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.

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.

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.

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.

MDOT Taking Comments on Freight Plan

August 30, 2017

The Michigan Department of Transportation is accepting public comment through Sept. 29 on its draft state freight plan.

The plan is a supplement to the 2040 MI Transportation Plan and provides a comprehensive overview of the state’s freight transportation system, including existing assets, system performance and investments needed to “ensure long-term success,” MDOT officials said in a news release.

It will provides a framework for freight system improvements and priorities.

A public webinar has been set to discuss the plan on Sept. 12.

Michigan’s railroads handled more than 479 million tons moved to, from, within and through the state in 2014. Coal, chemical products and metallic ores were the top commodities moved by rail in 2014.

By comparison, tucking companies hauled 65 percent of tonnage moved, while rail handled 21 percent, according to the plan.

FTA Names Deputy Administrator

August 30, 2017

The Federal Transit Administration has announced the appointment of K. Jane Williams as deputy administrator.

Williams previously served as director of the Washington Area Transit Office in the Maryland Department of Transportation where she worked closely with the Maryland Transit Administration and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

She also served in the Department of Energy and Department of Labor during the Ronald Reagan administration, and the Department of Interior under President George H.W. Bush.

Williams once served as a senior legislative advisor for Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland).

Administration to Talk Infrastructure with DOTs

August 29, 2017

The Trump administration will meet this week with officials from state departments of transportation to discuss the administration’s ideas for infrastructure investment.

The invitation to participate said the event’s purpose “will be to underscore the need for a different approach, outline our draft guiding principles, and allow you all to brainstorm actions to help carry this conversation on the need for change and the opportunity to empower state and local leaders back to your states and communities.”

Attending the meeting will be Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and members of the President’s National Economic Council, and special assistant to the president for infrastructure D.J. Gribbin.

President Trump has proposed $200 billion of direct federal infrastructure spending over 10 years, with the goal of using it to leverage an additional $800 billion in state, local and private investment. However, the administration has yet to release a formal plan.

10 ARRC Members Make Trek to Vermilion, Amherst

August 28, 2017

Don Woods places the first burgers on the grill at the Amherst depot Saturday afternoon as Marty Surdyk watches. (Photograph by Todd Dillon)

Ten Akron Railroad Club members participated in the outing on Saturday to Vermilion and Amherst.

The day began in Vermilion at the South Street boat launch where various birds, boats and even some Norfolk Southern trains occupied our attention.

We had plenty of opportunities to photograph NS trains crossing the Vermilion River on the Chicago Line.

Although the day was sunny throughout, the wind off Lake Erie had a chill to it that was particularly noticeable when you were in the shade.

During our time at the boat launch, NS sent one eastbound through town on the former Nickel Plate Road mainline, a manifest freight on what is now called the Cleveland District.

Around mid afternoon, our host Todd Vander Sluis took a couple ARRC members in his Dodge Ram pickup truck to inspect the new connection being built from the Chicago Line to the Cleveland  District west of Vermilion near the Vermilion Country Club.

The connection will enable eastbound trains on the Chicago Line to eastward on the Cleveland District.

Progress on the project has been slow and the site looked much as it did a year ago.

The path of the connection has been graded and some panel track has been placed along it, but otherwise work seems to have stalled.

The ARRC NS heritage units curse continued. Our hopes had been raised by an online report that the Leigh Valley H unit was leading train 18A eastbound and its progression would have put it through Vermilion in early to mid afternoon.

But it turned out the 18A was headed for Bellevue. Another H unit, the Central of New Jersey, was also reported heading east on the Chicago Line in Indiana, but it was bound for Detroit.

Wouldn’t you know it that if we had been in Vermilion the next day we would have seen the Wabash H unit leading the 21G in mid to late afternoon.

Just one train had foreign power leading. An eastbound grain train was led by a pair of BNSF units.

We did spot two Kansas City Southern “Belles” trailing in the motive power consist of an eastbound manifest freight.

As the afternoon wore on, ARRC members began migrating to the restored former New York Central freight station in Amherst where Chef Martè was manning the grill for the annual summer picnic of the Forest City Division of the Railroad Enthusiasts.

The RRE had invited the ARRC to attend its picnic and partake of some burgers and hot dogs.

Alas, NS pretty much died during the picnic. By the time things picked up again, it was nearly 9 p.m. and just about everyone had gone home, was about to head home, or was on his way home.