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: August 25. Program by Roger Durfee.

Next Activity: August 26. Day in Vermilion; Picnic at the Amherst Depot.

Getting Acquainted with NKP 755

August 16, 2017

I’ve seen Nickel Plate Road No. 755, a Berkshire steam locomotive, many times during my trips to Conneaut.

I might have photographed it once or twice outside the fence at the railroad museum housed in the former Lake Shore & Michigan Southern (New York Central) depot.

I finally got a closer view of the 755 during a recent visit to the Conneaut museum, during which time I went inside to take a look around and exited into the small exhibit space of rolling stock that includes the 755.

I have seen its sister Berk, the 765 in action many times. I don’t know if NKP 765 has ever passed NKP 755 on the adjacent tracks of the CSX Erie West Subdivision.

I know the NKP 765 was in town a couple years ago while ferrying from out East to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. It made a service stop in Conneaut, but the former Nickel Plate tracks are a few blocks south of the museum.

You can go up into the cab of the 755, but a partition limits how much of you can visit.

There are mannequins sitting in the engineer’s and fireman’s seats dressed in railroad work clothing and appearing to be operating the locomotive.

As you around the 755 you begin to realize how much of a job it is to restore one of these engines from stuffed and mounted to operating.

It seems unlikely that 755 will ever be restored to operating condition although I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has talked about it. There are no shortage of people who think they want to restore a steam locomotive.

Coal Companies Split on View of CSX

August 16, 2017

Not all coal companies are displeased with CSX these days.

Trains magazine reported that Hallador Energy has lauded the carrier, saying it has improved its service.

“We’ve been delighted that in July and now in August, the performance of the CSX has been much more precise and really, really quite good,” Hallador CEO Brent Bilsland said on the company’s recent quarterly earnings call.

Bilsland acknowledged that CSX service was subpar between April and June.

Hollador has mines in in Indiana and Illinois. “And if all of us are going to compete against natural gas, we’ve got to continue to strive to do so,” he said.

Those comments came in the wake of a complaint filed with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board by Murray Energy, which is seeking an order directing CSX to provide adequate service from Murray’s mines in West Virginia and Illinois.

Murray has taken a negative view of CSX’s cost-cutting efforts, saying that they have adversely affected service.

Foresight Coal Sales, which is aligned with Murray Energy, said CSX failed to provide one out of every five coal trains that Foresight requested and scheduled from January through June.

Although Foresight worked with the STB’s Rail Customer and Public Assistance Program, which quietly referees disputes between shippers and railroads, that did not result in service improvements.

Foresight said in a complaint to the STB that during the first week of August, CSX service declined further as it failed to provide eight scheduled trains, “possibly in retaliation for Foresight’s decision to invoke the Board’s Rail Customer and Public Assistance Program.”

Murray and its affiliated companies content that CSX has failed to provide trains and crews as scheduled, did not provide a sufficient number of trains, failed to pull loaded trains on schedule, delayed shipments in transit, and did not adequately communicate with customers.

“At this point, CSXT’s service in moving coal to Foresight’s customers can only be described as abysmal and a complete and total failure,” Foresight wrote.

A CSX spokesman said that the railroad strongly disagrees with Murray Energy’s statements and will respond fully and factually to any STB complaint.

Kentucky Company Recognized by AAR

August 16, 2017

A Kentucky based company has received an award for quality service from the Association of American Railroads.

Road & Rail Services received AAR’s annual automotive quality excellence award. It is the company’s third time earning the award.

The AAR cited the company’s Talladega, Alabama, team for having the highest quality review score for origin facilities between June 2016 and May 2017.

Road & Rail Services is a rail industry company specializing in railcar switching, short line operations, maintenance, railcar repair, logistics, and transloading services.

Bonus Time in Bellevue

August 15, 2017

The 5413 has a pair of mismatched number boards as it leads its train out of Moorman Yard on Norfolk Southern.

Whenever I go to Bellevue I figure that if I get any Wheeling & Lake Erie trains it’s a bonus.

I go to Bellevue to see Norfolk Southern and if the W&LE comes into or leaves town that is value added to my day.

Such was the case during a recent visit in which my W&LE bonus time began in Monroeville when I spotted the railroad’s business car sitting on a siding.

A few more miles down the road revealed a WE train sitting at Yeomans with its locomotives pointed eastward.

I wasn’t there when this train showed up and when I left town about 9 p.m, that night this train was still sitting where I had last seen it.

There would be yet one more W&LE bonus to be had in Bellevue. The job that interchanges with NS in Moorman Yard came out on the Brewster connection with a former Denver & Rio Grande Western SD40T-2 leading.

I doubt that anyone ever tires of seeing the Rio Grande on the Wheeling, particularly when one is leading or if two of them are paired together.

A closer view of the 5413 and its mismatched number boards as it rumbles onto the Brewster connection.

Stripes on the noses of W&LE 4000 and 6997.

A tunnel motor and a corn field.

Near Ohio Route 4 and sitting beside the trail built on the former New York Central right of way.

23 Cars of CSX Train Derail in Kentucky

August 15, 2017

No injuries were reported in a derailment of a CSX train over the weekend in Kentucky.

Twenty-three cars cars derailed on Saturday night in Hardin County on the former Louisville & Nashville route between its namesake cities.

On Monday CSX and R.J. Corman workers were cleaning the wreck site.

The train had three locomotives, 61 loads of mixed freight and 82 empty railcars. Most of the derailed cars were loaded autoracks but one car carrying plastic pellets also left the rails and spilled some of its contents.

CP Launches Detroit-Vancouver Train

August 15, 2017

Canadian Pacific said on Monday that it is launching a new service between Detroit and  Vancouver, British Columbia.

The train is expected to cut the transit time between the two points by as much as 48 hours and operate daily.

In a news release, CP said that it will use a new transload facility in Vancouver and a live-lift operation at Portal, North Dakota.

The latter began earlier this year. CP lifts single containers off trains for inspection by customs authorities rather that having entire intermodal rail cars — which can carry up to 15 containers — delayed.

CP said that process eliminates delays to containers not flagged for inspection, thus helping make it easier and faster for customers to do cross-border business.

The Detroit-Vancouver train will operate via Chicago.

Summerail and Train Watching in Marion

August 14, 2017

Summerail returned to Marion last Saturday and there are indications that it will be back there again in 2018.

Master of ceremonies Ron Flanary announced toward the end of the program that the 2018 event will be held on Aug. 11 at the Palace Theater in Marion, where it was also held in 2016.

Traditionally, Summerail has been held in Cincinnati, but was moved to Marion last year due to construction at Cincinnati Union Terminal.

The move to Marion was expected to be for just two years, but Marion does offer some advantages over Cincinnati, primarily the use of an auditorium with expansive seating.

Past sessions of Summerail have sold out weeks before the event, but the Palace Theater has enough seating to make possible walk-up sales of tickets on the day of the event.

The 22nd edition of Summerail offered 10 multi-media programs with images set to music. Each program was about 45 minutes in duration and featured digital images.

A few programs had introductory commentary and videos embedded amid the usual progression of still images.

None of the programs were presented by Northeast Ohio residents and scenes of railroading from Northeast Ohio were scarce.

I spotted several Akron Railroad Club members in Marion during the day including Peter Bowler, Ron McElrath, Mark Demaline, Jim Mastrommateo, David Mangold, Richard Antibus and Tom Fritsch.

Some of them spent their day watching trains at Marion Union Station rather than viewing the Summerail programs.

The original Norfolk Southern heritage unit led an eastbound NS coal train through Marion in late afternoon, but I missed it because its passage occurred during the last set of afternoon programs.

Some Summerail regulars have a practice of dining at a Skyline Chili restaurant in Cincinnati during the dinner break.

Although Skyline has several franchises outside of southwestern Ohio, there are none in Marion.

Railfan & Railroad magazine arranged a catered Skyline chili dinner at Marion Union Station.

Tickets were $12 with a portion of the proceeds going to the station association.

The dinner was catered by a Skyline franchise in Westerville, a Columbus suburb.

A railfan sits at the operator’s desk in AC Tower as CSX train Q007 passes by.

BNSF motive power leads an eastbound grain train on the Columbus Subdivision of CSX.

Some Summerail attendees spent part of their dinner break watching trains. An eastbound NS manifest freight passes the photo line.

