Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

Transit Grants Slow to be Disbursed

August 17, 2018

Although the Federal Transit Administration has distributed about $25 million of an available $1.4 billion in grants, the agency’s failure to distribute the remaining $1.38 billion is causing delays in construction plans of transit agencies.

The grant money was included in the federal fiscal year 2018 budget and is designated for transit-rail and bus projects.

The undistributed funds have been approved for 17 projects that involve building or expanding transit systems.

Many of those projects are ready for construction and are waiting for the FTA to release the funds.

Some of those projects have been pending for several years.

Among the projects awaiting the release of funds is the proposal double-tracking of the South Shore rail line in Northwest Indiana.

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Kids Ride Free on CVSR in August

August 16, 2018

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is allowing some children to ride for free this month when accompanied by an adult.

The promotion, sponsored by WKYC-TV, allows for one free child’s coach ticket aboard the National Park Scenic when an adult buys a $15 coach ticket. There is a limit of three child tickets per household.

After three free coach child’s tickets, any additional passengers will require paid tickets.

The promotion is available Tuesdays-Fridays and excludes Saturdays and Sundays.

The promotion will end on Aug. 31 and is not valid with other promotions or discounts. It also does not apply to special event tickets.

Museum Gets Another GE U Boat

August 16, 2018

The Lake Shore Railway Museum has acquired another historic GE-built locomotive.

This week the museum received a four-axle U36B carrying MCVX reporting marks and the roster number it had when working for CSX (7764).

The museum’s parent organization, the Lake Shore Railway Historical Society said No. 7764 was last with the Firefighters Education and Training Foundation in Massachusetts as a training locomotive for firefighters.

The unit was built in 1970 at GE’s Erie manufacturing facility located in Lawrence Park, Pennsylvania, as Seaboard Coast Line as No. 1776. It was later renumbered 1813.

“The U36B is a very rare GE locomotive model and we are thankful for its inclusion in our collection,” said society President Ray Grabowski Jr. “Its earlier re-purposing as a training unit just enhances Lake Shore’s educational function. Look for it to continue to be used as a teaching tool here soon.”

The North East, Pennsylvania, museum has eight other GE locomotives and one Heisler in its collection.

Steamtown Head Moving to Another Post

August 16, 2018

The head of Steamtown National Historic Site is leaving for another position with the National Park Service.

Debbie Conway, who once worked in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, said she has accepted a position as deputy regional director for the Park Service’s Northeast Region and will step down at Steamtown on Oct. 1.

“This is a great opportunity professionally for me and a position in which I think I can have some positive influence for the region,” Conway told her staff in an email message.

Conway has been at Steamtown for four years. An acting superintendent will be appointed to replace her.

Book to be Out Soon About Harrison

August 15, 2018

As the CEO of four Class 1 railroads Ewing Hunter Harrison was a larger than life figure known to friends and foes alike simply by his middle name.

Harrison

Harrison has been deceased for less than a year and the first book about him is set hit the shelves on Sept. 18.

Howard Green has written Railroader: The Unfiltered Genius and Controversy of Four-Time CEO Hunter Harrison, which is being published by Page Two Books of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Green, who worked for the Business News Network of Canada, interviewed Harrison while he was the head of Canadian National and later Canadian Pacific.

“He’s just a fascinating story,” Green said of Harrison. “I’ve never met anyone like him.”

The 289-page book is based on interviews with 75 people who worked with Harrison, competed against him, or were part of his family.

Work on the book began two years ago and Green said he spent 170 hours talking with Harrison. He also attended the last “Hunter Camp” training seminar days before Harrison died last December at age 73.

A review of the book posted on the Trains magazine website said Green’s book portrays a colorful and complex self-made man who reshaped every railroad his headed but triggered controversy in the process.

“Everywhere he went there was thunder and lightning,” Green says.

The book focuses on the entirety of Harrison’s life, starting with his upbringing in Memphis and how he worked his way up from laborer to CEO of the Illinois Central and later CN, CP and CSX.

As a youth Harrison was rebellious and seen by many as a bully. The son of a Memphis police officer, Harrison for a brief time hung out with an older Elvis Presley.

