Posts Tagged ‘Norfolk Southern’

Rail Passenger Funding, Running Amtrak on Time, New NS President Didn’t Impress Some Workers

January 17, 2022

Bit and pieces of insights into the workings of railroad world . . .

I recently received in my email inbox a message quoting Evan Stair of the Friends of the Southwest Chief group in which he suggested that the promise of new and expanded service contained in the Amtrak Connects US plan is largely a mirage.

Stair, whose group has been promoting additional Amtrak service along Colorado’s Front Range and extending the Heartland Flyer north of Oklahoma City to connect with the Chief in Kansas, was commenting on a Bloomberg News story in which Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said the plan to add 39 new routes will require state financial support.

Amtrak has estimated the plan will cost $75 billion to implement.

In his interview, Gardner characterized the federal government as the capital partner but the ongoing operating expenses are the responsibility of the states and Amtrak.

And Amtrak has made clear that it’s responsibility to pay operating expenses will only last at best for five years. After that states will be on the hook to pay operating expenses as is the case now with state-supported corridors on the West Coast, in the Midwest and along the East Coast.

“I frankly believe the Amtrak Connects US program will result in few, if any new routes,” Stair wrote. “States are unlikely to commit to long-term operational dollars without some federal operational matches.”

Stair is probably right about that but could have gone even farther. It may not be realistic to think that states that are not now and/or have never paid Amtrak for corridor service will do so in the future even with a short-term Amtrak funding match for operational expenses.

Yes, I’m talking about you, Ohio.

Speaking of Amtrak, Canadian Pacific CEO Keith Creel told a Midwest shippers conference in Chicago last week that he was “proud” of having reached an agreement with the passenger carrier to allow for the prospect of additional passenger service on routes operated by CP and it merger partner Kansas City Southern.

As reported by Trains magazine, Creel also talked about how CP has become one of Amtrak’s best host railroads in dispatching its trains on time. It wasn’t always that way.

“Five years ago, six years ago, we didn’t lead the industry in Amtrak service,” Creel said.

He went on to say that his 30 years as an operating officer taught him that it’s not easy for a freight railroad to coexist with passenger service.

“I understand the conflicts sometimes and the tradeoffs sometimes when you mix high speed passenger rail with what is, in comparative terms, low-speed freight rail,” Creel said. “I understand the track geometry challenges, I understand the speed challenges. But I also understand that if you prioritize right, and there’s tradeoffs, and balance in a partnership, you can succeed. And that’s the approach we’ve taken at CP.”

Creel’s comments suggest that having the right attitude is key to running passenger trains on time and if CP can do it so could the other Class 1 Amtrak host railroads.

Yet CP doesn’t host as many Amtrak trains as its Class 1 brethren and doesn’t host any long-distance trains over thousands of miles.

Perhaps the best that can be expected is that the host railroads could do better than they do, but dispatching is a balancing act and there will be times when a host railroad puts its own interests ahead of avoiding delaying Amtrak for what the host sees as a relatively short period of time.

Speaking at the same shipper’s conference, new Norfolk Southern President Alan Shaw told a story of how on his first day in his new post he decided to go out into the field and meet and greet NS operating employees in Toledo, which is the largest NS crew change point on the system.

 “I wanted to thank [the employees] for their dedication to Norfolk Southern and our customers, and I wanted to get their input into how we fix service and how we continue to improve our productivity,” Shaw said.

As reported by Trains magazine on its website, Shaw said he approached some workers sitting outside the crew room.

He was wearing khakis, boots and a collared shirt and the workers thought he was an operations supervisor.

 “So I walk up and introduce myself. They told me their names, and one of the guys said, ‘Well, what do you do?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m the president’. And he looks at me, and I’m like, ‘Not Joe Biden president, but president of Norfolk Southern.’ And the other dude pulls out his phone, and he’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I see the announcement. Congratulations!

“So that made me feel good. And then the one guy looks at me and says, ‘What craft did you come from?  . . . Were you mechanical, or engineering, or a conductor, or an engineer?’

“And I was like, ‘No, I started in finance.’ He was really not impressed with that. He goes, ‘Man, at some point, we’re going to have a craft employee running the railroad.’

“It is somewhat humbling when you go out there and talk to them, because they’ve got their own expectations.”

Shaw is right about that, but expectations are not reality. It’s possible that a future railroad president might have worked as a craft employee at an early point in his or her railroad career, but it is not realistic to think that C suite executives will be pulled from the ranks of operating or maintenance employees.

If you want to be a railroad president you need to have spent extensive time in such areas as finance, law or marketing and moved up the ranks in those departments.

Operating employees are not the only railroad stakeholders who have expectations and the expectations of some stakeholders carry more weight than those of others.

Shaw told another story about his first conversation with members of the railroad’s board of directors.

