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 75 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: February 26. Program by Marty Surdyk.

Next Activity: April 2. Outing in Berea.

Falling Rail Traffic Has Me Seeing 2008 Again

February 6, 2016

For the past year I’ve been following the dismal news about falling freight car traffic on North American railroads.

Then I ran across a commentary that America’s industrial sector is in a recession and therefore so are North America’s railroads.

On TransportationIt remains to be seen if this will pull the rest of the U.S. economy into a recession. Consumer spending fuels two-thirds of the economy and so long as that remains strong there may be a slowdown but not a recession.

But the statistics about falling freight traffic combined with the response of the railroads has taken me back to the early summer of 2008. Like today, railroad traffic was slowing then, too.

Although I didn’t suspect that a recession was around the corner, I did tell a friend in an email message that I expected to see fewer trains and do more trackside reading that summer.

Later that year the Great Recession took hold and I have a vivid memories of driving to Akron Railroad Club meetings on Friday evenings and seeing a long line of idled boxcars and auto rack cars on a siding of the CSX New Castle Subdivision in Cuyahoga Falls.

It was a vivid and tangible reminder of how sour the economy had turned.

The railfan press published photographs of long lines of older locomotives mothballed by Class 1 railroads because there were fewer trains operating.

I am not prescient enough to predict what will happen to the U.S. economy this year and many economists who claim to be able to do so are not worried yet about another recession.

But I can see 2008 and 2009 happening again and in fact it has already started.

Last year CSX began operating fewer and longer manifest freights.

I got a first-hand glimpse of that strategy one afternoon in New London last fall. I’ve always enjoyed sitting in the parking lot next to the above ground reservoir and watching CSX trains on the busy Greenwich Subdivision.

But on this day the Greenwich Sub was uncharacteristically quiet. Every busy rail line has lull periods, but the lulls on this day were out of character from what I had observed in the past.

It was a Monday and I’ve heard that there is less rail traffic on Mondays. So maybe that explained the paucity of even intermodal trains.

But I’ve noted on other days that there seem to be fewer trains on CSX. I’ve also taken notice of monster length mixed car freights.

In the past couple of years I used to be able to count on seeing multiple tank car trains during a given railfan outing. Now I do good to see one.

Norfolk Southern recently said that it is going to run fewer and longer trains as part of a strategic plan to improve its financial position.

Throw in the loss of coal and crude oil traffic and it means that if you spend time in Berea this year watching trains you are going to have a lot of time to read the latest issue of Trains or Railfan and Railroad between trains.

Trains are not going away and the industry expects better times to return eventually. But until then, there will be less to see trackside.

Although I didn’t live in Northeast Ohio in the early 1980s, guys who did have talked about how scarce trains became on the Chessie mainline through Akron.

If you found a train on the Chessie, you followed it as far as you could and created as many photo ops as possible. Otherwise, you might be spending hours looking at empty rails.

Given what lies ahead with the railroads of Northeast Ohio, it might be time to pull out of storage the chase a train most of the day strategy.

Trains columnist Fred Frailey has suggested there is something different about this falloff in rail traffic.

In a column titled “The Party’s Over,” Frailey said the railroad renaissance of growing traffic of the past decade is over. Coal, once a dependable source of revenue and traffic, is falling precipitously and growth of intermodal traffic has stalled amid intensifying competition from truckers benefiting from lower fuel prices.

Although some railroad industry analysts believe the railroad renaissance is on hold, not over, Frailey thinks otherwise.

He called for a new business model that can respond effectively to highway competition, shipper unhappiness, increased government regulation, and unrelenting pressure from Wall Street for short-term results.

Frailey suggested that BNSF might have the framework for such a model in mind because its traffic numbers are up slightly in some areas and only slightly down in others.

I’m sure that Frailey will be writing about the “new model” in future columns in Trains. Goodness knows I’ll have plenty of time to read those columns as I sit trackside waiting for the most recent lull in rail traffic to end.

