Archive for October, 2019

Some CSX Doings

October 31, 2019

You can almost always count on finding something on the CSX New Castle Subdivision if you’re patient.

There are going to be lulls, some of them lasting a long time, but there will also eventually be a train.

In the top image, intermodal train Q137 is westbound on Oct. 28 in Clinton.

That same day this hi-rail truck was sitting at Warwick.

Photographs by Robert Farkas

When The LSL Still Had A Wine and Cheese Reception

October 31, 2019

Sleeper class passengers boarding the Lake Shore Limited in Chicago were once treated to a wine and cheese reception in the dining car before No. 48 departed.

About a decade ago Amtrak used to treat sleeper class passengers boarding the Lake Shore Limited in Chicago to a wine and cheese welcome aboard reception in the dining car.

I got to experience it in 2012 and 2013 when I splurged and bought a roomette ticket for the journey from Chicago to Cleveland as I was returning home after visiting my Dad in downstate Illinois.

A sleeper wasn’t cheap, but I decided to spend the extra cash to be able to get some sleep for at least part of the seven-hour journey.

Then, as now, No. 48 was scheduled to leave Chicago at 9:30 p.m. Most of the trip would occur during the overnight hours and I find it difficult to sleep in a coach seat.

My 2012 trip occurred in early June. Prototype Viewliner dining car Indianapolis was in the consist.

It was my first and thus far only experience in a Viewliner dining car. All of my various trips aboard No. 48 or 49 back in the days when I was making those Amtrak treks between Cleveland and Chicago found a Heritage Fleet diner in the consist of the train.

Because of the late hour departing Chicago dinner was not served on No. 48.

The wine and cheese reception was a nice way to meet other passengers and my memory is that the Amtrak personnel were willing to give you a second serving of wine.

The glasses were not large so it’s unlikely that anyone became intoxicated.

It wasn’t a wine tasting event involving sampling various types of wines. There was one type of wine, a red, and that was it.

Your plate came with two types of grapes, crackers and a couple of slices of cheese.

As you can see from a photo that accompanies this post there were more grapes than cheese.

Amtrak used to do wine tastings aboard the Coast Starlight in the Pacific Parlour Car and if my memory serves me correctly it also once had wine tastings aboard the Empire Builder.

But I never rode either of those trains during that era.

In 2013 my roomette aboard the Lake Shore was in the Boston sleeper, which was toward the head end behind a baggage car.

Would the car attendant come through and invite us to make our way back through the six Amfleet II coaches and café car for the wine and cheese reception?

As the time to depart drew near nothing was said about it. Did this mean Boston sleeper passengers would be cheated out of the wine and cheese reception?

Not long after the train left Union Station the attendant came around with foil-covered plates of cheese, crackers and grapes.

He passed out small glasses and went from room to room to pour the wine.

It was nice but not quite the social event that it had been in the dining car when you could mingle with other passengers.

The wine and cheese reception aboard No. 48 in Chicago was discontinued long before Richard Anderson came onboard as Amtrak’s president.

Amtrak came under fire from members of Congress for its food and beverage deficits. Serving wine and cheese may not have been that expensive but didn’t look good during a congressional hearing when the carrier was running a deficit in food and beverage services.

Anderson has cited many times a congressional mandate to eliminate the food and beverage deficits as one reason why full-service dining cars were eliminated from the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited and have now vanished from the last eastern overnight trains to still have them, the Crescent and Silver Meteor.

The wine and cheese reception was part of an era when Amtrak sought to make the sleeper class experience something special.

Passengers once received complimentary newspapers in the morning, a small piece of chocolate at night, and coffee and juice.

At one time sleeper class passengers on the Capitol Limited received a glass mug with the train name and herald on it. I have one of those on a shelf in my office.

Amtrak might argue that it treats sleeper class passengers well, but the “perks” that Amtrak has been touting are either services that were always available, e.g., having meals served to you in your room, or something that doesn’t cost the company any money, e.g., “exclusive” use of a Viewliner diner as a lounge.

Service changes at Amtrak can be cyclical depending on who controls the White House, Congress and Amtrak management.

When I rode The Canadian of VIA Rail Canada in May 2014, I found that aside from full-service dining, sleeper class passengers were treated to wine tastings, onboard entertainment, and snacks.

If Anderson means what he says about having long-distance experiential trains we might see a return of these perks for those able to pay the hefty ticket prices.

Just for fun, I checked the prices to travel from Chicago to Cleveland on Oct. 31 in a sleeping car roomette.

The fares quoted on the Amtrak website a week before the date of travel were $228 on the Capitol Limited and $231 on the Lake Shore Limited. The least expensive coach ticket was $76 on No. 48 and $92 on No. 30.

