Class 1 Railroads account for the vast majority of train traffic in North America, including mostly freight with one notable exception. These rail carriers transport containers and other cargo (plus people) across the continent. Depending on location if you're routinely near train tracks, you'll likely encounter the equipment of one or more of these major companies on a regular basis.
In fact, when discussing freight particularly, Class 1 Railroads - or Class I Railroads if you prefer Roman numerals - account for 68% of the total track miles in the U.S., nine in 10 rail-related employees and 94% of total revenues. So what makes a railroad Class 1? The criteria is actually quite simple and related to that last statistic regarding annual operating revenue. The Surface Transportation Board (STB), which regulates the Class 1 Railroad group, uses a revenue definition established in 1992 with any railroad surpassing $250 million annually qualifying.
However, that figure is adjusted regularly for inflation, with the last such adjustment occurring in 2021 to make the threshold $900 million. The one additional caveat to the revenue figure is a requirement to have tracking on U.S. soil. Without further ado, let's go through the six freight railroads (and one passenger railroad) that qualify as U.S. class 1 railroads.
List of Class 1 Railroads
At one point - back in 1900 - there were 132 Class 1 railroads. With consolidation, mergers and acquisitions, the list has settled in under 10 for some time now. In fact, one such acquisition is reflected in this list, as Kansas City Southern and Canadian Pacific used to each make the Class 1 category, but they now operate as a combined company known as CPKC with the aforementioned STB okaying a merger earlier this year.
Amtrak (passenger only)
Canadian National Railway
Canadian Pacific-Kansas City Southern Railway (CPKC)
Norfolk Southern Railway
Union Pacific Railroad Company
Class 2 Railroads & Class 3 Railroads
While Class 1 makes up the vast majority of the market share, there are two additional classes that fill out the rest. Class 2 railroads are often referred to as regional railroads, while Class 3 railroads are known as short line railroads. The classes again are broken up via annual revenue, with Class II railroads making anywhere from $40 million up to the Class 1 threshold, and Class III railroads' annual revenue any number below Class 2. It is also notable that each of the three classes has different labor regulations.
Put together, there are 630 Class 2 and Class 3 railroads in the United States - 21 of which are Class 2, while the rest are Class 3. These railroads operate more than 45,000 route miles in 49 states. Some Class 2 railroad examples include the Reading and Northern Railroad, the Long Island Railroad and the near-to-home (for us) Indiana Railroad. Most Class 3 railroads are named for the areas in which they operate, like the Eastern Idaho Railroad, Ft. Worth and Western Railroad and Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad to name a few. Now let's provide a bit more detail on the representatives of the top class.
Looking to move your freight via rail? Consider intermodal solutions with InTek. We have direct relationships with these Class 1 Railroads to offer you the best transport options for whatever your cargo. Just fill in our Request a Quote form to let us know what your needs are, and we'll be happy to follow up. In the meantime, if you're interested in reading more from us, check out our Freight Guides.