Stockbridge Company Integral To Winter Transit Operations
Last year’s winter wreaked havoc on the Northeast, complicating travel by car, train and plane for millions of people. As winter nears, a local company is working works to make sure the country’s rails outlast the freezing temperatures.“Rail systems don’t run without our little company,” said Rosalie Berger.
That’s a pretty big statement and Rosalie Berger believes RTR Technologies backs it up. The company’s technology is rolled out along roughly 5 million feet of the nation’s transit rail lines. Based in Stockbridge, Massachusetts – not exactly the mass transit capital of the world – RTR designs and manufactures components that heat and deice the third rails from which trains draw their power.
“This product is a heater which is of proprietary construction to RTR and a silicon, grey, rubber jacket that’s on top of the heater,” explained Craig Berger, Rosalie's husband and RTR's business development director. “That’s what transfers the heat effectively and efficiently into the rail.”
Rosalie, the company’s CEO and president, explained that as little as 1/32 of an inch of ice built up on the third rail or overhead contact wire can disrupt power. Craig explains that how much electricity is needed to prevent that from happening is based on a region’s climate.
“There is X number of watts per foot required to deice the third rail,” Craig said. “That number in Boston is 40 watts per foot. In New York [City] it’s 30 watts a foot and in Washington. There are systems where we provided 35 watts a foot – in Chicago.”
Despite extended delays and interrupted service at the MBTA last winter, the couple says RTR’s third rail heaters and switch point snow melters operated just fine.
“Our heating technology is more than adequate for their needs, they just needed more of it,” said Rosalie.
In the past year, RTR has landed two contracts for work on the MBTA totaling about $9 million. The job includes a telemetry system to control third rail and switch heaters throughout the T from a central location. Craig says what makes RTR successful is its ability to adapt technologies that have been around for 50 years to a unique market dealing with high concentrations of electricity, vibration and speed.
“We have been adept over the 20-plus years of the existence of RTR in asking our customers ‘What are the winter, heating, precipitation or passenger comfort-related issues that you’re dealing with or find annoying? What series of conditions cause service interruptions? What stops the trains from running?’”
The company has expanded its offerings by providing products that heat train doors, floors and windows along with passenger platforms. Rosalie started the company in 1993 in Scarsdale, NY following careers in early childhood education and real estate after meeting Craig, who had worked for rail technology companies for years.
“I made my first contact rail heater at my dining room table with my pie roller and that’s how it started,” said Rosalie.
The company was based in Lakeville, Connecticut for some time and managed to survive the economic downturn after 9/11. Having vacationed in the Berkshires, Rosalie moved RTR in 2003 to The Old Corner House in Stockbridge – the first site of the Norman Rockwell Museum — where she says the company’s creative thinking flourished.
“RTR stands for Rosalie The Riveter after the icon Rosie The Riveter whose original poster hung in what is now my office,” said Rosalie.
Eighteen people work at the Stockbridge headquarters while the rest of the company’s 40 employees work out of two 5,000-square foot manufacturing sites in Canaan, CT. Like its products, the company maintains a low-profile. From the outside there is no indication that the office is anything but a seasonally-decorated home. There’s not even an RTR sign.
“People in the industry know where we are and know where to find us,” she said. “And it’s not part of my décor.”
Rosalie says the company is currently working to offer its technologies to the freight rail industry.