 “Their primary message to me was, ‘Don’t mess up,’” Shaw said. “Now, it was a little more forceful than that. I’ll let you use your imagination what the real verb was that they used.”

I think we can easily figure that one out.

NS Head Concedes Service Not Good Now

January 13, 2022

The new president of Norfolk Southern acknowledged at a shippers convention that his railroad isn’t doing a very good job right now of serving them.

“We don’t have a good product right now,” Alan Shaw said in remarks to the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers as reported by Trains magazine on its website.

“That’s unacceptable to me, that’s unacceptable for our employees, and it’s unacceptable to our customers,” Shaw said in Chicago.

Shaw attributed the lackluster service in part to labor shortages and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the steps Shaw said NS is taking to improve service include increased hiring of new workers, offering financial incentives to existing employees in an effort to increase crew availability and having supervisors fill in on some jobs, such as ferrying crews to and from train assignments.

Among the incentives being offered to workers are buying back vacation time and paying retention bonuses. Employees can also earn a bonus by making referrals to the NS training program.

Although he didn’t offer a timeline for how long it will take to improve service, Shaw pledged that NS will get things fixed and denied that the service issues are linked to the precision scheduled railroading operating model that it adopted in 2019.

“I’m not in position to tell you when we’ll get all the pieces in place,” he said. “But we will, fairly soon, be in a position to tell you that. And then we’ll have very candid and very direct conversations with our customers. Because you need to know that.”

To read more of Shaw remarks, visit https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/new-ns-president-admits-problems-promises-solutions/

Brady Lake Tower Two for Tuesday

January 11, 2022

Over the years Brady Lake has been a favorite hang out of mine to watch Norfolk Southern trains on the Cleveland Line. On occasion I’ve also caught an Akron Barberton Cluster Railway train here, too.

Towner’s Woods Park is located next to the tracks and has plenty of parking. The park also features a former Pennsylvania Railroad interlocking tower, which the PRR named Brady’s Lake.

At one time, the tower controlled switches and signals for the Lake Erie & Pittsburgh line to Cleveland that diverged here.

The LE&P is nearly all gone today and there are few signs by the tower that it ever existed. Portions of it are a hike and bike trail.

The top image was made on Nov. 4, 2005, and shows NS westbound manifest freight 15K passing the tower, which is shrouded by colorful fall foliage.

The bottom image was made on Feb. 1, 2000. The tower is easier to see with the leaves off the trees but remains somewhat obscured by tree branches and trunks.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Ky. Museum to Renovate Old Railroad Building

January 11, 2022

A Kentucky railroad museum has reached an agreement with Norfolk Southern to preserve a yard storage building in Ludlow, Kentucky.

The Ludlow Heritage Museum plans to renovate the building and transform it into the organization’s headquarters.

The structure is the last Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway building still standing in Ludlow and is located at the intersection of Oak and Carneal streets.

It was built in the late 1880s and is a 3,600-square-foot, round-arched brick and stone building.

Originally named the Ludlow Offices and Stores building, it was later made a supply shop to store parts.

NS 2022 Capital Projects Outlined

January 7, 2022

Norfolk Southern has outlined its capital spending priorities for 2022, which include extending sidings and improving intermodal terminals.

Trains magazine reported on its website that NS Vice President of Engineering Ed Boyle outlined the capital plans during a presentation to the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association.

Among the sidings to be extended is one in Campbellstown Township in Southwest Ohio on the New Castle Subdivision.

The siding, which is located southeast of Richmond, Indiana, will be extended to 15,000 feet.

It is one of six siding extension projects planned as part of the 2022 capital budget.

Also planned is upgrading yard lead tracks in Cincinnati. Most of the intermodal terminal projects will be in Chicago.

NS has not said how much it plans to spend on capital projects this year or detailed all of its projects. However, it spent $1.6 billion in 2021 on capital projects and expects to expend a similar amount this year.

Boyle noted during his presentation that bridge and structure work also will be a focus of the capital spending plan with plans set to replace 21 bridges and rebuild 28 others.

During this year NS plans to lay 500 miles of new rail, conduct 2,700 miles of tie and surfacing work, and replace 450 panel turnouts.

More information is available in the article, which can be found at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/norfolk-southern-sets-siding-terminal-improvements-in-capital-plan/

CSX 2nd in 2021 Traffic Growth

January 7, 2022

CSX ranked second among Class 1 railroad systems in traffic growth in 2021, Trains magazine reported on its website this week.

The Jacksonville-based carrier reported that its traffic was up 6.6 percent when compared with calendar year 2020.

Among the gains were double digit increases in intermodal and coal traffic.

Norfolk Southern posted a 5.6 percent traffic gain in 2021 fueled by a 3 percent rise in intermodal traffic and a 14 percent increase in coal traffic.

