How does a “Short Line” railroad work?

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Curious about who owns and maintains the equipment and how the track is interfaced with the major rails.

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2 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

short line rails have many different owners; and its up to them to maintain the line. They charge others to use their lines or run their own rail service

short line rails are capable to connect to any class 1 railroad with the appropriate agreements in place…….the only difference is who owns the section of line, same standards in construction

consider short line rail local highways or “last 3 miles” of railways; and clas I are the interstates

Anonymous 0 Comments

Usually the shortline railroad is owned by the industry it service. Typically it is a separate LLC and can therefore be owned by multiple companies, but most have only one owner. They own the track and often the entire right of way. For shunting locomotives and various railway cars these can be owned by the railway company themselves, but often are leased. Every piece of rolling stock have a reporting mark, the letters say which company it belongs to. Leasing companies and lending companies have reporting marks ending in X while railroads have normal reporting marks.

Because shortline operations do not need as much staff and equipment they tend to contract out a lot of maintenance tasks. They might have inspection vehicles and maybe a tamper themselves. And they can do some manual maintenance without any machines. You can change a rail by hand but it is going to take some time so you can probably not change ten sticks of rail. There are railway maintenance contractors with the right equipment and people to work on these railroads. Even the maintenance crew of major railways like CSX and Amtrak is available for hire to shortlines. The maintenance of rolling stock is similar. You can tow the equipment to a maintenance facility and pay them to do it, or you can do smaller tasks yourself. There are a lot of interchangeable parts on locomotives and train cars so often it is just a matter of swapping out parts and send them to somewhere to get fixed.

The interchange between shortline railroads and major railroads can be done in different ways. They would go ahead and establish who is responsible for exactly which part of the physical interchange. So who is responsible for paying for the switch, who pay for the signalling equipment, who actually owns the right of way, and so forth. Each railroad is responsible for their own signalling system which means that a train needs to talk to two different controllers in order to go through an interchange. As for the operations this depends. The old style of interchange, which would still be the “standard” according to the codes, is to have a siding where the shortline can park their cars for interchange. The other railroad can then pick up these cars from the siding and drop off cars going to the shortline. The more modern way to operate is to have a single train go between the industry and a major shunting yard. There is no need for two locomotives, coupling, shuting or even the siding at the intercharge. The train will just go straight through after getting permission from both controllers.

All the codes regulating this, how well the tracks should be maintained, to what standard, how the signals work, how cars and locomotives are maintained, the rates for transporting cars, using track, how interchanges work, etc. is all set by the Association of American Railroads (AAR). I do also recommend the youtube channel “CCRX 6700” which shows the day to day operations at a shortline railroad, although without any interchanges.