Posner to Speak at Erie Banquet in April

March 24, 2017

Railroad executive Henry Posner III will speak at the Lake Shore Railway Historical Society banquet on April 8 in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Posner is the chairman of Railroad Development Corporation, which is based in Pittsburgh and serves as the parent company of the Iowa Interstate Railroad as well as a portfolio of international railway operations.

The banquet will be held at St. James Place, 2622 Buffalo Road, and begins at 5 p.m. Tickets are $25 per person. There will be a buffet-style dinner.

For ticket information, visit lakeshorerailway.com.

Indiana Rail Facility Opens

March 24, 2017

A $2 million commercial rail cross-dock facility has opened in Washington, Indiana, with the 18,0000-square foot structure being the first rail expansion in the city in decades.

The new facility is part of a new 40,000 square feet shell building. The  $10 million project included the shell building and wastewater and electrical infrastructure.

The facility is located near the interchange of U.S. Route 50 and Interstate 69.

The cross-dock facility will allow the direct loading of semi-trailers and railroad freight cars.

It is located on the Cincinnati-St. Louis line of the former Baltimore & Ohio. CSX now owns the line, much of which is out of service in Illinois.

Officials say the cross-dock is expected to meet logistics needs and increase efficiencies for regional companies in the area, including Grain Processing Corporation and Alliance Barrier Films.

They also hope that it will encourage expansion of companies with specialty needs in transportation, logistics and distribution.

AAR Says Technology Making Rails Safer

March 24, 2017

The Association of American Railroads said this week that U.S. railroads had a record low accident rate in 2016.

Using data compiled by the Federal Railroad Administration, the AAR said derailment rates fell 10 percent while track-caused accident rates were also at all-time lows. Additionally, the employee-on-duty injury rate dropped 1.8 percent in 2016 compared with 2015.

Since 2000, the train accident rate is down 44 percent; the equipment-caused accident rate is down 34 percent; the track-caused accident rate is down 53 percent; and the derailment rate is down 44 percent.

The figures were calculated on per million train miles using March 2017 FRA data.

In a news release, AAR touted gains in research, development and implementation of new technology as being the primary contributor to the improved safety statistics.

The trade group also cited private spending averaging $26 billion annually in recent years
“Our goal remains zero incidents and zero injuries, but it is still noteworthy that railroads today are the safest they have ever been,” said AAR President and CEO Edward Hamberger.

Among the use of improved technology that the AAR mentioned were multidimensional ultrasonic technology to locate defects in tracks and the use of drones for track and bridge inspections.

Wabash Heritage Unit Makes Appearance

March 23, 2017

The Wabash H-unit made a pass through Cleveland on Tuesday leading the 21Q. I was lucky enough to be able to get off work in time to catch it. As luck would have it, 21Q was held up near where I had set up to photograph it. Both scenes are in Olmsted Falls, the first one at Milepost 196 (Lewis Road) and then near the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern depot.

Photographs by Roger Durfee

NS Cites 2016 Progress in Meeting Strategic Goals

March 23, 2017

Norfolk Southern released it 2016 annual report this week and claims to be well on its way to achieving goals that it hopes to reach by 2020.

NS CEO James Squires said in a news release that the railroad is in the midst of implementing a five-year strategic plan to streamline operations and drive profitability and growth.

Squires told NS stockholders that the railroad in 2016  met or exceeded its targets to lower operating costs, increase profitability and improve customer service.

In a news release, NS said that during 2016 it:

• Achieved an all-time best operating ratio of 68.9 percent.
• Reduced expenses in all areas of operations to generate $250 million worth of savings, surpassing a targeted $130 million.
• Increased income from railway operations and net income by 7 percent each, driven by an 11 percent decrease in operating costs.
• Disposed of 1,000 miles of secondary rail lines.

Squires said NS also made progress in its efforts to improve locomotive fuel-efficiency, reliability and emissions reduction continued as a cornerstone of the company’s sustainability and business strategy, he said.

NS is seeking to be “more focused than ever on services that will help convert freight from highway to rail,” Squires said.

This means focusing on customer-service initiatives that range from modernizing its e-commerce platforms to developing shared performance indicators for measuring service.

“We are changing the way we do business in order to meet and exceed our customers’ expectations and to drive superior value creation for shareholders,” Squires said.

Class 1 Employment Rose in February

March 23, 2017

Class 1 railroad employment ticked up 0.28 percent in mid-February, but was down 3.48 percent when compared with the February 2016.

The U.S. Surface Transportation  Board said the railroads employed 148,843 in the United States as of mid-February.

Of the six employment categories, three reflected increases compared with January’s employment report.

The number of train and engine employees rose 1.05 percent to 58,650 employees; executives, officials and staff assistants were up 0.24 percent to 9,098; and professional and administrative employees were up 0.08 percent to 13,200.

Categories reflecting decreases were maintenance of way and structures, down 0.31 percent to 34,067 employees; maintenance of equipment and stores, down 0.33 percent to 27,941; and transportation (other than train and engine), down 0.41 percent to 5,887.

