Archive for June, 2019

Down at the Akron EL Station

June 29, 2019

Erie Lackawanna 6311 is eastbound past the EL passenger station in Akron in the late 1960s/early 1970s.

By then passenger service on the former Erie Railroad had shrunk to the Lake Cities between Chicago and Hoboken, New Jersey.

The Lake Cities would continue to operate through early January 1970. It would be the last EL intercity passenger train although the carrier continued to operate a commuter train between Cleveland and Youngstown, and it had extensive commuter rail operations in the New York City region.

But the Lake Cities would be the last EL varnish to carry a dining car and sleeping cars.

The Akron EL station, which was built by the Erie in the late 1940s, no longer stands. It was razed and a bank branch is now on the site.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Amtrak’s Hoosier State to Make Final Trips on Sunday

June 29, 2019

Amtrak’s Hoosier State boards passengers at Indianapolis Union Station on June 25 during its last week of operation.

The Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State will make it last trips on Sunday.

Amtrak is “suspending” the train effective July 1 because the State of Indiana declined to renew its funding.

Nos. 850 and 851 operate on the days that the Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

From Indianapolis to Chicago, No. 50 runs on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. In the other direction No. 51 operates on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The Cardinal will continue to operate after the Hoosier State is discontinued.

The Hoosier State appeared to be doomed once Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb sent a budget request to the state legislature last February that omitted funding for the train, which was also funded by various online cities and counties.

Holcomb cited falling ridership for ending the funding.

The Hoosier State began in October 1980 as a demonstration route. It was discontinued in September 1995 as part of a major Amtrak service restructuring and retrenchment but reinstated in July 1998 in part to give Amtrak a more reliable means of ferrying equipment between Chicago and the Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis.

The Hoosier State has skated on thin ice since 2013 when Indiana became the last state to agree to a funding plan mandated by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 that required state and local governments to pay for Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles.

Initially the Indiana Department of Transportation chose Corridor Capitol, a Chicago-based rail passenger services development company, to manage and operate the Hoosier State.

However, INDOT severed ties with Corridor Capitol in November 2014 and Amtrak continued to operate Nos. 850 and 851 on a short-term contract.

INDOT said the following spring that the Hoosier State would end on April 1, 2015, due to regulations of the Federal Railroad Administration that would have required the state to act as a rail carrier, despite the state owning no tracks or trains.

INDOT appealed to the FRA and the Hoosier State continued to operate under

a short-term agreement.

In August 2015, INDOT reached a four-year agreement with Iowa Pacific and Amtrak to operate the train.

IP was to provide providing and maintain the rolling stock as well as provide food service and marketing.

Amtrak would provide ticketing services and train operating crews.

Iowa Pacific said in January 2017 it was withdrawing from the contract after INDOT refused to increase its financial compensation.

Starting March 1, 2017, the Hoosier State became an all Amtrak operation.

Efforts to emend the budget in the legislature to put back funding for the Hoosier State failed and Amtrak said in April that the train would be “suspended” on July 1.

At one point Amtrak said it has reached an agreement with CSX to reduce the running time and that the Hoosier State would be rescheduled in late April to provide better times at Indianapolis.

But those changes were never made and it is unclear if they will eventually be applied to the Cardinal.

The Hoosier State is thus poised to become the Amtrak train to be discontinued in several years and the first to end due to PRIAA requirements.

Reduced Workforce Follows PSR Operating Model

June 29, 2019

Although reducing the workforce is not often a stated objective by railroads practicing precision scheduled railroading, the Class I railroad employment figures reported every month by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board show that it has been a byproduct.

Since February 2017, employment at U.S. Class 1 railroads has fallen by 4 percent.

It was in March 2017 that the late E. Hunter Harrison became CEO of CSX and began implementing the operating model with which he is often associated.

An analysis by Trains magazine concluded that although railroad employment typically ebbs and flows in tandem with changes in traffic volumes, the STB figures suggest that Class I railroads are moving more traffic with fewer workers.

The analysis noted that rail traffic in May 2019 was 24 percent higher than February 2017 according to figures released by the Association of American Railroads.

Harrison had introduced PSR railroading at Canadian National and Canadian Pacific before he took over CSX. Before he went to Canada, Harrison had implemented PSR on the former Illinois Central, which later was acquired by CN.

In the past couple of years, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern and Kansas City Southern have adopted the principles of PSR, which Trains said makes likely additional workforce reductions through the end of 2020.

