North Carolina short line to celebrate 125 years

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The Aberdeen & Rockfish Railroad's headquarters building and a locomotive in 1904.
Aberdeen & Rockfish
ABERDEEN, N.C. — Surviving wars, depressions and an off-the-beaten-track location, family-owned Aberdeen & Rockfish Railroad Co. has kept rail service rolling and attracted industry to North Carolina’s Sandhills region for 125 years.

A&R’s survival can be traced to both consistency and adaptability. With unwavering support from the founding Blue family, the loyalty of employees who often span generations, and the same landmark headquarters building since 1904, A&R has been consistently profitable while hundreds of short line railroads throughout the state and nation have disappeared. It also has constantly adapted to a changing economy that has shifted its traffic from timber to agricultural crops to chemicals, forged partnerships with trucking companies and much larger connecting railroads, and taken over other short line railroads to diversify its revenue.

All the while, A&R has been an engine of economic development, luring companies to a region distant from North Carolina’s major metro areas by extending tracks directly to their factories and keeping their goods moving even during hurricanes and holidays. Since the creation of Fort Bragg, the tiny railroad with less than 50 miles of track has played a key role delivering troops and armaments, transporting more than 500,000 soldiers during World War II and prompting the base commander to defend its zigzag route by saying, “Hitler’s bombers couldn’t hit it twice on a bet.”

A&R’s future, as its past, depends largely on its success fostering the economic development of the region it serves. Steve Yost, president of North Carolina’s Southeast, an 18-county regional economic development organization, says A&R’s long-term investment in rail service has been crucial to attracting industry – a steadfast commitment even when faced with setbacks. In 2010, A&R and the region suffered a blow when a newly opened ethanol plant closed within six months as corn prices soared, just as A&R was gearing up for a lucrative opportunity hauling in trainloads of corn. Undaunted, A&R teamed with Yost’s group and the Raeford/Hoke Economic Development Commission to successfully recruit Tyton BioFuels NC to take over the empty plant with long-term plans to produce ethanol from a new source – modified tobacco.

“Regardless of whether their railroad has a shot at a new plant, A&R always plays an instrumental role in helping us develop southeastern North Carolina,” says Yost. “They know the next plant may be interested in linking up with them. We’re very fortunate the Blue family has invested in A&R for 125 years because when a railroad goes away, it’s gone forever.”

More information is available online.

— An Aberdeen & Rockfish news release. April 7, 2017.

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