Archive for July, 2019

Valley Girl Makes Couple Passes Through NEO

July 31, 2019

Sometimes you only get one heads up that something out of the ordinary is coming. That was the case with the Lehigh Valley heritage unit of Norfolk Southern.

Ed Ribinskas reported that he saw a report on that NS 8104 was approaching Berea at 9:50 a.m. on eastbound stack train 206 on Monday.

No additional sightings were reported to until 10:53 a.m. when the 206 was passing through Willoughby.

By then Ed had already located to the bridge over the Grand River near his home in Painesville where he got the 206 just after 11 a.m.

Another railfan was there watching trains but didn’t know the “Valley Girl” was coming.

Perhaps he was the guy who reported the 206 through Painesville at 11:05 a.m.

Previous reports on HU showed the 8104 was leading NS train 23M westward late Sunday.

So it would have gone through Cleveland in the wee hours of the Monday morning.

Photograph by Edward Ribinskas

Shippers Vent About Adverse Effects of PSR

July 31, 2019

Shippers grumbled about the effects of the precision scheduled railroading operating model at a forum sponsored last week by a congressional committee, saying they are bearing the brunt of the effects of work force cuts and poor service.

The event was sponsored by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

No railroads that practice PSR were invited to participate.

Many of the shippers were critical of poor communication on the part of the railroads to explain operations changes.

“A combination of poor service and rising costs over the last few years is not only unacceptable — it falls in the category of unimaginable,” said Mike Amick, a senior vice president at International Paper.
Although the boxcars used by his company may arrive at a local yard on time, cuts in local service means delivery of those cars to the mills is often delayed.

“So the cars are close enough to touch but we can’t really reach them or access them,” he said adding that creates bottlenecks at mills that operate 24 hours a day.

Some shippers acknowledged that railroads need to become more efficient and that increases in profits could be used to fund investment in the rail network.

But they said that PSR in practice has rewarded investors to the detriment of customer service.

Echoing the comments of Amick, Ross Corthell, vice president of transportation at Packaging Corp. of America and head of the National Industrial Transportation League’s rail freight committee, said under the PSR model Class 1 railroads do well in measuring the performance of their road trains, but not local service.

“This is where railroads do a horrific job,” he said. “They’re very unpredictable, they make resource planning at our facilities almost impossible, and yet they don’t measure that service at all.”

Corthell said at one of my company’s mills, the railroad serving it missed scheduled switches 22 percent of the time with the carrier’s local showing up up at any hour of the day.

“Precision Scheduled Railroading is anything but precise at origin and destination,” he said.

Shippers who use unit trains said they also have seen shoddy service.

“They may claim that PSR improves service but our experience, and that of many other shippers, has been the opposite,” said Emily Regis, fuels resource administrator the Arizona Electric Power Cooperative, which also has plants in California and New Mexico.

She said the round-trip transit times from a coal mine to a New Mexico power plant used to average three to four days, but has doubled amid what Regis said are PSR-related power and crew shortages.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois) said he convened the shipper forum as a follow-up to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board’s demurrage and accessorial hearing.

Lipinski said no one disputes that the Staggers [deregulation] Act of 1980 has been successful, but companies need cost-effective and reliable rail service to compete in the global economy.

Some of the disputes over service are an outgrowth of effort by railroads to use demurrage and accessorial charges as a carrot and stick approach to prompt shippers to turn over rail cars more quickly. The railroads say that will reduce congestion and result in better service.

The practices, the railroads content, are designed to customer behavior and not generate additional revenue.

But shippers counter that these charges are one-sided, unavoidable, and lack reciprocity when a railroad doesn’t provide service as scheduled.

Shippers also said that demurrage bills are often riddled with errors and challenging them is burdensome.

“The entire burden of proof is on the shipper to prove the railroad’s invoice is inaccurate,” said Randall Gordon, head of the National Grain and Feed Association.

Unpaid Miners Block CSX Coal Train in Kentucky

July 31, 2019

Fed up with having been laid off and unpaid for the time they did work, workers of a Kentucky coal company blocked a CSX coal train from leaving a mine on Monday.

The miners for BlackJewel Mining formed a human chain across the rails to block the train from leaving Cloverlick No. 3 mine near Cumberland, Kentucky.

BlackJewel is a subsidiary of Revelation Emergy, which sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection under federal law in early July.

Revelation subsequently shuttered most of its mines. The miners said they have gone unpaid for work they performed and their benefits and insurance are in question.

