Written by Railway Age Staff
W&LE Carey, Ohio, rail yard next to National Lime and Stone Company. (Scott Young Photograph, Courtesy of W&LE)

W&LE Carey, Ohio, rail yard next to National Lime and Stone Company. (Scott Young Photograph, Courtesy of W&LE)

RAILWAY AGE, MARCH 2024 ISSUE: Customer dedication is key to this regional’s success.

Operating more than 800 miles of track in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Company (W&LE) is one of the largest Class II’s in the country and the largest Ohio-based railroad. It interchanges with CN, CSX and NS, as well as 14 small roads. 

This two-time recipient of Railway Age’s Regional of the Year award (the first was bestowed in 2004) is committed to operational safety. W&LE has reinvested more than $275 million since 2015, including the upgrade of all primary routes to Continuous Welded Rail (CWR) as of year-end 2023. Additionally, the railroad in 2023 was awarded two Ohio Rail Development Commission grants totaling $1 million to aid in replacement of the 120-year-old bridge superstructure over State Route 7 in Mingo Junction. Once completed, the bridge will require less frequent and less intensive maintenance, thus reducing traffic delays for the more than 11,000 vehicles per day using State Route 7 and improving reliability for W&LE’s customers. 

Under the leadership of Larry R. Parsons, CEO and majority owner since 1994, the regional also earned an ASLRRA Jake Award in 2022. 

The railroad serves 100-plus customers in Ohio and Pennsylvania and handles more than 140,000 carloads per year, which include such commodities as aggregates, chemicals, coal, food products, furnace coke, grain, lumber, petroleum products, plastic products, scrap iron, and steel products.

W&LE unit stone train near Mingo Junction, Ohio. (Todd Novak Photograph, Courtesy of W&LE)

Customers were behind W&LE’s 2024 Regional of the Year win. Warrenton River Terminal LLC Facility Manager Evan Fraley and National Lime and Stone Vice President Sales and Marketing Ken Dinwiddie nominated the railroad. 

Warrenton River Terminal, located in Rayland, Ohio, was acquired by a new ownership team in 2018 and has since increased the number of commodities transloaded and shipped from two to more than seven, and has grown rail volumes into and out of the terminal by a factor of five to eight times. 

“W&LE has been a superb partner to work with at all stages of a transloading transaction,” Evan Fraley told Railway Age. “W&LE has put us together with potential customers they have identified and worked closely with others we’ve identified. They have worked creatively with Class I’s, where they have been able to move cargo more efficiently or quickly, creating certain improvements in cycle times and resulting in improved reliability for rail customers. Operationally, W&LE demonstrates how to enhance the value of a transaction for all parties while continually improving its own overall performance.”

For example, W&LE worked with the terminal to reload emptied rail equipment and ship it to another customer. “This is how we’ve been able to create certain efficiencies,” Fraley reported in his nomination. “W&LE has helped us together with one of their ag customers to transload urea from river sources to rail delivery on the W&LE. The railroad works with our operating folks continuously to avoid surprises and to provide equipment in a useful and timely fashion.”

Fraley told Railway Age that over the past two years, Warrenton River Terminal has partnered with the W&LE to expand its rail footprint, adding 3,100 feet of track and bringing total track capacity to more than 12,000 feet. “We were also successful in enabling another, unrelated company to build its own rail spur to increase tanker rail volumes for the W&LE,” he said. “All this serves to strengthen the W&LE and improve our mutual capabilities.”

W&LE unit frac sand train and natural gas liquid unit train near Hopedale (Hanna), Ohio. (Matt Arnold Photograph, Courtesy of W&LE)

“The Wheeling Team led by Jonathan Chastek, President, and the Marketing and Sales Team led by Justin Crues, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, and their respective teams, have been nothing short of a pleasure to work with,” Fraley said. “They have repeatedly demonstrated solid creativity together with a ‘can do’ operating attitude. We all recognize that any transaction needs to make sense and work for all parties.” 

Fraley explained that when the terminal is ready to discuss a new customer, concept or product with W&LE’s marketing team, the railroad’s operational management team is brought in right away. In his experience with other carriers, that practice is less common, and new concepts are “often dismissed by the operational folks at a later date,” he said. W&LE’s inclusive approach “saves time and engages all parties in determining if, how and when a project can move forward,” he said.

Commented Ken Dinwiddie: “W&LE prides itself on service by staying nimble and listening to customer needs.” The management and sales teams “go the extra mile to make sure they are equitable partners with their customers,” he reported. He added that W&LE is a leader: “The Class I’s should take notes.”  

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