Rail Transfer Inc.

Grain transloading services in Minnesota
Written by: 
Tom Faunce
Produced by: 
Drew Taylor

Rail Transfer Inc. began in 1995 as a transloading operation loading logs into 40-foot shipping containers. In 2001 the company established a grain division and started loading bulk whole grains into containers, establishing itself as the first company to do so as a third-party service in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market. Utilizing a state-of-the-art, high-speed bulk loading system, Rail Transfer is a leader in the containerized exports industry in the greater Twin Cities area.

Todd Nimmo, president of Rail Transfer, joined the company in 2001 with the intent of developing a grain export division. “Grain quickly became the focus of the business and its primary source of revenue,” says Nimmo. “As the grain division grew, I eventually bought out all the stocks, took ownership and have continued to build it ever since.”

Rail Transfer Inc.

Nimmo did not begin his career in the grain industry. Graduating from college in 2000 with a degree in political science, Nimmo went to work on a statewide campaign for a United States senator that was short lived as the politician lost his bid for re-election. After attempting to start a construction business building new homes, Nimmo met some folks that were in the transloading business and turned him on to the industry. “They were loading soybeans into containers,” says Nimmo. “That’s when I jumped on board and have been doing it ever since.”

Rail Transfer’s management team has more than 50 years of combined experience in the process of loading containerized freight. The company combines that knowledge with a system that boasts an available output of 80 40-foot containers per day to create transloading system that emphasizes speed, efficiency and professionalism.

Creating room for growth

In 2013 Rail Transfer underwent a major expansion. As the company grew, Nimmo began to realize that the traditional methods of the operation had become obsolete and inefficient. Having been financially conservative over the years, the company found itself in a position to look at investing in real estate. “I found a property that had a large office building with an open parking area,” recalls Nimmo. “In that open parking lot area I built an operations center with underground pits and overhead equipment. This allowed the trucks to drive right in and start dumping and the in-ground scales allowed us to scale it in and out more efficiently.”

Nimmo and his team remain pre-emptive and prepared for any challenges the industry may present. “Our motto is ‘Don’t think two steps ahead, think nine steps ahead,'” says Nimmo. “We always anticipate every little situation that is about to pop up.” This method of preparation has allowed the company to react and execute with efficiency when a situation presents itself.

The investments that Nimmo has made have created a tough market for others looking to compete. The efficiency that Rail Transfer’s facility creates allows Nimmo to keep his prices stagnant and maintain solid relationships with his clients. “The key is the infrastructure,” says Nimmo. “For a long time I invested everything I made back into the business. To start a company without investing $10 million initially it becomes very difficult to compete with the prices that I have.”

Building relationships

The efficiency and problem-solving abilities of Rail Transfer have created a competitive edge when it comes to transloading. “All logistical problems are handled in-house rather than being dumped on the shipper,” says Nimmo. “When the shipper has done everything they can, we make sure the job gets done properly here." Throughout Minnesota, Rail Transfer is the largest independent transloading facility. “The vast majority of my customers are the big, well-known multinational companies," he adds. "Those are generally who I transload for and I am the only independent one that I know of."

Rail Transfer has maintained a solid relationship with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation (BNSF) Railway, which is a strong advantage for an independent company. Rail Transfer holds a contract with BNSF to correct any improperly loaded containers. “Whenever the railroad discovers a container that is overweight, loaded improperly or just not safe for travel, they call us and we are the licensed contractor to come in and correct the load,” says Nimmo. “It doesn’t matter what the product is. Because of this we have a very strong relationship with the railroad.”

Through the many facets of the business Nimmo says that the challenge of managing all the shipments and creating and maintaining relationships is what he enjoys the most about his job. “Every day there is something new,” says Nimmo. “I look forward to going to work and working with my team.”

Rail Transfer Inc. will continue to be a leader in the transloading industry of the Midwest.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
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Wells Fargo