Axial's Growth 100 : Jim Roemer

Jim Roemer

CEO, FABcar

Driving Forward

Jim Roemer used his 30-plus years of engineering experience to invent a transportation system after he founded FABcar LLC in 2013.

He graduated from Texas A&M University and spent more than 25 years working for the Naval Sea Systems Command. First, he was the chief engineer and shipbuilding supervisor in the New Orleans region. Then, he became responsible for all non-nuclear construction in the United States.

Jim started F K Fab Group LLC in 2006 to make use of his metal fabrication and management expertise and added to his line of work with FABcar.

FABcar holds a license for Building and Heavy Construction in the state of Louisiana. The company is equipped to manufacture carbon, steel, stainless and aluminum items, including platforms, walkways, and pipe spools. FABcar can take on projects weighing hundreds of tons. The company’s welding skills can meet a customer’s exact specifications, and it can put customers in contact with coating specialists for a desired finish.

Filling a Need

Jim’s vision for FABcar took a turn when his current partner, Sam Mannino, approached him with the idea of working with rail cars in late 2014. “We came up with the idea of converting rail cars to a closed hopper system,” Jim says.

Sam is a rail car broker, and the two saw a tremendous need for closed hopper rail cars. Jim says there is a backlog of 61,000 orders that extends out three years.

While there are large companies such as TrinityRail that service customers in need of hundreds of cars, there is also a market of customers looking for 25 to 100 cars. “We’ve identified a niche market and we’re the first in the market,” Jim says. “If someone wanted 10 cars, we would service them.”

Customers in need of sealed transportation carriages include plastic pellet manufactures, grain companies, sugar companies, or any type of powder-like material producer that needs its product protected from the weather.

Jim designed a system to retrofit open rail cars to become sealed. “With the coal industry in decline, there are plenty of coal cars available,” says Jim. “We’re taking the unused coal cars that have accumulated and are just sitting around, and we’re moving them into an active commercial environment.”

Jim says many of these rail cars are only 10 to 12 years old, and last 50 years. “They have a lot of life in them.”

He designed the retrofit kits as roofed units that fit into the rail car. “We are not modifying the rail cars, simply closing them in.” The system is fabricated in pieces and can be assembled on location. Seven kits can fit on one flat bed, so the shipping system is efficient.

Multiple modules can fit into one rail car, which allows a rail car to transport more than just a single product. “I did a mock-up to prove to the customer that this can be done,” Jim says. He and Sam have a provisional patent on the closed hopper system.

Customers in Line

FABcar has received a commitment to buy 76 retrofit kits.

“We are actively looking for investors,” Jim says of himself and Sam. “The main thing is effectively the purchase of inventory — the purchase of the rail cars.”

FABcar projects the need of $1.9m to buy rail cars. Jim says investors will see quick turnover. The first batch of 76 will be retrofit in 120 days and the investor will have $1.9m back in hand.

“There are specific requirements involved with rail cars and we are set up uniquely to build into the market,” says Jim. “Sam knows all of the main players on the railroad side and all of the customers.”

FABcar has the experience and expertise to complete proper fabrication and engineering for the retrofits. The company will have the capability to produce seven to ten kits per week. Meanwhile, thousands of companies are waiting two to three years for a sealed rail car.

Jim aims to double or triple the size of FABcar over the next two to three years.