Archive for February, 2015

One Day in May the Railroad Went Away

February 28, 2015
A former Pennsylvania Railroad cabin car bears witness to the removal of a former New York Central route. West of Terre Haute at least, the Pennsy won one. It was a different story east of there where the Central survived.

A former Pennsylvania Railroad cabin car bears witness to the removal of a former New York Central route. West of Terre Haute at least, the Pennsy won one. It was a different story east of there where the Central survived.

It was a mostly sunny spring day. My recollection is that it was late afternoon when I drove out on Illinois Route 16 west of Mattoon, Ill., to look for a Conrail rail train.

The line had been abandoned more than a year earlier, but by law Conrail had to wait at least 120 days in case someone wanted to buy it. There had been talk of that, but nothing materialized.

On this day the rails were being removed to be sent somewhere to be refurbished and, eventually, reused.

My mission was to make a few photographs to document the rail removal.

This day had been years in the making. It began when Penn Central decided it didn’t need two routes between Terre Haute and St. Louis.

PC had expected to abandon or dramatically downgrade the former New York Central route, but that didn’t happen.

Even with a mandate to rationalize the rail network that it inherited from PC, it took Conrail seven years to finish the job.

I didn’t spend much time at the site where the workers were pulling up the rails.

I didn’t have the documentary mindset that I have now. Back then, making photographs was a sometime thing.

How I wish today that I had done more to document the abandonment of a rail line that had played a significant role in my life.

It was over these rails that I made my first railroad journey in the 1950s aboard an NYC passenger train to St. Louis.

I saw these rails often as I went about my life activities while growing up and later working in Mattoon.

As a reporter for the Mattoon Journal Gazette I had written about the process that led to the ex-NYC being abandoned between Paris and Pana, Ill.

But when the rail train came through Mattoon to pick up the rail, I was at home. I made no effort to go see, let alone photograph, the rail removal operation in my hometown.

I must have figured that the photographs that I made the day before west of town were a good enough record.

Today you would hardly know there had been a railroad here. Farmers have claimed the right of way and extended their fields.

The only traces of the railroad are a few small concrete bridges left behind and linear empty space in the towns where the rails had been.

Shown are a few of the better images that I made on that 1983 day. They were scanned from the original color print film negatives.

For the most part, I consider these images to be nothing special. Most of them are not composed well.

And yet they are very special because they show something that happened once and won’t happen again. They have historical significance.

Regardless of the quality of these images, I’m very pleased that I made them.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

The lead locomotive of the last train to travel over the rails of the former New York Central mainline west of my hometown of Mattoon, Ill. For the record, the direction of travel was east.

The lead locomotive of the last train to travel over the rails of the former New York Central mainline west of my hometown of Mattoon, Ill. For the record, the direction of travel was east.

After getting fixed up, these rails will be put down again elsewhere on the  Conrail system.

After getting fixed up, these rails will be put down again elsewhere on the Conrail system.

Just another day of picking up rail on just another Conrail abandonment. A lot of those occurred during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Just another day of picking up rail on just another Conrail abandonment. A lot of those occurred during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

A side portrait of No. 1921, the trailing unit in the rail train.

A side portrait of No. 1921, the trailing unit in the rail train.

It would have been appropriate had the lead locomotive been 1855, the year that these rails reached Mattoon from the east.

It would have been appropriate had the lead locomotive been 1855, the year that these rails reached Mattoon from the east.

All that was left behind was some ballast, ties and tie plates. Crews will be back later to pick that up. Today the ex-NYC right of way is part of a farm field and you might not know that a railroad once ran here that hosted the Central's finest passenger trains between New York and St. Louis.

All that was left behind was some ballast, ties and tie plates. Crews will be back later to pick that up. Today the ex-NYC right of way is part of a farm field and you might not know that a railroad once ran here that hosted the Central’s finest passenger trains between New York and St. Louis.

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M-1 Rail Seeking Operator for Detroit Streetcar

February 28, 2015
An artist's drawing of the Detroit street car line in operation.

An artist’s drawing of the Detroit street car line in operation.

A request for proposals has been issued for an operator to run Detroit’s 3.3-mile streetcar line that is under construction.

M-1 Rail, which is developing the line as part of a $140 million project, has scheduled a pre-proposal conference for March 13, with proposals due by April 16.

Contract talks with a preferred bidder are expected to occur in May with a contract signed in June.

The streetcar is expected to begin operations in December 2016.

The company that wins the contract will begin working with M-1 Rail at least a year in advance of the commencement of operations, said Paul Childs, M-1 Rail’s chief operating officer, in a news release.

The contractor “will be instrumental in developing processes and procedures for operations and fulfilling all of the obligations required by federal, state and city government agencies,” Childs said.

