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Trains are part of Holyoke's future

These rail cars come loaded with wax for Yankee Candle to a facility off of Commercial Street where steam provided by the city of Holyoke melts the wax so if can be transported by truck to Deerfield.Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE With tracks running through the city it's clear that trains were an essential part of the industrial landscape of Holyoke and according to officials from the Pioneer Valley Railroad trains can be part of the city's industrial future.

About 50 members of Holyoke business community took an instructional train ride Wednesday morning at the invitation of Mayor Michael Sullivan and the Pioneer Valley Railroad (PVR). The passengers met the train at Holyoke Heritage State Park which took them to several locations in the city as well a scenic run to the city's reservoir.

As the train rolled along, Michael Rennicke, vice president and general manager of PVR, explained the rail line has a long history in the city. The line runs between Holyoke and Westfield and was founded in 1871. Rennicke said, however, that rail applications are meaningful in the 21st century.

"We're going back to the future," he said.

One rail car, he said, can replace four tractor trailers on the nation's highways and reduce growing congestion. The increasing cost of shipping by truck also gives more affordable rail an advantage.

Short-line railroads, such as Pinsley Railroad Company, the owner of PVR, that operate warehouse distribution services can offer manufacturers the ability of having material shipped by rail to a central location and then brought to their facility by truck.

Rennicke noted that one Westfield paper coating company has saved 30 percent on transportation costs by using this combination of rail and trucking.

The train slowed down at the rear of the Department of Public Works facility on Commercial Street. There were several tanker cars on a siding. Gary Ingraham of Yankee Candle explained that thanks to a partnership between PVR, the city, Superior Carriers and the candle company, the company has developed a new way to bring in the wax it needs.

Ingraham explained the wax is shipped by rail from refineries in the South to Holyoke. When it arrives it is a solid and steam generated by the city is used to melt the wax so it can be placed in tanker trailers and trucked to Deerfield by Superior Carriers. The facility has been used for the last eight months.

"We're very pleased to be in Holyoke," he said. He noted the company's first manufacturing facility was in the Paper City.

Dan Summers of Superior Carriers said his company is the fourth largest long distance hauler in North America and used to compete with the railroads. Since 1998, though, the company has been investing in "trans-loading" facilities that allow railroads and trucking firms to work together.

Speaking of the relationship with PVR, he said, "It's been a very good partnership so far."

Next stop was a trip down by the first canal. Rennicke said that Sonoco Paper Products and Hazen Paper have invested in new sidings and new storage facilities. PVR will be bring the storage silos to the companies, as trucks will not be able to reach them.

"There's a substantial amount of potential in this area," Rennicke said.

On the way up to the reservoir, Rennicke pointed out the siding for Sealed Air Corporation, a long time customer.

Sullivan said the PVR is "an asset we need to exploit more" and urged the manufacturers to consider how rail could

help them.