That’s shortline, not shoreline. It’s a term used to describe very small railroads.
I first became aware of shortlines a couple of years ago when we took a brief trip to Vermont during early Autumn. One of our activities included an excursion along the western bank of the Connecticut River on the White River Flyer, a vintage train belonging to the Green Mountain Railroad.
My Brief Green Mountain Railroad Video
I didn’t discover that the railroad was an independent entity with only about 50 miles of track (all within Vermont) until I began writing an article on my travel site. My second encounter occurred as I researched a 12MC article on Railroad Ferries. I learned about the Bay Coast Railroad with 96 miles of track on the Delmarva Peninsula, running from Pocomoke City, Maryland to the southern tip of Virginia Eastern Shore and then via ferry to Norfolk.
Until then I’d though that maybe there were only a handful of railroads and that they were all large. That misconception couldn’t have been more completely wrong. American-Rails.com explained that shortlines "by far make up the bulk of railroads in the country today, totaling some 500."
The U.S. Government tags shortlines with a more bureaucratic name — Class III railroads. Those are defined as "Carriers having annual carrier operating revenues of $20 million or less after applying the railroad revenue deflator formula" and feel free to examine the deflator formula on your own if that thought excites you. Thus, in the eyes of the government, shortlines aren’t measured by miles of track but by piles of money. The Class III category contains an array of railroad types. The longer ones might serve to connect a few towns to the larger railroad network, like the Green Mountain Railroad excursion I experienced. Others are more specialized terminal or switching railroads, connecting rail to other modes of transportation or moving cars within the confines of a rail yard.
I wondered what might be the shortest existing railroad and quickly concluded that it’s difficult to say. Trainweb provided a great list of very short railroads, with each line ten miles or shorter. I got lost on that page for awhile, amazed at the vast array of micro-railroads catalogued there. The following instances were amongst the shortest mentioned.
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The Kendallville Terminal Railway Co operates 1.1 miles of track, transporting sugar and other cooking materials for the Kraft Foods marshmallow and caramel manufacturing plant. Sweet! The Kendallville railway also connects to the much larger Norfolk Southern Railroad, and offers facilities for railcar storage.
Google’s satellite view shows a few of those railcars in storage.
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Michigan is home to the Lapeer Industrial Railroad. It owns about 1.3 miles of track although it leases an additional 0.9 miles-or-so from the Grand Trunk / Canadian National railway, which also offers it an interchange to the rest of the railroad world. Clients include a local grain elevator which provides seasonal business and a furniture factory that receives bulk plastic pellets year-round.
The tracks crossing the road in this Street View image belong to the Lapeer Industrial Railroad. Notice the railcar in the distance and the warehouse on the right.
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I found a nice article about the Effingham Railroad on the Trains website. It mentioned that "Effingham is ideally suited as a regional distribution hub, being intersected by north-south and east-west Interstate highways and railroads, the railroads being heavy-duty mainlines of Canadian National (ex-Illinois Central) and CSX (ex-Conrail)."
The Effingham Railroad has an owner, two employees and a single locomotive delivering railcars to the Hodgson Mill (a manufacturer of flour, bread and breakfast cereal), and a couple of warehouses. Effingham Railroad started with 400 feet of track and has since expanded to a much larger 2 miles. Their sole locomotive can be observed in the Google Satellite image next to a loading dock at Hodgson Mill. Flickr also has a nice image although it didn’t have a Creative Commons license so you’ll need to see it on your own.
The 500+ Class III railroads fill a vital need. They provide an economic lifeline to small towns and rural manufacturers. Larger railroads wouldn’t be able to operate in many of those locations profitably or their rates would be exorbitant, which is why they’ve abandoned a lot of track now used by Class III providers. The shortlines prove that it doesn’t take an extensive network or lots of equipment to provide a vital service at a reasonable rate, and still make a living.
I noticed an anomaly when I researched Kansas Mountain Time for an article last January. Very little of Kansas remains in Mountain Time anymore and I suspect the entire state will flip eventually to Central Time. That hasn’t happened yet and the anomaly will remain in place until that occurs.
View Mountain Time in Kansas in a larger map
Notice the far northwestern corner of Kansas, just north of the Mountain Time counties. That’s Cheyenne County. Cheyenne switched to Central Time in approximately 1955 according to the Statoids website. Meanwhile, western Nebraska observes Mountain Time as does all of Colorado. That created a situation where Cheyenne County is surrounded by its neighboring time zone on three sides. Drive east from Cheyenne and one will remain in Central Time. Drive north, south or west, and one will enter Mountain Time upon passing the county border.
This can be observed more clearly in the image I created in the National Atlas of the United States’ Map Maker, one of the few online resources that allows one to create a map with time zones and county borders. I considered whether this might be an unusual situation, a rare instance of time zone herniation with a county completely protruding into its neighbors, or whether it was entirely more common. I went through the time/county overlay in Map Maker and found only one other example, well, four-fifths of an example actually. Cheyenne County is either unique or nearly unique, with a different time zone found completely on three sides.
The kind-of, maybe, sorta instance
This is Malheur County, Oregon. I’ve mentioned Malheur before. It’s the corner of Oregon in Mountain Time that allows the trick question about an Atlantic state and a Pacific state only one hour apart (and on the same time for a single hour each year when the clocks are turned back in autumn). However, look closely, and it’s apparently that a small portion of Malheur’s southern end observes Pacific Time like the rest of Oregon.
The separation is defined by Title 49, Section 71.9 of the US Code of Federal Regulations:
Most of Malheur observes Mountain Time because it’s so far removed from Oregon’s cities that it’s more aligned economically with places in Idaho. That doesn’t explain the lower one-fifth, though. I looked a little closer.
