Archive for the ‘Railroad News’ Category

Last NS Train Through Athens a Time of Sadness and Telling Tales About Railroad Escapades Past

February 11, 2016

The last Norfolk Southern train to ply the West Virginia Secondary on Feb. 4 was front page news in the edition of The Athens News that was distributed this past Monday.

It was one of those “end of an era” stories that don’t happen often.

In this case, a ritual that had scarcely been noticed because it played out for more than a century had ended.

NS logo 2That train may have been the last one to pass through Athens and Athens County.

The rail line remains in place and perhaps business will change and trains will once again travel the former New York Central route between Columbus and Charleston, West Virginia.

Another scenario is that the line will be sold to a short line or regional railroad.

Then again, perhaps the next train to use the line will be a work train lifting rail.

So, for the time being, freight trains aren’t passing through the Southern Ohio towns of Athens, Glouster, Chauncey, Albany and Point Pleasant. Along the way the West Virginia Secondary runs parallel with the Hocking River as well as Sunday, Margaret and Leading creeks.

The newspaper noted that although the rail line skirted the western edge of Athens, on a quiet day you could hear the NS locomotive horns from downtown. At one time those were Conrail locomotives being heard.

The last train, which had originated near Charleston, passed through Athens County around 5 p.m. and at least one railfan went out to photograph it.

Once the crew tied up in Watkins Yard in Columbus, it was taken back to Charleston by motor vehicle.

“While environmentally progressive residents of Athens County probably won’t grieve the elimination of chemical- and coal-filled railroad cars speeding past small local communities, the end of an iconic era dating back well into the 19th century prompted many expressions of sadness on Facebook when The Athens News posted the news over the weekend,” the newspaper reported.

Local railroad historian Ryan Dupler told the News that he and others  feel a sense of loss.

“Students at Morrison-Gordon Elementary will no longer see and hear the rumbling of trains passing by the playground (near Margaret Creek), which is where my interest was piqued,” he said. “For places such as Glouster, Chauncey and many others along Route 13 the railroad has been a part of everyday life since the towns themselves have existed. For the first time in over 100 years, children will no longer grow up with memories of trains rolling through town.”

The newspaper story lamented the potential lack of economic development opportunities for the region, noting that large-scale manufacturing required rail service.

Another railroad enthusiast expressed similar sentiments.

“I’ve watched trains pass through Athens since before I could talk, so it’s sad to see the rails growing rusty,” said Peter Hayes, a student at Athens High School. “I hope someone can step in and take over operations.”

It was Hayes who make the photograph that appeared in the newspaper.

The Ohio Central uses the West Virginia Secondary north of Glouster, raising speculation that its parent company, Genesee & Wyoming, might be interested in the line south of there.

The OC uses a portion of the 253-mile West Virginia Secondary to haul coal from from Buckingham Coal Company near Glouster to a power plant near Coshocton (Conesville-AEP).

Reporter Terry Smith noted that he lives a few hundred yards above Margaret Creek. “I got used to hearing freight trains roll by on the Norfolk Southern line that parallels the creek,” he wrote in the paper back in January after NS announced that it would mothball the line. “At different times of day and night over the years, the train would announce itself with a faint shaking of the earth, a deep, far-off rumbling, then the tell-tale whistle as the train approached the Hebbardsville Road crossing.

“The train would chug past loudly and quickly, then gradually recede into the distance. During night runs, it would cede the outdoors concert stage back to the cicadas, spring peepers, barking dogs, and speeding cars shifting gears on the Fisher Road straightaway.’

Smith said he had a soft spot for trains and remembered watching them pass through Athens on the Baltimore & Ohio route between Parkersburg, West Virginia, and Cincinnati during his days at Ohio University in the early 1970s.

That line once hosted the B&O’s National Limited and for a while Amtrak’s Cincinnati-Washington Shenandoah.

The line was abandoned in the mid-1980s by CSX and its through traffic shifted to other routes, including the Chicago-Pittsburgh mainline that serves Akron.

Smith spoke of watching what he described as a massive ghost train announce itself with its whistle, then broke through the fog and rattled past on an autumn evening.

“The next year, while some friends and I lived in nearby Gamertsfelder Hall, our assigned dining hall was Nelson Commons. Every day we crossed the tracks several times for meals. Quite frequently, we’d have to wait while a train slowly lumbered past. Some extremely reckless students, growing impatient, would crawl under the moving train rather than wait for it to move past.”

Smith said it was common for OU students to hop aboard B&O trains for short trips across campus. Two of his friend even took trips east to Belpre or Marietta.

Upon realizing that the train was being followed by railroad police in a jeep and knowing the railroad cops were known to place a phone book flush against the head of a trespasser and hit it with a hammer, the scared students jumped off the train.

One slid face-first on the ballast and the other wrenched his shoulder.

“That night, while we Gam Hall residents were preparing to go uptown, our friend showed up with a raw, open sore where his face had been,” Smith wrote.

It was, Smith said, “one of the all-time great OU train stories.”

Then there was the time when some OU students on the East Green hopped aboard and found to their amazement that the car they were riding was carrying full of cases of miniature bottles of 100 Pipers Scotch.

“They shoved several cases off the train and for the rest of the school year, a common sight at the uptown bars was students withdrawing miniature bottles from their purses and pockets and discreetly pouring them into a 7-Up or Sprite,” Smith said.

Harrison Isn’t Giving Up the Struggle to Merge With NS, But is Already Looking at Life Beyond It

February 11, 2016

Although the efforts of Canadian Pacific to take over Norfolk Southern are far from over, CP CEO E. Hunter Harrison is looking toward life beyond that.

If NS shareholders decline to adopt a resolution directing the NS board of directors to talk with CP about a merger, Harrison said he’ll “go back and focus on running a helluva CP railroad and making it more successful.”

Harrison took a peak at the future during what was billed as a “fireside chat” during a transportation investors conference held in Florida and broadcast online on Wednesday.

E. Hunter Harrison

E. Hunter Harrison

Still, Harrison, spent time arguing why CP and NS would make good merger partners.

He conceded that a proxy battle to take over NS would be expensive and not good for business.

Having been rebuffed by the NS board three times, Harrison has now settled on seeking a non-binding resolution at the next NS shareholder’s meeting that seeks to get the two railroads talking with each other.

“That’s all this is,” Harrison said. “It’s just to enter a dialogue, which we think is pretty reasonable. We hope to sit down and talk; that’s our objective, objective one. There’s so many things to talk about here and have a dialogue about. It’s hard to do with letters passing back and forth.”

Harrison still believes that his precision scheduled railroading strategy would work well at NS, noting how many locomotives that CP was able to place in storage while implementing an operating plan that was more efficient with scheduled operations.

“There’s power and leverage in scheduling,” Harrison said.

Harrison also spoke about his philosophy of pricing, which he said is that if you abuse authority, you lose it.

He also said opposition to the CP-NS merger from other Class 1 railroads is rooted in the the industry having become “fat and sassy.”

As he has been before, Harrison was critical of those opposing the merger, particularly politicians in the United States, before it has been spelled out.

Harrison said he has offered to meet with those politicians personally to explain why he believes merging CP and NS would be a good transaction.

Also speaking at the Florida conference was NS Chief Financial Officer Marta Stewart, who talked up the railroad’s five-year strategic plan, which seeks to achieve savings of up to $650 million annually and an operating ratio of 65 percent by 2020.

Stewart would not comment about CP’s efforts to take over NS.

Corman QJ to Get New Kentucky Home

February 11, 2016

An R.J. Corman steam locomotive will be getting a new home in Kentucky.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet recently approved spending $193,000 to build a structure in Midway to house Chinese-built QJ-class 2-10-2 No. 2008.

CormanThe locomotive had been housed in Lexington and was used to pull the Lexington Dinner train. But that service ended in December and the railroad’s lease on the building used to maintain the QJ expired at the end of the year.

Corman must remove that building from the property by June.

No. 2008 hasn’t run since 2013 after having been assigned to dinner train operation that year. Nicknamed “Old Smoky,” the locomotive once made appearances at the annual Midway Fall Festival.

Midway officials hope that the building to house No. 2008 will be situated near United Bank, where a Louisville & Nashville caboose is display.

The building to house the steamer is expected to cost $241,000.

The QJ was built in 1986 in Datong, China, as No. 7040. R.J. Corman bought the locomotive in 2008.

Work Progressing on New Rochester Station

February 11, 2016

Officials in Rochester, New York, say a new intermodal terminal to serve Amtrak is progressing well and is expected to open as scheduled in autumn 2017.

A mild winter has enabled workers to make good progress, including beginning excavation work. The $29.8 million station will replace a modular structure built by Amtrak in 1978.

Rochester

Artist rendering of interior of Rochester station now under construction.

The new intermodal facility is being built on the site of the Amtrak-built depot on the north edge of downtown Rochester.

City officials have closed some streets so that workers can strengthen 115-year old bridges used by Amtrak and CSX trains.

St. Paul Street, which has been closed for fourth months, is expected to reopen next week at which time North Clinton Avenue will be closed.

Federal and state funding is paying for the bulk of the costs of building the new station, which will be used by Amtrak’s Chicago-New York Lake Shore Limited, the New York-Toronto Maple Leaf and four New York-Niagara Falls, New York, Empire Service trains.

The Amtrak-built station has been razed and passengers are using a temporary station and boarding platform.

The project involves building a fourth track near the station and realigning three other tracks, all of which are owned by CSX.

Amtrak trains will be able to stop in Rochester without blocking CSX trains.Passengers will access the station platforms through underground tunnels.

CP Will Try Another Tactic to Force the NS Board to Talk About a Merger; Proxy Fight Now Unlikey

February 10, 2016

Canadian Pacific is using yet another strategy in its attempt to force a merger with Norfolk Southern.

Hedge fund impresario and CP board member Bill Ackman said he will submit a resolution to NS stockholders that would compel the company’s board of directors to engage in good faith discussions with CP about a “business combination transaction.”

Canadian PacificThe step is seen by some railroad industry observers as final attempt to gain control of NS that stops short of a proxy battle to replace the members of the NS board.

Ackman is head of Pershing Square Capital Management and CP’s largest shareholder.

Pershing lost 20 percent of its value in 2015, which it acknowledged was its worst year on record.

Although NS Chairman, President and CEO James Squires held one meeting with CP CEO E. Hunter Harrison, NS has otherwise refused to discuss with CP a merger proposal.

The NS board has rejected three offers from CP to acquire NS stock.

The proposed CP takeover of NS has triggered intense opposition in the United States from labor unions, shippers and other Class 1 railroads.

However, in what appeared to have been an orchestrated move, several shippers have written to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board in support of the merger.

The STB must approve the merger before it can be consummated.

Railway Age magazine in a story posted this week on its website said that Harrison’s ability to achieve significant operational and efficiency improvements at Illinois Central and Canadian National “has been Ackman’s trump card” in the battle to wrestle control of NS away from its board of directors.

NS has acknowledged having financial difficulties due in large part to the loss of coal traffic.

The railroad has announced a strategic plan that it said will lower its operating ratio and lead to future growth.

Railway Age reported that Ackman of late has given signals that CP may be ready to abandon its efforts to control NS. But, the magazine noted, Ackman is not known for being conciliatory.

CP has sought to frame its NS merger bid as “a true end-to-end transcontinental railroad that would enhance competition, benefit the public and drive economic growth.”

The Calgary-based railroad claims that NS shareholders “have been telling CP from the beginning that their own board should, at the very least, talk to CP about a potential combination. CP’s shareholder resolution to NS asks shareholders to formally vote in favor of what they have been saying to CP anecdotally for months.”

In a statement, CP said that it believes that the shareholder resolution is the “clearest, fairest approach to a process that will result in an outcome beneficial to all stakeholders.”