CSX westbound stack train Q007 had a pair of Kansas City Southern “Belles” in the motive power consist.

As westbound Q007 passes AC Tower, NS train 234 waits in the background.

The rear of NS train 234 passes the Erie Lackawanna caboose, which sits at the site of a former Erie Railroad division headquarters building.

 

 

NS 961, a light power move from Columbus to Bellevue, passes AC Tower.

Master of ceremonies Ron Flanary introduces a program.

Dishing out the Skyline Chili.

Railfan & Railroad editor Steve Barry dives into a cheese coney in the waiting room of Marion Union Station.

Coal Traffic is Up, but Reports Project Stable Future

August 14, 2017

Coal traffic has increased this year and two reports examining that trend attribute it to an unexpected demand for exports and an easing of the prices of pollution control equipment.

Both reports see the coal market stabilizing in coming years. However, a report issued by the West Virginia University Bureau of Business & Economic Research still projects that the decline of the coal industry in the state is inevitable.

Railroad industry analyst Tony Hatch also sees positive signs for coal traffic in the intermediate term. Writing in Progressive Railroading, Hatch said, “the intermediate term outlook for U.S. domestic utility coal transportation must be revised upward. Not the five-straight months of double-digit growth, up 19 percent YTD (year to date) through April kind of ‘upward,’ but I had been looking for a flat/stable outlook over the next five-plus years.”

Hatch said much of the increase in coal traffic can be attributed to highly profitable export coal, which he said, “distorts the broader picture similar to the way the U.S. export coal strength at the end of the commodity ‘super cycle’ in 2010-2013 — and its margin-fueled boost to coal revenues in total — disguised the secular drop in U.S. domestic utility coal.”

The demand for export coal rose early this year after Cyclone Debbie disrupted Australia’s coal mines and export facilities in late March and early April.

That in turn prompted China to rely on U.S. coal while Australia’s coal export infrastructure was being rebuilt.

Hatch believes the burst of coal traffic that CSX and Norfolk Southern enjoyed this year is unsustainable and in the scheme of things the increase in export coal is insignificant because 93 percent of U.S. coal goes for domestic energy consumption.

The WVU report noted that the state’s coal production hit rock bottom in 2016 but is expected to increase by 11 percent this year to 89 million short tons.

But the rising tide is expected to crest and begin falling in 2018 when slightly more than 87 million tons are expected to be mined as metallurgical coal exports fall to normal levels and other domestic, coal-fired power plants reduce their intake of thermal coal, the report said.

Beyond 2022, the WVU report predicts that coal production in the state will steadily decline from the mid-80 million-ton range in 2025 to around 78 million tons by 2040.

The report said the wild cards in coal’s future include regulatory unknowns and natural gas pricing.

In recent years the costs of installing utility smokestack scrubbers or systems that remove sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and other components has fallen, which has meant that utility companies can burn lower cost coal mined in northern West Virginia and the Illinois Basin that still meets federal regulations on power plant emissions.

The WVU report indicated that there is underway a shift in the Mountain State of where most coal is being minded.

At present, the northern and southern regions of West Virginia are producing equivalent levels of coal tonnage, but the long-term forecast expects northern coal operations to outperform southern facilities by 2040.

As for how NS and CSX have been faring in all of this, a CSX spokesman told Trains magazine that the railroad’s coal traffic increased 7 percent in the second quarter of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016.

“CSX’s export coal volumes increased in the second quarter as global supply levels and pricing conditions extended strong demand for U.S. coal exports, particularly in the metallurgical portfolio,” said CSX’s Rob Doolittle.

Most of the increased coal that CSX carried came from West Virginia came from central Appalachia, which accounted for approximately 25 percent of the railroad’s domestic coal volumes and nearly 50 percent of its export coal volumes.

CSX expects to handle 30 million tons of export coal this year.

NS saw a 32 percent increase in coal revenue in the second quarter of 2017 when compared with the same period of 2017.

The carrier earned $447 million from coal shipments in the second quarter of 2017, compared to $339 million in 2016. Coal outperformed all other NS commodity revenues with the exception of merchandise freight and intermodal shipments.

Doolittle said that CSX continues to see a decline in domestic volumes. “In the second quarter, domestic utility coal declined as the competitive loss of short-haul interchange traffic more than offset underlying growth at existing facilities,” he said.

