Railroad ties manufacturing site busy

Al Rutz stands in the work yard of Koppers where stacks of timber all around him stretch skyward.

It’s here, on sprawling acres of ground just off Route 405 in Clinton Township, where the work of sorting, grading and manufacturing railroad ties takes place.

“As a company, we are the largest producer of railroad ties in the U.S.,” said Rutz, plant manager of the local facility.

The Lycoming County plant is one of a number of Koppers facilities, which employ more than 2,100 people in North America, South America, Australia, China, and Europe.

With headquarters in Pittsburgh, the company operates three divisions.

The performance chemicals division focuses on wood preservation and wood treatment. The company’s carbon material and chemicals division distills tar into a variety of products.

The local plant, part of the railroad and utility products and services division, supplies railroad crossties in North America to Class 1 and shortline railroads and supplies and services other products including utility poles and rail joint bars.

“We are transitioning right now from a chemical to more of a wood preservation company,” he said.

The chemical side, he noted, can be cyclical, especially with the swing in oil prices.

Rutz said Lycoming County, with its strategic location near large markets and access to major highways, is a good location for the railroad tie division.

The plant, he said, does a lot of business with major transit systems of metropolitan areas of the Northeast.

Trucks transport most of the wood brought to the plant for the railroad tie operation.

“We cut them to a specific length,” he said. “We grade them and sort them to customer specifications,” he said.

Anywhere from 22,000 to 25,000 pieces of wood are waiting to be cut at any one time.

Business has been pretty steady over the past year.

“I don’t see us growing a whole lot in the next few years,” Rutz said, while adding there are some signs of an uptick in business.

The plant employs about 50 people and operates three shifts.

Most of the workforce is comprised of local residents, many of whom tend to stay on with the company for many years.

Much of the training of employees is done in house.

Rutz noted that safety of employees is a priority.

He said Koppers has undertaken a zero harm culture initiative, which places the well-being of employees, protection of the environment and strength of communities number one.

The company is a member of the American Chemistry Council and “dedicated to adopting its Responsible Care initiative” at its locations worldwide.