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: July 28: Program by Ron McElrath.

Next Activity: July 30. Picnic at Warwick Park.

Oddball Sightings on NS in Cleveland on Friday

July 22, 2017

On Friday afternoon Norfolk Southern train 17N came through Cleveland.

What made it special was an ex-Conrail E33 electric engine, No. 4601. Originally built for the Virginian Railway, it was on its way to the Illinois Railroad museum.

I also got the L13, which runs between Bellevue and Rockport and return. The past few weeks it has had a pair of former Burlington Northern SD60M engines.

These are somewhat oddballs on the NS diesel roster the past few years. Along with new locomotive purchases NS also has bought several hundred used locomotives.

Called tryclops by railfans because they have an unusual third window and also nose headlights where the NS standard is above the cab, another bonus is they are consecutively not numbered 6807 and 6808.

The 17N was at Sheldon Rd and the L13 was across from Hopkins airport.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

NOACA OKs $15.8B Transportation Plan for Greater Cleveland

July 22, 2017

The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency has approved a $15.8 billion, 20-year transportation plan for Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina counties that has been named AIM Forward 2040.

More than 90 percent of the funds identified in the plan will be used to maintain existing infrastructure and support new transit and livability projects.

“We heard over and over again that adding more lanes and widening roads was not necessarily a priority,” said NOACA Executive Director Grace Gallucci. “What we did hear was a strong desire for more options for getting around and fixing what we already have.

NOACA plans to invest $45 million to renew rail infrastructure of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s Red Line from Tower City to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

The line sees nearly 30,000 weekday riders and in recent years deteriorated tracks and poor drainage have slowed trains.

Also on the docket is spending nearly $68 million for replacing 260 transit buses in Cuyahoga and Lake counties.

This does not yet include the replacement of RTA’s rail fleet, some of which dates back to the middle 1970s. RTA wants to replace its two models of light and heavy rail cars with a single type of equipment during the next four-year cycle of urban formula grants.

The price of replacing the rail car fleet with nearly 70 light-rail cars may be as much as $300 million.

Also in the works is planning of transit-oriented development around RTA rail stations. This will include a pilot program focused at the West Boulevard/Cudell station on the Red Line and the East 116th Street station on the Blue and Green Lines.

Additional transit-supportive land-use planning is occurring near RTA’s two East 79th Street rail stations that are in need of major rehabilitation.

Some development has been built, is under construction or is planned within walking distance of dozens of rail and bus rapid transit stations.

In the longer term future, NOACA wants to expand the number of rail stations from 50 to 162, and expand rail service to improve job access in places such as Euclid, Lorain, Westlake, Lakewood, Solon, Strongsville and Medina, as well as promote walkable communities around rail stations.

NOACA officials say that under existing flexible transportation funding provisions, the financial resources already exist to expand the existing transit system.

The Ohio Department of Transportation has awarded to NOACA $200,000 to begin planning a multi-county transit system as an overlay to connect and enhance existing county-based transit networks to improve access to job hubs.

Only 10 percent of available jobs are within a 60-minute one-way transit ride in Greater Cleveland.

Amtrak to Skip Buffalo Exchange Street on July 23-24

July 22, 2017

Amtrak’s New York-Toronto Maple Leaf and New York-Niagara Falls Empire Service trains will not stop at Buffalo Exchange Street Station on July 23 and 24 due to track work being performed by CSX.

Alternative transportation will be provided between the Exchange Street station and Buffalo-Depew station.

Affected are Trains 63, 64, 281, 283, 284 and 288 on July 23, and trains Trains 63, 64, 280, 281, 283 and 284 on July 24.

SORTA Delays Tax Hike Proposal to 2018

July 22, 2017

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority has delayed until next year a ballot measure proposing a sales tax that would help fund an expansion of public transportation in Greater Cincinnati.

The delay was has been attributed to the desire of Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley to enhance his re-election prospects this year.

All Board Ohio said Cranley is facing a tough opponent and asked his appointees to the SORTA board of directors to delay the tax increase question in the belief that not having it on the ballot in November will result in a smaller voter turnout at the polls.

