RAIL.ONE opens $22M plant in Clinton

RAIL.ONE opens $22M plant in Clinton :German manufacturer RAIL.ONE Group celebrated its entrance into the U.S. market Tuesday with the opening of a $22 million concrete rail tie plant in Clinton’s Lincolnway Railport.

RAIL.ONE chief executive officer Jochen Riepl said the plant is the global company’s newest and “one of the most modern production facilities in the concrete tie industry.”

The company, which began production in Clinton in February, marked the facility’s opening with a ceremonial send-off of a Union Pacific train with the first full load of concrete ties. Guests snapped photographs and waved as the train pulled away from the plant, located west of Clinton.

RAIL.ONE USA Corp. eventually will employ 65 workers in Clinton.

Among the guests was Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who pointed out Iowa and Germany’s long history.

“The descendants of German immigrants still make up the largest portion of our population at nearly 36 percent,” she said of the special connection. “It’s just logical that there is a factory here — in the heartland of the United States — that combines German engineering with the American pioneering spirit.”

Clinton Mayor Mark Vulich called it a “monumental” moment for his river city, which first envisioned the development of a railport 17 years ago.

“It’s the changing of an era,” he said. “We’ve now gone from a vision to reality.”

The Lincolnway Railport is one of the region’s largest development sites with direct rail service. The Union Pacific’s northern main line cuts across the region.

Arrival of RAIL.ONE Group also marks the first international firm that Clinton has recruited, Vulich said.

The company received assistance from the Clinton Regional Development Corp., the city of Clinton and the Iowa Economic Development Authority. In less than a year, the plant was built and producing concrete rail ties, which RAIL.ONE will supply to its main customer, Union Pacific, Riepl said. He added that RAIL.ONE hopes to do business with other U.S. railroad companies.

“Here in the U.S.A. with our combination of expertise and innovation, we will set the standards for new technologies and for quality in the concrete tie industry,” Riepl said.

According to Larry Huinker, the plant’s manager, the plant will produce up to 600,000 rail ties a year. Its railyard, where it will store the finished ties before Union Pacific, or UP, transports them, can hold 175,000 ties at a time.

“UP is a big reason we’re in Clinton,” he said. “Almost 60 trains a day go by us. We’re very excited to be a partner with UP.”

Huinker said the concrete ties have a lifespan of 30 to 40 years, which compares with about seven years for wooden rail ties, which are more common in North America. With 16 million to 18 million ties being replaced a year, RAIL.ONE sees a strong market for its product, he said.

Lynn Kelley, Union Pacific’s vice president of supply and continuous improvement, applauded the partnership that made the railport possible.

“RAIL.ONE is a strong partner that offers track systems at the highest quality and technological level worldwide. We are happy to work together to shape the future of heavy duty rail transport from now on,” Kelley said, adding that the concrete ties will be installed across its network. “We see a long-term future together.”

Steve Howes, chairman of the Clinton Regional Development Corp.’s board of directors, said Clinton has always had a relationship with the railroad. “If you look at our history, a lot of our industry came because of the rail.”

The opening of the first railport tenant, he said, has helped spark an increase in inquiries by other potential companies. “To have a Class 1 rail into the park, it’s a big deal.”

Howes credited RAIL.ONE’s decision to locate in Clinton to attracting Utah-based Nevada Railroad Materials, a wooden railroad tie recycler, to the park. That plant is under construction. It will recycle UP’s old wooden ties that will be replaced by the concrete ties.

Mike Kirchhoff, the development corporation’s new CEO, said the railport positions Clinton with a “unique asset.”

“Rail sites are a premium. Sometimes cities don’t do a good job of reserving land for industrial development,” he said, adding it then becomes difficult to develop a sizable rail site. Kirchhoff credited Clinton for having the vision years ago.

With the congestion happening in Chicago railyards, where Union Pacific has a district hub, Kirchhoff said “there’s a great opportunity for us because we’re only 2 1/2 hours away. We’re the next logical place to have distribution of consumer goods and materials.”

In fact, he said, since RAIL.ONE became the first to build in the railport, the development group has 10-12 companies inquiring about it and other areas in the region. “Four are in the railport specifically.”

Kirchhoff said the company’s arrival also could help open the door to a long-term strategy of bringing more German companies to the region.

Working with the state of Iowa and the German-American Business Association, the development group plans to send a delegation to Germany to hold workshops for other companies considering an expansion to the United States. “These guys did it from scratch. We want to grease the wheels (to help others),” he said.

RAIL.ONE opens $22M plant in Clinton

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