The mine where the blockade occurred is on the former Louisville & Nashville Poor Fork Branch.

News media reports said the miners were peaceful and demanded that they be paid for mining coal that likely was aboard the train that they halted.

Kentucky State Police troopers were dispatched to the scene to inform the miners that they were standing on private property, but no arrests were made.

The miners eventually relented and allowed the train to pass.

On Tuesday, though, miners again stood on CSX tracks near Cumberland., but it was not clear if any trains were slated to serve the Cloverlick No. 3 mine.

Carloads Rose 17% at NE Pa. Railroad Authority

July 31, 2019

The Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority said that it posted a 17 percent increase in carloads transported on its rail system during the first six months of 2019 compared with the same period in 2018.

In a news release, the Authority said that increase is “especially significant” since 2018 was a record year for carloads transported on the authority’s tracks, which are used by the Delaware-Lackawanna Railroad.

“This substantial growth is especially significant in the face of national carload data which shows a 3 percent decrease among Class I railroads in the United States for the same period reports,” said PNRRA President Larry Malski.

To help handle the traffic growth, the Authority used a $686,000 Pennsylvania Department of Transportation grant to help fund additional capacity at Green Ridge Yard in Scranton.

Down Near Sugar Creek

July 30, 2019

Mention Sugarcreek, Ohio, and many Northeast Ohio railfans will start telling you stories about the steam locomotives they photographed there.

Sugarcreek was for several years the base of operations for Ohio Central steam trains, including excursions and the Sugar Creek-Baltic tourist train.

However, the OC also ran freight trains on its tracks through the village of 2,200 in Tuscarawas County. Ohio Central even had some freight customers there.

The rolling terrain and farmland setting in this area that is home to many Amish families made it ideal for photographing trains when you could find one of course.

On Independence Day 1996, Bob found a southbound freight being led by Alco S-1 No. 12, a former Timken Company switcher.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

West Virginia Intermodal Terminal Faces End of Line

July 30, 2019

The Heartland Intermodal Gateway terminal in West Virginia may close if it can’t find a buyer.

Opened in 2015 at a cost of $32 million, it is the only intermodal terminal in the state.

The terminal’s operator, the West Virginia Port Authority, is seeking a short-term lease of the 100-acre facility with the idea of selling it at auction.

Norfolk Southern, which serves the terminal, has said it will end container service there in October.

NS had said it would not continue to serve the facility unless it generated 15,000 containers per year. In May it handed 68 containers.

The terminal is located along the NS Heartland Corridor between Chicago and the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.

State funding for the terminal is set to expire in mid August. State officials have said the terminal is losing $500,000 annually.

State officials have said negotiations are underway with two firms to either buy or operate the terminal. However, they also said once NS ceases to provide service later this year use of the facility for intermodal traffic is unlikely for a long time.

The primary user of the terminal is Toyota Motor Company.

C&O Steamer Completes Kentucky Ferry Move

July 30, 2019

A former Chesapeake & Ohio 2-8-4 Kanawha-type locomotive completed a ferry move on Sunday within Kentucky.

C&O No. 2716 was moved from the Kentucky Railway Museum in New Haven to the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation in Ravenna where it will be restored to operating condition.

Leading the 2716’s ferry move into Ravenna was Clinchfield Railroad F7 No. 800.

The move began on Friday and involved CSX and R.J. Corman Railroad Group. It passed through Louisville, Frankfort and Lexington along the way.

Also moving from New Haven to Ravenna was restored C&O caboose 3203.

KSHC also said that it has received a donation of $6,000 from model railroad manufacturer ScaleTrains and $46,000 from the John H. Emery Rail Heritage Trust.

CSX said it will donate to KSHC SW1500 switcher No. 1100, formerly Louisville & Nashville No. 5000.

Restoration of No. 2716 is expected to take a year and a half.

Remembering the Owosso Train Festival of July 2009

July 28, 2019

Southern Pacific Daylight 4449 returns to Owosso in late afternoon after an day trip to Alma and back on the former Ann Arbor Railroad.

It was 10 years ago this month that 36,000 people flocked to Train Festival 2009 held in Owosso, Michigan.

There was something for everyone, ranging from three mainline steam locomotives in steam to excursions to a Lego model railroad layout.

The event, held at the home of the Steam Railroading Institute, had its share of glitches, including rain, long lines to tour the steam locomotive cabs and a mechanical breakdown of SRI’s own steamer, Pere Marquette No. 1225.

Aside from Railfair 1999 in Sacramento, California, it was one of the most comprehensive railfan-oriented events I’ve ever attended.