AAO, a rail passenger advocacy group that also supports public transportation of various forms, said that the upside to the delay is that SORTA will have more time to mount a better levy campaign.

Cincinnati Metro, which is overseen by SORTA, is facing a funding gap of more than $20 million over the next five years.

Cranley has said his city could cover the 2018 shortfall. About half of Metro bus operations are funded by a 0.3 percent city of Cincinnati’s earnings tax.

Fares account for the next largest source of revenue for Metro.

A consulting firm has reviewed three funding for SORTA’s board to submit to voters:

  • A half-cent increase that wouldn’t raise enough money to close the funding gap but would raise enough money to increase service.
  • A three-quarter cent increase that would close the budget gap and increase levels of service by 22 percent.
  • A 1-cent increase that would close the budget gap and increase service by 55 percent.

Metro has said that under its current funding it can’t offer transit service to reach the growing number of jobs that are outside the city of Cincinnati.

One in five adults in Cincinnati doesn’t have a car and many others share cars with other adults.

Just  4 percent of the Cincinnati region’s jobs are accessible within an hour’s transit commute.

Changing Faces at Cotter Merchandise Storage

July 21, 2017

Cotter Merchandise Storage was using LTEX 1231 (Ex-Canadian National GMD SW1200RS) at its facility in Akron on July 18. Its 95 ton GE No. 9 (Ex-PPG in Barberton) was nowhere to be seen. In the top image, CMS 9 was working on June 28, 2017. In the next image LTEX 1231 was working there on July 18, 2017.

Photographs by Robert Farkas

 

Steamtown Sets Summer, Fall Excursions

July 21, 2017

Steamtown National Historic Site has announced its slate of summer and autumn excursions, the first of which will run on July 22.

Among the destinations are the Pennsylvania cities of Moscow, Tobyhanna, Gouldsboro, Cresco, East Stroudsburg, and Delaware Water Gap Township.

The calendar also included Railfest 2017 on Sept. 2 and 3 with train rides to Moscow on both days.

All excursions include light snacks and refreshments and some excursions will feature local music and entertainment options.

The park will continue to offer shorter Scranton Limited  train rides that operate daily except Sunday.

Those depart four times a day from the museum’s main area for a trip through the rail yards of the former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad in Scranton.

Shorter excursions are typically pulled by Baldwin Locomotive Works 0-6-0 No. 26, while longer excursions are assigned Delaware, Lackawanna & Western cab units.

The entrance fee to Steamtown is $7 for adults. Children ages 15 and under when accompanied by an adult receive free admission.

Hunter Says Adapt or Be Gone

July 21, 2017

During his appearance earlier this week on an investor’s conference call, CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison spoke about the challenges of changing the railroad’s corporate culture.

And he also had a message for the rank and file who were or were not listening in.

“We can’t carry dead weight. Everybody’s got to do their job, everybody’s got to do their part,” Harrison said.

And for those who are unable to adapt to the change in direction that Harrison has brought to CSX, he had simple message.

Adapt or else the company will get rid of you. As it is, CSX has already been reducing its workforce although not always to get rid of a few bad apples.

The railroad had 25,495 employees at the end of June, a decline of 2,200 when compared to June 2016.

Harrison expects 800 more positions to be trimmed before the end of 2017.
Harrison said changing the CSX culture has been more of a challenge than changing the operational plan.

He said that employees need to adapt to a new way of doing things. However, he acknowledged that some workers may be confused after being subjected to the several different strategies and operating philosophies that CSX has used over the years.

There have also been changes in management, too. Harrison said during that call that CSX has hired two “rock stars” in operations and 15 “top-notch” people from railroads he would not name.

However, media reports have indicated that the newly-hired managers worked with Harrison at Canadian National and will replace mid-level operating CSX officials who have been fired.

He indicated that the new hires understand his philosophy of precision scheduled railroading.

Harrison will conduct what are termed “Hunter Camps” during which he will explain the principles of precision scheduled railroading.

The first of these will be held in late July for a group of operating officials.

