BFI Asks: To Truck or to Train?

For Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI), Houston, developing waste-by-rail opportunities is like a child's game of connect-the-dots: The challenge is to connect the collection opportunities to the disposal sites via potential or existing rail access.

After six months of criss-crossing the United States reviewing the company's disposal assets, David Iverson, who is in charge of BFI's rail haul business development, has identified 10 active disposal sites in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Ohio and Oklahoma that have a strong potential for rail service.

The selected sites in these states currently are permitted for special wastes, construction and demolition debris, and municipal solid waste.

Iverson calls BFI's approach to converting any of its operations to rail as "cautious" and notes that the company would consider a conversion only when it makes economic sense.

Within the waste industry, Iverson sees a slow, cultural shift away from trucks to rail. "This is a big change of culture," he says. "[The waste industry] has been a truck business for so long. General economics by rail will prevail eventually because the tonnage from the waste industry, by railroad standards, is not overwhelming."

Waste-by-rail is also an attractive opportunity for railroads because waste deliveries will occur on a regular daily schedule, Iverson says.

However, educating railroads on waste-by-rail's merits is a challenge, even for Iverson, who spent 19 years with the former Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.

"I give the folks who are on the railroads a lot of credit," he says. "There's frustration with trying to figure out what it's finally going to take to get one of these big [waste industry] opportunities to move. However, if they hang in there, their patience will pay off in the long run."

For Iverson, despite the industry's cautious movement toward waste-by-rail projects, the market nearly is ripe and ready to burst. When it does, "there will be a rush to do more and more by rail," he predicts. When that happens, Iverson wants to be sure that BFI is ready.

For more information, contact David Iverson, Business Development, Browning-Ferris Industries, 30 N. Lincoln, Batavia, Ill. 60510. Phone: (630) 761-2726. E-mail: