AAR Fighting ‘Twin-33’ Trucks

May 17, 2018

The Association of American Railroads is waging is annual fight in Congress against legislation that would allow larger trucks on the nation’s highways.

The trade association said it is opposing Twin-33s, which are two 33-foot trailers being pulled in tandem.

In past years the AAR has been silent on the issue of Twin 33s when it came up six years ago.

But the AAR said that just because railroads did not oppose Twin-33s then doesn’t mean they support them now.

At the time, the AAR was focusing much of its efforts to oppose an increase in weight and length limits for trucks.

Current truck size laws date to 1982 when Congress mandated that trucks using federally financed highways be no more than a tractor and two 28-foot trailers, and 82,000 pounds in weight.

Railroads and others have been able to defeat moves by the trucking industry over the years to increase those limits.

However, many trade groups believe that this year the climate is favorable in Congress to increase the truck limits.

Americans for Modern Transportation, which is funded by such companies as FedEx, UPS, two major retail trade associations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is fighting for approval to legalize Twin-33s.

“We’re not reversing ourselves,” AAR head Edward Hamberger told Trains magazine. “We have been on the sideline on the twin-33 because we didn’ go after them in 2012, and we told people we wouldn’t. But that was 2012, and it’s now 2018, and AAR is off the sideline.”

The effort to legalize Twin-33 might be attached to a Department of Transportation appropriations bill now being considered by the House even though as written the bill does not contain any language pertaining to truck size.

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One Moving, One Waiting

May 16, 2018

An eastbound CSX ethanol train moves right on through Berea while in the distance a Norfolk Southern trains waits for a favorable signal.

The image was made last January and although it was late in the month the ground was bereft of snow.

PUCO Approves Grade Crossing Projects

May 16, 2018

Norfolk Southern and CSX will each upgrade grade crossings with new warning devices following action by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

NS will install flashing lights and roadway gates at the Nelson Street and Church Street rail crossings in Clyde in Sandusky County on the Toledo District.

It will permanently close the crossing at Amanda Street.

CSX will install flashing lights and roadway gates at the Milton Road/Township Road 40 rail crossing in Milton Township in Wood County.

Federal funding channeled through the Ohio Rail Development Commission will used to pay for these projects.

Colebrook Offering Restoration Program

May 16, 2018

The Pennsylvania-based Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust along with Restoration Works International are sponsoring what they are billing as one of the only U.S.-based railroad restoration programs open to the public.

The event will be held Aug. 3 to 8, in Boyertown, Pennsylvania, and involve hands-on historic restoration.

Among the tasks to be performed by the participants will be painting and staining rail cars, lamp posts, and fences; cleaning train interiors and exteriors; and landscaping work at the station.

The event is suitable for children aged 10 and older.

The week-long event cost $1,100, which includes overnight accommodations, breakfast and lunch, tours, and a farewell dinner aboard the train.

The sponsors are considering the trip fee to be a charitable donation.

Discounts are available for those sharing a room, as well as for children younger than 17 sharing a room with a parent or guardian.

NS Leasing More Locomotives, Reopening Hump Yard

May 16, 2018

Norfolk Southern has continued leasing locomotives to handle traffic surges and alleviate congestion that has occurred in particular in the southern reaches of its network.

The Class 1 carrier leased 90 locomotives in the first quarter and has added another 50 leased units to its fleet

NS CEO James Squires said the additional motive power will help handle traffic growth and enable the carrier to convert 120 older six-axle DC units to like-new AC-traction locomotives as part of its ongoing DC-to-AC conversion program.

It has also hired 400 new conductors to keep its train and engine crew headcount up.

Speaking to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2018 Transportation Conference, Squires said congestion in the South prompted NS to plan to reopen a hump yard in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Squires said the hump at DeButts Yard will be a hybrid operation, meaning it will be used to classify traffic for local customers. Block swapping will continue to be done in the yard as well.

In the past year NS has increased its building of large blocks of cars and swapping them en route to minimize handling and to speed shipments along.

NS had closed the DeButts hump in May 2017. Since them terminal dwell times in Chattanooga have risen sharply.

Dwell times in Chattanooga have increased from an average of 33.5 hours in the second quarter of 2017 to 49.5 hours in April and to 62.7 hours this month.

Squires did not say when the hump would reopen. It remains in place, but workers must re-install the retarders used in hump operations.

Dwell times have also risen in other yards in the South as have average train speeds.

Despite efforts NS has made since last year, the service metrics in that region have not improved.

“We’re holding our own against strong volume growth,” Squires says. “Volume on our network is at a 12-year high.”

The NS CEO said that humps allow resiliency and operational flexibility when traffic rises by absorbing surges in traffic and metering the flow of volume by holding cars until they are ready to be released to customers.

“Customer service is not where we want it to be,” Squires said. “I want our customers to feel fully satisfied with the service they are getting from us, and right now many of them don’t.”

Despite the problems it has experienced, Squires said NS had the strongest volume growth among the Class I railroads for the year to date and that demand for rail service is the strongest he’s ever seen.

AAR Says Technology Has Made RRs Safer

May 16, 2018

America’s freight railroads are safer because the industry has invested an estimated $100 billion into infrastructure, equipment and technology over the past four years The Association of American Railroads said this week.

