The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association has recognized four members as 2021 Business Development Award honorees: Iron Horse Resources (IHR), Lake State Railway Co. (LSRC, Railway Age’s 2018 Short Line of the Year), Pan Am Railways, and R.J. Corman (Railway Age’s 2007 Short Line of the Year, West Virginia Line).
To be considered for the annual award, ASLRRA said an association member “must demonstrate the following: utilization of the railroad’s unique operating characteristics to deliver value; partnership with other development authorities, Class I’s, or companies; delivering economic success to both the railroad and the community it serves.”
Following are highlights of the 2021 railroad honorees’ efforts, provided by ASLRRA:
• IHR: Subsidiary Santa Teresa Southern Railroad (STS) in New Mexico has steadily built up its relationship with customers shipping windmill blades for wind farms. In March 2020, STS signed a long-term agreement with GE Renewables and immediately began building a dedicated train-loading facility for GE. STS finished the facility on Oct. 1, having built 10,000 feet of track, developed a 10-acre staging and loading area, and constructed a 4,000-foot roadway connected to a major county road. As a result, GE reduced its train-loading time from three days to one.
Additionally, IHR has increased shipments for STS through development of the Santa Teresa Gateway Rail Park (STGRP), a long-term project begun in 2008 with IHR as the operator of the short line serving the park. By 2018, IHR had purchased the rail assets, and 1,243 acres of the park, and construction on 100 acres of new rail-served industrial lots finished on time in May 2020 despite the pandemic. IHR employees sold parcels to two clients in December 2020, and, once their facilities are complete in third-quarter 2021, they will be another source of business for STS.
• LSRC: This railroad overcame the potential shutdown of several customer facilities in 2020, due to the pandemic, and pivoted attention to its transload business, bringing in nine new customers and growing carload volume in the last two quarters of 2020. LSRC also developed seven transload locations along its Michigan lines, adding two in Alpena, expanding transload facilities in Bay City and Gaylor, adding a second track to a facility in Gaylord, building a 35-car capacity facility in Greenbush and another 44-car capacity in Flint, and doubling LSRC’s transload capacity in Saginaw.
LSRC’s projects not only boosted the railroad’s bottom line. LSRC restored an auto-loading facility in Flint, Mich., constructing a 44-car spot facility at a former Buick loading site and rehabilitating two miles of an out-of-service former mainline, eliminating the need to move finished vehicles on the highway.
Almost all of LSRC’s new traffic involved a modal shift from truck to rail. The railroad expects to add 17,500 carloads annually to its operations.
• Pan Am Railways: When China tightened purity standards for imported scrap cardboard, its largest paper company, Nine Dragons, had to reimagine its U.S. business. Nine Dragons adjusted its operations, but it was Pan Am Railways that helped Nine Dragons bring rail shipments to its pulp and paper mills in the Northeast, ensuring that the company’s business would be handled by train instead of trucks and breathing some new life into the region’s struggling paper industry.
The ultimate goal was to achieve the balanced, two-way boxcar move, bringing in scrap paper and virgin fiber for processing at U.S. plants and then moving processed paper pulp for export to China. To do this, Pan Am worked with Nine Dragons to identify a cross-dock opportunity near the Massachusetts Port Authority’s Conley Terminal, which lacked direct rail access, for outbound shipments of wood pulp. The new facility needed building and track repairs, and a new company to manage warehouse operations. Pan Am handled both tasks. Pan Am also helped Nine Dragons expand a recently acquired mill, selling the company a yard and related land on which it built new storage space for scrap paper. Pan Am expects to handle 1,500 carloads this year, with an eye toward expanding service to a warehouse near the Port of New York and New Jersey to match increased production by Nine Dragons.
• R.J. Corman: In reopening the former Carolina Southern Railroad, now the R. J. Corman Carolina Lines (RJCS), R.J. Corman had to take on a multi-faceted problem: restoring infrastructure, rebuilding relationships with customers and reconnecting with the community. In roughly five years, RJCS has grown its annual carload from zero to 5,157. To do this, it invested $47.7 million in rail upgrades, repairing an overgrown right-of-way, rotten ties and seven bridges deemed by the FRA to have “critical defects.”
R.J. Corman also developed rail-served facilities and industrial parks to attract new businesses and better serve its customers, and to entice new customers to rail-served locations. This includes restoring one rail park in North Carolina, and connecting another to RJCS. The railroad has brought 13 customers online and converted 15,000 truckloads to rail. R.J. Corman also worked to help re-educate the local community on rail safety.
“The Business Development Award honors the essence of what short lines are all about—developing a keen understanding of their customers’ needs, identifying opportunities to grow with their customers, and having the drive to turn every one of those opportunities into a benefit for their customers and the communities they serve,” ASLRRA President Chuck Baker said. “In this pandemic year when simply staying afloat signaled success for many businesses around the globe, these awardees went above and beyond to deliver significant value to customers whose businesses were also upended, a testament to the flexibility, persistence, and long-term vision that the short line industry embodies.”
The awards will be presented on Nov. 18, 2021 at the ASLRRA Annual Convention & Exhibition in Phoenix, Ariz.