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: March 24: Program by Craig Sanders.

Next Activity: April 1. Dave McKay Day in Berea.

Wabash Heritage Unit Makes Appearance

March 23, 2017

The Wabash H-unit made a pass through Cleveland on Tuesday leading the 21Q. I was lucky enough to be able to get off work in time to catch it. As luck would have it, 21Q was held up near where I had set up to photograph it. Both scenes are in Olmsted Falls, the first one at Milepost 196 (Lewis Road) and then near the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern depot.

Photographs by Roger Durfee

NS Cites 2016 Progress in Meeting Strategic Goals

March 23, 2017

Norfolk Southern released it 2016 annual report this week and claims to be well on its way to achieving goals that it hopes to reach by 2020.

NS CEO James Squires said in a news release that the railroad is in the midst of implementing a five-year strategic plan to streamline operations and drive profitability and growth.

Squires told NS stockholders that the railroad in 2016  met or exceeded its targets to lower operating costs, increase profitability and improve customer service.

In a news release, NS said that during 2016 it:

• Achieved an all-time best operating ratio of 68.9 percent.
• Reduced expenses in all areas of operations to generate $250 million worth of savings, surpassing a targeted $130 million.
• Increased income from railway operations and net income by 7 percent each, driven by an 11 percent decrease in operating costs.
• Disposed of 1,000 miles of secondary rail lines.

Squires said NS also made progress in its efforts to improve locomotive fuel-efficiency, reliability and emissions reduction continued as a cornerstone of the company’s sustainability and business strategy, he said.

NS is seeking to be “more focused than ever on services that will help convert freight from highway to rail,” Squires said.

This means focusing on customer-service initiatives that range from modernizing its e-commerce platforms to developing shared performance indicators for measuring service.

“We are changing the way we do business in order to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations and to drive superior value creation for shareholders,” Squires said.

Class 1 Employment Rose in February

March 23, 2017

Class 1 railroad employment ticked up 0.28 percent in mid-February, but was down 3.48 percent when compared with the February 2016.

The U.S. Surface Transportation  Board said the railroads employed 148,843 in the United States as of mid-February.

Of the six employment categories, three reflected increases compared with January’s employment report.

The number of train and engine employees rose 1.05 percent to 58,650 employees; executives, officials and staff assistants were up 0.24 percent to 9,098; and professional and administrative employees were up 0.08 percent to 13,200.

Categories reflecting decreases were maintenance of way and structures, down 0.31 percent to 34,067 employees; maintenance of equipment and stores, down 0.33 percent to 27,941; and transportation (other than train and engine), down 0.41 percent to 5,887.

Compared with mid-February 2016, all employment categories reflected decreases. The number of executives, officials and staff assistants was down 4.03 percent; professional and administrative, down 5.87 percent; maintenance of way and structures, down 4.91 percent; maintenance of equipment and stores, down 5.8 percent; transportation (other than train and engine), down 7.07 percent; and transportation (train and engine), down 0.41 percent.

Train-Vehicle Collisions Down, but Deaths are Up

March 23, 2017

Operation Lifesaver reported this week that vehicle-train collisions fell by 2.4 percent in 2016, but the number of fatalities increased 13.7 percent when compared with 2015 data.

Also increasing were the number of trespassing deaths on train tracks, which rose 12.8 percent in 2016.

The figures were derived from Federal Railroad Administration data.

During 2016, U.S. crossing collisions fell to 2,025 from 2,075 when compared with 2015.

But crossing-related fatalities were 265 compared with 233 and crossing injuries dropped 22.7 percent to 798 from 1,032.

Trespassing deaths and injuries climbed to 994 in 2016 from 868 in 2015; trespassing deaths rose to 511 from 453; and trespassing injuries grew to 483 from 415.

States with the most 2016 crossing collisions were Texas, California, Illinois, Indiana and Georgia.

States with the most trespasser casualties (deaths and injuries combined) were California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.

“While we are encouraged to see highway-rail crossing collisions and injuries continuing their downward trend, we are very concerned about the increase in crossing deaths, trespass deaths and injuries,” said OLI head Bonnie Murphy.

Two From My Travels With Mike Ondecker

March 22, 2017

I’m thankful to have had former Akron Railroad Club member Mike Ondecker as a good friend.

To honor him, I’d like to post a few photos from our trips and perhaps tell a story or two.

Mike had been buying locomotive slides from well-known southern railfan Tom Lawson.

When Mike and I flew south on my school’s Easter vacation, he called Tom and set up a day where Tom and a friend of his would take us to some of the better railfan “treasures” in the Birmingham, Alabama area.  One of these was Southern Stone in Margerum, Alabama.

On April 9, 1974, we arrived there only to see Southern Stone’s rare Alco HH was partly covered with a tarp. Tom went in and asked permission to remove the tarp. Permission was granted, and Tom, Tom’s friend, and Mike got up on the Alco and removed the tarp.

After our photos were taken, the three of them climbed back onto the Alco and replaced the tarp. As for me, I stayed on the ground because I hate heights, and after all, someone had to get the photo of them removing the tarp.

In the top image, Mike Ondecker is on the top right of the hood.  As for which one was Tom, after all these years I have forgotten. Also I forgot the other railfan’s name.

The bottom image is the roster shot that I made that day.

Article and Photographs by Robert Farkas

 

NS Safety Train to Visit Canton, Columbus

March 22, 2017

The Norfolk Southern safety train will visit 23 cities this year including Canton and Columbus.

The train is part of the railroad’s Operation Awareness & Response program that provides free training to first responders about how to respond to a railroad incident.

The train will begin its 2017 travels on March 21 in Hagerstown, Maryland, and  visit cities in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina.

