Welcome to the Akron Railroad Club Blog

March 2, 2009
The photo line is ready to capture an eastbound Norfolk Southern manifest freight with BNSF motive power during the July 2012 Akron Railroad Club picnic.

The photo line is ready to capture an eastbound Norfolk Southern manifest freight with BNSF motive power during the July 2012 Akron Railroad Club picnic in Bedford.

The Akron Railroad Club has about 80 members who meet monthly in Akron, Ohio, to share their passion for railroad operations and history.  On this blog you will find information about our meetings, activities, how to join us, and news about railroads and railroad oriented organizations.

ARRC logoOn the feature pages you will find information about popular Ohio railfan hotspots within a few hours drive from Akron, stories about railfan outings, trip reports and information about railroad operations and radio frequencies.

Many features are amply illustrated with photographs.  Take a look around and enjoy yourself. There is always something new to read so come back often.

Better yet, come to one of our monthly meetings or join us at one of our many events. We look forward to meeting you and joining us. Dues are $16 yearly and include a subscription to the monthly newsletter, the Bulletin. We meet on the fourth Friday of the month at New Horizons Christian Church, 290 Darrow Road in Akron. Visitors are always welcome at our meetings.

Next Meeting: April 27, 2018. Program by Dennis Sautters

Next Activity: June 24. Longest day in Fostoria.

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Sampling Florida’s New Brightline Service

April 20, 2018

One of the goals of my Florida trip was to explore the new Brightline service.

On Tuesday we went to Miami and rode the train from Ft Lauderdale to West Palm Beach and return.

I had seen pictures and online reviews but, honestly, I did not expect what I experienced.

When you walk into the train station it has the look and feel of an airport not a typical railroad station.

Tickets can be purchased at a kiosk or with a smartphone app. Any large bags must be checked in just like an airline.

You scan your ticket and go through a security checkpoint to gain access to the station lounge area.

Security is similar to TSA at an airport with small bags going through a scanner but otherwise it’s not as intense as at an airport.

The passenger waiting lounge is also designed like a modern airport terminal.

Seats are comfortable and each has an electric outlet and a USB charging port. This is a nod to the digital age in which we live.

Snacks and beverages are also available along with Brightline merchandise.

Tickets are at an introductory rate of either $10 one way for Smart car service or $15 for Select service.

We rode in the Smart car. Seating is very comfortable with plenty of legroom and, again, there are plenty of outlets and USB ports available.

The trains have free 4G Wi-Fi, which was very good. It was fast and we did not experience any drop in coverage.

On the train the crew does a beverage and snack cart. Smart car customers can purchase onboard.

However, Select service customers’ snacks and beverages, including beer and wine, are complimentary. Select service also has larger seats.

The ride was smooth and took about a half hour to go the 40 miles between stations. The Brightline staff was courteous and professional throughout the process.

The only downside was that riders are not allowed on the platform until the train has arrived and is ready for boarding. For most travelers this is not an issue but might be for railfans.

I was able to get photos of the arriving train from the overhead concourse and also a Florida East Coast freight train that passed by.

Currently, Brightline operates between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. But the Miami station is complete and test trains are operating into it. There weren’t any running the day that we visited, unfortunately.

Eventually, Brightline will build a line into Orlando international Airport where the station has already been built.

A brand new railroad will be constructed between there and Titusville, Florida, where it will join the Florida East Coast to continue its trip to Miami.

Speeds are 79 mph and will be 110 mph on the new line. Brightline is projected to have this line open by 2020. Further expansion plans include Orlando to Tampa and West Palm to Jacksonville.

The trains themselves are built by Siemens. The engines are SC44 Chargers, which run on bio diesel fuel. Each train has two engines and four passenger cars. Each train is painted in a different color scheme.

I was very impressed by the whole operation both from a railfan perspective and also as a traveler.

Brightline is the future for railroad passenger travel and is all the more interesting because it is entirely funded by private capital.

No tax dollars are used in its construction or operation. One of my companions sadly remarked that this is what the Tri-C corridor in Ohio could have been.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

Amtrak Ending Full-Service Dining Service on Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited in Favor of Cold Meals

April 20, 2018

Amtrak is ending full-service dining car service on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

In a news release posted on its website, the passenger carrier said that effective June 1 it will begin offering sleeping car passengers on the two trains what it termed “contemporary and fresh dining choices.”

That means cold meals delivered to the passenger’s room or consumed at a table in a lounge car.

