Piece by piece, RailAmerica has assembled an extensive rail transportation network. The company operates short-line railroads (generally less than 350 miles long) and regional freight lines in the US and Canada. RailAmerica owns interests in more than 40 railroads that operate over a network of about 7,500 miles of track. RailAmerica has about 1,500 customers and transports such items as coal, lumber and forest products, chemicals, and agricultural products. RailAmerica's real estate division handles track and land leases and handles road and other access requests. In late 2012 the company was acquired by rival Genesee & Wyoming.
RailAmerica was acquired for almost $1.4 billion in a transaction that created the largest short-line railroad operator in the US. The new entity boasts about 110 railroads and 15,100 miles of track, and it will generate combined annual revenues of more than $1.4 billion.
Before that historic deal was announced, RailAmerica had previously suffered a drop in freight revenues largely attributable to the economic downturn. Rising fuel and material costs also took a bite out of profits. Nonetheless, the company proceeded to incur a $6 million charge associated with changing its stock compensation agreement for its IPO (launched in 2009) and about $7 million charge for relocating its corporate headquarters along with other IPO related expenses. Offsetting the erosion to its bottom line, non-freight revenue increased as customers paid for storing, repairing, and switching rail cars.
Despite its bumpy entry into public life, the company's business remained on track. Freight revenue increased more than 12% in 2010 compared to the previous year. RailAmerica saw the average freight revenue per carload jump about 8%. The number of carloads also modestly increased during this period. Part of the company's turnaround is due to a shift in the commodity mix in 2010. RailAmerica's biggest cash cow in terms of freight revenue per carload remains agricultural products (15% of total). Significantly, revenues from metallic ores and metals increased more than 60% in 2010.
Non-freight activity is one of the growth avenues the company is continuing to pursue, too. It manages and stores customers' rail cars, provides repairs, and leases rail cars. RailAmerica is also looking at non-transportation uses for its right-of-way land holdings including cell towers, mineral rights, crossing and access rights, and outdoor advertising.
The company bought three Alabama short-line freight railroads from affiliates of Gulf and Ohio Railways in 2011 for $12.7 million. The deal included the assets of Three Notch Railroad, Wiregrass Central, and Conecuh Valley, which transport mainly agricultural and manufactured products. RailAmerica intends to exploit the close proximity of the lines to its own operations, as well as their connection with CSX Transportation, to improve operating efficiencies. In a larger investment, RailAmerica acquired Atlas Railroad Construction Company in mid-2010 for about $25 million. Atlas provides rail engineering, construction, and maintenance services in the Midwest and Northeast. – less