Compared with mid-February 2016, all employment categories reflected decreases. The number of executives, officials and staff assistants was down 4.03 percent; professional and administrative, down 5.87 percent; maintenance of way and structures, down 4.91 percent; maintenance of equipment and stores, down 5.8 percent; transportation (other than train and engine), down 7.07 percent; and transportation (train and engine), down 0.41 percent.

Train-Vehicle Collisions Down, but Deaths are Up

March 23, 2017

Operation Lifesaver reported this week that vehicle-train collisions fell by 2.4 percent in 2016, but the number of fatalities increased 13.7 percent when compared with 2015 data.

Also increasing were the number of trespassing deaths on train tracks, which rose 12.8 percent in 2016.

The figures were derived from Federal Railroad Administration data.

During 2016, U.S. crossing collisions fell to 2,025 from 2,075 when compared with 2015.

But crossing-related fatalities were 265 compared with 233 and crossing injuries dropped 22.7 percent to 798 from 1,032.

Trespassing deaths and injuries climbed to 994 in 2016 from 868 in 2015; trespassing deaths rose to 511 from 453; and trespassing injuries grew to 483 from 415.

States with the most 2016 crossing collisions were Texas, California, Illinois, Indiana and Georgia.

States with the most trespasser casualties (deaths and injuries combined) were California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.

“While we are encouraged to see highway-rail crossing collisions and injuries continuing their downward trend, we are very concerned about the increase in crossing deaths, trespass deaths and injuries,” said OLI head Bonnie Murphy.

Two From My Travels With Mike Ondecker

March 22, 2017

I’m thankful to have had former Akron Railroad Club member Mike Ondecker as a good friend.

To honor him, I’d like to post a few photos from our trips and perhaps tell a story or two.

Mike had been buying locomotive slides from well-known southern railfan Tom Lawson.

When Mike and I flew south on my school’s Easter vacation, he called Tom and set up a day where Tom and a friend of his would take us to some of the better railfan “treasures” in the Birmingham, Alabama area.  One of these was Southern Stone in Margerum, Alabama.

On April 9, 1974, we arrived there only to see Southern Stone’s rare Alco HH was partly covered with a tarp. Tom went in and asked permission to remove the tarp. Permission was granted, and Tom, Tom’s friend, and Mike got up on the Alco and removed the tarp.

After our photos were taken, the three of them climbed back onto the Alco and replaced the tarp. As for me, I stayed on the ground because I hate heights, and after all, someone had to get the photo of them removing the tarp.

In the top image, Mike Ondecker is on the top right of the hood.  As for which one was Tom, after all these years I have forgotten. Also I forgot the other railfan’s name.

The bottom image is the roster shot that I made that day.

Article and Photographs by Robert Farkas

 

NS Safety Train to Visit Canton, Columbus

March 22, 2017

The Norfolk Southern safety train will visit 23 cities this year including Canton and Columbus.

The train is part of the railroad’s Operation Awareness & Response program that provides free training to first responders about how to respond to a railroad incident.

The train will begin its 2017 travels on March 21 in Hagerstown, Maryland, and  visit cities in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina.

The schedule includes visits to Cresson, Pennsylvania, on April 7-9; Canton on June 15-17; South Bend, Indiana, on June 27-29; Columbus on July 11-13; and Louisville, Kentucky, on July 25-27.

The safety train is pulled by a GP38-2 in a first responders livery that honors fire, police and emergency personnel.

The consist includes two boxcars converted into 30-seat classrooms; four styles of tank cars: DOT-105, DOT-111, DOT-112, and DOT-117; and two 89-foot flatcars used to transport intermodal containers.

Emergency personnel receive four-hour classroom training sessions as well as hands-on training inside a locomotive and on rail cars.

NS said in a news release that it provided training in 2016 for about 5,600 emergency responders, government officials and others in 18 states.

Ann Arbor Station Development Delayed by FRA

March 22, 2017

The clock is starting to tick louder in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the city is racing against a deadline to spend a federal grant to develop a new Amtrak station.

But the city has yet to get the Federal Railroad Administration to approve a draft environmental assessment, which it needs to get done before preliminary station design can begin.

The draft has been at the FRA since December but the agency has yet to act on it.

The Ann Arbor City Council in January approved a $2.14 million contract with Neumann/Smith Architecture for preliminary design and engineering services.

But the consultants can’t do much until the FRA signs off on the draft.

The draft report identifies a preferred location for the new station and a 30-day public review period is expected to follow the release of the report.

City officials have declined for months to say what site they prefer for the station.

One proposal is to build the station in Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital while other sites are being considered along Depot Street, where the current station is located.

City officials told the city council this week that they are working with several parties to try to prod the FRA to move along its review process due to the looming deadline to spend the grant money.

One of those parties is U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, who represents Ann Arbor.

Eli Cooper, Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager, said a revised draft was sent to the FRA in early February when the FRA said the review would be completed in 30 days.

But last week, the FRA told the city the review has been delayed and did not indicate for how long although Cooper said, “I would expect their review comments, if any, imminently.”

Cooper said the city will release to the public the environmental assessment identifying the preferred station location once the FRA authorizes its release.