W.Va. Secondary Hosts Last NS Train

February 6, 2016

Norfolk Southern ran its last trains over the West Virginia Secondary this week, thus ending service over 100 miles of the former New York Central line.

The last train from Dickinson Yard, located south of Charleston, West Virginia, and Watkins Yard in Columbus ran on Thursday.

NS logo 2Trains magazine reported that the last train had three former Conrail locomotives. It picked up four cars at Nitro, West Virginia, changed crews at Hobson Yard near Point Pleasant, Ohio, and came to a halt in Columbus on Thursday night.

NS has abolished the crew terminals on the route, but portions of it will continue to see service. Local trains originating at Dickinson Yard will continue to serve industries in the Charleston region. The Ohio Central will continue to use the north end of the route.

Much of the traffic moving over the route had been tank cars, hopper cars and gondolas. The line was once a conduit to move coal.

But the route had little to no rail served customers left in southeastern Ohio and central West Virginia.

NS had announced last month that it would change traffic patterns and close part of the 253-mile West Virginia Secondary due to a steady decline in business.

As for traffic pattern changes, NS is expected to route manifest traffic over the former Virginian on the Princeton-Deepwater District.

Previously a coal route, the P-D District will host a pair of freights between Alloy and Gilbert yards in rural southern West Virginia.

The trains take the P-D District to Gilbert via Elmore before getting onto a former Norfolk & Western coal branch to Wharncliffe, West Virginia

At Wharncliffe, the new train is expected to go west to Williamson where cars will be switched for forwarding to their destination.

Last October, NS removed 55 miles of the P-D District from service between Elmore Yard and Princeton on the Clarks Gap route.

At the time, NS said the move was made due to falling coal volumes.

Intermodal Grew in 2015, Trade Group Says

February 6, 2016

The Intermodal Association of North America said that the intermodal industry experienced solid growth in 2015 despite facing numerous challenges.

In a reported titled Intermodal Market Trends and Statistics, the group said that domestic container gains more than offset declines in trailer volumes and marginal international increases to achieve overall 2.8 percent growth in total intermodal volume.

IANA“All things considered, intermodal performed well for the year,” said Joni Casey, IANA president and chief executive officer, in a news release. “Even as fuel prices were dropping, domestic container volumes were picking up. This smoothed variations across segments, especially in the fourth quarter.”

IANA said that during the fourth quarter of 2015 the domestic container segment rose 5.2 percent compared with 2014.

International shipments, which had been affected by congestion at the beginning of 2015, fell 0.6 percent on high inventories and softer import growth. Fourth-quarter trailer volumes declined 15 percent.

All told, intermodal traffic ended the quarter with a 0.3 percent gain.

BLET Wants Fuel Efficiency Devices Banned

February 6, 2016

A railroad union wants the Federal Railroad Administration to issue an emergency order that prohibits railroads from using Locomotive Engineer Assist/Display & Event Recorder, and Trip Optimizer technologies.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen said that these electronic devices creates unsafe distractions for locomotive engineers and override engineer decision-making in an unsafe manner.

BLETBLET President Dennis Pierce said the devices can create unsafe situations by distracting engineers. Pierce said the technology “. . . presses an engineer into performing clerical duties while at the controls of a moving locomotive in the name of fuel efficiency, to the detriment of safety caused by these distractions.”

Both devices are auto-control fuel efficiency technologies that are designed to assist engineers in obtaining greater fuel efficiency when operating locomotives.

The BLET contends, though, that some railroads have mandated that the devices should supersede the judgment of locomotive engineers, forcing them to rely upon the technology as the primary method of train operation.

“Trip Optimizer and LEADER essentially are becoming a ‘virtual engineer’ — making automated decisions in a manner that transforms the engineer’s duties as an operator into that of a spectator or monitor,” Pierce said.