Although it contends that some NS shareholders have pressed CP to back alternative members of the NS board, CP said it does not plan at this time to do that.

“CP’s proposal to NS, which includes a sizable premium in cash and stock offered to NS shareholders, would result in a company with the potential for faster earnings growth than either CP or NS could achieve on their own, all while delivering enhanced service to customers and maintaining a strong investment grade credit rating,” CP said in the statement.

“In direct discussions with NS, CP could also be able to work with NS on the optimal means to obtain regulatory approvals for the transaction.”

Harrison issued a statement saying that CP is not asking NS shareholders to vote on its takeover proposal of NS.

“We are simply asking them to vote in favor of having their board talk to us,” he said. “We continue to believe in the potential to create a transcontinental railroad with NS and believe this is a fair and measured approach to getting a deal done. Shareholders and analysts will be watching NS closely throughout 2016 and if they continue to underperform, the pressure to work with CP will only grow.”

A Norfolk Southern representative declined to comment.

A date for the 2016 annual meeting of NS shareholders has not yet been set. It could occur at any time between March 1 and June 30.

Amtrak Wants Intermediate Station Performance to be Part of STB On-Time Performance Rule

February 10, 2016

In the ongoing battle before the Surface Transportation Board over on-time performance rules for Amtrak trains, the passenger carrier is arguing that the standards must also encompass intermediate stations as well as endpoint terminals.

Amtrak contends that measuring on-time performance at all stations located on a host railroad is the only viable method of measuring passenger train performance.

STBThat assertion was made to the STB as part of its proceeding in Ex Parte 726, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on On-Time Performance under Section 213 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

The law allows Amtrak to ask for an STB investigation in cases in which freight train operations deny Amtrak’s right of preference as contained in the 1970 Rail Passenger Service Act that created Amtrak.

Citing STB decisions as well as rulings by its predecessor, the Interstate Commerce Commission, Amtrak told the STB “[T]he only measurement that meets all these requirements is the one that measures performance of Amtrak trains on host railroads at all intermediate stations as well as at endpoint stations . . .”

The Amtrak brief said that incorporating on-time performance at all stations “is the most inclusive and revealing measurement of Amtrak train performance.”

The freight railroad industry, though, has a different take on the issue.

Norfolk Southern told the STB that its proposed rule implicitly adopts Amtrak’s published timetable as the on-time standard.

“[M]any, if not most, Amtrak schedules cannot and have not provided a meaningful or realistic standard for assessing on-time performance,” NS said in its brief.

NS argued for a rule that factors in calculations of “allowances” or “thresholds” for determining if a train is on time.

The Southern Rail Commission supported Amtrak, saying, “the proposed rule for measuring on-time performance is inadequate and doesn’t come close to providing the full picture of the performance of the system.”

The Commission said that Amtrak has been forced to pad schedules to provide the host railroads ample flexibility in hitting on-time performance metrics.

“Much of the padding builds in ample recovery time for the host railroads’ lack of preference for passenger trains, and still arrive at the endpoint destination on-time,” the Commission said in its brief.

The rule proposed by the STB would only take into account on-time performance at endpoint terminals, which Amtrak argued would mean that only 10 percent of Amtrak stations were being taken into account.

It said that would result in an incomplete and in some instances distorted view of actual performance that would not accurately reflect the experience of two-thirds of Amtrak passengers.

Furthermore, Amtrak said, it would leave on-time performance within 24 states unmeasured because those states have no endpoint stations and leaves unaddressed the many routes where performance appears to be above 80 percent when measured only at the last station on the route, but is significantly and chronically less than 80 percent at stations all along the route.

A spokesman for the Association of American Railroads told Railway Age magazine that host railroads “recognize the importance of Amtrak and are committed to a reliable passenger rail service while still meeting the shipping needs of the nation’s freight customers.”

John D. Heffner, a partner at Strasburger & Price, told the magazine that Amtrak’s agreements with its host railroads impose penalties for poor performance and incentives for good performance.

“What seems to be lost on everybody, lost on the individual and lost on the STB, is that by and large today’s freight railroads don’t really have any desire to run passenger trains late because running them late screws up their network,” he said.