The sleeper fares could have been higher. Back in September when I checked a roomette was $266 on the Capitol Limited and $316 on the Lake Shore Limited.  The least expensive coach ticket was $59 on both trains.

Booking two months ahead would lower the sleeper prices to $184 on No. 30 and $186 on No. 48. The coach fare was still $59 for each train.

Those latter prices seem more reasonable but it would take a lot of wine and cheese to entice me to buy a ticket at those prices.

But then again, when you’re trying to get some sleep, any sleep, in an Amfleet II coach seat your mind wanders not to wine and cheese or meals included in the sleeper class ticket price but the value of being able to lay flat for a few hours while having your own space.

Inside Viewliner dining car Indianapolis at Chicago Union Station on the eastbound Lake Shore Limited. It would be my only visit to No. 8400.

A glance inside the kitchen area of Viewliner dining car 8400 as it sat in Chicago Union Station. The bottles of wine are for the wine and cheese welcome aboard reception for sleeper class passengers.

This seat in a Viewliner roomette can be pricey, but what is the value of privacy and having a bed during the overnight hours of a train trip?

State Grant to Help Cleveland RTA Rail System

October 31, 2019

Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority plans to use a $15.3 million state grant to help pay to buy new buses and a rail car.

Funding for just one rail car might not seem like much, but RTA officials said that having another $6 million to spend on preventative maintenance for buses and rail cars will free money obtained from a federal grant to be used instead to rebuild track for the agency’s rail lines.

RTA plans to spend $5 million of the state grant for rail car replacement and $3.67 million on new buses.

It will also spend $660,000 to purchase property adjacent to the East 79th Street station on the Red Line in preparation for an expansion project.

Mike Schipper, RTA’s deputy general manager of engineering, described the rail car funding as a piece of a larger funding puzzle the agency is trying to solve as it seeks to replace a rail car fleet that is nearing the end of its useful service life.

A consultant’s report earlier this year put the cost of rail car replacement at $240 million or about $3 million to $4 million per car.

“It’s a multi-year funding source approach,” Schipper said. “But it will allow us to get started. And certainly the $5 million that we got in this program is another step in getting us to where we can get started on replacing the rail cars.”

He said RTA is working on a rail car funding replacement plan that won’t require a tax increase.

RTA hopes to land $55 million in future state funding, and has lined up another $58 million from a mix of local grants, reserve funds and expected federal grants.

That means RTA still needs to find another $122 million for rail car fleet replacement.

“We will fund the rail cars through other mechanisms. And since we’re almost halfway there with a year’s worth of work, we’ll figure out how to get there,” Schipper said.

The grant money awarded to RTA is part of $70 million in new public-transit money in the state transportation budget.

The Ohio Department of Transportation said RTA’s award was part of $58.4 million in state funding for urban transit agencies and $3.5 million for rural agencies awarded this week.

Other large grants awarded include $7.6 million to the Central Ohio Transit Authority in Columbus and $5 million to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority in Cincinnati..

An additional $35 million of Federal Transit Administration funding was awarded to Ohio’s 38 rural transit systems.

The largest of those awards was $2.5 million in state and federal funding to Athens Public Transit.

GoBus, an intercity bus service administered by Hocking Athens Perry Community Action’s Transportation Division, got $4.4 million in federal funding.

Akron Metro Gets $3M State Grant

October 31, 2019

Akron Metro RTA will use a $3 million grant funding from the state to upgrade bus stops and pay for maintenance of its bus fleet.

The public transit agency said the funds will also be used for a new program known as Flex Ride that is slated to launch next year and connect suburban job centers with workers in need of transportation.

“This money is mainly focused on capital improvement projects,” said Metro RTA Planning Director Valarie Shay of the grant from the state.

“And by getting grant money to put towards capital projects it also frees up some money in our budget to be able to put towards service. So it all kind of ends up coming together.”

The funding comes from the Urban Transit Program and the Ohio Transit Partnership Program.

In other news, Metro said it will offer free rides on election day on Nov. 5 and Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

The transit agency has also rolled out a cashless ticketing operation through the EZfare mobile app.

Riders who download the EZfare app can set up an account with an email address and credit or debit card.

They can use their mobile device to purchase a bus pass and show it to the bus operator.

Passengers will need data or Wi-Fi to buy a bus pass, but do not need data or Wi-Fi to activate the pass when boarding.

After Metro launched EZfare in August on its Northcoast Express routes it determined that 20 to 30 percent of passengers were using the mobile ticketing feature.

Thirteen Ohio and northern Kentucky transit agencies use the EZfare app, including PARTA in Portage County, MCPT in Medina County, Laketran in Lake County and SARTA in Stark County.

