Archive for August, 2017

West of Vermilion on the Chicago Line

August 31, 2017

One of the byproducts of making a trip last Saturday to inspect the progress of the new connection from the Chicago Line to the Cleveland District of Norfolk Southern was an opportunity to check out some new photo locations.

Last year when members of the Akron Railroad Club inspected the connection site during our day in Vermilion, no NS trains came through.

This year, though, we caught a small flurry of trains, two of them westbound, that we photographed at three locations.

In the top photograph, a string of JB Hunt containers approaches Risden Road near the Vermilion Country Club. This is the site where the new connection will join the Chicago Line.

The second photograph from the top features a westbound manifest freight approaching Poorman Road at milepost 225.

In the last two images, an eastbound intermodal train is rounding a curve by the Joppa Road crossing, which is at the apex of the curve.

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Ohio Transit Safety Plans Wins FTA OK

August 31, 2017

Ohio is the first state to have its state safety oversight program certified by the Federal Transit Administration.

The plan applies to transit-rail agencies and give the state greater authority to oversee its transit agencies.

Federal law requires 30 states to obtain FTA certification for their safety oversight programs by April 2019. States failing to win certification will not receive transit funds.

“Certification is an important achievement by the state of Ohio and demonstrates that the Ohio SSO Program has the authority, resources, and expertise needed to oversee the rail transit systems in that state,” said FTA Deputy Administrator Jane Williams.

Rail transit lines in Ohio are located in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

The state safety safety oversight agency must adopt and enforce relevant federal and state safety laws. It must have investigatory authority and the appropriate financial and human resources for the number, size and complexity of transit-rail systems in its jurisdiction.

Chargers to Sport Amtrak Midwest Logo

August 31, 2017

The new Charger locomotives that are entering service on Amtrak’s Midwest corridor routes will sport an Amtrak Midwest logo.

Amtrak showed off the new locomotives earlier this week at a press conference in Chicago.

The passenger carrier in a news release touted the SC-44 locomotives built by Siemens for their enhanced smoothness, speed capability and safety features.

The locomotives are owned by the state departments of transportation that pay for the corridor trains that will use the new units.

Thirty-three Chargers will be based in Chicago to serve trains that carried more than 2.6 million Amtrak passengers last year.

Chargers will also be assigned to the Missouri River Runner trains between St. Louis and Kansas City.

The locomotives were built in Sacramento, California, and are being promoted for their lower maintenance costs, reduced fuel consumption and quieter operation.

The SC-44 is powered by a Midwest-made 4,400 horsepower Cummins QSK95 diesel engine.

The locomotives can operate at speeds up to 125 mph, with faster acceleration and braking for better on-time reliability.

They are the first higher-speed passenger locomotives to meet the EPA Tier 4 standards, meaning a 90 percent reduction in emissions and a reduction in fuel consumption of up to 16 percent compared to the previous locomotives.

The locomotives were purchased with $216.5 million in federal funds.

CSX Storing Wide Range of Locomotive Types

August 31, 2017

CSX has been sending hundreds of locomotives into storage in recent months and a Trains magazine analysis shows that the mothballed fleet is a mixture of older and newer units.

Among the most common types Electro-Motive locomotives that have been parked are SD50-2, SD60, SD60M, SD70MAC and SD70AC locomotives.

SD40-2s not rebuilt to SD40-3 specifications or in the rebuilding queue are also being stored.

GE-built C40-8W locomotives in the 7000 and 9000 numbering series can be found stored and some AC6000CW locomotives have been idle since early 2017.

You can’t attribute the shrinking active locomotive fleet solely to new CEO E. Hunter Harrison.

CSX began removing locomotives from service in 2016, although the process has accelerated since Harrison arrived in March of this year.

Much of the AC4400CW fleet is still active and new locomotives such as the Evolution series ES40DCs, ES44AHs, and the EPA Tier-4 equivalent models are dominating motive power assignments in mainline service.

Yard service and locals are being pulled by SD40-3s and their four axle equivalents, the GP38-3 and GP40-3s.  Also active are GP38-2s, GP40-2s, road slugs, MP15AC and MP15T locomotives. CSX has parked many newer and low-emission Gensets.

Trains estimated that CSX at one point had stored more than 900 locomotives, but that number has fallen as some units have been returned to service amid a locomotive shortage.

Pittsburgh to Allow Access to the Non-Ticketed

August 31, 2017

Non-ticketed passengers are being allowed limited access to the secure, airside area of Pittsburgh International Airport starting Sept. 5.

PIT will become the first airport in the United States since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to allow such access.

The access will be available Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

To gain access, non-ticketed passengers must check in by showing a valid photo ID and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration against its “no-fly” list.

Those approved will be given a stamped myPITpass and must go through the security checkpoint in the same manner as a ticketed passenger.

“This program is the first of its kind in the US and there are currently no plans to expand it to other airports at this time,” TSA spokesperson Mike England said. “TSA did not need to hire additional personnel to accommodate this program and we have all the staff we need at PIT to handle the additional influx of people. TSA also does not anticipate that there will be any impact on checkpoint wait times.”

Pittsburgh International has allowed non-ticketed passengers access to its post-security retail area in the past. It has held a one-day “open house” during the past several years.

Troy Station Battle Comes to Quiet End

August 31, 2017

A dispute that lasted for 20 years over building an Amtrak station in Troy, Michigan, came to an end recently with the city council formally accepting the final $1.7 million in federal funding for the Troy Multi-Modal Transit Center.

The money was used to finish paying for a transit center that is used by Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains between Chicago and Detroit (Pontiac) and local buses.

Troy, a suburb of Detroit, is known for its conservatism and many fights took place in city council chambers over whether to accept federal funding for mass transit.

