Following months of negotiations, CAN DO, Inc. this week entered into an agreement that will lead to an eventual transfer of its railroad system in Humboldt Industrial Park to Reading and Northern Railroad, the largest privately owned railroad company in Pennsylvania that has twice been named Regional Railroad of the Year by Railway Age magazine.

While CAN DO constructed and maintains the rail system in Humboldt Industrial Park, the service is currently provided by the Norfolk Southern railroad company under a contract that runs through 2016. Once that contract expires, Reading and Northern will replace Norfolk Southern in serving the park industries.

"We are very excited about adding CAN DO's 7.5 miles of track to the 320 miles we already own and look forward to ownership of the track in the future," said Andrew Muller Jr., owner of Reading and Northern, following the signing of the agreement on Wednesday. "We look forward to working with the industries that are already using rail service in Humboldt and to explaining the value of rail service to the companies in Humboldt that currently do not use rail," he said.

The CAN DO rail system in Humboldt was launched 40 years ago this year with a $165,000 grant from the Appalachia Regional Commission. That was used to build slightly more than one mile of track into Humboldt. Since then, CAN DO has extended its rail service to more than 7.5 miles throughout the park. Currently, more than 15 industries are dependent on rail service to the park.

In 2003, 2,635 rail cars moved through Humboldt. By last year, that number had increased to more than 4,200 cars.

"Rail service is critical to many industries, and without it, we would not have as many employers in our parks," CAN DO President Kevin O'Donnell said. "Also, having rail-served sites that are ready for development is attractive when trying to entice companies, especially those in manufacturing and food processing, to locate here," he said.

"Managing the rail system has taken a good deal of time that can be better spent focusing on our mission of improving the quality of life in Greater Hazleton through the creation of employment opportunities," O'Donnell said.

Reading and Northern President Wayne A. Michel said the railroad company has always placed an emphasis on working with economic development organizations. "Our company plans on opening an office in Hazleton, where our employees will work to market rail service to existing companies and will seek other companies needing rail service that may want to locate to the Humboldt park," he said.

O'Donnell said, "It's always beneficial when you have another entity marketing your area. We are looking forward to working with Reading and Northern and know they will be a good community citizen."

Reading and Northern is headquartered in Port Clinton and serves eight counties in eastern Pennsylvania. The company was founded in 1983 as the Blue Mountain & Reading Railroad on the company's original 13-mile shortline connecting Temple to Hamburg, PA.

In 1990, the company purchased 130 miles of railroad from Conrail, known as the Reading Cluster, and began serving customers along the line, especially anthracite coal company operators who needed to get their product to market.

Today, the company serves more than 50 customers that produce or use commodities ranging from coal to birdseed and potatoes to plastics.

The company's largest customer came on board in August of 2001 when Reading and Northern took over service to Procter and Gamble's plant in Mehoopany, P&G's largest plant in the world. That customer uses more than 4,000 rail cars per year alone.

Additionally, Reading and Northern also operates passenger tour trains from Jim Thorpe, providing riders with scenic tours as part of the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway. Hundreds of tourists each weekend from May through Christmas ride the coaches into the Gorge.

Reading and Northern owns more than 700 rail cars and 25 locomotives and employs more than 100 people. The company can be found on the web at www.readingnorthern.com.