Unfortunately, there have also been recent losses of Class II's through purchases. The Wisconsin Central, a name that dates back to the 19th century was reborn in the 1980s as a large system using former Milwaukee Road and Soo Line trackage in northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, later also picking up the Green Bay & Western, Fox River Valley Railroad, and even operating the Algoma Central. It was able to turn many of these lines into profitable ventures luring Canadian National Railway, which purchased it in 2001. The large Canadian lines have also acquired other notable lines in recent years including the Elgin Joliet & Eastern, Dakota Minnesota & Eastern, and Iowa Chicago & Eastern. As newer short lines and regionals have turned around once moribund trackage left for dead in the 1970s and 1980s, analysts and industry experts have come to realize that shedding/abandoning so much infrastructure then was a severe overreach.
For instance, main lines like the Milwaukee Road's Pacific Coast Extension and Erie Lackawanna's double-tracked, Chicago main line would have provided efficient, ideal corridors for intermodal service today. In addition, the government's monopolistic Consolidate Rail Corporation (Conrail) idea of 1976 was also a mistake. While the concept eventually proved a success and turned around the Northeast's failing rail services it abandoned thousands of miles of trackage, which it deemed simply redundant although was not necessarily unprofitable. The former PRR's high-speed, doubled-tracked "Panhandle Route" main line to St. Louis was lost as a result, the previously-mentioned EL corridor, and hundreds of miles of secondary lines. One other note regarding Class II's, which also includes Class III's; while not always the case, these railroads are usually much more open to railfans and anyone interested in seeing how railroads work. Alas, the possibility of seeing any of these returned to service is extremely unlikely, save for perhaps a mile or two, here or there.
Of course, with the aftermath of September 11th and a much more litigious America, long gone are the days of cab rides on all railroads and the freedom to roam, unimpeded across yards and company property. However, these smaller railroads are, in general, much friendlier than their larger cousins and with permission most are more than happy to give you a tour of what they do and how they work. Listed above are a number of of systems currently in operation today, categorized by the geographic area of the country in which they operated (i.e. north, south, east, or west). According to Freight Rail Works, an AAR-funded statistical website covering the industry, short lines and regionals account for, "31% of U.S. freight rail mileage and 10% of employees." Today, there are more than 550 systems in service across the country, serving every state but Hawaii. Also included within this list are notable defunct operations, such as the fabled Indiana Hi-Rail system. As you may notice, this list is not yet entirely complete (both for active and inactive roads) although as time allows I will feature all current Class IIs. In any event, to learn more about each simply click on their link.
Visiting a railroad museum is always a thrilling experience being able to inspect the equipment and seeing the museum’s operations. However, nothing really, truly, compares to witnessing railroading in its truest form; a long freight at-speed on the main line or watching a switcher keeping order in what looks to be a chaotic mess of a yard (but rest assured, while it looks a mess, even a huge classification yard has its order). With that said, perhaps most importantly when visiting a real railroad is the chance to talk and mingle with the men and women who keep it going by maintaining the tracks and property, and keeping the trains running. Finally, to learn more about Class II railroads please click here to visit the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA). This member organization is similar to the Association of American Railroads(AAR) except designed for the smaller systems that are not Class Is.
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Class II Railroads