Volkmann Railroad Builders lands Montana contract

With gas prices still high and the cost of shipping and transportation getting more expensive, railroads are becoming an even more viable option for shipping goods.

Menomonee Falls-based Volkmann Railroad Builders is taking advantage of that economic dynamic.

Volkmann recently was awarded a $30 million contract to build 36 miles of new railroad track in central Montana. The new rail line is being built to service an expanding coal mine.

“I have been working on this deal for about seven years,” said Rick Volkmann, the company’s president. “The market conditions are finally right, and there are finally the right people behind it and money enough to make it happen.”

Excavation on the project, known as Bull Mountain, is already underway, Volkmann said. Volkmann Builders plans to work through the winter, weather permitting, to complete the rail by June of 2009.

“We don’t mind working in the cold weather, it’s just a matter of the Montana snow burying our equipment,” Volkmann said.

The project will consist of 36 miles of new track, including three bridges that must be built over highways, Volkmann said. First Energy of Ohio will be the major end-user of the coal that will be shipped east.

Volkmann, who was born and raised in Milwaukee, founded the company in 1975 after his graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“I was a volunteer out at the East Troy Railroad Museum,” he said. “We had to build tracks to store cars, so I learned how to build tracks out there. When I got out of college, I decided that I would try this. I’ve been trying it for 33 years now.”  

The company’s 6,000-square-foot headquarters facility is located on three acres of land at 14625 W. Kaul Ave. in Menomonee Falls. The property is used mostly for storing the company’s equipment, and keeping a railroad track and tie inventory. The company has about 35 full-time employees who build and repair railroad tracks for mostly private industries, primarily in Wisconsin, but have built or repaired tracks throughout the country, Volkmann said.

In 2001, Volkmann Railroad Builders built new track for NASA in Cape Canaveral in Florida.

“We built the track that carried the Atlas Five rocket to the launch pad,” Volkmann said. “We have also built track in Louisiana, California, Colorado and Pennsylvania.”

According to Volkmann, many of the projects that the company does are by invitation only, or projects he hears about and calls to get on the bidders list. For every project, the company buys the rails and the ties from independent manufacturers and then provides the assembly and installation labor to complete the job.

“We have found that for efficiency and safety we are better off, even with the travel costs, to take our people from here, no matter where we go,” Volkmann said. “There is nothing like the Midwest work ethic.” 

Volkmann employees travel to the job site for three weeks and return home for one before they go back out on the job. 

Work has been steady for the company, Volkmann said. The project in Montana is the largest the firm has ever tackled, so he expects it to be a big boost for business.

“I think the rail industry has a very bright future,” he said. “The higher the cost of fuel, the more competitive railroads become, so that’s good for us.”

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