Posts Tagged ‘Illinois Central’

An Unusual Find in Galena

February 23, 2021

During our trip in Galena, Illinois, in early August 2007, Ursula and I toured the home of Ulysses S. Grant and explored the historic town of Galena.

Of course I photographed the restored Illinois Central station. However, we stumbled just by luck on another relic from the past.

Just outside of town we were approaching a road crossing.  I heard crossing signal bells as we neared the crossing.

A Canadian National freight was sitting in the circuit. The surprise was a wig wag signal swinging away.

Along with photographs I shot some video also. I’ve always wondered if that wig wag signal is still there.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

CVSR, MRPS Cars Used in TV Series

January 12, 2021

Two passenger cars from Northeast Ohio are being used to create an Illinois Central Railroad passenger train in a television series being filmed in Mississippi.

The cars came from the Midwest Railway Preservation Society in Cleveland and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

They joined two cars and a locomotive recently used by Iowa Pacific Holdings to recreate a 1950s-era IC train.

The ABC-TV series, Women of the Movement, is being made by Kapital Entertainment of Los Angeles.

The recreated train was assembled last week on an industrial park spur near Winona, Mississippi.

The train will be used to represent an IC train that carried 14-year-old Emmitt Till from his Chicago home to visit relatives in Money, Mississippi, where he was murdered. His body was transported back to Chicago via the IC.

The Ohio cars used included a 90-foot baggage car equipped with a vestibule on one end from the CVSR and a coach from MRPS.

Filming of the train will be conducted later this month on the Grenada Railroad, which uses former IC tracks, and also will involved former IC depots in Durant and Grenada.

The series’ six episodes will tell the story of Till’s death and focus on his mother, Mamie Till Mobley and her involvement in the Civil Rights movement.

Memories of the Illinois Central

December 17, 2020

It may be the Illinois Central Gulf era but you would not know that just by looking around in the engine facility in Louisville, Kentucky, on Aug. 23, 1972. In fairness, though, the ICG era had only begun 13 days earlier when the Illinois Central and Gulf, Mobile & Ohio merged to form the ICG.

So it is not surprising that all of the locomotives here still are lettered ICRR. However, some of them have still not received IC’s orange and white, and still carry the green diamond herald.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Good Place Now to Catch IC ‘Death Stars’

November 19, 2020

Not that long ago if you wanted to photograph SD70 locomotives that had been built for the Illinois Central and still wore their “death star” livery a good place to go was Canadian National’s Bessemer & Lake Erie Subdivision.

Back in early spring 2015 CN sent a fleet of ex-IC SD70s to the B&LE where they were, for the most part, standard motive power for most trains.

Of course I was pleased by that and my trips to Conneaut increased dramatically along with my chases of trains on the ex-Bessemer.

But motive power assignments change and in recent months CN has sent an infusion of different motive power to the ex-Bessemer.

The IC SD70s have gone elsewhere, including back to their original stomping ground.

You won’t see ex IC SD70 motive power on every train on the former Illinois Central mainline between Chicago and New Orleans but based on my experiences of the past year the odds of finding one are greater now than they had been.

To be sure, CN is slowly repainting the SD70s into its own colors and I’ve even seen motive power sets of pure SD70s in CN red, black and white.

But there are enough “death stars” still on the rails so that if you spend any time railfanning the one-time Mainline of Mid-America you have a reasonable chance of catching one of them leading a train.

That was the case on a recent Sunday when I ventured over to the CN Champaign Subdivision where good fortune fell my way.

I was driving north on U.S. Route 45 when I spotted a southbound in the distance led by ex-IC No. 1036.

A quick turnaround on an intersection rural road had me headed for South Tuscola (top image) where the siding in Tuscola ends on the south end.

Adjacent to the tracks were corn fields still awaiting harvest. In the background are grains bins of the massive Archer-Daniels-Midland facility at Tuscola that is served by CN and Union Pacific.

After getting my photos here, I sped off for the Dewitt Avenue bridge in Mattoon. This is the northernmost of the five bridges that span the former IC tracks in my one-time hometown.

Interestingly, this was only the second time I’ve photographed a train on the ex-IC from Dewitt Avenue.

Earlier in the day I had caught the “death star” duo of Nos. 1000 and 1029 leading a northbound at Pesotum.

Pairs of “death stars” are not necessarily common, but not unheard of either.

I had caught one of these duos earlier this year. That had also occurred in Pesotum but with a southbound.

It was like going back in a time machine to when the IC was still an independent railroad run by the legendary E. Hunter Harrison.

In time the SD70s will either be repainted or sold off and “death stars” will no longer be seen on the ex-IC. But in the meantime I’ll look for as many of them as I can.

