Railway Age’s 2023 Short Line and Regional Railroads of the Year: NDW, AMIC Railway

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Railway Age’s 2023 Regional Railroad of the Year is the ArcelorMittal Infrastructure Canada (AMIC) Railway. (©ArcelorMittal)

Railway Age’s 2023 Regional Railroad of the Year is the ArcelorMittal Infrastructure Canada (AMIC) Railway. (©ArcelorMittal)

Railway Age is pleased to announce the Napoleon, Defiance & Western Railroad (NDW) as its Short Line Railroad of the Year, and ArcelorMittal Infrastructure Canada (AMIC) Railway as its Regional Railroad of the Year for 2023. The Aberdeen Carolina & Western Railway (ACWR) has earned a Short Line Honorable Mention.

The awards will be presented at the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) 2023 Annual Conference & Exhibition, to be held in New Orleans, La., April 2-4, 2023.

“All of our honorees show the entrepreneurial spirit the small-road industry is known for,” 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 set their sights on growth—from turning around aging infrastructure, boosting industrial development, and building local, state and federal partnerships to increasing safety and efficiency through new technology. Railway Age Publisher Jonathan Chalon, Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono, Senior Editor Carolina Worrell and I congratulate them, and all of our 30-plus strong finalists in 2023.”


Not long ago, NDW could claim the title of “Worst Railroad in America.” Now, it is experiencing a turnaround, following the recent replacement of 29,000 ties and 13 miles of rail over the 29-mile Woodburn-to-Defiance alignment. (A picture of the track “before” is shown above, inset; and “after.) More investment is slated for the Defiance-to-Napoleon alignment. (NDW Photograph)

The 58.2-mile NDW right-of-way runs from Woodburn, Ind., to Liberty Center, Ohio, interchanging with Norfolk Southern at Woodburn and CSX at Defiance, Ohio. Last summer, NDW became a subsidiary of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Patriot Rail Company following Patriot’s acquisition of short line holding company Pioneer Lines from BRX Transportation Holdings.  

Pictured is track “before” NDW invested more than $9.5 million in upgrades along the Woodburn-to-Defiance alignment.

NDW traces its roots back to the Wabash Railroad, which was established in 1855 and known as the “Heart of America,” serving as a key economic driver for the Midwest. Later in the 20th century, divestment, abandonments and deferred maintenance devastated the line. “The exceptionally degraded tie conditions and worn rail resulted in trains moving at a walking speed and often derailing three times on a single run,” according to NDW, which not long ago could claim the title of “Worst Railroad in America.”  

Rebuilding relationships with federal, state and local partners, including the Ohio Rail Development Commission, enabled NDW to secure multiple grants to put the short line on a path to restoration and further investment. More than $9.5 million in public and private grants—including a 2020 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) award from the Federal Railroad Administration—covered the replacement of 29,000 ties and 13 miles of rail over the 29-mile Woodburn-to-Defiance alignment. The now-completed CRISI grant and other investment enabled upgrading this portion of the line from FRA “excepted” track to Class I status, allowing the railroad to operate longer trains at two-to-three times previous speeds to better serve customers. NDW, once a contender for the highest derailment rate of any rail line in the U.S., has achieved zero reportable derailments and zero reportable incidents on the rehabilitated alignment since the completion of the project in July 2022.  

These improvements, plus a revamped marketing strategy to grow current customer carloads and attract new business, showed immediate results, according to the railroad. Last year, Tessenderlo Kerley, Inc. (TKI) broke ground on a new multi-million-dollar fertilizer plant and APackaging Group (APG) announced plans to construct a $49 million, 800,000 square-foot facility along NDW. This new investment, coupled with renewed line confidence, is expected to drive an 18% year-over-year increase in NDW carloads in 2023. But there’s still work to be done. With the success of the first CRISI award, the Ohio Rail Development Commission has requested a second federal grant to improve the Defiance-to-Napoleon alignment, intended to elevate the safety, efficiency and capacity of this segment and bring the last remaining portions of the NDW up to FRA Class I track status. 