Contractor responsibilities will include hiring operators, scheduling and training employees; developing customer service standards; safety; fare collection; maintaining vehicles, track, switches, signals, platforms, substations, and overhead contact systems/charging bars; washing and cleaning vehicles; and report preparation.

The initial operating contract will be five years with M-1 Rail retaining the option to renew it for another two to five years.

M-1 Rail officials estimate the cost to operate the streetcar at $5 million annually.

“Passengers want a reliable, safe and clean experience and the operator of the line will be a catalyst for that,” Childs said.

When operational, the streetcar line will run along Woodward Avenue between Larned Street and West Grand Boulevard in Detroit.

U.S. Class I RR Employment Fell During January

February 28, 2015

Employment at Class 1 railroads fells in January by 3.7 percent compared with the previous month’s head count.

Surface Transportation figures showed that in mid-January, the workforce of Class 1 railroads stood at 164,568.

All six workforce categories saw declines. Maintenance-of-way and structures was down 6.4 percent to 34,985; transportation (other than train and engine), was down about 5 percent to 6,370; professional and administrative was down 4.8 percent to 13,600; executives, officials and staff assistants was down 3.9 percent to 9,621; transportation (train and engine), was down 2.5 percent to 69,921; and maintenance of equipment and stores, was down 2.3 percent to 30,071.

However, on a year-over-year basis, the workforce grew 1.4 percent.

Transportation (train and engine) forces rose nearly 6 percent and the number of maintenance of equipment and stores workers increased 1 percent versus January 2014 figures.

The other four workforce categories registered the following year-over-year declines: transportation (other than T&E), 4.2 percent; professional and administrative, 3.2 percent; maintenance-of-way and structures, 2.8 percent; and executives, officials and staff assistants, 2.1 percent.

Looking Good in the Snow Despite February blues

February 27, 2015
CSX train Q010 plows through a snow squall at Berea.

CSX train Q010 plows through a snow squall at Berea.

Yeah, I know many of you are sick of winter, particularly the cold. I could do without the latter. But it doesn’t look like it is going away just yet.

Last Saturday I was able to get out for a while in the afternoon before going to a railroad club banquet that night.

The outing began with a chase of a Norfolk Southern heritage locomotive leading a crude oil train. I posted earlier this week my images of the Central of New Jersey leading that train through Vermilion.

After that, we drove back to Berea. Here is a selection of some of the images that illustrate trains and railroad operations in winter.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

The Q008 was not far behind the Q010.

The Q008 was not far behind the Q010.

What's a little snow storm? Norfolk Southern eastbound intermodal train 20E pushes through the snowfall in Berea.

What’s a little snow storm? Norfolk Southern eastbound intermodal train 20E pushes through the snowfall in Berea.

The NS 14N has eight locomotives up front.

The NS 14N has eight locomotives up front.

A man and his young son wave at the L091 as it rumbles past with an approach signal at the west end of the interlocking. The L091 would meet an eastbound crude oil train at CP 13.

A man and his young son wave at the L091 as it rumbles past with an approach signal at the west end of the interlocking. The L091 would meet an eastbound crude oil train at CP 13.

The headlights of the lead BNSF locomotive illuminate the rails ahead as an eastbound crude oil train approaches.

The headlights of the lead BNSF locomotive illuminate the rails ahead as an eastbound crude oil train approaches.

Standing on a pile of snow provided a slightly different perspective than you usually get in Berea.

Standing on a pile of snow provided a slightly different perspective than you usually get in Berea.

Ore Train Derails on ex-B&LE in Pennsylvania

February 27, 2015

No injuries were reported after a Canadian National iron ore train derailed on Wednesday night on the former Bessemer & Lake Erie mainline in Butler County, Pa.

The derailment of 27 of the train’s 71 cars occurred about 9:30 p.m. south of State Route 308.

An online report said the derailment occurred just north of the Oneida interlocking.

B&LE 907, CN 5336 and B&LE 905 along with about 10 cars were sitting near the Oneida Road, the report said.

The train had originated in Conneaut, Ohio, and the ore was bound for a Pittsburgh area steel mill.

Workers were cleaning up the derailment site on Thursday. Steve Bicehouse, Butler County’s emergency services director, said there was no fire and no hazardous materials were spilled.

The accident occurred in a wooded area. Highway traffic was not disrupted.

CN spokesman Patrick Waldron told local media that he did not know what caused the derailment. CN acquired the B&LE in 2004.

 

 

CSX Reopens Track at W.Va. Derailment Site

February 27, 2015

One of the two tracks taken out of service last week by a derailment of a CSX crude oil train in West Virginia reopened on Thursday.

The opening of the line near Mt. Carbon allowed a logjam of coal and other revenue trains to pass the derailment site for the first time since Feb. 16.

