"Short line and regional railroads are playing key roles as the nation's economy recovers, slowly but surely," says Railway Age Publisher Jonathan Chalon. "The business opportunities and obstacles, be they in terms of reach or of geography, may differ. But the entrepreneurial spirit of the two winners—this year, one very large and one very small—affects and assists customers similarly large or small, making efficient business possible with the most efficient surface mode: rail."
Cotulla, Tex.-based Gardendale Railroad (GRD), one of six short lines owned by Ironhorse Resources, Inc., got its start in 2010 with just 1,600 feet of rail right-of-way, and has grown its business exponentially since then. Hydraulic fracturing demand in Texas' Eagle Ford shale formation triggered the railroad's startup, but GRD's customer base is diversifying into related support fields, served by a rapidly expanding yard.
"Gardendale Railroad really lives up the moniker "short line," in terms of size and in terms of its ability to make things happen proactively," says Railway Age Managing Editor Douglas John Bowen. "Put differently, size isn't everything; it's what you do to leverage your existing assets and opportunities, and this year's Short Line award winner has certainly done that."
By contrast, Missoula, Mont.-based Montana Rail Link sports 950 miles of right-of-way in a pretty sizeable region, including its namesake state (fourth-largest in the U.S.) and neighboring Idaho. Somewhat oddly, the railroad often is too "small" to be noticed amongst reviews of Class I brethren. But in 2011 it moved more than 50 million gross tons per mile across terrain the railroad modestly describes as "challenging"—including operating across the Continental Divide.
"Montana Rail Link has advanced cutting-edge technologies and best practices since it commenced operations in 1987," says Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono. "It's reduced its locomotive fleet size even as it handles more traffic, and it's worked to maximize energy efficiency and the resultant environmental and economic benefits that result. And it's worked closely with its Class I partner BNSF under normal conditions and difficult times alike, epitomizing the best capabilities of regional railroads."
Both Gardendale Railroad, the 2013 Short Line Railroad of the Year, and the Montana Rail Link, the 2013 Regional Railroad of the Year, will be featured in Railway Age's April 2013 issue.
Railway Age is the transportation industry's oldest trade magazine, and celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2006. The monthly magazine is circulated at the management levels of North American freight and passenger railroads. Emphasis is placed on technology, operations, strategic planning, marketing, and other issues such as legislative and labor/management developments of interest to railway management, railway suppliers, and consultants.