Posts Tagged ‘NS Chicago Line’

It’s a Caboose!

April 25, 2021

They used to be on every freight train but then technology and labor reductions consigned them to a long list of things that used to be but are no more on America’s railroads.

But the caboose has a more romantic aura about it and was better known to most Americans than, say, an interlocking tower or trackside telephone booth.

Today the caboose is all but gone, primarily found on local trains. And even then it may not be a caboose per se but a shoving platform even if it used to be a caboose and still looks like one.

Shown is westbound Norfolk Southern local B23 in Goshen, Indiana, on the Chicago Line. The local originates in nearby Elkhart and works only as far east as Goshen before returning to the yard.

When I made this image on April 22, the B23 had two covered hopper cars and a caboose.

It may be battered and bruised but NS 555616 still has the classic look of a caboose and it’s still something out of the ordinary.

NS Reopens Chicago Line in Amherst

December 4, 2020

Norfolk Southern has reopened its Chicago Line in Amherst, which had been blocked on Tuesday by the derailment of an eastbound manifest freight.

Railroad officials said on Wednesday they restored one mainline track at 5 a.m. and a second mainline track would be restored by early afternoon on the same day.

Workers continued to clear wreckage from the scene even after the tracks reopened.

The derailment occurred at CP 212 near the intersection of Middle Ridge Road and Dewey Road.

Amherst Fire Chief Jim Wilhelm said his department responded to the derailment, but NS refused their assistance, saying it would handle and cleanup on its own.

An NS spokeswoman said the cause of the derailment remained under investigation.

No hazardous material was involved in the derailment and no one was injured.

The train involved, No. 310, was en route from Eklhart, Indiana, to Binghamton, New York.

Running Westbound at Brimfield

November 25, 2020

Earlier this month I was in Brimfield when a westbound Norfolk Southern manifest freight came along.

No, not the Brimfield in Portage County but the town of the same name in Indiana on the Chicago Line between Kendallville and Goshen.

A portion of the pole line is still in place, but I would think it has been years since it was used.

Today it is nothing more than a nice photo prop that is a throwback to another era.

Red Nose in Edgerton

November 5, 2020

Norfolk Southern eastbound ethanol train 64R passes the grain elevator in Edgerton, Ohio, on the Chicago Line this past Tuesday.

Since ethanol is derived at least in part from grain, it seems suitable to capture an ethanol train passing a grain elevator.

The Canadian Pacific leader on this train would not stay in that position past Toledo where an NS unit with cab signals was put on the point.

Thus when the 64R passed through Northeast Ohio en route to Reybold, Delaware, it had an NS leader.

The trailing unit in the image above is a CSX locomotive.

Good Place to Put a Red Maple Tree

October 28, 2020

Finding colorful fall foliage along a railroad mainline can be a challenge. Despite all the trees that line the tacks these days many of them are not particularly colorful when the leaves begin to turn in October.

So it was a pleasant surprise to find in Waterloo, Indiana, during an outing earlier this month this red maple tree standing near the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern.

I worked this tree into the image for four trains, including one going away picture. Shown is a westbound stack train.

RRE Cancels October Meeting, Will Hold Railfan Outing in Vermilion on Oct. 10 Instead

October 5, 2020

The Forest City Division of the Railroad Enthusiasts has canceled its October meeting but instead will conduct a railfan outing in Vermilion.

The Cleveland-based group had been set to meet on Oct. 9 but will go to Vermilion on Oct. 10 weather permitting.

Norfolk Southern has two routes through Vermilion, the busy Chicago Line and the far less busy Cleveland District.

Plans are to meet in the morning at the boat launch on the Vermilion River and then move to the railfan platform downtown on Main Street in mid afternoon.

The boat launch is located off West River Road with parking in either the upper lot or at river level.

The railfan platform is located in Victory Park on the south side of the Chicago Line.

The FCD/RRE also announced that it will hold its annual turkey shoot on Thanksgiving morning in Berea.

However, rather than meet at a local restaurant for breakfast as members have traditionnaly done they plan to get coffee, donuts and breakfast sandwiches at the Dunkin’ Donouts on Front Street in Berea if it is open that day.

Crash that Killed 2 Halts NS Chicago Line Traffic

June 8, 2020

Rail traffic on the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern was halted for several hours on Sunday afternoon after a grade crossing incident that killed two near Toledo and involved two NS trains.

An Ohio State Highway Patrol spokesman said the two deaths occurred in a pickup truck that drove around a downed crossing gate at the crossing of Holland-Sylvania Road near Angola Road on the Toledo-Springfield Township border.

The pickup was struck by westbound NS train 25N which pushed the truck into the front of eastbound 18M, which was stopped at the time.

The 18M was being led by NS 8104, the Lehigh Valley heritage locomotive.

Police said the pickup truck caught fire after the collision and firefighters were called to extinguish the blaze.

