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Rail News: Short Lines & Regionals

From the Editor: For short lines, growth is an 'existential imperative'


By Pat Foran, Editor

In 1996, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) created a Business Development Award program to recognize the “core of what short lines are all about — how to get one more carload or one more customer,” as ASLRRA President Chuck Baker told Managing Editor Jeff Stagl in this month’s cover story.  

Growing the business, Baker added, is a short line’s “existential imperative.” 

In addition to Baker, the cover story cites officials from three small roads that have been making the existential grade. The three short lines received the ASLRRA’s Business Development Award in 2022: the Allegheny Valley Railroad, CRANDIC Rail and Union County Industrial Railroad (UCIR).  

As an example: In a 10-year period, UCIR grew carloads 300%, primarily by improving customer service, customizing business processes, fostering trust and deepening customer relationships accordingly, officials at UCIR parent North Shore Railroad told Stagl. 

“It’s part of our personal touch,” as North Shore’s Loni Martz Briner put it. 

That personal touch — the way operators of feeder lines market and find ways to meet customer needs — has always separated short lines from the railroad pack. 

I joined Progressive Railroading the same year ASLRRA created the Business Development Award program. One of the things we’ve tried to do the past 26 years is shine a light on small roads that have developed new ways to grow. We’ve never had trouble finding them.  

“The routes short lines take vary, but the entrepreneurial spirit that guides them is a common thread,” I wrote in an August 1997 piece (“Short Line Stories”) profiling nine idiosyncratic short lines and short-line holding companies. 

“We’re right at the forefront of some of these new markets,” then-New York & Atlantic Railway Co. President George Stern told me. “It’s up to us to find a solution.” 

We’ll continue to share short lines’ stories, strategies and solutions in the pages of this magazine — but most small-road coverage will be on RailPrime, our exclusive digital information subscription offering dedicated to all things freight transportation and home to the lion’s share of our originally reported stories.  

Short lines remain a RailPrime focus. Coverage in recent weeks has included: 

• a video Q&A with ASLRRA Chair Stefan Loeb (July 19);  

• “Belt Railway boots up simulators to bolster remote-control operator training” (July 6);  

• “Sierra Northern seeks new yard location in California” (June 27);  

• “Short lines win big in FY2021 round of CRISI grant awards (June 2). 

An annual subscription to RailPrime is $199; you also can subscribe monthly for $19.99. For more information visit 

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 8/9/2022