Posts Tagged ‘Conrail’

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

Longtime Rivals Now Sit Side by Side

January 2, 2016

PRR cabin car in Tyrone

Conrail caboose

For decades the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad were fierce rivals. Then the railroad industry fell upon hard times in the 1950s and someone got the idea that these two rivals should join forces.

We all know how that worked out or, more to the point, didn’t work out. Penn Central filed for bankruptcy protection in June 1970, just over two years after the PRR and NYC got married.

In time, most assets of PC were folded into Conrail, which had a longer and, arguably, more successful lifespan than had PC.

I was recently in Tyrone, Pennsylvania. It’s a former Pennsy town, being located on the mainline that ran between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

A replica of a PRR passenger station is now the home of a historical society and on its lawn sit two cabooses.

Correct that. On the lawn sit a caboose and a cabin car, the latter being the nomenclature that the PRR used to describe what most lay people say is a caboose.

The caboose is not painted in New York Central colors. It looks like it did when Conrail retired it on June 19, 1994.

But it has the shape of a NYC caboose and a check of the Conrail caboose roster determined that it was, indeed, built in March 1963 for the Central.

Both cars sit on what was once a leg of a wye between the mainline and the Bald Eagle Branch. One leg of that branch is used today by short line Nittany & Bald Eagle. The other leg has been abandoned.

But a small portion of it remains to remind everyone that the trains passing on the nearby mainline may be operated by Norfolk Southern, but there is a colorful history here that is worth remembering and commemorating.

So long as there are people alive who remember the mighty oval or the mighty keystone, there will continue to be a rivalry over two companies that have not existed for more than 40 years.

That is how I know that at least one viewer of this post will take notice of the fact that the ex-PRR cabin car got top billing over the ex-Conrail (nee NYC) caboose.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Relics of the Erie

November 7, 2015
Looking eastward toward Brady Lake on the former Erie Railroad near Kent.

Looking eastward toward Brady Lake on the former Erie Railroad near Kent. The Portage Hike and Bike trail is to the left.

I was hiking on the Portage County Hike and Bike trail recently on a nice fall day. The sun was out and the leaves were at their peak color.

A portion of the former Erie Railroad mainline that once ran between Chicago and New York runs parallel to the trail for much of its path between Brady Lake and Kent.

If you know where to look, you can find a few relics of the Erie, although none of are functional any more.

They include a six-side former telephone shanty that was once used to call the dispatcher, the control box of a former yard light tower and a bridge over Breakneck Creek.

The telephone shanty lies on its side off the trail. I’ve seen it before, but on this day I noticed that vegetation is growing over it.

Built of concrete, the shanty was designed to last a long time, but the forces of nature are slowly breaking it down.

The control box for the light tower is in good condition, having been painted a few years ago. But the light tower itself is gone.

The tower was one of three that illuminated the yard and Akron Railroad Club member Bob Rohal said he used to climb those towers to change the light bulbs when he worked for the Erie back in the 1950s.

The bridge over Breakneck Creek is in the same situation as the telephone shanty. It was built to last and is likely to be standing for some time to come. But the wood is rotting and the metal structure rusting away.

Then there is the track itself. From what I’ve observed in photographs, it is the former eastbound main, the westbound main having been removed in the 1970s.

When walking on the trail I try to imagine what it must have looked like when Erie and Erie Lackawanna trains used those rails. Conrail also used it for a time and it was during Conrail ownership that the infrastructure of the ex-Erie was greatly reduced.

Today, the Akron Barberton Cluster Railways uses the tracks, which are owned by Portage County. Service is infrequent and I’ve seldom seen trains on the line while out walking. I’ve never seen one on weekends when I am most likely to be on the trail.

It would be nice to see trains more often on the ex-Erie, but that is not likely to happen. So I rely mostly on my knowledge of railroad history and imagination to “see” what used to be while enjoying what is there now.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

The phone to call the dispatcher has been removed. In time, the shanty will succumb to the forces of nature.

The phone to call the dispatcher has been removed. In time, the shanty will succumb to the forces of nature.

No one uses the bridge over Breakneck Creek.

No one uses the bridge over Breakneck Creek.

The light tower is gone, but at least the control box has received a new coat of paint.

The light tower is gone, but at least the control box has received a new coat of paint.

Oh, to see a train come down these rails some day.

Oh, to see a train come down these rails some day.

 

A Difference of 31 Years at Warwick

August 19, 2015

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While the white building and grassy bank are the same, here are two Warwick photos 31 years apart.