The crash occurred about 1:45 p.m. The 18M was stopped at the scene until 6:30 p.m. and roads in the vicinity remained blocked until 7:15 p.m.

Authorities said debris from the truck was strewn along the right of way.

The victims were not initially identified. Police said the victims died at the scene and alcohol is not thought to have been a factor in the incident.

The truck was headed northbound on Holland-Sylvania before the crash.

Waiting for Air on the NS Chicago Line

May 30, 2020

Eastbound intermodal train 20E passes the Amtrak platform in Waterloo to get my day of photographing on the NS Chicago Line started right.

It had been a long time since I’d photographed operations of the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern.

It had been so long that as I made my way to Waterloo, Indiana, last Sunday for my first railfan outing since early March it felt as though I’d been in another state or even another country for a few years and was returning home.

The Chicago Line has always had a mystique about it because of its heavy and diverse traffic.

I wasn’t expecting to find last weekend that same level of traffic of earlier years.

It was a holiday weekend, rail freight volume has been down by double digit numbers in the past several weeks, and NS is running fewer trains generally as it implements its version of precision scheduled railroading.

Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I spent six hours on the Chicago Line and saw nine trains. Just as significant was what I didn’t see during those six hours.

I didn’t see a single auto rack car, I didn’t see any foreign motive power and, most surprising, I didn’t see any distributed power units.

There were no Canadian Pacific overhead trains running during the time I was trackside and no tank car trains.

There also were some very long lulls between trains that started in late morning.

The day got off to a promising start. As I reached the Amtrak station the gates at the main crossing in town went down for a westbound stack train.

About 20 minutes later came eastbound 20E followed 15 minutes later by the 24M.

About a half hour later came a westbound manifest freight and five minutes after that came the 18M, an eastbound manifest.

It was looking like the Chicago Line of old. But after that flurry of activity rail traffic died for more than an hour and a half before the lull was broken by an eastbound coal train.

The next train, a westbound manifest, showed up an hour later. Then came another lull of nearly an hour before a westbound intermodal came along. That would be my last train of the day.

Had I arrived an hour earlier I could have caught a 40-minute late westbound Lake Shore Limited led by a Phase III heritage unit.

And speaking of heritage units, various online reports had the Interstate heritage unit leading stack train 21T.

A railfan I talked with briefly said it should arrive in a couple hours. I thought he meant in Waterloo.

I followed the progress of NS 8104 on a Facebook group devoted to the Chicago Line.

I heard a scratchy radio transmission about 11:15 a.m. and thought, “that must be the 21T.”

I got out and hung around the Amtrak platform. I waited and waited and waited. I periodically checked the Facebook page and HeritageUnits.com, but nothing new had been posted since MP 248.

The minutes ticked away and I kept thinking I should be seeing a headlight any minute.

Something must have happened. Maybe the train went into emergency, struck a car at a grade crossing, or who knows what.

It was boiling hot and I feared getting dehydrated. I didn’t dare dash back to my car to get my radio and/or some water for fear of missing the photograph.

On Labor Day weekend 2017 Marty Surdyk and his brother Robert had been in Indiana for a weekend outing and chased a Chicago, Fort Wayne & Eastern train on the Fort Wayne Line that didn’t exist where they thought it did.

They had, as Marty put it in a trip report, been chasing air for two hours and 40 miles.

I never left Waterloo, but it turned out I was waiting for air for more than an hour.

The 21T goes to Kansas City and not Chicago as I had thought. It had turned left at Butler, Indiana, and gotten on the former Wabash to head to Fort Wayne and points beyond.

There is in Indiana, it seems, a lot of air. On that same Labor Day outing Marty and Robert had “lost” into that same thin air an NS train they had been chasing.

So it meant that I have still not seen or photographed an NS heritage unit since last August when I caught the Illinois Terminal H unit in Marion.

That disappointment aside, it had still been an enjoyable day because I had seen and photographed something which is better than nothing.

With railroad traffic in contraction mode for the foreseeable future my expectations have adjusted accordingly. This is a year to take whatever you can and make the best of it.

The 18M was long but had no DPUs today.

The 24M may be an an afternoon train in Cleveland but it’s a morning train in Waterloo, Indiana.

An eastbound coal train broke a lull of more than an hour and a half.

Some reefer cars are mixed in with the last cut of box cars on this westbound.

My last sighting of the day was a westbound intermodal.

I Had Forgotten How Good This Day Had Been

May 23, 2020

A three-way meet in Olmsted Falls with an eastbound Norfolk Stack train, a very Lake Shore Limited and a tied down grain train with Canadian Pacific power was one of the highlights of my outing of Aug. 30, 2014.

It can be a quite pleasing feeling when going through old photographs and discovering an image you forgot you had.