Trains magazine said Amtrak did not respond to question about whether hot meals would be offered on either train, but a separate service advisory indicated that café car fare will continue to be available, some of which is heated in a microwave oven.

The news release said the service is intended to replace traditional dining-car service.

Meals will be delivered to the trains just before they depart their end terminals. The cost of these meals will continue to be included in the ticket price of a sleeping car room.

Among the mean choices, the news release, said are chilled beef tenderloin, vegan wrap, chicken Caesar salad and turkey club sandwich.

Breakfast options will include assorted breakfast breads with butter, cream cheese and strawberry jam; Greek yogurt and sliced seasonal fresh fruit.

A Kosher meal will be available with advanced notice.

Passengers will receive unlimited soft beverages; a complimentary serving of beer, wine or a mixed drink; and an amenity kit.

Previously, sleeping car passengers wanting an alcoholic beverage had to pay for it.

“Our continued success depends on increasing customer satisfaction while becoming more efficient,” said Bob Dorsch, Amtrak’s vice president of its long distance service line, said in the news release.

The service advisory said that after boarding, sleeping car attendants will continue the standard procedure of asking passengers to select a preferred time for dining with reservations available in 15-minute increments.

Tables in sleeper lounge and café/lounge cars will be first come, first serve for seating and there will be no at-table dining service.

Sleeping car passengers will also be offered complimentary morning coffee, chilled water and juices, in-room meal service, turn-down service for their beds, and shower facilities.

They will be provided pre-boarding privileges and same-day access to lounges, such as Club Acela in the Northeast Corridor and the Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago.

Business class passengers on the Lake Shore Limited will be offered a la carte purchases from café/lounge menu, an alcoholic beverage and unlimited soft beverages, and a complimentary comfort kit.

Amtrak said coach passengers may purchase on a limited basis the pre-packaged meals served to sleeping car passengers. The existing café car menu will continue to be available to all passengers.

The news release also quoted Dorsch as saying, the meal service will continue to be refined and Amtrak looks forward to hearing from its customers about it.

What it all adds up to is that Amtrak is looking to cut costs by eliminating onboard kitchen staff and servers, and offering airline style meals that are provided by a catering company.

Trains magazine quoted the Rail Passengers Association as saying that the change reflects outside directives to the passenger carrier.

“It’s important to remember that this is simply an outcropping of the congressional mandate to eliminate losses on food and beverage service,” said James A. Zumwalt, director of policy research at RPA.

Zumwalt said the new meal policy “contradicts other successful models such as in the cruise industry, and proves unpopular with passengers. The mandate prevents best practices and should be removed.”

Cleveland RTA Ridership Fell by 4M in 2017

April 20, 2018

Total ridership of Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority buses and trains reached a record low 39.6 million last year, a decline of more than 4 million riders from 2016 when it carried 43.8 million.

The 9.5 percent drop in ridership was the largest single-year falloff since 2010.

RTA officials said the falling ridership was a result in part of a fare increase and route cuts imposed last August.

It was the second consecutive year that RTA saw record low ridership and the third straight year of ridership declines.

RTA’s record ridership was 125.9 million in 1979. In 2016, some 43.8 million riders took RTA trains and buses.

Fear of further falling ridership was behind an RTA decision earlier this year to delay a planned fare increase for late summer.

Officials said that transit ridership is affected by various factors, including the service offered, the concentration of jobs downtown at the core of the system, increasing numbers of people working at home, traffic delays, gasoline prices, parking rates, employment and public funding.

Last month RTA cut service frequencies on 15 bus and rail routes.

Stephen Bitto, executive director of marketing and communications for RTA, said the agency is seeking to boost ridership by working with employers and college students.

About 50,000 college students receive fare cards as part of their fees at Cleveland State University, Case Western Reserve University, Cuyhoaga Community College and the Cleveland Institute of Art.

Cleveland RTA is Ohio’s largest transit agency, carrying more than double the number of riders than the Central Ohio Transit Authority in Columbus area. COTA ridership was 18.7 million last year.

Amtrak Clarifies Policy on Specials, Private Cars

April 20, 2018

Amtrak has clarified its new policy on special moves and the carriage of private railroad cars and as expected the passenger carrier is largely eliminating moves to and from intermediate points.

The guidelines say Amtrak will only accommodate private car moves at endpoint terminals or intermediate stations where the scheduled dwell time is sufficient to allow switching of the cars.

Amtrak listed 40 intermediate stations where switching will be permitted. The list includes such points as Albuquerque, New Mexico; Denver; Houston; Kansas City; and St. Paul, Minnesota, but no cities in Ohio.