At CSX, the workforce has fallen by 18 percent since it went to PSR. During that same period, the workforce at NS fell by 8 percent

Most of the positions cut at CSX fell into the category of executives, officials, and staff assistants, whose ranks were thinned by a third.

CSX also has seen a 29 percent cut in professional and administrative staff.

Some of the CSX staff reductions began under former CEO Michael Ward.

Beyond the office, CSX has cut its maintenance-of-equipment force by 22 percent by closing car and locomotive shops and reducing the work performed at surviving facilities.

Train and engine crew employment at CSX has fallen by 16 percent while the maintenance-of-way headcount is down 11 percent.

NS is expected to make similar reductions as it phases into operation its own PSR operating model known as TOP21.

Since last September NS has pruned its workforce by 5 percent with 11 percent of that coming from the ranks of executives, officials, and staff assistants.

Professional and administrative staff has fallen by 7 percent, transportation department employment other than train and engine crews has fallen by 9 percent, and the number of train crews is down by 6 percent.

NS expects its workforce to shrink by 3,000 positions, most of it via attrition by the end of 2020. That would be a reduction of 12 percent from its current employment.

Indiana Tourist Railroad Gets Northern Pacific Look

June 29, 2019

An Indiana tourist railroad has acquired a geep that will remind observers of the Northern Pacific.

GP9 No. 465 was acquired by the French Lick Scenic Railway from the Hoosier Southern Railroad that has been given a two-tone green livery reminiscent of NP’s North Coast Limited passenger train identity.

No. 465 will be used to pull regular excursions and dinner trains between French Lick and Jasper in Southern Indiana.

This is an expansion of the railroad’s existing service between French Lick and Cuzco.

The Spirit of Jasper dinner train operates a few miles from Jasper.

Those trains will continue to operate and supplement the new French Lick-Jasper service, whose inauguration date has yet to be announced. However, railroad officials expect it to be in the fall.

The track used by the trains was once operated by the Southern Railway.

No. 465 was built in 1959 for Southern Pacific subsidiary Texas & New Orleans as No. 454.

Also receiving the NP-inspired livery are former Ringling Brothers Circus Train car No. 41310, which has become dining/first class car RPCX No. 1710, and French Lick Scenic business car No. 500 Indianapolis, an observation car of Seaboard Coast Line ancestry.

The railroad already had former NP Dome Car Homestake Pass, which came already painted in the NP-inspired green livery.

Dawn of a New Day in Indianapolis

June 28, 2019

The sun is just starting to rise over downtown Indianapolis as Amtrak’s Hoosier State emerges from the train shed of Union Station en route to Chicago.

It may be the last week of operation for Nos. 850 and 851 but it is the first week of my new life living in the Circle City.

Those who read this website and who know me are aware that I’ve been planning for some time to move from Northeast Ohio to Indy.

After many delays, complications and unforeseen circumstances, we finalized our move this week.

I made this photograph from a coach seat aboard No. 851 as I began a journey to complete our move by traveling on Amtrak back to Cleveland to pick up my car and drive it to Indy.

Yes, it made for a very long two days that included the Lake Shore arriving in Cleveland well over three hours late.

I will continue to operate this website and its focus will not change all that much aside from the fact that you might see more Indiana centric content.

As I said when I brought back this site from hibernation, it will continue to be devoted to news, features and nostalgia about the railroads of Akron and Northeast Ohio.

However, I’ll also be continuing to report news of railroad operations in the states surrounding Ohio, something I did for many years when this site supported the Akron Railroad Club.

Those of you still in Northeast Ohio are welcome to send along any photographs you’ve made of the rail operations in your home region, which was my home, too, for nearly 26 years.

During that time I served as president of the Akron Railroad Club for 14 years and was a member for 15 and a half years.

I’ve got a lot of memories of club activities and other railfanning experiences that I’ll continue to share.

As I’ve told many folks, it is not that I’ll never get back to Northeast Ohio. It’s just that those trips won’t be all that frequent. But when I do get back you might see me trackside.

I hope to see you again some day.

NS Implementing New TOP21 Operating Plan

June 28, 2019

Norfolk Southern became a full-fledged member of the precision scheduled railroading club today when it implemented its TOP21 operating plan on Friday.

TOP21 is said by the carrier to be based on the principles of precision scheduled railroading and was the subject of an 18-month planning process.

