Archive for April, 2020

Early Conrail Action in Cleveland

April 30, 2020

Cleveland was the center of the Conrail X although that was more something that was discussed later in the railroad’s history.

In 1980s Conrail was still an expansive system with routes all over the Midwest and the East.

We’re standing trackside in Cleveland on Sept. 27, 1980, and watching an eastbound manifest freight pulled by U23B No. 2703.

The trailing unit, U25B No. 2613, has yet to receive its Conrail blue.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

CVSR Extends Service Suspension to Oct. 1

April 30, 2020

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad on Wednesday said it is canceling all trains operations until Oct. 1.

The tourist railroad that operates between suburb Cleveland and downtown Akron through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, had earlier suspended trains operations in mid March due to the COVID-19 pandemic

“As we look to an uncertain future with respect to this situation, CVSR must make decisions now,” said CVSR President and CEO Joe Mazur in a statement.

Mazur said it was a difficult decision to forgo operations during the busy summer months but said large gatherings are unlikely to be safe for some time.

“We look forward to welcoming our passengers and volunteers when the time is right,” he said.

In a news release, the CVSR said it will continue to monitor the pandemic throughout the summer and determine if it is safe to operate trains in the fall.

The release also contained a statement from park superintendent Craig Kenkel agreeing with the decision to suspend train operations through September.

CVSR said it will issue refunds to passengers who purchased advance tickets and plans to automatically extend all active memberships and appropriate benefits by the number of months the railroad will be closed.

Although the release did not address the fate of the annual steam in the valley program, it seems likely it will not operate this year.

In past years the CVSR has operated steam in the valley in September so that it did not encroach upon the busy fall foliage season.

In most years steam in the valley has featured former Nickel Plate Road No. 765.

This will not be the first time that rail service through the Cuyahoga Valley has not operated during the summer since the then-named Cuyahoga Valley Line emerged in 1975.

Service was cancelled or all of 1986 and 1987 after CSX abandoned the valley line and negotiations played out for the Park Service to buy the tracks.

The 1990 season didn’t get started until July 21 due to mechanical problems that sidelined former Grand Trunks Western 2-8-2 No. 4070.

NS Operating Revenue Fell 8% in 1st Quarter

April 30, 2020

Norfolk Southern said on Wednesday that operating revenue fell 8 percent to $2.6 billion compared in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Compared to the first quarter of 2019 NS experienced an 11 percent decline in total volume.

Operating expenses during the quarter were $2.1 billion, which included a $385 million non-cash charge related to sale and disposal of surplus locomotives and the introduction of a precision scheduled railroading operating model.

Excluding the charge, adjusted operating expenses were down 11 percent, due to lower compensation benefits, fuel, purchased services and materials, NS said in a news release.

NS posted net income equal to $381 million, diluted earnings per share of $1.47 and an operating ratio of 78.4 percent.

Excluding the impact of the locomotive rationalization charge, NS posted an adjusted first quarter net income of $669 million and adjusted diluted EPS of $2.58.

The adjusted operating ratio improved to 63.7 percent from its record of 66 percent set last year.

Much of the decline in the operating ratio came as NS reduced expenses more deeply than the decline in revenue.

Adjusted railway operations income of $953 million declined 1 percent during the quarter compared to a year ago.

NS also announced it has cut 2020 capital expenditures by 25 percent compared to the $1.5 billion spent in 2019.

“During the first quarter, Norfolk Southern’s determination to transform our operations once again produced all-time best service delivery levels accompanied by productivity improvements, despite volumes being impacted by weak energy prices and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said NS CEO James Squires in a statement.

Uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and a faltering economy prompted NS to pull back its outlook for flat full-year revenue, as well as its core operating ratio guidance for 2020.

Second-quarter volumes have continued to decline across all NS commodity segments, which thus far have fallen 30 percent.

While the COVID-19 pandemic will impact business volumes for the year, the company’s PSR operating model will generate significant operating savings, said Chief Financial Officer Mark George.

“In this challenging environment, our team is doubling down on examination of our structural cost opportunities to ensure that we remain positioned to drive enhanced profitability for the long term,” George said.

NS management expects broad traffic declines in merchandise, intermodal, and coal business segments this year and declined to say when traffic might begin to rebound.

“We project year-over-year volume declines across all business groups, with large impacts in the second quarter, and future volumes depending on the depth of the downturn and the timing of the reopening of the economy, as well as energy prices,” said Chief Marketing Officer Alan Shaw.

During the first quarter of 2019, traffic volume was down 11 percent overall with coal slumping 31 percent, intermodal sinking by 11 percent and merchandise traffic falling 5 percent.

CFO George said NS has a strong balance sheet with plenty of cash on hand and access to credit that will help it get through the economic downturn.

He said NS will continue its DC-to-AC locomotive conversion program but NS Chief Operating Officer Mike Wheeler said the Class 1 carrier will cut maintenance spending by more precisely targeting where new rail, ties, and ballast are installed.

NS has slashed the number of train starts in response to declining traffic as well as the third phase of the implementation of its TOP21 operating plan.

Wheeler said train starts were down 19 percent during the first quarter and have declined by 30 percent in April to match a 30 percent fall in traffic.

Some trains have been combined so that some merchandise traffic is now traveling on premium intermodal trains.

“We have really blended all the different traffic types into our network. So we’re to the point now where a train is a train,” Wheeler said.

At the same time, NS has opened some new lower-volume intermodal lanes by adding container traffic to merchandise trains.

“No longer do we need to find enough density for a point-to-point intermodal train,” Shaw said.

Shaw indicated that key performance and service metrics all improved during the first quarter as the carrier set quarterly records for terminal dwell, train performance, shipment consistency, and intermodal availability.

“Our service is the best in Norfolk Southern history,” Shaw said.

NS Settling on 10 Locomotive Models

April 30, 2020

The news that Norfolk Southern is slashing the size of its locomotive fleet has been out for a while but more specific details emerged this week.

Company officials said during the first quarter earnings call that the adoption of the precision scheduled railroading operating model will mean reducing the locomotive fleet size by 22 percent.

Most of the older models will be retired from the NS motive power roster as the carrier moves toward operating fewer and longer trains.

During an investor’s day last year, NS management said it planned to cut the locomotive fleet by 500 units, but since then the carrier has actually removed 703 units from active service.

As of March 31, NS had an active fleet of 2,801, which is 20 percent less than the 3,515 it had in late 2018.

At the end of 2018, NS had 606 units in storage. That figure grew to 1,022 units by the end of 2019.

NS plans to retain 402 of its stored locomotives as part of a surge fleet to handle a sharp increase in traffic.

Others in the stored fleet will be rebuilt as part of a DC-to-AC traction conversion program.

NS Chief Financial Officer Mark George said the carrier is removing from active service the oldest, least reliable, and least efficient locomotives.

In the process, it has eliminated the use of nine models and is creating a fleet of 10 models.

Company officials say that will save money by reducing the inventory of some parts and lessening the need for some mechanical shop workers.

During the first quarter of 2020, NS sold 300 locomotives and will sell or scrap the remaining units that it has in storage but doesn’t plan to keep.

Falling traffic and revenue has led to a reduced capital budget for 2020 and that has consequences for the motive power fleet.

NS will not accelerate its schedule for transforming DC units into AC ones and it will delay until next year some conversions that had been planned for this year.

The carrier will also suspend rebuilding units used in local service.

Rail Freight Traffic Down 22.4% Last Week

April 30, 2020

Rail freight traffic was down 22.4 percent at the end of last week compared to the same week in April 2019.

The Association of American Railroads said for the week ending April 25 U.S. railroads handled 414,123 carloads and intermodal units.

Total carloads for the week ending April 25 were 192,110, down 28.2 percent compared with the same week in 2019, while intermodal traffic was 222,013 containers and trailers, down 16.5 percent compared to 2019.

One of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2019: Miscellaneous carloads was up 151 carloads, to 10,021.

Otherwise it was decreases across the board including coal, down 32,853 carloads, to 48,128; motor vehicles and parts, down 13,562 carloads, to 2,235; and metallic ores and metals, down 7,572 carloads, to 17,496.

“With most of the country still firmly locked down, rail volumes are predictably down,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray.

“Last week, coal accounted for more than 40 percent of the year-over-year decline in total carloads. Coal’s decline is due to long-term structural shifts in electricity markets made worse by the coronavirus.”

Gray said most other commodities that declined, including motor vehicles, steel, ethanol, and petroleum products, are down due to the pandemic.

“It’s reasonable to expect rail carload losses derived directly from the virus to begin their return after the crisis passes and as the economy gradually recovers,” Gray said.

For the first 17 weeks of 2020, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 3,784,396 carloads, down 10.7 percent from the same point last year; and 4,045,944 intermodal units, down 10.7 percent from last year.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 17 weeks of 2020 was 7,830,340 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 10.7 percent compared to last year.

UP Won’t Run Steam in 2020

April 30, 2020

There will be no Big Boy steam operations this year but Union Pacific has vowed to return the 4-8-8-4 steam locomotive to the rails in 2021.

UP announced on Wednesday that it was cancelling all planned steam activities this year due to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing rules.

“We saw last year how much America loves the Big Boy, and what it can do as the giant, rolling ambassador of the Union Pacific,” said UP Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Scott Moore.

No schedule for operating the Big Boy this year had yet been announced but there had been speculation that it would operate in the Pacific Northwest in late summer.

The Big Boy had made its inaugural trip last year to Utah for the 150th anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike to complete the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.

The National Park Service said this week that the annual commemoration at the Golden Spike National Historical Park, set for May 10, has been cancelled because of the pandemic.

Brandon Flint, incoming superintendent of the park, said in a news release that this year’s commemoration will be held “on a more individual and personal level.”

There are videos, stories, and photos on the park website and Facebook page. However, the park, its visitor center, and its bookstore remain closed.

South Shore Giving Free Rides to Medical Workers

April 30, 2020

The South Shore Line said it will offer free rides for doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel during May and June between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana.

The commuter railroad also extended the validity of May monthly tickets through the end of June.

South Shore President Michael Noland said the carrier took the action to express its “sincere appreciation” to front-line health care workers.

The extension of a stay-at-home order by the State of Illinois to May 30 prompted the extension of the validity period for monthly passes.

The South Shore said it understood that some passengers may continue to have differing travel schedules for the next few months.

Catching Up With the Ashland

April 29, 2020

On Monday I chased the Ashland Railway train from Willard to Shelby. The motive power was 9166, a NW2R, and 2022 and 2023, both GP38-2s .

I got it at Willard at either milepost zero or 294 depending on what subdivision you are on.

I also photographed the train passing the old Baltimore & Ohio station at Plymouth and a bridge south of town.

Finally, I caught it passing the old power plant at Shelby Ohio.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

ARRC Cancels 2020 McKay Day Outing

April 29, 2020

The Akron Railroad Club has canceled its annual Dave McKay Day outing in Berea that had been scheduled for this Saturday. The event was called off due to the ongoing pandemic restrictions.

The annual outing, which began in 2005, is in memory of the late McKay, who served for 12 years as ARRC president until stepping down in December 2004.

ARRC President Todd Dillon that although the outing has been canceled as an official club event, individuals can still railfan in Berea.

He noted the weather forecast for Saturday calls for sunny skies and a high temperature of 65.

Steaming Into Akron in 1981

April 29, 2020

If you lived in Northeast Ohio in the early 1980s you might have chased the Cuyahoga Valley Line.

The CVL used former Grand Trunk Western 2-8-2 No. 4070 to pull its excursion trains through the then-named Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area.

It would have been easy to have taken steam in the valley for granted then.

The 4070 had been a mainstay on most weekends on the CVL since August 1975.

Sure, it would be sidelined every so often due to mechanical issues and for two years in the middle to late 1980s no trains ran at all due to the line having been abandoned.

But the National Park Service bought the railroad and steam returned, although only for a few years.

The 4070 hasn’t run since September 1990 and the CVL has given way to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

In the past decade visiting steam locomotives have been a regular feature of fall so it is still possible to get images similar to one of the 4070 steaming into Akron on Oct. 17, 1981.

Photograph by Robert Farkas