Shipping your goods by rail? Here's something that might help.

Rail-Toolkit-Cover.fwWe all understand that much of the cost of the things we buy is wrapped up in the raw materials, manufacturing facilities and labor used to get the products ready to be sold, but how often do you think about how much it costs to transport those raw materials to the factories and the finished products to the store?

Commonly, transportation costs make up from 7 to 21 percent of a product’s cost, depending on the product. Even though the cost of fuel is low right now, transportation is still a major factor that manufacturers have to consider when they determine the price of their goods. For some products, having a transportation strategy that includes multiple options, including rail and barge transportation in addition to ground shipping, is key to lower costs for consumers.  Exploring and planning for these options in advance allows companies to choose the most economical shipping methods .

Recently, the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Rail Transportation updated and expanded the Iowa Rail Toolkit. The toolkit provides an introduction to rail shipping concepts, practices and access that can help shippers and economic development professionals develop shipping strategies that benefit both the company and the buyer by lowering transportation costs. Ed Engle from the Office of Rail Transportation says, “The toolkit’s resources are designed to take the mystery out of shipping by rail.” Resources include profiles and contact info for each of the 18 railroads that operate in Iowa, basic information on how to ship by rail or develop rail access (as well as financing the development) along with a glossary of terms.  With assistance from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, the toolkit also includes information on economic development programs and contacts.

Engle added, “The toolkit includes practical information a company can use to map out the best plan for their specific product. If a potential rail shipper wants to know the typical capacity of a box car or where the nearest location that truckloads can be transloaded to a rail car, the toolkit has the answer. “

He continued, “The toolkit is also useful to people wanting to attract new businesses to their area. If an economic development professional wants to investigate providing rail access to an industrial site, the toolkit has cost estimates and information on the process to follow.“

Tammy Nicholson, director of the Office of Rail Transportation says, “Iowa’s rail transportation system may provide a lower cost shipping alternative for raw materials or completed goods. We want to help potential users of rail understand the possible benefits and provide the information they need to investigate adding rail freight to their shipment options.”

To see the rail toolkit and other helpful information related to rail transportation, go to




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