Class II railroads, commonly known as regionals, are currently classified as having an operating revenue of anything greater than $20.5 million but less than $277.7 million, as stated by the Association of American Railroads (AAR). As with Class Is, the operating revenue which classifies Class IIs 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 sixteen Class II railroads in services, some of which are independently owned (like the Iowa Interstate) and others which are part of either large corporations (such as Watco) or state agencies (which include the Alaska Railroad and Long Island Railroad). Interestingly, regionals today are far different from years ago in that they can easily be confused with Class Is in terms of the high level of maintenance given to right-of-ways and new locomotives.
While regionals are not nearly as large as Class Is they do offer more uniqueness since they typically operate only within a particular region, and to some extent because of this (if they are large enough such as with the Iowa Interstate, Wisconsin & Southern, and Wheeling & Lake Erie) they also, for the railfan, sometimes even have a feel of the classic fallen flags as they offer both well-equipped main lines for faster freights as well as local switching operations. From the railfan perspective regionals also offer much more variety, especially if one is tired of looking only at the Class I trains.
Some of the most notable regionals 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 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. Newer regional operations include the Paducah & Louisville Railway (formed in 1986 in western Kentucky from former Illinois Central lines); the "new" Wheeling and Lake Erie (W&LE); Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (which took over the former Bangor & Aroostook properties in 2003); Montana Rail Link (MLR); and the Wisconsin and Southern (this railroad has a great story as it has kept alive hundreds of miles of track 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 IIs through purchases. The Wisconsin Central, a name that dates back to the 19th century was reborn in the 1980s as a large regional operating former Milwaukee Road lines in 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 regionals in recent years including the Elgin Joliet & Eastern, Dakota Minnesota & Eastern, and Iowa Chicago & Eastern.
One other note regarding Class IIs, which also includes Class IIIs (shortlines); while not always the case, these railroads are usually much more open to railfans and anyone interested in seeing how railroads work. 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 being able to freely roam 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 regionals currently in operation today, categorized by the geographic area of the country in which they operated (i.e. north, south, east, or west). Also included within this list are notable defunct regional 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 regional, 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.