Welcome to Akron Railroads

March 2, 2009

Welcome to Akron Railroads, formerly known as the Akron Railroad Club Blog, a site once connected with the Akron Railroad Club. The ARRC meets every month but December in Akron, Ohio, at the New Horizons Christian Church.

This site is not formally connected with the ARRC but instead serves as an archive of past postings about ARRC meetings and activities as well as railfanning adventures and photographs posted by some members.

Also included in the site are historical overviews of the railroads of Akron and Northeast Ohio as well as some news and information about current railroad operations in that region.

For more up to date information about the ARRC, visit the club’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AkronRailroadClub/

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Waving Goodbye in Elyria

July 22, 2019

The railroad station has long been a focal point of life in American cities and towns, but in many places the Amtrak station is little more than a bus-stop style shelter.

Elyria, Ohio, is one of those places. Its station is new, but offers minimal amenities.

The city and county have been talking for years about having Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited stop at the former New York Central passenger station in Elyria, which is now used by local transit buses.

But that project is expensive and bogged down in red tape and political conflicts. Perhaps some day it will all work out.

In the meantime, the bus shelter station will have to do.

It is shown on June 26, 2019, from aboard the eastbound Lake Shore Limited, which was more than three hours late when it arrived in Elyria.

Two girls see off a friend who is boarding No. 48.

ARRC to Hold July Meeting, Picnic

July 22, 2019

The Akron Railroad Club will hold its next meeting on Friday, July 26 at 8 p.m. at the New Horizons Christian Church at 290 Darrow Road in Akron.

Marty Surdyk will present a slide program that will be divided into two segments.

One segment will be titled I Miss Conrail and feature images made from the late 1980s into the 1990s in various locations on the Conrail network with many of them made in Ohio.

The second segment is titled It Was Memorable and focuses on photograph outings Marty has made over the past three decades, including the first run of a former Pennsylvania Railroad K4 steam locomotive after it was restored to operating condition and an incident in Galion, Ohio, in which two Conrail trains found themselves heading toward each other on the same track.

Marty described the program as “a little bit of everything and not much of anything, but it was memorable.”

It will include railfanning in a variety of weather conditions in numerous locations in the Midwest and Eastern United States. Sometimes it wasn’t the weather that Marty found challenging during those outings.

The ARRC also will be holding its annual summer picnic on Sunday, July 28 at the Kelsey Creek Shelter of Waterworks Park in Cuyahoga Falls.

The park is located next to the New Castle Subdivision of CSX between Bailey Road and Ohio Route 91.

The club will provide hamburgers and hot dogs and a limited number of beverages. Participants are asked to bring a covered dish, side dish and non alcoholic beverages.

The picnic will begin at noon.

Big Boy to be in Chicago This Weekend

July 22, 2019

Railroads seldom get mentioned in news stories these days except when their trains derail or are involved in fatal grade crossing collisions.

So it was noteworthy that The Blade of Toledo published a story recently about the Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 No. 4014, which railfans know as the Big Boy steam locomotive.

The Big Boy isn’t coming to Ohio this year and probably no time soon if ever.

But it will be in Chicago, which the Blade story said will be as close as it gets to the Buckeye State.

The Blade story was written by David Patch, who some of you might know as a railfan who is active in some social media channels including serving as administrator of a Facebook page devoted to the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern.

For those who want to make the drive to Chicago to see the Big Boy, it will be on display on July 27-28 at the Larry S. Provo Training Center in West Chicago, Illinois (335 W. Spencer St.).

It will arrive there on July 26 with a scheduled arrival time of 2:30 p.m., arriving from Butler, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee.

The steamer will be on public display from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Parking is available at a nearby Metra commuter rail station that will be served throughout the weekend. The station is about 10 minutes from the display site.

The Big Boy will leave West Chicago on July 30 en route to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It is scheduled to arrive back at its home base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, on Aug. 8.

UP has said the 4014 will be traveling to California this fall for excursions on Oct. 12 and 13 for the Rail Giants museum in California.

