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By Jean Caspers-Simmet

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Business is booming for Iowa Northern thanks to a burgeoning biofuels industry.

Joshua Sabin, director of administration and public affairs for the Iowa Northern, acknowledges the railroad is in the right place at the right time, but he believes it is his father’s vision more than anything that is fueling the 163-mile shortline’s success. His father, Dan Sabin, is president and owner of the Iowa Northern Railroad.

"What’s happening now are things he’s been working on since 1995 when he bought the railroad," Joshua said.


"We’ve focused quite a bit on opportunities of industrial growth internal to Iowa," Dan Sabin said. "Certainly the ethanol opportunities are significant."

Iowa Northern is developing Manly Terminal, an ethanol distribution center, with LB Transport/MinnIowa Distribution of Buffalo Center. The goal is to reduce the delivery cost of ethanol by 5 cents to 10 cents per gallon by consolidating volume as well as providing a platform for futures trading of ethanol. The project’s goal is to handle 1 billion gallons per year through Manly within five years. Manly Terminal will consolidate daily unit trains of ethanol.

By 2011 it is projected that 12 billion gallons of ethanol will be produced in the United States with 50 percent of that produced within 300 miles of Manly. Sabin’s goal is to handle 15 percent to 20 percent of that volume through Manly.

Iowa Northern works with ethanol processor Hawkeye Renewables at Fairbank to ship ethanol and DDGs. Hawkeye has plans to build an ethanol plant near Shell Rock, which is also on the Iowa Northern, Sabin said.

Sabin hopes to see a soybean crusher built along the line within the next couple of years. The line has access to considerable volume of soybeans, but it doesn’t have access to great soybean markets. If a crusher locates on the line, Sabin sees the processor, farmers and the railroad cooperating to make things more profitable. He expects to see three to seven biodiesel plants built along the line in the next five years.

Sabin is looking at creating a machinery mixing center that will allow for a consolidation of machinery manufactured throughout the Midwest — both inbound and outbound — to reduce the delivered price of machinery.

Another project would create a center point where wind turbines and components would be brought to a site on the Iowa Northern from all over the world for gathering and distribution.

Sabin wants to develop a wind farm along the railroad’s right of way with rural electric cooperatives and utilities in small communities to reduce the cost of energy.


"I’d like to see a 125-mile wind farm that would touch each community along the line," Sabin said.

Iowa Northern is working with Mells Industries of Des Moines to establish a facility that will use corn stover as a source of power burning it in a biomass energy facility. Through a thermal gasification process, the project will develop about 1 million gallons of biofuel and create 250,000 tons of high-grade paper.

Iowa Northern owns the Hawkeye Express, the train that shuttles Hawkeye football fans to Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. The train is powered by a passenger locomotive and has six bi-level commuter cars that each hold 180 people. Sabin intends to use the Hawkeye Express for grain customers and communities along the line for public benefit.

"We want to be a part of every community in a very positive way," Sabin said.

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