Shale keeps rail firm on track

When you see a crew working on a local railroad crossing, it likely is a crew from Finkbeiner & Associates Inc., Altoona.

“I am a railroad track contractor. We construct, rehab and inspect all aspects of railroad tracks,” said president and owner Jan Finkbeiner, a native of Williamsport.

Finkbeiner officially started his business in 2000 after working for 25 years at Penn Central, Conrail and Norfolk Southern in various positions. He was mainline track supervisor for Norfolk Southern when he left the railroad in June 2000.

“I always wanted to run my own business. With all of my years of experience, I felt qualified that I could do that,” said Finkbeiner, who moved to Altoona in 1982.

Finkbeiner said he had been doing track work on weekends since 1989 while working for the railroad and believed there was a need in the area for the kind of work his company does.

“You had to go to Pittsburgh or Harrisburg to find someone who did this. I am the only game in town,” Finkbeiner said.

Finkbeiner said his company doesn’t get into “big” projects.

“Being a small contractor, I do small specialty repair projects the big contractors won’t do. When you do the small stuff, they always call you back. I am there to watch their back,” Finkbeiner said.

In the last two weeks, Finkbeiner & Associates has completed switch repairs for both American Eagle Paper Mills in Tyrone and Lonza, a chemical plant in Williamsport.

Finkbeiner’s company does railroad-related work for nuclear power plants, chemical plants and mining and manufacturing companies.

“I work for Class III railroads. North Shore Railroad and its customer base is a big part of my business, from Tyrone to Berwick,” Finkbeiner said. “We installed 10,000 ties for a nuclear power plant at Berwick and by the end of the year, we will have done 40 railroad crossings for North Shore Railroad.”

Finkbeiner & Associates does most of its work within a 200-mile radius of Altoona.

The business has grown significantly since it began in 2000.

“We went from four people to nine full-time employees. We went from a pickup truck and trailer to multiple trailers, trucks and equipment,” Finkbeiner said. “For the first four years, we had four customers. Now we have close to 70 customers.”

Finkbeiner believes his success stems from providing outstanding service, efficiency, fair prices and being honest with his customers.

“I am honest with my customers. I give them what they need. They trust me to go into their businesses. They trust me that I won’t say they need work done that they don’t need,” Finkbeiner said. “We have a very good reputation.”

Todd Kline, maintenance and engineering team leader at Lonza, is a very satisfied customer.

“They are really responsive to any kind of railroad needs we have. Anytime we have trouble, they are here at the drop of a hat. I give them a call and go over the project and can be sure it will be done right,” Kline said. “Jan has a good relationship with the local railroads. He is really good to work with. Once we got on board with him, we didn’t look anywhere else because of the level of service we got. They are here when we need a little job done. If we need a track switch, they are able to get up here. That means a lot. You don’t get that from everyone.”

North Shore Railroad Co. – which is comprised of six short line railroads: Juniata Valley Railroad, Lycoming Valley Railroad, Nittany & Bald Eagle Railroad, North Shore Railroad, Shamokin Valley Railroad and Union County Industrial Railroad – and American Eagle Paper Mills also are satisfied with the work done by Finkbeiner & Associates.

“They are very responsive. The quality of their work is very good. They are easy to work with. They have been a very good contractor for us,” said Pete Simcox, North Shore director of engineering. “We recommend them to other businesses because of their flexibility and the quality of their work.”

“His crew does a nice job. Jan is easy to get along with and is very responsive to our needs. His rates are real competitive, and he does a nice job,” said Clark Adelman, secretary/treasurer of Team Ten LLC, which owns American Eagle Paper Mills.

Over the years, Finkbeiner has had the opportunity to work on the K-4 No. 1361 steam engine restoration project and with the Railroaders Memorial Museum.

“I helped on the original run of the K-4 back in 1987 from Altoona to Bellefonte. I had to get it out of the Altoona yard,” said Finkbeiner, who was a track supervisor at the Juniata Locomotive Shop at the time. “We had to relocate the tracks so it could be moved in and out.”

His company also laid track and has helped with the turntable project at the Railroaders Memorial Museum.

Finkbeiner’s company also had a role with the movie “Unstoppable,” part of which was filmed in Tyrone in 2009.

“We rebuilt a 4,000-foot siding so they could park the trains. I got to see some of the filming. We did the work and got VIP passes. It was fun watching it,” Finkbeiner said.

Finkbeiner expects his company to continue to grow.

“We will continue to grow and provide service to more and more people. The gas industry is very instrumental to my business. I do rail work for the drilling companies,” Finkbeiner said. “With Marcellus Shale, the railroad industry right now is booming, and that will continue into the near future. This is what is driving business.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.