The Akron Railroad Club has 100 members who meet monthly in Akron, Ohio, to share their passion for railroad operations and history. On our blog you will find information about our meetings, activities, how to join us, and news about railroads and railroad oriented organizations. On 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 special reports about railroad operations and railfan events. 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.
You’re looking at the first photograph that I ever made of Norfolk & Western No. 611.
OK, so technically, it isn’t the first image that I made on this day of the fabled J Class steam locomotive. That would have been an image that I made aboard the train.
But in that image you can hardly tell that the locomotive up front is the 611.
It is Sunday, May 21, 1989, somewhere in Indiana during a round-trip excursion between Chicago and Fort Wayne that was part of the original Norfolk Southern steam program.
It was my first experience with the 611, whether riding behind it, photographing it or just seeing it.
I ran across the negative for this photo last December while looking for images to scan and post online.
As you can tell, the 611 was executing a photo runby. This is, to my knowledge, the first photo runby I ever experienced.
When I ran across this photo last year my initial thought was that it is, well, mediocre.
I don’t like having all of those people cluttering up the image and blocking the view of the train. The running gear is obscured in shadows. The locomotive nose is not sharp and crisp.
Of course, having people in the photo is a byproduct of the event. The shadows resulted from the time of day and location at which the photo runby was held. The lack of sharpness is a result of the camera equipment I had and the film I used.
There was little to nothing I could do about those factors. At least the locomotive nose isn’t obscured by the spectators and there is a glimpse of the countryside just beyond the locomotive nose.
I would later ride behind and photograph the 611 on other excursions, the last of which occurred on July 30, 1994, on a trip from Erie to Rocky River during which the 611 was added to the train in Conneaut.
That would be the last time that I saw the 611 in steam. The next time I saw it was in May 2011 on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
All of my photographs of the 611 in action were made on color negative film so I went through my albums to find a better photograph of the 4-8-4 than the one that I had made in May 1989.
Much to my dismay there weren’t any. I didn’t make all that many photographs of the 611 and it turned out that that May 1989 image probably is my best.
There was much that I didn’t know about photography back then, particularly about how to photograph a steam locomotive in general and the 611 in particular.
It is possible to get good images of a steam locomotive during a photo runby, but it can be a supreme challenge.
There will always be people around and photo runby locations are chosen more on the basis of crowd control and safety considerations than for the aesthetics of the scene.
The time of day chosen for the runby has more to do with operating considerations than it does with maximizing lighting conditions for photographers.
In short, photo runbys during excursions are a series of compromises. You have to rely a lot on the cooperation of others to not mess up your photographs.
The August 2015 issue of Trains magazine has a story about the return of the 611 after its restoration that is illustrated by two of the best images I’ve ever seen of the locomotive in action.
Neither was made during a photo runby. The photographer chose a location to maximize visual impact and lighting conditions. He didn’t have to live with compromises made by others.
There are no bystanders in either image, just a locomotive and its train steaming through the countryside. There is an aura of authenticity and drama to those photographs that tends to be lacking in a staged photo runby shot.
As flawed as my May 1989 image of the 611 may be as a photograph, though, I still see some value in it.
It tells a story of life on the photo line during a photo runby. It is my photo, my story and evidence that I was there. I have many memories of that trip and this photograph helps to bring those back.
And it has the quality of showing me where I was as a photographer at one moment in time.
At this writing, there are no plans to bring the 611 to Ohio in 2015 as part of the Norfolk Southern 21st Century steam program.
Maybe the 611 will never run in Ohio again and I’ll never have the opportunity to photograph it in action.
But if that opportunity comes, I’ll be ready for it. I’ve learned a few things since 1989 about how to photograph steam locomotives and how to make better quality images generally.
Photographing the 611 will still be a challenge, but I’ll be looking forward to it.
Photograph and Commentary by Craig Sanders
Norfolk & Western J Class No. 611 pulled a series of trips this weekend out of Roanoke, Virginia. They were the last scheduled runs for the 4-6-4 locomotive for 2015.
The 611 returned to steam this past May after a nearly year-long restoration at the Spencer Shops of the North Carolina Transportation Museum.
Owned by the Virginia Museum of Transportation, the 611 returned to Roanoke after its rebuilding and pulled a series of excursions in Virginia.
We’re not aware of any Akron Railroad Club members who traveled to Virginia to catch the reincarnated 611 in action, but Adam Barr sends along these images.
The J Class locomotive that once pulled N&W passenger trains on the route between Norfolk, Virginia, and Cincinnati was looking mighty fine indeed.
Photographs by Adam Barr
The heritage locomotive practice has spread to short-line operator Watco, which recently painted two locomotives to help two of its properties celebrate their heritage, including the Ann Arbor Railroad.
Ann Arbor EMD GP38 No. 3879 was given an orange livery with “Ann Arbor Railroad” on the long hood.
The modern Ann Arbor operates between Toledo and Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Some former Ann Arbor tracks are operated by the Great Lakes Central, which painted the 3879 for Watco under contract.
