Archive for May, 2020

Waiting for Air on the NS Chicago Line

May 30, 2020

Eastbound intermodal train 20E passes the Amtrak platform in Waterloo to get my day of photographing on the NS Chicago Line started right.

It had been a long time since I’d photographed operations of the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern.

It had been so long that as I made my way to Waterloo, Indiana, last Sunday for my first railfan outing since early March it felt as though I’d been in another state or even another country for a few years and was returning home.

The Chicago Line has always had a mystique about it because of its heavy and diverse traffic.

I wasn’t expecting to find last weekend that same level of traffic of earlier years.

It was a holiday weekend, rail freight volume has been down by double digit numbers in the past several weeks, and NS is running fewer trains generally as it implements its version of precision scheduled railroading.

Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I spent six hours on the Chicago Line and saw nine trains. Just as significant was what I didn’t see during those six hours.

I didn’t see a single auto rack car, I didn’t see any foreign motive power and, most surprising, I didn’t see any distributed power units.

There were no Canadian Pacific overhead trains running during the time I was trackside and no tank car trains.

There also were some very long lulls between trains that started in late morning.

The day got off to a promising start. As I reached the Amtrak station the gates at the main crossing in town went down for a westbound stack train.

About 20 minutes later came eastbound 20E followed 15 minutes later by the 24M.

About a half hour later came a westbound manifest freight and five minutes after that came the 18M, an eastbound manifest.

It was looking like the Chicago Line of old. But after that flurry of activity rail traffic died for more than an hour and a half before the lull was broken by an eastbound coal train.

The next train, a westbound manifest, showed up an hour later. Then came another lull of nearly an hour before a westbound intermodal came along. That would be my last train of the day.

Had I arrived an hour earlier I could have caught a 40-minute late westbound Lake Shore Limited led by a Phase III heritage unit.

And speaking of heritage units, various online reports had the Interstate heritage unit leading stack train 21T.

A railfan I talked with briefly said it should arrive in a couple hours. I thought he meant in Waterloo.

I followed the progress of NS 8104 on a Facebook group devoted to the Chicago Line.

I heard a scratchy radio transmission about 11:15 a.m. and thought, “that must be the 21T.”

I got out and hung around the Amtrak platform. I waited and waited and waited. I periodically checked the Facebook page and, but nothing new had been posted since MP 248.

The minutes ticked away and I kept thinking I should be seeing a headlight any minute.

Something must have happened. Maybe the train went into emergency, struck a car at a grade crossing, or who knows what.

It was boiling hot and I feared getting dehydrated. I didn’t dare dash back to my car to get my radio and/or some water for fear of missing the photograph.

On Labor Day weekend 2017 Marty Surdyk and his brother Robert had been in Indiana for a weekend outing and chased a Chicago, Fort Wayne & Eastern train on the Fort Wayne Line that didn’t exist where they thought it did.

They had, as Marty put it in a trip report, been chasing air for two hours and 40 miles.

I never left Waterloo, but it turned out I was waiting for air for more than an hour.

The 21T goes to Kansas City and not Chicago as I had thought. It had turned left at Butler, Indiana, and gotten on the former Wabash to head to Fort Wayne and points beyond.

There is in Indiana, it seems, a lot of air. On that same Labor Day outing Marty and Robert had “lost” into that same thin air an NS train they had been chasing.

So it meant that I have still not seen or photographed an NS heritage unit since last August when I caught the Illinois Terminal H unit in Marion.

That disappointment aside, it had still been an enjoyable day because I had seen and photographed something which is better than nothing.

With railroad traffic in contraction mode for the foreseeable future my expectations have adjusted accordingly. This is a year to take whatever you can and make the best of it.

The 18M was long but had no DPUs today.

The 24M may be an an afternoon train in Cleveland but it’s a morning train in Waterloo, Indiana.

An eastbound coal train broke a lull of more than an hour and a half.

Some reefer cars are mixed in with the last cut of box cars on this westbound.

My last sighting of the day was a westbound intermodal.

FRA Extends Rule Waivers for 60 Days

May 30, 2020

The Federal Railroad Administration this week extended for another 60 days a series of temporary waivers of certain safety regulations for freight and passenger railroads.

The waivers were issued to provide “emergency relief” with certain exceptions to rail operators during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initial waivers were issued by the FRA on March 25 and had been set to expire on May 24, 29 and June 9.

Two railroad labor unions, the SMART Transportation Division and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen had opposed the extensions.

$100M Grant to Benefit South Shore

May 30, 2020

A $100 million federal grant is expected to be given to the Northern Indiana Commuter District for development of the West Lake Corridor.

The 8-mile line between Hammond and Dyer would enable the South Shore Line to provide rail commuter service on a new route using in part a former Monon Railroad right of way.

South Shore President Michael Noland  expressed gratitude for the support of the Federal Transit Administration for the project.

FTA is also expected to award a small starts grant for construction of a bus rapid transit line in Indianapolis. That project is expected to cost $155 million.

CDC Recommendation Disfavors Public Transit

May 30, 2020

As if the nation’s public transportation systems were not suffering enough, a recommendation from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could add even more pain.

In a set of guidelines for reopening offices after COVID-19 pandemic closures the agencies suggests that employers offer incentive to workers to avoid mass transit.

Those could include such things as parking reimbursement for those who drive to work alone.

The CDC said those who take public transportation should ask employers to allow them to work at less busy times and wash their hands as soon as possible after riding a bus or train.

Earlier this week the New York Stock Exchange said workers and visitors are forbidden from traveling to the exchange aboard public transit and some fear that if this become a trend it will continue the devastation public transit systems have sustained from greatly reduced ridership.

TransitCenter, a New York-based foundation that supports public transportation, was critical of the CDC guidelines.

The organization Tweeted that some transit systems are carrying substantial loads while their cities experience low virus transmission rates.

“The CDC owes these Americans [who are unable to drive to work] stronger guidance on how to operate transit service while carrying a large share of typical ridership,” TransitCenter said.

CSX Branch Line Sale May Fall Through

May 30, 2020

The sale of a CSX branch line in Upstate New York is in danger of falling through.

Canadian National wants to acquire 278 miles of the Massena Line in New York and Quebec.

Its Bessemer & Lake Erie subsidiary would operate the U.S. portions of the line.

The sale has received U.S. Surface Transportation Board approval but twice the parties involved have failed to meet a deadline to complete the deal.

The sticking point is an STB mandate that CN and CSX remove from the sale agreement a clause that prohibits CN from even negotiating with the Finger Lake Railway and the New York, Susquehanna for a direct interchange in Syracuse agreement.

“Under present circumstances, it regrettably appears that the parties will be unable to proceed with the transaction” unless the board reconsiders the interchange provision, CN and CSX wrote in a joint letter to the STB.

The letter said the carriers will ask the STB to reconsider it order to remove the no direct interchange negotiation clause.

The STB in April had rejected a request by Finger Lakes that it be allowed to interchange cars with CN in Syracuse.

CSX Receives Halo Award

May 30, 2020

CSX announced this week that it received a 2020 Halo Award for its Pride in Service initiative, which supports military veterans and first responder workers and their families.

The award citation said CSX employees had contributed 5,000 hours and reached 85,000 during the first year of the project, which began in 2018.

The CSX workers wrote letters of gratitude and packaged care pouches.

The award was presented by Engage for Good, which recognizes corporate social initiatives and cause marketing.

Another Steam Saturday with Chessie 614

May 30, 2020

This looks more like a painting than a slide. Chessie 4-8-4 No. 614 is westbound near Mance, Pennsylvania, on July 11, 1981. The Greenbrier-type locomotive was built for the Chesapeake & Ohio in June 1948 by Lima Locomotive Works.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Ed’s Favorite Steam Memories of 1986

May 29, 2020

The roundhouse on the grounds of Expo 86 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

My 1986 favorite adventures were an Amtrak trip to the Expo 86 World’s Fair in Vancouver, British Columbia, along with outings to photograph Norfolk & Western 611 and Louisville & Nashville 152.

In May my Amtrak trip to Vancouver included my only trip on the Pioneer from Salt Lake City to Seattle.

In Vancouver I met up with the late Bill Surdyk to attended Expo 86.

A highlight of the event was the grand steam parade on May 26. The huge crowd witnessed a parade of 17 operating steam locomotives.

As for N&W 611, it operated between Bellevue and Buffalo in August 1986.

During October L&N 152 ran excursions on the former Louisville & Nashville in Kentucky and Virginia.

Article and Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

BC Rail (Canadian Pacific) Royal Hudson 2860 is shown as part of the steam parade along with Virginia & Truckee 22.

N&W 611 crosses the Nickel Plate trestle over the Grand River in Painesville during a journey to Buffalo, New York, on Aug. 1, 1986.

L&N 152 is negotiating a switchback at Hagans, Virginia during a trip from Harlan, Kentucky, to Appalachia, Virginia, on October 11, 1986.

L&N 152 in Hagans, Virginia, on a switchback.

Ohio Central Consecutive Roster Numbers

May 29, 2020

Although not on the same train or part of the same motive power consist, the sequence above shows consecutively numbered Ohio Central U23B units both of which were once owned by Conrail.

In the top photo OHCR 4092 is working in Coshocton on Nov. 12, 2009.

In the bottom photo OHCR 4093 is northbound on R.J. Corman (ex-Baltimore & Ohio) trackage in Massillon on April 19, 2010.

Photographs by Robert Farkas

Michigan Museum Delays Opening

May 29, 2020

The Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan, has announced that it is delaying its opening for the season.

In a notice posted on its website, the museum said it was acting in compliance with a state stay-at-home order as well as to protect public health and the safety of visitors, volunteers and staff.

It is the second time this year the SRI has delayed its opening. It posted a similar postponement notice in March.

The latest notice did not give any indication as to when the museum might open for 2020.

In an unrelated development, the June meeting of the Michigan Railroad Club has been canceled due to state social distancing restrictions.

The Detroit area where the club is based has been among the hardest hit in the state.