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CN, WATCO Rail Line Sale Could Open Options for Local Industry


Canadian National Railroad has reached a deal with a transportation company to sell hundreds of miles of tracks in the Northwoods.

WXPR reported the announcement last week. Canadian National said it’s reached a deal with WATCO to sell off hundreds of miles of railroad tracks. The sale includes 650 miles of branch lines in northern Wisconsin and the UP.

Those lines haven’t been of much use to local businesses in recent years.

“Many of the shippers and businesses in the area were getting frustrated with declining service and changing and pricing and such,” said Northwoods Rail Transit Commission Chair Wendy Gehlhoff.

She’s hoping this sale will mean good things for the Northwoods.

“I think there’s a lot of potential for growth, especially within our forest products industry. Some efficiencies when it comes to transportation costs and also the ability move some of the logging trucks off of the highways and onto rail again would be very beneficial to our road longevity,” said Gehlhoff.

Gehlhoff said the transit commission looks forward to working with WATCO and local businesses to hopefully make rail transport a feasible option once again.

WATCO owns 600 miles of track in southern Wisconsin. Rail transit commissions there were able to work with WATCO to secure DOT grants to improve lines.

“One of our main functions will be working with WATCO to be the pass through or be the applicant for various grants that might help them restore and improve some of the actual infrastructure with the rail lines,” said Gehlhoff. “Some of these lines have been out of service upwards of 15 years and there’s obviously a lot that needs to be done.”

WATCO is one of the largest short line railroad holding companies in the U.S. with more than 5,000 miles of track. 

The sale of the lines still needs federal authorization from the Surface Transportation Board.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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