Both were taken looking east from Chippewa Avenue at the east end of Warwick Park. Image one (top), taken on Nov. 13, 1981, is a westbound Conrail freight going either to Massillon or Orrville.

Image two is a westbound CSX freight taken on Nov. 21, 2012. CSX surely wishes it had the old double track back.

Photographs by Robert Farkas

DTE Project to Close Dangerous Grade Crossing

July 7, 2015

DTE Energy plans to extend its track will eliminate a hazardous grade crossing in Trenton, Michigan, the company recently announced.

The track extension will allow for longer trains to be held for periods of time that will eliminate about 12 train shipments a year

The change is also expected to result in fewer trains moving through the city, thus reducing the number of times automobile drivers will have to wait at crossings.

The project, which will get underway on July 13, will remove the crossing on Toledo Avenue over track at Hoover Street and end the need for trains to park on track at the Lathrop Street crossing.

The track there is owned by Conrail and DTE, and used by CSX trains.

In 2003 the Michigan Department of Transportation recommended removal of the crossing.

In a news release, DTE said its rail yard holds trains delivering coal to its Trenton Channel Power Plant.

“We are happy to be able to undertake this project that should improve traffic safety and traffic flow in the city of Trenton,” said Brian Kincaid, Trenton Channel Power Plant director. “We appreciate the assistance and cooperation of MDOT and city officials in helping plan this project.”

Watching Steel Rust on the Fort Wayne Line

June 24, 2015
The first NS train through Orrville arrived a half-hour after I did. Then I had a four-hour wait for the next one.

The first NS train through Orrville arrived a half-hour after I did. Then I had a four-hour wait for the next one.

Last winter the railfan cyberspace world was abuzz with reports that Norfolk Southern was rehabilitating the tracks of the Fort Wayne Line west of Bucyrus.

This was remarkable news for a number of reasons. First, NS doesn’t own these tracks. CSX does.

Second, CSX doesn’t use this line. The Chicago, Fort Wayne & Eastern does.

Yes, NS does have the right under the terms of the Conrail breakup to operate as many as six trains a day west of Bucyrus, but it has seldom taken advantage of those rights.

But after the meltdown on the Chicago Line last summer, railroad officials began looking for alternative routes for some trains.

One of those alternatives was the Fort Wayne Line. Even before the Conrail breakup, this former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline in western Ohio saw little traffic.

The segment between Crestline and Alliance was moderately busy under Conrail, but once NS took it over the traffic levels dropped precipitously.

NS operates a pair of Conway-Bellevue manifest freights over the line daily. The route also sees locals out of Mansfield that operate as far east as Orrville. There are some coal trains.

But otherwise, traffic on the Fort Wayne Line is rather sparse.

As I read the reports that traffic on the Fort Wayne Line was picking up, I made a mental note that I needed to get down there this summer and see just much more traffic is using the line.

In particular, NS is routing eastbound crude oil trains over the route. I had seen posted photos taken of some of those trains, which led me to believe that they operated during daylight hours.

On the first Saturday in June, I set out for Orrville. I wasn’t expecting to see a flood of new traffic, but I was hopeful that there would be enough to make it worth the trip.

I got a later start than I wanted so it was about 10:30 a.m. when I arrived, parked next to the tracks, set up my scanner and waited.

Shortly after 11 a.m. I could hear the scratchy sound on the radio of a train calling signals.

The signal became stronger and clearer. That a train was coming a half-hour after I had arrived was a good omen.

It was a westbound coal train and it had one of those massive ex-Union Pacific SD90MACs as the second of two locomotives.

Then things got quiet, real quiet. And that was the way it was for the next four hours. That’s right, four hours.

To pass the time I read that day’s Akron Beacon Journal and the latest issue of Trains. The Fort Wayne Line has a long and colorful history and I had plenty of time to think about it.

I had expected lulls between trains, but not this long. I was about to give up for the day when I heard a scratchy sound on my scanner.

Shortly after 3:30 p.m., an eastbound oil train showed up with a set of helper units on the rear.

I was curious how far I’d be able to hear that train call signals over the radio so I stuck around and listened.

That train must have been past Massillon when I thought I heard the oil train crew speaking with the crew of another train.

Could it be that a westbound was waiting at Massillon for the oil train to pass? I decided to wait awhile longer. It was an agonizingly long wait.

I was, again, about to pack it in when I thought I heard a distant radio transmission. It took awhile but it got stronger and my earlier hunch had been right. There had been a westbound near Massillon.

That train, another coal train with an ex-UP SD90MAC in the motive power consist, finally reached Orrville at almost 4:30 p.m. After its passage, I headed home.