He said the devices have created dangerous situations in which crew members have been thrown out of their seats because of severe slack action.

The BLET is concerned that engineers may be lulled into a false sense of security while operating on “cruise control.”

Shades of the Great Steel Fleet

February 5, 2016
Saint Lucie Sound

The CVSR’s Saint Lucie Sound gleams in the late day sunlight as it travels past the Brecksville station late on a Saturday afternoon.

Many New York Central streamlined passenger cars featured a simple livery of stainless steel with the railroad’s name in the letter board. No stripes. No bands of colors. No color of any kind other than silver.

It wasn’t as striking or attention grabbing as the liveries used by many other railroads, but it sure looked classy and in my mind has always represented a time when passenger travel by rail still was foremost in the public mind.

I was down on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad recently when I noticed that former Florida East Coast lounge-observation car Saint Lucie Sound is looking these days like a member of the NYC’s Great Steel Fleet.

The car carries only the name “Cuyahoga Valley” in the letter board and the car name on its flanks beneath the windows.

The CVSR raised money last year to renovate the Saint Lucie Sound and perhaps in time it will regain CVSR’s red and gold livery.

As I watched the car roll past, it reminded me of that long-ago era when the Great Steel Fleet was king. I could have been seeing the Chicago-Detroit Twilight Limited or the Chicago-Boston New England States blast past. Now that was classy and classic.

Article and Photograph by Craig Sanders

NS Helped 93 Industries Expand or Locate Along its Rail Network in 2015, Creating 6,200 Jobs

February 5, 2016

Norfolk Southern said that during 2015 it helped 93 industries locate or expand along its rail network.

In a news release, NS said that these 61 new and 32 expanded industries represented an investment of $4.2 billion and will lead to the creation of 6,200 new jobs while generating more than 85,000 carloads of new rail traffic annually.

NS logo 2“While the energy sector has been severely impacted by the drop in commodity prices, this sector — including alternative energy production — still accounted for nearly 20 percent of the projects that started operations this year,” said Jason Reiner, assistant vice president industrial development. “However, the largest impact to our communities was the strong showing in manufacturing, accounting for $3.7 billion in new investment and 5,600 new jobs. Renewed growth in the automotive industry was the largest contributor to this success. We expect to see continued growth in manufacturing in 2016 as projects currently in development begin full operation.”

Over the past decade the NS Industrial Development Department has helped 989 facilities locate or expand. That resulted in a $60 billion outlay that created 42,000 new jobs.

NS said it provides assistance with site location and development of infrastructure to connect customers to its rail system. This includes free and confidential plant location services, including industrial park planning, site layout, track design, and supply chain analysis.

Louisville, Southern Indiana Trail Advocates Want to Use K&I Bridge, But NS Just Keeps Saying ‘No’

February 5, 2016

A Louisville, Kentucky, group is making another push to prod Norfolk Southern into opening the K&I Bridge to hikers and bikers.

Greater Louisville, Inc., wants the bridge to serve as a link in a 100-mile loop trail around the Louisville metropolitan area.

The bridge would connect the Kentucky and Indiana shores of the Ohio River as part of a 13-mile trail that is part of that loop.

NS logo 2But despite more a decade of lobbying by public officials on both sides of the river, NS has refused to allow the K&I bridge to be used as part of a trail.

The bridge spans the river between New Albany, Indiana; and the Portland neighborhood of Louisville.

At one time, it was used by the Monon, Baltimore & Ohio, and the Southern. Formally known as the Kentucky and Indiana Terminal Bridge, it opened in 1912 .

Until 1979 the bridge also was used for vehicular traffic. It was used for interurban railway traffic until 1946. The bridge still has a lane used by railroad motor vehicles.

GLI said it will seek to “identify impediments, incentives and other remedies to permit pedestrians back on the K&I bridge, allowing full completion of a pedestrian loop.”

Louisville officials have noted that the Big Four Bridge, which is no longer used for railroad traffic, has been converted to pedestrian use.

