RailNews Review 2022: Fan Favorites Fall Amid Mergers and Takeovers

From New England to Montana, a trio of interesting railroads joins the long list of “fallen flags.” Among them is fan-favorite Montana Rail Link, which will likely be taken over by BNSF Railway in early 2023. Photo by Justin Franz.

RailNews Review 2022: Fan Favorites Fall Amid Mergers and Takeovers

By Justin Franz

This week, the editors of Railfan & Railroad Magazine are looking at some of the biggest stories in railroading in 2022. Be sure to check Railfan.com every weekday all year long for all your (free) railroad news and if you like what you see, consider subscribing

In 2021, the biggest story in railroading were the mergers and acquisitions that would change the railroad map in the year to come. Twelve months later, one of those acquisitions has been completed while two more await a likely high green from federal regulators. Because of those transactions, nearly every railfan had at least one of the following on their “must-see” list in 2022: Pan Am Railways, Kansas City Southern and Montana Rail Link. 

The Final Hours: Pan Am Railways SPED (Springfield to East Deerfield, Mass.) passes through Holyoke, Mass., on the night of May 31, 2022, not long before CSX Transportation took over the New England regional. Photo by Justin Winiarz. 


Pan Am became the first to fall when CSX Transportation took over the New England regional — the largest independent railroad in the country — on June 1. The takeover of Pan Am ended owner Timothy Mellon’s 41-year reign over New England railroading. Mellon’s Guilford Transportation Industries took over the Maine Central in 1981, the Boston & Maine in 1983, and the Delaware & Hudson in 1984. The latter turned into a financial boondoggle, and Guilford cast off the bankrupt D&H after just four years. After that, the combined MEC-B&M system would remain mostly unchanged for the next three decades. In 2006, the railroad changed its name to Pan Am Railways, but the gray and orange Guilford scheme still remains on some locomotives today, although many were repainted in a simple but attractive blue and white. 

June 2022For railfans of a certain generation, Guilford was a pariah that had swallowed up the iconic Pine Tree and Minute Man routes. Its rocky relations with labor didn’t help its reputation either, particularly during a series of contentious strikes in the late 1980s. But to fans a little bit younger, Guilford was a source of fascination, especially for enthusiasts of older power. Up until the 2000s, Guilford maintained an eclectic fleet of motive power, including EMD SD26s, GP7s, and General Electric U18Bs and U23Bs. Even the Guilford gray and orange scheme seemed to be more appealing with each passing year. And, in an era of corporately-owned short line and regional railroad operations that frequently look the same from one road to another, an independent regional railroad was something to celebrate, regardless of its roots.

But the Pan Am-CSX deal was a ripple compared to the tidal wave created by the proposed Kansas City Southern-Canadian Pacific merger, which has been making its way through the review process for more than a year and a half. If approved, it would create a 20,000-mile network connecting Canada, the United States and Mexico. As the new year approaches, it looks as if the U.S. Surface Transportation Board will either approve or deny the transaction in the next few months. If approved, it would be the first Class I merger in more than 20 years and, considering that there will then be just six Class Is in North America afterward, it will likely be the last. 

What exactly the image of the combined “Canadian Pacific Kansas City” will look like is unclear. While CP is the dominant partner in the marriage — and as a result, most railfans have focused on the 7,300-mile KCS with its flashy “Southern Belle” locomotives — it’s not a sure thing that the CP’s equally iconic image will escape unchanged. Will “Canadian Pacific Kansas City” simply be a corporate identity behind the enduring “Golden Beaver” shield adorning the side of locomotives from Calgary to Lazero Cardenas? Or will both roads fade in a new brand, CPKC Railway, much like how “BNSF” and “CSX” emerged from past mergers? 

November 2022But while the CSX-Pan Am and CP-KCS deals were known long before the calendar turned to 2022, the one transaction that shocked everyone this year was the announcement in January that BNSF would be taking over fan-favorite Montana Rail Link. Consisting of the former Northern Pacific main line through southern Montana and northern Idaho, MRL had been a popular railfan destination for years thanks to its clean EMD power, great scenery and friendly crews. The railroad was created in 1987 when Montana businessman Dennis Washington leased the NP-main line from Burlington Northern for 60 years. But earlier this year, BNSF and MRL decided to end that lease early. Since BNSF already owns the tracks, and most of the trains over those tracks originate from the Class I, it seems unlikely the STB will delay the transaction.

On November 18, MRL asked the STB for an exemption from the normal review process for the discontinuance of common carrier service. Attorneys for the regional railroad argue that MRL’s discontinuation of service will not negatively impact employees or customers. A few weeks later, the STB announced that it would make a decision on that petition by March 8. The timeline put forward by the federal regulator suggests that MRL could become a fallen flag during the first half of 2023.

The quick timeline is a reminder that the only constant is change and if you want to see some of these fan favorites, now is the time.


This article was posted on: December 26, 2022