That is the same museum that housed No. 4014 between 1952 and 2013 before it was restored to operating condition in Cheyenne.

The Blade article noted that the 25 Big Boys, so named because they were the largest steam locomotives in the United States, were built in the 1940s in Schenectady, New York, by American Locomotive Works.

That makes it likely that they passed through Northeast Ohio on their way west to be delivered to the UP.

Planned Auto Train Dining Service Changes May be Predictor of the Future of Amtrak’s Long-Distance Trains

July 22, 2019

The recent announcement by Amtrak of changes to on-board service aboard the Auto Train might be a blueprint for the “experiential” long-distance service that Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson has alluded to in public comments.

However, the upgrades that the carrier is making for sleeping car passengers on the Auto Train stand somewhat in stark contrast with what is happening with onboard service on other eastern long-distance trains.

In a news release, Amtrak said that starting in January Auto Train sleeping car passengers will receive complimentary wine with dinner as well as better linens and towels.

The release spoke of new dinner and breakfast menus, but it is not clear if that will involve food freshly prepared onboard or prepared off the train by a catering company.

The Auto Train announcement came about the same time that news broke that Amtrak plans to extend its “contemporary dining” program to its other eastern long-distance trains.

That program began aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited in June 2018 and involves serving sleeping car passengers box meals in their rooms or in the dining car.

When “contemporary dining” began, Amtrak sought to sell it as an improvement in the sense that passengers received a complimentary alcoholic beverage with their meals, would be able to eat when they wanted, and would have exclusive use of the dining car throughout their trip.

Initially, all of the sleeper class food aboard the Capitol and Lake Shore was served cold, but after a couple months one hot offering was added at dinner and breakfast.

The Auto Train announcement also referenced expanding sleeping car capacity during peak travel periods, but no such move was made for the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited.

Nor did Amtrak upgrade the linens and towels available for use by sleeping car passengers on those trains. Aside: those improved linens and towels may not be all that much. Amtrak is not about to become a high-end hotel.

Coach passengers aboard the Auto Train will be losing their complimentary dinner. Instead, Amtrak said it will expand the café car menu of meals, snacks and beverages. It also said it will have food truck vendors at the stations in Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida, that coach passengers can patronize.

That sounds like a 21st century version of the 19th century practice of passenger trains making meal stops at designated points.

Auto train coach passengers will receive a complimentary continental breakfast. That is more than coach passengers get on any other long-distance train.

Commenting on the Auto Train changes, the Rail Passengers Association noted that these changes are in line with the desire of Amtrak management to more clearly delineate travel classes. It also might be a scheme to delineate types of trains.

The Auto Train is unique among long-distance trains in not having intermediate stations. The clientele of the Auto Train is different in many ways from that of other long-distance trains and the more well-heeled among them might be the target audience Amtrak is seeking with the experiential trains.

I’ve long thought that Anderson might have in mind duplicating the Rocky Mountaineer or even VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian, both of which attract a lot of affluent tour group travelers with disposable income to spend on experiences.

The Washington-Florida travel market has long been a strong one and is the only Amtrak long-distance market to have double daily service between endpoints even if those trains take different routes within North Carolina and South Carolina.

The implementation of “contemporary dining” on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited last year also represented a delineation between sleeper class and coach class in the sense that the latter are now limited to café car fare or bringing their own food with them aboard the train. But no food trucks.

In an analysis posted on its website last week, the RPA said Amtrak has hinted that the contemporary dining to be imposed on the Crescent and Silver Meteor, the only remaining eastern long-distance trains with full-service dining cars, will be different from that now available on the Capitol and Lake Shore. But RPA said it is not clear how or why it will be different.

“Meanwhile, problems with availability, choice and dietary restrictions have soured the perceptions of many repeat riders,” RPA wrote.

The rail passenger advocacy group acknowledged that Amtrak is trying to balance modern tastes and sensibilities within a long-distance ridership audience that includes large percentages of patrons who do not share those tastes and sensibilities.

