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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CSX Tribute Unit(s) to Visit Lake Shore Museum

September 23, 2019

At least one of the CSX tribute locomotives is expected to be at the Lake Shore Railway Museum in North East, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 12 and 13.

The museum said on its Facebook page that it hopes to have all three of the CSX Pride in Service units that weekend but there is no guarantee that will be on hand.

Local fire departments and police departments will be bringing their equipment to the museum during the weekend and a night photo shoot is being planned.

Details on the latter will be announced later, the museum said. The night photo shoot will also focus on the museum’s GE-built Little Joe electric locomotive.

The museum will not be offering on-site parking during event. Visitors will need to park on nearby streets.

Analyzing the Challenges of Intermodal Traffic

September 23, 2019

The weekly rail freight traffic reports sent out by the Association of American Railroads have been painting a picture of declining traffic, including intermodal traffic.

But a look behind those numbers shows that the decline is not necessarily what it might seem to be.

Speaking at a conference last week in California, industry insiders said a number of factors have contributed to declining number for intermodal traffic, including the trade war between the United States and China, increased truck capacity, and the use of the precision scheduled railroading operating model by most Class I railroads.

It also hasn’t helped that the AAR figures compare traffic in a given month against the same month in the previous year.

For intermodal, that might not be a fair comparison because intermodal traffic was unusually high in 2018 as merchants sought to have goods shipper early to avoid planned tariffs and the trucking industry was roiled by historically tight capacity constraints.

In 2019, trucking companies have increased their capacity and taken back some of the business that last year moved on rails.

Intermodal analyst Larry Gross told the conference that through August international intermodal traffic is up 0.3 percent while domestic intermodal is down 6.3 percent.

But Gross said if you compare 2019 to 2017 when intermodal traffic was more normal, international volume is up 6.8 percent and domestic intermodal volume is up 1.1 percent.

Citing the anomalies of last year, Lars Jensen, CEO of SeaIntelligence Consulting, said expects international intermodal traffic to show a year-over-year decline when comparing 2019 and 2018 because traffic will start slowing this fall as the surge to beat the tariff deadlines plays out.

Jensen said this should not be interpreted as a decline in demand.
Panelists speaking at the conference did say that railroads face substantial challenges in competing for domestic intermodal traffic as some of that business moves to the highways.

“Intermodal is having a competitiveness problem,” Gross said.

Gross, who has been tracking what the diversion of intermodal from to highways since 2000, said the diversion of business from rail to highway is now in its fourth consecutive quarter, the  the longest losing streak since he began tracking market share.

He doesn’t believe the diversion of intermodal from rail to highways is related to service issues because the average intermodal train speed today is higher than the five-year average.

The diversion has occurred, Gross said, because of railroad price increases and interline service reductions imposed after railroads adopted the PSR operating model.

Railroads practicing PSR are focusing instead on point-to-point service with less complexity and work en route.

As an example of that, Gross pointed to the ending of interchanging of intermodal cars in Chicago in favor of higher-density intermodal lanes.

He said the cost and complexity of cross-town rubber-tire moves between intermodal terminals in Chicago has pushed volume to the highway for its entire journey.

This runs is in opposition to the industry trend of shipments that move to more dispersed locations.

Gross said that during the first half of 2018, the intermodal revenue per unit of Class 1 railroads grew at a pace that would equal a 9 percent annual rate increase at a time when the trucking industry has excess capacity and truck rates are declining.

“Intermodal, in its simplification mode right now, is swimming against the tide,” Gross said.

Stifel analyst David Ross said at the conference that rail intermodal does not fit well into fast-growing ecommerce supply chains that emphasize delivery speed.

“If speed is of the essence, supply chains will favor truck over intermodal, and pay that 10 percent to 15 percent premium, just to get the service,” Ross said.
Not surprisingly, railroad industry executives argue that they are working to increase the speed by which intermodal traffic moves and that will net new business.

Maryclare Kenney, vice president of intermodal and automotive at CSX Transportation, said that carrier’s PSR-related changed have dramatically improved service, which she said will result in volume gains.

