Archive for July, 2017

Searching for Ghosts of the Erie in Sterling

July 31, 2017

A westbound CSX auto rack train with Union Pacific and BNSF motive power rattles the windows as it passes through Sterling on the New Castle Subdivision.

I can’t help but be reminded of the late Richard Jacobs when I am in or think about Sterling.

It was the last place I saw Jake alive and during the final years of his life he often hung out at Sterling and photographed CSX operations on the New Castle Subdivision.

Jake’s last posting to the Akron Railroad Club blog was about an outing to Sterling in March 2015. He died of cancer the following June.

It was an article written by fellow ARRC officer Marty Surdyk, though, that prompted me to visit Sterling on a Saturday afternoon in early July.

He had written about Sterling in the ARRC Bulletin after he and his brother Robert swung past there earlier this year.

Marty made a few observations about railfanning in Sterling these days, including how it has changed from the old days when RU Tower still guarded the crossing of the Erie Lackawanna (nee Erie) and Baltimore & Ohio mainlines.

The tower is long gone and so is the EL. But Wayne County has converted 6.75 miles of the former Erie right of way between Creston and Rittman into an asphalt hiking and biking trail.

Just off Kauffman Avenue in Sterling is a parking lot for the trail and a former B&O freight house that long-range plans call for converting into a museum.

The trail runs parallel with the CSX line and I wanted to check it out.

So I parked at the station and started walking westward with my camera over my shoulder.

Marty’s article had spoken about there being an opening to photograph trains passing beneath the eastbound home signals for the interlocking.

You have to walk off the trail a short distance, but the view is reasonably open.

CSX crosses Chippewa Creek here and the view from the trail is open, but rather tight.

I walked for about a mile and a half west from Sterling and most of the time a wall of trees obscured the view of the CSX tracks.

There are a few open areas, but only at the grade crossings can you get any significant open space to work with in making photographs.

The first of those is at Eby Road, which has crossing gates protecting the CSX tracks. If you know of a train coming you can stand by the side of the road and have fairly open views.

There are three tracks here one of which is a siding used to store cars although this may be a block swapping location.

Likewise, there are open views at Jordan Road, which is about a half-mile to a mile west.

Here the trail jogs slightly and there are remnants of ballast for the EL tracks. The jog is made to avoid an access road leading to private property.

A short distance west of Jordan Road the trail veers away from the CSX New Castle Sub as it nears Creston.

It is in this vicinity that you can see the Wheeling & Lake Erie’s Brewster Subdivision to the south

I came upon a few other remnants of the Erie during my hike, including a milepost, a whistle post and the concrete foundation of what might have been a signal base. There were also discarded cross ties in various places.

The trail is level and easy to walk. I wished, though, that I had a much smaller and lighter point and shoot digital camera rather than my DSLR.

Marty mentioned various places to eat in Creston. There is also Bradley’s in Sterling and a restaurant in Creston in the former Erie depot in Rittman.

I will have to check out the latter. The last time I saw the ex-Erie depot in Rittman there were still tracks in front of it.

The Akron Barberton Cluster Railway serves a customer in Rittman and operates on the ex-Erie between there and Barberton.

Once you’re done hiking or biking, you can always hang out in the trailhead parking lot in Sterling and wait for trains to come to you on CSX.

One thing hasn’t changed. Traffic on the New Castle Sub remains hit and miss. I spotted four trains in Sterling during my time there, three of them westbounds.

But during the last hour and a half that I was there nothing came past or seemed to be imminent.

If you are out on the trail you might not have much advance warning of an approaching train and will have to hustle to find an opening in the trees to watch and/or photograph it.

Plans are to make into former freight station into a museum.

Joggers and bikers are 225 miles from Salamanca, New York.

Something the railroad left behind when pulling up the tracks.

A remnant of CSX stands outside the former B&O freight station in Sterling.

A trio of silos between a pair of tank cars.

If a CSX train comes as you’re out on the trail you might have to hustle to get to an open area to watch it.

Looking west at Eby Road.

An eastbound manifest freight passes a cut of cars in the siding as it approaches Eby Road.

