Archive for October, 2021

Steam Saturday: 40 Years ago on the CVL

October 30, 2021

Former Grand Trunk Western No. 4070 is southbound at Brecksville, on the Cuyahoga Valley Line on Oct. 17, 1981. This location is still a favorite for photographers on the modern day Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad with the Ohio Route 82 bridge in the background.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Steam Saturday: Iron Horses in the Night

October 30, 2021

On Friday, July 13, 1984, Dan Pluta was on the fire up crew at the West Third Street Baltimore & Ohio roundhouse in Cleveland with ex-Grand Trunk Western No. 4070.

It was being readied for its weekend trips on the Cuyahoga Valley Line. I along with Marty Surdyk and his two brothers ventured down to the roundhouse that night for a night photo shoot that extended way after midnight.

The next day we drove to Logansport, Indiana to capture ex Buffalo Creek & Gauley No. 13 dressed as a Pennsylvania Railroad engine. It was running for that city’s annual Iron Horse Days. This was a regular July event in Logansport in the 1980s and early  1990s.

The locomotive owned locally was dressed as Logansport & Eel River No. 1.

We captured the locomotive simmering prior to the Sunday excursions. This obviously was before the locomotive was purchased by Jerry Jacobson.

This was a typical weekend of rail enthusiasts enjoying nightlife. Then it was back to work on Monday morning.

The first three images were made at the B&O roundhouse in Cleveland while the next three were made in Logansport.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Congress OKs Extension of FAST Act

October 30, 2021

Congress this week approved another extension of the legislation that authorizes federal transportation spending.

Lawmakers extended the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act through Dec. 3, which means that legal authority for federal agencies to dole out federal transportation dollars remains in effect until then.

Without the extension, those financial allotments would have been temporarily suspended on Nov. 1.

The House passed the extension on a 358-59 vote and the Senate adopted the extension by unanimous consent.

The FAST Act originally expired on Oct. 1 and this is the second temporary extension it has received.

A new surface transportation authorization law is included in the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act – better known as the infrastructure bill – that was approved by the Senate last summer and is now pending in the House.

A vote on the infrastructure bill was delayed on Thursday due to infighting among Democrats that is linked to another dispute over the size and scope of a budget reconciliation package.

Long Distance Trains Vulnerable to Amtrak Staff Shortages

October 30, 2021

Yesterday it was reported in this space that Amtrak is facing having to temporarily curtail some train services in December due to a shortage of operating and on-board personnel.

A report posted on the website of the Rail Passengers Association on Friday provided more detail about what could happen and why.

The Amtrak worker shortage is linked to two factors: A COVID-19 vaccination rule and workforce reductions made during the pandemic when services were curtailed due to lack of passengers.

Amtrak plans to remove from service after Dec. 8 those employees who have not received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Although Amtrak’s vaccination rule contains an exemption for workers who have a verified medical or religious exemption, a memorandum sent by Amtrak CEO William Flynn indicated that that will only mean unvaccinated workers will be placed on unpaid leave.

Those workers who are unvaccinated and don’t have an exemption by Dec. 8 will be fired. It remains to be seen how many Amtrak workers will be let go or placed on unpaid leave.

The RPA report said Amtrak has enough workers in the Northeast Corridor to cover most trains operating there. But the workers shortage may become particularly acute on long-distance route where the passenger carrier could face a shortage of qualified locomotive engineers.

That means that Amtrak might be reducing the frequency of service on long-distant routes to tri-weekly as it did in October 2020.

The worker shortage, RPA noted, is rooted in more than some workers declining to be vaccinated.

Amtrak furloughed dozens of workers during the pandemic in an effort to conserve cash. It also suspended its new employee recruitment and training programs.

Thus far Amtrak has not released details on what trains may be suspended and/or cut back to reduced frequency of operation.

The Flynn memo indicated that plan is still being worked out and the company wants to see what response it gets among its unvaccinated workers.

One report indicated that 80 percent of Amtrak workers have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The RPA report indicated without providing specifics that Amtrak is developing incentive programs designed to move workers to where they’re needed most. It also has stepped up hiring and training.

Cutting workers was not the only step Amtrak took during the pandemic to conserve cash. It also mothballed numerous passenger cars and now faces a shortage of mechanical workers to get those cars ready to return to the road.

The result has been that reduced consists persist with fewer coaches, sleepers and lounge cars in service.

RPA said Amtrak will soon graduate a new class of agents to answer the phones in its reservation center. Until they are on the job prospective passengers face long waits to talk with an agent by phone.

