SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Santa Maria Valley Railroad (SMVRR) is on a roll.
The company has been in operation since 1911, and according to SMVRR President, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rob Himoto, the business remains strong and is on track for a very bright future.
"We project to increase traffic at least quadruple in the next three to four years,” Himoto said.
The railroad covers 14-miles of track throughout the Santa Maria Valley.
Much of its line runs throughout the southwestern portion of Santa Maria, where it hauls freight for several local businesses.
"Some of the commodities that we haul are frozen vegetables, frozen strawberries, lumber, drywall, tractors, liquid fertilizer, LPG, kind of a variety of mix,” said Himoto. "Mainly companies that do a lot of bulk, distribution, warehousing."
SMVRR has an interchange with Union Pacific Railroad in Guadalupe, which allows freight to arrive and leave through an international network.
"From there, they go across the country, anywhere in North America. Some of our cars go to Canada, some to Mexico, where ever is served one of the major railroads,” said Himoto.
Himoto emphasized a significant benefit of hauling shipments by rail is that is it environmentally friendly.
"It's emits a third of the emissions that trucks do and it's cost effective,” Himoto said. “Customers save between 20-to-50 percent on transportation costs and it's efficient. One rail car hauls between four to five truckloads of freight and that results in bulk discounts for the customers."
Even though the railroad has been in Santa Maria for 108 years, Himoto said he still hears from people that are unaware of it.
"We get that all the time,” said Himoto. "We're really efficient, so one train, couple of times, so people don't really see us because it's only twice a day for those couple of minutes."
SMVRR has nine employees, all of whom juggle several different duties.
"No two days are the same,” said conductor Keith Summers. “I can tell you that for sure. You learn a lot, especially in just one day."
Summers has been with the company for about two years and enjoys the many different experiences that come daily.
"You can start out early in the morning and pick up cars and then by the end of the day, you're probably putting ties in,” Summers said. “It's pretty cool."
He added that the view of Santa Maria is quite different when riding atop the rails.
“We don't have to stop,” said Summers. “I like that part, especially going around where you really can't see the rails from the road," said Summers. “You kind of get to see a whole new outlook on that side of town. You get to see a bunch of stuff you don't get to see from the road."
He added that people who are around train are generally happy to see it.
“Going through, especially by the fairgrounds, you've got everybody walking on the street. A lot of people like to wave, or they drive right up next to train and they honking their horn. It makes us feel liked."
As SMVRR train rolls around the city, it crosses many busy streets and intersections, including Broadway, Betteravia Road, Stowell Road, Blosser Road and Battles Road.
"Sometimes we have a lot of close calls,” said Himoto. “People run the red lights. When you see the flashing lights at any crossing, you need to stop because there is a train on it's way."
Himoto noted SMVRR owns and operates its entire operation.
"We maintain our own infrastructure,” Himoto said. “We maintain the tracks, the locomotives, the signals and our nine guys do it all with no help by the government."
n the future, the railroad hopes to bring back a once-popular feature that was discontinued several years ago due to increased business.
Right now, an old Amtrak passenger car is in the process of being refurbished.
The plan is to restore it so the general public can ride the rails during excursion trips.
The railroad receives support from the local non-profit organization, Friends of the Santa Maria Valley Railroad.
"They preserve the history of the railroad and they also conducts tours and presentations of the railroad,” said Himoto. “The friends will have special tours, where we can take you around and show the inside of the railroad."
For more information on the Santa Maria Valley Railroad, visit the SMVRR website.