Mike Stanley, a mineral economist and vice president of Tucson, Ariz.-based Resource Science Inc., envisions that aggregate production will become more centralized. Resultantly, Stanley forecasts that eventually a large percentage of aggregate production will come from large "super quarries" and gravel pits located on geologic deposits located far from the large urban areas that they will serve. This makes rail delivery of concrete materials a viable alternative to delivery by truck.

It's a current economic reality that many producers can't use rail for deliveries. "In our area, it seems that most railroads favor the large-volume trains at the exclusion of small loads," says Dan Hollenbeck, Lafarge Cement's Minneapolis terminal manager. As a result, only one Minneapolis concrete supplier can accept rail shipments of cement.

According to Ralph Kennedy, a rail market consultant with Houston-based RailLease Inc., negotiating the best prices in the rail market is a very complex and long-term process. The best scenario most suppliers can offer a railroad company is to have an efficient unloading facility at the plant that can handle various amounts of cars with a 24-hour turnaround. In these circumstances, the railroad drops off the fully loaded cars and picks up the empty ones from a customer-built rail siding (secondary track off of the main rail line). After unloading the material, it's up to the customer to move the cars to the unloading spots and return them to the siding for the return trip. Kennedy offers three suggestions on how to make better plans for an eventual rail shipment operation.

A related article covers the proper sizing of a railcar mover.

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