Private cars can also be added or removed from Amtrak trains at Pontiac, Michigan; Indianapolis; and Pittsburgh. However, the latter is limited to the Pennsylvanian, which originates and terminates in Pittsburgh.

Also excluded are Grand Rapids and Port Huron in Michigan, both of which are endpoints for the Pere Marquette and Blue Water respectively.

Nor is Huntington, West Virginia, included on the list. The omission of Huntington is notable because it is the origin of the annual New River Train and the home of the fleet of cars owned by the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society.

Amtrak said it will work with private rail car owners whose cars are marooned at prohibited intermediate switching stops on a one-time, one-way relocation move to a terminal or yard where private cars will still be permitted to operate.

The movement of private cars will also requires case-by-case written approval by Amtrak.

Amtrak plans to limit maintenance service for private-car owners to Federal Railroad Administration mandated repairs of safety appliances as necessary on private cars in the consist of Amtrak trains.

Private car owners will no longer be permitted to pay Amtrak’s maintenance services for preventative maintenance and general repair services. In the past Amtrak staff undertook such repairs and then billed the car owner for the work.

As for special moves and charters, Amtrak said those will be limited to existing Amtrak routes.

The guidelines also said Amtrak will continue to accommodate specials and charters that are already established in the Amtrak system. They must not be one-time trips.

That is good news for the annual New River Train, which uses the route of the Chicago-Washington Cardinal, but not so good news for the rare mileage specials sponsored by the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners.

Would-be operators of chartered trains that use Amtrak locomotives, equipment and personnel will be subject to the availability of those resources and their operation must not adversely affect scheduled operations.

A charter must also generate sufficient financial benefit for Amtrak to justify its use of its equipment and personnel, but the carrier did not explain how it calculates those.

The updated guidelines on charters and special moves do not apply to trains operated by Amtrak on its own or for governmental purposes.

Traffic Growth Not Propelling CSX

April 20, 2018

CSX this week posted some glittering first quarter financial numbers and service metrics, but were they based on fool’s gold?

An analysis by Railway Age noted that the record earnings and operating ratio was based almost entirely on cost-cutting measures, rate increases and stock buybacks rather than on traffic volume growth.

In short, CSX is trying to live up to the adage that less is more. In this case, that means operating fewer and longer trains with fewer employees.

In looking at CSX freight traffic numbers, the trade publication found that traffic volume was flat or declined in every category except export coal and international intermodal.

Railway Age quoted its Wall Street Contributing Editor Jason Seidl as saying that from a financial standpoint CSX exceeded expectations among financial analysts in terms of revenue and profits.

The managing director of financial firm Cowen and Company sees that as a positive.

“Early on in [CEO Jim Foote’s] tenure, the company is showing the ability to operate efficiently as a smaller railroad with fewer employees and assets.”

Seidl said investors are likely to have increased confidence in CSX’s goal of achieving a 60 percent operating ratio by 2020.

“We continue to expect that CSX will become a more nimble, dynamic railroad in the coming years, as many layers of management have been reduced,” he said. “The company has consolidated its structure into four operating regions from nine. The number of hump yards where railcars go to die has been cut by two-thirds to four, from 12. There could be more to go on that front. Decentralization of operational decision-making will likely prove to be a key component to customer service improvement and employee retention over time.”

CSX is expected to continue reducing its employment rolls, sell $300 million in real estate through 2020 and reduce the total mileage of track that it operates.

Seidl noted that in the first quarter of this year CSX reaped $32 million from real estate sales.

“We think CSX’s strategy could provide an opportunity for Genesee & Wyoming . . . to acquire complementary infrastructure,” Seidl said, adding that G&W is already a major interchange partner with CSX and has a history of looking for asset sales from Class 1 railroads.

Railroad economist Jim Blaze told Railway Age that most of the net earnings that CSX posted in the first quarter of $695 million was based buying back shares of its stock.

He attributed the 19.8 percent improvement in the operating ratio largely to cost cutting.

“Revenue was relatively flat, year over year. The biggest revenue growth appeared to be from price leveraging and fuel surcharge increases,” Blaze said.

“On the traffic side, my analysis is a bit more negative for those expecting a shift toward a larger rail vs. truck mode change. That’s not occurring for CSX.”

Blaze said CSX traffic unit growth has stalled despite traffic growth opportunities provided by truck driver shortages and electronic logging.