AAR issued a white paper that reported that mainline railroad accidents have declined by 32 percent over the past decade.

The paper was released as part of AAR’s RailxTech event being held in Washington.

It details how railroads are using technology to monitor more than 1.6 million rail cars and 40,000 locomotives operating across the 140,000-mile U.S. rail network.

Among the uses of technology that railroads are employing are:

• Deploying trackside detectors using infrared and lasers to identify microscopic flaws in equipment as trains pass by at track speed. This real-time assessment of infrastructure and equipment has allowed railroads to schedule and conduct proactive maintenance, which improves safety as well as network fluidity and productivity.

• Using software to analyze such factors as system-wide train schedules, speed restrictions, crew schedules and other train operations. This information helps train dispatchers manage and modify operations.

• Installation of in-cab fuel management systems has improved fuel efficiency by up to 14 percent, which has helped railroads reduce their environmental footprint. Tier 4 locomotives have reduced emissions from diesel locomotives by as much as 90 percent and will continue to be phased into rail fleets nationwide.

Near Miss in the H Unit Lottery

May 15, 2018

National Train Day wasn’t too bad depending on where you were.

Railfans in Rochelle, Illinois, got treated to two of Union Pacific’s heritage units on the same train.

Closer to home something unusual started to unfold. The Lehigh Valley heritage unit was leading an eastbound intermodal spotted at Chesterton, Indiana, early that morning.

That’s isn’t so unusual. We typically get more than our share of heritage engines in Northeast Ohio on Norfolk Southern.

Also that morning the NS Honoring First Responders unit was leading an eastbound CSX freight. This turned out to be the S370 which takes the New Castle Sub through Akron.

As both were still hours away I settled in at Rootstown to railfan Norfolk Southern yet still be close enough to jump over to CSX if need be.

As the day progressed I relocated to Ravenna where the two lines cross on a bridge.

Checking on the progress of both trains, it was going to be close. I began hoping for an over and under meet which is difficult enough but with two special painted engines that’s like hitting the lottery.

Well, the Lehigh Valley arrived first and the 9-1-1 engine came within 10 minutes. I didn’t get an over and under but I did get the two engines at the same location. Not a bad day at all.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

Durfee ‘Pulls the Pin’ on Railroad Career

May 15, 2018

Akron Railroad Club member Roger Durfee recently announced his retirement from Norfolk Southern, bringing to a close a railroad career that begin in early 1998 on Conrail

Roger Durfee

In a post on his Facebook page, Durfee said he worked his last day last month, but his retirement – or what railroaders call “pulling the pin” – did not become final until earlier this month.

In his post, Durfee said he had tried to get hired by the Erie Lackawanna after graduating from his school in 1972, but his favorite railroad didn’t hire him.

He attended the University of Akron and landed a job with UPS. His railroad career began at a Conrail hiring session in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

He started with Conrail in Altoona, Pennsylvania, but eventually transferred to Cleveland.

When Conrail was divided by CSX and NS, he went with NS, where he worked as a conductor until his retirement.

In his recent years at NS, Durfee had enough seniority to hold a yard job or work as a flagman at construction sites.

“I was skeptical in that trying to turn a ‘hobby’ into an avocation doesn’t always work but in this case it was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Durfee wrote on his Facebook page. “Was it just like any other job some days? You bet, but through it all I never lost the passion for the steel rails.”

Durfee, who is known for his photography work, said he’ll miss railroad work and the yard office camaraderie, but he won’t be completely away from railroading.

He expects to work someday as a volunteer for a tourist railroad, take a trip or two and unwind.

There has also been talk about his mining his vast photo collection to publish books.

CVSR Wins Grant to Restore Coach

May 15, 2018

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is among the winners of a grant from the Emery Rail Heritage Trust.

The CVSR will receive $10,000 for renovation of coach No. 162.

Other grant recipients included $30,000 to the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society for installation of positive train control on Nickel Plate Road No. 765 and $10,000 to the Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation for coach window repairs.

Two Pennsylvania-based organizations also received grants including $10,000 to Friends of the Stewartstown Railroad for work on Reading Coach No. 1158 and $10,000 to the Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust for an
ADA-compatible palace car restoration project.

The Trust awarded grants totaling $212,500 to 19 organizations, including three to help defray the cost of PTC systems.

John H. Emery, a long-time Chicago resident and avid railroad enthusiast who loved to ride trains, established the trust to preserve rolling stock and infrastructure from what he considered to be the Golden Age of Railroads from the 1920 to 1960.

Applications for the next round of grants are due in February 2019.

Organizations may receive grants in only three years of every five More information is available at http://www.emeryrailheritagetrust.com

Signal Workers OK Pact With Amtrak

May 15, 2018

Members of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen have ratified a new contract with Amtrak, which became effective May 3

The agreement covers nearly 700 members who work in the communications and signal departments.

In a news release, the BRS said the new pact calls for wage increases through 2021 and retroactive back pay, which is expected to be paid before July 1.

Each member’s monthly health-care contribution was slightly decreased and will remain frozen until changed in the next round of bargaining.

New benefits include a new-hire alternative health-care plan starting in 2019.