Richard Robey, a native of Cranford, New Jersey, began his railroading career in 1964 with a college summer job at the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad.
Robey joined the C&O’s Railroad Management Training Program in 1966 after graduating from Columbia University with an M.B.A. and later managed sales for the Illinois Central Railroad in Chicago. In 1976, four years before the Staggers Rail Act would bolster the development of the short line freight rail industry, Robey and three partners started their own small railroad. The group bought the Octoraro Railway for $50,000, a deal that included two 30-year-old diesel locomotives and a dilapidated depot.
The Octoraro moved freight in southeast Pennsylvania and northern Delaware, mostly compost materials, fertilizers and scrap metal at the time, and the New York Times wrote a story about Robey, his partners and their business venture in 1978.
In 1979 Robey joined the Southern Pacific Railroad and assisted in setting up its marketing department in San Francisco. In 1980 he joined US Rail, a car leasing company also based in San Francisco. The following year he returned to Pennsylvania, joining the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad (P&LE) and was involved, among many other things, in selling a fleet of P&LE coal hoppers to China Rail.
When companies like Conrail were looking to divest some of their smaller lines in the early 1980s, the SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority (JRA), an eight-county joint municipal authority, formed to preserve Pennsylvania lines and the area’s freight service. In 1984, following a competitive bidding process, Robey and his wife Miriam founded the North Shore (NSHR) and Nittany & Bald Eagle Railroads (NBER) in Northumberland, Pennsylvania to operate the local branch lines saved from abandonment by the JRA. The result was a public-private partnership between JRA and NSHR that exists to this day, with the JRA owning the railroad real estate and taking care of capital projects and the NSHR in charge of operations, annual track maintenance and marketing.
Robey started NSHR with just 7 employees. In the years since, the company’s holdings have grown to eight individual short line railroads comprising over 250 miles of track in Pennsylvania and New York, with employees numbering roughly 100. Under Robey’s leadership, rail traffic grew from just a handful of cars that first year to between 20,000 to 30,000 carloads annually today.
In 2010, Robey sold his company to his North Shore Railroad management team, and he and his wife retired from North Shore Railroad. He was given the honorary title of Chairman Emeritus by the employee-owners of the company. Robey’s son, Brian, continues to work at North Shore Railroad managing its IT department.
Robey served two terms on ASLRRA’s Board of Directors. He was also one of the founders of the Keystone State Railroad Association and served on the AASHTO Standing Committee on Rail Transportation (SCORT). In 2017 he was the Northeast Association of Rail Shippers (NEARS) Transportation Person of the Year. He now serves on the Northumberland County (PA) Industrial Development Authority.
Even in retirement Robey continues to stay active. He plays in and is treasurer of the Repasz Band, a community band based in Williamsport, Pennsylvania that has been in existence since 1831. The band is said to have played in Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865 when the Civil War ended. In 2015 when the National Park Service celebrated the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, it invited the Repasz Band to play again and Robey participated in the historic ceremony.