Posts Tagged ‘Conrail’

Railroading as It Once Was: One Has Lost its Identity, the Other Still Clings to it in Cleveland

May 18, 2016

EL old and new

During Conrail’s first two years I watched many former Erie Lackawanna units lose their identity as names were painted out and new numbers applied.

The interim time where you could catch “pure” next to “renumbered” units of the same make and same former railroad was short.

It’s late summer 1976 and these two Alco C-424s are at the former EL East 55th Street facility in Cleveland as they show us a little slice of early Conrail history.

Article and Photograph by Roger Durfee

Another View of the Akron Brewing Building

April 29, 2016

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Roger Durfee and I both spent a great deal of time within view of the Akron Brewing building. Here is an image from an earlier time.

Westbound Erie Lackawanna 2504, Reading 3604 and Penn Central 1730 approach the same building on June 12, 1976, during the early Conrail “any lash-up goes” period.

Today, this scene is virtually all memories. The Akron Brewing building with its Admiral Television sign on a north wall, the EL, RDG, PC, most of the trackage, and the other building are history with only our memories and slides to help preserve the past.

The building, by the way, is being razed to make room for a rebuilding of an exit ramp from Interstates 76 and 77.

Article and Photograph by Robert Farkas

Railroading as It Once Was: Special Memories of My 40-Year Ride With Conrail From 1976-1999

April 12, 2016
Conrail GP30 No. 2222 at Clinton in March 1979.

Conrail GP30 No. 2222 at Clinton in March 1979.

This month marked the 40th anniversary of Conrail’s creation, an event that changed the railroad scene in the East forever.

I was lucky enough to be along for the entire existence of Big Blue from April 1, 1976, until June 1, 1999.

I watched the railroad go from a struggling combination of struggling bankrupts to a lean, mean transportation machine, driven in part by the 1980 deregulation of the nation’s carriers.

I’ve tossed together a few photos I’ve taken over the life of the railroad, some from the rainbow era, some from the middle and later part of its existence. You can view these images at my DigitalDurf pages on Facebook at

In that group of images is my first “ConRail” photo, a trio of Lehigh Valley U-boats on ex-Penn Central rails posing in front of the Firestone factory in Akron on Day 3 of Conrail operations. That photo was just the beginning of thousands of frames of film and Kodachrome I would take over the years.

My last image of Conrail isn’t on film, though. It’s a scene etched in my mind.

A month after the two SD80MAC images seen in my gallery were made, I found myself working for Conrail.

After a while in the brakeman/conductor ranks, it was off to engine school at Conway in late April 1999. As it turned out, that would be the last class Conrail would have.

I graduated a few days before “split day” when Conrail was divided between NS and CSX, and I was ETing on the helpers out of Altoona, Pennsylvania.

I was working an afternoon helper on May 31, 1999, and had already made one shove up and over the mountain to Johnstown. We got the call to shove a train back up the west slope, our ticket home.

It was a routine run, up and over in smooth fashion. By the time we were moving down the mountain toward Alto it was dark.

The op came on and said to cut off at Slope and we’d follow down and head into Rose Yard for relief.

I let our SD40-2 pair drift into the train a bit to take in slack, hit the hydraulic pin lifter (we were using helper link), then feathered the independent just enough to distance us from the train ahead.

I remember watching the blinking EOT as it moved ever farther ahead and thinking I’ve just pushed my last Conrail train.

Little did I know the changes that would start the next day, but for me that evening wasn’t just another day of moving freight on Big Blue; it was the culmination of years of watching struggles, heartaches and eventual success of a railroad few were giving any chance to make it back in ’76.

It was a great adventure, one that I feel blessed to have had a front row seat to.

Article and Photographs by Roger Durfee

Railroading as it Once Was: When Center Street in Youngstown Had a Variety of Signal Types

April 6, 2016

Younstown Center Street

Like railroad signals? If so, then Center Street in Youngstown was the place to go to see a variety of them.

Take a look around this scene. There is a Pennsylvania Railroad style position light signal, a target signal and Baltimore & Ohio style color light position signals.

At left is CH Tower and the Chessie System yard. The train is a Conrail local sorting out idler cars.

The lead unit is a former Penn Central Alco C425 that still wears its PC livery, albeit modified, and carries its PC roster number.

Photograph by Roger Durfee

Remembering Conrail on its 40th Anniversary

April 1, 2016

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Today is the 40th anniversary of Conrail’s creation and I will take us back to a day in 1999 at Alliance.

At the time I lived in Indiana but one summer afternoon I found myself at Alliance for a couple hours. This was the summer just after the takeover by Norfolk Southern and CSX, both lines in Alliance becoming part of Norfolk Southern.

There was still a lot of Conrail power and much hadn’t even been renumbered as yet so it still had a Conrail feel even if the railroad was NS property now.

About a half dozen freight train passed through as well as the east and westbound Amtrak Pennsylvanian which still went to Chicago. That would end in another year or so leaving the Capitol Limited as the only Amtrak service.

