Archive for February, 2020

One of Those Days

February 29, 2020

The weather forecast called for the day to begin with sunny skies but for clouds to move in during the afternoon ahead of a front that would bring rain on Monday.

Based on that I headed for Union City, Indiana, to railfan the CSX Indianapolis line.

It turns out I should have gone there the day before when it was sunny all day although a little cold.

That’s because the the day I was out turned out to be one of those days where the weather was the opposite of what had been predicted. We’ve all had those days, right?

I remember an Akron Railroad Club longest day outing to Deshler in June 2007 when the forecast was for mostly sunny skies.

But as we made our way west on the Ohio Turnpike, the clouds kept increasing and by the time we made it to Deshler it was overcast with occasional rain.

Railfanning in Union City always is something of a gamble. The Indianapolis Line is moderately busy but moody. If you are patient you’ll get some trains but you will also have long periods of nothing.

I’m still learning the traffic patterns of the Indy Line, but I knew I could count on seeing the Q008 sometime in the morning.

My limited experience with the Indianapolis Line is that it tends to be busier in the morning than the afternoon.

I arrived around 8:30 a.m. Indiana Route 32 runs parallel to the Indy Line east of Muncie and I saw two westbounds as I was driving, including a stack train and a monster manifest freight with a DPU toward the center.

I also saw a beautiful sunrise, which was a clue that the morning weather was not going to be what I had expected.

It was beautiful because it illuminate the edge of a cloud cover that extended way back to the west. Sure enough once the sun got over the horizon it was swallowed by the clouds.

I had about an hour wait before seeing my first train, the Q364, a manifest that originates at Avon Yard west of Indianapolis and goes to Selkirk Yard via Cleveland (middle photo above).

Nearly an hour later the detector at Harrisville, Indiana, went off, heralding the approach of another eastbound.

The Harrisville detector gives the direction of travel of the trains as well as the track number and axle count.

I was listening for the Q008 (bottom photo) to call the signal for the west end of the Union City crossovers, but my “warning” that its arrival was imminent was when the crossing gates started going down at the Howard Street crossing.

I was sitting at a former Pennsylvania Railroad passenger station that has been preserved as a community center known as the Arts Depot.

The former PRR tracks, which were part of the Pan Handle route between Columbus and Chicago, are long gone and the CSX Indianapolis Line is former New York Central territory.

I’ve been told that a former Pennsy man who served as superintendent of the Southern Region of Penn Central left behind another PRR tradition.

During the PC era the track numbering of the ex-NYC line between Cleveland and Indianapolis was changed so that the westbound main became Track 2 rather than Track 1 as it had been under NYC control.

The Q008 was on Track 2 whereas all other eastbounds I saw on this day were on Track 1, which in NYC days was Track 2.

Apparently the dispatcher had run the Q008 around another train west of Union City or planned to do so east of there.

I never did hear the Q008 crew calling any signals so they either were not doing it or doing it in such a way that my scanner didn’t pick it up.

After the passage of the Q008 I checked the weather forecast for Union City and found it had been revised to predict sunny skies in the afternoon.

That did happen. The clouds moved out about 1:30 p.m. By then I had seen four more trains, including a pair of auto racks trains in each direction (the Q217 and Q262), the Q348 (top photo) and a local whose symbol I didn’t catch because the crew’s radio calls were barely audible.

The Q348 would be the last train I would photograph. It’s a manifest freight that originates in Avon Yard and runs to Cumberland, Maryland.

About the time the sun came out for good CSX traffic died.

I ventured east of Union City into Ohio to scout for photograph locations.

The good news was that some block signals are located at grade crossings. The bad news was that those signals were dark.

I got as far as Ansonia, Ohio, which at one time was the junction of two NYC routes. Today, only a portion of the north-south route is left.

It goes as far south as Greenville and a no trespassing sign I saw as I crossed that route on a country road indicates it is owned by R.J. Corman.

I returned to Union City where I sat for another hour and a half and got nothing. There was not as much as a peep on the radio.

I was a little surprised by that because last September I had spent an afternoon in Union City and seen a few trains before the dinner hour.

I gave up and headed home at 4 p.m. It wasn’t a wasted day as I had seen eight trains total. But all of them had run under the clouds.

Like I said, it had been one of those days.

