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By: Micheal Bradwell from | Monday, October 11, 2004

Allegheny Valley Railroad providing short-haul freight service

If you live near the CSX line in Washington County, your ears haven't been playing tricks on you lately: That really is a train whistle you're hearing each day.

It's the sound of the Allegheny Valley Railroad, a short-haul freight train that's been traveling between Washington and Pittsburgh since late last year. AVR is one of three short lines operated by Carload Express Inc. of Scottdale, Westmoreland County.

According to Michael Filoni, director of sales and marketing at Carload Express, railroads steadily have been gaining a larger share of the freight market over the past quarter-century.

"Part of the rebirth has been the short-line movement," Filoni said, noting that "literally hundreds" of the small, locally based railroad companies have taken root around the country since the Staggers Act of 1980 removed numerous regulatory restrictions, giving railroads the freedom to determine where they would do business and how much they would charge.

According to Filoni, the short lines can make a profit by leasing track from the larger, long-haul carriers in areas that don't make financial sense for them to make stops.

"The smaller and more locally based lines can work more closely with an area's customer base," Filoni said, adding that local shippers still receive the benefit of long-haul rail companies, since Carload Express's short-line subsidiaries work with CSX and Norfolk Southern as well as regional carriers to complete shipments.

Carload Express, founded in 1995, doubled in size in December after it signed long-term leases with CSX for the tracks for AVR. (The lines previously belonged to the B&O Railroad, which became part of the CSX line in the early 1980s). The company also operates the Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad from Greensburg to Uniontown, with branches to Bullskin and New Stanton; and the Camp Chase Industrial Railroad, which services the Columbus, Ohio, area. The company, which owns 10 locomotives and has 24 employees, handled more than 24,000 carloads last year.

The two-branch Allegheny Valley Railroad begins weekday mornings in Pittsburgh and follows the Allegheny River to New Kensington. A second leg of the line runs from Allison Park southwest to Washington, terminating in Canton Township at the V-Bat Plastic Processing Corp. subsidiary of Washington Penn Plastic.

Along the way, the train makes stops at Box USA and International Paper and 84 Lumber Co. in Eighty Four. Farther down the line, it stops at Washington Penn Plastic, Donley Brick Co. and Falcon Plastics before the final pickup at V-Bat, where it begins the return to Pittsburgh.

Filoni said there are numerous synergies at work between his company's short-haul lines and other transportation.

In Pittsburgh, Carload Express also operates its 50,000- square-foot Transload Express warehouse, where its incoming trains can be offloaded indoors to trucks or to larger rail carriers that will continue shipping the goods to their final destination.

In addition to its links with CSX and Norfolk Southern lines, AVR also connects with the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad.

While acknowledging that "trucks usually get stuff somewhere faster," Filoni noted that railroads can make up for that by being able to ship greater quantities of goods at a time, an important distinction for customers shipping raw materials. He said AVR has handled between 1,900 and 2,000 carloads on the Washington branch since December. With each railcar having the capacity of three tractor-trailer loads, Filoni said the railroad has shipped the equivalent of about 6,000 truckloads so far this year on the local line.

In addition to being unfettered by outdated rules and regulations, Filoni said railroads' competitiveness has been helped more recently by rising fuel costs and new rules limiting truck drivers' daily operating hours.

But trucks also play a role in helping the railroad with its work, he added.

"In a lot of cases, we work with local truckers" to complete a shipment, Filoni said, adding that the company often employs trucking companies to accommodate plants that don't have rail siding but want to ship by rail.

Filoni said Carload Express views the Washington area as a strategic location. "It's got a good road nexus with Interstate 70 and I-79," he said.

"We really want to grow the business out here," he said, adding that AVR's parent company "is a firm believer" in investing in rail infrastructure and ongoing maintenance to keep its lines efficient.

According to Filoni, railroads make an impact on people's lives in a "behind-the-scenes" manner, moving vital raw materials like corrugated paper, lumber, plastic resins and steel that ultimately become part of a finished product. The movement of goods occurs every day without anyone giving it much thought, he said.

Until you hear the whistle.

The Allegheny Valley Railroad is a subsidiary of Carload Express Inc., headquartered at 25 South Broadway, Scottdale. The telephone number is 412-426-2600.