Passengers can access tickets and passes from any of the agencies through the same app, making it easier to transfer to other buses and travel to different counties.

Progress Rail Acquires Cleveland Track Materials

October 31, 2019

Cleveland Track Material is being acquired by Progress Rail. CTM is a supplier of specialty trackwork to North American Class I and transit railroads.

It began operations in 1983 and has facilities in Cleveland; Reading, Pennsylvania; and Memphis, Tennessee.

Among the products that it produces are panelized turnouts and crossings, special trackwork assemblies, switch points, frogs and crossing diamonds, brace and plating systems, rail joints and guard rails.

The acquisition is expected to be completed in early November.

CTM is a subsidiary of Vossloh North America whereas Progress Rail is a components of Caterpillar.

The transaction is anticipated to close in early November.

Progress Rail describes itself as “one of the largest integrated and diversified providers of rolling stock and infrastructure solutions and technologies for global rail customers.”

It said that it creates advanced EMD locomotives and engines, railcars, trackwork, fasteners, signaling, rail welding and Kershaw Maintenance-of-Way equipment, along with dedicated locomotive and freight car repair services, aftermarket parts support and recycling operations.

Short-Line Group Helps RRs Cope With Emergencies

October 31, 2019

A trade group representing short-line railroads has developed tools for its members to used when confronted with severe weather, derailments or other disasters that disrupt operations.

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association developed the templates and checklists with support railroad and supplier members.

“Short lines need to be thinking through disaster preparation, response, mitigation and resiliency on the calm days so that they’re ready to respond in a crisis,” said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker.

The materials are posted on the ASLRRA website and cover disaster planning, hazardous materials incident response and instructions on accessing an emergency docket, as well as links to government websites.

Additional resources will are planned to be posted to the site, ASLRRA officials said in a news release.

The group’s On-Demand Resource Library offers recorded webinars on topics related to emergency preparation and training.

100 Miles From Pittsburgh

October 30, 2019

An eastbound Conrail train passes milepost 100 on the Fort Wayne Line near Canton on March 9, 1985.

On the point is SD40 No. 6305 and a sister unit hauling another load of freight.

Mileposts on the Fort Wayne Line are numbered from downtown Pittsburgh, specially, West Penn, which is 0.2 miles west of the former Pennsylvania Railroad passenger station.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Getting it While I Can

October 30, 2019

Interlocking towers once dotted the railroad landscape in large numbers.

But the vast majority of them have been closed and their functions of lining switches and signals transferred to a dispatcher’s desk hundreds if not thousands of miles away.

Railroads generally don’t like to let vacant building stand unused next to their rights of ways so scores of former interlocking towers have fallen victim to the wrecking ball or a front end loader.

Somehow the tower in Union City, Indiana, has survived. But it may be living on borrowed time.

At one time, Union City Tower guarded the crossing of the Pennsylvania Railroad (Pan Handle) route between Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, of the New York Central (Big Four) route between Cleveland and St. Louis.

The two railroads crossed at a sharp angle by Columbia Street. In fact the crossing was movable switch points rather than a set of diamonds for the double track mainlines of both railroads.

The tower closed in 1968 and changing traffic patterns led to the abandonment by Conrail of the former PRR line through Union City.

But the tower remained standing. CSX would like to knock it down, but is willing to allow Union City interests to have it provided that they move it at least 50 feet back from the tracks.

The cost to do that is $60,000 and the city doesn’t have that kind of money. There is a fund raising campaign underway but small towns struggle to raise that level of money.

The latest report is that the city hopes to talk CSX into allowing the tower to remain in its current location but be surrounded by a fence.

The railroads is willing for now to give the city more time to raise money to pay to move the tower and its uncertain how it will respond to the fence idea.

Union City has been told that the tower is off the demolition list, at least for now.

But just this past July IU Tower in downtown Indianapolis and railroads, like any other company, can be notorious for doing what they want with their property.

Nostalgia and history don’t contribute to revenues, increase stock prices or help pay dividends to stockholders.

During a recent outing to Union City I made sure to capture a train passing the tower.

The auto rack train is headed westbound on the Indianapolis Line. I hope that it is not the last image I made of this tower, but you never know.

Nice Spots, But There are Better Places to Get the CVSR

October 30, 2019

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad recently posted on its website an article headlined “four of the best locations to photograph the CVSR.”

Three of the four were among the usual suspects of places to photograph the CVSR: Peninsula, Indigo Lake and Station Road Bridge in Brecksville.

The fourth location, Canal Exploration Center, was a surprise.

The article recommended photographing the latter from the bridge connecting the parking area to the CEC station.

“Looking southwest from the bridge you can get great shots of the train as it passes by the river. It’s one of the best places to see the Cuyahoga River winding through the area,” the article said.