The Trains review described the book as primarily oriented toward personalities, boardroom politics, and corporate strategy. “It’s clear that Harrison became increasingly focused on investors as he moved from CN to CP and, ultimately, CSX,” Trains correspondent Bill Stephens wrote.

During his career, Harrison was a workaholic who developed a reputation as a demanding boss who felt little remorse for all the employees who lost their jobs at the railroads that he oversaw.

Green said that Harrison’s American citizenship worked against him during his time at CN and CP because he wasn’t part of the small, clubby Canadian business scene and wouldn’t have tried to fit in anyway.

He made no effort to learn French, one of Canada’s two official languages, other than the phrase “Bonjour, y’all.”

Harrison had few close friends and Green quotes Harrison’s sister, Mary, as saying that her brother had “no life,” that it was “nothing for him [at a family gathering] to spend hours pacing on a conference call  . . .  There’s no day off. There’s no vacation. There’s no downtime.”

Yet when he died 700 people attended a tribute to his life. During his career, Harrison also developed a devoted following of railroad executives, some of whom spoke at their mentor’s memorial service.

Harrison was cremated and his ashes scattered about the Memphis railroad yard where his career began.

Green reveals that Harrison might have taken the helm of CSX in the early 2000s had a strategy by CN to obtain an ownership stake in the Florida-based Class 1 railroad worked out. At the time, Harrison was CN’s chief operating officer.

Although Harrison never held a grudge against CN after it declined in 2009 to extend his CEO contract, he did have hard feelings about Norfolk Southern, which Harrison and CP unsuccessfully sought to acquire in 2015-2016.

After becoming CEO of CSX, Green said Harrison reportedly said he wanted to “kick NS in the nuts” by capturing 10 to 15 percent of its traffic.

Green also reveals that Harrison’s health problems prompted an intense debate with CSX management ranks as to when and what to disclose about it.

By the time Harrison agreed to be part of an effort to oust CSX CEO Michael Ward, he had become a very wealthy man, saying that during his time at IC, CN and CP he was paid $500 million.

Harrison had three horse farms and three homes furnished with all of the lavish fixtures and trappings you might expect someone of such immense wealth to have.

Yet his real home was out on whatever railroad he happened to run at the time.

Railway Age columnist Frank Wilner in reviewing Green’s book likened Harrison to a railfan except rather than making photographs of trains EHH was barking orders to subordinates.

Harrison’s antipathy toward railroad labor is well known and been well documented. Many of the employees of his railroads loathed him in return.

But shippers also easily found themselves the targets of Harrison’s tirades. It may be that a railroad would not be a railroad without shippers, but Harrison viewed shipper demands as impeding his goal at the railroad of making money and lots of it for stockholders.

To that end, Harrison was less of a railroader than he was a rapacious capitalist who happened to work in the railroad industry.

Green described Harrison as “an unsentimental efficiency wizard who’d risen to the top by lopping expenses, maximizing the use of assets, and creating enormous value for shareholders [by] making the trains run on time. Investors came first. For him, the game was capitalism, pure and simple.”

Green concludes by saying that Harrison transformed four publicly traded companies, which the author found to be a rare fete.

But as accomplished as Harrison was, he didn’t live long enough to realize what may have been his most craved goal, the establishment of a true transcontinental railroad.

In concluding his review of Green’s book, Wilner observes, “Surely, [Harrison] possessed the ego, perhaps fueled by sharing initials with one of history’s most notable railroad barons—Edward H. Harriman. That Excalibur of railroading remains for another visionary.”

15 Years Ago Today The Great Blackout

August 14, 2018

It was 15 years today (Aug. 14, 2003) that the Northeast Blackout began in struck Northeast Ohio, plunging Cleveland and Akron into darkness.

The largest power outage in the nation’s history affected approximately 55 million people in the United States and Canada as far east as New York City and Newark, New Jersey, and as far west as Lansing, Michigan.

Other major cities in the eight affected states and the Canadian province of Ontario that lost their juice in all or parts of their metropolitan areas included Detroit, Toledo, Erie, Toronto, Baltimore, Buffalo, Rochester, Ottawa, Ann Arbor and large swaths of Ontario.

