Railway Age’s 2022 Short Line and Regional Railroads of the Year: VTR, SKOL

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Vermont Railway (VTR) is the Railway Age 2022 Short Line Railroad of the Year.

Vermont Railway (VTR) is the Railway Age 2022 Short Line Railroad of the Year.

Railway Age is honoring the Vermont Railway (VTR) and the South Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad (SKOL) as its 2022 Short Line (Class III) and Regional (Class II) Railroads of the Year.

Both carriers will be recognized at the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) Annual Conference & Exhibition in St. Louis, Mo., May 1-3, 2022.

“This year’s winners have leveraged public-private partnerships and teamwork within their organizations and with other railroads to repair aging infrastructure and better serve customers,” Railway Age Executive Editor Marybeth Luczak says. “Both reflect the entrepreneurial spirit that short lines are known for. Railway Age Publisher Jonathan Chalon, Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono and I congratulate them for their continued success.”

“Our 2022 awards quickly follow our 2021 awards, which were given late last year when ASLRRA moved the annual conference to November,” says Vantuono. “We received many excellent entries for 2021, and rather than go back to the industry for nominations, we decided to choose our 2022 honorees from the 2021 pool.”


Vermont Railway

Vermont Railway (VTR)—part of the Vermont Rail System and Railway Age’s 2012 Short Line of the Year recipient—serves its namesake state and a portion of New York and New Hampshire.

In 2019, it embarked on an ambitious tunnel reconstruction project led by the state of Vermont, in conjunction with the town of Middlebury, New England Central Railroad (NECR), VHB, Kubricky Construction, Engineers Construction, and numerous other parties, following years of planning and design work. The Middlebury bridges, often referred to as tunnels, were built in the 1920s, and had become structurally deficient. They provided more than access over the railroad tracks; they tied together the downtown business district.

The VTR main line was out of service for 10 weeks during construction, which included severing 2,500 feet of track (see time-lapse project video below). To guarantee rail customers uninterrupted service, all traffic through Middlebury was diverted onto an alternate route that ran along the opposite side of the state. For close to a year prior to the shutdown, VTR had to adjust its daily train operations to accommodate the 20-hour work windows.

VTR, working closely with the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) and NECR, established a plan for two detour trains each day. The trains were powered by eight GMTX GP-38-2s leased by VTR and operated over NECR from Burlington to Bellows Falls; additional train crews were also brought in, and trained and qualified on both railroads. In some cases, partial off-loading or complete transloading of product from railcar to truck was required at VTR’s Riverside Reload Center in Bellows Falls, Vt., before cars could be accepted onto the detour route.

VTR had one important goal: No direct impact to customers. Thanks to years of planning and strong VTR-NECR communication, there were no customer complaints, VTR reports.

While work continued in and around the tunnel until spring 2021, the rail line through Middlebury officially reopened on Sept. 18, 2020.

The project was a success—for VTrans, Middlebury, and VTR and its customers, who now enjoy state-of-the-art infrastructure that not only accommodates the “high and wide” shipments of tomorrow, but also significantly enhances a historic Vermont town, VTR says. It also helped pave the way for Amtrak’s service extension into Burlington.

Despite project complexity and pandemic-related challenges, “coming together for the common good” was key, VTR says.


South Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad (Photo Courtesy of Jay Hastings)

Watco’s 433-mile South Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad (SKOL) runs primarily in southeastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma, and serves 81 rail/storage customers as well as 94 locations. Also selected as Railway Age’s 2008 Regional of the Year, SKOL handles mineral, chemical, agricultural and industrial product shipments. Volumes exceed 60,000 carloads per year.

To accommodate increased cement powder manufacturing along the line and customer demand for 286K loads, and to move larger volumes of grain with less equipment for customers, SKOL sought a CRISI Program grant to improve rail infrastructure. It enlisted help from the Watco team and sponsorship from the Kansas and Oklahoma departments of transportation to submit a request. In 2020, the Federal Railroad Administration awarded SKOL up to $27 million to upgrade track; replace rail, ties and ballast; and repair bridges and crossings, so 80% of the railroad, or more than 300 miles of track, could be brought up to 286K standards. The total capital project value, with matches from the railroad and the states of Kansas and Oklahoma: $41 million. Work began in 2021 and completion is slated for year-end.

SKOL says trip times for most trains will be cut by about half, and train speeds will increase from 10 mph to 25 mph on much of the upgraded track. Due in part to these improvements, Watco customer Bartlett Grain decided to build a $350 million soybean crushing facility along the line in Kansas.

Customer-focused, SKOL partnered with BNSF in May 2020 to provide unit train service for longtime fertilizer customer Coffeyville Resources.

Only weeks after the arrangement was under way, a fire damaged a 505 foot-long wooden trestle bridge in southeast Kansas, interrupting cement, rock and sand traffic, as well as grain product moves to the Port of Catoosa. SKOL again partnered with BNSF, and within days, had an agreement in place to keep cars moving.

“Our customers never missed a beat,” says Mark Kreiser, Manager of Logistics and Marketing Services-Central Region for Ash Grove Cement.

The bridge repair, originally estimated to take 30 days, took only 16.

Both VTR and SKOL will be featured in Railway Age’s April 2022 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 electronic 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: RJ Corman Memphis Line
• Regional: Lake State Railway

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