BNSF led all Class I systems in traffic growth at 7.4 percent.

The data is based on information kept by the Association of American Railroads, which said rail traffic increased overall by 5.7 percent.

The article can be viewed at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/bnsf-railway-leads-industry-in-traffic-growth-during-2021/

NS Talks With STB About Reciprocal Switching

January 7, 2022

Norfolk Southern has responded to a series of questions posed by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board regarding reciprocal switching regulations that the Board is considering adopting.

The Class 1 carrier did not outright oppose such a regulation but raised a number of concerns about it, including the adverse effects it could have on operations and differential pricing.

Reciprocal switching would mandate that a railroad with sole physical access to a particular shipper allow another carrier to switch the shipper’s cars to a junction point with the competing railroad.

The practice, which has been common in Canada for several years, has been supported by many shippers as a way to increase competitiveness.

Railway Age reported that NS and STB officials met in December to discuss proposed reciprocal switching regulations.

Similar meetings have been held in the past year between STB officials and those in various shipper organizations.

During their meeting with the STB, NS executives said reciprocal switching might be justified if a railroad was engaging in anticompetitive conduct and refusing to provide customers an efficient route for their freight.

However, NS said that remedies to such scenarios already exist under existing law and the STB already has mechanisms in place “to test the lawfulness of rates.”

It also said instituting reciprocal switching might serve the public interest in a few isolated cases.

Further information about the meeting and the position  that NS adopted in the article at https://www.railwayage.com/regulatory/ns-stb-talk-reciprocal-switching/

NS Offering Bonus to Drayage Truckers

December 22, 2021

Truckers are being offered a financial incentive by Norfolk Southern in an effort to get intermodal traffic moving faster from facilities in Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri.

Trains magazine reported on its website that the program offers a $200 bonus every time that a drayage driver delivers a shipping container and departs with another container.

The Dual Mission Reward Program has been implemented in Chicago at the Landers Intermodal Facility, which is the railroad’s largest terminal handling international freight.

NS officials said the program is a test effort that grew out of conversations with shippers and truckers about ways to relieve supply chain congestion.

The Trains story noted that before implementing the bonus incentives program, truckers left Landers empty about 85 percent of the time. The goal of the program is to get more trucks to leave with loads, which will improve efficiency and reduce carbon emissions and fuel use by reducing the number of truck trips required.

NS Details Service Issues in Letter to STB

December 14, 2021

Norfolk Southern President Alan H. Shaw acknowledged in a letter to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that its service quality is not where it should be.

The letter, dated Dec. 10, outlined the steps the Class 1 carrier is taking to improve its performance.

Shaw’s latter came in response to an inquiry from STB Chairman Martin Oberman who had written in November to then NS President James Squires to ask the railroad to address the deterioration of “key operating metrics” and an increasing number of shipper complaints about NS service.

Shaw blamed high workers attrition and a tight labor market for the service issues, noting that the company has been actively seeking to hire new conductors.

The service issues have been particularly acute in the Cincinnati-Chattanooga, Tennessee, corridor; in Birmingham, Alabama; and on the former Southern Tier line east of Buffalo, New York.

NS has taken such steps as redeploying personnel, reworking crew districts on the former Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific line, and taking advantage of reduced activity during the Thanksgiving holiday period to alleviate yard congestion in Birmingham and Chattanooga.

However, Shaw said similar progress has remained elusive for the Southern Tier.

As for hiring new conductors, Shaw said that through Dec. 6 NS had 285 employees in conductor training with another 939 prospective employees in the pre-employment process.

The company has offered economic incentives to prospective new hires and existing workers to encourage them to continue working for NS.

Shaw said it will take time to get its new hires into position and to address the service issues it has experienced.

The letter from Shaw to the STB can be viewed at https://www.stb.gov/wp-content/uploads/NS-Response-Letter-to-Chairman-Oberman-Regarding-Service-Issues_December-10-2021.pdf

Southern H Unit Damaged in Derailment

December 14, 2021

The Southern Railway heritage unit of Norfolk Southern sustained damage on Sunday after hitting a rock slide and derailing near Pittsburgh.

ES44AC No. 8099 and another unit were pulling a 100-car intermodal train bound for Chicago when it struck the rock slide and derailed about 4 a.m. in the borough of Baldwin.

No injuries to the crew were reported and no hazardous materials involved, The 8099 was leading the train. Both locomotives derailed along with five cars.

Officials said the derailment occurred along the Monongahela River in an area that had experienced high winds and up to a half-inch of rain.

Trains magazine reported on its website that the status of No. 8099 has yet to be determined.

To see photographs of the damaged heritage locomotive visit https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/ns-derailment-damages-southern-railway-heritage-unit/