Archive for April, 2022

Steam Saturday: NKP 765 in Medina

April 30, 2022

It is Sept. 9, 2010, in Medina on the Wheeling & Lake Erie’s Akron Subdivision. Former Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 is heading east in order to make its first appearance in the Steam in the Valley program of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

In the images above, the Berkshire-type locomotive is waiting for opposing W&LE traffic to clear.

Crew members are taking advantage of the situation to conduct an inspection of their locomotive.

The top two images are the same with the middle image having been cropped. The third image is closer to the action and shows the crew at work.

Photographs by Robert Farkas

Now Named for Fred

April 29, 2022

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad RS18u No. 1822 is shown being towed north in Akron on May 23, 2015. The unit was built for the Canadian Pacific but has been a CVSR mainstay for several years. It was named for Fred Daigneau in November 2021 upon his retirement from the railroad’s mechanical staff after a 17-year career there. Daigneau has since agreed to serve as a volunteer locomotive engineer.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Too Much to Ignore

April 29, 2022

I usually don’t make photographs of rail car with graffiti on them, but I made an exception for this auto rack car rumbling southbound in Hamilton, Ohio, on the CSX Toledo Subdivision. The train is Q205 and its crossing Walnut Street. In the distance can be seen the former Baltimore & Ohio passenger station, which lies at the junction of the Toledo and Indianapolis subdivisions.

Photograph by Craig Sanders

Third County Joins Pennsylvania Rail Agency

April 29, 2022

Formation of a passenger rail agency in eastern Pennsylvania is now complete after a third county agreed to join the effort.

Chester County commissioners voted to join the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority, which will lead efforts to create an Amtrak route between Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania.

Earlier commissioners in Bucks and Montgomery had voted to join the rail agency.

Each county will appoint three members to the agency’s governing board, which hopes to hold its first meeting in June.

The new agency will seek grant funding and work with Amtrak to develop the proposed service.

New CN CEO Outlines Priorities

April 29, 2022

Canadian National CEO Tracy Robinson is now two months into her tenure as head of the Montreal-based railroad and has spent much of that time getting to know the system, including its workers and shippers.

During an earnings conference call with investors this week she laid out her priorities for CN. It was her first public comment since taking over as CEO on Feb. 28.

The first priority Robinson mentioned was focusing on improving velocity. At the same time CN needs to make more efficient use locomotives, cars and crews.

Robinson also spoke of better fitting its network to its strengths, tightening coordination between operations and marketing to ensure CN is able to deliver on its commitments to customers, and investing for growth and efficiency.

“We all know what this network and what this team is capable of doing,” Robinson said. “It’s not a matter of is it operating ratio or is it growth. I think it’s both.”

During the earning call Robinson announced that Doug MacDonald, currently CN’s senior vice president of special projects, was promoted to chief marketing officer.

Robinson replaced the retiring J.J. Ruest at CN. She worked for 27 years at Canadian Pacific and most recently was an executive for pipeline company TC Energy.

Wheeling 4000 in Navarre

April 28, 2022

Wheeling & Lake Erie SD40-3 No. 4000 is eastbound in Navarre on April 3, 2012. The unit has spent time on the motive power rosters of the Grand Trunk Western and Canadian National.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Rail Execs Push Back on Shipper, Union Charges

April 28, 2022

As could be expected, executives of Norfolk Southern and CSX took issue in a hearing this week conducted by the U.S Surface Transportation Board with how some shippers, labor unions and other critics have described the causes of service issues both carriers acknowledge having.

However, there was agreement from various quarters that a shortage of operating personnel is a major factor behind the service issues.

But beyond that there was a wide range of opinion as to what can be done or even should be done to ease service issues.

NS Chief Operating Officer Cindy Sanborn said improving service quality is the railroad’s top priority while Chief Marketing Officer Ed Elkins said restoring service is critical to the company plans to gain volume by converting freight from highway to rail.

Annie Adams, NS executive vice president and chief transformation officer, said the company furloughed workers when traffic fell sharply at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But she said higher than normal attrition of furloughed employees not returning to work combined with difficulty hiring new workers in a tight labor market have led to crew shortages.

Sanborn argued that crew shortages were the sole culprit of NS’s service problems and denied that they were rooted in the adoption of the precision scheduled railroading model as some shippers and workers have claimed.

 “To varying degrees they are asking you to turn back the clock and return to operating models of the past – operating models that are more resource intensive and less efficient. I think that would be a grave mistake,” she said. “Our competitors in the trucking industry aren’t moving backward. They’re not even standing still. They wake up every day thinking of new ways to leverage technology to implement operational innovations that would improve the customer experience and improve efficiency. And railroads must also think this way.”

CSX executives also made similar comments.

Jamie Boychuck, CSX’s executive vice president of operations, said his company has emphasized hiring new workers and seeking to retain those it already has.

He acknowledged CSX had a difficult time implementing PSR in 2017 but two years later its operations had improved to become the best in company history despite having 2,000 fewer conductors and locomotive engineers.

“Clearly our performance wasn’t driven by how many resources we had, but rather how effectively we leveraged those resources,” he said.