The 3879 was built in October 1969 as Penn Central 7208 and it carried that number onto the Ann Arbor roster.
Also featuring a heritage livery is Wisconsin & Southern GP39-2 No. 3928, which sports its regular red-and-gray paint scheme along with 35thanniversary lettering.
Watco operates 33 short line railroads and its normal locomotive livery is yellow and black with the logo of the particular railroad on the side.
I was sitting in Bellevue in early evening. Aside from some chatter on the radio, all was fairly quiet.
I heard a crew member tell the Sandusky District dispatcher that he was stopped short of County Road 32 and to let him know when it was OK to come down to Shriver. The dispatcher said he would.
I consulted my maps to found out where CR 32 was and headed that way. The train was easy to find.
It was a coal train led by one of the NS SD90MAC locomotives that the railroad purchased earlier this year from Union Pacific.
I’ve seen 90MACs trailing on several trains, but never leading. There was nice late day light bathing the 7238 and the corn in the fields adjacent to the tracks was not so high as to obscure the train.
It was not yet the fourth of July, but that corn was well over knee high.
The images are vintage Sandusky District in the region just south of Bellevue. There is just enough undulation to the terrain to make things interesting and farm fields to provide framing.
It is why the Sandusky is one of my favorite pieces of railroad to photograph.
Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders
A $34.3 million expansion of the Rickenbacker Intermodal Terminal in Columbus is being planned with Norfolk Southern and terminal officials seeking a $17.15 million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
If the grant application is successful, NS would contribute $17.15 million toward the expansion.
NS opened the $69 million intermodal terminal in 2008 and it is now known as Rickenbacker Global Logistics Park.
The planned upgrades to the facility located 12 miles south of downtown Columbus include lengthening existing lift tracks and adding an additional lift crane.
The work would increase lift capacity to 300,000 annually from 210,000, according to the application. Construction could begin this year and be completed in 2018.
Norfolk Southern has begun to install inward-facing cameras in its locomotives.
In a statement, the railroads said it began installing the cameras following recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The company contends that the cameras are designed to enhance safety and security of NS employees, operations and the public.
NS plans to equip 150 road locomotives by the end of 2016. The work is being done at the Shaffers Crossing Locomotive Shops in Roanoke, Virginia, but is expected to expand to other shops next year.
The cameras will record video only. Railroad officials said that data will only be retrieved following a serious incident or as part of an investigation.
The NTSB recommended that railroads install inward-facing cameras following a 2012 head-on collision between two Union Pacific trains in Oklahoma.
The Amtrak website has a new look, the first cosmetic overhaul of the site in more than five years.
The new look will change again next year as Amtrak tweaks the site’s elements.
“The refresh is focused on delivering customers with an easier navigation designed to streamline the booking process,”Amtrak said in a statement. “The new aspirational display was designed to inspire customers to experience the unique elements of train travel and easily explore the more than 500 destination served by Amtrak.”
The website includes providing a cleaner look with less clutter, easier navigation and a new design.
The travel planning map features an interactive map overlaying Amtrak routes and stations on top of a Google Map whereby users can enter any address, city, state, or ZIP code to locate the nearest Amtrak station, then enter a destination point to find the most convenient Amtrak route.
The bottom of the homepage encourages membership in the Amtrak Guest Rewards program and has a link to the Track a Train map.
The new website design also seeks to draw attention to special offers and discounts tailored by region based on the location of a computer or device’s IP address.
For example, users located in the Washington, D.C., area would receive discounts on Acela Express, Northeast Regionals and Auto Train.
The former Routes and Stations tabs are now combined into a new “Destinations” tab, with links to route guides, city guides and vacation packages.
Information about on-board accommodations, meals and baggage policies are under the “Experience” tab.
The “Deals” tab points toward current promotions, regular discounts, multi-ride tickets and rail passes.
Richard Jacobs wanted one last outing in Sterling. It would not be an easy one to arrange.
Cancer was eating away at his body and he could not move on his own. Nonetheless, he arranged for a specially-fitted van to take him to Sterling on a Wednesday for one more outing with the Loopers, as the group that gathers there weekly calls themselves.
He made sure that I knew about his planned outing and I said I would be there.
Given Jake’s condition, it wasn’t a sure thing that he would be able to make it. The date was set for Wednesday, June 10.
As that date approached, Jake wasn’t sure that things were going to go off as planned. He had grand plans. He would show his Colorado program — the same one he had planned to show to the Akron Railroad Club at its June 26 meeting — on the patio at Bradley’s restaurant.
Jake and the Loopers always went to Bradley’s for dinner on Wednesday nights.
On the day of the event I called Jake to make sure that everything was still on. It was, but his arrival time had been moved back.
We sat or stood around for what seemed an awfully long time. Where was Jake? It was getting to be 4 p.m.
Then word came that Jake was over at Bradley’s, but he had gotten sick right after he arrived. It was unclear if he would be coming over to visit the Loopers or going back to the nursing home.
