AS A transportation entity, northwest Ohio's tiny Maumee & Western Railroad doesn't begin to match up with the CSX rail empire, making any dispute between the two a real David and Goliath epic.
In this case, the short-line shipper has gone before a federal regulatory panel to challenge CSX's removal two years ago of a track-crossing in Defiance that has isolated several miles of M&W track to the west.
Given the relative size of the two systems, it is hardly a fair fight, but it is an important one, pitting the interests and aspirations of a "little guy" of the railroad industry against the accrued power of one of the nation's authentic rail giants.
The M&W, created in 1998, has just 51 miles of track, running through Napoleon and Defiance and on to the edge of Indiana and carrying some 3,000 carloads a year of grain, fertilizer, agricultural products, plastics, and cement.
Meanwhile, CSX, scion of the legendary Baltimore & Ohio and Chesapeake & Ohio railroads, carries a multitude of freight over 23,000 miles of track connecting the eastern half of the U.S., plus two Canadian provinces.
The "diamond" track crossing in Defiance at issue allowed the M&W's single-track line from Liberty Center to Woodburn, Ind., to span CSX's dual-track line that runs between Chicago and Willard, Ohio. CSX summarily removed the diamond, depriving the smaller company of a portion of its badly needed track.
As is often the case when big guys collide with little guys, the big guy is stonewalling, refusing to even talk about restoring the crossing.
That's absolutely unacceptable, and it should be resolved, with an accommodation to M&W, without the necessity of going to court. As Spence Wendelin, M&W president, put it, "We'd like to settle this by negotiation. But in order to have a conversation, you've got to have two parties at the table."
M&W maintains that its consent was needed to remove the diamond because its track was built before the busier CSX line. And it rejects CSX's earlier contention that the crossing hadn't been used for 18 months.
Since the two systems still are connected, over which some 2,000 freight shipments are exchanged each year, it is in the interest of both railroads to re-establish the crossing. Because CSX holds most of the power, it is up to CSX to make some concession.
With $196 million in profit in 2003, CSX can certainly afford to do so without jeopardizing its financial well-being. Even though the rail business is not what it used to be, short lines still serve as vital transportation links for many businesses and industries, especially to small towns.
This country needs more, not fewer, lines like the M&W, and the federal government should not allow them to be muscled aside by larger competitors.
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