Golden Light

January 18, 2018

There is golden light and then there is golden light. The golden hour is a term used by photographers to describe an hour before sunset.

Sunlight during that time tends to be warm and give objects a golden glow.

Even light in the last two to three hours of the day can be warm, particularly during the winter months when there is a low sun angle.

To take advantage of golden light at its best, you have to move fast because that light doesn’t last long. If you enjoy photographing trains you have to be lucky that one will come along during that small window of opportunity.

On this particular day that type of luck was not with us. We couldn’t get a westbound when we really needed it.

But we didn’t do too bad, either. That light looks nice on those aluminum signal standards and the train working in the yard in Ashtabula.

The vantage point is from the grade crossing of North Bend Road on the west side of Ashtabula.

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GCRTA To Reduce Rail Service in March

January 18, 2018

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority will reduce off-peak frequencies on all of its rail lines on March 11 as part of a $4 million cost cutting move.

RTA is increasing the headways or how many minutes there are between trains during the hours before and after the morning and evening rush hours.

Currently the Red Line operates every 10 minutes during non-rush hours. The Blue, Green and Waterfront lines have headways of eight to 15 minutes, depending on location.

Starting March 11, the Red Line headways before and after rush hours will go to 15 minutes while the headways on the Blue, Green and Waterfront lines will change to 10 to 25 minutes depending on location

Weekend Waterfront Line service is now every 15 minutes, but will change to every 30 minutes.

Some bus routes will also see increased headways. RTA said no bus routes are being eliminated. Likewise, no overall hours of service will be changed.

RTA CEO Joseph Calabrese said that no layoffs are expected in March, but he plans to submit a revised budget this spring that will call for staff cuts through layoffs, demotions, transfers, reduced shifts and reduced overtime.

Calabrese said the austerity measures are being undertaken due to reduced funding from the State of Ohio for public transportation.

He said by increasing headways RTA is scaling back use of its most underused vehicles.

Although acknowledging that some riders will be inconvenienced by the increased headways, Calabrese hopes that the buses and trains that continue operating will have a higher load factor, with some trains and buses running at 90 percent occupancy.

In 2017, RTA ended the year with a $36 million surplus, which Calabrese said has helped forestall further service cuts, but will not prevent long-term cuts.

No Turning Back, Foote Says

January 18, 2018

New CSX CEO James M. Foote wanted to make one thing clear. On his watch there will be no turning back from the commitment made to precision scheduled railroading that the late E. Hunter Harrison brought to the carrier last year.

James Foote

During a conference call on Wednesday to discuss the railroad’s fourth quarter financial results, Foote praised Harrison and said CSX would not be where it is today without him.

“I am committed to seeing his vision through and making CSX the best railroad in North America,” Foote said.

Speaking during the same conference call the newly-appointed CSX vice president of operations, Edmond Harris, said the carrier will continue what Harrison started, including operating fewer trains, putting more locomotives into storage, moving the same tonnage with fewer freight cars, and having a more fluid network.

“The table has been set,” Harris said, saying CSX will take advantage of technology and boost the use of distributed motive power.

Foote said he made changes to the sales and marketing structure to simplify the organization by reducing the leadership group to three business units and aligning certain functions into other departments.

He said he also implemented changes in the operating department at the staff and field levels in order to achieve more efficient operation and achieve service improvements.

Foote noted that one of his first moves as CEO was to order the hump to be razed at Tilford Yard in Atlanta.

The yard, which remains open as a flat switching facility, was one of eight hump yards that were converted last year.

As for what the future holds for CSX operations, Harris said that he favors run-through interchange trains and would like to see CSX bypass the Belt Railway of Chicago by running merchandise trains directly to BNSF and Union Pacific.

He will also seek partnerships with short lines railroads and other Class I carriers to create shorter, more efficient routes.

CSX will study creating directional running for longer trains and will continue to build longer trains pulled by fewer locomotives per train.

Foote said CSX will make it a priority to improve its on-time performance, which was just 56 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Calling that unsatisfactory, Foote said CSX plans to create schedule plans for every carload as a way to improve on-time deliveries.

Foote acknowledged that the rapid changes that Harrison ordered at CSX before his death last Dec. 16, disrupted operations, resulting in angry shippers and additional regulatory oversight.

The railroad also lost some traffic, but Foote predicted that most of it will return. “We are seeing some of those customers return already,” Foote said.

However, CSX doesn’t expect to recoup the 7 percent loss it suffered in domestic intermodal business after it closed its Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal and ditched the hub and spoke strategy toward building intermodal traffic.

CSX’s intermodal strategy will be built on increasing container traffic to East Coast ports and not on seeking to develop low-volume service lanes.

Capital spending will fall by 20 percent to $1.6 billion in 2018 on top of a 25 percent cut last year.

That prompted some analysts on the conference call to express concern about CSX’s ability to maintain its infrastructure.

In response, Chief Financial Officer Frank Lonegro said CSX will spend $1.4 billion this year on track maintenance, which he said is about the same as it spent in previous years.

