Railway Age has two honorable mentions for our awards as Short Line and Regional Railroads of the Year 2021: Grenada Railroad (GRYR), nominated by President and CEO Barbara Wilson (one of our Women in Rail judges); and the multi-customer nominated Belpre Industrial Parkersburg Railroad (BIPR). Here are their stories as submitted to Railway Age.
In November 2011, the Grenada Railway was completely abandoned. This Class III, once part of the longest railroad in the world, should be forgotten. It would take a tremendous effort from members of the community to change the fortunes of the railroad. Now known as the Grenada Railroad (GRYR), the route has been revitalized with public and private investment and is once again a cornerstone of Mississippi’s economy.
Turning the clock back to 1851, then prairie attorney Abraham Lincoln is in Springfield, Illinois, working to build the Illinois Central Railroad (IC). In the late 1840s, the federal government approved a land grant to build a railroad line connecting Mississippi with Chicago; but that decision was not unanimous, and Lincoln would have to defend the railroad from legal and political opposition. IC was finally completed in 1856. At that time IC was the longest railway in the world. It would fuel the growth of the Midwestern economy and enable quick travel to and from emerging cities in the United States
IC was sold to CN in 1998. In 2009, CN sold a 200-mile segment of the route connecting Southaven to Canton, Miss., To A&K Materials, creating the short-haul Grenada Railway. Fast forward to 2011: Following news of a to-do list, a coalition of community members, business developers, and local lawmakers led by Grenada business developer Pablo Diaz, former railroad worker Larry Hart, and local attorney Walter Brown formed the North Central Mississippi Regional Railroad Authority (NCMRRA). In 2015, the NCMRRA received government funding for the purchase of the Grenada Railway. NCMRRA selected Iowa Pacific Holdings (IPH) as its operating partner, but IPH did not have the capital to adequately invest in track and bridge repairs.
In mid-2018, RailUSA acquired Grenada Railway from IPH and put the route into operation as the Grenada Railroad. RailUSA began unlocking value in the line through the use of management and capital. The business goals were clear: to improve service frequency and reliability by upgrading all 200 miles of track to Class II and 286,000 pounds of GRL capacity. The first project was to reopen an abandoned 81 mile and CN intersection in Canton. RailUSA has committed the appropriate funds for a FRA FASTLANE grant to GRYR for this project. Work began at the end of 2018, and the cantonal cross at the southern end was reopened in December 2019, so that traffic can flow along the entire route.
Agridyne started rail transport again, and long-time customer Hankins’ Lumber built a second sawmill on the south end to expand the business in 2021. GRYR received a FRA CRISI grant of US $ 6.2 million in 2020 to repair 90 miles of track and 36 bridges on the northern section of the Grenada to Southhaven route. RailUSA provided the appropriate funds for the project. This work is expected to be completed in mid-2022, and for the first time since the introduction of a short route, the entire railway will be able to handle 286 GRL traffic. As a result of these modernizations, Biewer Lumber is investing $ 130 million to build a new sawmill in Winona, creating 150 new jobs in rural Mississippi, and adding more than 1,000 additional freight cars to GRYR annually. Since RailUSA took over the route in August 2018, freight traffic has doubled, numerous shippers such as Hankins and Biewer have invested, and the economy in north-central Mississippi has benefited from new jobs and economic incentives from the rebirth of GRYR. The short line now exchanges more than 11,000 truckloads per year and is actively working to get more customers online.
BELPRE INDUSTRIE PARKERSBURG RAILWAY
Several customers have submitted nominations for this 48-mile Class III, whose motto is “Proudly Serving the Ohio River Metals, Plastics and Petrochemicals Corridor”. BIPR moves with CSX in Parkersburg, W.Va. Here is a selection of nominations:
Jesse C. Roush, Executive Director of the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority: “BIPR took over operations for the CSX lines in Washington County, Ohio and Wood County, W.Va. earlier last year. Since then, they have increased traffic for their major customers by more than 50%, made significant and much-needed line upgrades and expansions, and all without a single reportable breach.
Casey Cathcart, Chairman and CEO of BIPR, was actively advising local development groups to explore growth opportunities in the region prior to the conclusion of the agreement with CSX. Due to Casey’s proactive development approach, our organization was able to work with BIPR to acquire the largest industrial wasteland in our county, a 165-acre portion of the former American Electric Power Muskingum River Plant in Beverly, Ohio. Without the partnership with BIPR, we would never have been able to complete the acquisition, arguably the most important real estate transaction that we have carried out in our history as the leading development agency for the district.
“I’ve spoken to most of the executives in our large industrial manufacturing groups – all rail users – and everyone is quick to praise BIPR for its exceptional customer service. One company was able to recruit 200 full-time employees due to the increase in rail transport through the BIPR. BIRP saved them money and offered operational advantages due to changes in the quality of the services provided. It’s hard to imagine a bigger turnaround than the one that brought GDPR to the former CSX lines in our county. BIPR’s presence in Washington County was the biggest positive development since many of our anchor industrial facilities were built in the late 1960s. “
Todd M. Atkinson, DuPont: “BIPR has brought the rust belt of East Ohio and West West Virginia back to life on former CSX (B&O) lines. From day one, Deutsche Bahn was customer-oriented and offers excellent customer service tailored to individual needs with a high level of reliability. The BIPR was also secure in serving its customers. The railway worked injury-free from day one.
“In the first year, BIPR increased traffic for its main customers by 50%. The railroad has made many upgrades to its physical facility. This ensures better customer service and security for the future. BIPR has also worked with local business development groups to help boost business and the local economy. “
Casey Cathcart says that “BIPR has not had any reportable violations since it started operations, and in the first 12 months total revenue movements have increased 84% from the previous three-year average. BIPR has switched several inland and truck movements to rail for existing customers (coal, residual fuel, asphalt); initiated new product movements for existing customers (ferro alloys, carbon, plastics); added three new Storage-in-Transit (SIT) customers supporting the regional industry; and invested more than $ 2 million in equipment, rail renewals and upgrades, and new sidings.
“BIPR upgraded 21 miles from Excepted Track to FRA Class 2, built a 3,500 foot siding, installed more than 3,000 sleepers, and built a 3,600 foot fence around its main yard to protect the public. The railroad company worked with the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority on a joint venture to acquire 165 acre rail-ready wasteland for redevelopment. The former coal-fired power station will now house a new methanol production facility and possibly a clean fuel production facility; additional space for storage and other industrial development is available. Thanks to the reliable and consistent service of BIPR, a local customer was able to take on almost 200 employees on leave and increase production. “