Hatch wrote in Railway Age that the 2017 coal boom is already showing signs of abating.

U.S. coal volumes were up 18 percent through June but by early July those volumes were closer to being flat.

He cited a reported issued by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy that found that coal is down 25 percent since 2011 due to a drop in U.S. electricity/energy demands, increased use of shale-gas, and the growth of renewable energy.

The Columbia researchers found that under the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, domestic coal use would still grow from its low 2016 base to 2020 then decline slowly.

A rollback of Obama administration regulations by the Trump administration is expected by the Columbia researchers to provide a boost to the use of coal for domestic energy needs.

Under the Obama administration rules, the use of coal for domestic energy was expected to be 704 million short tons by 2025 compared with about 750 million short tons in 2016.

The actions by the Trump administration are projected to increase domestic energy coal use to 815 million short tons by 2020 and 834 million short tons by 2010.

Those figures would still be well below the 1 billion short tons of coal used in domestic energy production in 2014 and the peak of 1.1 billion short tons used in 2008.

Hatch wrote that changes in environmental policy in regards to coal are, in a vacuum, good for rail at least in the intermediate term.

Roll em Salad Shooter, Roll em

August 13, 2017

Running as L090, the salad shooter approaches Bort Road in North East, Pennsylvania.

The white refrigerated reefers on the end are a hallmark of the salad shooter.

Q090 passes has just passed the Lake Shore Railway Museum in North East, Pennsylvania.

Qo90 is one of those trains that I can go for months without seeing and then I go through a spell where I see it regularly.

I seem to be in the latter mode this summer with the train that some CSX crews have nicknamed the salad shooter, a handle that has stuck in the railfan community.

It is a train of perishable produce that originates in California and the Pacific Northwest on Union Pacific with the two sections joining somewhere on the UP network.

Operating on an expedited schedule, the train is handed off to CSX in Chicago which takes it to a warehouse near Albany, New York.

I have rarely seen the return trip, which operates as Q091. I don’t believe this is a daily train. Almost always when I’ve seen it it has been a Sunday.

I’ve never seen the salad shooter have anything other than UP motive power.

In past years, the train had a fairly uniform consist of white refrigerated boxcars.

Those along with the UP motive power was a tell-tale sign that the train you were seeing was the Q090.

But in recent sightings, the consist has included what appear to be regular boxcars, many of them lettered for Golden West Service.

The cars appear to be marshaled in a series of cuts, which might reflect a series of loading docks and/or shippers.

I’ve never seen the Tropicana Juice train, but in my mind the salad shooter plays a similar role across the northern tier of CSX between Chicago and the Middle Atlantic. Both are a specialized service moving products that need to get there in a hurry in order to stay fresh.

Ky. Town Wants CSX to Halt During Eclipse

August 13, 2017

A Kentucky city has asked CSX not to move any trains through town during the heart of the Great American Eclipse that will occur on Aug. 21.

Although the railroad is considering the request it appears likely that it will be business as usual that day, which means that trains may or may not run through Hopkinsville, Kentucky, during the three hour window during which the moon will be passing in front of the sun over the United States.

The eclipse will begin in Oregon and end in South Carolina, but the point of greatest eclipse will be toward the middle of the nation.

Hopkinsville is located in the region that will receive the greatest eclipse and the city in western Kentucky expects more than 100,000 people to come watch it in a city that is home to 32,000.

That will create traffic and the city’s motivation in asking CSX to halt its trains during the eclipse is to minimize traffic congestion.

The former Louisville & Nashville line through Hopkinsville is part of the CSX Chicago-Southeast route.

Hopkinsville has asked CSX “to potentially delay the train schedule during the 2 minutes and 40 seconds of totality and immediately prior to and after, to ensure a more direct connection with nature for our guests.” That was reference to the fact that locomotives have bright headlights and trains make noise.

In response, CSX spokesman Rob Dooolittle said that because freight trains do not operate on precise schedules it is difficult to predict how many trains might pass through Hopkinsville during the eclipse. “Our plan is to conduct normal train operations,” Doolittle said.

In Hopkinsville, totality will begin at 1:24:41 p.m. Central Daylight Time and end at 1:26:51 p.m.