The Biden administration helped broker a deal with U.S. railroad unions Sept. 15 designed to avert a potential rail shutdown; however, one of the unions involved voted against the contract in early October, which could affect nationwide supply chains and contribute to rising inflation.* Among the many industries that could be affected by halted rail operations are waste management companies in the Northeast that depend on rail to transport materials out of state.
WIN Waste Innovations, a vertically integrated waste services company based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is one of several companies that rely on rail to transport waste throughout the Northeast and Midwest. Allia Saydjari, senior director of sustainability at WIN Waste, says the company’s waste-by-rail service division is a critical area of its overall business operations.
“A lot of it has to do with the strategy of the company,” Saydjari says. “We’re focused on offering innovative solutions to support a sustainable materials management (SMM) strategy for our customers, and railroads play an important part in that strategy.”
Saydjari says WIN Waste operates more than 1,800 rail cars, which include inter-modal containers, motor carriers and gondola rail cars. It operates seven rail-served transfer stations and transfers more than 4 million tons of waste, primarily in the form of construction and demolition (C&D) debris, by rail each year.
In addition to the company’s waste-by-rail infrastructure, WIN Waste operates three recycling and recovery facilities, 15 non-rail-served transfer stations, 14 waste-to-energy facilities and seven landfills/monofils.
Reaping the benefits
WIN Waste was formed early last year through the integration of 10 waste businesses, including Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based Wheelabrator Technologies; Stamford, Connecticut-based City Carting & Recycling and Tunnel Hill Partners; Londonderry, New Hampshire-based Charles George Waste Disposal & Recycling; Westboro, Massachusetts-based United Material Management; Eliot, Maine-based Shipyard Waste Solutions; Atkinson, New Hampshire-based Bay State Disposal; Westchester County, New York-based County Waste Management Inc.; Fitchburg, Massachusetts-based Fiore Trucking Recycle & Disposal; and the commercial and residential subscription businesses of Noonan Waste Service, West Bridgewater, Massachusetts.
The goal of the integration and subsequent rebranding was to offer more vertically integrated curb-to-grid services that deliver safe, reliable waste and recycling solutions for customers, WIN Waste says. The merger also has given the company the ability to offer customized services with expanded capabilities and resource recovery operations.
In its most recent acquisition, WIN Waste purchased the assets of Waste Away Systems, a Heath, Ohio-based hauler. The deal, which closed July 19, included a transfer station that handles municipal solid waste and C&D waste. Waste Away Systems currently manages 18 collection routes with 8,600 residential accounts across 11 municipal contracts. It also has 1,800 commercial customers and a roll-off business that services temporary and compactor customers.
Regarding that acquisition, Saydjari tells Waste Today the new assets will help continue growth in important markets for WIN Waste.
The company’s continued growth in the Northeast highlights WIN Waste’s SMM strategy to manage waste in the region. Saydjari says the Northeast has a waste problem, adding that the region lacks the landfill space for all the waste it generates. These markets—primarily in the New England states—are no longer permitting new landfills, and existing landfills quickly are reaching capacity.
Waste companies such as those in the Northeast have begun to explore rail as a potential solution for long-haul waste transport because it can be a cost-effective, sustainable option that reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
According to the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based organization that provides data on the energy sector, waste-by-rail, on average, can move 1 ton of waste about 480 miles using 1 gallon of gas. The agency adds that moving waste by rail reduces GHG emissions by up to 75 percent compared with other methods of transportation, such as long-haul trucking.
While waste-by-rail permitting presents significant barriers, it also can offer cost savings. Maintenance for a rail car varies depending on what repairs are done in-house, but according to an industry expert who asked to remain anonymous, the cost of maintaining a rail car is considerably less than maintaining a truck.
“Having the infrastructure in place to internalize waste disposal through rail-served transfer stations gives us more options to choose the most sustainable option for disposal,” Saydjari says. “This enables us to recycle and recover materials from C&D waste locally and send the residual volumes via rail, the lowest carbon land transfer option, to its end disposal location in the Midwest.”
Because waste by rail reduces the number of trucks on the road, this mode of transportation also eases the burden on America’s roadways while reducing air pollution from vehicle traffic.
Things to consider
Despite the numerous benefits rail transport can offer when compared with trucking, haulers need to be aware of some things if they want to invest in waste-by-rail services.
Saydjari says rail is capital-intensive, primarily because investing in a sizable fleet of rail cars is expensive given the high costs associated with constructing them. Investing in rail cars also means operators are locked into the waste-by-rail method because of contracts with rail companies and the permits related to hauling waste via this method.
“You’re locked in for a longer period of time because of the capital investment,” Saydjari says. “So, it should be your long-term strategy. It shouldn’t be an interim solution.”
If a company has an existing rail-served transfer station, it can receive permitting typically within six months to a year. If a company is starting from scratch, the permitting process can take years to complete.
In addition to permitting modifications operators should expect from regulatory agencies associated with the hauling of waste, such as the Federal Railroad Administration, companies considering a waste-by-rail service will need approval through a rail provider. As a result of this process, a company could be required to sacrifice some degree of control when transferring waste via railroad.
Saydjari says WIN Waste works with its rail provider, CSX, on scheduling and what can be transferred. That also means if CSX’s service was disrupted, WIN Waste would have delays in shipments.
“Having the infrastructure in place to internalize waste disposal through rail-served transfer stations gives us more options to choose the most sustainable option for disposal.” – Allia Saydjari, senior director of sustainability, WIN Waste
Another aspect that companies should consider is the distance between the transfer station and designated landfill. The longer the distance the waste needs to be transported, the more cost-effective rail is compared with transporting the material by truck.
For smaller companies that are looking to invest in rail transport, Saydjari suggests partnering with more established companies that also are interested in this transfer method.
Forming such a partnership can make the investment in rail transport easier for both companies and provides an economic incentive for the larger company to work with the smaller company, she says.
As for the industry’s adoption of waste-by-rail, Saydjari predicts the benefits will only become more apparent over time, especially as landfill capacity continues to decrease in the Northeast and fuel costs change because of a variety of geopolitical factors.