I’d like to give Orrville and the Fort Wayne Line another try, preferably getting there in the early morning.

It has always seemed as though more trains pass through Northeast Ohio in the morning hours than during the middle of the day.

Maybe that’s not true for the Fort Wayne Line, but I’d like to give it a try.

I’d also like to go down during the week when the locals are running and when the R.J. Corman train for Wooster comes and goes.

It may be technically accurate to say that there is more traffic on the Fort Wayne Line than there used to be.

But when the previous traffic levels were already quite thin, adding another couple of trains a day isn’t going to make that much of a difference.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

The tower at Orrville used to be on the other side of the tracks and farther west. I can't remember a time when it wasn't where is is today. But my first visit to Orrville came in 1995.

The tower at Orrville used to be on the other side of the tracks and farther west. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t where is is today. But my first visit to Orrville came in 1995.

This former Pennsy cabin car has been in display for years in Orrville, but no one has gotten around to restoring the PRR keystone and markings.

This former Pennsy cabin car has been in display for years in Orrville, but no one has gotten around to restoring the PRR keystone and markings.

After a wait of four hours I could not believe my eyes. There is training coming on the Fort Wayne Line.

After a wait of four hours I could not believe my eyes. There is training coming on the Fort Wayne Line.

The first and (only) eastbound of the day (for me at least) passes the Orrville station. The view was made from the steps of the former Orrville Tower.

The first and (only) eastbound of the day (for me at least) passes the Orrville station. The view was made from the steps of the former Orrville Tower.

What a nice surprise. There were helper locomotives on the rear of the 66W, the eastbound crude oil train.

What a nice surprise. There were helper locomotives on the rear of the 66W, the eastbound crude oil train.

Orrville is located at milespost 124 on the Fort Wayne Line. I had plenty of time to memorize this fact.

Orrville is located at milespost 124 on the Fort Wayne Line. I had plenty of time to memorize this fact.

The rear of the morning westbound coal train passes the restored Orrville depot, now the home of the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society.

The rear of the morning westbound coal train passes the restored Orrville depot, now the home of the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society.

CSX, L&I Finalize Easement Agreement

June 19, 2015

CSX and the Louisville & Indiana have completed an agreement whereby the Class I carrier will receive a permanent easement to use L&I tracks between Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky.

The 106-mile long route is a former Pennsylvania Railroad line that once carried the fabled South Wind passenger train between Chicago and Florida. CSX will pay L&I $10 million for the easement.

The agreement also sets out terms for a $90 million program of track improvements that will take place over the next several years.

The project calls for laying 20 miles of new rail on the southern section of the route as well as other infrastructure improvements.

The two railroads have also been meeting with local officials and residents along the route since May to explain the track rehabilitation project as well as address concerns related to public safety, anticipated increases in freight volume and construction plans.

“As we undertake the first phase of construction, we will continue to collaborate with local officials to plan and execute construction activities to minimize disruptions to communities along the corridor,” said L&I President John Goldman in a news release.

The two railroads began talking about upgrading the route and CSX’s use of it in 2011.

L&I, which is based in Jeffersonville, Indiana, acquired the route from Conrail in 1994.

“CSX’s investment of approximately $100 million will provide enhanced rail access for the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville, increase capacity and efficiency along this corridor and improve connectivity to CSX’s broader network,” said Oscar Munoz, president and chief operating officer of CSX in a news release. “These critical infrastructure improvements include the installation of new rail, upgrades to the rail bed structure and bridge improvements to enhance safety and service for customers in the Midwest and provide more efficient rail service throughout the region.”

The L&I is one of several short-line railroads held by Anacostia Rail Holdings. Anacostia’s railroads operate in seven states and also include the Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad, Gulf Coast Switching Company, New York & Atlantic Railway, Northern Lines Railway, LLC and Pacific Harbor Line, Inc.

Once Upon a Time in NE Ohio

May 31, 2015

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Over the years Northeast Ohio has been an interesting area to railfan. Here are a couple images from the mid 1980s.

If you look carefully, you’ll see many changes in trackage, buildings and motive power from what these scenes look like now.

Surroundings have changed and locations may not be available now because of trees and brush.

In the top image, Conrail 8222 is ready to take its high and wide load into the yard at Orrville on Oct. 11, 1985. One change is that this is now a single track line east of here.

In the other image, Baltimore & Ohio No. 7615 leads a westbound Chessie System freight through Clinton (Warwick) in early 1987. Notice that this trackage is still double-tracked.