Finally, around 4:30, the word got out that Jake’s grandson Rob, would roll him over from Bradley’s. About 10 minutes later I could see Jake being wheeled through the parking lot for the hike and bike trail that is located on the former Erie Railroad right of way.
Jake came over and the visiting began. I was planning to make a photograph of him with a CSX train passing in the background.
But there was a problem. CSX traffic had been halted for hours due to a maintenance of way window. It was ending, but the workers still had odds and ends to clean up.
I could hear trains nearby talking on the radio, but nothing came through Sterling.
At 6 p.m. the van arrived to take Jake back to the nursing home. There would be no slide show and Jake probably wasn’t physically able to do that anyway.
But, worse, there would be no last train for Jake to photograph and watch. I look one last photo of Jake with the CSX tracks in the background. Jake joked with me that I could use Photoshop to add a train to make it look like one came by. But I didn’t.
The next day Jake called to say that shortly after we both left that the trains began running almost non-stop.
Thirteen days later, Jake died. His funeral was this past Sunday and I stopped in Sterling on my way back home. I wanted to get that train that had eluded Jake and I both during his last outing.
Jake saw and photographed countless trains during his lifetime, starting at the age of 9 and continuing until two months before he died at age 83.
Therein lies an important lesson. Never stop watching or photographing trains if it gives you pleasure in life. Someday the trains may not come anymore for you and there won’t be a tomorrow to see another one.
Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders
The Indiana Department of Transportation announced on Monday that contracts enabling Iowa Pacific Holdings to begin operating the Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State on July 1, have yet to be reached.
Amtrak will continue to operate the quad-weekly train, which runs on days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.
The announcement came after Iowa Pacific completed a test run last weekend on the route with its own equipment.
Iowa Pacific will furnish the locomotives and passengers cars along with providing on-board service. Amtrak engineers and conductors will continue to make up the operating crews.
Once Iowa Pacific takes over, the trains are expected to have Wi-Fi and food and beverage service.
INDOT officials remain optimistic that Iowa Pacific will be taking over the service and note that a number of snags have occurred to prevent that from happening thus far.
It took four safety inspections of the equipment to be used on the trains before inspectors from Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration cleared them to carry passengers.
During a June 5 inspection at Iowa Pacific’s shop in Bensenville, Illinois, FRA and Amtrak inspectors cited equipment problems that had been identified during the first inspection but still hadn’t been fixed.
“We had expected the things that were found wrong in the previous two inspections would be corrected by now . . . which is troubling,” said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said at the time.
Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis said his company took steps to comply with the safety regulations.
“There was a pin in the air brake chain that was the wrong size that has to be changed,” he said. “That has to be the right size.”
Ellis also said that some federal regulations had changed since Iowa Pacific acquired the cars from Amtrak.
“For example, we now have cars that have separate bins for trash and recycling and we had to build those specifically for these cars,” he said. “Two or three steps were involved because we built them the way we thought they met the standards, but (inspectors) requested changes.
“As the regulations have changed, we’ve worked to comply.”
The rail cars did pass an inspection conducted during the second week of June.
INDOT and Amtrak initially signed an agreement for funding the Hoosier State in October 2013 after Congress stopped funding Amtrak routes that are shorter than 750 miles.
The state and communities served by the 196-mile route agreed to pay Amtrak about $3 million annually.
Ellis said he’s ready to go, but Amtrak is not as enthusiastic.
“Our crew was able to operate the equipment for a test run to and from the location in suburban Indianapolis where we’re told Iowa Pacific will service it,” Amtrak’s Magliari said.
“There are many unresolved issues, and we’ve supplied INDOT with a list of the open issues.”
Neither Amtrak nor INDOT officials would be specific about those issues.
“In addition to the contracts, some documentation needs to be done in terms of the inspections that have taken place,” said INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield.
“And then there’s information that we’re working to obtain from the parties.”
That includes INDOT developing contract language that ensures accountability and consequences for compliance with Amtrak and federal safety standards, an issue that raised by the Federal Railroad Administration in March.
No one will estimate how long it will take to resolve these issues, but some local Indiana leaders still expect Iowa Pacific to take over the train.
“Everybody is still trying to reach that end goal,” Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said. “Whether it’s July first or sometime later, I feel we’re still moving forward.”
In Crawfordsville, Mayor Todd Barton has posted a public celebration he’d planned for Wednesday evening at the Amtrak station.
“We checked with INDOT to make sure everything still looked good and July 1 was still a firm date,” he said. “We will reschedule when they have a firm transition date.”
Wingfield mentioned the transition more than once during an interview with a reporter from the Lafayette Journal & Courier.
“A short term agreement with Amtrak may impact the transition schedule,” he said. “There are many threads that run through this.”
However, Wingfield told Trains magazine that “contract discussions with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific are advanced. As with any such negotiations, it is hard to predict a time duration. We are working with the parties to gather the remaining information and complete some steps in sequence before finalizing and signing the long-term service agreements.”