I’ve been to that bridge and found it lacking as a photography location. It’s OK, but would be well down my list of recommended places of “best locations” to capture the CVSR.

The article illustrated each location with an image, some of which were taken from social media site Instagram.

Frankly, the creator of the article could have found better images to illustrate the article.

In fact there are better photographs of the CVSR in action elsewhere on the railroad’s website.

Weaved in among the images of CVSR trains with the four best article were photographs of features that are part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Each location was accompanied by a tip and it wasn’t always clear if the tip was for making a photograph of a train or the non-railroad related park feature.

All four locations described in the article are located in the CVNP and have parking lots. This suggests that the article was written for casual park visitors and not so much professional photographers or serious amateurs.

The “four of the best locations” are safe locations that do not involve walking on or along the tracks or a roadway to get to a photo spot.

Take Brecksville, for example. You can walk from the parking lot to Station Road bridge without even crossing the tracks.

Yet if you walk along the right of way north of the station and past the Ohio Route 82 bridge you’ll find an S curve that makes a nice photo spot. There is also a swamp that can be worked into the background.

Likewise there is a hillside overlooking the Brecksville station complex that can be reached by wading through Chippewa Creek or walking on the walkway on the railroad bridge over the creek.

I can understand why the CVSR doesn’t want to encourage people to do the latter.

And yet there are many good locations along the railroad that do not involve having to walk on or across the tracks to get good photos.

But some of those places are not located in the CVNP. Deep Lock Quarry and Sand Run metro parks come to mind.

Both have winding trails with medium-height wood fences adjacent to the tracks that will yield more interesting images of CVSR trains than Station Road Bridge.

Sure, Station Road Bridge will yield the iconic image of the Route 82 bridge reflecting in the Cuyahoga River as a train passes by. But said train will be obscured in part by brush growing along the river.

There are better angles in Brecksville to capture the Route 82 bridge and a train than from Station Road Bridge including at the Brecksville station.

The park and its railroad are worthy subjects for photography and have much to offer, which is why I found the CVSR’s article disappointing even if I understand why it was written as it was.

Consider, for example, the image the website used on its page promoting the Fall Flyer trips that have concluded for the season.

It featured a dramatic image of a train passing beneath a golden canopy of trees. Leaves carpet the track. The face of the locomotive coming at you is well illuminated by natural light.

Not only does the image say fall foliage it also shows something about the essence of the park. It’s an excellent image that made me wish I had made it.

You can get good images and sometimes even great ones at the four locations recommended in the CVSR article.

Yet as someone who has made hundreds of photographs of the CVSR over the years, only Indigo Lake might be in my top five “best” places list from a photography perspective.

Creating dramatic images of the CVSR that have a story to tell about a region, a park and its railroad often requires getting away from the usual and popular spots. It also means getting to know the park and its railroad.

The beauty of the the park is that its essence changes with the seasons and even throughout the day as the light shifts. There is much to see and capture if you are willing to work to find it.

STB Approves Acquisition of G&W

October 30, 2019

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has approved the acquisition of Genesee & Wyoming by Brookfield Asset Management and GIC.

The last July had tabled the $8.4 billion acquisition of the operator of short-line railroads. The deal is expected to close late this year or in early 2020.

The agency said he decided that the purchase of G&W is an exemption to its rules for when to review the acquisition of a railroad.

The STB had said in July that it wanted to consider whether it was appropriate to grant the normal exemption for an acquisition that does not involve two railroads, a Class I, or a transaction that links rail lines.

Brookfield had sought to acquire G&W in a transaction that would be exempt from STB review, as typically occurs when a non-railroad company acquires a railroad.

“After considering the comments and other information submitted into the record, the Board will allow the exemption to take effect,” the STB concluded.

“The comments submitted do not undermine the applicability of the . . . class exemption process.”

STB member Martin Oberman raised a question about whether the traditional exemption rule was the right tool for the job given the size, scope, and importance of G&W and its 106 American railroads.

“For these reasons, in my opinion, this proceeding raises significant questions regarding whether transactions of this magnitude were contemplated when the class exemption regulations were adopted, and therefore raises questions as to whether it is appropriate for such major transactions to be eligible under those regulations in the first place,” Oberman wrote.

“While I agree that, under existing regulations, this transaction may proceed as a class exemption, I do think the Board should consider in the future whether the exemption process should be applicable to transactions of such scale.

The STB’s decision requires G&W and Brookfield to keep it informed about the review of the deal by the federal government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

Brookfield is based in Toronoto while GIC, an investment firm, is based in Singapore.

The firms plan to make the G&W a privately-held holding company.
G&W owns 120 short lines, most of them located in North America. It also has operations in Australia and Europe.