PUCO Authorizes Grade Crossing Projects

February 29, 2020

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has approved the installation of lights, gates and warning devices at grade crossings on Norfolk Southern; Chicago, Ft. Wayne & Eastern; and the Wheeling & Lake Erie in seven counties.

PUCO also directed CSX to install active warning devices at the Ohio Route 7 crossing in Washington County, and the Columbus & Ohio River Railroad to install flashing lights at the Hope Avenue crossing in Franklin County.

The installations and upgrades must be completed by Nov. 26.

Federal funding will be provided for the projects through the State Grade Crossing Safety with funding of up to $5,000 per project.

Short Line to Lease CSX Marietta Subdivision

February 29, 2020

A short line operator has agreed to lease a CSX branch that runs for 39 miles in Ohio and West Virginia.

The Belpre Industrial Parkersburg Railroad will take over operations on the CSX Marietta Subdivision on or about May 2.

The Marietta Sub extends from Parkersburg, West Virginia, to Relief, Ohio, via Marietta.

The transaction also includes the Parkersburg Running Track, which extends for 5.29 miles between High Yard in Parkersburg to Belpre, Ohio.

Owned by Ohio-based Cathcart Rail Holdings, the BIPR is expected to employ eight, including four train service personnel, two maintenance of way workers, a track inspector and a locomotive mechanic.

Class 1 Carriers Did Well in Lowering Operating Ratios

February 29, 2020

North American Class 1 railroads posted a collective 61.9 percent operating ratio in 2019, marking the first time the carriers have fallen below the 65 percent mark.

However, the railroads saw their overall revenue fall by 2.3 percent meaning the improvements in the operating ratio were largely due to productivity gains and cost reduction.

CSX had the lowest operating ratio for the year at 58.4 percent, the second consecutive year it led Class 1 in lowest OR.

Over the past five years operating ratios have fallen by three points and declined by 9.7 points over the past decade.

An operating ratio is the percent of revenue devoted to operating expenses.

C&O 1390 Fund Raising Gets Promising Start

February 29, 2020

The campaign to raise nearly $400,000 to finish the restoration of Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 has gotten off to a promising start.

In the past month $41,000 — including one donation of $25,000 — has been pledged the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad reported.

WMSR say restoration of the locomotive to operating condition is 85 percent complete and $390,000 is needed to complete the project. The tourist railroad already had about $100,000 on hand when the latest fund-raising push began.

Thus far $2.8 million has been spent on the restoration project.

Officials say once the needed funding is in hand, it will be about six months, including a break-in period, before the 1309 is ready to enter revenue service.

The WMSR operates on 17 miles of former Western Maryland track in a mountainous region of Maryland and West Virginia.

Today’s Chessie Sampler

February 28, 2020

Let’s go back a few decades to a time when what is today the CSX New Castle Subdivision was operated by the Chessie System.

In the top image, an eastbound led by Baltimore & Ohio GP40-2 No. 4156 leads a steel coil train through Sterling in November 1981.

The middle image was made in Akron in December 1979. B&O SD40-2 No. 7613 leads a westbound beneath Interstate 76 near South Street.

The bottom image was made at Easton in March 1988 and shows an eastbound led by B&O GP40 No. 6088

Photographs by Robert Farkas

Hamilton Seeking to Save B&O Station

February 28, 2020

Officials in Hamilton, Ohio, are making an eleventh hour push to save a railroad depot that CSX has earmarked for demolition.

The former Baltimore & Ohio station was constructed in 1885 and is in rough condition but the city wants to preserve it for various uses.

CSX wants to raze the structure as part of a clearance project and has given the city a Feb. 28 deadline to purchase and make plans to move the station.

In the meantime Mayor Pat Moeller has pleaded with CSX to hold off on the demolition.

City officials would like to move the depot four blocks away and have discussed such possible uses as making it a multi-modal transportation hub, turning it into a museum, making it a restaurant or locating a farmer’s market there.

“The more I learn about this train station, the more I started to realize that this is something special,” Moeller said. “The place does matter.”

Local historians noted that Abraham Lincoln gave a speech near the station during his trip to Washington to be inaugurated as president. President Harry S. Truman spoke nearby in 1948.

Moeller said if the station is razed it would be difficult to rebuild it. The station is listed on Ohio’s register of historic places.

The city is seeking partners to help it save the building.

“Now is the time where I think we have to get it done,” Moeller said. “Gather all the interested parties, create partnerships and get this done.”

