Short Line Rail: Its Role in Intermodalism and Distribution

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CAIT project no.: RAIL-RU4474

Fiscal Year: 2008/2009

Status: Final

Rutgers-CAIT Author(s): Maria Boilé

External Author(s): John F. Betak, Collaborative Solutions, LLC (CAIT Fellow)


The purpose of this project is to investigate the potential role of short line railroads in the U.S. to perform intermodal terminal operations and distribute/pick-up containers/trailers in metropolitan areas. Included in this project is an investigation of the potential for short line railroads to serve industrial parks and/or freight villages. This research report reviews the literature on short line operations in the U.S., their current role in originating and distributing rail freight traffic and their capacity to take on intermodal terminal operations and functions. Further, we examine transload/transflow operations vis-à-vis short line railroads, as well as the viability of industrial park/freight villages as short line served entities.

The research included discussions with knowledgeable officials at The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, FHWA, and existing short line operators regarding their current situation, plans, and constraints. In addition, discussions were held with senior officials in Class I railroads, senior members of industrial real estate organizations, academics and senior consultants in the transportation industry. These comments, suggestions and recommendations have been incorporated in this report, as noted in the body of the report and citations.

In addition, the report frames some options available to enhance these types of operations on short line railroads. It identifies potential candidate short line railroads for pilot projects to test these options. Finally, beyond this report, the research culminates in proposals for funding the pilot projects by external agencies.