Article and Photographs by Robert Farkas

On Photography: Nailing It

March 29, 2015

Nail it

David P. Morgan was feeling pensive. His friend and traveling companion Philip R. Hastings had died the year before.

Now he was thinking about all of the places he and Hastings had visited, including a stretch of the New York Central on the Illinois prairie.

It was there in 1954, while traveling to make images for their “Smoke Over the Prairies” series in Trains magazine, that they had encountered NYC Hudson No. 5403.

It was pulling a mail and express train westward out of Mattoon

As Morgan drove his Ford convertible, which he had purchased new earlier that year, Hastings crouched in the back seat.

The 5403 and its train came from behind, moving slowly at first and then accelerating as though it was a rocket blasting off into space.

When Morgan and Hastings broke off the chase, the train was going 85 mph and pulling away.

The image that Hastings captured merited a handwritten note of congratulations from Trains publisher and founder A.C. Kalmbach, something that Morgan said Kalmbach did not do often.

In writing about that image, again, 34 years later, Morgan quoted Lucius Beebe: “to know that one has it, cold turkey, is one of the great delights of the business of living.”

To use a contemporary phrase, Morgan meant that Hasting had “nailed it.”

It is a moment of triumph akin to the exhilaration of hitting a home run, executing a slam dunk, or putting the puck past the goalie.

It is a moment of pure emotion. All that you worked for has come together and you can proclaim to yourself, “I got it!”

But what is the “it” that you nailed or captured or whatever? And how do you know that you have “it” whatever “it” may be.

Often, recognizing that a photographer “nailed it” can be explained the way that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once attempted to define obscenity in a 1964 case. I know it when I see it.

Actually, Stewart was explaining why he was NOT attempting to give a tangible definition of obscenity, because, he wrote, “ . . . perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so . . .”

Stewart’s words became the butt of joking over the years among Supreme Court law clerks when reviewing materials that had been deemed to be obscene.

Yet Stewart had a point. When trying to use mere words to describe something that people feel, the words often come up short.

Maybe that is why the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” came to be.

If photographs are the medium of emotional reaction, words are the medium of explanation.

Consider the photograph shown above. It was made in May 1983 in approximately the same location where Morgan and Hasting chased NYC 5403 three decades earlier.

A Conrail rail train that is barely visible in the distance has lifted the rails from the former New York Central line that once extended to St. Louis.

Of all the images of that process that I created on this day, this one gives me that feeling of having “nailed it.”

The “it” of this image is a place. It is a story about the place. It is the essence of the story about the place.

Look at that ruler-straight right of way. Look at the open spaces surrounding it. Look at the blue sky . . . the parallel highway . . .  the small portion of the machine to the right . . . the spec of blue that is the bus to carry the Conrail workers . . . the ballast, the ties and the tie plates that the workers have temporarily left behind.

Do you feel the emotion? Do you feel how something that has lasted for more than a century is in the process of going away?

Do you feel the sense that you always had that “it will always be there” is now evaporating into that open space and blue sky?

Do you feel the disappointment that something that has been a part of you all of your life is being ripped away and there is nothing you can do about it except to record its passing?

If you do, then you know why I look at this photograph and know that I “nailed it.”

This is what it looks like when the railroad leaves town, never to return again.

Not everyone will see or feel what I did because they did not experience what I did.

Morgan visited this location on Dec. 1, 1988, and his story was published in the September 1989 issue of Trains.

I would like to think that Morgan knew that he was on short time and that he wanted to leave something for future generations of railroad enthusiasts.

So he used the story of his return to the site of a previous memorable experience as a cautionary tale. Enjoy it now because it won’t necessarily always be there.

Morgan had a way with words, a gift really, that few have. I don’t know if he was a photographer.  I do know that he was a superb wordsmith whose words often conveyed and invoked emotion.

And yet other than to explain what you are seeing in this image, are words necessary to describe it? If not, that means that the photographer has nailed it.

Commentary by Craig Sanders

‘Grab Shot’ Helped Bring Back Fond Memories

March 16, 2015

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Sometimes I tell people that a certain image was a “grab shot,” but this image certainly backs up that statement.

First, my 1976 Pinto is in the photo instead of being moved out of scene. Second, the Pinto’s door is open showing my hasty departure.

Third, there were better angles than this. Still, I like this image.

It brings back memories I would not have had the Pinto not been in it. Only the year before my Pinto had faithfully taken three 6-footers to Maine and back and here it was being photographed in all its beauty.

It is June 29, 1978, and Conrail No. 6146 leads Amtrak “pumpkins” east through Massillon, Ohio.

Story and Photograph by Robert Farkas 


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