Posts Tagged ‘NS intermodal trains’

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.

They Were Both Going Eastbound

January 12, 2020

A public transit car of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority appears to be pacing an eastbound Norfolk Southern intermodal train near downtown Cleveland.

The image was made in August 2016 near Old Broadway in Cleveland. The NS train is on the Cleveland District while the RTA car is headed for the Blue Line to Van Aken Boulevard in Shaker Heights.

Glint Time

November 17, 2019

Most of the glint photography I’ve done has been at sunset rather than sunrise.

But during a trip to the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern in Waterloo, Indiana, I had ample opportunities to practice glint photography with the rising sun.

That was because in the hour or so after I arrived in Waterloo there were five trains in succession, all of them headed westbound out of the early morning sunlight.

In the top image, a coal train on Track 1 reflects the light as it nears the Amtrak station.

In the bottom image, a string of UPS trailers glimmer as they pass through the crossing of North Center Street.

NS Has Started Redesigning its Intermodal Network

September 20, 2019

Norfolk Southern has begun to design a revamp of its intermodal network part of the process of implementing its TOP21 operating plan.

Jeffrey Heller, NS vice president of intermodal and automotive, told an intermodal conference this week that the goal of the revamp is to find efficiencies, cut costs, and improve operations and service.

NS began implementing TOP21 in its merchandise network this past July and will follow the same process in intermodal that it did with merchandise traffic.

The carrier will improve terminal operations before making sweeping changes to road trains. NS has 50 intermodal terminals.

Heller told the annual expo of the Intermodal Association of North America that NS will seek to combine shorter intermodal trains into longer ones.

It might move anchor blocks of intermodal traffic into the consists of merchandise trains.

Those merchandise trains are fewer in number, longer, heavier and rely on distributed motive power.

Any changes to the intermodal network will likely be made early next year after NS has had the opportunity to collaborate with its shippers, Heller said.

Heller said that in the long term, railroads need to become more efficient as truckers move toward platooning and autonomous operations.

Although NS service is not where the carrier wants it to be, Heller said it has improved.

He said that TOP21, which is the moniker NS has given to its version of precision scheduled railroading, has enabled NS to become a faster, more fluid railroad with less terminal dwell times and faster average train speeds.

NS has seen a decline in its domestic intermodal business due in part to falling truck rates,.

Heller said trucking companies ordered a record number of new rigs last year and are now scrambling to find business to keep those rigs rolling.

“We are now at a decision point, where we could either chase the business or wait for the growth to come back,” Heller said.

NS, UP Changing Some Interline Intermodal Service

June 5, 2019

Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific on July 1 will change some interline intermodal service lanes.

The carriers said the changes come on the heels of other changes made earlier this year that dropped nearly 500 low-volume lanes.

The latest service changes will drop westbound interline intermodal service in 78 lanes and make terminal changes for a dozen other origin-destination pairs.

Among the changes are dropping domestic service between the Industry Terminal near Los Angeles and Toledo, Ohio; Buffalo, New York; and Taylor, Pennsylvania.

NS and UP plan to consolidate domestic service at higher-volume destinations. The overall goal is to favor high-density routes that support steel wheel interchange in Chicago and Memphis, Tennessee.

The changes are limited to domestic origins on UP and international origins on NS.

NS also said it plans to discontinue international intermodal service between Detroit and Baltimore.

In a service advisory sent to shippers, UP said the changes seek to reduce transit times and improve customer experience.

First Train on the New NS Painesville Bridge

October 2, 2018

Ursula and I were coming home from our day in the Cuyahoga Valley chasing Nickel Plagte Road No. 765. I decided to cross the tracks at Ohio 84) since it just reopened on Friday because it was the last crossing rebuilt with the new alignment.

When we crossed I looked west  at the curve and saw the original NKP main had been cut and connected to the new alignment.

When we got to Riverside Drive I saw the railfan crowd and knew what was happening. I was told that all rail traffic was held about 12 hours while the new alignment was connected.