The building will need much work. Parts of its roof have are rotted and graffit would need to be removed. But the structure of the building is said to be strong.

Historic Switcher Donated to Pennsylvania Museum

February 28, 2020

A California short line has donated a historic locomotive to a Pennsylvania railroad museum.

The EMD SW1200 was last used by the Stockton Terminal & Eastern and is being sent to the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum in Hamburg, Pennsylvania.

The unit was one of five of the same model built for the Reading in 1963.

The museum expects to have the switcher on display later this year.

It is being moved by BNSF and Norfolk Southern.

FRA Says Most Railroads are PTC Compliant

February 28, 2020

The latest Railroad Administration report on positive train control implementation shows that during the fourth quarter of 2019 most railroads are operating PTC in revenue service or in advanced field testing.

The FRA said PTC is in operation on 55,601 route miles or 96.3 percent of the route miles required by federal law to have it.

By law 42 railroads are mandated to implement PTC, with a PTC system currently governing operations on nearly all lines of Class 1 railroads and Amtrak that are required to have it.

The percentage of PTC in operation for Class 1 railroads was 98.7 percent while at Amtrak it was 99.8 percent.

At commuter railroads, the American Public Transportation Association said PTC has been certified, in revenue service demonstration or in field testing on 97 percent of them.

That is an 8.4 percent increase from the third quarter.

Thirty percent of commuter railroads are in revenue service demonstration and 10 percent are in field testing.

APTA said the remaining 3 percent of railroads are preparing for field testing.

The data is self-reported by the carriers, who also say they have achieved interoperability on 38 percent of the 229 applicable host-tenant railroad relationships, a 13 percent increase from the third quarter of 2019.

Railroads are facing a Dec. 31, 2020, deadline to fully implement PTC systems.

The FRA said eight railroads are at risk of not meeting that deadline. They include the Alaska Railroad, The Belt Railway Company of Chicago, Florida East Coast Railway (including its tenant railroad, Brightline/Virgin Trains USA), Kansas City Terminal Railway, New Jersey Transit, New Mexico Rail Runner Express, Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad (Metra), and TEXRail.

The agency said it “remains committed to assisting railroads directly, and to the greatest extent possible, including ongoing support during all phases of field testing.”

The FRA said it has encouraged state departments of transportation and governors to help ensure that any at-risk commuter railroads have sufficient technical resources and support to meet the end-of-year deadline.

FRA reports on PTC implementation at are available at The fourth quarter reporter can be found at


UP CEO Sees Coal Traffic Bottoming Out

February 28, 2020

The decline of coal traffic may have bottomed out for now one railroad CEO believes.

Speaking to the Barclays Industrial Select Conference, Union Pacific head Lance Fritz said only the most efficient power plants that use coal are still in operation.

Natural gas has eclipsed coal as the fuel of choice at many power plants due to its low cost.

Fritz said there are few coal-fired power plants left and those form a baseline of coal loadings.

He doesn’t believe the haulage of coal by railroads will rebound from the extended slump it has been in and which has affected the financial positions of such other Class 1 railroads as Norfolk Southern and CSX.

At UP, coal traffic is down 30 percent thus far in 2020. It declined by 16 percent in 2019.

Much of the coal hauled by UP originates in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.

Also working to depress the use of coal are increased use of wind and solar energy.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that another wave of closings of coal-fired plants will occur over the next five years.

The agency said that natural gas prices last year were their lowest in the previous three years.

Fritz noted that the loss of coal traffic underlies UP’s stagnant traffic volume over the past 15 years.

“That’s a big, big deal,” Fritz said of the decline of coal traffic. “That in and of itself is tens of thousands of carloads a week.”

Last week UP hauled 15,294 carloads of coal whereas in the same week of 2011 it handled 43,007.

UP’s approach to coal traffic, though, stands in marked contrast to that of western rival BNSF which has been able to retain some of its coal business by cutting rates in an effort to discourage coal-fired plants from switching to natural gas.

For its part, UP has engaged in what it described as “judicious pricing” of its traffic to earn an acceptable return.

Powder River Basin coal traffic peaked in 2008. Since then BNSF coal volume from that region has fallen 24 percent while UP’s volume has plummeted by 59 percent.

BNSF’s coal volume is down 6 percent this year and fell 6 percent last year.

Information the carriers reported to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board indicate that last week BNSF dispatched 35 coal trains from the Powder River Basin while UP had 12.