The History Of The Regional Railroad

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Not long after Short lines began dotting the American landscape, solvent railroads began ditching marginal routes. These new routes, too big to be considered short lines, became known as regional railroads.

The mother of regional railroad creators in the beginning was the Illinois Central Gulf. In the early 70s the ICG was a near 10,000 mile system but by the end of 1989 was down to less than 3,000. In the mid 1980s, ICG sold its major east-west routes and most of the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio which spawned several regional railroads ranging from 300 to 1,150 miles in length. During this time it also sold smaller pieces to short lines.

Success breeds competition and other railroads soon followed suit. The Soo Line snapped up what was left of the Milwaukee Road and moved its own Chicago-Minneapolis operations to the former MILW route. It sold its own lines to Wisconsin Central Limited which, at the time, became the largest of the new regional railroads at 2,050 miles long.

CSX spun off part of the former Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh creating the Rochester & Southern Railroad in 1986, now the major hauler of salt from the American Salt Mines of Mount Morris, NY. The rest would seed the creation of the Buffalo & Pittsburgh in 1988.

Burlington Northern created the Montana Rail Link when it sold part of its ex-Northern Pacific main line. Ironic since today, its successor, the huge BNSF, relies on MRL to process some of their own trains at its Laurel Yard (the largest rail yard between St. Paul, Mn. & Pasco, Wa.). The BN also sold a cluster of ex-NP branches which formed the Red River Valley & Western.

Western railroads such as the Santa Fe, the Southern Pacific, and even the mighty Union Pacific (albeit the last railroads to do so) were soon spinning off branches and secondary lines. The SP story is especially ironic since it itself was the beneficiary of the Rock Island‘s Kansas City-Tucumcari line, the biggest chunk off the Rock Island (the one who, in many ways, started of all this with its own demise). And the process has even spread into the provinces of Canada.

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The History Of The Regional Railroad