It wasn’t long after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and many, particularly in New York City, thought terrorists had taken out the nation’s electrical grid. But the cause was more mundane than that.

The blackout originated in Northeast Ohio when a high-voltage line owned by First Energy sagged onto trees just after 2 p.m., causing circuits to trip and the line to shut down.

A software bug in the First Energy control room computers in Akron failed to detect the problem and operators were unaware of the need to disconnect some lines and evenly redistribute power loads to other lines.

What should have been a local and manageable problem began cascading eastward and westward. At 4:10 p.m. overtaxed power lines and various power generating facilities began shutting down.

Within three minutes the blackout was underway in earnest on a hot and humid Thursday afternoon.

I had just returned from a grocery store run and put all the food away when the power went out.

I got a phone call from my Dad, who lived in east central Illinois, and was unaffected by the blackout.

He had been watching TV news about the blackout. It was from him that I learned Cleveland only about a two hours supply of water left.

The four pumping stations that draw Cleveland’s water from Lake Erie did have backup generators on the theory that electricity to all four of them would not fail at the same time. On this day it did.

The blackout affected transportation, shutting down airports, causing traffic gridlock due to traffic signals being out, and knocking out commuter train service in the affected cities. Amtrak ceased operating in the Northeast Corridor north of Philadelphia.

Streetcars and subway trains stopped in their tracks wherever they were when the power went out. In some cases this was in the middle of a tunnel and passengers had to walk out.

That night I sat in a lawn chair on our screen porch listening to the Norfolk Southern and CSX radio traffic on my battery-powered scanner.

NS dispatchers were unable to see on their computer screens where their trains were.

I remember well how at one point a dispatcher began calling one by one by train symbol every train he knew to be on the road. Upon making contact with a train crew, he would say, “where are you?”

The railroad was, literally, operating in dark territory.

My recollection is that CSX signals failed after backup battery power was exhausted and trains had to be talked by the signals.

In New York, Metro-North and the Long Island Railroad were able to restore some commuter train service by the next morning using diesel locomotive power.

Not all of Akron was without power. The Akron Beacon Journal still had electricity and it printed its own Aug. 15 edition as well as an abbreviated edition of The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.

Power began being restored during the early morning hours and throughout the Aug. 15. Cleveland Hopkins Airport returned to service by early evening on Friday.

The power came back at my house on Friday morning and life slowly began returning to normal.

A task force of U.S. and Canadian officials issued in April 2004 a report that laid much of the blame for the blackout at the feet of First Energy, citing the software glitch, trees too close to power transmission lines and inadequate operator training.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation in 2005 promulgated standards designed to prevent a similar event by requiring  computer systems and communications to monitor and respond to outsize power fluctuations, while requiring better tree trimming and system maintenance programs.

Grid operators were given more authority to isolate their systems from outage-causing events. Power companies that failed to comply could be fined as much as $1 million a day.

Yet some power experts believe another blackout of the magnitude of what happened in 2003 could happen again because the grid is not designed to move power over hundreds of miles.

There also remains the threat of a cyber attack by terrorists, which could cause blackouts, although lessons learned from 2003 and upgrades and changes made to the grid since then have lessened the possibility of a cyber attack being able to create the level of havoc that occurred 15 years ago.

Perhaps the key lesson to take away from the blackout of 2003, reported Scientific American in a five-year retrospect is that the risk of another massive blackout has been reduced but it will always be there due to the complexity of the power grid.

Pittsburgh Light Rail Line Damaged by NS Derailment Not Expected to Reopen for 3-4 Weeks

August 14, 2018

A Pittsburgh light rail line station knocked out of service by a Norfolk Southern derailment is not expected to reopen for another three to four weeks.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County said on Monday it has hired consultants and contractors to repair track and equipment damaged by the Aug. 5 derailment of an NS stack train on the Mon Line at the Station Square light rail station.

The T stop at Station Square has been closed since the derailment.

Inspectors found that 1,600 feet of track sustained extensive damage and will need to be replaced.

Also needing replacement is about 4,000 feet of overhead electrical line and the supports for the overhead.

