Regionals, Class II Railroads

According to Surface Transportation Board (STB) and Association of American Railroads (AAR) the latest, 2013 definition of a Class II railroad, commonly known as a regional (and sometimes grouped together with Class III's where both are referred to as "short lines"), is one with an annual operating revenue of anything greater than $37.4 million but less than $467.0 million. As with Class I's, the operating revenue which classifies Class II's is periodically updated to meet inflation and other market factors (the latest of these updates occurred in 1992). At the current time there are some twenty-one Class II railroads in service, some of which are independently owned (like the Iowa Interstate) and others which are part of either large corporations (such as Watco's Wisconsin & Southern and Genesee & Wyoming's Buffalo & Pittsburgh) or state agencies (i.e., the Alaska Railroad). Interestingly, Class II's today are far different from years ago as they can easily be confused with Class I's thanks to their well-maintained right-of-ways and use of new locomotives. 

While mid-sized roads are not nearly as large as Class I's they do offer more uniqueness since they typically operate only within a particular region.  If you enjoying watching and/or photographing trains regionals, and especially short lines, offer a different perspective with often times an eclectic collection of motive power providing the feel of a classic "fallen flag."  Today, some railfans, especially those older generations, have lost interest in the hobby since trains and locomotives all look alike carrying a similar carbody appearance, livery, and even the same cars (i.e., unit trains of coal or intermodal).  In any event, the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) October, 2014 report entitled, "Summary Of Class II and Class III Railroad Capital Needs And Funding Sources" states that regionals currently operate 10,335 route miles, carrying a workforce of 5,507 employees, and boast total annual revenues of $1.4 billion.

Alaska Railroad, Serving Its Home State Since The Early 1900s 

Buffalo & Pittsburgh, The Historic BR&P 

Central Oregon & Pacific, Utilizing The Former Southern Pacific 

Florida East Coast, "Speedway To Sunshine" 

Indiana Rail Road, Running Former Illinois Central Gulf Lines 

Iowa Interstate, Keeping Alive The Old Rock Island 

Montana Rail Link, Running The Old Northern Pacific 

New York, Susquehanna & Western, In Service Since The 1880s 

Paducah & Louisville, Running More Of The Ex-Illinois Central Gulf 

Pan Am Railways, Remnants Of The Maine Central And Boston & Maine

Providence & Worcester, With Roots Tracing To 1844 

Reading & Northern, In Anthracite Country 

Wheeling & Lake Erie, Since The 19th Century 

Wisconsin & Southern, Preserving Former Milwaukee Road And C&NW Lines 

Canadian Lines

Ontario Northland Railway 

Defunct Roads

Indiana Hi-Rail Corporation 

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway 

Some of the most notable Class IIs include the famous Florida East Coast Railway (FEC), a company which has been in continuous operation since the late 19th century and a former Class I before more recent changes bumped it to Class II status and the New York Susquehanna & Western (NYS&W or the "Susie-Q" for short), which has also been operating since 1881. The more recent operations to spring up over the past few decades include the Paducah & Louisville Railway (formed in 1986 in western Kentucky from former Illinois Central lines); the "new" Wheeling and Lake Erie (W&LE); Central Maine & Quebec Railway (which took over the bankrupt Montreal, Maine & Atlantic in 2014, a system that had acquired much of the historic Bangor & Aroostook property that had went under in 2003); Montana Rail Link (MLR); and the Wisconsin & Southern (this railroad has a great story as it has kept alive hundreds of miles of former Milwaukee Road, Illinois Central, and Chicago & North Western trackage in its native state that would have otherwise been abandoned and continually gains new business in its ever-growing area of operation). 

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. 

Related Reading You May Enjoy

Share Your Thoughts

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below. Please note that while I strive to present the information as accurately as possible I am aware that there may be errors. If you have potential corrections the help is greatly appreciated.

Top Of Page

› Class II Railroads