A number of Akron Railroad Club members attended the event, which was held July 23-26.

I originally wasn’t going to attend the festival until I figured out a way to do it on the cheap.

My wife had a cousin who lived near Flint, Michigan, which is about 30 to 45 minutes from Owosso.

Dan was agreeable to going with me to the festival and I could stay at his house, thus avoiding lodging expenses.

The festival officially opened on July 24, but everything was up and running on July 23, a Thursday, and the day I was there.

After parking, Dan and I walked to a location north of the festival so I could photograph the day excursion being pulled by former Southern Pacific Daylight 4-8-4 No. 4449.

Getting open view of the Daylight and its train wasn’t a problem, but rain and overcast skies were.

I was still using slide film and I didn’t have enough film speed to make good images. My photographs turned out dark and a little blurry.

Then it was on to the festival itself, which featured the 1225, Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765, Leviathan 4-4-0  No. 63, three 0-4-0T switchers (Flagg Coal Company 75, Little River Railroad No. 1 and Viscose Company No. 6), and Little River Railroad 4-6-2 No. 110.

The latter provided motive power at one end of the one-hour excursion trains that operated throughout the day while the tank engines took turns taking a spin on the SRI turntable.

You could also purchase throttle time behind some of the tank engines and look inside their cabs.

The Leviathan had just been completed and was making its “world premier” at the festival.

Another notable visitor was Southern Railway FP-7 No. 6133, which traveled from the North Carolina Transportation Museum. It did not operate during the festival but you could visit its cab.

There was a large-scale model of Norfolk & Western 4-8-4 No. 611 on static display and a few live steamers taking passengers for rides on temporary track.

There were diesels pulling the 7.5-inch gauge trains and I spotted Akron Railroad Club member Paul Emch at the throttle of one of those.

Also on display was a Great Lakes Central freight locomotive and various pieces of rolling stock from the SRI collection.

I wanted to maximize my time seeing the exhibits and steam locomotives so I didn’t chase any of the excursions.

Another factor was that I didn’t know the territory where the excursions were operating and didn’t want to try to learn it on the fly.

But ARRC members Peter Bowler and Paul Woodring did chase. Peter, in particular, was all-in on the festival, chasing multiple trips and taking part in the night photo shoot.

Another ARRC member on hand for the festival was the late Richard Jacobs.

For some reason, the line to see the cab of the 1225 was far shorter than that of the 765, so I focused on it.

That turned out to be a good thing because the 1225 later in the day developed a problem with a flue and had to be shut down. It missed its assigned turn pulling the day excursion on Saturday.

By late afternoon the clouds had begun to break and sunlight began peeking through.

That meant the SP Daylight and its train would return in sunlight and I could, at last, get decent images of it.

The challenge, though, was the sun angle. The 4449 and its train would be coming almost directly out of the sun. At best I could get good light on the side of the locomotive.

On the flip side of that equation, it meant good light for the pair of former Milwaukee Road passengers, including a Skytop lounge-observation car, in their striking traditional passenger livery.

I hung around a little while longer to get more photographs of the 4449 after it had cut off from its train and returned to the festival grounds.

The next morning I had a long drive ahead of me. The ARRC was meeting that night and I planned to get back in time to preside at the meeting.

But I spent time that morning photographing Canadian National trains in Durand and Amtrak trains in Ann Arbor before driving home to Ohio.

As far as I remember, most ARRC members who attended the festival stayed around a few more days.

Paul tells the story of how he spent most of his time chasing the excursion trains and making video, but he did visit the festival grounds on the last day.

At one point during a chase, he became annoyed at an airplane that was circling the excursion train and making a lot of noise in doing so.

If the festival were being held today, he noted, the party that chartered the plane to get overhead video would use a less noisy drone.

“I’m glad I got to go,” Paul wrote “It will probably be the only time I’ll ever get to see the SP Daylight.”

He said a prominent memory of the festival was arriving at the motel in Owosso at which he had made a reservation months earlier and upon arriving to check in being told he didn’t have a room.

Paul said he had been quoted a great rate when he made the reservation, but the motel didn’t give him a confirmation number and he had not asked the name of the man who took his reservation.

He thinks that what happened was that once the motel owners found out about the train festival they jacked up their rates.

“So, I staged a sit-in in the lobby loudly complaining to anyone who would listen what they did to me, until they gave me a room not normally given out because it really wasn’t in very good shape.

“However, I didn’t have much choice at that point because there weren’t any other rooms available all the way to Lansing.