The K&I Bridge would connect the Kentuckiana River Trail in Louisville and the Ohio River Greenway in Clark and Floyd counties in Indiana.

But NS doesn’t want to see pedestrians on the K&I Bridge. “Norfolk Southern’s K& I Bridge exists today for a single purpose — to provide safe transport for freight trains over the Ohio River,” NS spokesman David Pidgeon said in a statement. “NS generally does not support recreational trails next to active rail lines because of serious safety concerns, and we remain focused on providing safe, efficient and reliable freight transportation to our customers in Louisville and southern Indiana.”

Pidgeon noted that some trains using the bridge carry hazmat shipments. “We not only have safety concerns about public access along active right-of-way but also serious, prohibitive concerns about security and liability.” he said.

Supporters of using the K&I bridge for pedestrian traffic counter that the laws of Kentucky and Indiana generally protect property owners if someone is injured while using a recreational trail.

After active lobbying of NS failed, some Louisville officials considered using eminent domain to acquire an easement on the portion of the bridge not being used.

Kentucky public officials even battled with NS in 2008 over whether the bridge could be condemned

Assistant Jefferson County Attorney William T. Warner argued in a letter that city law allowed that course of action.

But an NS attorney, Thomas W. Ambler, responded that federal law prohibits any condemnation.

In the meantime, trails continue to open in Louisville and Southern Indiana, including one in 2013 that goes across the Big Four Bridge.

That trail has attracted more than 2 million visitors and 100,000 bicycles.

Two more miles of the Greenway will be built in Indiana this year, including a section in New Albany that will end near the north portral to the K&I Bridge.

Trail advocates say that converting the K&I to pedestrian access would be less costly than was the case with the Big Four Bridge, which required elevated access ramps. The K&I Bridge is at street level.

Converting the K&I Bridge to pedestrian use is “not a priority” for One Southern Indiana, the chamber of commerce for Clark and Floyd counties. Nor is the group including that on its advocacy agenda.

Although Wendy Dant Chesser, the chamber’s president and CEO, would like to see a loop across the river completed, she said NS owns the bridge.

“We have to approach this as any public project that would want access to private property,” she said. “So it has to be done with respect and the interest of the owner in mind.”

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy said that numerous trails exist next to active railroad routes. The number of such trails rose by 260 percent between 2000 and 2013.

Large railroads usually oppose trails next to their right of way, but some smaller railroads have been more receptive to the idea.

One example of a trail sharing a bridge with a railroad is the Harahan Bridge over the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee, where a pedestrian trail will open later this year.

Bridge owner Union Pacific was initially opposed to allowing a trail on the bridge, but agreed after trail architects included a fence that can’t be climbed and which protects cyclists and walkers from any debris from passing trains.

NS also operates rail lines next to trails, including the Schuylkill River Trail between Philadelphia and Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

Robert Folwell, trails project manager for the Schuylkill River Greenway Association, said he’s is unaware of any safety concerns being raised by NS.

Folwell said the trail is about 20 feet from the NS tracks in some places and separated by a chain-link fence.

NS spokesman Pidgeon would not discuss safety issues pertaining to NS lines next to mixed-use trails nor would he comment on research by Rails-to-Trails that identified only one death in recent decades involving a person using a trail adjacent to railroad tracks.

The U.S. Department of Transportation did a study that found one case of a claim involving a rail-with-trail.

“The railroad was held harmless from any liability for the accident through the terms of its indemnification agreement,” the report says.

Pidgeon did say that through last October 11 people had been killed in Indiana, and 10 in Kentucky, while trespassing on railroad property in 2015.

Bill Hughes, a former NS employee who worked with grade crossing and trespassing matters while at the railroad, speculated that the NS opposition to sharing the K&I Bridge with a trail is rooted in its desire to avoid lawsuits involving people who are injured or killed while trespassing.