I also had photographed a pair of GP38 helpers at Canton yard earlier that day.

Hard to believe that it’s been almost 17 years since that day and 40 years since Conrail’s creation. Happy 40th Conrail.

Article and photographs by Todd Dillon

Railroading as It Once Was: The EL on Akron’s East Side was Still Busy in Conrail’s Early Years

March 30, 2016

TV98 on EL

The former Erie Lackawanna on the east side of Akron was still a busy route in the early years of Conrail. Traffic carried between Chicago and the East Coast by the EL before the inauguration of Conrail continued to use ex-EL tracks east of town.

This was particularly the case with intermodal trains that originated or were bound for Croxton Yard in Jersey City, New Jersey.

The above scene has something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

The old is intermodal traffic on the ex-EL while the new is the train’ s symbol, TV 98. That’s a Conrail symbol.

The blue is the color of the freshly painted Conrail locomotives that are trailing in the motive power consist.

The borrowed is time. The lead unit is a former Reading GP40-2 that still wears, in part, its original livery, albeit with some modifications made by Conrail to show its new identity. It won’t look that way for much longer.

This operation is also living on borrowed time. It won’t be long before these trains will be steered to another route and the ex-EL east of Akron will become a branch line used only by locals.

Photograph by Roger Durfee

Tales From the Road of Late Amtrak Trains

March 26, 2016

I was riding Amtrak’s Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois, Illini when a passenger asked the conductor how the train was doing.

He pointed at me and said, “ask that guy. He knows everything that is going on.”

I don’t know if the passenger understood that the conductor meant that I was listening to the host railroad’s radio conversations on a scanner.

On TransportationI take my scanner when I travel on Amtrak because I learn more that way about why a train is late than I would from crew announcements made on the public address system.

What I’ve learned from years of listening to railroad radio transmissions is that the reasons why Amtrak trains are late are quite varied. It is not always because the host railroad gave preference to its freight trains although I have seen that happen.

Signals and switches malfunction. Accidents occur. Trains ahead are slow to get out of the way even when the dispatcher is trying to get Amtrak by.

I’ve seen situations in which every opposing freight train that Amtrak encountered is waiting in a siding and yet we still lost time due to slow orders and/or extended and unexpected dwell times in stations.

Dispatchers sometimes gamble that a freight train on the main ahead will clear up before Amtrak arrives. But it doesn’t always happen that way.

I once sat for several minutes not far from my destination of Mattoon, Illinois, because a Canadian National local ahead had not yet finished its work and gone on its way.

I was aboard an already very late Lake Shore Limited that halted almost within sight of the Cleveland station. A switch at Drawbridge on the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern wouldn’t move.

The railroad tried running a freight train over the switch in the hope that that would pry it loose. It didn’t. A maintainer had to be summoned and it took time for him to arrive.

At least twice I’ve been aboard Amtrak when a freight train ahead of us struck something and the railroad was shut down while police and EMTs responded.

I had been dozing aboard the eastbound Lake Shore Limited when I awakened to notice we had stopped just east of Toledo.

I saw flashing red lights moving on a nearby highway. A westbound NS freight had struck a vehicle at a grade crossing.

Railroads say with some justification that in making dispatching decisions they look at the larger picture in an effort to keep all trains moving and not just Amtrak.

One morning on a trip to Chicago, the NS Chicago East dispatcher during a conversation with the engineer of Amtrak No. 29 said, “you have just the one train to take care of. I have one, two, three, four, five . . . trains to take care of” as he counted on his computer screen the number of trains that he was dispatching. It was more than 10.

The greatest good for the greatest number comes into play when one of two tracks is out of service for maintenance.

Inevitably, Amtrak waits while one, two or three freights in the opposing direction go by on the open track.

Delays occur because of freight congestion. One morning west of Waterloo, Indiana, Amtrak No. 29 kept getting a series of approach signals, which meant moving at restricted speed on Track No. 1.

A heavy freight train ahead of us was moving slowly on the same track. A parade of eastbounds went past us on Track No. 2.

In theory, the Conrail Toledo West dispatcher could have halted that eastbound traffic until No. 29 could run around the slow freight. I can only presume that that didn’t occur because the chief dispatcher decided that it was better to keep those trains moving.

They don’t say it out loud on the radio, but dispatchers probably think “this is our railroad and by gosh we need to keep our trains moving. Ten, 15 or 20 minutes delay to Amtrak won’t make that much difference.”

One Conrail crew member knew what was going on and quipped on the radio, “you’ve been ‘Calvinized,’ Amtrak,” a reference to the former comic strip Calvin and Hobbes.

From a dispatcher’s point of view, it is a matter of balancing competing interests.

Of course, I’ve seen many instances in which Amtrak was run around slow traffic ahead or a freight train was held “to get Amtrak by.” It all depends on the situation at hand.

I’ve also seen Amtrak gamble and lose big time, too. I was aboard a Lake Shore Limited trip that departed Chicago on time but with an engineer who had just over two hours to work before outlawing.