Tom Williams, group vice president of consumer products at BNSF, also said that intermodal is the best way to maintain a flow of goods to electronic retailers’ distribution centers and represents a growth opportunity for railroads.

Williams said intermodal pricing typically lags movements in truck pricing because what moves on the railroad is handled under contracts.

Steam is Back in the Cuyahoga Valley

September 22, 2019

Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 operated a full day of excursions on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad on Saturday with three trips out of Rockside Road station in Independence.

The 2.5 hour excursions featured a photo runby at Indigo Lake.

Shown above is the morning trip passing southbound through Peninsula. The Berkshire was in its customary position on the south end of the train with back-to-back FPA4 Nos. 6777 and 6771 on the north end.

The train had 15 passenger cars including dome cars Silver Bronco, Silver Lariat and Silver Solarium.

There were also the two former Nickel Plate Road heavyweight open window cars of the Midwest Railway Preservation Society and the crew car of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, which owns the NKP 765.

The head end power car was at the front of the train behind the crew car.

Photographer Robert Farkas reported that Peninsula is one of the best morning locations to photograph the NKP 765 and its train in the morning.

He also said that Saturday (Sept. 21) is the 40th anniversary of his receiving a phone call to inform him, “They’re firing up a Berkshire in Fort Wayne tomorrow. Do you want to go?”

So the next day Bob, Paul Woodring and Mark Perri were off to Indiana to watch history being made.

This year is the ninth September that NKP 765 has appeared on the CVSR.

Photographs by Robert Farkas

RTA Gets Funding for Transit Car Replacement

September 22, 2019

Replacement of the aging transit cars operated by the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority took a big step forward last week when the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency approved allocating $9.5 million for car replacement.

The planning agency approved the funding as part of its commitment to provide $24 million for new rail cars over the next 10 years.

Replacing the cars used on RTA’s Green, Blue, Red and Waterfront rail lines is expected to cost $240 million.

RTA has been working to piece together a series of state and federal grants to pay for new rail cars. It has set aside $24 million of its own money toward car replacement to match the grants.

A consulting firm hired by RTA has recommended that the agency buy 34 heavy rail cars for the Red Line and 24 light rail cars for the other lines.

Consultant LTK Engineering estimated that the heavy rail cars will cost $3 per car while the light rail cars come with a price tag of $4 million per car.

LTK said in a report issued earlier this year that replacement of the fleet would be less expensive than rebuilding it.

The 40 heavy rail cars RTA now uses on the Red Line are 35 years old and in generally poor condition. They are expected to have a useful life of five or fewer years.

Interim CEO Floun’say Caver has said RTA expects to put out a request for new cars by the end of this year or in early 2020.

It will hire a consultant to help it develop a detailed plan for the purchase of the new cars.

“We will have the ability — we will make the ability to purchase those cars,” Caver said. “We have to.”

RTA has an operating fleet of 34 light-rail cars that are 38 years old, which is eight years beyond their life expectancy.

The consultant’s report described those cars as being in generally fair condition and they might last another 10 years. These cars were rebuilt in 2007.

Over the past decade the cost to maintain the heavy rail cars has increased 148 percent while the cost of maintaining the light rail vehicles is up 90 percent.

Caver said it usually takes three years to request, design, build and receive new rail cars.

RTK recommended that RTA continue to operate separate light and heavy rail systems because moving to a single type would require what it termed “tremendous infrastructure costs.”

Over a 30-year period, the consultant projects that the cost of buying new rail cars will be $715 million.

NORM’s Final 2019 Operating Day is Oct. 12

September 22, 2019

The Northern Ohio Railway Museum will be offering streetcar rides one last time this year on Oct. 12 starting at 10 a.m.

It will be the final operating day of the season for former Cleveland Railway center-entrance car No. 12, which was built in 1914 by the G.C. Kuhlman Company.

Tickets are $2 and can be purchased in the former Pennsylvania Railroad boxcar inside Carbarn No. 2.

You might see a familiar face leading tours of the museum that day, Blaine Hayes.

He reports that the museum how has a fully operating substation that is supplied by First Energy.