The derailment also shut down the NS Mon Line for three days. The derailment occurred a few minutes after a light-rail train had passed.

One lane of East Carson Street remains closed to allow workers access to the light rail tracks.

A Port Authority spokesman said a cost estimate to repair the damages has not yet been calculated but the agency will seek reimbursement from NS or through insurance.

Although not directly connected to the NS derailment, the Port Authority said hiring contractors to repair the Station Square damage will enable workers to continue to work on the Blue Line in Library where flooding earlier this summer caused significant damage.

That route was expected to open on Sept. 1, but now authorities say that will likely be pushed back because of the NS derailment.

The Port Authority said it will review the NS accident after track and infrastructure repairs are complete to determine if additional safety measures are needed to protect the T station and system in the event of a future freight train derailment.

Cleveland RTA Won’t Seek Tax Hike This Year

August 13, 2018

The governing board of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority decided last week not to seek a tax increase in November.

Board member Trevor Elkins moved to ask voters to approve a 0.4 percent sales tax increase to support RTA, but his motion died for lack of a second.

Board members said during the meeting that it was too late to push for a tax increase this year and they want to continue talking with community leaders as they await the results of an operations study and an economic impact study.

Elkins, the mayor of Newburgh Heights, said the tax hike would raise about $73 million per year. “We should give the voters a choice this November,” he said.

But board President Dennis Clough responded, “We’re just not there.”

The earliest that RTA can now go to the voters to seek more funding is May 2019.

RTA funding has been hindered since a downturn in Cuyahoga County sales tax collections and a federal decree that Ohio may not apply its sales tax to Medicaid managed-care organizations to public transportation funding.

Much of RTA’s budget comes from a 1 percent sales tax and the agency is facing a $20 million funding shortfall by 2020.

Although the board has been discussing avenues to increase funding, there has yet to emerge a consensus on how to do that.

Among the ideas kicked around have been a sales tax increase, a property tax increase, a city of Cleveland parking tax increase, and even the hope that if Democrat Richard Cordray is elected elected governor in November he will increase state aid to public transit.

“We can’t continue to hope the state will rescue us,” Elkins said.

Clough, the mayor of Westlake, conceded RTA needs to find additional revenue to maintain its existing service.

“The need is urgent and the clock is ticking, but we should only move forward when all the right pieces are in place,” he said.

Clough added that a tax levy is likely, though, in 2019.

Marvin Ranaldson of Clevelanders for Public Transit said he understands the board’s concerns but worries about RTA’s funding future.

“We’re just disappointed . . . that after all this time and all this talk, that they decided to do nothing, which is basically what they have been doing for the last two years,” Ranaldson said.

PennDot Has Rail Grant Funds Available

August 10, 2018

The Bureau of Rail Freight, Ports and Waterways of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is now accepting applications for its 2018-19 Rail Transportation Assistance and the Rail Freight Assistance programs.

In the last grant period, the PennDOT awarded $32 million for 27 freight-rail projects. Applications for funding are due Aug. 30. They are available on the bureau’s website.

RTAP is a capital budget grant program funded with bonds while RFAP is underwritten through the Multimodal Fund created by Act 89, Pennsylvania’s comprehensive transportation funding legislation.

Pennsylvania ranks first in the country in the number of operating railroads, with 64, and ranks near the top in total track mileage, with more than 5,600 miles, according to PennDOT.

Expansion at Indiana Port Finished

August 10, 2018

A grain company has completed the expansion of soybean processing plant in Indiana at the Port of Indiana-Mount Vernon.

Consolidated Grain and Barge Company said the $32 million expansion more than doubled the size of the plant, which opened at the port in 1997.

It was designed to increase service for Indiana’s soybean farmers, as well as increase product supply for agribusiness customers.

CGB originates and markets grain and oilseeds for domestic and international markets at the port, which is served by the Evansville Western Railway.

Coal, soybean meal, soybean oil, ethanol, dried distillers grain, corn, wheat, fertilizer, minerals and cement are primary cargoes moving through the Mount Vernon port, which has achieved record-setting shipments for the past four years, port officials said.