Lonegro said most of the curtailed capital spending would have been for new locomotives and freight cars. But with 900 locomotives in storage, and 20,000 cars sidelined, he said it would be many years before CSX needs to buy more rolling stock.

Looking ahead to a March 1 investors conference, CSX executives said they did not want to provide many details about their expectations for this year and beyond other than they expect the operating ratio to improve due to operations improvements and efficiency gains.

However, they did say that CSX expects to reduce its payroll by 2,000 people this year and that it ended 2017 with 3,282 employees than it had on the last day of 2016. CSX now employs 24,000. CSX also reduced the number of consultants that it hired by 1,418.

CSX Revenue Fell 6% in 4th Quarter of 2017

January 18, 2018

CSX said on Wednesday that during the fourth quarter of 2017 its revenue fell by 6 percent to $2.86 billion when compared with the same period of 2016.

However, quarterly net income soared 25 percent, largely due to cost-cutting measures that offset the revenue decline and slumping traffic volume

The carrier said it had net earnings of $4.1 billion, or $4.62 earnings per share, compared with $458 million, or 49 cents per share in 2016.

The 2017 earnings include a $3.6 billion net tax reform benefit under the recently passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, as well as a $10 million net restructuring charge.

In a news release, CSX said that excluding the tax reform benefit and restructuring charge, adjusted net earnings for the quarter were $573 million, or 64 cents per share.

Also affecting the fourth quarter revenue was an additional fiscal week in 2016 in the reporting calendar.

Expenses for the fourth quarter fell by 14 percent compared with the year-ago period. CSX posted fourth quarter 2017 operating income of $1.12 billion, a 12 percent increase over the fourth quarter of 2016.

The fourth quarter 2017 operation ratio was 64.8 percent compared with 67 percent a year ago.

For all of 2017, CSX reported earnings per share of $5.99, operating income of $3.7 billion and an operating ratio of 67.9 percent.

Adjusted for the effect of the new tax law and the company’s restructuring charge, adjusted earnings per share were $2.30, adjusted operating income was $3.9 billion and adjusted operating ratio was 66.3 percent for full-year 2017.

During the fourth quarter of 2017, traffic volume fell by 2 percent on a carload basis and by 10 percent when measured by revenue ton miles.

CSX said much of the lost traffic was related to service issues related to an accelerated implementation of the precision scheduled railroading operating model.

Merchandise traffic was down 5 percent; coal was flat; and intermodal volume was up 1 percent, due largely to international traffic growth. But domestic intermodal fell 7 percent as the railroad discontinued lower-volume intermodal service lanes.

Service metrics for the fourth quarter showed train velocity up 14 percent versus a year ago, while terminal dwell declined by 7 percent.

When the Ohio Central was the Ohio Central

January 17, 2018

This is a grab shot, literally. I was a passenger in a vehicle being driven by fellow Akron Railroad Club member Roger Durfee.

We were driving around the Youngstown area when we crossed over the OC tracks. There sat three OC diesels, probably resting over the weekend. I made this shot out the window as we drove over them.

Ever since the Ohio Central stopped interchanging with CSX at Warrick, I haven’t seen its trains. The OC system is a little too far south of my regular railfanning haunts.

Since it was acquired by Genesee & Wyoming, OC diesels have been slowly been repainted into the G&W livery that is dominated by the color orange.

Soon these maroon and gold units will be just another memory of the days when the late Jerry Joe Jacobson owned the railroad.

Bids Being Sought for Elyria Station Project

January 17, 2018

Lorain County Commissioners are seeking proposals for a construction manager of the long stalled plan to create a new platform in Elyria for Amtrak passengers.

The platform will be located in the former New York Central passenger station, which serves as a public transportation center for local buses.

County Administrator Jim Cordes expects the proposal will go to bid soon.

“It’s been progressing along fairly slowly, but it’s been progressing,” Cordes said. “We’re at the point now where I’m bringing a project manager to get ready to build something.”

Amtrak currently uses a shelter at 410 East River Street. A modular station at that site was destroyed by fire in 2013.

The existing station also has limited accessibility for those with disabilities and Amtrak must use Track No. 2 of the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern.

The new platform, which is expected to cost between $8 million and $10 million, will feature a bridge spanning the two NS tracks.

It also will include elevators and stairways to provide access to two partially enclosed platforms for passengers.

Lorain County will pay 5 percent to 8 percent of the project cost, with the rest of the money coming from federal, state and Amtrak funding.

Cordes said no start of construction date has yet been set, but expects that to change once the project had been awarded.

He said although work on the project has been slow, it never was in danger of ending. Much of the slow pace was due to reviews of the proposal by the county, NS and Amtrak.

“We’d exchange paperwork, then there’d be tweaks, more paperwork and then more tweaks,” Cordes said. “It was easy to lose focus. It had been a slow project to begin with, and the complicated relationships made it even more so.”

Elyria is service by Amtrak’s Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited and Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited.

Infrastructure Plan Seen as $200B Federal Share

January 17, 2018

Early reports on the size of the infrastructure plan expected to be proposed by the Trump administration indicate that it will earmark $200 billion in federal spending which is well below the $1 trillion figure talked about earlier.

