Most produce grower-shippers move their fruits and vegetables by truck, but Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific Railroad says rail can be an efficient alternative.
"Rail transportation is a viable and competitive option for produce transportation," said Chad Storlie, senior business director in UP"s Agricultural Products group.
"Nearly all produce commodities can be transported safely, efficiently and damage-free in freight rail service," he added.
The company currently is focused on providing a variety of innovative solutions for transporting agricultural products, Storlie said, like its coast-to-coast refrigerated produce transportation service that speeds fresh produce from production regions to major consumption areas.
Union Pacific specializes in potatoes, onions, carrots, celery and other bulky and heavy produce commodities, he said. Certain highly fragile produce commodities, such as berries, however, have restrictions on Union Pacific rail service.
"Railroads provide the safest, most fuel-efficient and environmentally responsible mode of ground freight transportation," he said.
The company has two programs that Storlie said are geared toward produce.
Express Lane is an expedited, priority train service developed by Union Pacific and CSX Transportation to ship food products from California and the Pacific Northwest to various destinations across the eastern half of the U.S.
"Since it was introduced in 2000, Express Lane has moved more than 11 million tons of products with a 98% on-time delivery track record from shipper to receiver," Storlie said.
Besides offering expedited service to major markets at a substantial cost savings compared to truck transportation, the program can include premium value-added services like transit monitoring, shipment management and problem resolution, he said.
Produce Railexpress is a three-party agreement with Railex, Union Pacific and CSXT to provide unit train service in five days from Wallula, Wash., or Delano, Calif., to South Schenectady, N.Y.
"Railex loads a minimum of 55 64-foot refrigerated cars per week to create a unit train of perishable fruits and vegetables that travel across the country," Storlie said.
The company ships whole carloads of produce, which can hold an average of three to four highway trailer loads of produce, Storlie said.
UP has a fleet of 5,200 refrigerated boxcars and a network that allows it to move refrigerated commodities from more than 400 origins to 500 destinations, he said.
In addition, he said, "Union Pacific has the rail network, rail service performance, equipment capacity and a dedicated Food Products team to help realize the full value of their rail shipments."
Railroads are fuel efficient and environmentally friendly, he said.
"Union Pacific can move one ton of freight nearly 500 miles on a single gallon of diesel fuel," he said. "Freight trains are four times more fuel efficient than trucks and generate a carbon footprint that is, on average, 75% less than trucks."
The company has a Perishable Operations Desk and a Union Pacific Distribution Services Agricultural Logistics Team that provide refrigerated unit and railcar monitoring to ensure that units move on their assigned train plan and the refrigerated units perform to the customer"s loading specification, Storlie said.
"Union Pacific is growing its produce business and always welcomes new customers, commodities, and origins and destinations to help customers find the best transportation solution," he said.