Short Line of the Year: New Orleans & Gulf Coast Railway

How does a railroad realize a 50% improvement in train velocity while adding new customers and expanding facilities, and do all of that with no FRA-reportable injuries? The key is teamwork, one of the many reasons why the New Orleans & Gulf Coast Railway is our 2016 Short Line of the Year. Here’s the NO&GC story, as told by General Manager Scott Wollack:
NOGC The New Orleans & Gulf Coast Railway (NO&GC) operates in the West Bank area of New Orleans and predominately hauls petroleum products, oils, chemicals, food products, grains and steel products. The NO&GC operates 32 miles of track and connects with Union Pacific at Westwego, La., and runs eastward to the Gouldsboro Yard in Gretna and south to Myrtle Grove, La. We service 14 different industries on two subdivisions, with Chevron, Kinder Morgan, and CHS being three of the larger industries served.

Safety is a requirement of all employees at the NO&GC, and it shows. In the past 15 years, this short line has won the industry’s top safety honor, the Jake Award, seven times. Four times, NO&GC has won the award “With Distinction” and is in line to win it again for 2015 with no FRA-reportable injuries. The NO&GC has utilized technology in numerous facets of locomotives, vehicles, maintenance and fuel consumption in improving the safety atmosphere for all, but the bread and butter are the basic philosophy in working and helping your fellow coworker, no matter what department he or she is in to do it the safe way.

The NO&GC has adjusted its entire operations in the past couple of years, and the results have been remarkable. From 2012 to the present, NO&GC velocity numbers have almost been cut in half. For a 32-mile line that typically operates Monday-Friday from 0600 to midnight to have its release-to-interchange with the Union Pacific average a little more than one day is quite impressive. It takes an entire team effort for one car to turn its wheels.

Our customers have also taken notice. In the past couple of years, we have added new customers and have seen a number of existing customers grow their operations through additional tracks and storage tanks, and increased volume. On the NO&GC line itself, we just added a 12,000-foot yard, creating a more efficient operation for all our customers and allowing for more possibilities in the future.

Another form of excitement is the potential growth of the NO&GC. The corporate officers at Rio Grande Pacific Corporation have been tirelessly working to obtain federal, state and private funding for developing a new line connecting both subdivisions, which would eliminate a line going literally through the center of the street in the city of Gretna. This line would follow an industry area route through the community of Harvey and run through undeveloped land in Belle Chasse, and connect to the Belle Chasse subdivision. Along this line is the planned construction of two additional railroad yards.

This proposed new line would eliminate safety concerns the NO&GC has for some of the communities through which we operate, enable residential and commercial growth along the old line, and allow for proposed expansion of Highway 23 through Gretna, Terrytown and Belle Chasse. It would also improve our already impressive velocity.

An additional major project being reviewed by the NO&GC is an extension of our line by 4.5 miles in Myrtle Grove. This line would connect to Kinder Morgan’s International Marine Terminal. Along this proposed extension are two other coal terminals presently in the permitting process, and the proposed Port of Plaquemines on 550 acres just south of the Kinder Morgan terminal. The Panama Canal expansion is scheduled to be completed this year, and this has heightened the excitement at the NO&GC as we are the only railroad in the West Bank area of New Orleans, as well as the southernmost railroad to serve the Mississippi River in the great state of Louisiana.

Our growth has occurred amid the recent economic woes the railroad industry has experienced in the past couple of years. It has created more jobs in the area, including on our railroad—in the past couple of years, the NO&GC team has grown by about 50%. Throughout this growth period, the NO&GC has not lost its identity of being a family-owned railroad. We will continue to operate in that family atmosphere, which our customers—both internal and external—have come to expect from the NO&GC.

Safety, a family orientation, growth, job opportunities, improved working conditions, improvements in velocity, an overall team atmosphere: That’s what the New Orleans & Gulf Coast Railway is all about.

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Railway Age magazine.