The struggle also included a lawsuit over who owned the land beneath the transit center.

The city contended that it did, but shopping center developer Gary Sakwa disputed that and filed suit.

It was eventually settled with Troy paying Skawa $4.2 million to get clear title to the property.

At one time Troy and the neighboring city of Birmingham made plans to create a joint station for Amtrak and transit on their city borders. But Birmingham backed out of the plan and Troy went it alone.

Megan Owens, the executive director of Transportation Riders United in Detroit said transit has never been an easy issue in metro Detroit.

“But I think it’s gotten easier,” she said about the long fight over the Troy station.

Some critics of the station remain convinced it was not worth its $12 million cost.

One of them is the former mayor of Troy, Janice Daniels, who fought against it and ended up being recalled amid the dispute.

Daniels said it angered her that promoters of the center said it wouldn’t cost the city anything.

Troy end up paying $1.8 million, although those funds came from cash left over from federal reimbursement of road projects.

Last year Amtrak handled 23,714 passengers in Troy, a 9 percent drop from 2015.

However, some believe that with plans in the works to increase the speed of Wolverine Service trains to 110 mph in some places that ridership will grow.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said 80 miles of the Chicago-Detroit route is good for that top speed with another 25 miles slated to become high-speed in the coming months.

Into the Siding Leading to Fairlane

August 30, 2017

Passing the 213 milepost in Amherst as train 287 takes the siding.

About to duck beneath the Jackson Street bridge.

A parting shot as the auto rack cars catch a little glint from the filtered late day sunlight.

Traffic on the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern has all but dried up.

A lull of more than an hour was broken by a radio transmission from the Toledo East dispatcher to westbound auto rack train No. 287.

The dispatcher informed the crew it would be going into the siding whose eastern end begins in Amherst beneath the Ohio Route 58 bridge.

They also received yarding instructions for Fairlane.

That prompted me to begin walking briskly from the restored former Lake Shore & Michigan Southern depot in Amherst to the bridge carrying Jackson Street over the NS tracks.

I had been shooting the breeze with the guys at the joint picnic hosted by the Forest City Division of the Railroad Enthusiasts to which Akron Railroad Club members had been invited.

The RRE annually has its picnic in Amherst and every year I’ve attended I’ve spent time photographing on the Jackson Street bridge.

The headlight of the lead unit of the 287 was already in sight as I reached the bridge.

Slowly the train made its way into the siding, making it the first train I’ve shot in this siding.

For awhile I wasn’t sure if I would keep my Amherst bridge tradition going. So I felt better as I walked back to the depot knowing the streak had been kept alive.

CSX Claims Shorter Dwell Times in STB Report

August 30, 2017

In its latest report to the Surface Transportation Board CSX said it has made progress in reducing dwell time in terminals even as on-time performance has continued to decline.

The letter from CEO E. Hunter Harrison noted that the resumption of hump operations at Avon Yard near Indianapolis has enabled the railroad’s western terminals to become more fluid.

Secondary congestion that had overflowed from Avon and other yards has been contained. CSX said that its terminal dwell time declined to an average of 11.8 hours in the week ending Aug. 25, down from a peak of 13.2 hours five weeks ago.

In its six western terminals, CSX said dwell time averaged 13.7 hours last week, down from a peak of 22.1 hours five weeks ago.

CSX said its on-time originations fell to 64 percent, down from 70 percent a week ago and 87 percent in the last week of June. On-time arrivals followed suit, declining to 51 percent from 55 percent last week.

Average train speed was 13.2 mph, measured using a new standard that CSX recently adopted. That’s 15 percent slower than the average speed in the last week of June and below historic averages for this time of year.

However, some shippers are saying that CSX service remains erratic.

“We have not seen evidence that overall service is improving,” said Scott Jensen, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council.

In its latest report to the STB, CSX said it has undertaken a number of steps, including sending during the past three weeks commercial personnel to “challenged” field locations to improve communications with customers, particularly those who have complained about CSX’s service.

Harrison said the reactivation of the hump at Avon Yard leaves the railroad with five hump yards, adding that the goal is to find the right balance of hump and flat switching yards to optimize efficiency.

“We are intensely focused on maintaining a balanced train network, reducing freight transit time by minimizing crew handlings, and scheduling each car and train in a manner that delivers optimal results for our customers,” Harrison wrote in the CSX report.

Earlier this year, CSX ended hump operations at yards in Atlanta; Hamlet, North Carolina; Stanley (Toledo), Ohio; Cumberland, Maryland; Birmingham, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; and Louisville, Kentucky.

Wi-Fi Now on at 7 Pittsburgh Light Rail Stations

August 30, 2017

Wi-Fi is now available at the seven busiest light rail stations served by the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

The service is being provided by Comcast which last January received a seven-year, nonexclusive agreement to provide wireless hotspots at the Station Square, First Avenue, Steel Plaza, Wood Street, Gateway, North Side and Allegheny stations.

In a news release, the Port Authority said the agreement came at no cost to it.

“We see this [Wi-Fi] as an invaluable tool, especially once we roll out real-time tracking of our light rail vehicles, which is currently in a testing phase,” said Port Authority Interim Chief Executive Officer David Donahoe.

Comcast also provides Wi-Fi service for transit riders in Philadelphia, Boston and southern New Jersey.

NS Track Workers Hurt in Collision

August 30, 2017

Five Norfolk Southern track workers were taken to a hospital after a pair of maintenance-of-way machines collided on Monday in southern West Virginia.

Four of the injured were treated and released while a fifth was admitted to the hospital in Bluefield, West Virginia.

Two of the workers were NS employees while the others worked for a contractor.

The incident occurred about noon east of Bluefield on the Christiansburg District mainline, a former Norfolk & Western route.

NS officials are continuing to investigate the incident.