Environmental protection agencies and contractors continued to work at the site to restore the second mainline track.

Workers completed the excavation around the derailment site on late Wednesday and a temporary roadbed was installed overnight.

Investigators have collected dozens of soil samples over the past few days in order to ensure that all contaminated soil has been removed.

Twelve tank cars lying adjacent to the newly laid roadbed and have been positioned for removal by rail.

A total of 97,000 gallons of oily-water mixture from the containment trenches dug along the river embankment near the derailment site has been recovered.

The oily-water mixture has been transported to the nearby Handley Yard to await disposal.

Environmental crews and federal investigators expect to remain at the derailment site for several more days as they collect information as part of their investigation to determine the cause of the incident.

Detoured and curtailed train movements will likely return to their normal routing through West Virginia over the next couple of days.

The Feb. 16 derailment sent 28 cars off the rails and resulted in several large explosions and evacuation of nearby residents.

 

 

Severe Cold Taking Toll on Amtrak Operations

February 27, 2015

The brutal cold that has gripped the eastern United States in an icy vise has taken a toll on Amtrak trains serving Northeast Ohio.

All Aboard Ohio, a rail passenger advocacy group, said that delays of five hours for the westbound Lake Shore Limited have been common in the past week.

The group noted that on Wednesday night the eastbound Lake Shore Limited departed Chicago Union Station 5 hours, 47 minutes late.

No. 48 was more than six hours late when it met and passed No. 49 between Sandusky and Toledo at about 10 a.m. No. 49 at the time was operating more than four hours late.

The Lake Shore Limited operates between Chicago and New York with a section to and from Boston that joins the train at Albany-Rensselaer, N.Y.

Since Feb. 20, All Aboard Ohio said the average delays for trains serving Northeast Ohio have been:

  • Train 49 arriving Chicago: 5 hours, 57 minutes late
  • Train 48 arriving New York City: 4 hours, 15 minutes late
  • Train 30 arriving Washington D.C.: 2 hours, 44 minutes late
  • Train 29 arriving Chicago: 2 hours, 11 minutes late

Amtrak has also canceled the Boston section, citing severe winter weather across New England. It has provided substitute bus service between Albany and Boston to connect with trains 48/49.

In the meantime, the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal has been truncated since a Feb. 16 derailment of a CSX crude oil train in West Virginia.

Nos. 50 and 51 have been operating only between Chicago and Indianapolis. Buses have then taken passengers between Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

However, Amtrak has not provided substitute bus service between Cincinnati and Charlottesville, Va.

One track at the derailment site opened on Thursday, but early Friday morning the Amtrak website still showed the westbound Cardinal that was scheduled to depart from New York for Chicago today as being canceled.

Amtrak is accepting reservations for the next westbound No. 51, which will depart New York on Sunday morning.

In a news release, All Aboard Ohio said that some of the reasons for the delays are beyond Amtrak’s control

These include speed restrictions as low as 25 mph imposed by CSX and Norfolk Southern because they fear the cold will crack their seamless welded steel rails.

But the advocacy group said that other delays are Amtrak’s responsibility. These include equipment malfunctions, locomotives that have failed en route, doors between rail cars freezing into the open position, and cold temperatures inside passenger cars that led to toilets, pipes and water tanks to freeze and rupture.

“This is downright offensive to the traveling public,” said All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “Amtrak President Joe Boardman must be held to account for this, starting with a personal apology to all passengers who had to endure this pathetic excuse for transportation in a civilized nation. It is clear by their poor performance that these trains are being neglected by Amtrak and its private-sector partners who own and manage the tracks. Rail transportation used to be largely indifferent to bad winter weather. Nowadays, the railroads can’t seem to get their trains through the snow and cold.”

Rowland Proposes Steam Train to Honor Vets

February 27, 2015

Ross Rowland wants to replicate the American Freedom Train, but this time he would focus on honoring America’s veterans.

Rowland has proposed a steam-hauled exhibition train that would visit 125 cities between 2017 and 2020.

To be named the Yellow Ribbon Express, Rowland said the train would deliver a “a national loud and proud thank you” to American military veterans, especially those who have served since 9/11.

Rowland also hopes to raise $1 billion to aid wounded veterans of the wars who have fought since 2001.

“It’s a thank you from the 99 percent of us to the 1 percent of us who have done the heavy lifting,” he said.

To get the Yellow Ribbon Express rolling, Rowland is seeking 10 corporate sponsors to invest $2 million a year each for five years.

“It’s a tall mountain to climb, and there are no guarantees,” Rowland says. “I’m modestly optimistic that we can do this.”

Pulling the train would be Chesapeake & Ohio No. 614, a 1948 Lima 4-8-4 that Rowland has owned for three decades.

Rowland said he and his engineering team are considering converting the locomotive to burn natural gas.