CN CEO Says Mergers No Longer Offer Efficiency Gains

January 17, 2020

A major reason often given for railroad mergers is that they result in efficiency gains.

Jean-Jacques Ruest

But that may no longer be the case Canadian National President and CEO Jean-Jacques Ruest said this week at the winter meeting of the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers in suburban Chicago.

Lower operating ratios and the widespread adoption by Class 1 railroads of the precision scheduled railroading operating model have negated gains that mergers once promised.

But Ruest didn’t rule out mergers because another benefit to them is a larger system.

“I think all of us like to have a bigger footprint, a bigger franchise,” he said.

One way to do that, Ruest said, is by buying or buying back routes that Class 1 railroads were once eager to sell to short line railroads.

He acknowledged that CN went through a phase of lopping off marginal route because the thinking at the time was that they required too much capital to maintain. But that thinking has changed.

If buying a route from a short line is not possible, Ruest said another option is to form a partnership with one as CN did with the Indiana Rail Road.

The INRD operates on a former branch line of the Illinois Central that connects to the former Chicago-New Orleans mainline of the ICRR now owned by CN.

He said a key to making those partnerships work is ensuring that Class I railroad standards will be in place throughout the short-line operations.

On another topic, Ruest expressed optimism that railroad freight volumes will begin rising again, saying they can by cyclical.

“Commodities goes up. Commodities goes down,” he said. “We’re probably in one of the tougher times right now.”

To get out of those tough times, Reust called for focusing on the consumer economy because it is growing.

He said that includes moving freight “door to door,” and getting closer to the “real freight buyer.”

Book to be Out Soon About Harrison

August 15, 2018

As the CEO of four Class 1 railroads Ewing Hunter Harrison was a larger than life figure known to friends and foes alike simply by his middle name.

Harrison

Harrison has been deceased for less than a year and the first book about him is set hit the shelves on Sept. 18.

Howard Green has written Railroader: The Unfiltered Genius and Controversy of Four-Time CEO Hunter Harrison, which is being published by Page Two Books of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Green, who worked for the Business News Network of Canada, interviewed Harrison while he was the head of Canadian National and later Canadian Pacific.

“He’s just a fascinating story,” Green said of Harrison. “I’ve never met anyone like him.”

The 289-page book is based on interviews with 75 people who worked with Harrison, competed against him, or were part of his family.

Work on the book began two years ago and Green said he spent 170 hours talking with Harrison. He also attended the last “Hunter Camp” training seminar days before Harrison died last December at age 73.

A review of the book posted on the Trains magazine website said Green’s book portrays a colorful and complex self-made man who reshaped every railroad his headed but triggered controversy in the process.

“Everywhere he went there was thunder and lightning,” Green says.

The book focuses on the entirety of Harrison’s life, starting with his upbringing in Memphis and how he worked his way up from laborer to CEO of the Illinois Central and later CN, CP and CSX.

As a youth Harrison was rebellious and seen by many as a bully. The son of a Memphis police officer, Harrison for a brief time hung out with an older Elvis Presley.

The Trains review described the book as primarily oriented toward personalities, boardroom politics, and corporate strategy. “It’s clear that Harrison became increasingly focused on investors as he moved from CN to CP and, ultimately, CSX,” Trains correspondent Bill Stephens wrote.

During his career, Harrison was a workaholic who developed a reputation as a demanding boss who felt little remorse for all the employees who lost their jobs at the railroads that he oversaw.

Green said that Harrison’s American citizenship worked against him during his time at CN and CP because he wasn’t part of the small, clubby Canadian business scene and wouldn’t have tried to fit in anyway.

He made no effort to learn French, one of Canada’s two official languages, other than the phrase “Bonjour, y’all.”

Harrison had few close friends and Green quotes Harrison’s sister, Mary, as saying that her brother had “no life,” that it was “nothing for him [at a family gathering] to spend hours pacing on a conference call  . . .  There’s no day off. There’s no vacation. There’s no downtime.”

Yet when he died 700 people attended a tribute to his life. During his career, Harrison also developed a devoted following of railroad executives, some of whom spoke at their mentor’s memorial service.

Harrison was cremated and his ashes scattered about the Memphis railroad yard where his career began.

Green reveals that Harrison might have taken the helm of CSX in the early 2000s had a strategy by CN to obtain an ownership stake in the Florida-based Class 1 railroad worked out. At the time, Harrison was CN’s chief operating officer.

Although Harrison never held a grudge against CN after it declined in 2009 to extend his CEO contract, he did have hard feelings about Norfolk Southern, which Harrison and CP unsuccessfully sought to acquire in 2015-2016.

