By and |  February 1, 2014

Vulcan Materials’ new program makes rail transportation a viable way to connect quarries and plants.

Vulcan Materials Co. is known for implementing forward-thinking strategies that deliver consistently superior quality materials and services to its customers.

Most recently, Vulcan has begun linking its aggregates resources with processing plants using rail transport lines in Southern California, one of the largest per-capita aggregate consumption regions in the U.S.

Vulcan’s supply-demand assessment for the region revealed that major metropolitan areas, like Los Angeles, faced imminent aggregates shortages, which could have potentially restricted the region’s ability to fully realize the benefits of an economic recovery following the 2008 downturn.

With an understanding that the emerging demand for aggregate materials would need to come from multiple sources, some of which lie beyond the metropolitan area, Vulcan developed its Rock-by-Rail program, an economically viable means of bringing aggregates by rail from its Big Rock Creek site in Antelope Valley to be processed at its Sun Valley plant, just north of downtown Los Angeles.

“For years, the Sun Valley quarry produced the largest aggregate supply in the United States, providing construction materials for Los Angeles as well as Ventura and Santa Barbara counties,” says Scott Bevan, Sun Valley plant manager. “But those reserves were depleting and a new supply of aggregates reserves was needed in the area for the long-term. Union Pacific rail lines lie adjacent to the Sun Valley and Big Rock Creek quarries. By installing about 2.5 miles of rail, we were able to link the rail lines and connect the two quarries.”

Vulcan developed an agreement with Union Pacific to run multiple railcars loaded with aggregate from Big Rock Creek to Sun Valley during night hours, when no other trains were scheduled to travel along Union Pacific’s Los Angeles rail line.

“We have a limited window during the night when we’re able to move our railcars from Big Rock Creek to Sun Valley,” Bevan says. “One of our challenges with the project was how to unload the railcars without having to stop and start each one of them because that would take too much time.”

Automated process
Vulcan’s in-house engineering department designed the solution. The railcars run continuously at approximately 0.5 mph over an 80-ft. unloading site, where aggregates drop onto a conveyor belt as the cars slowly pass over it.

From start to finish, unloading takes a little over one hour. Rail car gates that open to drop the rock are actuated by a solenoid. Three conveyors coming off the unloading hopper carry rock a short distance to stockpiles.

“It’s quite a sight to watch material come out of the cars and onto the conveyor system,” Bevan says.

At Big Rock Creek, two Caterpillar 992 front-end loaders are used to load rail cars. The loaders feature a bucket capacity of 14 to 16 cu. yd.

“Our Rock-by-Rail program has reduced the number of trucks needed to haul material from Big Rock to our Sun Valley plant by as many as 280 per day, covering a 134-mile round-trip,” Bevan says. “We calculated that, by hauling 1 million tons of aggregate by rail, we avoid having trucks complete 560 trips along the highway each day. In one year, that amounts to a reduction of 40,000 truck trips. That’s a lot less wear and tear on highways.”

Rail transportation also reduces fuel and labor costs, eliminates the need for a large fleet of trucks and the maintenance required to keep them on the road.

Additionally, use of the rail line reduces traffic congestion at both the Sun Valley and Big Rock Creek communities, and lowers the greenhouse gas emissions footprint of the aggregates operation.

Vulcan is pleased that its Rock-by-Rail program has been economically efficient and effective. However, development of the program was also heavily influenced by Vulcan’s commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability.

“The manner in which industrial companies operate their facilities can affect stakeholders in that community,” say Atisthan Roach, Vulcan Materials Co. manager, public affairs and corporate communications. “Vulcan is keenly aware of its relationship with the community, and works diligently to protect and enhance the quality of life in the communities where we operate.”

Vulcan’s approach to sourcing and delivering its products has been instrumental in ensuring that communities in Southern California have a reliable, long-term supply of construction materials. It also furthers Vulcan’s commitment to sustainability and to provide products that help customers achieve stringent greenhouse gas emission reduction goals – and conform to newly adopted green building standards in California.

“By committing to our Rock-by-Rail program, we’re able to provide critical products to meet customer needs with a minimal impact on our environment,” Bevan says.

Take note
By hauling 1 million tons of aggregate by rail, Vulcan has reduced its truck trips by 40,000 annually.

Loretta Sorensen is a freelance writer in Yankton, S.D. She produces material on a variety of topics, serves as a ghostwriter, and has authored her own books.

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