He also said that another main line locomotives will double-head with No. 614 on the tour so that a live, steaming locomotive will be on hand every day at every exhibit site.

“There are quite a few large, mainline locomotive available around the country so we can have a live locomotive on site every day,” he said.

“It will be a spectacle,” Rowland said. “Steam will draw people to the train. It will be a happening.”

Rowland is seeking support of several Class I railroads, and one, which he declined to name, is already on board with the idea.

The American Freedom Train operated in 1975-1976 and carried hundreds of historic artifacts and documents that were seen by more than 7 million people.

For more information, visit www.yellowribbonexpress.com.

 

 

On Photography: What Makes an Image One of the 100 Greatest? The Magazine Editors Didn’t Say

February 26, 2015

We’ve been giving our home office an overhaul and I had to move my railroad books off the bookcase shelves in preparation for the room being painted. In the process I ran across a special issue of Trains that I had forgotten that I had.

Titled “100 Greatest Railroad photos” and published in late 2008, I looked 100 Greatest Coverthrough it in vain for an explanation of what makes a photo one of the 100 greatest of, presumably, all time.

Alas, the standards used to select those 100 greatest photographs weren’t explained.

Editor Jim Wrinn wrote that a friend told him that choosing the 100 greatest photographs was “near impossible.” Wrinn also listed the names and titles of the six Kalmbach editors who helped him make the selections.

But otherwise, there was no explanation of what makes a photograph great, let alone one of the 100 greatest.

So I reviewed the photographs and tried to get into the heads of the judges to see what they saw.

What did these photographs have in common? That proved hard to discern because not all images had the same attributes.

But if there was a common denominator it was the ability of each photo to tell a story that would engage the viewer and prompt him or her to linger over the photo.

Those stories ranged from man and machines pitted against harsh winter conditions to the poetic beauty of a West Virginia sunrise over the mountains as an empty coal train threaded its way through the New River Gorge.

There were images of railroaders and locomotives going about their jobs, and ordinary people interacting with the railroad.

A common theme was the contrast of light and dark. Often, trains were dwarfed by the environment, a reminder that as massive as trains may be there are other things more dominating and powerful.

Some photographs resulted from a lucky break of being in the right place at the right time. Yet give the photographer credit for knowing what to do with that moment and recognizing when it might come.

Great photographs often begin with great vision that combines with the great skill needed to make it happen. Luck is what happens on the road to the pursuit of greatness.

As I made my way through the magazine, I also got the impression that the judges weren’t just picking the “100 greatest” photographs. They were choosing images that worked well together in a “great” presentation.

The judges are experienced in picking photographs that can stand alone but much of their job is choosing images that work together to illustrate an overarching theme. They do that every day in assembling their magazines.

In this case, the overarching theme wasn’t just the 100 greatest photographs. These were 100 great photographs that collectively illustrated the drama, artistry and workaday nature of railroading.

In doing this, the judges sought balance. There was steam and diesel, contemporary and vintage, city and rural, and mountains and prairies. It was an all star lineup with no one photographer dominating the selections.

Perhaps Kalmbach should have named this publication “100 Great Railroad Photographs,” but the word “greatest” probably has better marketing appeal. The prime reason for publishing this magazine was to make money not to hand out the equivalent of the railroad photography Pulitzer Prize.

The staff of Trains is not the final arbiter of greatness and I am skeptical by nature of a publication proclaiming to show the “100 greatest” of anything.

The subheading “from the pages of Trains, 1904-2008” suggests that if the photograph wasn’t published in Trains, it wasn’t among the 100 greatest.

The editors might quibble with my interpretation of the publication title but the publisher wouldn’t mind people thinking that if it prompted them to plunk down $9.95 to buy the product.

There are lessons to be learned from studying great photographs that can be applied in everyday railroad photography.

Not every photo opportunity lends itself to making a “great” image. Sometimes the best you can do is “good” or even “better” than what you might have created otherwise.

Editor Jim Wrinn suggested as much with his introduction. “They will inspire you to step aboard a train or find your way trackside with a camera in hand. Such is the power of the 100 greatest railroad photos.”

Pere Marquette 1225 to Pull March 14 Trip

February 26, 2015

Pere Marquette No. 1225 will pull a one-day excursion from Owosso to Clare, Mich., and return on March 14 to take passengers to the Clare Irish Fetival.

Coach tickets are $124 per person with limited caboose seating tickets priced at $149.

The train will depart from Owosso at 9 a.m. and arrive in Clare at 11:30 a.m.

There will be a three hour layover with the return trip slated to leave at 2:30 p.m. Arrival back in Owosso is around 6 p.m.

Times are subject to change. There will be at least one photo runby during the trip. For more information or to buy tickets go to  http://railyardproductions.com