The service cuts, if they occur, will come just before and probably extend into if not through the busy Christmas and New Year’s travel season.

It takes at least six months to qualify new locomotive engineers and get then into place at crew bases on the long-distance networks.

The shortage staff issue is not news to Amtrak management, which RPA said has known about it for several months. But it is just now surfacing in the traveling public.

At Work in Barberton

October 29, 2021

Akron Barberton Cluster Railway EMD SW1500 No. 1502 is switching in Barberton on Feb. 27, 2016.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Unions Seek Injunction Against NS Over Job Assignments

October 29, 2021

Two railroad labors unions are seeking an injunction to force Norfolk Southern to honor trade craft boundaries between locomotive engineers and train conductors.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the SMART Transportation Division filed motions in a federal court in Ohio seeking a preliminary injunction to restrain NS from ordering workers in one craft to perform the duties of another craft.

The motions were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.

In a news release, the two unions indicated their objective is to prevent NS from forcing engineers to work as conductors. The unions also want to stop NS from disciplining engineers to refuse to perform conductor duties.

The unions want a court to order NS to reinstate BLET members who have been disciplined as a result of the dispute and to expunge all related discipline records.

SMART-TD said in the release that it wants the court to order NS to maintain the status quo in which SMART-TD-represented train service employees are assigned to jobs in those crafts and classes.

Amtrak Extends Worker Vaccination Deadline

October 29, 2021

In a message to its employees, Amtrak has extended the deadline for it workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccination to Dec. 8.

The message also warned that the passenger carrier is prepared to reduce service if enough workers leave the company rather than comply with the vaccination rule.

The content of the message, which was sent by CEO William Flynn, was reported on the website of Trains magazine.

Amtrak set a deadline of Nov. 10, but the Dec. 8 date is consistent with a federal mandate issued by President Joseph Biden that federal contractors require their workers to be vaccinated by Dec. 8.

Any service reductions would be temporary and take effect in December. To date 80 percent of Amtrak employees have received at least one shot of the vaccine.

Employees who have not received as least one shot by Dec. 8 may seek an exemption based on religious accommodations, but that only guarantees unpaid time off.

More information about Flynn’s message is available at:

SEPTA Launches Project to Improve Transit Access

October 29, 2021

A Philadelphia public transit agency has begun a program to improve access to its services.

The Transit Supportive Community Development program of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority also seek to increase equity and ridership, enhance local economies and reduce reliance on personal vehicles, the agency said in a news release.

The program will support development along corridors with frequent transit service.

“Development that supports and expands access to transit is key to reaping the benefits of public transportation, like reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced household transportation costs, and increased social mobility,” said SEPTA CEO and General Manager Leslie Richards.

NS Worker Receives AAR Environmental Award

October 29, 2021

A Norfolk Southern employee’s work to solve an environmental issue in Ohio has been honored by the Association of American Railroads.

Robert Scoble, engineer of environmental operations-safety and environmental, was named the recipient of AAR’s Professional Environmental Excellence Award.

In a news release, AAR said the honor is the highest in the industry for environmental professionals.

Scoble has worked at NS for seven years, with much of his work overseeing environmental conservation projects in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.

He surveys and inspects the facilities to ensure they comply with environmental laws and regulations as well as maintain best practices to improve in all areas.

A highlight of Scoble’s work involved resolving a problem with persistent storm water discharge violations at Moorman Yard in Bellevue.

The problem was that algae blooms were developing in the yard’s storm water ponds.

The solution created by Scoble was a sonification treatment system to kill the algae with sound. That enabled storm water ponds to return to their proper pH levels and enabled the carrier to avoid having to use algicides.

In the news release, AAR said this reduced by two-thirds NS’s expenses related to the storm water pond maintenance.

Amtrak Rolling Out New Ticket Kiosks

October 29, 2021

New ticket kiosks are being rolled out by Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor that will eventually be installed throughout its system.

In a news release, Amtrak said the kiosks contain “an updated user interface consistent with other Amtrak digital channels that allows for a minimum-touch experience for the most common in-station transactions.”

Passengers will be able to activate the kiosks by touch, card swipe, barcode scan, or inserting a headset.

The kiosks are 48 inches tall, ADA compliant and eventually will be set up for contactless payment and the sending of tickets to a passenger’s email address.

In time Amtrak said it will install more than 200 of the kiosks at more than 150 stations. They will replace Quick-Trak machines that have been in service for almost two decades.

More information is available at