Union Tank Car to expand Evanston operation

Union Tank Car Evanston Plant Manager Denny Robbins stands in the company’s local office. Robbins, who’s worked for Union Tank Car for 20 years, said the company is working on expanding its Evanston operation. (HERALD PHTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — Union Tank Car Company, formerly a part of Standard Oil, was started in 1891 by John D. Rockefeller. It’s owned now by the Marmon Group, a Berkshire Hathaway Company headquartered in Chicago. It’s a full-service railcar leasing company with the largest fleet of tank cars in North America.  

The company has manufacturing plants in Alexandria, Louisiana, and in Sheldon, Texas, where tank cars are built. There are more than 100 locations, including Evanston, that provide railcar maintenance services in repair shops and with mobile repair units.

In 2016, Union Tank Car was the first in the industry to introduce modified tank car design to conform to the latest regulations governing transportation of certain flammable liquids.

Union Tank Car came to Evanston in 1974 and was housed in the old Union Pacific Roundhouse until 1998. The company owned the Roundhouse and Machine shop and, in 1998, an exchange was made between the City of Evanston and Union Tank Car for the land where the company currently sits, giving the city two historic buildings. 

In 1998, Union Tank Car built the new shop where they are now housed and employed 30 people working two shifts. Currently, the company has 153 employees and operates three shifts, 24 hours a day, five days per week. They are closed Saturday and Sundays; however, occasionally they may work a shift on Saturday, but never on Sunday.

Union Tank Car’s Evanston Plant Manager Denny Robbins has been with the company for 20 years. He started when he was 21, and he spent 10 years as a welder, served as inspector for three years generating work orders, spent one year as a supervisor, served three years as repair manager overseeing all plant-wide production and the last two years in the current position of plant manager. 

His direct supervisor is Dean Hicks who is based out of Evanston but travels a lot to two other shops in Pennsylvania and Iowa.  

Robbins said the company has three different buildings: the valve and fitting building where employees do the cleaning and repairing of railroad cars, a mechanical shop where welding repairs take place, and finally the paint and blast building where tank cars are renewed and ready for use again.

The company has had more than 1,300 days without a lost-time incident, approaching its previous record of 1,365 days. One of the safety concerns is that employees in the cleaning building are sometimes dealing with hazardous and flammable chemicals. They go down into a confined space within the tank car for cleaning and need to learn to take precautions. Also, the switching and moving of tank cars requires the employees to stay alert and cautious.

Robbins said they try to hire experienced welders but also provide on-the-job training for all positions, as well as safety training. He said the company has worked with BOCES in the past to recruit welders. The minimum age to be hired is 18, with a high school diploma or GED.

“Currently, we are working on expanding our cleaning operations to double the number of cars we service,” Robbins said. “We plan to put in new state-of-the-art equipment and have that in place this next fall. Also, next year we will be expanding our paint and blast facilities and will build a bigger training area. Then with more infrastructure, additional track and building facilities, we would love to increase our number of employees up to 200 people in the next five years.”

Robbins said Union Tank Car is still negotiating with Union Pacific on a price for the additional track needed for the expansion.