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Actually the southern portion accommodates residents of McDermitt, a town split by two states. The majority of McDermitt falls on the Nevada side of the border, on the left side of the Street View image. Nevada follows Pacific Time. Thus it makes sense for this small corner of Malheur to follow Pacific Time too. It makes even more sense when one considers that 75% of the population is associated with the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe.
Do we count Malheur as a second example in spite of it’s split personality, or do we consider Cheyenne a truly unique occurrence?
Random Unrelated Item
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This nondescript grass path in a generic housing development leads to the Historic Tucker Family Cemetery, which is the oldest African American cemetery in the former English colonies of North America. It dates back to the arrival of slavery in the Jamestown colony in 1619. The Hampton Rhodes (Virginia) Daily Press described how it was long neglected and focused on recent restoration efforts. It’s shocking how a place of such historic significance could have fallen into such disrepair for the past half-century. History lurks everywhere. Even in the suburbs.
I wrote about Abandoned Canals in Canada several months ago. That prompted 12MC reader Bill Harris to comment on an unusual re-purposing of an abandoned canal across the border in the United States. He noted that a portion of the Erie Canal that originally flowed through downtown Rochester, NY (part of my ancestors’ journey) was abandoned due to rerouting. It was subsequently drained, covered, and transformed into a tunnel for a light rail system. I thought it was a great comment, I conducted additional research and… somehow I forgot about it. Recently I came across my original notes so I’m posting what I intended to write last September.
Rochester, New York
Flickr by Patrick Haney via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)
The Rochester Subway website provided a summary:
The covered-over canal became a subway tunnel and the surface above it became Broad Street (map). The subway wasn’t very successful although it somehow managed to sputter along until the mid 1950′s. The portion of Interstate 490 east of Rochester’s Inner Loop replaced much of the former canal and subway
Sections of tunnel still exist inside the city’s central core although largely hidden from sight. It pokes into view very briefly at the Broad Street Bridge which was designed originally as the Second Genesee Aqueduct of the Erie Canal, carrying the canal across the Genesee River. From street-level it seems to be just another roadway (Street View). From the side one can clearly observe the lower level where water once flowed and street cars later crossed (Street View).
Amateur spelunkers sometimes sneak through the abandoned Rochester Subway for urban exploration. The photograph above was taken by one such explorer inside of the Broad Street Bridge tunnel.
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Was it common to cover abandoned canals and convert them into subway tunnels? I quickly uncovered two more examples that were mentioned frequently on the Intertubes. Cincinnati was one of those two although critics could easily split hairs and claim it didn’t count. The system was never completed and trains never ran through the intended tunnel.
The city planned to follow the route of the Miami and Erie Canal which had been constructed in 1825. The canal served a useful purpose for a time, connecting the Great Lakes to the Ohio River (and thus the Mississippi River watershed). However it suffered a fate similar to many other canals competing with railroads. It went into decline and eventually failed as a commercial enterprise.
Numerous proposals were floated at the turn of the last century. The Cincinnati Enquirer summarized the situation in Subway legend has never left the station:
Tunnels and stations are still down there below the city streets in a remarkable state of preservation including the Race Street Station at Central Parkway & Race St., which would have been the main hub. The Cincinnati Museum offers occasional tours as part of its heritage programs for those who are curious to observe the mysterious tunnels of a stillborn subway firsthand.
Newark, New Jersey
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Newark, New Jersey probably wins a prize because its a subway that still operates along the original route of an abandoned canal. The stretch from the Military Park Station to Branch Brook Park Station at Heller Parkway (route map) converted the pathway of the Morris Canal to a new mode of transportation when the subway opened in 1935. The entrance to the Military Park Station is displayed in the Street View image, above.
The Morris Canal ran across northern New Jersey for about a century, beginning with its construction in the 1820′s. It was probably noted most for its innovative use of 23 inclined planes in addition to traditional locks in order to move coal barges over a series of hills. I’ve talked about the inclined plane technique previously although not in the context of the Morris Canal. It was pretty impressive.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Newark Light Rail is the only place where one can visit a canal that’s been converted into a subway without any hassles, other than purchasing a ticket to ride the train. As always, I hope the 12MC audience can prove me wrong.
There were a few notable places which did not fit the strict definition of a canal converted to a subway. They deserved to be mentioned for other reasons.
(1) Manhattan made Internet searches difficult because of Canal Street running across the lower tip of the island and accompanying stations on the New York City subway system. Canal Street Stations serve a whole spaghetti tangle of different lines. The canal referenced by Canal Street was essentially a drainage ditch that emptied the Collect Pond, which had become a cesspool by the early 19th Century. Canal Street followed the route of the old canal after the fetid pond was eventually filled-in. The old canal did not become a subway tunnel although it still hid an interesting history.
(2) The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal forced a railroad to tunnel through a mountainside at Point of Rocks, Maryland. The canal held the right-of-way next to the Potomac River, as recounted by the C&O Canal Bicycle Guide; "After the canal failed, the railroad built a second track in the abandoned canal bed." The second track, however, wasn’t converted into a tunnel although the two tracks looked fascinating in Street View.
(3) The Third Welland Canal in Ontario, part of a system connecting Lakes Ontario and Erie to bypassing Niagara Falls, included a train tunnel that went under a canal. As noted by Wikipedia, "The Grand Trunk Railway Tunnel, also known as the ‘Blue Ghost Tunnel’, is an abandoned railway tunnel located in the community of Thorold, Ontario, which runs under lock 18 of the former third Welland Canal (1887-1932)." (map). Again, an interesting feature, although not exactly what I was hoping to find.
And a belated Thank You to Bill Harris!