When it comes to transporting goods from Point A to Point B, how the product moves and along what mode is essential in determining if your company’s current process is effective and cost efficient.

Ask yourself, is your current supply chain process adding value to the facility? Is your current cost-to-ship method cost-efficient? Are you able to receive a large volume of product efficiently from the manufacturer?

If you answered no to the above questions, then you may want to consider installing rail docks.

Rail dock technology is quickly evolving. Whether attached to the warehouse/facility or a standalone building, logistically, they are a value-added method providing a lucrative way of supplying goods to a central location. The cost-to-ship via rail is extremely inexpensive when compared to over-the-road methodology.

How it works: a regional carrier or branch line operator, using a switch engine, will take possession of the rail car directly from the manufacturer off of a branch line. From there, the rail car is eventually assimilated into a main line that will lead through one of a handful of major hubs strategically located throughout the United States. These hubs “shunt” the cars and redirect them to the various regions of the country. Typically, following a number of shunts, control of the car is again assumed by the branch line operator and the rail car is dropped on the local spur. Precision location at the dock is then handled either by a switch engine, run by the short line, or a series of cables located on the building site that can be controlled by the building operator.

To be successful however, the entire site must be carefully pre-planned and analyzed so that rail is possible. The rail industry operates within very tight tolerances. Grade of the site, radius of the curve off the branch line and other factors can be easily overlooked, negating the site’s ability to facilitate rail.

Additionally, there are many requirements and regulations that must be followed for the construction of a rail spur. Design of rail lines is a specialty engineering discipline that few firms practice. ESI has existing relationships with many of these firms and can quickly mobilize the design/construction process without having to vet the industry.

ESI has experience designing and building rail docks for both dry storage and cold storage applications. There are very distinct differences between the two as well as many nuances and options that need to be considered in the design of a rail dock.

If it can be proven that a rail dock will benefit the operational and financial end of your business, installing a rail dock should be an easy decision. Rail has been serving the world for 150 years and is extremely reliable. Having a site with rail service or the ability to obtain it at a later date will add further value to the building and property. ESI has its finger on the pulse of this technology and is well connected with the rail design engineering world.

— Timothy Gibbons is vice president of design / business development for ESI Design Services.