If Railfans Had a Vote on Railroad Mergers, CP Red Would Crush NS Black in a Landslide

When I first heard that Canadian Pacific and Norfolk Southern were talking about a merger, I knew that railfans would be cheering it.

In a railfan’s mind, a merger in which CP is the surviving partner is fantastic news if it means replacing all of those black NS locomotives with CP’s candy apple red ones.

Depending on your perspective, NS locomotives are either ugly or utilitarian.

There are some die-hard NS fans who think that black with white markings is beautiful, but they are a minority.

Some photographers wouldn’t go trackside on the NS at all if it weren’t for the chance of catching one of its 20 plus heritage units.

Many railfans are fixated on the color of paint that a railroad uses to cover its locomotives and how it does that.

In the railfan world, BNSF is numero uno because of its bright orange-colored locomotives.

Kansas City Southern might be a close second and even first on some lists on the strength of its striking “Southern Belle” livery.

But railfans probably give BNSF the nod because its fleet has a few Santa Fe warbonnets left even if many of them are now faded and in need of a trip to the paint booth. Throw in a few surviving Burlington Northern units, including the forest green and cream Grinsteins and what is there not to like about BNSF motive power?

Canadian Pacific is right on the heels of KCS and BNSF because of the bright red shade that it uses on its locomotives. When you get a clean CP unit with new paint, it can pop in just about any weather.

Behind BNSF, CP and KCS would be Union Pacific, Canadian National and CSX. The order in which the “second round of three” falls depends on whether you like armour yellow (UP), red and black (CN), or gold and blue (CSX).

What constitutes a fan’s favorite railroad locomotive hinges on a number of things, not the least of which is what railroad runs near his home.

In Northeast Ohio, we get a steady diet of NS and CSX motive power so it doesn’t excite most fans unless it is an out-of-the-ordinary model.

Some fans favor CSX because they don’t like NS and vice versa. The reasons why they don’t like one or the other railroad are not always logical. But that is the way it is with railfans. They tend to covet what they can’t see often or at all.

Motive power pooling arrangements have made motive power from BNSF and UP common in Northeast Ohio.

CN has a small presence in Ohio and its motive power is not a rare site, either.

Since CSX agreed to handle a pair of CP intermodal trains between Chicago and Buffalo, New York, CP motive power has become a daily sight even if you can’t count on seeing it every time you are out railfanning CSX.

KCS motive power is the rarest of the Class 1 railroads to find in Northeast Ohio.

But KCS and CSX have a run-through intermodal train that terminates in Marion, so you can find KCS motive power there.

Much needs to happen before the CP and NS merger is consummated. The talks are preliminary and an announcement that two plan to merge will likely trigger an upheaval in the Class 1 railroad world.

Things could even play out that NS will remain independent or merge with someone else.

If it comes about, the new CP-NS will need to decide what the company will be named and what look it will give its locomotives.

The company might opt for a look that is different from what both railroads favor now.

CP long has used a beaver in its herald over the years, although of late the beaver has gone into hibernation in favor of a stylized letters C and P logo. From Day 1, NS has placed a horse on its herald.

Black might drown out red and the horse might trample the beaver. In short, the locomotives of the merged CP-NS might look more like current NS motive power than current CP locomotives.

Whatever look the company adopts, it will take several years for the old look to fade away.

As it is, there is reason to think that whether CP buys NS or NS opts to dance with another partner at the merger ball, the NS as we know it now is likely to become a thing of the past sooner rather than later.

That probably was going to happen due to the retirement this year of Charles “Wick” Moorman as president, CEO and chairman.

Moorman was unabashed railfan and it was his support that made the heritages units possible as well as the 21st Century Steam program and a modest program of repainting a handful of locomotives into the livery of the company that bought them way back when.

We still don’t know how supportive that NS head James Squires is about such things as heritage units, steam excursions and executive trains pulled by F units.

Money and not the desires of railfans is going to determine the course that NS takes over the next few years, including whether its survives as a stand-alone company or is swallowed in a merger.

And if railfans ever get the chance to vote on the fate of NS, CP red is going to win in a landslide over NS black.

Commentary by Craig Sanders

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2 Responses to “If Railfans Had a Vote on Railroad Mergers, CP Red Would Crush NS Black in a Landslide”

  1. Matt Viar Says:

    CraIg – first I really enjoy reading your blog everyday.

    A few comments on a potential CP-NS merger (for your info, my background: I grew up in Virginia as a Southern Railway and original Graham Claytor Jr. Steam Program enthusiast. I have worked for a steamship line in the group that negotiates rail contract since pre-Conrail split and my companies long-time primary rail vendor in Canada is CP and in the East is NS).

    I don’t anticipate it getting regulatory approval, but if it did this merger would be an unmitigated disaster. CP for YEARS has been the railroad that is the worst when it comes to customer service and ‘ease of doing business’ with (and we have regular business and contact with all major railroads with the exception of BNSF). In addition, from a cultural standpoint it is not a fit at all and my belief is that Hunter Harrison would bite off more than he could handle and ruin NS. He’s proven he can more efficiently operate east-west networks that CN and now CP have, but NS having both east-west and north-south corridors would be out of his wheel house (this would be similar to UP purchasing SP, figuring SP didn’t know how to properly operate their network and ending up in gridlock back in ’97-’98, I don’t want to experience that again from a work perspective).

    Further, from a railfan standpoint, I would choose black locomotives with Heritage units and 21st Century Steam Program vs. red locomotives and NOTHING else. Hunter Harrison would quickly put an end to those (refer to CP not allowing 765 to operate the Tunkhannock Viaduct trips in September) . He comes across as being such a great railroad operator, well someone that’s as great as he acts could easily accommodating operating excursions (which are the best PR value money can buy from an industry that is invisible nowdays with the general public) with minimal disruption to normal traffi. But that’s what happens when you have an ego the size your railroads namesake country!

    Anyway, just a few thoughts I wanted to share. Here’s hoping that these discussions fall through as quickly as the ones with CSX did last year.

  2. Justin Cartwright Says:

    I must say that while you guys up in Ohio might enjoy your CP, everyone I’ve ever met here in Virginia can’t stand CP. The red and white just doesn’t have that much effect to us, we prefer our NS, and CN comes before CP in our books. While I wouldn’t mind a merger, I don’t want CP doing the taking, but rather being the taken. Hunter Harrison knows more about destroying railroads then fixing them, sure CP has a decent profit, but look at it’s customer service, motive fleet, and yards. Everything is a bare minimum, CN was the same under Harrisons leadership, do we really want him at NS?

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