Riding on the Rails

April 1, 2000

9 Min Read
Riding on the Rails

Lynn Merrill

Poised to render Olympic-style waste management services in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountain range, the Salt Lake Valley Transfer Station moves waste from collection truck to intermodal container to rail car all on a single site. Such efficiency not only saves its owners money, it also helps conserve landfill capacity.

A Transfer Station is Born In 1996, facing significant community growth and shrinking landfill capacity, the Salt Lake Valley Solid Waste Management Council (SLVSWMC) began planning for a transfer station. Choosing a 9.5-acre site adjacent to the main line of the Union Pacific Railroad and near an interstate highway, the SLVSWMC found an ideal spot for its new facility.

Rail-accessibility allowed immediate access to Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Allied Waste's East Carbon regional landfill site in southern Utah. The highway interchange, just a half mile from the site, provided immediate access to the collection trucks operated by both the city of Salt Lake and Salt Lake county. Additionally, the facility was designed with a 48,000-square-foot tipping floor capable of handling approximately 1,500 tons per day of solid waste.

Opened in May 1999, the transfer station currently handles an average of 800 tons per day. Staffed by 12 employees, the facility operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 6 days per week. Up to 20 collection trucks can dump at any time because the traffic flow was designed to allow smooth, one way operation, according to Jeff Wolf, operations supervisor.

As trucks enter the facility through the scales, they enter the building and dump on the floor. The station is designed with a flat tipping floor that provides an efficient setting for moving waste within the facility, Wolf explains.

"There is an in-bound and out-bound scale at the facility so the trucks aren't crossing over themselves," he says. "There's a waste inspector directing traffic and also inspecting the loads for household hazardous waste (HHW), and for hazardous materials."

On the floor, a Caterpillar 826 compactor with Caron transfer station wheels consolidates the waste down to its smallest form. "We do all the compacting on the floor," Wolf says. "The compactor does not run on the concrete floor whatsoever except for when it's backing off at the end of the day. In the morning, we push garbage up around the wheels, and then the rest of the day it stays on garbage."

Once the garbage is compacted and reaches the desired density, two 744 John Deere loaders help fill the containers, which are located in a tunnel area under the tipping floor. There are four floor openings in the building, each with a container under it.

"Our goal is to put 43 tons of garbage in each container," Wolf says.

As the two loaders fill the container, a John Deere 200 track hoe straddles the hole and tamps the waste down into the container to achieve the target weight.

"We put safety devices in place so that the tracks can't walk off into the hole as you're straddling it," Wolf says, noting that the most efficient method would be to load the garbage directly into the rail cars, but site limitations prevent a direct load. Instead, once containers are loaded, a cradle car system moves the containers between the loading areas and the rail spurs.

"We had to come up with another way to get the containers underneath the floors, back out and load them back on a rail car," Wolf says. "The containers are loaded off the rail cars and put in cradle cars that we designed. They're big enough that the container just sits right down in them."

Along the top of the cradle, a walkway was built so employees could maneuver along both sides of the container to tarp it. Each battery operated cradle car has its own set of tracks to ride on. According to Wolf, there's a battery charger for each cradle car because batteries must be charged at least once a week.

For each cradle car, a scale system with a digital read-out display above each hole in the tipping floor allows the operator to place the exact amount of waste in each container.

"We roll [the container] underneath the floor where we enter that container number into the computer system," Wolf says. "We put that ticket on hold, then we zero out [the scale] and we load it so that we get our 43 tons in there."

Once the container is loaded, it's rolled back over to the tarping platform where employees unroll the tarp, stretch it out and hook up the bungee cords.

"It takes two people approximately three minutes to tarp a container," Wolf says. "Then they roll it outside the door past the door opening where the crane picks it up and loads it back on the rail car."

The entire container loading cycle takes approximately 25 minutes, Wolf estimates.

Reducing Route Time Unique to the Salt Lake Valley facility is the interchange between the transfer station and the rail facilities. Because the containers do not spend any time on the highways, they are allowed a loaded weight of nearly twice the typical weight found in intermodal waste movements. This increased tonnage provides a greater degree of efficiency and capability, Wolf says.

At the adjacent rail yard, two sets of tracks easily handle 14 89-foot rail cars at a time, with a maximum capacity of 22 cars. A 55-ton mobile gantry crane riding on its own rails within the yard area provides access to the cradle cars and the rail car. Each rail car can handle two 40-foot containers.

