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Missouri Short Line Railroads

Published: April 28, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Missouri's current short line network is largely comprised of modern day companies formed since the 1980s as large, Class 1 railroads sold off excess trackage.  There are a few exceptions, including the Manufacturers Railway and Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis.

Missouri has a rich history when it comes to railroads. Since the first railroad track was laid in 1852, railroads have played an integral role in the state's economy and transportation system.

The first was the Pacific Railroad, chartered in 1849 with intentions of connecting St. Louis with a transcontinental route to the Pacific coast. Such grand aspirations never occurred although the system did open its first 5 miles between St. Louis and Cheltenham in 1852.

The railroad's corporate history is far too complicated to discuss in detail here but it was eventually acquired by the Missouri Pacific.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Missouri saw a boom in railroad construction as new companies entered the state. The Santa Fe, Missouri-Kansas-Texas, Frisco, Chicago & Alton, and Wabash were just a few of the companies that built extensive networks of track throughout Missouri.

Railroads played a vital role in the state's agriculture and manufacturing industries. The railroads provided a means of transporting goods from farms and factories to markets across the country. By the turn of the 20th century, trains had become the primary mode of transportation for both passengers and freight in Missouri.

The 20th century saw significant changes in the railroad industry in Missouri. By the 1920s and 1930s, many of the smaller companies created in the 19th century had merged into the classic systems previously mentioned. The Great Depression and World War II had a significant impact on the industry, leading to reduced passenger traffic and increased competition from automobiles and trucks.

Despite these challenges, railroads continued to play a vital role in Missouri's economy throughout the 20th century. The state saw the introduction of new technologies, including diesel locomotives and computerized systems for tracking trains and freight. Railroads also played a crucial role in the transportation of goods during times of crisis, including natural disasters and wartime.

Today, Missouri remains an important hub for railroads in the United States. The state is home to major rail yards and intermodal facilities, where freight is transferred between trains and trucks for transportation across the country. Railroads continue to play a critical role in Missouri's transportation system and economy, connecting the state's communities with markets and businesses across the country.

xnqqwier6506529.jpgA pair of the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis's (TRRA) GP38-3's are seen here in the St. Louis area wearing the road's latest livery. Warren Calloway photo.

Alton & Southern Railway

(reporting mark, ALS)See Illinois.

Arkansas & Missouri Railroad

(reporting mark, AM):   See Arkansas.

Bi-State Development Agency Railroad

(reporting mark, BSDA): This small terminal railroad operates just 2 miles of track in St. Louis with a connection to the Union Pacific.  The system is owned by the city, which acquired the property from NS on June 17, 1989. It is contracted out to Respondek which switches Amoco Additives Division and the former Shell Oil facility, now known as Equillion.

Burlington Junction Railway

(reporting mark, BJRY)See Illinois.

Columbia Terminal Railroad

(reporting mark, COLT): The "COLT", as it is also known, operates between Columbia and Centralia connecting with Norfolk Southern in the latter city.  The property, former Wabash trackage, was acquired from the Class I by the city of Columbia during early October of 1987.  It currently handles more than 1,500 carloads annually.

Kansas City Terminal Railway

(reporting mark, KCT): This terminal railroad, which has been in operation since 1906 serves the city of Kansas City providing switching service for the larger railroads which operate through the area.

Kaw River Railroad

(reporting mark, KAW):  Another Watco shortline, the Kaw River Railroad operates 27 miles of disconnected track in Missouri near Kansas City.  

The first 12 miles between Birmingham and Kearney went into service in 2004 while in 2007 an additional 15 miles of industrial track for switching nearby Bedford Yard was also added to the system.  The road handles about 15,000 carloads annually.

Manufacturers Railway

(reporting mark, MRS): This historic railroad was owned by the Anheuser-Busch brewing company and has operated since 1887.  In 2011 the railroad was sold to Foster Townsend Rail Logistics (reporting mark, FTRL) which continues to provide switching and terminal service to the brewery as well as other industries in South St. Louis.  It interchanges with the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA) and the Alton & Southern.

Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad

(reporting mark, MNA)See Arkansas.

Missouri North Central Railroad

(reporting mark, MNCR):  This short line is owned by the city of Chillicothe, Missouri and has been in service since 2004.  It operates about 8 miles of the old Wabash east and west of the city.   Rail operations are provided via Motive Rail, Inc. while interchange is provided with Canadian Pacific (ex-Milwaukee Road/Soo Line).

Missouri Eastern Railroad

(reporting mark, MER):  Formerly the Central Midland Railway, a division of Progressive Rail, the property was acquired by Jaguar Transport Holdings in November, 2021.    The railroad maintains a segment of the Rock Island's former St. Louis - Kansas City main line. 

The route totals 255 miles between Vigus and Pleasant Hill, Missouri but only 42 miles between Vigus and Union is currently in service. 

Ozark Valley Railroad

(reporting mark, OVRR): This short line operates about 27 miles of trackage between Mexico and Fulton, acquired from Kansas City Southern.  It is privately owned by Mike Williams and serves an industrial park near Mexico.

SEMO Port Railroad

(reporting mark, SE): This terminal railroad serves the Semo Port located near Scott City, Missouri with connections to Class Is Union Pacific and BNSF Railway.

It is former Missouri Pacific property acquired by the Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority on October 28, 1994 from Union Pacific.  Its traffic consists of grain, cement, plastics, agricultural products, chemicals, and some hazard waste.

South Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad

(reporting mark, SKOL): See Kansas.

Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis

(reporting mark, TRRA):  This historic terminal road has served the area around St. Louis since it was created in 1889 to provide switching services for the major railroads serving St. Louis Union Station.  

Today, it handles only freight service and remains under Class I ownership including BNSF Railway, Union Pacific, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern, and Canadian National.

West Belt Railway

(reporting mark, WBRW): This short line is a division of Patriot Rail and formerly a component of the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis.  It operates 9.6 miles of terminal trackage in St. Louis and interchanges with TRRA.

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