CN Executive Lays Out PSR Intermodal Service Blueprint

September 22, 2019

A Canadian National executive last week laid out what could be the blueprint for intermodal service at railroads that have adopted the precision scheduled railroading operating model.

Speaking this week at an annual meeting of the Intermodal Association of North America, Keith Reardon, CN’s senior vice president of consumer product supply chain, described how intermodal traffic fared when his railroad adopted PSR after the late E. Hunter Harrison became its CEO.

CN ditched low-margin services, closed intermodal terminals, and reduced its intermodal volume.

Instead, it sought to establish a lower-cost and more efficient intermodal business network.

After that was finished, CN inaugurated new services designed to increase volume and revenue growth.

Although Harrison brought PSR to CN in 1998, the revamping of the intermodal business did not begin until 2003.

Known as the Intermodal Excellence program, or IMX, Reardon acknowledged  it was a bad three-letter word at the time.

“It was hard on us, it was hard on our customers, because we stripped away a lot of the terminals that we had that were inefficient,” he said. “We weren’t making any money.”

Reardon said Harrison told CN’s chief marketing officer to either fix intermodal or lose it.

On the receiving end of that directive was James Foote, who would later succeed Harrison as CEO of CSX after Harrison’s death.

“Going through that exercise  . . . taught us all a lot about what we need to do to run efficiently, not only for us but our customers as well,” Reardon said.

Although it was a painful process, Reardon said CN is now much better for having gone through it.

Intermodal revenue per unit rose to above the average for all of the commodities CN hauls, now seeing growth of 5 percent to 7 percent per year.

Reardon said CN is still evolving as a scheduled railroad and continues to evaluate its intermodal business.

It has added additional intermodal terminals and new services in response to changing traffic patterns.

He cited the example of establishing a terminal in Arcadia, Wisconsin, to serve an Ashley Furniture facility and a terminal in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, to serve a distribution center for Menards home improvement stores.

One reason why CN has closed some terminals while opening others was due to changes in distribution networks of CN customers.

Some of the terminals CN is now opening are what Reardon described as “boutique terminals” that Harrison would never have approved years ago.

“But we had to grow because that’s the next period, the next evolution of the business,” Reardon said.

Independent rail analyst Anthony B. Hatch said at the meeting that he expects CSX, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern to revise their intermodal networks in ways similar to what CN did.

CSX has already taken many steps that mirror what CN did, including closing low-density service lanes and terminals.

Ghost of the Monon Meets Ghost of the Pennsy

September 21, 2019

For a fleeting moment in Linden, Indiana, the ghost of the Monon met the ghost of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The occasion was the passage of the final trip of Amtrak’s Hoosier State from Indianapolis to Chicago.

Two former PRR passenger cars were chartered to operate on the final trip including the Frank Thomson, a blunt end observation car. Thomson was the sixth president of the Pennsy.

I didn’t plan to get a reflection of a retired Monon semaphore signal in the window of the Thomson as the Hoosier State passed this railroad museum located at the restored joint Monon-Nickel Plate road passenger station.

But sometimes you get lucky.

NS to Test CNG Tender

September 21, 2019

Norfolk Southern plans to put into service a locomotive tender that won’t be carrying coal but compressed natural gas.

The tender was built by Kasgro Rail in New Castle, Pennsylvania, for CNGMotive.

It resembles a traditional well car for containers with the well section containing natural gas storage and the ends of the car having a control system and pressure reduction system.

Tender GCNX No. 5001 has 28 separate CNG storage tanks in two groups for a storage capacity equal to 4,600 gallons of diesel fuel, also known as diesel gallon equivalent.

NS plans to use the tender on trains hauling export coal between Williamson, West Virginia, and Lamberts Point, Virginia.

It will begin revenue service once final assembly and testing of the tender is complete and NS receives a letter of concurrence from the Federal Railroad Administration.

The tender is designed to provide compressed natural gas to one or two locomotives and its design complies with the upcoming AAR Tender Specification M-1004 for crash worthiness, shock, and vibration.

NS does not have any six axle locomotives with the capacity to operate on both diesel fuel and compress natural gas so it is borrowing a pair of SD70ACE units from BNSF that are so equipped.