Both the rail cars and the containers are owned by East Carbon Development Corp. (ECDC), East Carbon, Utah, which contracts with the SLVSWMC for waste transportation and disposal.

Currently, the Salt Lake Valley Transfer Station is one of three stations receiving rail service in the area, and it is located at the south end of the railroad's Roper Yard. The transfer station yard is switched six days a week.

"It's very good business for the Union Pacific Railroad," says Joe Hopper, manager of terminal operations for Union Pacific. "We currently try to get [to the South Salt Lake Valley facility] between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.," Hopper says. "We have one train that runs from Salt Lake up to [the transfer station in] Ogden. It runs up five days a week and brings containers back to Roper. We have one more [transfer station] that we service, and we incorporate all the cars into one train that we run six days a week from Salt Lake down to Helper, Utah. We have another local that comes on duty at Helper, and they run out to the landfill at East Carbon."

According to Hopper, the railroad operators initially were skeptical about handling containers filled with waste. "We had some concern at first about the cleanliness," he says. "We thought we might have stuff blowing all over outside."

To eliminate this problem, all operations are enclosed.

"I've never had one complaint from any of my crews," Hopper remarks. "We haul these [rail]cars quite a distance to Helper, and then onto the ECDC landfill, where we actually dump the cars. To my knowledge, we never have had a problem with the tarp coming off."

To provide seamless customer quality, Hopper and the transfer station's staff meet regularly to assess the current service levels and to rectify any problems before they become larger.

"We get together to see if we have any problems or any glitches," Hopper says. "I've been with a lot of startups, and this has been the smoothest that we've had. When we have a problem or a concern, [the transfer station employees] call me."

Less is More Obviously, the location and operation of the facility have allowed the transfer station owners - both the city of Salt Lake and Salt Lake county - to achieve some efficiencies in collection routing

"Our major customers are our owners," says Romney Stewart, solid waste director for the council. "Since the first of the year, the vast majority of Salt Lake City's trucks, except for a few routes that are close to the landfill, have been coming to the transfer station. And instead of having 12 routes a day, they've reduced them to nine or 10 per day while enlarging the route sizes."

The county also has experienced similar route cost savings. "The county calculated its hourly savings on driver and truck time," he says. "They're looking at 4,000 hours per year that they'll save by bringing their trucks to the transfer station instead of going to the landfill."

Damage and maintenance costs on the trucks also have been reduced. By eliminating the rough conditions most collection trucks experience at a landfill, typical problems such as wires wrapped around the drivelines, damaged suspensions and flat tires all have been eliminated, Stewart reports.

Built to Endure Additionally, the Salt Lake Valley Transfer Station will be a key component in managing the wastes generated by the Winter Olympics coming to Salt Lake on February 8-24, 2002.

"For that 20-day period, we will be handling the waste from 70,000 daily visitors," Stewart says. "We can open 24 hours a day, and although the waste isn't going to be overwhelming, we estimate about 2,800 additional tons from the Olympics. That's just a day's worth of what we'd have in the valley."

Ultimately, the facility is designed to be the solid waste centerpiece for the region. In addition to handling daily waste needs, the transfer station will host other waste-related activities.

"We're going to be holding household hazardous waste collection days here, working jointly with the health department," Stewart says.

And because of its central location and public access, the site also will be used as a distribution point for compost sales.

"We have the largest compost operation in the state, and while we sell a lot at the landfill, we can truck it here and sell it here," Stewart says. "[The transfer station] is more centrally located for distribution."

Money Well Spent According to Stewart, the total cost, which incorporates the charges paid to Allied Waste for the landfill, is approximately $25 per ton to $30 per ton. Stewart currently is waiting to get a full year of operational data to establish the facility's final rate.

Nevertheless, he feels that the facility provides a significant benefit to his customers, including the conservation of existing landfill capacity that will appreciate in value over time, as well as provide a greater flexibility in managing the growing waste stream within the Salt Lake Valley.

"It's benefiting our residential collection fleets, which are municipally owned, by saving in transportation [costs]," he says. "The other big benefit is that it saves our landfill space. We're putting about 20 percent to 25 percent of our total waste stream through the transfer station. We can move that up or down if needed."

Because of the transfer station, Stewart says he's more than just transferring waste to a landfill.

"Our landfill is appreciating in value over time," Stewart comments. "By conserving space over the years by exporting waste, we'll be better down the road."

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