Paul said he learned a lesson about doing everything possible to confirm room and rate when making motel reservations.

Memories, photographs and video of the Owosso train festival were the focus of the January 2010 ARRC program.

Four of us were to present with Paul showing video of his steam train chases, Peter showing still images of the steam excursions and night photo shoot, and Jake and myself showing images of the festival displays.

The program went off as scheduled, but I never got to show my images. Two weeks before the ARRC meeting I tore the retina in my left eye in three places and had to have surgery.

I was still recovering from that surgery and couldn’t attend the ARRC meeting. So Jake, Peter and Paul presented their segments in what was the first use of the tag team program format during an ARRC program.

So with this post I am finally showing, nearly 10 years later some of the images I would have shown on that cold January night had I been able to attend the ARRC meeting.

A view of the engineer’s seat inside Pere Marquette 1225. A mechanical problem later that day would mean the Berkshire would only be in steam for just one day during the festival.

A view from cab level of Pere Marquette 1225.

The former Milwaukee Road passengers cars on the rear of the long steam excursions was a most pleasing sight.

At one end of the hour-long excursions that operated throughout the day was this Great Lakes Central GP35 while . . .

. . . Little River Railroad provided the motive power for the other end of the train.

The newly completed Leviathan made its “world premier” at the Owosso train festival.

Viscose Company No. 6 takes a spin on the turntable as seen from the cab of the Leviathan.

The 2009 train festival has proved thus far to be my only encounter with Flagg Coal Company No. 75. Ahead of it is Little River Railroad No. 1

A Southern FP7 from the North Carolina Railroad Museum made the trip to Michigan to be among the displays of railroad equipment.

Norfolk & Western 611 made an appearance in Owosso — well, at least a model of it.

Two CN trains meet on the double track in front of Durand Union Station on Friday morning.

An Amtrak Wolverine Service train arrives in Ann Arbor on July 24. It was my last railfanning experience during my visit to the 2009 train festival in Owosso.

FRA Proposes Cameras on All Passenger Locomotives

July 28, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration has proposed requiring passenger train locomotives to have inward and outward facing video cameras.

The cameras would be operation while the lead locomotive of a train is in motion. Data recorded would be kept in a crash resistant module.

The data would be used to conduct operational tests to determine passenger railroad operating employees’ compliance with applicable railroad rules and federal regulations.

The proposed rule would label the cameras as “safety devices” under existing federal railroad safety regulations to prohibit tampering with or disabling them.

Public comment on the proposed rule is being taken through Sept. 23. Although the FRA does not plan to hold public hearings on the rule, it said that if enough people say by Aug. 23 that they have been unable to provide a written opinion by that date a hearing will be held.

Amtrak Board Nominee Says Rights Things in Hearing

July 28, 2019

A former Indiana Congressman who has been nominated by the Trump administration to serve on Amtrak’s board of directors has his day before a Senate committee this week and as expected he said all of the right things.

Todd Rokita spoke of riding Amtrak trains many times and said he favored a robust passenger train system.

He also was grilled about the times that he voted while a member of Congress in favor of amendments to cut Amtrak funding.

Rokita sought to explain those votes away by saying, “I believe in fiscal responsibility and my vote sent a message.”

The remarks came during a hearing by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

In response to a question from Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) about whether he would be a fierce backer of Amtrak, Rokita replied that funding of the rail service was up to Congress and his job would be to make sure it was spent wisely. He said his priority would be to improve on-time performance and track safety.

“We don’t need to beat the airlines but to improve “frequency and consistency,” he said.

The committee did not vote on Rokita’s nomination, which is opposed by the Rail Passengers Association.

Nominated in May, Rokita was introduced to the committee Senator Todd Young (R-Indiana), who also serves on the commerce committee and served with Rokita in the House.

Young described Rokita as having “a personal passion for transportation.”

Rokita said he has ridden several times on Amtrak’s Cardinal and Hoosier State.

“I’ve been an Amtrak passenger my whole life, riding the Cardinal from Wabash College (in Crawfordsville) home to Munster,” he said. “And I’ve have ridden the Northeast Corridor routes often while in Congress.”

Committee Chairman Roger Wicker ( R-Mississippi), asked Rokita if he favored eliminating any Amtrak routes.

In response Rokita said keeping a national system was a priority and he had “no preconceived notions to eliminate anything.”

Rokita served in the House from 2011-2019 and is now general counsel for Apex Benefits, a consulting firm in Indianapolis.