Railway Age’s 2023 Regional Railroad of the Year is the ArcelorMittal Infrastructure Canada (AMIC) Railway. (©ArcelorMittal)
The 260-mile single-track AMIC Railway in northern Quebec includes 20 bridges and five tunnels. Some 50% of the main line is curved, with a maximum curvature of 7 degrees. (©ArcelorMittal)

The AMIC Railway, launched in 1960 and owned by global steelmaker ArcelorMittal, is an independent system that operates 260 miles of single track in northern Quebec. Linking the Mont Wright iron ore mine to Port-Cartier with a branch to Fire Lake iron ore mine, it includes 20 bridges and five tunnels. Some 50% of the main line is curved, with a maximum curvature of 7 degrees. The maximum loaded grade is 0.40% while the maximum empty grade is 1.34%.

Each year, AMIC Railway hauls approximately 26 million tons of iron ore concentrate and 15 million tons of raw ore as well as supplies for the mine and timber for a third-party sawmill. For several years a combination of long (210-car) and short (160-car) trains were used, but since 2022, only long trains are used. Consequently, six 210-car trains now leave every 1-1⁄2 days for the northern mining complex to haul back iron ore concentrate. Each carries 27,000 tons, for an average ratio of 9,000 tons per locomotive (two at the front and one at the back).

AMIC Railway runs 1,260 railcars out of a fleet of 1,323—whose average age is more than 40 years—with an availability of 95% and utilization of 94%. The railroad’s rolling stock shops perform all services, including wheel re-profiling. Average wheelset life is 750,000 miles, it says, with some reaching more than 1 million miles.

The railroad’s maintenance program includes what it describes as “intensive” rail grinding and lubrication as well as annual replacement of more than 2,400 tons of rail and 25,000 ties.

AMIC Railway has had zero lost-time injury (LTI) since January 2021, and no reportable injuries were recorded in its operations department in 2022.

Increased technology integration is at the heart of AMIC Railway’s vision for the future, it says. The railroad is currently collaborating with the RAIL Center of Excellence at Cégep de Sept-Îles, a technical college in Quebec, to develop a predictive-maintenance database for its rail infrastructure. Additionally, AMIC recently bought from Railhead Corp. a new remote monitoring and 4K video recording system for AMIC Railway, providing real-time-monitoring and access to locomotive data.


Pictured: ACWR corporate train and F-unit locomotive, with a newly launched paint scheme, passing by the Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, N.C. (Photograph: Chris Aumen)

The ACWR has grown from 34 miles of track and two customers in 1987 to 150 miles of track today, serving more than 20 customers. For the central North Carolina short line, 2022 has served as a springboard for further growth.

ACWR completed the acquisition of NS’s Piedmont Division line, which had been under a lease-purchase option by the short line since 1989. The 104-mile purchase between Gulf and Charlotte, N.C., consolidated ACWR’s holdings along with its Sandhills line, which connects in Star, N.C., and runs through Pinehurst to Aberdeen, where ACWR interchanges with CSX.

Also, in 2022, the short line invested $10 million on multiple track expansion and improvement projects and saw rail traffic increase 7% (or approximately 500 carloads) over 2021. It attributed the success to:

  • Tripling the size of its Midland (N.C.) Downtown transload site.
  • Construction and August launch of the Midland (N.C.) Logistics Park. This 70-acre development includes three additional properties for rail customers and is anchored by ACWR’s Midland Transload Yard, which can accommodate 200 railcars for transload, storage, distribution of raw materials, and finished goods. The project was a collaborative effort among ACWR; its customers; and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Rail Division, which provided several grants.
  • Strong shipments from its organic customers and the addition of multiple new customers.
The Midland Logistics Park (Midland, N.C.) opened for business in August 2022. (Photograph: Nick Elder, ACWR)

ACWR is now at work on six additional projects: two are passing sidings to accommodate unit train traffic to improve the overall fluidity of the line, and four involve ACWR-owned properties, totaling 350 acres. In partnership with the six-county economic development directors and the North Carolina Railroad, which is providing “site readiness” grants, ACWR is preparing the four properties for rail-served development. Additionally, using a $27 million CRISI grant awarded by FRA in 2020, ACWR will begin work on track upgrades and infrastructure improvements, allowing for increased speed, capacity, and safety.

Rounding out the year, ACWR unveiled its new corporate train F-unit locomotives with a new paint scheme. Lionel has replicated these locomotives and several ACWR corporate railcars for model train enthusiasts and the public.

All honorees will be featured in Railway Age’s March 2023 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: 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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