A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

A slow train to China? Not really, but …

Written November 15th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

A Portland and Western freight as seen from the Third Avenue crossing in Albany on Nov. 13.

When you’re standing on Albany’s Third Avenue watching a slow freight train go by, as I did on Saturday, you may not realize you’re looking at a tiny part of a huge business enterprise that spans the globe.

If you’re up to is, you can watch the train stop and take off again in the video below.

So what about the rest of the story?

The Willamette & Pacific (originally based in Albany) and the Portland & Western, known as shortline railroads, were started in 1993 to take over many local tracks of the Southern Pacific in western Oregon. They were subsidiaries of the Genesee & Wyoming Railroad, a holding company based in Connecticut.

Since then Genesee & Wyoming kept buying local railroads in this country and abroad.

By 2019, it had acquired or leased 119 freight railroads in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and continental Europe. One of its operations in Australia ran the 1,400-mile rail line from Tarcoola to Darwin, not exactly what’s you’d call a short line.

In addition, the company ran all kinds of other transportation facilities around the world, including a rail ferry service between the U.S. and Mexico.

Then, at the end of 2019, Genesee & Wyoming completed the sale of itself to affiliates of two international asset management companies named Brookfield Infrastructure and GIC.

It’s hard to know where Brookfield is based. Its website says it has corporate offices in Toronto, New York, London, Sydney, Sao Paulo, Dubai, Mumbai, and Shanghai. The company says it operates assets in the fields of utilities, transport, energy, and data infrastructure in North and South America as well as Pacific Asia and Europe.

GIC is a worldwide company too. It was founded in 1981 to manage the foreign reserves of Singapore, where its headquarters are. The firm says it has investments in more than 40 countries.

I didn’t know any of this, obviously. I had not even realized that Genesee & Wyoming had been sold. I learned about it when I went online to see what else there might be to say about a local fright train slowly rolling to a stop and then starting again while I and others watched from an Albany street. (hh)

11 responses to “A slow train to China? Not really, but …”

  1. Greg S says:

    A couple of questions – Who did Genesee & Wyoming sell to? Was it a private equity group? One more question. You seem to be able to observe rail traffic on the main north – south line. Have you observed a drop off in the number of container cars going through?

  2. centrist says:

    Nice piece
    My first connection to Genessee is a NY river that flows past Rochester. Place name in an old language.
    Shows up in MI and WI but how it got tied to WY escapes me.

    • Barry Hoffman says:

      Having grown up in Western New York, the Wyoming part of Genesee and Wyoming refers to Wyoming County NY…and that is where the Genesee and Wyoming was started as a Salt RR..(in 1899)..I would venture to guess Wyoming County NY was named way before the State of Wyoming–

      This is from Wiki—The G&W Railroad was the small Western NY salt-hauling railroad that ran between Retsof, New York and Caledonia, New York, only 14.5 miles

      • centrist says:

        Thanks for that educational bit.

      • Scott Bruslind says:

        First thought for me was Wyoming County, PA, and that the RR picked up where the Erie-Lackawanna left off. The two PA counties are adjacent.
        Also, remembering Genesee for the ‘pounders’ of Cream Ale that came in returnable cardboard cases. The beer that made Rochester famous and fueled my misspent youth.

        • centrist says:

          Sounds like PA is indeed the answer.
          A quick search took me to Wyoming Valley in PA.
          Spent my formative years along the Delaware.

  3. H. R. Richner says:

    Fascinating again. Why don’t they use container cars?

    • Bill Kapaun says:

      Longshoreman’s union probably has them tied up in port. No reason they’d do anything different.

    • George Pugh says:

      I will hazard a guess (and normally I try to avoid hazards.)
      Containers are mostly used for marine transport of goods. It takes specialized and expensive equipment to load and unload them onto and from specialized ships. They are, in general use, restricted to a couple of sizes and the payload has to be loaded from one end. If shipped on an open, flat railroad car they could not be loaded or unloaded at every railroad siding as can box cars.
      When the containers reach their destination ports, or if possible, siding, they still need to be transported to the receiving entity which normally would require a truck. Trucks are limited by law to their gorss weight. To meet that weight, when we load a container with seed we are restricted to a payload of 45,000 pounds. With grass seed, that is often chuck-a-block full.
      A box car, the last I new, could roll with a payload of 156.000 pounds. As most receiving businesses are no longer located next to a railroad siding, the box car’s contents have to be trucked to their destination.
      And then there is the time of travel thing. Freight trains have developed a reputation of being dependable with lower paying loads being left on a siding in favor of better paying loads.
      I am very much a layperson on this subject and would gladly be corrected.

  4. James Engel says:

    Great info but do we have to put up with that lousy graffiti on the cars!!?? In the early 70’s it was interesting to read the R/R logo’s on the various cars.

    • HowlingCicada says:

      Yeah, I also seem to remember little if any graffiti some time long ago, not sure when. Maybe spray paint didn’t exist then, or wasn’t an everyday/everybody product.

      How about microchipped cans of spray paint with required registration of buyers? On second thought, I don’t want to stir-up the delusional fringe any more than it already is.


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