A provider of coast-to-coast refrigerated rail transportation for fresh produce is adding routes to the Midwest and Southeast, sending summer vegetables from the Southeast to the West Coast on return hauls, likely doubling its volumes.

Riverhead, N.Y.-based Railex Corp. also plans to increase weekly service in April, instead of its usual mid-summer ramp-up, hoping to entice shippers to use rail instead of trucks as fuel prices increase.

Railex plans to open routes from its Delano, Calif., and Wallula, Wash., hubs to Jacksonville, Fla., via St. Louis in the spring of 2013, said Steve Poindexter, director of business trade development and national accounts.

That will add to the company’s existing service from Wallula and Delano to Rotterdam, N.Y.

Two trains each originating in Wallula and Delano will make weekly runs on the St. Louis/Jacksonville route, Poindexter said.

“Many retailers and manufacturers are excited to have the opportunity to make that route,” he said.

The Washington facility focuses on apples, pears, cherries, onions and potatoes from the Pacific Northwest. From Delano, shippers send California table grapes, stone fruit and citrus, as well as some vegetables.

Trains making the return trip from Jacksonville will carry produce from the Southeast, imported produce and other food products back to the West Coast, Poindexter said.

Poindexter said Railex expects 30%-35% growth this year. When the Jacksonville/St. Louis line opens for business, the company’s volumes will likely double, he said.

In addition, Railex also is increasing service in late April this year, rather than in mid-summer.

The steady increase in fuel prices, with $5-a-gallon gas possible this summer, was the main reason for the company’s decision to push up its schedule.

Also, new state and federal regulations, combined with tougher credit standards, have reduced the number of trucks available to transport fresh produce.

Railex’s terminals feature more than 750,000 square feet of refrigerated storage.

In addition to expanding service in April, Railex also is beefing up its forward distribution and consolidation services in the wake of higher demand.

“We offer storage on both coasts, allowing our customers to ship multiple loads in and out to their customers as needed,” Poindexter said.

In 2010, Railex, which opened its Wallula line in 2006, added a second train weekly from Wallula to Rotterdam. In 2011, the company added a third weekly train from Delano to Rotterdam.

Railex began its Delano service in 2008.

Each Railex train ships about 200 truckloads worth of onions, potatoes and other fresh produce and food products.