Union Pacific (I.C.E.): The Ice Cold Express At The Railex Distribution Facility In Rotterdam, NY

In 2006 Railex LLC launched service in partnership with the Union Pacific Railroad and CSX between Wallula, Washington and Rotterdam, New York followed in 2008 by a Delano, California, to NY lane, and Jacksonville, Florida service from the west coast in 2014.

Railex runs unit trains of 55 large, “Plate F” refrigerated cars. Two additional refrigerated unit-train services were announced in 2013, the Green Express, from Tampa, Florida to Kingsbury, Indiana operated by CSX and the Tampa Port Authority, and the TransCold Express operated by McKay Transcold, LLC and BNSF, connecting the California Central Valley with the midwest.

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The Union Pacific (I.C.E.): The Ice Cold Express

The Union Pacific (I.C.E.) Ice Cold Express is an all refrigerated train that runs from Wallula, Washington to Schenectady, NY carrying about 55 refrigerated cars full of fruits and vegetables to the Railex facility (Golub/Price Chopper Supermarkets) in Rotterdam.

It runs the entire cross country journey with Union Pacific’s newest 6-axle, highest-horsepower diesels. It’s shown here on December 27, 2011 (2 days after Christmas) at the Railex facility in Rotterdam with the Golub/Price Chopper Supermarkets distribution center in the background…. (Note) This is a difficult shot to get as the propery is gated and getting in requires a purpose…. In this case, mine was picking up a load. — AC

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Have you ever wondered how your fruits and vegetables make it to your grocery store?… Well, I know how all too well…. I made numerous cross country trips delivering produce and meats of all kinds to the markets here in the northeast from California, Kansas, Texas, Alabama and Florida and I have to tell you…. It ain’t no easy trick.

Unlike general freight commodities, agriculture & produce are perishable, time-sensitive and temperature sensitive. And since the average haul for these delicate items is anywhere from 800 to 2,000 miles, that leaves lots of space for things to go wrong and in the trucking business, that can mean a refused load. Something you don’t want when there’s 40,000+ pounds of product on your trailer.

But before the interstate highways made it possible for truckers like myself to make such a haul. The fruits and vegetables of America’s farms found their way to markets nationwide a very different way. Over the shiny steel arteries that were the railroads of America….

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The way it used to be….

The first refrigerated boxcars were introduced by the Swift meat packing company. Founded in 1855 by 16-year-old Gustavus Franklin Swift in Eastham, Massachusetts, Swift was later incorporated in 1875 in Chicago. It was there that Swift began shipping its finished meat products to markets in the east in unit trains of refrigerated boxcars ushering in the age of long-distance, temperature-controlled freight transportation.

Later in 1884 the Santa Fe Refrigerator Despatch (reporting mark SFRD), a subsidiary of the Santa Fe railroad began moving perishable freight in its own small fleet of 25 ventilated fruit cars and 8 ice-cooled refrigerator cars which grew to 6,055 by 1910. Almost that of its biggest competitor. The Pacific Fruit Express. And by 1929 the SFRD was carrying some 100,000 produce loads from the fields of Arizona and California to the East Coast markets each growing season.

The Pacific Fruit Express (PFE) on the other hand, began operations in 1907 as a joint venture between the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific with a fleet of 6,600 refrigerator cars built by the American Car and Foundry Company (ACF). A company still building railcars to this day. PFE’s fleet would eventually grow to 8,100 cars. The largest fleet of refrigerated cars in America.

In 1923, the Western Pacific Railroad joined the mix and leased 2,775 brand new reefers to the PFE. Visually they were similar in appearance except for WP heralds on the cars instead of the paired UP-SP heralds and the three did a brisk business until the late 50s when the WP cars were retired and the WP ended its partnership with PFE in late 1967 and teamed up with the competing Fruit Growers Express.

The PFE’s assets were later divided between the UP and SP and the company split on April 1, 1978. Two years to the day after the formation of Conrail. Ironic since both the Southern Pacific and the Western Pacific were both absorbed by the UP in 1983 and 1996 respectively giving UP control of the whole kit and caboodle…. That is except for the WFE which is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the BNSF…. Are you confused yet?…

By 1926, FGE expanded its service into the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest through the WFE and the Burlington Refrigerator Express (BREX), its other partly owned subsidiary (that was formed in partnership with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q)). And unlike the WFE, the FGE company is now controlled by CSX.

So what started in the 19th century by an enterprising Chicago businessman now keeps food on the tables of America’s citizen’s 365 a year. Today Swift is part of a bigger conglomerate and now shares the market with competitors like Cargill, Smithfield Foods, and Tyson Foods. All of which I’ve personally hauled for and all of which use refrigerated reefers to move the perishables to market.

Union Pacific (I.C.E.): The Ice Cold Express

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Author:Railfan AC

AC is a U.S. Air Force Veteran, a long haul trucker, a transportation enthusiast and a lifelong lover of trains. AC's mission is to travel America documenting American railroading in the 21st century while educating those who want to know about the importance the railroads play in our daily lives including, but not limited to, the movement of goods, services and more.

One Response to “Union Pacific (I.C.E.): The Ice Cold Express At The Railex Distribution Facility In Rotterdam, NY”

  1. August 2, 2016 at 6:22 pm #

    Awesome transport info,

    I am also a rail enthusiast and trucker.
    I wanted a bit of both worlds regarding our long distance journeys to deliver produce.
    Thanks for railroad history as well.

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