WATSONTOWN - The railroad industry is far from dead in Pennsylvania. Just ask Moran Industries president John Moran Jr.
Moran, along with family members and state, county and municipal political leaders, broke ground Friday on a $1.4 million project designed to significantly increase rail freight operations to the company distribution center complex in Watsontown.
The project will be paid for with a $1 million state Rail Freight Assistance Grant, acquired through the help of state Rep. Merle Phillips, R-Upper Augusta Township, and state Sen. John Gordner, R-Berwick. Moran Industries will cover the remaining cost of the project, said company spokesman Jason Fitzgerald.
Ground was broken Friday on a $1.4 million project that will enhance rail service to Moran Industries in Watsontown. Participating in the ground breaking ceremony were, from left, Northumberland County Department of Planning director Marian Kozak, Northumberland County Commissioner Frank Sawicki, John Moran III, John Moran Jr., John “Jack” Moran Sr., Maureen Moran, Commissioner Kurt Masser, Watsontown Mayor David Hontz, state Sen. John Gordner, R-Berwick, and state Rep. Merle Phillips, R-Upper Augusta Township.
The project includes the installation of two rail sidings to company distribution warehouses that formerly were home to Zenith, and before that, Philco-Ford.
The siding, which connects with nearby Norfolk Southern Railroad lines, will allow rail cars to have direct access to company distribution center loading docks.
According to company vice president of operations Jeff Stroehmann, there are many benefits to using long distance rail freight and then transferring to truck freight for short distances.
According to Stroehmann, rail freight:
is economical for customers.
places less stress on the nation's highways by reducing the number of trucks on the road.
produces less greenhouse emissions than the trucking industry.
provides better paying transportation jobs
A gallon of diesel fuel will move a ton of freight 420 miles, Stroehmann said. It costs the same to build 10 miles of rail lines as it does to build one mile of highway, he said.
The project will be done in two phases, said Brad Aurand, senior engineer with JMD Consultants, the Moran subsidiary overseeing the project.
Phase One includes the installation of 1,000 lineal feet of siding; Phase Two includes the installation of 600 lineal feet of siding, Aurand said.
The project will double the 250,000 square feet of company warehousing space with access to rails, he said.
"The project will double the square footage and put Moran Industries and the Borough of Watsontown on the map for intermodal shipping," he said.
Gordner said the Moran complex proves the benefit of having a local, family-owned business in the area.
Out-of-state companies might see Watsontown simply as "a pin on the map," while the Morans, who live in the area, have invested in their business, community and region, Gordner said.
"This is an investment that will pay dividends, not only for state taxpayers, but for Northumberland County, as well," Phillips said. "Infrastructure improvements like this one is a vital link in helping industry thrive."
According to Stroehmann, John "Jack" Moran Sr. bought the complex in 1983. That investment helped turn an abandoned brownfield into a thriving commercial operation, he said.
"With his vision and his son John's hard work, this facility was spared from the fate of being another fixture in the growing portfolio of abandoned Pennsylvania rust belt hulks," Stroehmann said.
Over 25 years, the Moran family worked to transform the complex into a state-of-the-art distribution center, investing "untold sweat equity and over $25 million in capital into this campus," he said.
The newest addition to the complex is a Canadian-based auto parts remanufacturing company. In January, Moran Industries began operating a distribution center for the company in a building that showcases the state-of-the-art technology of modern logistics operations. The building will be one of the facilities served by the new rail sidings, according to operations manager Barry Mayes.
John Moran Jr. said he remember coming to Watsontown as a newly married 21-year-old. Moran said he worried about "getting this facility back on the production path."
He said it took "a leap of faith" on the part of local politicians to acquire the funding for the rail project, but vowed they would soon realize the funding was money well spent.
Northumberland County commissioners Frank Sawicki and Kurt Masser also spoke during the ceremony.
Masser praised the company for fueling economic development in the county.
"Government doesn't create jobs," Masser said. "It's people like John Moran who step up. He does have the attitude, 'Whatever it takes.' We need more John Morans."
Although a light rain fell during the ceremony, Borough Mayor David Hontz said the ground breaking proved "the sun is shining on Watsontown."
"I see this as not only a positive thing for Watsontown and Moran Industries, but for the area," Hontz said. "That is quite a happening in light of the economy."