After becoming CEO of CSX, Green said Harrison reportedly said he wanted to “kick NS in the nuts” by capturing 10 to 15 percent of its traffic.

Green also reveals that Harrison’s health problems prompted an intense debate with CSX management ranks as to when and what to disclose about it.

By the time Harrison agreed to be part of an effort to oust CSX CEO Michael Ward, he had become a very wealthy man, saying that during his time at IC, CN and CP he was paid $500 million.

Harrison had three horse farms and three homes furnished with all of the lavish fixtures and trappings you might expect someone of such immense wealth to have.

Yet his real home was out on whatever railroad he happened to run at the time.

Railway Age columnist Frank Wilner in reviewing Green’s book likened Harrison to a railfan except rather than making photographs of trains EHH was barking orders to subordinates.

Harrison’s antipathy toward railroad labor is well known and been well documented. Many of the employees of his railroads loathed him in return.

But shippers also easily found themselves the targets of Harrison’s tirades. It may be that a railroad would not be a railroad without shippers, but Harrison viewed shipper demands as impeding his goal at the railroad of making money and lots of it for stockholders.

To that end, Harrison was less of a railroader than he was a rapacious capitalist who happened to work in the railroad industry.

Green described Harrison as “an unsentimental efficiency wizard who’d risen to the top by lopping expenses, maximizing the use of assets, and creating enormous value for shareholders [by] making the trains run on time. Investors came first. For him, the game was capitalism, pure and simple.”

Green concludes by saying that Harrison transformed four publicly traded companies, which the author found to be a rare fete.

But as accomplished as Harrison was, he didn’t live long enough to realize what may have been his most craved goal, the establishment of a true transcontinental railroad.

In concluding his review of Green’s book, Wilner observes, “Surely, [Harrison] possessed the ego, perhaps fueled by sharing initials with one of history’s most notable railroad barons—Edward H. Harriman. That Excalibur of railroading remains for another visionary.”

Never Know Where You’ll Find Amtrak

May 4, 2018

In my experience, Amtrak can turn up in some surprising places. I don’t mean its trains, but its rolling stock. More to the point I mean its former rolling stock.

Take, for example, coach Roaring Camp, which I spotted on Sept. 27, 1997, in the Wheeling & Lake Erie yard in Brewster.

Amtrak has never operated via Brewster, but as best I could tell this car was in transit to the Mad River & NKP Railroad Museum in Bellevue.

It was built in 1947 by Pullman-Standard for the Illinois Central Railroad, which it served for several years and carried roster number 2640

The Auto Train Corporation acquired it and it operated as the Prairie Rose (No. 560).

After Amtrak acquired it, the coach was renamed and given roster number 5688. It was retired by Amtrak in March 1976.

Colorful Florida Tourist Railroad

April 27, 2018

Fireman Scott Colagiacomo rests his arm as the train comes into Tavares, Florida, on street trackage.

On Wednesday and Saturday of my Florida vacation I stopped by the Orlando & Northwestern, a tourist operation based out of Tavares, Florida. They have some streamlined equipment some of which is painted in a pseudo Illinois Central scheme.

Motive power consists of a chop-nose geep, a former Louisville & Nashville GP30 and the repainted Clinchfield F7 No. 800. I was able to get photos of all three engines.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

Ex-L&N GP30 No. 1030 at Mt Dora. Plans are to restore it to its original L&N paint scheme.

Orlando and Northwestern 1510 leaves Tavares.

 

Reading Between the Lines of How CSX Management Projects Itself to the World

March 7, 2018

CSX executives revealed last week at long last their vision for their company. They were supposed to have done it last fall, but three top-ranking vice presidents left during a management shakeup. Then CEO E. Hunter Harrison died.

But things have now stabilized. CEO James M. Foote and his management team put forth the most optimistic and rosy scenarios that they dared to spin.

Hovering over those presentations in New York City, though was Harrison.

A year ago Harrison and the hedge fund Mantle Ridge were closing in on their takeover of CSX, a feat they pulled off with a relatively small amount of money and in a short amount of time.

Harrison had great plans for the hidebound CSX. He brought the precision scheduled railroading model that he had implemented on the Illinois Central and then at Canadian National and Canadian Pacific.

Foote and his team went to great lengths to show that Harrison’s vision is their vision, too. Harrison received the reverence normally reserved for a company founder or elder statesman of much longer tenure.

Harrison had a lot of work to do. Independent railroad industry analyst Tony Hatch and Trains magazine columnist Fred Frailey have described CSX as long hindered by adherence to the practices of its  predecessor railroads, meaning it was  averse to change and rather bureaucratic.

Frailey said ormer CEO John Snow as uninspiring and his successor, Michael Ward, sought to move CSX forward but was bewildered as to how to get it out of its rut.