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Warwick Moment Not Likely to be Repeated on Sunday

July 29, 2017

Here is a Warwick memory that won’t be repeated for Sunday’s picnic. A late-running eastbound Amtrak train lit by the early morning sun approaches Warwick Tower on July 1, 2004. The train is the Chicago-New York Three Rivers, which was discontinued in March 2005. Under ordinary circumstances, Nos. 40 and 41 were scheduled to pass through Warwick during darkness hours.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

 

Ft.WRHS Gets Donation to Restore NKP Diesel

July 29, 2017

The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society has received a $3,000 donation that it will use to help pay for the restoration of a former Nickel Plate Road diesel.

Steel Dynamics made the donation to Project 358, which is working to restore ex-NKP No. 358, an SD9 built in 1957.

It was given to the society in 2011 by Norfolk Southern. The Fort Wayne group plans to use the 358 in excursion service and to display it at events.

The donation will be used to acquire electrical cable, paint, generators and other parts in need of refurbishment. The estimated total cost for the restoration is approximately $35,000.

Steel Dynamics is a producer of continuous welded rail and has helped to underwrite the Society’s feasibility studies for its planned Headwaters Junction project.

TSA to Require Screening of Camera Equipment

July 29, 2017

If you are going to be flying to your next railfan vacation, you’ll need to place your camera equipment in a bin to be screened at the security checkpoint.

The Transportation Security Administration has issued new regulations that requires cameras and other electronic devices to be placed in their own bin and screened separately.

The rule applies to camera bodies, lens, external flashes, laptop computers and tablets. The electronic items will be screened by X-ray equipment.

In a news release, the TSA said the rule is in response to increased domestic security measures due to an increased threat to aviation security.

TSA representatives say that as procedures to enforce the rule are implemented that travelers will need to remove electric devices larger than a cell phone from their carry-on bags and place them in a bin with nothing on top or below the item.

The procedures will not apply to travelers enrolled in the TSA Pre-Check program.

CN Net Income Up 20% in 2nd Quarter

July 29, 2017

Canadian National said that its net income rose 20 percent in the second quarter of 2017 due to strong volume growth across most commodity groups.

The company reported net income of CA$1.03 billion or CA$1.36 diluted earnings per share, compared with CA$858 million, or CA$1.10 diluted EPS, during the second quarter of 2016.

Revenue rose 17 percent to CA$3.3 billion, carloadings increased by 14 percent and revenue ton-miles gained 18 percent compared with the same period in 2016.

In a news release, CN attributed its revenue increases to higher volumes across several sectors, including Canadian grain and fertilizers, overseas intermodal traffic, frac sand, coal and petroleum coke exports, crude oil, and finished vehicles.

Another factor was higher fuel surcharge rates, freight rate increases and the positive translation impact of a weaker Canadian dollar.

Compared with 2016, revenue was up 33 percent for metals and minerals, 33 percent for coal, 23 percent for grain and fertilizers, 20 percent for automotive, 17 percent for intermodal, 12 percent for petroleum and chemicals, and 6 percent for forest products.

Operating expenses rose 18 percent to CA$1.8 billion compared with a year ago.

CN posted an operating ratio of 55.1 percent for the quarter, an increase of 0.6 points over the prior-year quarter.

“Once again, CN delivered solid quarterly performance with strong volume growth across most commodity groups, building on the momentum started in the fourth quarter of 2016,” said President and CEO Luc Jobin in a statement. “Our team of railroaders remained focused on balancing operational and service excellence while efficiently adjusting to the growing demand.”

In looking to the second half of 2017, Jobin said the period will present challenges due to a strengthening of the Canadian dollar.

The Montreal-based railroad said its goals for the remainder of 2017 includes an adjusted diluted earnings per share in the range of CA$4.95 to CA$5.10 compared with last year’s adjusted diluted EPS of CA$4.59.

Senate Committee Votes to Fund Amtrak Long-Distance Trains, Save TIGER Funding in FY2018

July 29, 2017

A Senate committee voted this week to provide $1.6 billion in funding for Amtrak and to provide funding for some grant programs that the Trump administration wanted to cut.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development said that the funding would assure that Amtrak’s long-distance trains remain in operation during fiscal year 2018, which begins on Oct. 1.

The Amtrak funding was part of a $1.974 billion package for the Federal Railroad Administration and also included $550 million for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants.

That contrasts with action by a House committee to end TIGER funding. The Trump administration also sought to end the TIGER program.

In other action, the Senate subcommittee agreed to provide $12 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, marking a $285 million decrease from FY2017 enacted levels.

