The Bottom Line
Gone are the days when much of what we use in our daily life was
grown or produced within a few miles of home. On any given day
you may use products that originated in distant corners of the
world. With this shift, demand for freight transportation
services has steadily grown. Domestic freight is anticipated to
increase 57 percent by 2020 and import/export freight by nearly
100 percent---a total increase of 9.3 billion tons.
How will the
nation’s transportation system handle this vastly increased
freight volume? In 2002 the American Association of State
Highway and Transportation Officials published a study titled
the Freight-Rail Bottom Line Report. It looked at the
current state of the railroad industry and role that rail
freight would, or could, play in the future.
deregulation of the railroad industry in 1980, the productivity
of railroads increased and service was improved; however,
revenues did not substantially increase. Shippers and consumers
reaped most of the benefits associated with rate cuts, rather
than railroads and their investors benefiting from increased
Today the rail
industry is stable, productive and competitive. It lacks,
however, sufficient revenue to invest heavily in capital
growth. As the most capital-intensive industry, railroads need
five times more funding to maintain rail infrastructure and
equipment than an average manufacturer needs for plant
maintenance and equipment.
It is doubtful
that the rail industry will be able to expand and increase
capacity as quickly as needed to keep pace with the anticipated
increase in freight. Freight could be forced to shift from the
rail system to the highway system. This would result in higher
costs to freight shippers (likely passed on to consumers in
higher prices). Highway users would see increased costs in
travel time, operating expense and crashes. The additional
wear-and-tear on highways from increased truck traffic would
compel significant investments in highway maintenance and
rebuilding (separate from any highway capacity improvements)
Freight-Rail Bottom Line Report concludes that relatively
small public or public-private investments in the rail system
could be leveraged to provide relatively large public benefits.
In one scenario outlined in the report, a public or
public/private investment of $53 billion over 20 years in the
railroad system would negate more than $410 billion in increased
shipper and road costs by not shifting freight from rail
posed by this report is how the public interest would be best
served. With no intervention, limited rail system growth can be
expected and the “share” of freight carried by rail will erode.
Alternatively, limited public or public/private funding for
expansion of the rail system would provide cost-effective
transport to shippers, relieve pressure on the highway system
and support social, economic and environmental goals.
complex issues that have no easy answers. Yet it is clear that
the volume of freight will continue to grow and that somehow, in
some way, the transportation system will be called upon to
The Little Community That Could
This is the story of a community in south central Iowa that took
the childhood story The Little Engine That Could to
heart. When rail service to Centerville was scheduled to cease,
the community, against all odds, said, “I think I can” and
bought its own railroad---the Appanoose County Community
When Burlington Northern cut the last rail link between
Centerville and the rest of the world in 1982, leaders in this
rural county seat of 6,500 residents realized their dreams of
business growth likely would vanish along with the railroad.
Leaders also understood that the Union Carbide Corporation
facility (now Curwood, Inc.), the area’s largest employer, would
be less financially secure without access to economical rail
Then a wild idea surfaced. Someone, somewhere wondered, “Why
can’t Centerville businesses have their own railroad?” Local
leaders took a look at the idea and, although it seemed like a
long shot, were savvy enough to realize that having a railroad
was critical to the economic health of their community.
Crazy as it sounded, the idea took off. A non-profit
corporation was set up. Community fund-raisers took place.
Townspeople chipped in $5, $10 or more in tax-deductible
contributions to net $50,000. Local businesses jumped on the
bandwagon and contributed $120,000. The city pledged $30,000
and county $55,000. Then the two local banks loaned another
This was an impressive start, but not nearly enough to get
the project off the ground. Local leaders actively sought
additional funding. Bolstered by the strong show of local
interest, the support of Union Carbide Corporation and other
local businesses, they succeeded in obtaining $1.8 million in
state and federal grants and loans for the fledgling railroad.
Though the project had been neither quick nor easy, on Dec.
18, 1984, the new community-owned railroad made its first run on
the 10 miles of track.
soon saw the wisdom of the decision when the Rubbermaid
Corporation opened a large manufacturing plant there employing
hundreds of area residents. This likely would not have happened
without the ability of the APNC to bring in railcar-loads of
Kevin Wiskus, plant manager at the Rubbermaid™ facility,
said, “Centerville is a great place to be because it is one of
those rare communities that ‘gets it.’ Centerville understands
that you can’t just wait around for good things to happen, but
it takes forward thinking, hard work, investment, and, most
importantly, cooperation between government, business and entire
community to create a healthy environment for business and
All was well with APNC until 1993 when Norfolk Southern
announced plans to abandon the rail line from Albia to Moberly,
Missouri, again severing Centerville from rail service. A
lesser community might have called it quits by now, but with two
large rail-dependent industrial plants the stakes were even
higher. Centerville once again rose to the challenge and local
residents, businesses and government joined together to buy an
additional 25-mile section of rail line.
Today, the APNC continues to provide a vital link to the
world for four large customers and is financially secure. The
railroad employs eight full-time and two part-time employees,
and operations are governed by a community board made up
primarily of government and shipper representatives.
Soon APNC will have a fifth large customer. A sixth is in
the planning stage. Also, a new interchange with Iowa Chicago &
Eastern (ICE) is being constructed in cooperation with ICE and
other business interests to give the APNC interchanges with both
Burlington Northern Santa Fe and ICE.
Appanoose County Community Railroad Profile
Cars received and forwarded
When the Iowa Hawkeyes have a home football game traffic around
Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City can be a nightmare. But this past
season fans had an alternative---they could jump on board the
game-goers with an alternative to the usual roadway traffic and
parking congestion, the University of Iowa arranged for the
Hawkeye Express train to shuttle passengers from Coralville Mall
to Kinnick Stadium. With two engines and 11 cars, the
diesel-powered train made its maiden trek at the first Iowa home
game of the season Sept. 4, 2004. It was operated by Iowa
Interstate Railroad (IAIS).
Dan Sabin, president of Iowa Northern Railway and a volunteer
consultant to the University of Iowa Athletic Department, said
the initial run had “a few glitches,” but everything was in
great working order for the big Iowa State game the following
8-minute trek from the loading point at IAIS at 25th Avenue to
Iowa 6 in Coralville. With time for loading and unloading,
officials worked out a round-trip schedule taking approximately
30 minutes, with trains running for about 2 1/2 hours before and
90 minutes after each home game.
early and made six round-trips before kickoff for the Iowa State
game,” said Sabin. “We transported about 2,000 people to the
Iowa State game.” Sabin added that with capacity of more than
1,100 per run, the train could handle more than 5,000 fans per
The train was
leased from a firm in Colorado that typically transports
travelers from Denver to the Winter Park Ski Resort. Much of
the décor on the train still reflects its mountain travels.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe donated the movement of the
equipment between Denver and Council Bluffs; and Union Pacific
donated the movement back to Denver. This dramatically reduced
the cost of the project.
cost the university approximately $150,000, including start-up
construction and other one-time costs. Shuttle ticket sales were
anticipated to net about $100,000 for the season. The
university never really expected this to be a profit-making
venture. It was simply a way to provide a better experience for
fans and alleviate parking congestion around the stadium.
Interstate Railroad and the University of Iowa have technically
agreed to operate the train again next year,” said Dennis
Miller, president of IAIS. “But it depends on if the train will