“A railroad this size has got a lot of smart people who want to be successful, who want to do well,” Harrison said. “It’s our job to find them.”

The Monroeville Flyer Doesn’t Run on Saturdays

July 20, 2017

This was the first time I’ve seen the Wheeling & Lake Erie’s “business train. “

I was driving to Bellevue on a Saturday afternoon where I was to present a program at the Mad River & NKP Railroad Museum.

As I was passing through Monroeville on U.S. 20, I looked to my left as I passed the grain elevator to the south of the road.

The Sandusky-Willard branch of the Baltimore & Ohio once crossed here.

When passing by I often think about how the Akron Railroad Club in the 1960s sponsored B&O Rail Diesel Car excursions over this line to the Cedar Point amusement park.  Those trips originated at Akron Union Depot.

The line was abandoned in the 1980s but a short stretch remains in place for the Wheeling & Lake Erie to serve the grain elevator next to Route 20.

There always seems to be a small switch engine parked next to the elevator and, sometimes, some covered hopper cars.

The switcher was there as usual, but beyond it was something else and it wasn’t covered hopper cars.

It was W&LE GP35 No. 102 and a passenger car. For reasons not known to me, the Wheeling had parked its “business train” in Monroeville for the weekend.

No. 102 carries an Operation Lifesaver logo so perhaps the car was there for an OLS event. Or maybe it was going to be used for a shipper’s special.

This passenger car has a long and varied history. It was built by Pullman Standard in 1954 as a parlor-buffet lounge car for the Northern Pacific.

Burlington Northern sold it to Amtrak in 1971  and in 1982 it was acquired by the Grand Trunk Western which converted it into a track inspection car with roster number 15013. GTW was controlled by Canadian National, which later sold the car to Robert Bixler of Orrville, Ohio.

Bixler named the car, which was painted blue, the Buckeye Lady. Bixler was one of the principles of the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society and the Buckeye Lady often was part of the consist of ORHS excursions.

After Bixler’s death at age 80 on April 24, 2007, the car was acquired a year later by the W&LE.  It was painted in its current livery in 2010.

I am not sure why this car was in Monroeville on this day but perhaps it was was going to be used for an Operation Lifesaver program or a shipper’s special. It is the first time I’ve seen this car since it was repainted in W&LE colors.

I turned onto a side street, parked my car and made this series of images. It has probably been a long time since the wheels of a passenger car polished the rails of that former B&O branch.

Throttle Time Being Offered on NKP 765 for $999

July 20, 2017

Want to put your hands on the throttle of Nickel Plate Road No. 765 when it comes to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in September?

A $999 fee will put you in the engineer’s seat for 30 minutes and a 6-mile roundtrip between Fitzwater Yard and Brecksville.

The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, which owns the Berkshire locomotive, will be offering opportunities to run NKP 765 on Sept. 18 and 25.

Participants will observe how the locomotive is operated and receive a half-hour of instruction before being allowed to run the locomotive at speeds up to 15 mph.

As part of the experience, the guest engineers and firemen will have their 30 minutes in the cab recorded on a professionally captured and edited video.

Participants must be 18, have a valid driver’s license and be in good health.

For a fee of $299, you can spend a half hour firing the NKP 765. Other packages include GoPro add-on throttle time for $99 and the complete fireman and engineer experience for $1,399.

The latter includes 30 minutes of being the fireman, 30 minutes of being the engineer, two open window tickets to ride a CVSR steam excursion and a tour of the Age of Steam Roundhouse in Sugarcreek.

“This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for anyone that participates,” said Bill Otter, president of FWRHS. “There is rarely an experience at this duration or speed with an engine like the 765 in this country. Events like these are a great opportunity to realize a life-long dream, but they are also crucial to keeping the 765 operating for future generations.”

CSX Extolls Benefits of Precision Scheduled Railroading Even as the Benefits of it Have Not Helped All Shippers

July 20, 2017

Even as CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison was extolling the virtues of his precision scheduled railroading model in an earnings call with investors and analysts, the railroad’s management was acknowledging that it was having some service issues.