Testing of the tender on NS is expected to begin later this year or in early 2020 and last for a six month trial.

Refueling will occur at Shaffer’s Crossing in Roanoke, Virginia.

Flexible Dining is About Consistent, Less Costly Dining

September 21, 2019

Amtrak held a preview of “flexible dining” last week at Washington Union Station and at least one reporter who was there said that the food to be introduced on Oct. 1 is an improvement over what is now being served aboard two eastern overnight trains.

Bob Johnston, the passenger rail correspondent for Trains magazine, wrote that after tasting the planned entrees that they are an improvement over the boxed meals that have been served since June 2018 aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited as part of Amtrak’s “fresh and contemporary model.”

Johnston said he agreed with Amtrak Executive Chef Gottlieb’s description of the new fare: “The pasta is al dente, the chicken is tender and the beef is really good and tasty.”

The press event was held aboard Viewliner II dining car Tallahassee and new meal offerings were presented buffet style.

The food is designed to be heated in a convection oven and mixed together.

That precludes offering individually served items such as steak, chicken, or fish with a separate side dish vegetable.

Johnston noted that Amtrak briefly tried “pre-plating” of individual meals as an economy move on the City of New Orleans in the mid-2000s but ended it after passengers complained about the lack of choice.

Once flexible dining begins sleeping car passengers will receive their meals on trays that will hold a bowl, a side salad and a brownie for dessert.

Flexible dining is Amtrak’s moniker for a more consist meal service model to be served to sleeper class passengers aboard the Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, Crescent, Cardinal, Silver Meteor and City of New Orleans.

Amtrak officials said flexible dining will be extended to sleeper class passengers on the Silver Star next year, but they have not given a date for that.

Sleeper class passengers on the Silver Star currently do not receive meals as part of their fare as do passengers on all other Amtrak overnight trains with sleeping cars.

It remains to be seen, though, how long flexible dining will last and whether Amtrak will tweak it.

In an appearance this week at the Skift Global 2019 Travel Industry Conference, Amtrak President Richard Anderson said the carrier plans “to simplify to a single food car.”

It is not clear if that means that Amtrak plans to drop meals for sleeper class passengers as part of their fare and thus force all passengers to rely on a café car for food and beverage service.

Anderson has also spoken about having some long-distance trains provide experiential service and cited the example of VIA Rail Canada’s The Canadian.

That train had two full-service dining cars as well as café car service for coach passengers.

In his appearance at the Shift conference, Anderson said Amtrak has simplified food service to achieve cost cuts mandated by Congress.

The roll out of flexible dining is an extension of that. On that date full-service dining will end on the Silver Meteor and Crescent.

Also ending will be the individual menus unique to the Cardinal and City of New Orleans.

Although on-board food preparation ended aboard those trains years ago in favor of heating meals prepared off the train, both offer passengers more variety and offerings for breakfast, lunch and dinner than passengers have had aboard the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited in the past year.

During the press event last week, Amtrak officials described how the food to be offered under the flexible dining model was developed and how it differs from that offered under the fresh and contemporary model.

Gottlieb and Amtrak Vice President, Product Development and Customer Experience Peter Wilander said main dishes will be prepared by a new vendor, New Horizon Foods, and flash frozen.

“There was a lot of back and forth in a competition with three or four vendors, and we tested everything in our test kitchens,” Gottlieb said in reference to  Amtrak’s Consolidated National Operation Center in Wilmington, Delaware.

The trays on which the food will be presented is another change. In the fresh and contemporary model Amtrak used balsawood boxes and green bags.

“The box itself had an unanticipated consequence of service degradation,” Wilander said.

He described the trays as an off-the-shelf design “that will allow us to progress to the next iteration (creating) our own molds to do something different.”

The trays can be washed and reused. The boxes and bags Amtrak has been using are billed as recyclable, but in practice generated a lot of trash.

The flexible dining name is rooted in the practice of passengers being able to eat their meals within a wide serving window rather than limited to coming to the diner at set times.

It also will result in consistent equipment assignments with all single-level equipment trains using a Viewliner II dining car that only sleeper class passengers will be able to access.

Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief marketing and revenue officer, said a shortage of Viewliner sleepers has prevented the carrier from assigning a second sleeper to the Cardinal.

Harris said during the press event that Amtrak expects to save enough money from the changes in food service to be able to return meals to sleeper class passengers on the Silver Star.

When that happens, Silver Star sleeper passengers will pay higher fares because meals will be included.

“So we have the opportunity to have a [range] of fares from low to high according to demand, and we’re not going to have this orphan train,” Harris said in reference to the Silver Star.

Fares for Silver Star sleeper class passengers were lowered when the train’s dining car was removed in 2015.

Harris said assigning a sleeper class dining car to the Silver Star is in the works and Amtrak is working through the logistics to do it.

The implementation of flexible dining may be good news for passengers at lunch and dinner in that they will have more options to choose among compared with fresh and contemporary.

But breakfast is largely unchanged with just one hot entrée available.

Although Amtrak has yet to announce it, the carrier plans to add to café cars on long-distance trains some of the fresh sandwiches available for sale in café cars on corridor trains in the Midwest, Northeast, and California.

Anderson Repeats Familiar Themes at Conference

September 21, 2019

Amtrak President Richard Anderson made a rare public appearance this week but didn’t say much that he hasn’t’ said before in appearance before Congress and in interviews with select media outlets.

Richard Anderson

Speaking to the Skift Global 2019 Travel Industry Conference, Anderson reiterated that Amtrak wants to emphasize service in short-haul corridors.

Anderson also contended that Amtrak will break even in the next 12 months.

Amtrak needs to garner a greater share of the travel market in short-haul markets, Anderson said, naming Chicago-Milwaukee as one example.

Such markets often are unprofitable for airlines said Anderson, who worked for 25 years in the airline industry including stints as CEO of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines.

Amtrak expects to increase its share of short-haul travel markets as millennials expand urban centers.

“As these urban corridors densify, and all the millennials move to cities and don’t own cars, we gradually take over more and more of the market share from airlines,” Anderson said. “By 2050, there’s not going to be a choice unless you want to sit in long car delays because you can’t put more lanes on I-95.”

Anderson said rail travel accounts for 75 percent of the air/rail travel market between Washington and New York.

Already, Anderson said, 95 percent of Amtrak’s ridership travels about 250 miles.

As for long-distance trains, Anderson continued to describe them as “experiential.”

He said Amtrak may in the future operate between five to 10 such experiential trains that will be similar in nature to VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian, which operates on a less than daily schedule between Toronto and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Although some supporters of long-distance trains have cited their role in linking small communities, Anderson described that as a political concern and said the “$150 per passenger subsidy” of such trains as the Empire Builder is contrary to Amtrak’s current business model.

During his appearance Anderson also said compliance with the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act is essential for passenger growth.

He said the design of the next-generation Acela Express equipment will have doorways that will help mobility-challenged travelers.

Anderson continued to push for Amtrak receiving a greater share of transportation funding in order to meet its infrastructure needs.

Those needs include replacing the Portal Bridge on the Northeast Corridor in New Jersey and improving tunnels in New York and Baltimore on the NEC.

Noting that its Thruway bus network generates $100 million in revenue, Anderson said it will continue to play an important role in bringing underserved parts of the country with no train service into the Amtrak network.

Anderson said a yield management system has ensured more diverse fares and promotions to increase fare revenues.

Don’t look for Amtrak to be selling tickets anytime soon on online travel agencies.

Anderson said the struggles of the hotel sector in doing that offers a cautionary tale of what he doesn’t want Amtrak to do.

“We don’t need those distribution channels unless they make sense for us economically,” Anderson said. “We control 85 percent of our distribution, and we want to control that. The hotels gave their brands up, and now they want to claw them back, because you’re not controlling the brand and its display in the marketplace.”

Anderson also sees what is happening overseas with rail travel as a blueprint for Amtrak.

“If you think about how intercity travel works in Europe or Japan, we’ll have to evolve to meet that model,” he said. “The densification in urban areas is going to dictate that Amtrak play an important road in short-haul transportation.”