Archive for September, 2018

Steam Returns to the Valley This Weekend

September 28, 2018

Nickel Plate Road 765 presents an impressive sight as it climbs the hill into Akron. It is shown passing through the Sand Run Metro Park during its ferry move on Sunday morning.

Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 will pull another round of excursions on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad this weekend.

The schedule includes a trip from Rockside Road tonight (Sept. 28) at 5:30 p.m. and from Rockside at 9:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Trips out of Akron are scheduled to depart on Sunday at 11:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m.

Last weekend saw the 765 execute the same schedule. Here is a gallery of some of my favorite images of the Berkshire-type locomotive in action during its first weekend.

Everyone stops to watch a steam locomotive. NKP 765 steams through the Sand Run Metropark in Akron on Sunday morning during its ferry move to position itself for the day’s trips.

Snaking around a curve in the Sand Run Metropark in Akron on late Sunday morning.

Cameras are out as NKP 765 approaches the CVSR’s Big Bend station in the Sand Run Metropark in Akron as the first excursion of Sunday returns to the Rubber City.

Running backward northbound at Bath Road during the Sunday afternoon excursion.

Getting some reflection in the Cuyahoga River during the Saturday afternoon trip.

Executing another photo runby at Boston Mill.

The afternoon trip on Saturday approaches West Pleasant Valley Road. I was the only photographer on the bridge waiting for the train.

Coming with a head of steam over Columbia Run along Riverview Road north of Boston Mill on Saturday. On Sunday a Peninsula cop keep railfan photographers off the grassy area where this image was made.

The first southbound run of the day on Saturday morning is underway as the 765 skirts the Cuyahoga River near the Canal Exploration Center.

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What to Make of More Stringent 765 Security

September 28, 2018

It probably was inevitable that after a woman was struck and killed in Colorado last July by Union Pacific 4-8-4 No. 844 that security surrounding the visit of Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in September would be tight.

The woman who was killed was standing on the ties as the Northern-type steamer passed through Henderson, Colorado. An Adams County sheriff’s investigation concluded that the woman appeared to be more focused on her phone’s screen than watching for an oncoming train.

What happened in Colorado could happen in Ohio, so the CVSR, the National Park Service, the Summit County Metroparks and the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society ratcheted up security to levels never seen during previous visits of steam locomotives.

Volunteers from the CVSR and FtWRHS were stationed at grade crossings.

Temporary no parking signs were posted on Riverview Road between Columbia Run Road and Everett.

White plastic chain rope was set up at popular viewing locations such as Brecksville and Jaite. Those chains were present at Boston Mill in the area reserved for passengers to watch the runbys, thus making it difficult to get clear views of the steamer.

At the Deep Lock Quarry trail south of Peninsula, two Summit County Metropark rangers kept photographers from crossing the tracks and standing on the east side.

No one wants to see someone killed who is standing too close to the tracks out of ignorance or recklessness.

Although that has never happened during a visit of the 765 to the CVSR, some people, I suppose, have to be saved from themselves.

Nonetheless, I keep thinking about my favorite Robert Frost poem, The Oven Bird and its last lines: “The question that he frames in all but words. Is what to make of a diminished thing.”

It was nice to see the Nickel Plate Berkshire again and we in Northeast Ohio are fortunate to be one of two places where the 765 will operate this year.

Yet I couldn’t help but remember how during previous years security was not as tight and photographers had more freedom to stake out photo locations.

Those involved in security for the NKP 765 excursions would say it is all about safety, but if you could get them to go beyond their broad talking points, they would acknowledge that their sense of risk aversion has increased over what it was in the past.

When it comes to safety, authorities like to paint with broad rather than fine brushes. I understand that. The CVSR, park agencies and FtWRHS have much to lose if there is an incident in which the 765 strikes someone, resulting in death or a crippling injury.

Yet something has been lost and chasing after the 765 was not as enjoyable as it used to be.

Enforcement of the security measures was inconsistent and at times baffling.

At Deep Lock Quarry, I started to stand next to a photographer with a long telephoto lens who was up against the wood fence.

A Metroparks official motioned me over and said, “stand on this side” as he pointed toward the edge of the paved trail. I don’t know what that was about but it wasn’t about safety.

