Komatsu equipment delivers for Omaha Track
Terry Peterson came to Omaha in 1983 to scout locations for a restaurant that he planned to start. He never found a place or opened the restaurant, but the trip was successful.
“I met a man who was looking to sell his railroad-tie business because he was getting too old to do that type of work every day,” recalled Terry. “He asked if I wanted to buy it – but he said it needed to be quick because he was going to get busy in a couple of weeks, and then he wouldn’t want to sell. I wrote him a check the next day. I didn’t know a tie from a tack, but I owned the company.”
Omaha Track was born, and it didn’t take long for the firm to finds its groove. Congress had recently passed the Staggers Railroad Act, which allowed railroad companies to abandon lines that were no longer profitable.
“Union Pacific, which is headquartered in Omaha, had a lot of abandoned track within a 250-mile radius, so we had access to quite a bit of material,” explained Terry. “We would take up the track and keep the railroad ties for landscaping projects, typically retaining walls. We also sold ties to other landscaping companies, so we had the market cornered.”
Omaha Track soon expanded its services and began offering abandonment work. The company purchased a section of abandoned track in Oakland, Iowa; removed it; recycled the material; and began to grow.
“We were both selling and installing the ties at the time, which meant we were competing against our customers, so we decided to focus on procuring the ties instead,” said Terry. “We just kept buying track and growing organically.”
It didn’t take long for Omaha Track to move from a regional success to a national player in the abandonment industry. By the early 90s, railroad companies were removing 2,000 miles of abandoned track each year, and Omaha Track was doing a quarter of those miles.
“It was the perfect storm for us,” noted Terry. “We happened to be in a prime location. Railroad ties were very popular at the time for retaining walls in Omaha, especially on residential construction. So, demand was high, but it was also fairly easy to get the ties because most of our competition was steel-oriented. We were vertically integrated in that we had the ability to take up the ties as and had the connections to sell them.”
Shift in gears
While Omaha Track was chugging along in the abandonment business, Peterson also started up-fitting the company’s 10-wheeler trucks with knucklebooms and high-rail gears so they could drive on railways. This allowed Omaha Track to efficiently handle material along the railways.
“We changed our focus from abandonment to recycling in the mid-90s and started working with the railroad companies on their track renovations,” detailed Terry. “We were one of the first companies to make this shift, so we had a leg up on the competition when abandonment activity slowed down.”
Peterson’s inclination was correct. By 1993, railroads were abandoning just 100 miles of track per year, but replacing as much as 1,000 miles. In the firm’s newest iteration, it followed behind the railroads to remove the rail, ties and other material that remained after a section was renovated.
“The railroads were quite good at taking up the old track and replacing it, but they weren’t as efficient at removing it from the site and finding buyers for it,” noted Terry. “That’s where we really provided a service for them, because we were set up for it. We knew how to get the materials from the side of the tracks to buyers.”
Today, Omaha Track works coast to coast removing material from rail renovations for major players in the industry.
“We’ve been fortunate with our location and timing, and we have always worked hard to deliver for our customers,” said Terry. “We aim to be as efficient as possible, whether that means evaluating a process or designing our own equipment for jobs, we do what is necessary to be the best.”
Komatsu and RoadBuilders
To handle the massive amount of material arriving at its sorting yards around the country, Omaha Track turns to Komatsu equipment from RoadBuilders Machinery and Supply Co., Inc., and Sales Rep Warren Kutz.
“We love the Komatsu wheel loaders because they are strong, reliable and maneuverable,” shared Chief Operating Officer Jeff Peterson. “At the yards, we usually use forks on them. They move 40-foot sections of rail with ease. Those are long, awkward pieces of steel that we transport in very confined areas, so the handling of the Komatsu wheel loaders has been great.
“We put buckets on them to load trucks and clean up our yards as well,” he added. “They are highly versatile machines.”
Omaha Track also has six Komatsu excavators, ranging from a PC128US to a PC220LC that it uses for multiple jobs including load-outs and maintenance along railways.
“They are very dependable,” noted Jeff. “We ship them all over the country – from North Dakota to Texas – and they start every time. They are tough machines that are easy to maintain.”
When Omaha Track needs equipment or maintenance, it calls RoadBuilders.
“We have a great relationship with Warren and RoadBuilders,” stated Terry. “We started buying Komatsu from the beginning and we keep purchasing it because it delivers. In addition, working with RoadBuilders provides a great partnership. We had a machine in Lovelock, Nev., that needed Komatsu CARE service, and RoadBuilders contacted the local dealer and asked them to perform it. Things like that go a long way with us.”
Omaha Track depends on the team at RoadBuilders for other types of equipment and services as well.
Today, the firm is well-known in the railroad industry. In addition to track renovation and material recycling, the company has several subsidiary businesses, each of which are related to the railroad industry. Terry says that diversification will continue to be the key to success.
“The railroad business will change again in the future; that’s its nature,” predicted Terry. “Just as abandonment died out, recycling and material handling will slow down as steel gets stronger, loads become lighter and more efficient, and automation and 3-D printing become more common. It’s our goal to recognize and anticipate those changes, so we’re ready when something happens.”
Terry thinks the company’s equipment division has a bright future as it specializes in customizing equipment for railway jobs.
“We got into this when we switched to material handling 20 years ago,” said Jeff. “Since then, we have worked continuously to improve our equipment, and we do it all in our own shop. We’re like mad scientists; we get an idea on how to improve something, and we go for it. Our reputation has grown to the point that our garage modifies equipment for other railroad-related businesses.”