Amtrak had a relief crew lined up but rather than putting them aboard No. 48, it sent them by van to South Bend, Indiana, the next station stop after Chicago.

The NS Chicago West dispatcher told the engineer of No. 48 that heavy freight traffic ahead made it unlikely that he would reach South Bend before outlawing.

They agreed that No. 48 would stop at Amtrak’s Hammond-Whiting station and the relief crew would board there.

It took awhile to reach the relief crew by cell phone to tell them of the change in plans and by then they had already reached South Bend. They headed west on the Indiana Toll Road, but got stopped in traffic due to a serious accident involving fatalities.

We sat at Hammond-Whiting for more than a couple of hours, which reduced a busy NS mainline to a single-track operation.

The Amtrak crew never made an announcement about why we were sitting there for so long.

Later, I woke up west of South Bend. We had halted short of a crossover because an NS freight was stopped ahead of us.

The Amtrak engineer had stopped short in the hope the dispatcher would line us to go around the freight. Instead, the dispatcher ordered No. 48 to pull ahead and stop just behind the stopped freight.

That might have been a bit of retaliation by NS for what had happened earlier at Hammond-Whiting. At least two NS trains following us crossed over and went around us, at least one of which was on short time.

No. 48 had to get another crew at Bryan, Ohio, meaning it took three crews to move No. 48 from Chicago to Toledo when it ordinarily takes just one.

I had plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the dining car on that trip and didn’t reach Cleveland until almost noon.

My experiences riding Amtrak and listening to the radio conversations lead me to conclude that much if not most of the time dispatchers want to move Amtrak along or at least keep a passenger train moving.

Some dispatchers on CN, for example, will alert Amtrak engineers to locations where they might encounter freight traffic and where they can expect clear sailing.

But things happen on the railroad and not just Amtrak is delayed.

I was riding the westbound Empire Builder as it crawled its way on Canadian Pacific tracks through Milwaukee because of congestion.

An Amtrak Hiawatha Service train along with CP and freight trains of other railroads were also caught in the morass.

The CP dispatcher was discussing the matter with the hogger of one of those trains and said about the situation, “sounds like piss poor dispatching to me.” I don’t know if he was talking about himself or decisions made by someone else, but at least he was being honest.

Railroading as it Once Was: Veteran Pennsy F Units Living Out Their Final Years on Conrail

March 17, 2016

F Unit in Collinwood

The scene is Collinwood Yard in Cleveland in the early years of Conrail where two crew members are shuffling a pair of FP-7 locomotives.

The units were built for the Pennsylvania Railroad but are wearing, in part, their Penn Central look, which has been modified to give it a minimalist Conrail identify.

They have just arrived with a train from Columbus and are now backing into the engine service area as a yard job is already working their train in the background.

It’s July 1977 and these two old PRR veterans won’t be around much longer.

F units such as these were a common sight in the 1970s in Cleveland and Akron, often being assigned to the job that ran between Motor Yard in Macedonia and South Akron Yard.

Photograph by Roger Durfee

Railroading as it Once Was: Youngstown Was the Place if You Wanted to See Alco Power in Action

March 2, 2016

LV in Youngstown

There was some magic about the early years of Conrail, a blending of old and new. OK, so there was more old than new, but Conrail combined both by taking veterans locomotives and giving them some minor changes to show who operated the locomotive now even if the previous operator was still obvious.

And if you wanted to watch old Alco locomotives in action, Youngstown was the place to be. Motive power assignments saw large number of Alcos roaming the rails in the Mahoning Valley.

The former Erie Lackawanna Brier Hill locomotive shop was a mandatory stop to check out what was laying about, particularly in the early years of Conrail.

In the photograph above, former Lehigh Valley, Penn Central and Erie Lackawanna units gather at the EL Brier Hill locomotive shop in Youngstown in 1977.

The old and new is apparent with this former Lehigh Valley C-628. The LV name has been painted over and the initials “CR” applied to the nose. But the heritage of the unit remains unmistakable.

Photograph by Roger Durfee

Railroading as it Once Was: ‘Yellowbids’ Flying Through Brady Lake on Conrail’s Cleveland Line

February 4, 2016

Yellowbirds

Utility companies used to have their own locomotives painted in their own liveries. These units were assigned to coal trains that operated between the mine and the power generating station.

Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company had a fleet of nine GP38-2 locomotives that were regular visitors in Northeast Ohio and were dubbed “Yellowbirds” by railfans because of their yellow noses.

Four “Yellowbirds” bring CEI empties east at Brady Lake on Conrail’s Cleveland Line on a fine October 1978 day. A short stub of the former Lake Erie & Pittsburgh/New York Central line is to the left of the train carried the eastbound main of the LE&P.

The westbound main crossed over the Cleveland Line on the bridge in the background, rising on a grade that is visible to the left amide trees and brush.

That is Lake Rockwell to the left in the background, which supplies drinking water for Akron.

All nine “Yellowbirds” were eventually acquired by Union Pacific. Also shown are CEIX Nos. 100 and 105.

Photograph by Roger Durfee


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