As has happened in previous years, a Peninsula cop sat in his cruiser on the east shoulder of Riverview Road at Boston Mill and sped northward whenever someone crossed the highway to stand near the guard rail closest to the tracks toward the north end of the ski resort.

Watching that cop shoot down Riverview to pounce on some unsuspecting photographer was comical at times.

But there was nothing funny about what happened to a teen on Sunday afternoon who crossed the road to make photographs.

The cop raced down the road and yelled at him over his SUV’s external loudspeaker in a voice loud enough to be heard clearly several hundred feet away.

Get back in the far parking lot! It was not a polite but firm “please get back on the other side of the road” command. The officer acted as though this teen’s transgression was a personal affront.

I will never forget the look on the young man’s face as he trudged back to his mother’s car.

Moments earlier an officer was camped on the west shoulder of Riverview just north of the Columbia Run picnic area and keeping photographers from crossing the road to photograph from the grassy area between the east shoulder of Riverview and the tracks. On Saturday it had been OK to stand in that grassy area.

As the 765 was abeam his patrol vehicle, he took off southbound on Riverview, getting into the images of some photographers. He could have delayed moving for 10 or 15 seconds, but didn’t.

Safety is a conundrum for the CVSR, which operates in a public park on tracks it doesn’t own.

The railroad seeks to balance the needs of safety with the desire of more than a thousand people to watch something they rarely get to see.

Fact is the CVSR, the FtWRHS and the park agencies want people to come out to watch the steam locomotive. But they also want to restrict how they can do that.

The level of security that came with this year’s 765 visit probably will be the norm for future 765 visits as well as excursions behind mainline steam locomotives elsewhere.

There were still locations where you could get clear views of the 765 and its train without getting hassled or feeling as though you were under surveillance.

The plastic chains at Jaite afforded photographers good views of the 765 coming or going to the north. During my visit to Jaite, CVSR and FtWRHS personnel watched the crowd, but no one told anyone where to stand so long as you stayed behind the chains.

Two fans I spoke with during the weekend contrasted some of the behavior they observed with the behavior of Metra police officers when the 765 ran trips between Joliet and Chicago. Both fans described the Metra officers as friendly and courteous.

Railfan photographers understand the need for security and crowd control when a steam locomotive visits. They understand that legitimate safety and crowd control needs sometimes will impinge upon where and how photography can be done. But a little consideration still goes a long way.

Pleasant Surprise Pushing on the Rear

September 27, 2018

Norfolk Southern train 14K is known for having helper locomotives. You might find one in the middle of the consist or on the rear.

I was talking with fellow railfan Sheldon Lustig in Berea a while back when the 14K lumbered through.

Fortunately, I had my camera with me because on the rear was a pleasant surprise, the Central of New Jersey heritage unit.

It is at least the third time I’ve been trackside when a train showed up with a heritage unit that I did not know was coming.

I’ve also caught the Penn Central and Interstate H units that way.

Miss Liberty may not have been leading the 14K, but she wasn’t trailing either.

In Memory of Ed McHugh

September 27, 2018

Akron Railroad Club member Edward Patrick McHugh III died at his home in his sleep of heart failure on Aug. 23.

Mr. McHugh, 73, had been battling cancer for several months.

He was an avid collector of railroad memorabilia, including model trains and railroad artifacts. His home in Massillon was filled with such things as passenger station signs and drumheads from various passenger trains.

Mr. McHugh had a particular interest in passenger trains and enjoyed talking and reading about them.

Born Dec. 14, 1944, in Cleveland, he was the son of Edward and Anselma Sonnhalter McHugh.

He retired in 2000 after working for 33 years for the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management.

At the time of his retirement, Mr. McHugh was the director of the Workforce Restructuring Office, which was established to support the federal government’s downsizing and restructuring initiatives.

Mr. McHugh and his staff received Hammer Awards from Vice President Al Gore for their work.

Over the course of his career, Mr. McHugh held a variety of positions.

During the 1960s he registered voters in the South under the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

He also provided technical assistance on human resource issues to federal agencies, and state and local governments.