RPA pointed out that one of its members wrote to say about “contemporary dining,” that “The food honestly is both better, tastier and more in line with how I eat when I am dieting like now and how my kids eat. Plus I like the dedicated lounge space in between meals.”

The latter comment reflects a facet of train travel that doesn’t get much attention.

If you are going to shell out the big bucks Amtrak demands for sleeper class, you want more than your own room and bed at night.

Amtrak argues that its surveys have found many passengers want less heavy meals and want to be able to eat when they choose rather that during fixed mealtimes.

Many passengers also don’t care for the community seating that has long been associated with eating in a railroad dining car. These passengers would rather not dine in the company of strangers.

Of course, RPA said, some passengers have found the food of “contemporary dining” to be terrible and even those who like the food have been put off by how it is presented.

That probably is an allusion to it coming in cardboard boxes and plastic containers, something that is being done because it is less costly and easier to manage.

In its analysis, the RPA said there are too few choices available with current “contemporary dining” fare, particularly with hot meal options.

“Members also tell us that kosher options are a problem, as are options for those with food allergies or sensitivities like gluten intolerance,” RPA wrote, “We’ve also heard from many of our members about entrees running out very early in the dining service.”

At the time that “contemporary dining” was launched, Amtrak said it would eventually allow coach passengers to purchase the meals made available to sleeper class passengers, but thus far that has not occurred.

Amtrak has said it is seeking to satisfy a Congressional mandate to cut its food and beverage deficit so the changes being made to the Auto Train and other eastern long-distance trains are being imposed with that in mind.

That means reducing the number of onboard employees involved in food and beverage service as well as trying to cut the cost of food and beverage acquisition.

The food trucks for coach passengers concept fits well into this framework because it shifts the risk onto an entrepreneur who probably is paying Amtrak a fee for the privilege of selling food trackside.

I wonder, by the way, what will happen when Amtrak begins getting complaints about food odors lingering in the air long after the food has been consumed.

Much of how Amtrak is framing these changes is akin to Michael Jackson’s fabled moonwalk in which he moves backwards while giving the illusion of moving forward.

Many railfans dislike “contemporary dining” but they are not necessarily representative of those who buy sleeper class tickets.

The sleeping customers are not necessarily looking for gourmet dining on wheels or trying to recreate the experience of traveling on the Broadway Limited, Super Chief, Twentieth Century Limited or the Capitol Limited during their heyday before Amtrak came along.

They want a good meal and friendly service that makes them feel that the hefty accommodation charge they paid was worth it.

Serving sleeper class passengers a complimentary alcoholic beverage and giving them exclusive use of a dining car turned lounge is fine, but can be negated by offering meals that too much resemble a school field trip box lunch.

RPA is correct in saying presentation is a problem here, but to get restaurant style presentation is labor intensive and reducing labor costs is one of Amtrak’s objectives.

Whatever shortcomings that “contemporary dining” may have, it could be worse.

Amtrak could borrow Southern Pacific’s playbook of providing food and beverage service from vending machines. Maybe it’s just a matter of time.

Far From ‘Wild Mary’ Territory

July 21, 2019

The Western Maryland was an 800-mile regional railroad that operated largely in its namesake state with lines extending into Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Toward the end of its life in 1969, the WM painted its locomotives in an eye-catching red and white look known as the “circus” livery.

Prior to that it sported a more subdued look of black with gold stripes with the railroad name in speed lettering.

The “Wild Mary” as some called it, was acquired by the Chessie System in 1973 but continued to operate independently until May 1975.

Absorption into the Chessie meant that WM motive power was sent throughout the Chessie network.

As was the Chessie practice, some units continued to have WM reporting marks even after being repainted into Chessie colors.

The images above show WM locomotives in various iterations of how it appeared during the Chessie era.

The top image was made of a westbound train near downtown Akron in October 1976.

The bottom image was made in Clinton (Warwick) on April 13, 1986.

