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COLT railroad celebrates 25th anniversary Tuesday

Monday, October 1, 2012 | 6:31 p.m. CDT
Larry Martin stands by a COLT locomotive in Columbia in this 1987 file photo.

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Terminal Railroad, commonly known as COLT, has expanded in many ways over its 25-year history as a city-owned rail line. A celebration of its history and evolution will be held at the COLT Transload Facility at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

The transload facility, at 6501 N. Brown Station Road, is just one example of how far the COLT operation has come since the city bought the railroad and began operating the line in 1987.

Back in 1987, Norfolk Southern Corp. sought to sell the 21.7-mile railway between Centralia and Columbia because of slow business. The city bought it for $325,000, and the Water and Light Department began overseeing its operations. At that time, more than half the line's traffic consisted of coal shipments from Kentucky to the city power plant, according to a previous Missourian article.

Today, coal is one of numerous commodities that are transported on the COLT line. Others include steel, plastic, wax, lumber, scrap paper, grain, auto parts and racks, bricks, vegetable oil, transformers or lime sludge, Water and Light Department spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said.

The track needed considerable maintenance and rebuilding, particularly for crossings and intersecting streets. As rail traffic declined in the 1980s, the line got less attention. These days, though, several industrial and manufacturing companies in Columbia's north side use the COLT service, Kacprowicz said, and the railroad itself has been improved.

A crew of 10 operates the COLT trains and the transload facility. Two city-owned locomotives, including a 1954 Electro-Motive diesel, provide the pulling power, according to a previous Missourian article. The annual budget for the railroad is $686,725, but it's projected to bring $768,450 in revenue.

COLT's traffic has risen 50 percentto 75 percent over the past 25 years, beginning with about 600 cars in 1988 and peaking at 2,606 cars in 2005. The recession of 2008 has caused traffic to decline, reflected in 2011's total of 1,403 cars. COLT continues to seek new customers to expand, Kacprowicz said.

The transload facility, which was completed in 2010 at a cost of $2.6 million, is one way of serving new customers. The facility allows rail service for businesses that are not close to the line. Truck and rail car bays allow rail freight to be transferred to semitrailers for highway travel. Warehouse space is available to store commodities awaiting transport, Kacprowicz said.

The COLT Transload facility is topped by a 375-kilowatt solar panel array. The panels are owned by Free Power Inc. and are used to harness power for the Columbia power system. Construction is under way for a 750-kilowatt solar panel system on the ground. These systems help meet renewable energy requirements for Columbia, Kacprowicz said.

Another milestone for COLT was completion of the U.S. 63 bridge in 2010, replacing a railroad crossing on the highway. Safety has been improved by eliminating the need for vehicles, such as school buses or trucks carrying hazardous materials, to stop on the highway, Kacprowicz said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


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