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Michigan Short Line Railroads


Published: April 24, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Adrian & Blissfield Group

Adrian & Blissfield Rail Road (reporting mark, ADBF)/Charlotte Southern Railroad (reporting mark, CHS)/Detroit Connecting Railroad (reporting mark, DCON): The A&B, Charlotte Southern, and Detroit Connecting are all under common ownership operating five disconnected lines in Michigan:

  • 20 miles between Riga and Adrian
  • 3.5-mile spur east of Charlotte to serve a farm Co-Op (Charlotte Southern)
  • 2.5-mile spur providing switching/terminal service in Detroit’s Eastern Market and Milwaukee Junction districts (Detroit Connecting)
  • 47-mile line between Jackson and Lansing
  • 1.5-mile segment in Lapeer to serve local customers

Ann Arbor Railroad

(reporting mark, AA):  The history of Ann Arbor traces back to 1895 when it was born through the reorganization of predecessor systems operating between Toledo, Ohio and Frankfort, Michigan.  The road long struggled to remain profitable.  

In 1974 it entered bankruptcy and the property was soon purchased by the state to preserve rail service.  The present-day Ann Arbor, a corporate entity since 1988, has been a part of Watco since 2013.

It operates the original "Annie" between Toledo and Ann Arbor, about 50 miles and traffic consists of flour, sugar, grain, plastics, sand, cement, recyclables, paper, lumber, and petroleum.

Central Michigan Railroad

(reporting mark, CMGN) (Defunct):  This short line operated former New York Central and Grand Trunk Western between Durand and Bay City with segments reaching Owosso and Midland.  Since 2004 it has been a component of Huron & Eastern Railway, a Genesee & Wyoming property.

Delray Connecting Railroad

(reporting mark, DC):  This historic short line has been in service since 1904 serving Michigan's Zug Island.  The road, a division of Transtar/U.S. Steel operates about 15 miles of track and handles more than 35,000 carloads annually.  Its primary customer is the Great Lakes Works steel mill.

Escanaba & Lake Superior Railroad

(reporting mark, ELS):  The historic, privately-owned E&LS was born in November of 1898 serving timber interests in the Upper Peninsula.  In time, ore also became an important source of freight and it grew into a 65-mile system. 

Today, the road operates more than 300 miles of property, including trackage rights, as it has acquired former sections of the Soo Line and Milwaukee Road.  Its freight is highly diversified.

Grand Elk Railroad

(reporting mark, GDLK): The Grand Elk Railroad is a Watco short line and has been in operation only since 2009. A large short line, it operates 151 miles from NS between Grand Rapids, Michigan and Elkhart, Indiana (formerly owned by the NYC).  Today, the line transports automotive parts, plastics, metals, forest products, agricultural products and aggregates.

Grand Rapids Eastern Railroad

(reporting mark, GR): The Grand Rapids Eastern Railroad is a G&W short line operating 20 miles between Grand Rapids and Lowell.  The road began service in 1993 and was acquired by RA in 2000.  Today, it handles primarily wheat, sodium carbonate, and lumber.

Great Lakes Central Railroad

(reporting mark, GLC):  This short line has been in service since 2006, taking over the property formerly owned by the Tuscola & Saginaw Bay Railway.  The trackage is the northern section of the original Ann Arbor between Ann Arbor and Yuma. 

The rest of the system comprises sections of the former New York Central and Chesapeake & Ohio/Pere Marquette.  The entire Great Lakes Central totals roughly 400 miles.

Huron & Eastern Railway

(reporting mark, HESR):  This system began service in 1986 over former C&O/PM trackage near Bay City.  Since then it has also acquired former NYC/Michigan Central lines and totals today 384 miles of sprawling trackage south and east of Bay City and Saginaw. 

The road is currently owned by Genesee & Wyoming handling more than 34,000 carloads annually that includes beet pulp, beans, hazardous materials, shelled corn, fly ash, hydraulic cement, pulp-board, and soybeans.

Indiana & Ohio Railway

(reporting mark, IORY):  This short line has been in service since 1985 when it acquired a former NYC branch between Valley Junction, Ohio and Brookville, Indiana.  

In the succeeding years the I&O picked up several more routes being shed by Class Is with histories tracing back to the PRR, Baltimore & Ohio, and Chesapeake & Ohio that stretched as far as Dundee, Michigan.  

For many years it was owned by RailAmerica whose assets were acquired by G&W in 2012.  Today, the I&O operates about 570 miles and hauls metal products, chemicals, plastics, lumber, paper, agricultural products, and distillers grains.

Indiana Northeastern Railroad

(reporting mark, IN):  This short line traces its history back to the Pigeon River Railroad of 1992.  Today, the company has blossomed into a 120-mile system serving northeastern Indiana, southern Michigan, and northwestern Ohio much of which dates back to NYC heritage.  The road's traffic base consist of coal, agriculture, sand, glass, steel, and other freight.

Lake States Railway

(reporting mark, LSRC):  The Lake States began service in 1992 operating the former Detroit & Mackinac and Michigan Central/NYC lines in northern Michigan. 

Its trackage runs from Mt. Morris to Alpena as well as between Pinconning and Gaylord; there is also a short branch to Midland via Saginaw. 

In all the railroad operates about 300 miles of trackage.  Its traffic is highly diversified including aggregates, agricultural products, building materials, cement, chemicals, cement, fertilizer, machinery, metals, petroleum products, plastics, and transportation equipment.

Lake Superior & Ishpeming Railroad

(reporting mark, LSI): This historic short line traces its roots back to 1892 hauling iron ore in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. 

By the 1920s it had expanded into a 200+ mile system of total trackage serving Big Bay, Ishpeming, and Munising.  Today, it utilizes just 16 miles running from the Empire-Tilden Mine to Ishpeming.  Ore still remains its primary freight traffic.

Lapeer Industrial Railroad

(reporting mark, LIRR): This very small industrial railroad operates just 1.5 miles of track performing switching duties near the town of Lapeer for local industries.  It is owned by the same company which operates the Adrian & Blissfield.

Marquette Rail

(reporting mark, MQT):  This system is a G&W property, operating 126 miles of former PM/C&O trackage between Grand Rapids and Ludington/Manistee.  It has been in service since 2005 with freight consisting of chemicals, paperboard, grain, salt, and petroleum products among other traffic.

Michigan Shore Railroad

(reporting mark, MS):   This road has been in operation since 1990 utilizing 52 miles of former PM/C&O trackage between Fremont and Pigeon Lake via Grand Haven.  It was originally independent but was acquired by RA in 2000, whose assets were purchased by G&W in 2012.  The short line currently hauls primarily sand and chemicals.

Michigan Southern Railroad

(reporting mark, MSO):  This short line is owned by Pioneer Railcorp operating about 17 miles of track between White Pigeon and Sturgis.  The road began service in 1989 and utilizes former LS&MS/NYC trackage.  Its current traffic base includes scrap, scrap paper, pulpboard, frac sand, coal, lumber, and soybean oils.

Mid-Michigan Railroad

(reporting mark, MMRR):  This G&W property first entered service in 1987 as a RailTex subsidiary, which was acquired by RA in 2000 until it too was purchased in 2012.  The short line currently operates about 32 miles between Alma and Saginaw handling primarily agricultural products.