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From Site Selection magazine, November 2022

Short Line Rail Leaders Catalyze Opportunities Like They Always Have

These photos made circa 1900-1910 show operations of the Allegheny Valley Railroad, originally incorporated in 1837 and completed in 1854 and traveling from Pittsburgh to Oil City along the Allegheny River.
Photo courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh Archives of Industrial Society
Photograph Collection from 1895 to 2016



The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association represents around 600 owners and operators. “Taken together, short line and regional railroads operate 50,000 miles of track or nearly 30% of the national railroad network and handle in origination or destination one out of every four rail cars moving on the national system,” says the ASLRRA, noting that member track miles have grown from 8,000 miles of track in 1980.

In May the association honored three member railroads in particular with its 2022 Business Development Awards for “creative use of their unique operations to deliver value to shippers; utilizing partnerships with development authorities, Class 1s, and shippers to capture business opportunities; and driving economic success for shippers and the communities they serve.” In other words, using their assets in combination with industrial parks, inland ports and other partners to further economic development. Here are abridged summaries of the ASLRRA citations:

Allegheny Valley Railroad

“The Allegheny Valley Railroad (AVR) identified an opportunity for a transload facility in the Pittsburgh area that would serve the local steel industry. A portion of their Glenwood Yard was available to be developed for this purpose, and the team went to work in early 2020 to scope the project, seeking customers that would require a facility that included an overhead gantry crane. After identifying a key partner — a major steel producer needing to ship plate steel by rail to the area for last-mile distribution by truck — work began to engineer the 4+ acre facility site and the 1000+ foot-long sidetrack that would serve it. After a $725,000 investment by the AVR, shipments began in Q1 2021 … AVR moved 500 carloads into this facility in 2021.”


The COVID pandemic and its supply chain disruptions, including the truck driver shortage, were viewed as an opportunity by CRANDIC, whose parent company Travero is the logistics solutions subsidiary of Alliant Energy. “The company focused on the 750-mile+ shipment of goods via truck into Cedar Rapids, and used its Logistics Park Cedar Rapids facility, which opened in 2021, to execute. Rail could compete favorably with this typically long-haul truck route, even with the additional costs to transfer the product to a local warehouse, hold until needed by the customer, and truck the final miles to the customer location. The customer could have enough product in a close-by warehouse to smooth out the demand peaks and alleviate the stress of trucks not being available when needed. CRANDIC next took a hard look at the sub-500-mile market and held a fleet of boxcars ready to capture this business from trucking. In 2021, CRANDIC moved a record amount of boxcar traffic. Key shippers increased shipments by 900 cars or 28% year-over-year, and 42% over levels seen 10 years ago. Despite having 350 cars in its current pool, the proof of concept has shippers looking for more. CRANDIC is actively pursuing another 100 boxcars for its customers.”

Union County Industrial Railroad

“The Union County Industrial Railroad (UCIR) travels over 18.2 miles in Pennsylvania and serves only eight customers, but it has found a way to grow carloads by 300% over a 10-year period, with zero FRA-reportable injuries.” A relentless drive to be a better partner “has opened the doors to a variety of new opportunities including reopening their Delta Place transload siding to service agricultural customers during the pandemic, rehabilitating an unused siding to match new growth at customer Winfield Storage, and working with two new customers to locate along the UCIR line, the most recent customer bringing 60 family-sustaining jobs to the local area. In fact, UCIR maintains an inventory of available properties along their line and markets those parcels when the time and buyer is right — a practice that has proven to work.”

Adam Bruns
Editor in Chief of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns is editor in chief and head of publications for Site Selection, and before that has served as managing editor beginning in February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.


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