Railway Age is recognizing the R.J. Corman Railroad Company/Memphis Line (RJCM) as its Short Line Railroad of the Year, and Lake State Railroad (LSRC) as its Regional Railroad of the Year for 2021. The Belpre Industrial Parkersburg (BIP) Railroad and Grenada Railroad each earned a Short Line Honorable Mention.
The awards will be presented at the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) Annual Conference & Exhibition in Phoenix, Ariz., Nov. 17-19, 2021. All honorees will be featured in Railway Age’s November 2021 issue.
“Short line and regional railroads are helping to drive recovery from the pandemic,” Railway Age Executive Editor Marybeth Luczak said. “The business opportunities and obstacles—in terms of reach or of geography or product movement—may differ. But the entrepreneurial spirit of our honorees impacts customers large and small, making efficient business, and business growth, possible with the most efficient surface transport mode: rail. Railway Age Publisher Jonathan Chalon, Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono and I congratulate them, and all of our nearly 30 strong finalists this year.”
SHORT LINE OF THE YEAR
The past year has challenged railroaders as well as their families, colleagues, and the customers and communities they serve. Despite this, the 113-mile RJCM has thrived, setting record carload volumes for three key customers, up 41%-125%. The Short Line of the Year, which serves four Kentucky and two Tennessee counties, created new efficiencies in service with technology advancements. It also invested more than $5.5 million in infrastructure, undertaking the rehabilitation, automation and remote integration of the Cumberland River Bridge; the expansion of the South Union Distribution Center, allowing Logan Aluminum (pictured above) to boost warehousing capacity and railcar shipments; and the Memphis Junction Interchange Capacity Project, which included 2,800 feet of new track construction and four new switches.
“We present a case not exclusively of numbers and figures, but of compelling progress in precarious times and examples of committed railroaders with extensive knowledge of their customers’ supply chains, and the operational know-how to provide certainty in an uncertain year,” R.J. Corman Executive Vice President, Commercial Affairs Justin Broyles said of RJCM, which was acquired in 1987 and is the company’s second-oldest of 17 short lines.
REGIONAL OF THE YEAR
Based in Saginaw, Mich., Lake State Railway won Railway Age’s 2018 Short Line of the Year award, and during the presentation, CEO John Rickoff said, “Now, we need to come back and win it again as a Regional Railroad.” An ambitious goal, “LSRC quickly positioned itself to be eligible, by becoming a 373-mile regional railroad with the acquisition of CSX’s Saginaw Subdivision to Plymouth, Mich., in 2019,” EVP and COO Mike Stickel said. “The acquisition from CSX did not come with many online carloads, but it was a strategic transaction, which improved service and economics for both CSX and LSRC.”
The pandemic challenged LSRC when its two largest-volume customers shut down between March and May 2020 and others pulled back. But the regional railroad was able to grow business, starting in the second half of the year, by leveraging transloading. It has since onboarded nine new customers at six transload locations, and they are expected to add about 17,500 carloads on an annualized basis going forward.
“Winning business back from the highways, bolstering our carload counts, adding carloads to interchange with our Class I partners—all while the public enjoys the environmental and public safety benefits of truck vs. rail—that’s what small roads do best,” Stickel said.
The Regional of the Year shipped nearly 30,000 carloads in 2018, and is projected to ship 65,000 carloads in 2021.
Railway Age’s two Short Line Honorable Mentions are turnaround stories. BIP Railroad, a Cathcart Rail LLC company headquartered in Marietta, Ohio, commenced operations in May 2020, through a line assumption from CSX. In year one, this customer-focused, 48-mile short line increased total revenue movements 84% vs. the prior three-year average; invested more than $2 million in equipment, rail refurbishment and upgrades, and new sidings; and partnered with the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority to acquire a 165-acre brownfield parcel for redevelopment—all with zero injuries and no missed switches.
When RailUSA took over the 228-mile Grenada Railroad in mid-2018, its goals were to improve service frequency and reliability by upgrading all track from Memphis, Tenn., to Canton, Miss., to Class II and 286,000-pound gross rail line capacity. The company reopened 81 miles of abandoned line in December 2019, with a former customer returning to rail and a longtime customer building a second sawmill along it to expand business. RailUSA is now repairing another 90 miles of track plus 36 bridges, with work expected to wrap up in mid-2022. The move has prompted a customer to invest in the construction of a new sawmill on the line, adding more than 1,000 annual carloads.
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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 electronic newsletters (Rail Group News, Innovations); webinars; social media (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn); Rail Group On Air podcasts; industry conferences; and custom publishing services.