Being well-connected is good isn't it? It's correlated with personal economic success.
For a state like Vermont, being well connected (or not) has always shaped our economic success. Being connected by rail to New York and Boston gave farmers a market for milk after the great sheep boom collapsed in the early 1800's. It brought trains of skiers north. It meant that Randolph (on the main line) prospered and Randolph Center (the original center, up the hill) remained out of the way.
But being well-connected means something different in railroad geography.
Railroads in the United States have always been built, owned and operated by private companies. Most of the rest of the world nationalized their railroad network along the way. In Vermont, we saved more than half of the railroads in Vermont from being abandoned through state purchase, but they are leased to a private carrier (the Vermont Rail System).
Private control of the railroad network, which is unique among transportation modes, has a huge influence on how it has developed and functions. Private organizations compete and have their own life cycles of strength and failure.
As a young rail buff, I learned my geography by learning where the different railroads ran. Regular geography (mediated by highway routes, for most of us) is dry and typically American's aren't very good at it. But the geography of the railroad is the stuff of drama -- and the game of Monopoly. That phrase, "cut off at the pass" . . . it's about how the mountains create only one good route though and the first railroad through could control the route. There are winners and losers here. Scheming. For instance the push 100 years ago by the Mellon interests to control all rail routes in New England -- thwarted by Vermont and Canadian interests and an attempt to build a new route to the Atlantic Ocean in Providence that came to naught because it's promoter went down on the titanic. You could make a movie about railroad geography.
Railroad geography is three dimensional. Not only do you have the route and it's condition, but it matters what railroad owns it.
If you drive a truck, you can load it up and go most anywhere. The same is true for Amtrak, which although it's prevented by a starvation budget, could legally operate on any track (so long as it has the capacity for one more train). This is not so for freight.
Freight railroads have agreements with one another to interchange freight. Sometimes this works well. For example, the Vermont Rail System has a tight relationship with the Canadian Pacific Railroad and meets their train nightly in Whitehall, New York (just west of Rutland), bringing upwards of 100 cars back to Vermont. Other times it's just an opportunity for "missed connections", as they say. When two companies interface, their needs and priorities do not always match.
For us in Vermont, the connections our two railroads make represent access to markets.
The New England Central Railroad and the Vermont Rail System connect directly with the Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Pan-Am, CSX, Providence & Worcester, Montreal Maine & Atlantic and little Claremont & Concord RR. The two Vermont railroad companies cooperate with each other to move cars to and from customers located on any of these other systems.
Connecting railroads compete for traffic, which is to our benefit (lower rates). And some provide better service than others, so having alternatives is valuable. (And I'll leave it at that, except to note this is something that provides much grist for rants when railroaders get together privately).
It is an axiom in the shortline business (Remember "Monopoly"?) that you want to have as many connections as possible so as to avoid being dependent on the whims and limitations of one carrier. Having good connections is directly related to healthy rail market share.
The Vermont Rail System - Pan-Am connection in North Bennington/Hoosick Junction was re-opened in 2008. The grain and marble slurry that moves that way could take other routes, but having that additional connection is a competitive advantage.
The "Green Mountain Gateway" between Bellows Falls and Whitehall, New York over the Vermont Rail System provides the New England Central railroad and NECR freight customers with access to the Canadian Pacific system which it wouldn't have on it's own.
For the most part, our Vermont railroads are well-connected (with two dramatic exceptions) but it has not always been so. As the railroad network shifts and evolves it is no sure thing, but it's critical and important. When someone says "Why can't we ship more by rail," this might be one of the reasons. On the other hand, the availability of options is one reason Omya ships 80% of it's outbound Vermont product by rail (and why it can make sales in places it's competitors can't).