Indiana Short Line to Pick Up New Business

February 10, 2016

A building materials company is renovating a facility in Franklin, Indiana, along the Louisville & Indiana that is expected to result in shipments by rail.

84 Lumber said it plans to manufacture wood truss products at the facility, which has been vacant for nine years.

L&IThe site has a rail spur in place. Franklin is located south of Indianapolis in Johnson County and is part of the Indy metropolitan area.

Shipments by rail are expected to begin about the middle of this year.

“84 Lumber has been a major player in the building materials market for many years,” said L&I Director of Marketing and Sales Scott Lurkins. “We look forward to growing our business with them as they expand their footprint in Indiana.”

The L&I operates a former Pennsylvania Railroad route between Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky.

2 Hurt in CSX Derailment in Marysville

February 9, 2016

A misaligned switch is being blamed for a derailment that sent two CSX employees to a Marysville hospital on Tuesday. They were reported to be in stable condition.

The derailment occurred about 10 a.m. when a Toledo to Columbus stack train struck a stationary rail car parked on an industrial track.

CSX logo 1Although some diesel fuel was spilled at the scene, the container train was not carrying hazardous materials.

The accident occurred as the train was crossing Scottslawn Road just south of Industrial Parkway.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that the containers were bound for a Honda assembly plant in Marysville. The incident occurred behind the Scotts Miracle-Gro chemical plant.

The injured crew members were identified as Chase J. Moore, 42, of Columbus, and Lucas Barga, 49, of Grove City.

Authorities said the injuries that they sustained were not thought to be serious.

Scottslawn Road was blocked by crumpled containers and was expected to remain closed through the evening and possibly until Wednesday morning.

Brad Gilbert, director of the Union County Emergency Management Agency, said some diesel fuel was spilled but the train was not carrying hazardous materials.

“CSX personnel and first responders are on site assessing the incident and working through an action plan,” the railroad said in a news release.

The derailment occurred on the Scottslawn Secondary that runs between Toledo and Columbus.

LSL Boston Section Still Not Going to Chicago

February 9, 2016

The Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited is still not operating to Chicago, the National Association of Railroad Passengers reported on its blog last week.

Amtrak Lake Shore LimitedFor nearly a year, Nos. 448 and 449 have operated only between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer with passengers bound for points west having to make an across-the-platform transfer.

Amtrak attributed that to construction work to expand the Albany-Rensselaer station, which limited track capacity.

However, upon completion, the project was designed to enable more Amtrak trains to use the station simultaneously.

It had been expected that the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited would resume operating to Chicago on or about Feb. 1.

Now, NARP says, it is unclear when Nos. 448 and 449 might resume operating to Chicago or if that will happen.

New Use Eyed For Huntington C&O Depot

February 9, 2016

The former Chesapeake & Ohio passenger station in Huntington, West Virginia, may find a new use after CSX moves its division officers out of the three-story structure later this year.

CSX and the city are working to identify others uses for the station, which sits along Seventh Avenue in downtown Huntington.

CSX logo 1The railroad is closing its Huntington Division offices as part of a cost-cutting campaign prompted by slumping coal traffic. The Huntington Division oversees many of the CSX coal routes in the central Appalachian region.

“We understand the Huntington Division office building is an important part of the incredible rail history in the region, so we’re working with the City of Huntington to determine the best use for the building moving forward for citizens and local organizations,” CSX spokesperson Melanie Cost told Trains magazine.

The magazine said that historians and non-profit railroad groups hope that CSX and the city will work to preserve the city’s railroad history.

A city officials declined to comment beyond saying the mayor and CSX are talking about what uses to make of the depot.

In the meantime, the Huntington Herald Dispatch reported that the closing of the division offices would not affect operations of the annual autumn running of the New River Train, which departs from the platform of the C&O depot in Huntington.

Although Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal stops in Huntington, it uses a nearby station.

Sponsored by the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, the New River Train is the only public passenger excursion still operating on CSX.


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