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Iowa Short Line Railroads

Published: May 13, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Burlington Junction Railway

(reporting mark, BJRY):  This small terminal-like railroad operates four, very short disconnected lines in Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois. 

It began operations in 1985 and its traffic currently consists of agriculture products, chemicals, and fertilizer handling about 3,000 carloads annually.  To railfans the railroad is well-known for operating a set of rare Alco C415 switchers (#701-702), few of which were ever built and even fewer that remain operational.

Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railway

(reporting mark, CIC):  This road has a long, interesting history.  It began as an interurban on August 13, 1904 when operations first began between its namesake cities, a distance of 27 miles. 

The road also began a branch to Davenport that reached as far as Lisbon (17 miles) before rising costs halted construction.  This extension was abandoned in 1928. 

What also became known as the "The CRANDIC Route" became a successful freight line and discontinued all passenger service in 1953. 

Today, it operates 60 miles thanks to its acquisition of the former Milwaukee Road between Cedar Rapids and Homestead as well as the former Rock Island between Iowa City and Hills.  Today, the Crandic handles more than 90,000 carloads annually.

Davenport Industrial Railroad

(reporting mark, DIR):  This short line, began operations on January 1, 2020, maintains 2.8 miles to serve the city of Davenport's Davenport Transload Facility. It connects with the Dakota, Minnesota, & Eastern/Canadian Pacific in Davenport.

D&I Railroad

(reporting mark, DAIR):  Also known as the Dakota & Iowa Railroad this system is owned by L.G. Everist, Inc.  The short line operates between Sioux City, Iowa and Dell Rapids, South Dakota with a branch to Beresford, South Dakota via Hawarden, Iowa. 

The property was all former Milwaukee Road trackage acquired by both states in 1981 to preserve rail service.  The D&I operates a total of 138 miles and handles aggregate, distillers grain, ethanol, agriculture, cement, fertilizer, and other general freight.

Iowa Interstate Railroad

(reporting mark, IAIS):  This now successful, Class II regional started out in 1982 as the Iowa Railroad when this little shortline purchased 375 miles of the Rock Island's former Chicago-Council Bluffs main line between the latter city and Bureau, Illinois. 

Two years later in 1984 the nearly-abandoned property was purchased by the Heartland Rail Corporation, renaming it as the Iowa Interstate Railroad.  It was nearly abandoned again but prospered under new management in 1990. 

What started out handling only a few thousand carloads annually has turned into a profitable company that now boasts more than 110,000 carloads of freight each year.  It currently operates from Chicago (via trackage rights over CSX) to Omaha with a branch to Peoria and even features new power in the form of ES44AC road-switchers.

Iowa Northern Railway

(reporting mark, IANR):  The Iowa Northern has been in service since 1984 and operates the former Rock Island between Manly and Cedar Rapids, 163 miles. 

Since then the road has acquired the former Chicago Great Western between Cedar Falls and Oelwein as well as a disconnected branch between Forest City and Belmond.  The privately owned company's traffic base includes agriculture, chemicals, bio-fuel commodities, food products, and truck parts.

Iowa Southern Railway

(reporting mark, ISRY):  Formerly known as the Appanoose County Community Railroad prior to 2016, this short line originally began service in 1983 and currently operates 35 miles between Centerville and Albia.

It utilizes components of the former Wabash/Norfolk & Western (Albia-south of Odell), a short segment of the former Rock Island from south of Odell to south of Centerville, and finally a former component of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy/Burlington Northern into Centerville.

The road has interchanges with the Canadian Pacific at Moravia and the BNSF Railway north of Albia.  Traffic is primarily agriculture.

Iowa Traction Railway

(reporting mark, IATR): The last interurban in the country which still serves freight customers, the Iowa Traction dates back to the late 19th century known originally as the Mason City & Clear Lake Railway.

Today the railroad continues to operate the original route between Emery and Clear Lake Junction, just 10.4 miles. It is now a Progressive Rail subsidiary and handles a variety of freight including scrap metal, fertilizers, wood products, ethanol and frozen food products.

Keokuk Junction Railway

(reporting mark, KJRY):  This short line has its beginnings in 1980 when it acquired roughly 4 miles of the Rock Island's former yard in Keokuk, Iowa to provide switching and terminal services. 

Since then it has steadily grown into a 126 mile system between Peoria, Illinois and Keokuk, Iowa as well as between LaHarpe and Lomax, Illinois (this trackage is primarily ex-Toledo, Peoria & Western/Santa Fe). 

The system also has trackage rights to Fort Madison, Iowa where interchanges with UP.   In 1996 it was acquired by Pioneer Railcorp and its traffic base includes corn, corn germ, corn syrup, meal, gluten feed, and railroad wheels.


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