Clark County rail line set to have record year

Rail carload traffic for the West Central Ohio Port Authority is up 40 percent this year, likely leading to a record breaking year.

The port authority has transported more than 4,800 carloads through Sept. 30, up from more than 3,400 carloads through three quarters last year.

Officials expect to surpass 2006 figures when rail carload traffic exceeded 7,600, WESTCO Secretary-Treasurer Louis Agresta said.

“We have the opportunity to have the best year in WESTCO’s history,” he said.

The boom is due in part to the weather, the rebounding economy and a historic harvest locally and internationally, Agresta said.

U.S. farmers are forecasts to haul in 14.5 billion bushels of corn and a record 4 billion bushels of soybeans, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The harvest has been good as most of our cars are agricultural. It’s probably just the economy in general rebounding because our freight shippers are shipping more as well,” Agresta said.

WESTCO’s primary shippers are Truepoint in South Charleston and the Heritage Cooperative in West Liberty, Mechanicsburg and Urbana.

Ohio farmers harvested a record amount of soybeans this year, said Randy Broady, director of grain operations for Truepoint.

He said Truepoint also handled 20 percent more beans this year.

“All and all, we’re very pleased with the crop this year,” Broady said.

Port authority officials anticipate rail carloads could reach up to 8,000, Agresta said.

WESTCO supports industry and agri-business in the region. The port authority was formed by the boards of commissioners in Clark, Champaign, Madison and Fayette counties. It is tasked with maintaining the rails it owns and more carloads means additional revenue from business paying to use its lines.

“We have some big projects coming up next year and it just allows us to rehab more miles of track so that we can continue to ship more product,” Agresta.

Last year, port authority revenue totaled more than $452,700. Through Sept. 30, its revenue is about $359,000.

The port authority projects include a $1.33 million rail rehab project for 14 miles of track that runs from South Solon through Springfield. Federal money will pay for 80 percent of the work.

Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, said rail is an efficient way to carry crops because of the weight and speed to market.

“The fact that the numbers are up is consistent with the overall yield and that just happens to be a good method of transportation for the crop,” Hobbs said.

The economy is rebounding, he said, and agriculture is a piece of the economic market in the region.

“When agricultural productivity and yields increase that does have an overall positive impact on the economic market in our community,” Hobbs said. “When you see yields and agricultural products on the increase that’s good for our local farm base, that good for our local farm economy.”