – it’s just nobody is shipping it by rail right now.”

The railroad is sending one of its SW1500 switchers from Minnesota to the P&N. The two Piedmont & Northern operating employees were retained by Progressive Rail.

“Many of our customers want to go into new geographies; we have a lot of customers in the Midwest that have or would like to have operations in the East, so it was just a nice strategy to grow with our customers," Fellon says. “We like to take them with us and find a new home on the East Coast. It’s been a nice opportunity to grow with our customers. This opportunity came up; two prior operators haven’t had any quantifiable success in growing the business. There’s only one customer left (Superior Carriers) on what was once a really busy railroad. It’s a transload customer and we’re working really hard to develop a lot of business with and in partnership with them. Of course we’re trying to find new on-line customers who over the years have basically defected and walked away from rail.”

Per the agreement with state transportation department, Progressive Rail will invest $800,000 in the development of new industrial access along the line, in addition to marketing rail services. The lease to operate the line is for a period of 10 years with three renewable terms of five years.

The Piedmont & Northern was once a 128-mile railroad with two segments: the northern division running 24 miles from Charlotte to Gastonia, including a three-mile spur to Belmont. The southern division ran 89 miles from Greenwood to Spartanburg, S.C., with a 12-mile spur to Anderson. Initially the railroad was electrified but dieselization was completed in 1954. P&N survived until Seaboard Coast Line acquired it on July 1, 1969. SCL-successor CSX sold most of the track in Gaston County to the North Carolina Department of Transportation on Dec. 5, 1991.

Fellon says while there is little traffic now, he’s confidant there will be in the future. “The harder they are, the more we like it,” he said.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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