The bill provides $9.7 billion for transit formula grants consistent with the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act and slots $2.1 billion for the FTA’s Capital Investment Grants (also known as New Starts).

That money would fully fund all current Full Funding Grant Agreement transit projects.

“This bipartisan bill is the product of considerable negotiation and compromise, and makes the necessary investments in our nation’s infrastructure, helps to meet the housing needs of the most vulnerable among us, and provides funding for economic development projects that create jobs in our communities,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the subcommittee.

More Winter Action From Bellevue

July 28, 2017

Here are some more images from the Bellevue Yard tower on Dec. 31, 1967, the best of the rest. I’m sorry about the reflections, loss of contrast, etc., but these were taken when I was a young railfan photographer.

Photographs by Robert Farkas

GE to Cease Making Locomotives in Erie

July 28, 2017

GE Transportation said this week that it would end locomotive production at its Erie assembly plant by late 2018.

The company said that the design and develop center at the plant will remain open. The plant will also make prototypes and spare parts. Approximately 575 workers will lose their jobs.

The announcement cited downturns in freight traffic and a global market for locomotives. Locomotive production once done in Erie will be consolidated in an assembly plant in Fort Worth, Texas, which opened in 2013.

Opened in 1910, the Erie plant, which is located in Lawrence Park township, once employed 2,000. The workforce has been steadily reduced in recent years.

Aside from the Erie plant being old, it was also more costly to operate.

The Erie Times-News reported that the average salary of a production worker in Erie is more than $30 per hour where new hires at the Fort Worth plant are paid about $17 per hour.

The Erie plant was unionized but the Texas plant is not.

Earlier this year, GE Transportation CEO Jamie Miller said the the company would focus on the global new locomotive market.

In the past year GE has landed an order for 1,000 locomotives to be built for Indiana and 133 for South Africa.

In North America, GE is going to emphasis re-manufacturing older locomotives and upgrading the technology on those units to monitor performance.

Orders for new locomotives in North America have all but vanished with Class 1 railroads mothballing more than 4,000 locomotives in response to a freight recession that began in 2015 and management practices that are seeking to move tonnage in fewer trains.

General Electric itself has been in turmoil in the past few months with CEO Jeffrey Immelt stepping down an activist hedge fund pushing GE management to step up its cost cutting.

GE said earlier this year it would reduce expenses by $2 billion over the next two years.

STB to Monitor CSX in Wake of Shipper Complaints

July 28, 2017

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has notified CSX that it will closely monitor the railroad’s performance.

In a letter to CSX head E. Hunter Harrison, the STB said it would conduct weekly service calls with senior railroad executives.

The STB said some shippers have lodged informal complaints with the agency about the deterioration of service between April and June.

It was during that period that CSX began implementing the precision scheduled railroading operating philosophy that Harrison has long espoused.

“In particular, shippers have complained that transit times have increased significantly and/or become unpredictable; loaded and empty rail cars sit for days at yards; switching operations have become inconsistent and unreliable; car routings have become circuitous and inefficient; and CSX customer service personnel have been unable to provide meaningful assistance,” the STB wrote.

Congestion has hindered CSX operations at its St. Louis and New Orleans terminals and the railroad’s performance metrics indicate that trains are moving more slowly and cars are spending more time in yards, while the number of cars online has increased.

“We understand that these disruptions have forced a number of rail shippers and their customers to curtail production, temporarily halt operations, and/or utilize other transportation options,” the STB letter said.

The letter went onto cite CSX for not communicating well with it customers, saying that many shippers have been caught off guard by the service changes and didn’t have the lead time required to adjust their supply chains.

Earlier this week, STB officials and senior CSX officials had a meeting to discuss the railroad’s operations. CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said the railroad will provide the information the STB has requested.

Never Weary of Seeing the Erie

July 27, 2017

The Erie heritage locomotive was one of the last of the series of Norfolk Southern heritage locomotives that I saw and photographed. It eluded me for nearly two years before I finally caught it in late December 2014.

It was the last of the 20 H units that I physically saw, but was the penultimate one that I photographed.

I don’t see the Erie that often, but I have managed to catch it a five times since that late 2014 sighting.

I got a text from fellow Akron Railroad Club member Todd Dillon that NS 1068 was leading Norfolk Southern train 22K.

I was expecting the 22K to come through Olmsted Falls in late morning but it was just after 2 p.m. before it finally arrived. Here is sighting No. 7 of the Erie heritage unit.