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Riding the Rails to Success

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

Napoleon, Defiance & Western Railway (NDW) is heading down a track of success not only for itself but for businesses throughout northwest Ohio.

The northwest Ohio railway will begin construction later this month on a $8.2 million project to improve 58.2 miles of line between Liberty Center, Ohio and Woodburn, Ind. Fifty percent of the project will be funded through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2020 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) program. The remaining cost of the project will be matched by the NDW ($3,862,452) and the Ohio Rail Development Commission ($250,000).

The grant proceeds are in addition to an estimated $1.5 million in crossing and other upgrades the railroad has invested in since new ownership took over the railroad in 2019. These upgrades already have resulted in decreased derailments and safety incidents, which will be further reduced with the completion of the CRISI project later this year.

The NDW, a subsidiary of Pioneer Lines, is a Class III railroad, or “short line.” Most short lines operate track that was headed for abandonment under previous Class 1 owners, necessitating significant investments to address deferred infrastructure maintenance and improvements. Short lines provide the first and last mile of service for shippers and are a vital part of U.S. business interests, having 31 percent of U.S. freight railway mileage. The short line industry’s economic importance is not just the size or total market share but in who and where short lines serve. For large areas of the country and particularly for rural and small-town America, short line railroad service is the only connection to the national railroad network.

Alex Yeros, chief executive officer of Pioneer Lines, said the improvements for the NDW will not only benefit the railway, but manufacturers along the line.

“The Napoleon, Defiance & Western is strategically located for U.S. manufacturers in a key logistics corridor in Ohio and Indiana with tremendous growth potential but has been hamstrung for years by poor tie and rail conditions,” he said in a statement. He added that the improvement project “will dramatically improve safety and efficiency on the line.”

The Napoleon, Defiance & Western Railway provides service to several industrial parks including locations in Defiance, Napoleon, and Woodburn.

This allows businesses to have local short line rail services that also offers connections to Class I railroads such as CSX and Norfolk Southern. For more information about Defiance’s industrial park and its rail connections, contact the Defiance County Economic Development Office at 419-784-4471.

A rail-served industrial park is a boon for the region. According to a study by the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University, “the rail industry continues to be a powerful driver of the U.S. economy through operations and capital investment and providing efficient transportation for the industries it serves.” The study states that since the 1800s “rail transportation has been significantly impacting economic activity in the U.S. In addition to the numerous jobs created during the construction of the U.S. railroad network, rail transportation has enabled economic growth throughout the country as cross-country shipping and travel became possible.”

The project also helps celebrate 35 years in business for Pioneer, which operates 15 short line railroads in 12 states.

“As a company with its roots in rail freight, our team is proud of the role we have played over the last three decades in bringing economic vitality to the local communities in which we operate,” Yeros stated. “We are focused on growing our presence across the U.S. by leveraging the deep rail and real estate expertise of our team to provide new and existing customers with additional connections to domestic and global markets. Our aim is to inspire our customers and communities to reach farther and provide them with the right connections to do so.”

Pioneer Lines’ railways transport diverse commodities including agricultural and food products, iron and steel, as well as building materials and plastics and serve as a link for more than 100 industries in rural and small-town areas to domestic and global markets.

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