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Reading & Northern reports banner year

In 2020, Reading & Northern Railroad broke previous records for carloadings and freight revenue, despite the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19.

Rail traffic in North America fell 7.4% and the railroad’s principal connection, Norfolk Southern, had a drop-off 11.9%. However, R&N managed a slight increase in carloadings, ending the year hauling over 34,000 carloads.

Revenues were also up almost 4%, resulting in shifts in traffic mix and increasing the tonnage moved in RBMN’s fleet of coal cars.

The railroad’s coal business increased in tonnage moved and revenue.

The reduction in exports in part due to foreign exchange rates made Russian anthracite cheaper. The strategy of developing rail-truck facilities throughout the Midwest and southeast to handle anthracite for steel mills led to increased business.

“We expect that business to increase significantly in 2021 as additional steelmaking capacity comes online,” the railroad said in a news release.


Another area of growth was R&N’s transloading and warehouse business. The COVID-19 pandemic brought a demand for warehousing raw materials, resulting in a 54% increase in carloads moving to the Ransom warehouse.

2020 was also the first full year of operation for the steel coil transload at West Hazleton. By handing the steel coils through the transload, customers could streamline their supply chain while taking nearly 700 trucks off the highways.

Two significant industrial development projects were completed in 2020. Iris USA is now running in the Humboldt Industrial Park and Crossroads Beverage outside of Reading began new rail service last June. Both are expected to continue ramping up production and their inbound plastics by rail over the course of 2021.

R&N is currently working with other prospects to begin construction on plants that will need rail service in years to come.


Although R&N shut down its passenger train service during the height of the pandemic, it resumed service June 27 with COVID-19 protocols.

The railroad added more cars to the trains so people could social distance. R&N also canceled its full day train rides and focused on operations from Jim Thorpe. The Fall Foliage Festival was canceled in Jim Thorpe, but over 91,000 people came out to ride the trains.

R&N is hopeful that it will be able to proceed with a full slate of passenger offerings in 2021.

Looking ahead

In 2020 R&N continued to add employees to help manage the freight business, including a new vice president of transportation, a former Norfolk Southern Harrisburg Division superintendent, and a vice president of coal marketing, who came from the local anthracite industry.

R&N also heavily invested in capital assets. Under the direction of entrepreneurial owner/CEO Andy Muller Jr., R&N purchased 143 rail cars for anthracite coal service, 17 locomotives from Norfolk Southern, a welded rail train and over 34,000 ties.

The railroad completed its investment in its Nesquehoning Bridge project, which opened for business on Feb. 4. R&N spent over $4 million of its own capital to build this critical link in the northeastern rail system.

“2020 was a difficult year for many. I am proud of the way the men and women of Reading & Northern responded to the situation. We stayed focused on serving our customers,” Muller said.

He said the railroad stayed focused on keeping co-workers safe.

“As a result, we were able to remain open throughout the pandemic and we were able to not only survive, but to thrive. We handled more cars and earned more revenue all while staying safe. I am committed to our employees and our communities and I will continue to invest money into the railroad so we can continue to grow for years to come.”

Reading & Northern Railroad, headquarted in Port Clinton, is a privately held railroad company serving over 70 customers in nine eastern Pennsylvania counties (Berks, Bradford, Carbon, Columbia, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Northumberland, Schuylkill and Wyoming).

It has expanded its operations over the last 30-plus years and now handles over 34,000 carloads of freight and 91,000 excursion train riders over 400 miles of track. Reading and Northern operates both freight services and steam and diesel-powered excursion passenger services, owns almost 1,300 freight cars, and employs nearly 300 employees.

Reading & Northern has repeatedly been honored as one of the premier railroads in the nation including being named Regional Railroad of the Year in 2020 by Railway Age Magazine.

The first train went over the new Nesquehoning Bridge on Feb. 4, 2020. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO