Railway Age Names 2024 Short Line, Regional Railroads of the Year

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Railway Age’s 2024 Short Line Railroad of the Year is Mississippi Export Railroad (MSE). (Chip Haffner Photograph, Courtesy of MSE)

Railway Age’s 2024 Short Line Railroad of the Year is Mississippi Export Railroad (MSE). (Chip Haffner Photograph, Courtesy of MSE)

Railway Age in 2024 is proud to announce Mississippi Export Railroad (MSE) and Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Company (W&LE) as our Short Line and Regional Railroads of the Year, respectively. Eastern Idaho Railroad (EIRR), a Watco subsidiary, has earned our Short Line Honorable Mention.

The three small railroads will be recognized with awards on March 25 at the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) 2024 Annual Conference & Exhibition in Kansas City, Mo.

“Our honorees reflect an entrepreneurial spirit and a commitment to excellence—from safety and efficiency to community relations and customer service,” Railway Age Executive Editor Marybeth Luczak said. “The business opportunities and obstacles—in terms of reach or geography or product movement—may differ. But each one has focused on growth by turning around aging infrastructure, boosting industrial development, and/or teaming with current and new customers. Railway Age Publisher Jonathan Chalon, Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono, Senior Editor Carolina Worrell and I congratulate them, and thank this year’s nearly 30 strong finalists.”


(Tonya Gilmore Photograph, Courtesy of MSE)

Celebrating more than 100 years of service, the 42-mile MSE extends from Pascagoula to Evanston, Miss., and is the north-south corridor connecting CN and the east-west line of CSX. Haulage agreements expand MSE’s reach to interchange with Norfolk Southern in Hattiesburg, Miss.; Canadian Pacific Kansas City in Jackson, Miss.; and all carriers in Mobile, Ala.

Growth is a core competency of this Class III, which aligns with its commitment to finding innovative ways to provide rail and transportation solutions for its customers—from investing in development properties to enhancing rail services such as transloading and car repair. MSE recently made a 132-acre real estate purchase near the Port of Mobile, Ala., to develop rail-served warehousing. Additionally, the short line in 2023 began an expansion project at the Helena (Miss.) Industrial Park, where a new, state-of-the-art tank qualification facility will be located.

Helena (Miss.) Industrial Park. (Forrest Proctor Photograph, Courtesy of MSE)

Safety is MSE’s top priority. Over the past 19 years, it has received ASLRRA’s Jake Award with Distinction 12 times for having zero Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)-reportable injuries, and the Jake Award five times for performing better than the industry average injury frequency rate. Continually reinvesting in infrastructure and safety, MSE has installed more than 20,000 new crossties in the past five years as part of its Track Maintenance Program. MSE also invests in its employees by providing training and development opportunities. “It is our philosophy that employees who feel valued and invested have a positive attitude, are more productive, and take ownership and pride in their work ethic,” the short line reports.

MSE participates in outreach efforts, as well. In 2023, it partnered with a local model railroad museum, educating young people on the values of S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) and how they relate to railroads. For many years, it has worked with the Pascagoula High School’s College and Career Technical Institute Welding Program.

Besides being recognized by Railway Age, MSE was honored by CSX with the Class I railroad’s 2023 Short Line Growth Award for traffic measured from July 2022 to June 2023, compared with the prior-year period. And it achieved second place in Percentage Lineal Growth, with a 164% increase from the previous year.

Overall, MSE has achieved manifest carload traffic growth of 234% over the past five years.


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

Operating more than 800 miles of track in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, W&LE is one of the largest Class II’s in the country and the largest Ohio-based railroad. It is now a two-time recipient of Railway Age’s Regional Railroad of the Year award; the first was bestowed in 2004.

Under the leadership of Larry R. Parsons, CEO and majority owner since 1994, W&LE reflects a commitment to operational safety. It 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. The regional also earned an ASLRRA Jake Award in 2022.

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

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

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.”

The W&LE teams “have repeatedly demonstrated solid creativity together with a ‘can do’ operating attitude,” Fraley reported. He 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 Fraley’s experience with other carriers, this is a less common practice, 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.”

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


An Eastern Idaho Railroad conductor climbs aboard a locomotive in the Twin Falls yard. (Kurtis Lindsey, Watco Photograph, Courtesy of Watco)

Watco assumed operations of EIRR from Union Pacific in 1993 and operates across 358 track-miles in eastern and south-central Idaho, serving customers in the Magic Valley region. While North American freight rail traffic has struggled to regain its footing since the pandemic, EIRR’s focus on mutual growth with existing customers, creating new relationships, leveraging Watco’s logistics capabilities and partnering with state and federal agencies for infrastructure investment helped this Class III to grow. In the past five years, it has added nearly 11,000 carloads and at least eight new customer accounts; at least six customers significantly expanded their existing rail facilities.

Agriculture has always been important to the Magic Valley, but in 2020, ethanol and related products were the focus of growth, according to the railroad. A rail-served ethanol plant shut down at the start of the pandemic, declaring bankruptcy, but as the economic headwinds shifted later in the year, EIRR teamed with the facility owner and a high-tech cattle feed company, Liberty Basin, to redevelop the site. EIRR worked with the feed company to ensure that rail-served storage facilities could be updated to suit its needs. Liberty Basin then purchased the majority of the facility and began improvements, which allowed the ethanol plant to resume operations with a test train in December 2020 and to ramp up production in early 2021. EIRR not only brought a new customer on line—one of the larger customers on the railroad—but also helped to revive another, bring back and add jobs, and add rail traffic.

One of the first grain cars is unloaded at the new Liberty Basin cattle feed facility in Burley, Idaho, located on EIRR. The facility emerged after the railroad and feed supplier joined forces, and in the process, revived an ethanol manufacturer.
(Kurtis Lindsey, Watco Photograph, Courtesy of Watco)

EIRR also collaborates with Watco’s Burley warehouse to serve the Magic Valley’s booming dairy industry. Having the warehouse’s cross-docking and storage capabilities allows the railroad to support nearly every facet of the industry: rebar for building barns and facilities, feed ingredients, milk products, and even plastics for final product packaging.

Other recent wins for EIRR include moving recycled cardboard and new boxes for a major online retailer and hauling wood flour (recycled sawdust from lumber), a business that incorporates another of Watco’s core service areas—logistics—when trucking is necessary, and supports Watco’s Boise Valley Railroad, where the producer is located.

As business has grown on EIRR, better infrastructure and increased capacity were necessary and made possible, in part, through a $7.5 million FRA CRISI grant in 2020. EIRR partnered with the Idaho Transportation Department to complete the $9.4 million investment.

Among the projects competed in 2023: At Gular Yard in Rupert, four tracks were each extended by 2,876 feet, allowing the railroad to build trains within the yard and decrease wear and tear on the main line, which no longer needed to be used for switching. Additionally, the main line track through Rupert was replaced with CWR, increasing fluidity, longevity, and safety across the system, and a new unit train passing track was added on EIRR’s southern branch.

MSE, the Short Line Railroad of the Year; W&LE, the Regional Railroad of the Year; and EIRR, the Short Line Honorable Mention, will be featured in Railway Age’s March 2024 issue.


In business since its establishment in Chicago in 1856, Railway Age is the transportation industry’s longest-running trade publication, covering railway technology, operations, strategic planning, marketing, equipment finance, and other topics such as legislative, regulatory and labor/management developments. What began as a weekly in the mid-19th century is, in the 21st century, an information resource incorporating digital and print publishing of a monthly magazine; a website; daily and weekly e-newsletters (Rail Group News, Innovations); webinars; social media (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn); Rail Group On Air podcasts; industry conferences; and custom publishing services.


• Short Line: Napoleon, Defiance & Western
• Regional: ArcelorMittal Infrastructure Canada Railway

Honorable Mention:

• Short Line: Aberdeen, Carolina & Western Railway

• Short Line: Vermont Railway
• Regional: South Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad

• Short Line: RJ Corman Memphis Line
• Lake State Railroad

Honorable Mentions:
• Short Line: Belpre Industrial Parkersburg Railroad
• Grenada Railroad

• Short Line: Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis
• Regional: Reading & Northern Railroad

Honorable Mentions:
• Short Line: Delmarva Central Railroad Company
• Regional: Vermont Rail System

• Short Line: Louisville & Indiana
• Regional: Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern

• Short Line: Lake State Railway
• Regional: Indiana Rail Road

• Short Line: North Shore Railroad
• Regional: Conrail Shared Assets Operations

• Short Line: New Orleans & Gulf Coast
• Regional: Central Maine & Quebec

• Short Line: Palmetto Railways
• Regional: Reading & Northern

• Short Line: Coos Bay Rail Link
• Regional: Arkansas & Missouri

• Short Line: Gardendale Railroad
• Regional: Montana Rail Link

• Short Line: Vermont Railway
• Regional: Indiana Rail Road

• Short Line: Blacklands Railroad
• Regional: Reading & Northern

• Short Line: Greenville & Western Railway Co., LLC
• Regional: Northern Plains Railroad

• Short Line: Pacific Harbor Line
• Regional: Wisconsin & Southern

• Short Line: Twin Cities & Western
• Regional: South Kansas & Oklahoma

• Short Line: R.J. Corman West Virginia Line
• Regional: Florida East Coast

• Short Line: Georgia Midland
• Regional: Buffalo & Pittsburgh

• Short Line: Cedar Rapids and Iowa City
• Regional: Red River Valley & Western

• Short Line: Nittany & Bald Eagle
• Regional: Wheeling & Lake Erie

• Short Line: San Joaquin Valley Railroad
• Regional: Indiana Harbor Belt

• Short Line: Winchester & Western
• Regional: Reading & Northern

• Short Line: South Buffalo Railway
• Regional: Wisconsin & Southern

• Short Line: Arkansas Midland
• Regional: Bessemer & Lake Erie

• Short Line: South Central Florida Express
• Regional: Providence & Worchester

• Short Line: St. Lawrence & Atlantic
• Regional: Texas-Mexican Railway

• Short Line: Livonia, Avon & Lakeville
• Regional: Red River Valley & Western

• Short Line: Philadelphia, Bethlehem & New England
• Regional: Bangor & Aroostook

• Short Line: Cedar Rapids & Iowa City
• Regional: New England Central

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