No wonder the CSX board of directors gave Harrison a chance even if, to quote his successor Foote, Harrison engaged in “carpet bombing” the railroad with fast-paced changes that led to widespread service failures that drew the ire of shippers and the attention of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

But all of that is behind CSX now, or so management wanted those attending or watching the presentations in New York to believe.

Some have bought it. Writing in Progressive Railroading, Hatch quoted an  investor as saying this was the best CSX meeting he had seen in a decade of watching the railroad.

The current management team laid out  goal of a 60 percent operating ratio by 2020, described a new intermodal business strategy, and pointed to the huge buckets of money it will fill from sales of unneeded real estate and rail lines.

Having a plan and making it work are not always, though, the same thing. Truth is every railroad company talks about growing traffic and all of them are facing challenges finding it.

Hatch said that if CSX is to increase its carload and intermodal business it will have to provide consistent and improving service.

Frailey didn’t comment directly on the New York conference, instead referring readers to articles written by the magazine’s writer covering the story, Bill Stephens.

Those articles, Frailey correctly observed, did well in showing how CSX seeks to project itself to the world.

Yet Frailey said some industry observers with whom he regularly corresponds have been debating the endgame that CSX management is seeking and it isn’t necessarily to grow traffic and become North America’s best railroad.

Those observers think CSX plans to eventually liquidate the company.

Frailey said the case for liquidation goes as follows: “The railroad borrows money to buy back an astounding $5 billion of stock, making every dollar of profit worth more to shareholders who stick around because the same amount of earnings is spread among many fewer shares . . . Freight rates are being jacked up to cover fully allocated costs, a direction I’m told only Union Pacific has gone up to now—milk the cow until it collapses, the saying goes. Its carload business has been steadily eroding since the turn of the century.”

The veteran journalist who has written about railroads since the 1960s said  he understands that CSX has reduced its marketing staff to a hard core operation.

That hardly sounds like a railroad that will be able to aggressively go to find new business. Perhaps CSX expects that by offering a superior product that shippers will come to it begging to do business.

The word “liquidate” that some of Frailey’s contacts used to describe CSX’s endgame is unfortunate because it conjures up selling assets and going away.

Perhaps a better description might have been to break up the railroad much as Illinois Central Gulf slimmed down in the 1970s and 1980s until it emerged as largely a Chicago-New Orleans core with a few arteries connecting to it.

Yes, some rail lines were abandoned, but most wound up in the hands of short line and regional railroads.

It was that railroad on which Harrison first implemented his precision scheduled railroading model.

Frailey isn’t sure what to make of what CSX is doing, but doesn’t believe Foote isn’t prepared to do the job thrust upon him following Harrison’s death.

Foote was in the right place at the right time and for now CSX and its shareholders will let him sit at the throttle and take the EHH train a little further down the line. But it is Harrison’s train orders that Foote is following and not those Foote wrote himself.

Shareholders can be a fickle lot. Just this week Canadian National, a railroad described in most circles as highly successful, pushed out CEO Luc Jobin after the company hit a rough patch.

What I see happening at CSX is that management is trying to walk a fine line between pleasing investors and shippers and keeping at bay a few interested bystanders who have the ability to make life easy or miserable for a company.

Cost cutting and asset sales will only take a company so far in that endeavor. Of course growing traffic makes everyone happy, but is CSX prepared to spend the time and money needed to make that happen. It is so much easier to sell property and lightly used rail routes.

In theory, a company exists to serve its customers because without them you don’t have a company. But theory also says that a company exists to make money for its shareholders.

The two objectives are not necessarily in opposition. Arguably, you can’t make money for shareholders unless you provide a product or service that someone is willing to buy.

But you can’t improve your product or seek to sell more of it without spending money on that, too.

Management has always existed to reconcile those sometimes opposing forces.

The history of the railroad industry is filled with tales of financiers milking companies and leaving them behind. There is reason to believe that CSX is tilting toward enabling the financiers to make a financial killing before moving on to something else.

To quote a line from the John Mellencamp song Peaceful World, “These are just words and words are OK. It’s what you do and not what you say, if you’re not part of the future then get out of the way.”

We will know in time what the future of CSX is but take with some healthy skepticism how CSX projects that to the world.

Last Year of IC Varnish

February 13, 2018

I was going through some glassine envelopes of negatives and found this. Illinois Central No. 4035 is in Centralia, Illinois, in August 1970. The Train name/number are unknown to me.

John Woodworth, Mike Ondecker, and I were in Centralia to photograph IC passenger trains. I never guessed that in less than a year there would no longer be IC passenger trains.

Photograph by Robert Farkas