Hughes is familiar with the K&I Bridge proposal and believes the project could satisfy the railroad’s safety concerns if there is a fence, regular safety patrols and emergency telephones placed on the bridge.

“This is a doable project,” he said. “It was when I worked for them, and it still is.”

Railroading as it Once Was: ‘Yellowbids’ Flying Through Brady Lake on Conrail’s Cleveland Line

February 4, 2016

Yellowbirds

Utility companies used to have their own locomotives painted in their own liveries. These units were assigned to coal trains that operated between the mine and the power generating station.

Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company had a fleet of nine GP38-2 locomotives that were regular visitors in Northeast Ohio and were dubbed “Yellowbirds” by railfans because of their yellow noses.

Four “Yellowbirds” bring CEI empties east at Brady Lake on Conrail’s Cleveland Line on a fine October 1978 day. A short stub of the former Lake Erie & Pittsburgh/New York Central line is to the left of the train carried the eastbound main of the LE&P.

The westbound main crossed over the Cleveland Line on the bridge in the background, rising on a grade that is visible to the left amide trees and brush.

That is Lake Rockwell to the left in the background, which supplies drinking water for Akron.

All nine “Yellowbirds” were eventually acquired by Union Pacific. Also shown are CEIX Nos. 100 and 105.

Photograph by Roger Durfee

N&W 611 Excursion Tickets Selling Fast

February 4, 2016

Tickets for the first excursions behind Norfolk & Western No. 611 went on sale this week and the April 10 trip to Asheville, North Carolina, via the Old Fort Loops sold out the first day.

Tickets for an April 9 trip from Spencer, North Carolina, to Lynchburg, Virginia, were selling briskly.

NC Transportation MuseumThe April 10 trip, known as the Blue Ridge Special, will originate in Spencer. The tickets are being sold by the North Carolina Transportation Museum.

Kristen Trexler, director of special events for the museum, said tickets went on sale to the public at 9 a.m. Tuesday and by 10 a.m. the trip to Asheville had sold out.

Trexler said the museum sold more than 150 coach or deluxe coach tickets during the first 15 minutes of ticket sales
Each trip has a capacity of 750 passengers. The trips are the first of the 2016 excursion season for the 4-8-4 No. 611.

The Virginia Museum of Transportation will sponsor the remaining trips. There has been widespread speculation within the railfan community that these may be the last trips for awhile that 611 will be allowed to pull on NS mainline routes.

Earlier, the news broke that NS had ended its 21st century steam program. Continuing financial woes at NS combined with the railroad’s trying to fight off a hostile takeover bid by Canadian Pacific have fed the perception that mainline steam on NS is on borrowed time.

As the tickets went on sale, No. 611 was at home in Roanoke, Virginia, receiving new bearings for its front truck.

NS Brochure Seeks Support of its Stockholders

February 4, 2016

Norfolk Southern has launched a public relations campaign with its stockholders that is seeking to persuade them to stand by the railroad’s management team.

The campaign comes amid Canadian Pacific’s hostile takeover bid, which the NS board of directors has spurned three times.

NS brochureThat has led to talk about CP launching a proxy fight to wrestle away control of NS from its current management.

NS this week sent to its stockholders a brochure  titled Executing on Our Strategy that highlights the work of the current NS management team and its plans to increase profitability, cut costs and accelerate growth.

Within the pages of the eight-page brochure are profiles of Chairman, CEO and President James Squires along with Chief Operating Officer Mike Wheeler, Chief Marketing Officer Alan Shaw, and Chief Financial Officer Marta Stewart.

The brochure echoes a strategic plan released last month by NS that lays out a plan to maximize operational efficiency, secure profitable business and promote a sound financial performance.

NS has said that the plan will enable it to cut its operating ratio to 65 percent or lower by 2020, In 2015, the NS operating ratio was 72.5 percent. An operating ratio shows the percentage of revenue that is being devoted to expenses.


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