The schedule includes visits to Cresson, Pennsylvania, on April 7-9; Canton on June 15-17; South Bend, Indiana, on June 27-29; Columbus on July 11-13; and Louisville, Kentucky, on July 25-27.

The safety train is pulled by a GP38-2 in a first responders livery that honors fire, police and emergency personnel.

The consist includes two boxcars converted into 30-seat classrooms; four styles of tank cars: DOT-105, DOT-111, DOT-112, and DOT-117; and two 89-foot flatcars used to transport intermodal containers.

Emergency personnel receive four-hour classroom training sessions as well as hands-on training inside a locomotive and on rail cars.

NS said in a news release that it provided training in 2016 for about 5,600 emergency responders, government officials and others in 18 states.

Ann Arbor Station Development Delayed by FRA

March 22, 2017

The clock is starting to tick louder in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the city is racing against a deadline to spend a federal grant to develop a new Amtrak station.

But the city has yet to get the Federal Railroad Administration to approve a draft environmental assessment, which it needs to get done before preliminary station design can begin.

The draft has been at the FRA since December but the agency has yet to act on it.

The Ann Arbor City Council in January approved a $2.14 million contract with Neumann/Smith Architecture for preliminary design and engineering services.

But the consultants can’t do much until the FRA signs off on the draft.

The draft report identifies a preferred location for the new station and a 30-day public review period is expected to follow the release of the report.

City officials have declined for months to say what site they prefer for the station.

One proposal is to build the station in Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital while other sites are being considered along Depot Street, where the current station is located.

City officials told the city council this week that they are working with several parties to try to prod the FRA to move along its review process due to the looming deadline to spend the grant money.

One of those parties is U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, who represents Ann Arbor.

Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager, said a revised draft was sent to the FRA in early February when the FRA said the review would be completed in 30 days.

But last week, the FRA told the city the review has been delayed and did not indicate for how long although Cooper said, “I would expect their review comments, if any, imminently.”

Cooper said the city will release to the public the environmental assessment identifying the preferred station location once the FRA authorizes its release.

CN to Close Escanaba Iron Ore Docks

March 22, 2017

The Escanaba, Michigan, iron ore docks will close at the end of April, Canadian National has announced.

It will mark the end of 165 years of ore shipping from the Michigan Upper Peninsula port on Lake Michigan.

Shipments from Escanaba had been slowing since Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources closed its Empire Mine 65 miles north of Escanaba in August 2016.

The Lake Carriers Association said that about 3.5 million tons of ore was shipped from Escanaba in 2015, but CN said no iron ore has moved to the docks since October 2016.

CN said it will keep open its Escanaba yard to serve local rail customers.

Escanaba had been the only iron ore port on Lake Michigan that in recent years has moved raw materials to industries in Chicago, Indiana and other points in the Midwest.

Steel Construction Begins on New NS Bridge

March 22, 2017

In a progress report Norfolk Southern said that steel construction has begun on the main arch span of the Portageville Rail Bridge that crosses the Genesee River in Letchworth State Park in Portageville, New York.

Replacement of the 152-year-old iconic structure that has long captivated railroad photographers began in 2015 and thus far has focused on building the foundations and approach piers.

Work also has been done in blasting the gorge walls.

In a news release, the engineering firm Modjeski and Masters described the project as one of the largest to be undertaken by NS.

The bridge is located on the Southern Tier Line of the former Erie Railroad between Buffalo and Binghamton, New York.

NS has said that the 820-foot steel viaduct no longer is adequate for heavy freight traffic.

“The existing railroad bridge has defined the viewshed of the gorge and waterfalls since 1875,” said project manager Kevin Johns. “The erection of the first steel members of the new arch bridge marks the start of what will be the new viewshed for at least the next 100 years.”

Capital Region Track Work to Finish in Summer

March 22, 2017

Amtrak expects to finish a massive rail improvement project in New York’s Capital Region this summer.

The $163 million program is adding a second track between Albany and Schenectady, New York, in order to eliminate a bottleneck on the single-track route used by the Lake Shore Limited, Empire Service trains, the Adirondack, the Ethan Allen Express and the Maple Leaf.

The work also includes upgrading the signal system and improving grade crossings.

An earlier stage of the project involved lengthening two passenger platforms at the Albany-Rensselaer station, primarily for the benefit of passengers boarding and disembarking from the Lake Shore Limited.

Amtrak officials said the work is nearly finished south of the Capital Region and that the second track between Albany and Schenectady should go into service in late spring or early summer.

A NYDOT spokesman said contractors are still placing ballast on the new track, as well as making deck repairs on the Union Street and Erie Boulevard bridges in Schenectady, cleaning and improving culverts, and removing poles, now that the new signal system is underground.

However, officials say that earlier ides to increase the level of service west and north of the region are uncertain at best.

Michael Franchini, who heads the Capital District Transportation Committee, a government planning organization that oversees the disbursement of federal transportation funds, said there are no serious proposals to extend Empire Service trains now terminating at Albany-Rensselaer to Schenectady or Saratoga Springs.

The New York Department of Transportation will say only that it continues to consider increased service.

Saratoga County residents who are now served by the New York-Montreal Adirondack said that they need additional service to provide them more flexibility in their travel plans.

Some now drive an hour to the Albany-Rensselaer station to take advantage of its higher level of service to New York City.

In a related development, NYDOT officials have been asked to replace the locomotives used between Albany-Rensselaer and New York Penn Station.

The dual model locomotives are able to run on diesel fuel or electric current, but use electric power in the Manhattan tunnels that bring trains into Penn Station.

Replacing the fleet with 25 new locomotives would cost an estimated $250 million.

The current locomotives are old and prone to breakdowns that delay trains.