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Northern Indiana shortline railroad making comeback, should aid ag

WELLSBORO, Ind. — A rail shortline in northern Indiana once close to being abandoned is moving further along the comeback trail, and it’s good news for farmers in LaPorte, Porter and Starke counties serviced by it.

A $600,000 grant has been awarded to the Chesapeake and Indiana Railroad to put in more than 4,000 new crossties on a 15-mile stretch of line from Wellsboro beside Union Mills to La Crosse. The railroad is picking up half the cost with the balance coming from the state’s Industrial Rail Service Fund.

Powell Felix, president of the railroad, said the work, expected to be finished in the fall, will complete the replacement of crossties that started when the line extending to Malden was close to being abandoned before being purchased 14 years ago from CSX.

“We’re just trying to patch it back up and get everything back to normalized maintenance levels,” he said.

Felix said one reason for the line’s resurrection is tying into Norfolk Southern rails at Thomaston near Hanna four years after the acquisition. The shortline was already tied in with CSX but a connection with a second major railroad provided the ability to reach additional markets to the eastern half of the United States.

Co-Alliance elevators in Union Mills and Malden increasing storage capacity for grain and fertilizer is another reason the number of cars moved on the line has grown from about 700 in 2004 to well over 3,000 now. “We’ve been fortunate working with Co-Alliance to really dramatically increase the traffic,” Felix said.

He explained more business also came from recently adding to the line synthetic gypsum for delivery to drywall plants. “We’re always looking to expand our traffic base.”

Additional improvements to the Thomaston interchange are also planned to support increased traffic from Co-Alliance, the largest grain co-op in the state. “This grant funding allows us to continue improving the tracks and bridges as business grows,” Felix said.

The Chesapeake and Indiana Railroad also extends to North Judson, but that stretch of line is used strictly by the town to run a tourist train, he said.

According to state officials, the Indiana Department of Transportation manages the Industrial Rail Service Fund. It’s funded partially with a percentage of state sales tax dollars.

Without the line, Felix said farmers in the area would have to transport their grain to elevators further away. That would drive up their transportation costs during a time of hardship from several consecutive years of low grain prices, he noted.

The Chesapeake and Indiana Railroad operates under the umbrella of the Indiana Boxcar Corp. in Connersville. IBC also operates freight and tourism related lines in Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania.