Archive for December, 2020

When N&W Ruled in Bellevue

December 31, 2020

Norfolk & Western Alco RS36 No. 2865 is paired with an Alco-repowered FM Train Master as hump power in Bellevue on May 28, 1973. As far as I know, I never took the two together in one photo. The 2865 was built for the Nickel Plate Road in February 1962 as No. 865.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

CSX in an Unexpected Place

December 31, 2020

If you’re familiar with the Pittsburgh Line of Norfolk Southern then this location probably looks familiar. It is Cassandra, Pennsylvania, and the image was made at a popular railfan hangout.

Yet you might be thinking, “say what? That’s a CSX train.” Indeed it is.

Back in October 2013 CSX had a major derailment on its route east of Cleveland. Some of the railroad’s highest priority intermodal trains were sent detouring over NS through central Pennsylvania.

Although lead unit 5212, a GE ES44DC, had been built for CSX it had an apparatus that was compatible with the train control system used on the Pittsburgh Line.

Therefore, the trains could operate with their CSX locomotives, making for an unusual sight because foreign units did not typically lead trains on the Pittsburgh Line.

These images were made during my first visit to Cassandra, a day trip that began early and ended late because it was an out and back excursion.

The fall foliage wasn’t quite as brilliant as I had hoped it would be, but it still looked like October.

Cautious Optimism for a Better 2021

December 31, 2020

Well we made it to a day many might have thought would never come. Today is the last day of 2020, a year that few are going to miss once it passes into history tonight at midnight.

It was a year marked by many firsts as in the first time I have not done (fill in the blank) in (fill in the blank) years.

I have a long list of things I didn’t do this year. I didn’t ride any type of conveyance with steel wheels on steel rails.

I didn’t attend a train show, didn’t visit a railroad museum, and didn’t buy any books, timetables or other railroad artifacts to add to my collection.

And then there is the list of things I only did once. I attended one local railfan club meeting and saw just one live slide show. Both of those occurred back in January.

Of course some folks did ride a train, did visit a railroad museum and did patronize the merchants at one of the few train shows that was held during 2020 despite the pandemic.

Some clubs did meet in person or on zoom. Yet I can’t imagine that it felt the same as it did in the past.

Trains continued to operate even if there were fewer of them and I got out several times to photograph some of them.

I got out enough times to have botched a few potential photo opportunities and to see others fail to materialize because a train didn’t operate where I was when I was there.

Of course I also came back with many good photographs that made the day worthwhile and enjoyable.

But those things happen even during years when there is not a pandemic going on.

One of the advantages of railfanning is that it is something you can do on your own and without needing to be in close proximity to others.

I’ve been engaging in social distanced railfanning for years, decades even.

In that sense, railfanning during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic felt somewhat normal. I say “somewhat” because I still had to take precautions at times that in previous years never would have entered my mind.

Another advantage of living through a pandemic – if you want to call it that – is that it provided opportunities to catch up on things I had been meaning to do but never gotten around to doing.

I finished reading some books that had been only partially read for a couple of years

I processed digital images made years ago that had sat virtually forgotten on my backup hard drives.

I scanned more slides and photo negatives than I would have in a more normal year.

And I discovered to my chagrin that I wasn’t as good of a photographer back in the day as I thought I was at the time.

Yet it was satisfying to see the growth I experienced in my photography skills over the years.

And it was a little surprising to discover that my photo collection is larger than I had thought.

So what will 2021 bring? Initially, I expect more of the same. There may be a promising vaccine available to protect against COVID-19 but the pandemic is far from being tamed.

It is going to take some time and it remains to be seen what lasting effects the pandemic will have in the near, medium and long term.

I expect that sometime this year local railroad clubs will resume meeting, train shows will be held again and I just might be able to see or even present a live slide show.

But we don’t know when these activities will resume on the same scale that they occurred in, say, 2019. Nor can we yet say if they will feel the same as before.

There will be those who will try to carry on as if nothing has happened and nothing has changed while others will approach resuming “normal activity” in a tentative manner.

Whatever the case, the new year holds the possibility of having something to look forward to experiencing. Maybe, just maybe, it will feel like old times even if it isn’t.

Intermodal Continued its Hot Streak

December 31, 2020

Intermodal continued to lead the way in the latest weekly U.S. rail freight statistics released by the Association of American Railroads.

For the week ending Dec. 26 intermodal traffic rose 20.8 percent. AAR said the railroads last week handled 220,082 containers and trailers.

At the same time, the carriers moved 185,029 carloads for the week, a decline of 3.4 percent compare with the same week in 2019.

Bolstered by intermodal, total carload and intermodal traffic was 405,111 units, an increase of 8.4 percent.

Four individual carload commodities posted gains led by grain, which was up 40.2 percent while motor vehicles and parts rose 19.2 percent.

Coal fell by 9,611 carloads to 50,742; metallic ores and metals were down 1,589 carloads to 18,330, and chemicals were down 1,394 carloads to 27,479.

EBT Receives $1.4M State Grant

December 31, 2020

The East Broad Top Foundation has received a $1.4 million economic development grant that will be used for several projects and to help retire a mortgage held by the railroad’s previous owner.

The grant was awarded by the Pennsylvania Office of the Budget with funding from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

Among the projects the EBT will apply the funding toward are building a new events facility at Colgate Grove four miles north of Rockhill Furnace.

Also in the works are extension of the main line northward a mile to Shirleysburg, stabilizing buildings within the Rockhill Furnace machine shops complex, and stabilization of a coal tipple and chutes at the south end of the Rockhill Furnace yard.

EBT plans to replaced deteriorated crossties throughout the yard.

The historic narrow gauge railroad shut down commercial operations in 1956 but operated as a tourist railroad between 1960 and 2011.

The EBT foundation acquired the property earlier this year from the Joseph Kovalchick family and is restoring its locomotives, rolling stock and infrastructure.

Plans are to resume public scheduled service next May or June. Steam locomotives are projected to begin revenue service in 2021.

The EBT owns six Baldwin 2-8-2 steam locomotives.

EBT Foundation General Manager Brad Esposito said the priority of the projects work listed in the grant application is undetermined.

FRA Proposes PTC Reporting Rule Change

December 31, 2020

Rule changes that would affect reporting about positive train control systems have been published by the Federal Railroad Administration in the Federal Register.

The proposed changes would revise regulations that govern changes to PTC systems and reporting on PTC functioning.

The agency has proposed having a host railroad submit a request for amendment to the FRA before making certain changes to a PTC safety plan and FRA-certified PTC system.

Agency officials said the changes recognize that the railroad industry intends to enhance PTC systems to continue to improve safety.

The agency also is seeking to expand an existing reporting requirement by increasing the frequency from annual to biannual; broaden the reporting requirement to encompass positive performance-related information, not just failure-related information; and require host railroads to use a new standardized biannual report on PTC system performance.

Public comment on the changes is due by Feb. 16.

FAA Modifies Rules for Drone Use

December 31, 2020

Unmanned drones will need remote identification under a rule announced by the Federal Aviation Administration.

In a news release, the FAA said the rules address safety, security and privacy concerns while advancing opportunities for the use of drone technology.

The rules will become effective 60 days after being published in the Federal Register.

There are more than 1.7 million drones registered with the FAA and 203,000 FAA-certified remote pilots.

The railroad industry has tested or uses drones for such things as track and bridge inspections.

Remote ID are used to identify drones in flight as well as the location of their control stations.

That information can be used by national security, law enforcement and other public safety officials.

The FAA said equipping drones with remote ID technology builds on the earlier steps taken by the agency and drone technology developers to integrate the use of drones into the national airspace system.

Under existing federal regulations, drones cannot be operated at night over people without an FAA waiver.

The FAA has proposed allowing small drone operators to have their remote pilot certificate and identification in their physical possession when operating and ready to present to authorities if needed.

The rule also will expand the class of authorities who may request these forms from a remote pilot, FAA officials said.

Pennsy Locos on a Former Pennsy Route

December 30, 2020

Bennett Levin’s former Pennsylvania Railroad E8s powered a rare mileage private car excursion on Aug. 19, 2001, on a former Pennsy route from Harrisburg to Erie, Pennsylvania.

From Emporium, Pennsylvania, to Erie the railroad was operated as the Allegheny & Eastern and since it was a secondary route for the Pennsy the operating speeds were more relaxed.

Marty Surdyk and his brother Robert studied that route and that was where we focused our photography of the excursion.

Listening to the scanner on our trek eastward we set up initially at  St. Marys (top photograph) in pouring rain.

As the day went on the rain let up but the weather mainly remained overcast. We were able to find 12 photo locations. Five of the best are here in this story. 

They included crossing the Allegheny River in Warren, Pennsylvania; Garland, Pennsylvania; and passing a mural of a Climax steam locomotive in Corry, Pennsylvania, the home of Climax Manufacturing, which built the famous logging locomotives.

Our final photo location was in Erie where the excursion train arrived at the Erie Union Station, which today is still used by Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited.  

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Where Was My Pole Filter?

December 30, 2020

In 1969 when I photographed Penn Central No. 8305, a Fairbanks-More H12-44, was still wearing New York Central paint as it sat in the scrap line in East Altoona, Pennsylvania. Sadly I had left my “pole” filter at home.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

FRA Says All Railroads Reached PTC Finish Line

December 30, 2020

The Federal Railroad Administration said this week that all railroads required to do so have met the deadline for installation and implementation of positive train control.

PTC is in operation on all of the 57,536 route miles required to have it.

This includes rail lines that handle intercity or commuter passengers on a regular basis, certain hazardous materials, and Class 1 railroad mainlines that see more than 5 million gross tons of annual traffic.

The mandate for the installation of PTC was part of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

Federal law gave the railroad industry a deadline of Dec. 31, 2020, to install and place PTC systems into operation.

In a news release, the FRA said this meant the FRA had certified not only that PTC was in operation but also that PTC systems had achieved interoperability.

This means a PTC system used by a tenant railroad such as Amtrak is compatible with the PTC system of a host railroad such as CSX.

PTC is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments, work-zone accidents, and incidents involving improperly lined switches.

Implementation of PTC involved seven Class I railroads, Amtrak, 28 commuter railroads, and five other freight railroads that host regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger service.

Also involved in the effort were industry associations, suppliers and other service providers who have been working for more than a decade to develop, install, test and oversee the operation of PTC systems.

FRA certification means a PTC system complies with the required technical requirements contained in federal law or FRA regulations.

Most railroads have been in compliance with federal law and regulations for several months with 99.6 percent of those affected by the PTC mandate having complied by the end of the third quarter of this year.