However, administration officials have been saying of late that they believe the federal investment will draw in state contributions and money from private investors that could boost infrastructure spending to $1 trillion.

The plan is expected to be release late this month or in early February.

The ranking Senate Democrat on the committee that will oversee the plan is already talking it down, saying it is far less than what the nation needs.

“I think most people understand if we want to have better roads, highways, bridges, trains  . . . we gotta pay for them,” said Tom Carper (D-Delware), who sits on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Carper also is a member of the Senate Finance Committee that would authorize funding for the infrastructure bill.

Carper, who commutes on Amtrak to Washington, told Politico that he hopes Trump will propose a serious infrastructure proposal that will attract Democratic support.

The infrastructure plan might also allow for an expanded of charging tolls to help pay for the projects.

“I think the idea of using tolling for new road construction is probably a pretty good idea, and acceptable,” Carper said. “Especially now that we have the technology.”

Good Old Bort Road

January 16, 2018

Q363 passes beneath the venerable Bort Road bridge over the CSX Eries West Subdivision tracks near North East, Pennsylvania.

One of my favorite places to railfan is the one-lane rickety bridge carrying Bort Road over the CSX tracks near North East, Pennsylvania.

The bridge has stood there for decades and probably dates well into the steam era.

Such ancient bridges are fast being removed and the Bort Road bridge is not likely to be standing too much longer.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is studying how to replace it. One idea is to build a new bridge at the site of the existing one. Another idea is to build the new bridge further west of the current bridge.

The bridge project will also change the roads in the area, which has aroused some opposition.

One way or another, though, I can’t imagine Bort Road bridge standing too much longer.

I don’t get there often, but last July I made a couple of visits. Most of the action was on CSX, which was to be expected.

Although not shown in this gallery of photographs, Bort Road is one of my “go to” places to photograph Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited. But that’s a morning occurrence and I was here in July in the late afternoon to early evening hours.

Getting a little glint on the Q008. It followed the Q010 by 10 minutes and got the sunlight that eluded the Q010.

Here comes the Q010.

Westbound manifest freight Q389 has a Guilford locomotive tucked away in its motive power consist.

Grain train G309 comes lumbering along.

An Uncle Pete is spliced between two NS units in the motive power consist of the 216. We were hoping to get a westbound on NS but got shut out both times.

NS train 216 passes beneath Interstate 90. A short distance to the left I-90 crosses into New York state.

The classic westbound train shot at Bort Road shows it splitting the milepost 70 markers. Shown is the Q007.

An endless line of auto rack cars on the rear of the Q363. These cars used to move in a dedicated auto rack train.

CSX 2018 Capital Plan Still Cloudy

January 16, 2018

CSX is still figuring out its priorities for capital spending.

Speaking last week at the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association conference in Los Angeles, Tod Echler, the railroad’s associate vice president, engineering, described the carrier’s 2018 capital plans as uncertain.

“We’re still figuring out where we want the capacity,” Echler said.

CSX has decided to continue upgrading and standardizing its 47 drawbridges, some of which are more than 100 years old and have outdated operating systems.

Another priority will be increasing clearances for auto rack cars.

With the onset of precision scheduled railroading at CSX last year, Echler said the railroad’s work window philosophy has changed.

Whereas workers once had 8- to 10-hour work windows, that has now been shortened to six hours.

“We took some projects that were scheduled for 24 hours and brought them down to 14 hours, and in some cases six,” he said.

Some major projects, most notably bridge replacement, are being done at night.

Last year CSX created 52 miles of new sidings or double track and installed 127 new turnouts.

Track workers used 470 miles of new or relay rail, more than 2.6 million ties, 23,740 bridge ties, and 5,400 switch ties. Workers also resurfaced 1,800 miles of track.

New Middletown Station Delayed by Track Work

January 16, 2018

A new Amtrak station for Middletown, Pennsylvania, is not expected to open until sometime in 2021 or 2022.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said it will take a couple years before construction can begin to build a new platform and station.

PennDOT attributed the delay to track work yet to be performed by Norfolk Southern.

NS must relocate about a mile of its track at a cost of about $6.5 million to make room for relocation of two tracks that will be used by Amtrak.

“Given the uncertainty of the railroads’ track schedules, a firm completion date was never set,” said PennDOT spokesman Richard Kirkpatrick said. “Track work construction schedules are contingent upon the availability of the Amtrak and Norfolk Southern workforces.”

The station project is expected to cost $24.4 million and replace the existing depot on Mill Street. That facility is not accessible to handicapped individuals. The new facility will be built along Route 230 at the end of Ann Street.

Kirkpatrick said the station design is being reviewed by Amtrak.

A public-private partnership known as Keystone Connections has submitted a preliminary proposal to build the station and related development.

Keystone has not yet released many details on the project other than it expects to construct a 400-space parking area and that there will be room for retail shops and possibly a hotel.

The station project also includes a pedestrian bridge to be built over Route 230 that will link the Penn State Harrisburg campus to the station and downtown Middletown.

Planning for the station project began in 2009. Middletown is served by Amtrak’s Keystone Service trains between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.