The first train to cross the bride was the 206 shortly before sunset at 10 mph with railroad personnel at the end of bridge watching to make sure all was OK.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Most RRs Have Gained Traffic, But Not CSX

July 7, 2018

Five of the six Class 1 railroads in the United States have reported traffic gains in the first half of the year. The lone exception is CSX, which said its traffic is down 0.6 percent due to a decline in carload volume and the effect of intermodal service changes.

CSX last year jettisoned 7 percent of its intermodal volume by ending its hub-and-spoke intermodal network, which had its hub at the Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal in North  Baltimore.

The hub and spoke approach sought to build volume at low-volume origins and destinations. Nonetheless, CSX said its intermodal volume was up 1.5 percent for the first half of this year.

The traffic figures are reported by the railroads to the Association of American Railroads. BNSF was the biggest gainer, seeing traffic rise 5 percent.

Norfolk Southern led all carriers in intermodal traffic with an 8.2 percent gain for the first quarter and 7.9 percent for the first half of the year.

In the second quarter, NS led the industry in overall growth at 5.9 percent, edging out Canadian National’s 5.7 percent volume growth.

Some railroad industry observers said railroads have benefited from tight capacity in the trucking industry. Most of the gains in traffic posted by the railroads has been in intermodal.

Carload growth was strong in the second quarter, rising by 4.2 percent. It had been just 0.3 percent in the first quarter of this year.

And Then the Rain Came

June 1, 2018

It was just about to call it a day and head home to watch the Preakness Stakes on television. Could Justify win the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown?

He could and he did amid foggy and rainy conditions in Baltimore.

But first I wanted to get one more train on the Cleveland Line of Norfolk Southern.

The bridge carrying Ravenna Road over the NS tracks in Brady Lake has been closed since last December after the Portage County Engineer’s Office determined that it is structurally unsafe for vehicular traffic.

But those using the Portage Hike and Bike Trail can still use the bridge and so can railfans.

An eastbound empty hopper train had pulled up and stopped and my hunch was that it was waiting for traffic at CP 86.

Sure enough, an eastbound intermodal train came past, probably the 24M.

But before the intermodal train got to my position, rain began falling and it kept increasing in intensity.

I got my photograph and ran for my car just before a deluge let loose. It was time to head home.

Double Shot of Western Motive Power

March 1, 2018

I was listening to my scanner in Bellevue last Sunday when I heard a train call a signal that indicated it was taking the connection from the Fostoria District to the Sandusky District to head toward Columbus.

At the time, I was sitting across from Wheeling Tower and couldn’t see it.

Curiosity got the better of me and I drove over to Slaughterhouse Road in time to see the last containers on the train coming around the connection.

It was Norfolk Southern intermodal train 218, which originates at Calumet Yard in Chicago and travels to Linwood, North Carolina.

I gave chase, catching up with it just north of Attica Junction. The lead unit was BNSF, making it the second train heading east on the Sandusky District I had seen that day with BNSF power on the point.

The 218 was slowing as it neared West Attica and I could see that it was passing a stopped eastbound intermodal train, the 234.

On the point of the 234, which originates in Chicago (Landers Yard) and travels to Atlanta, was a Union Pacific unit.

It would have been nice to have photographed the two units side by side waiting at West Attica, but the 234 was too far back to get a good shot, even with a telephoto lens.

Both trains were waiting for an eastbound CSX stack train to cross ahead of them at Attica Junction. I spotted the CSX stacker as I crossed over its tracks in Siam, but didn’t wait around for it.

I set up by the former Toledo & Ohio Central depot in Bucyrus for the NS intermodal trains. I did not have a long wait. First came the 218 followed several minutes later by the 234.

Uncle Pete Down the Street

February 14, 2018

I was visiting the museum in the former New York Central depot last summer in Conneaut when Norfolk Southern intermodal train 206 came through town. I heard it but was not in a position to get close to it. So I did the next best thing, which was photograph it down Sandusky Street. On this day, the 206 had Union Pacific 4877 on the point.