Photographs by Robert Farkas

 

PUCO Approves 6 Grade Crossing Projects

July 21, 2019

Six railroad grade crossing projects have been approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Norfolk Southern will install lights and gates and expand the crossing surface at the Jefferson Street/State Route 103 grade crossing in Bluffton.

NS also will install flashing lights, bells, sidelights and curbing at the Penn Street/Township Road 1383 crossing in Wells Township. Both projects are to be completed by July 17, 2020.

PUCO also directed NS to install lights and gates at the Fourteenth Street and Spring Lane crossings in Portsmouth. That work must be completed by Jan. 17, 2021.

The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway will install cantilevered lights and gates at the Kibler Street/State Route 602 crossing in New Washington. That project is to be completed by April 17, 2020.

CSX will install lights, gates, sidelights and cantilevers at the Front Street crossing in Hamilton in a project that also must be finished by April 2020.

Federal funding is being used in six grade crossing project.

Brewing a Special Beer for Ky. Steam Restoration

July 21, 2019

Two Lexington, Kentucky, breweries are teaming up to brew a special beer to raise money to be used for restoration of a Chesapeake & Ohio steam locomotive.

Back on Track Steam Beer is being brewed by Ethereal Brewing and Mirror Twin Brewing to raise money to help with the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation, which will be the new home of C&O No. 2716.

The locomotive is now at the Kentucky Railway Museum near at New Haven and will move next week to the Kentucky Steam Heritage Center in Irvine.

The tribute beer will be released on July 27, the second day of the move the 2716’s three-day move. That move will pass through Lexington.

CSX Lauded for Disability Inclusion

July 21, 2019

CSX said it has been honored as a Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion by Disability:IN and the American Association of People with Disabilities.

In a news release, the carrier said it scored 100 percent on the 2019 Disability Equality Index, an annual benchmark of disability inclusion efforts in culture, leadership, enterprise-wide access, employment practices and community engagement.

The index  was developed by Disability:IN and the AAPD and enables companies to self-report their disability policies and practices and to be scored objectively by an independent panel.

“CSX has participated in the DEI survey in the past and we have been recognized on the Best Places’ list, but this is the first time we have achieved the 100 percent milestone,” said Stephanie Noel, CSX’s vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer, in a statement.

Rail Analyst Reviews G&W Acquisition

July 21, 2019

The proposed acquisition of the short-line railroad empire of Genesee & Wyoming by an investment firm is another deal in what has been a string of them since 2017, an independent rail analyst said in a interview with Progressive Railroading.

Anthony Hatch said that the $8.4 billion sale of G&W to Toronto-based Brookfield Investment Partners and Singapore-based GIC shows that North American rail assets remain in high demand.

Hatch said the G&W deal was one of three major deals announced this year that also included the sale of Pioneer Rail and RailUSA’s acquisition of 430 miles of CSX track in the Florida Panhandle.

The G&W sale is expected to close by late this year or in early 2020 depending on shareholder approval and regulatory clearance.

In the interview, Hatch said G&W might be able to continue acquiring other properties now that it will have the deep pockets to help pay for them.

He said it remains to be seen if the new owners “fully supports the G&W business plan” as they said they did in a news release announcing the sale but some sources say that isn’t entirely accurate, citing issues of operational efficiency and growth potential.

Likewise it remains to be seen for how long Brookfield will be a long-term or 10-year investor in G&W.

The transaction is unlikely to mean anything for North America’s Class 1 railroads, Hatch said, provided that G&W stays the same or improves.

G&W officials have said it will be “business as usual” but Hatch said that will hinge on whether the current management stays and develops succession plans, or takes payout and leaves.

NEORHS Picnic Postponed

July 20, 2019

The Northeastern Ohio Railway Historical Society picnic that had been scheduled to be held today in Hartville has been postponed due to the expected weather conditions of high heat indexes.

No date has been set for the picnic to be held.

However, NEORHS will hold a meeting tonight between 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at the Randolph Town Hall, which is air conditioned.

Participants are encouraged to bring summer railroad images to show. Digital and slide projectors will be provided.