Harrison said there would be some inevitable pain and suffering before operations are running smoothly.

“I thought we had a hell of a quarter,” Harrison said in the wake of the railroad’s announcement earlier this week that during the second quarter of this year profits rose, the operating ratio improved, and traffic and revenue were on the rise.

CSX Chief Marketing Officer Fredrik Eliasson said that such important service metrics as terminal dwell time, average train speed, and on-time performance were better during the second quarter.

Eliasson conceded that service improvements have not been felt everywhere on the railroad. “There are certain places where we are not there yet,” he said while declining to provide customer satisfaction metrics.

A report published on the Trains magazine website said that not all shippers have felt those benefits.

“A large number of our members have said they are experiencing serious problems with their service from CSX,” Scott Jensen, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, told the magazine. “Some have even reported that it has caused their customers to temporarily shut down operations.”

Trains reported that the scope of the service problems appear to be growing and quoted an unnamed chemical shipper as saying that transit times have increased by 48 hours in several key lanes.

Jay Roman, president of Escalation Consultants, a Maryland-based firm that helps merchandise and bulk shippers negotiate contracts with railroads, told Trains that what the CSX metrics show is not what he has been hearing from shippers.

“There seems to be a disconnect between the data and what shippers are running into,” he said, noting that some shippers have experienced a reduction in local service and report having problems with car supply.

A survey of rail shippers conducted by Cowen & Company this month found that 24 percent of them ranked CSX service as “poor.”

Nonetheless, another unidentified shipper told Trains that there has been significant transit time improvement  and that his company’s car cycle times dropped by eight days over the span of a month.

“We are asking our customers to hang with us,” Ellison said. He said that he talks with shippers every day to assure them that conditions will improve.

CSX managers contend that no shippers have taken their business to Norfolk Southern or put it on the highway due to service issues.

“This service disruption has been way overplayed,” Harrison said. He said approximately 500 customers account for 90 percent of CSX’s traffic and two could make a case that they have experienced a “major disruption.”

In one of those cases, Harrison said service slid back to previous levels, which he attributed to a labor slowdown that he described as “pushback by some of the troops.”

CSX has stored nearly 900 locomotives and expects to put another 100 units in mothballs. The active car fleet has been reduced by 60,000 as CSX seeks to move the same level of tonnage on fewer trains.

Train length has averaged 6,500 feet and most trains now operate daily rather than five or six days a week as had been the case before Harrison arrived.

Chief Financial Officer Frank Lonegro said train length will continue to grow as CSX continues to move unit train traffic into its merchandise train network.

During the second quarter, terminal dwell time improved 2 percent to 24.4 hours, although dwell time is up significantly at some terminals since CSX ceased humping operations at seven yards.

CSX management is studying why dwell time has increased to 40 or 50 hours at some yards.

Train velocity improved 3 percent, to 21.7 mph and and fuel efficiency improved 5 percent as the railroad stored older, less-efficient locomotives.

In response to a question, Harrison said CSX will shift from a cost-cutting mode to a growth strategy if it continues to control its costs.

“A lot of this will happen in the post-Harrison era. If we do our job today in laying the foundation, there will be a lot of opportunity for growth,” he said.

Harrison described what CSX is doing as balancing cost and service. The railroad will need to bring in more revenue and not just cut costs.

The CSX head also said that just because the railroad is closing hump operations doesn’t mean it plans to sell the land they use.

“We’re not having a garage sale here,” Harrison said. If traffic continue to grow, that yard capacity may be needed again.

As for the short-term future, CSX management expressed a favorable third-quarter outlook for two-thirds of its traffic, including export coal, intermodal, agriculture and food, metals and equipment, and minerals.

CSX managers have a neutral outlook for fertilizers and forest products, which account for 8 percent of the railroad’s traffic.

The outlook is seen as unfavorable for 26 percent of traffic, including automotive, chemicals, and domestic coal.

CSX plans to discuss its long-term strategy and outlook during an investor conference scheduled for Oct. 29 and 30 in Palm Beach, Florida.