Mr. McHugh served on an intergovernmental personnel assignment for the governor of Indiana, was a staff member on the National Commission on Public Service (the Volcker Commission), twice headed U.S. delegations to the Joint Committee on the Public Service of the International Labor Organization, and in 1995 was elected chairman of the ILO’s 25 nation meeting on the Impact of Structural Adjustment in the Public Service.

He played a role in the drafting of the Part Time Employment Act of 1978 and the implementation of a 1982 executive order enabling military spouses to acquire federal jobs and carry credit for those jobs to military bases in the United States and abroad.

Mr. McHugh was a frequent guest on Washington Post reporter Mike Causey’s Federal Diary Saturday radio show.

Before starting his federal government career, Mr. McHugh served three years in the U.S. Army.

Mr. McHugh was a graduate of Stonehill College in Massachusetts and a member of the St. Mary Catholic Church in Massillon.

He is survived by his wife, Lois McHugh; children, Lynn (Paul) Scanlon, Kevin (Talia) McHugh, and Laura McHugh; and by grandchildren, Sean and Kevin Scanlon; his sisters, Mary Bartlo and Cathleen Patton.

Burial was in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.

Memorials may be made to the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute, the St. Mary’s Catholic Church Capital Campaign or Montgomery Preservation Inc., 8100 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD. 20903, for the preservation of the train station.

Condolences to the family may be made at www.heitger.com

Indiana Short Line to Rebuild Infrastucture

September 27, 2018

An Indiana short-line railroad has received a $300,000 matching grant that will be used to repair track and bridges.

The Chesapeake & Indiana received the funding from the Indiana Industrial Rail Service Fund.

The railroad will kick in $300,000 of its own money to replace 4,800 ties, and to replace two timber bridges with culverts.

Also planned is the creation of a siding at Thomaston to facilitate interchange with Norfolk Southern.

The 33-mile C&I serves La Porte, Porter, and Starke counties in northwest Indiana. Its largest shipper is Co-Alliance, which is also the state’s largest grain dealer.

In a news release, the railroad said shippers “continue to increase their rail usage with Co-Alliance at Union Mills and Malden handling more grain and fertilizer.”

The railroad has generated some new gypsum traffic for Georgia Pacific at Wheatfield that is transloaded from or rail to truck at a Whitcomb Trucking Facility east of LaCrosse.

The C&I is owned by Indiana Boxcar Company.

Sampling Ed’s Sunday NKP 765 Chase Album

September 26, 2018

Akron Railroad Club member Edward Ribinskas was among several ARRC members who turned out last Sunday to photograph and watch Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 as it pulled excursions out of Akron.

The weather was much improved over Saturday’s mostly cloudy to overcast skies, but clouds continued to linger into the late morning hours.

Ed first caught NKP 765 in the Sand Run Metropark near the CVSR Big Bend station  in Akron as it was pulled backward during the day’s first excursion.

He and his wife Ursula watched the photo runbys at Boston Mill and then returned to Sand Run to catch the 765 pulling the return trip to Akron (top photo).

The National Park Scenic was also operating as scheduled so Ed made a few images of it as well.

For the afternoon excursion, Ed caught up with the 765 as he and Ursula were walking around in Peninsula. Here is a sampling of Ed’s Sunday photographs.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Indiana High Court Favors NS in Grade Crossing Case

September 26, 2018

An Indiana court has ruled in favor of Norfolk Southern and against a county that sought to fine the railroad for blocking grade crossings of public streets.

The Indiana Supreme Court in a unanimous ruling  invalidated efforts under a state law to fine railroads that block crossings of public streets for more than 10 minutes.

In its ruling, the court said the state law, which had been adopted in 1972, was a direct regulation of railroads that is preempted by the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act.

NS was cited by Allen County officials 23 times between December 2014 and December 2015.

Although judges in county courts had ruled in favor of the railroad in those cases, the state appealed to the Indiana high court.

The court said the state might be able to obtain recourse for blocked crossings through the Surface Transportation Board’s Rail Customer and Public Assistance Program.

Ford Paid $90M for Michigan Central Station

September 26, 2018

The price of saving a historic Detroit train station and transforming it into a facility to develop new technologies in the automotive industry was $90 million.

The Automotive News reports that was how much Ford Motor Company paid to buy the decrepit Michigan Central Depot, which will be the centerpiece of a 1.2 million square foot development that also includes residential, commercial and event space.