I recently discovered not only images I had forgotten having made but a day-long outing that in retrospect must have seemed like one of those days where everything was going right.

And it occurred less than six years ago. So how could I have forgotten it?

I’ll answer that question later but on Aug. 30, 2014, I photographed 18 trains and saw locomotives of every Class 1 railroad except Canadian National.

The day began in Olmsted Falls just after 8 a.m. where I found a grain train sitting in the Berea siding west of Mapleway Drive with a Canadian Pacific leader.

There was no crew on board and the train probably needed a Norfolk Southern unit equipped with a cab signal apparatus.

In case you’ve forgotten, summer 2014 was the year NS implemented a new computer program in its dispatching system that tied the Chicago Line into knots for several weeks.

Mainline tracks between Cleveland and Chicago were blocked with trains whose crews had outlawed.

It was so bad that Amtrak in daylight became a regular occurrence in Northeast Ohio.

Indeed, I twice in one week photographed the eastbound Capitol Limited in mid morning. No. 30 is scheduled to arrive in Cleveland at 1:45 a.m., well before daybreak.

I’ve long since forgotten what plans I had for railfanning on Aug. 30, but I began the day in Olmsted Falls because the eastbound Lake Shore Limited was running more than five hours behind schedule.

Amtrak No. 48 would not reach Olmsted Falls until shortly before 11 a.m. By then NS had sent eight trains through the Falls of which four were westbounds.

An interesting fact I discovered upon reviewing the photos of the 11 Chicago Line trains I photographed that morning is that all but two of them were running on Track 1.

The NS dispatcher sent four trains west on Track 1 between 8:15 a.m. and 9:22 a.m. Three trains went east on the same track through Olmsted Falls between 9:38 a.m. and 10:05 a.m.

It must have been a challenge getting those trains out of each other’s way west of Cleveland.

An eastbound stack train at 10:50 a.m. was the first train to use Track 2 during the time I was there.

Two minutes after it arrived came the eastbound Lake Shore Limited on Track 1.

Running right behind the stacker on Track 2 was an eastbound coal train, which turned out to be the last NS train I saw.

The 10 NS trains I photographed included six stack trains, two tank car trains, a coal train and the grain train that never turned a wheel during my time in the Falls.

After the coal train cleared I headed for Wellington where CSX was equally as busy.

Between 12:15 p.m. and 12:47 p.m. I photographed five trains, two eastbounds and three westbounds.

It was an interesting mix of traffic that included an eastbound manifest freight, an eastbound auto rack train, the westbound trash containers train, the westbound Union Pacific-CSX “salad shooter” reefer train and a westbound grain train.

The reefer train had its customary three UP units, but of particular interest was the Southern Belle of Kansas City Southern leading the trash train.

Sometime after 1:30 p.m. I decided to head for New London. On the drive there, I spotted a Wheeling & Lake Erie train tied down just west of the grade crossing on Ohio Route 162 east of New London on the Carey Subdivision.

The lead unit of the eastbound W&LE train was a former KCS SD40 still wearing its KCS colors but with small W&LE markings.

The trailing unit was painted in Wheeling colors but lettered for the Denver & Rio Grande Western.

I don’t remember hanging out in New London but I presume that I did. Yet I didn’t photograph any trains there, which suggests that CSX might have died for the afternoon.

Whatever the case, I decided at some point to head east and wound up on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad where I photographed the last southbound train of the day arriving in Peninsula.

On the south end of the train was that LTEX leased unit that everyone loved to hate, GP15 No. 1420 in its solid black livery. On the north end was CVSR 1822, an Alco RS18u.

I photographed the train leaving and then headed home, having had quite a day with my camera.

OK, why did this become a “lost” memory given the diversity of what I captured with megapixels.

A number of reasons come to mind. Notice that I saw virtually no trains for most of the afternoon. I tend to evaluate the success of an outing by how it ends more than how it begins.

If the day ends with a flourish I tend to remember it as being successful. It is ends with little I tend to think that it could have been better.

Another factor was that August 2014 was a busy and eventful month for me and that might explain why this outing got lost in a lot of other memories.

Finally, days like the one I had on Aug. 30 used to be fairly common in Northeast Ohio when rail traffic was heavier.

A Kansas City Southern Belle might not have been a common sight in NEO back then — and still isn’t — but UP, BNSF and CP units were.

When you live in a place that has a high level of freight traffic it is easy to get somewhat jaded about it. It will always be there, right?

Yet five years later changes in railroad operating patterns have made outings like this less common.

There are fewer trains even though NS and CSX mainlines through Cleveland still host a lot of trains and can have busy spells. The “salad shooter” is now gone and the nature of and the overall level of rail traffic is not what it was five years ago.

Given my current circumstances how I long for a day today like the one I had on Aug. 30.