The initial implementation of TOP21 will affect merchandise traffic. Intermodal traffic will be switched to TOP21 in 2020.

In a service alert, NS said it does not expect any service disruptions, but has created a command center to address any operating issues that may arise.

As has been the case with other railroads that have implemented precision scheduled railroading, NS expects to operate longer and heavier trains as well as may greater use of distributed motive power.

With fewer trains operating, NS expects to have fewer train starts.

It will also favor more pre-blocking of cars at customer locations and local service yards.

TOP21 has already been implemented in areas that NS expects to see increases in traffic, including Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Elkhart, Indiana; and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

However, some major classification yards are expected to play a lesser role in the new operating model.

Refinery Closing to Cut CSX Crude Oil Traffic

June 28, 2019

CSX is expected to seen a drop in crude oil traffic following the closure of refinery near Philadelphia that sustained a massive fire last week.

The Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery along the Schuykill River will be shut down by its owner. It is the largest refinery on the East Coast.

Some of the crude oil processed at the refinery originated in the Bakken oil field region of North Dakota on BNSF and was interchanged to CSX in Chicago.

The refinery was built in the 19th century and had a capacity of two 120-car unit trains per day, which would represent 40 percent of the refinery’s capacity of 335,000 barrels per day.

The rail unloading facility at the refinery was rebuilt in 2013 with financial help from the state.

In a statement, Philadelphia Energy Solutions said the damage caused by the fire “has made it impossible for us to continue operations.”

Trains magazine reported that some energy analysts said the refinery had slim slim profit margins and its closing is not surprising.

CN Derailment Blocks St. Clair Tunnel

June 28, 2019

Canadian National is diverting traffic that normally uses the St. Clair Tunnel in Michigan through Detroit after an early Friday morning derailment inside the tunnel linking the U.S. and Canada.

No injuries were reported in the derailment, which occurred around 6 a.m. and saw 40 cars of the westbound train jump the tracks in the middle of the tunnel.

CN officials said it could take days to repair the tunnel and its tracks.

The cleanup of the derailment is being undertaken by U.S. and Canadian workers because it occurred on the border between the two countries.

The tunnel connects Port Huron, Michigan, and Sarnia, Ontario, beneath the St. Clair River.

Bill Would Mandate 2-Person Crews in Ohio

June 28, 2019

An Ohio lawmaker has introduced legislation to require two people in locomotive crews.

The bill is currently before the Ohio House Transportation and Public Safety Committee.

HB 186 establishes penalties ranging from up to $1,000 for a first violation to as much as $10,000 for a third violation within three years of the first.

The bill would also require railroads to illuminate rail yards as outlined by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and to construct walkways next to tracks wherever employees perform switching activities.

Trains would not be able to block grade crossings for emergency vehicles and violations would incur a fine of up to $5,000.

“Railroads are a very important part of commerce, but if you start thinking about what’s carried in a railcar, what kind of havoc that could wreak on your districts and your communities, I think it is a common sense solution to require a two-man train crew,” Rep. Brett Hudson Hillyer (R-District 98) told the committee.

Also testifying in support of the legislation was Michael Sheehy (D-District 46), who retired from CSX in 2012 after working for 40 years in the railroad industry, much of it as a conductor.

“Historically members of a freight railroad crew consisted of an engineer, a fireman, a conductor and two switchmen—a five-man crew,” Sheehy said. “With advances in technology, that crew size has been reduced to just a conductor and an engineer—a two-person crew.”

He noted that at least 10 states either have or are considering legislation requiring minimum two-person train crews.

Railway Age noted in a report about the legislation that the issue of crew size is largely a moot point because every Class 1 railroad has labor contracts requiring a two-person crew.

The Federal Railroad Administration recently ended a rule-making proceeding that would have mandated a two-person crew on every freight train.

Author, Seller of Railroad Books Passes Away

June 28, 2019

A notable seller of railroad books and paper had died at age 76. Ron Rosenberg of Harrison, New York, died last Sunday.

He was the owner of Ron’s Books, which advertises in various railfan magazines and once had a table at Columbus train show.

Rosenberg specialized in locomotive builder catalogs and the Norfolk & Western Railway.

He authored the 1973 book Norfolk & Western Steam, the last 25 years, which sold 15,000 copies.

Although he worked in data processing, Rosenberg founded Ron’s Books as a second career.

His family, including his son Lee, plans to continue operating the business.