“Intermodal volume remained unchanged percentage-wise at just 1,000 intermodal units over the 90 days. That’s about 11 system-wide units per day as truckers struggle,” he said. “Who saw that competitive outcome? Domestic intermodal growth was negative. That outcome isn’t in any stated railroad plans, is it?”

NS Honors 52 Chemical Shippers

April 20, 2018

Norfolk Southern recognized 52 chemical shippers with its 2017 Thoroughbred Chemical Safety Award for safely handling rail-shipped products.

The shippers who received the award collectively shipped 153,213 carloads of chemical products regulated as hazardous material on NS rail lines without incident.

In a news release, NS said it began the awards in 1995 to recognize chemical manufacturers and plants that ship 1,000 carloads or more of hazardous products without a single incident.

Forty-five corporations and seven plants attained the benchmark for 2017. Six of these customers shipped more than 5,000 carloads each.

In 2017, hazardous materials shipped by customers on NS lines included industrial chemicals used to manufacture consumer goods, crude petroleum, ethanol and fertilizers.

NS usually moves these products in tank cars owned or leased by customers, who are responsible for maintaining the cars and ensuring that valves and caps and other components are in good working condition and properly secured for transit.

Strasburg Steam Trip to Benefit Dairy Farm

April 20, 2018

The Strasburg Rail Road plans to run a mixed freight photo charter on May 26 to benefit one of its neighbors.

The railroad is coming to the aid of Verdant View Farm, whose 95-year old dairy barn was destroyed by fire.

The Red Ball Express will provide participants a steam-powered train that will depart at 4:30 p.m. and extend into the evening, ending about 9:30 p.m.

The event is being co-sponsored by Lerro Productions, which will provide the lighting and provide guidance to photographers.

In conjunction with the Memorial Day holiday, the charter will take on a military theme, which will include World War I and World War II re-enactors and encampments.

Tickets for the event are $200. The railroad is also accepting donations to be given to the farm.

Details and tickets are here: https://www.strasburgrailroad.com/ride/events/red-ball-express/

B&O Dome Car to Raise Money for N&W 611

April 20, 2018

A former Baltimore & Ohio dome car will be used to raise money for Norfolk & Western Class J No. 611.

The Virginia Museum of Transportation said that Moonlight Dome will operate on a series of Amtrak trains beginning April 28 and 29, including the Capitol Limited, which uses a former B&O route between Washington and Pittsburgh.

“These trips allow us to entertain our supporters and offer an excursion during the off-season while 611 is receiving maintenance,” said VMT Excursion Director Adam Auxier. “The return of Amtrak to Roanoke [Virginia] has been a huge blessing and the Moonlight Dome offers a spectacular way to experience the scenery.”

Passengers riding in the dome car will receive meal and beverage service.

Further information and ticket information is available at http://fireup611.org/excursions/

Moonlight Dome was built in 1948 for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway for its stillborn Chessie premium passenger train.

The dome now owned by The Cincinnati Railway, which has renovated the car and given it new paint, fabrics, and other materials. The operating schedule for Moonlight Dome is:

• April 28-29, Washington, to Williamsburg, Virginia, with a long layover in Williamsburg.

• May 4-6, Washington to Savannah, Georgia.

• May 10-13, Washington to Roanoke/Roanoke to Washington.

• May 13, Washington to Pittsburgh.

Sturges Named Deputy FRA Administrator

April 20, 2018

Mathew Sturges has been appointed deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

He previously served as majority staff director of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure where he directed legislative oversight and authorization efforts related to all modes of transportation.

Sturges also served as deputy director of government affairs for the Republican National Committee, as well as director of coalitions for the House Republican Conference.

His duties at the FRA will include serving as a member of the agency’s senior executive management team and working on safety regulatory activities, federal investments in freight and passenger rail, and legislative initiatives to advance the Trump administration’s priorities.

He replaces Heath Hall, who resigned last February.

CN to Acquire 350 Boxcars

April 20, 2018

Canadian National announced this week that it will acquire 350 boxcars for use by its industrial customers in North America.

Each of the 50-foot, high-capacity plate F boxcars will have 12-foot plug doors. Delivery will begin in late summer with all the cars in service by the end of the year.

“These additional boxcars, combined with our new locomotives, hundreds of new train crew members, and track expansion investments, will help give us the capacity and network resiliency we need for pulp, paper and metals customers,” said Doug MacDonald, vice president of bulk at CN, in a news release.

CN said that the boxcar addition is part of the railroad’s capital program for the year that includes adding additional track and increasing yard capacity, particularly in the Chicago-West Coast corridor.