Boychuck said CSX now has more operating workers than it did before the pandemic and has a large number of new conductors undergoing training.

Seeking to provide an independent perspective was Rick Paterson, an analyst at Loop Capital Markets who once worked in the railroad industry.

He agreed that lack of operating personnel is the root cause of the service issues while saying that crew shortages also lead to motive power shortages that slow the network, which results in more power and freight cars needed to handle the same amount of volume.

Patterson argued that performance data shows railroads practicing PSR tend to bounce back more quickly from service disruptions.

He was critical, though, of railroads for not having an adequate “cushion” of employees to draw upon when service is disrupted by weather or other causes.

This he blamed on the influence of Wall Street investors who have long insisted that railroad continuously reduce their operating ratio, which is the percentage of revenue devoted to expenses.

Consequently, Patterson said this has put railroads into a position where if the operating ratio rises then one or more activists investors will come in and demand change.

Patterson said the lack of adequate staffing makes railroading a fragile enterprise subject to a roller coaster effect whereby service reaches a good level only to fall back to a poor level every few years.

There also seemed to be widespread agreement that resolving the service issues won’t be easy because there are no quick fixes.

“If we had a silver bullet we would have brought it to you,” said Chris Jahn, CEO of the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said there wasn’t much the board could do in the face of crew shortages. “These are complex issues. There’s no single step available to deliver ideal freight rail service overnight,” he said.

More about the Tuesday hearing, which ran for 10 hours, can be found at

NS Set Quarterly Records in 1st Quarter

April 28, 2022

Norfolk Southern on Wednesday said that during the second quarter of 2022 it posted record railway operating revenue, income from railway operations, net income and diluted earnings per share.

First quarter operating revenue was $2.9 billion, up 10 percent compared with the first quarter of 2021. Helping to boost revenue was a 16 percent increase in revenue per unit, railroad officials said.

Railway operating expenses totaled $1.8 billion, up 13 percent, due to higher fuel, purchased services and equipment rent costs.

Income from railway operations of $1.1 billion, a first-quarter record, rose 7 percent. NS reported first quarter net income of $703 million, up from $673 million a year ago, and earnings per diluted share of $2.93 compared with $2.66.

The quarterly operating ratio was 62.8 percent compared to 61.5 percent a year ago.

“Our financial results in the first quarter were solid, despite current network challenges,” NS President Alan Shaw said in a statement.

“I am confident that our efforts to improve our service through accelerated hiring and refinements to our operating plan will provide a platform for long-term growth and efficiency for both our customers and shareholders.”

CN 1st Quarter Revenue up 5%

April 28, 2022

Canadian National saw its first quarter 2022 revenue rise 5 percent to CA$3.7 billion.

The Montreal-based railroad said adjusted diluted earnings per share were CA$1.32, up 7 percent, compared with first-quarter results in 2021.

Operating income was CA$1.2 billion, down 8 percent, and adjusted operating income of CA$1.2 billion, was up 4 percent.

CN officials said net income was CA$918 million, down from CA$976 million a year ago.

CEO Tracy Robinson in a statement said CN showed resilience in the first quarter in the face of severe winter weather conditions and supply chain disruptions “to deliver solid results.”

CN reported diluted EPS of CA$1.31, down 4 percent. The company posted an operating ratio — defined as operating expenses as a percentage of revenue — of 66.9 percent, an increase of 4.4 points, and adjusted operating ratio of 66.6 percent, an increase of 0.3 points.

The velocity of the system during the quarter, which it also describes as car miles per day, fell by by 12 percent. Fuel efficiency remained flat at 0.910 U.S. gallons of locomotive fuel consumed per 1,000 gross ton miles.

The 5 percent revenue increase reflected strong demand despite reduced revenue ton miles that resulted from a significantly smaller Canadian grain crop, CN officials said.

CN attributed the revenue increase mainly to higher applicable fuel surcharge rates, freight rate increases, higher Canadian export volumes of coal via West Coast ports and higher export volumes of U.S. grain.

Revenue was partly offset by significantly lower export volumes of Canadian grain and lower international container traffic volumes via the ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert.

Operating expenses for the quarter climbed 12 percent to CA$2.481 million, mainly due to higher fuel costs as well as the recovery of a loss on assets held for sale recorded in Q1 2021.

Due to challenging operating conditions in the quarter as well as worldwide economic uncertainty, CN now expects to deliver a 15 percent to 20 percent adjusted diluted EPS growth, compared to its Jan. 25 target of 20 percent. The company is now targeting an Operating ratio below 60 percent for 2022, compared to its Jan. 25 target of about 57 percent.

Michigan Gov. Signs Grade Crossing Bill

April 28, 2022

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed a bill that supporters say ensures continued funding of a program to maintain adequate and functional signage and warning devices at railroad-highway grade crossings.

The legislation divides the costs of grade crossing sign upkeep and maintenance between railroad and road authorities, preventing any additional costs from being passed on to motorists, state officials said in a news release.

The Michigan Department of Transportation will conduct a study to determine traffic control device maintenance costs.

The agency also will update the fees road authorities pay railroads annually for the maintenance of active warning devices at crossings.