MASON CITY — The economic development potential in Mason City and Clear Lake was one of the main reasons a Minnesota company purchased the Iowa Traction Railroad in October.
“There were many reasons, but that was the big one,” said James Mattsen, administrative officer for the new owner, Progressive Rail, headquartered in Lakeville, Minn.
The railroad is now called Iowa Traction Railway Co.
Geography also played a part in the purchase, said Mattsen.
“Iowa Traction interchanges with the Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific railroads and we have a had a long, successful relationship with both of them,” he said.
“We have interchanges in Wisconsin, Minnesota and the St. Louis area. To have one in Iowa was a really good fit for us.”
“Also,” he said, “it is a good fit geographically because it is relatively close. It’s not a long drive if we needed to get there.”
Mattsen said the economic development potential for the region also represents good growth potential for the railway.
“We feel like we can really grow the business in Mason City and Clear Lake,” he said.
“We have served the business and housing industries in recent years but have not been heavily exposed to ag business. This gives us that chance,” said Mattsen.
“We think there are some industries in Mason City and Clear Lake that are under-served.”
Brent Willett, executive director of the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corp., also recognizes the potential.
“Progressive is clearly a major player in the short-line industry, and their presence in Mason City means we can market economically rail-served sites and buildings with the potential to utilize two Class I railroads, the Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific,” he said.
Willett said the Iowa Traction line makes North Iowa more marketable for future business because clients can deal directly with Progressive Rail’s business development people.
“This means projects can be put together at a significantly faster pace and significantly reduced cost than if they were dealing with a larger railroad,” he said.
“I look at it as making Mason City/Clear Lake one of the most rail-competitive regions in the state.”
Michael Johns, general manager, said Iowa Traction Railway is already working with several Mason City businesses, including AGP, Behr-Mason City, Petroblend and Soy Energy.
He said short-line railroads are an asset to the economic development of a community because they aren’t bound by the many rules and regulations that can tie up larger railroads.
Also, he said, workers on smaller railroads can “cross-craft” — perform a number of jobs instead of being restricted to one.
Mattsen said Progressive Rail has had Iowa Traction on its radar screen for a long time.
“This is not something we did lightly,” he said. “We’ve been looking at it for a number of years.”
Mattsen said another plus in making the purchase was how well former owner Dave Johnson had run the business over the years.
“It has not deteriorated,” he said.