A booming agriculture industry and improved customer service can be credited for the steady growth experienced at Red River Valley & Western Railroad Co. in its quarter century of operations, according to RRV&W President and CEO Andy Thompson.
The short-line railroad, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a three-day event in Wahpeton, N.D., provides local freight service to primarily rural communities along 577 miles of track in North Dakota, stretching from Maddock in the north-central region to Jamestown in south-central North Dakota and Wahpeton and Breckenridge, Minn., in the southeast corner of the state.
Since it first began operating in 1987, the company has moved more than 900,000 carloads of grain, corn syrup, sugar, ethanol and machinery through the region, increasing its annual volume by 141 percent since its first year of operations to total 55,600 carloads last year.
Thompson, who has served as CEO of the company for the past seven years, says that while booming agriculture-related business has driven the railroad's growth in recent years, the company actually began experiencing almost immediate growth after its launch simply by providing more frequent services to its customers.
Prior to RRV&W's
existence, trains were sent out to communities along those rural branch lines infrequently, once a week at best.
took over, it began offering services to communities up to three times a week.
"This presented those customers the opportunity to market their products in a more timely fashion," Thompson
"And time is money."
has also invested its fair share of money into maintaining steady services to its customers, spending approximately $27 million to date for improvements such as heavier rail, bridge upgrades, freight cars and track maintenance equipment.
Most recently, it partnered with Wahpeton's Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative to build approximately two miles of track to better serve the sugar processing plant.
says the Minn-Dak
plant and Cargill Inc.'s
corn milling plant near Wahpeton are two of the railroads biggest customers, but the railroad also services large ethanol plants in Hankinson and Casselton, as well as seven high-volume grain elevators capable of handling 110-car freight trains.
Nearly 95 percent of RRV&W's
business is agriculture-related, according to Thompson
However, in a testament to the sheer enormity of demands from oil production in the Bakken formation, RRV&W
, with its headquarters located arguably as far as one can get from the Oil Patch while still being in North Dakota, has recently found a small source of revenue in storing railcars that are either destined for the Bakken or are on their way out of the region with full loads.
"As the Bakken grows, [companies] are in need of support cars, but the area is not quite ready yet, so we have provided interim staging so that they're cued up and ready to release when they are ready," Thompson
Bakken business may continue, but Thompson
says future growth at RRV&W
will still be driven primarily by agriculture.
Red River Valley & Western President Andy Thompson said, "The biggest thing that has fueled the success of the RRV&W is the relationship we have created between the railroad and the customers and communities we serve.
Meeting and exceeding the expectations of our customers has been the number one job of RRV&W employees.
They have been the key to achieving our success."
said, "This new track is expediting rail service at the sugar plant, benefitting local producers and the regional economy."
In 2010, the railroad installed a 7,000-ft. siding at Casselton to handle the business growth that has occurred in the area.
noted that short line railroads like the Red River Valley & Western benefit customers and local economies by preserving and improving rail service to smaller communities.