Lot’s of Railroading – Not a Lot of Space
Patriot Rail and Ports’ Sacramento Valley Railroad (SAV) packs many complex railroading into a relatively confined space. The line operates seven miles of track and utilizes a 10-acre yard to accommodate multiple customers’ specialized needs within McClellan Business Park, a 3,000-acre master-planned community built on land once occupied by the United States Air Force.
Minutes from downtown Sacramento and a short distance from San Francisco, McClellan Business Park has more than 2.4 million square feet of rail-served warehouses and industrial buildings. The SAV handles a high diversity of freight and numerous transloading activities daily for the many customers that call the business park home. The SAV interchanges with two Class I railroads, the Union Pacific (UP) and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). Our team knows each Class I is coming every day, but they generally don’t know exactly when. Ensuring the yard is arranged properly to receive and ship out cars is a complex dance that requires anticipation and exceptional planning.
Keeping It Fun
One of our customers has 13 unique points at their facility, with each requiring a specialized car. Our SAV team must coordinate with the Class I upon arrival then switch and arrange trains, so the right cars get in the right place at the right time. Once they are ready, efficient communication with the customer ensures the cars get pulled at the right time as well. Depending on the workflow of the customer, up to three switches per day can be required. Our team must be responsive and prepared to take care of these specialized needs.
“That customer keeps it fun,” says SAV Operations Manager Joe Gallegos. “Having 13 specialized spots can make for some unique challenges. When our inbound train comes, their cars are already spread throughout it, and then we get a list of what cars they need and where they go. It’s a massive puzzle.”
Joe continues, “How do we get everything lined up and down there so we can keep them running? When that customer is operating at full capacity, my team has a lot to figure out. When that’s squared away, how do we take care of everyone else? That’s an even bigger puzzle.”
The erratic nature of the Class I railroads’ schedules adds a degree of difficulty as well. The SAV has four tracks in their yard to accommodate receiving inbound trains, switching, and preparing outbound trains. If a Class I brings cars unexpectedly, they can block off one end of the yard requiring additional work and lost time to correct.
“If we’re not prepared, it is likely that it will impact our customers, which I don’t like,” Joe explains. “We always have to be ready. I won’t say ‘expect the unexpected’ because we know they’re coming. We just have to predict when that will be with great accuracy.”
Excellent communication helps. Joe has forged strong relationships with his customers and the Class I lines that interchange with the SAV. He stays in contact as often as necessary to ensure everyone is on the same page. Joe even compares working with the Class I crews to working with his own team, saying they all have a common goal of doing the right thing to ensure the product doesn’t stop.
Complex Solution Providers
Seven miles of track may not seem like much, but the complex needs of the SAV’s many customers provide our Patriot team ample opportunity to flex their problem-solving muscles. Excellent leadership, teamwork, and an in-depth understanding of our clients’ business objectives enable this unique California carrier to overcome challenges and maximize output daily.