The figure was taken from government records and means that Ford paid $150 per foot for the 104-year-old, 600,000-square-foot building.

Ford plans to develop electric and autonomous vehicles at the campus it plans to establish at Michigan Central Station.

The company is seeking more than $230 million in tax credits for the project.

CSX Grapples With Improving Safety

September 26, 2018

Was it coincidence or was the implementation of precision scheduled railroading combined with an aggressive effort to cut costs a factor in a rise in accidents, derailments and collisions at CSX?

During 2017, the year that the operating changes were made, CSX had more incidents per mile than the national averages for Class 1 railroads.

After recording four consecutive quarters without a release of hazardous materials, CSX has had six hazmat releases since the third quarter of 2017, including at least one in each of the last four quarters.

Two CSX employees died on duty in June 2017 while another died last March.

Federal Railroad Administration figures show that accidents at CSX have caused more financial damage than the railroad has seen in at least five years.

Safety has been on the minds of CSX management, though. Last May the railroad named a chief safety officer and hired a consulting firm to audit its safety policies and culture.

“We intend to be the safest railroad,” CEO Jim Foote said during the second quarter earnings call. “A comprehensive safety inspection is underway, and I expect positive changes to result.”

Those efforts may be paying off. On-duty employee injuries dropped slightly in 2017 and if current trends hold they would this year be the lowest in a decade.

CSX’s rate of train accidents per million miles in June was 40 percent lower than in May.

Nonetheless, some CSX employees fear that a change in the management of train dispatchers might be creating safety risks.

CSX used to have a dispatch supervisor for each of its divisions. But last month it reduced that to one supervisor for the western divisions and one for the eastern divisions.

Dispatchers who spoke to the Jacksonville Business Journal said the result is that the supervisors have become overwhelmed and are forcing dispatchers to do work that the supervisors don’t have time to do.

This has meant that dispatchers are doing reports and clerical work, and answering emails as well as overseeing train operations. Each dispatcher oversees upwards of 800 miles of track.

Dispatchers who spoke with the Business Journal said their additional duties are distracting. “It’s absolutely a safety hazard,” said one dispatcher.

“In an environment where we are protecting the lives of crews and the public there is too much emphasis placed on [doing clerical work],” a dispatcher said.

“Nothing we do on the railroad has small consequences,” said another dispatcher.

A CSX spokesperson said the changes in dispatch management were designed to improve safety and performance.

“CSX’s recent management reorganization was a strategic decision to improve safety, service and shareholder value,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said CSX has not reduced the number of its dispatchers.

“The resulting changes actually enhance dispatchers’ ability to more effectively direct and coordinate the safe movement of railroad traffic on our network, the spokesperson said. “We flatly reject any assertion that suggests our new operating structure is not consistent with our belief in safety as a core value.”

However, several CSX dispatchers, some of whom have decades of experience, have left CSX to work at other railroads.

There has also been discussion about how operating longer trains has affected safety.

Figures from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board show that the average train length in the second quarter of this year on CSX is now 7,241 feet, which is 12.6 percent longer than it was in the second quarter of 2017 and 5.2 percent longer than at the beginning of the year.

Yet CSX argues that longer trains enhance safety. Their reasoning is that longer trains result in fewer trains per day. The number of trains at grade crossings is down 9 percent, a difference of 153 trains per day, according to CSX data.

The CSX spokesperson said there is no correlation between train accidents and train length, and operating longer trains is not a new phenomenon in the railroad industry.

As the railroad sees it the increased train length resulted in consolidating train profiles to achieve efficiencies.

“Operating longer (but fewer) trains both enhances safety and creates several public and private benefits,” the CSX spokesperson said.

Riding in the Silver Lariat

September 25, 2018

I had the chance to ride the Silver Lariat on the afternoon trip in the Valley on Saturday with Ursula and our former brother in law but still good friend Karl and his wife Laura.

Even though we were herded like cattle for the photo runby, I still got some decent shots. It helped that we had three runbys and Nickel Plate Road No. 765 always looks and sounds great. It was a sold out train.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

One of three photo runbys executed at Boston Mill.

An on the ground view of Silver Lariat during the photo runby at Boston Mill.

The view of Boston Mill from the dome section of Silver Lariat.