If there is a lesson to be drawn from this story it would be to appreciate what you have when you have it and learn to make the best of the opportunities that do present themselves in the here and now. They won’t always be there.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Many of the photographs that I made in Olmsted Falls on this day revolved around the grain train and its CP leader. In the distance a stack train heads west.

BNSF and NS units combined to wheel a westbound container train through Olmsted Falls.

NS units created a BNSF sandwich in the motive power consist of this eastbound tank car train.

A pretty lady leads an ugly train at Wellington. Southern Belles were a prized catch whenever I was trackside anywhere in Northeast Ohio.

The “salad shooter” makes an appearance in Wellington with its customary Union Pacific motive power consist.

Fresh lumber was among the many commodities being toted by this eastbound CSX manifest freight past the reservoir in Wellington.

Although it’s a Wheeling & Lake Erie unit, this SD40 still wore its KCS colors and thus made it a KCS two-fer type of day. It is sitting at the distant signal for Hiles near New London.

CVSR 1822 will be leading when this train comes back through Peninsula more than an hour from now.

Amtrak’s Michigan Trains are Invariably Late

February 26, 2020

Passengers board an Amtrak train bound for Chicago at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Chances are they will arrive late in the Windy City.

If you’re riding Amtrak in Michigan the chances are your trip is going to be late.

A report by the Detroit Free Press said the on-time rate last year in Michigan was 43 percent. On the Wolverine Service route between Chicago and Detroit it was just 33 percent.

That compared with a national average of between 60 and 70 percent.

Amtrak considers a train late if it is 30 minutes or more behind the published schedule.

Figures released by Amtrak show that the performance of the Michigan trains is getting worse.

On-time performance fell from 71 percent in 2016 and 2017 to 62 percent in 2018.

Amtrak is hoping that as part of a renewal of the federal surface transportation law that Congress will strengthen the law giving passenger trains preference over freight trains.

Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman based in Chicago, said such a law would give the passenger carrier legal leverage to better deal with its host railroads, which Amtrak blames for delaying its trains.

“It’s a very important issue to us because our reliability is suffering,” Magliari said.

The Free Press said it tracked the arrival times of six Amtrak trains in Troy, a Detroit suburb on the Wolverine Service line.

The trains from Chicago varied in lateness from 30 minutes to more than two hours.

Amtrak figures show that the afternoon Wolverine from Chicago to Pontiac, the Detroit suburb that is the terminus of the route, arrived in Troy an average of 42 minutes late.

Six times it was more than an hour late and once in mid-January it was two hours behind schedule.

The newspaper said passengers it spoke with who disembarked at Troy said that although they found the delays annoying they still liked train travel.

In its efforts to put pressure on Congress, Amtrak has created a YouTube video titled Your Right to be on Time that urges viewers to contract lawmakers to complain about late trains and urge them to support legislation “that puts people before freight.”

The video contends that Amtrak’s host railroads are giving their freight trains priority over Amtrak trains in dispatching decisions.

“Usually, it’s what we call freight train interference. That’s when our trains are delayed by slow freight trains ahead of them,” the narrator says in the video.

The video acknowledges that delays can also be caused by such things as weather, track maintenance, mechanical problems with trains, and obstructions on the track.

“You can be certain we’ll tell Congress that the original law setting up Amtrak in 1970 does not allow us to bring litigation over the poor handling of our trains by the freight railroads,” Magliari said. “Imagine paying for a service from someone who knows you can’t go after them in court.”

Magliari said one reason why Amtrak trains are getting delayed by freight trains is that the latter are getting longer and sometimes are too long to put into a siding to allow Amtrak to pass.

The Association of American Railroads, which represents the Class 1 railroads that host Amtrak trains, contends the federal government should fund construction of additional tracks and longer sidings

“It would be nice to see the public coming forward” — that is, with federal and state dollars — “where they have an interest in keeping passengers trains operating,” said AAR’s John Gray, senior vice president for policy and economics.

Much of the track Amtrak uses on the Chicago-Detroit corridor, though, is owned by Amtrak or the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Wolverine Service trains, though, use within the Detroit metropolitan area tracks owned by Conrail, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern.

Amtrak’s Michigan trains use the busy NS Chicago Line to reach Chicago from Northwest Indiana.

MDOT, which helps fund Amtrak service in Michigan, said most of the delays incurred by Amtrak’s Michigan trains occur on that 40-mile stretch of NS.

The agency owns 135 miles of the Wolverine Service route between Kalamazoo and Dearborn. Amtrak owns the track from Kalamazoo to Porter, Indiana.

MDOT spokesman Mike Frezell said Amtrak trains using track that it and MDOT own have largely unimpeded travel there.

“We’re hoping within two years to have speeds up to 110 m.p.h. on portions of that, and we’ll be raising all the speeds through that section,” Frezell said.

He said the objective in raising speeds in the Chicago-Detroit corridor is to make train travel competitive with driving and flying.