Posts Tagged ‘NS motive power’

Look Ma, No Wide Cabs

November 21, 2017

Wide cab locomotives are ubiquitous on North America’s Class 1 Railroads. It is not necessarily rare to see a motive power consist with one or more narrow-cab locomotives, but it is not common either.

Hence, I stood up and took notice when NS C80 showed up in Alliance with three narrow cab units. It was a light power move and I’m not sure why this power was in town.

The locomotives came in on Track 2, stopped west of the home signal for CP Alliance, and then moved onto the runner before vanishing off to the east.

After the crew tied the units down, it was picked up by a crew van whose driver had a tough time finding the crew even with the assistance of a GPS.

The individual units have some interesting history behind them. All three were on the Conrail motive power roster with two of them having been built for CR.

RP-E4C No. 712 was rebuilt by NS from a GP38 that was built for Penn Central. SD40E No. 6347 was rebuilt from an SD50 built for Conrail. In the middle of the consist was GP40-2 No. 3014.

 

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Quest for Keystone Fall Foliage: 1

October 31, 2017

Eastbound stack train 20A would be the first train that I photographed at Summerhill, Pennsylvania, but actually the second train that I saw there.

First of Three Parts

My quest for color began in pitch black. It was just before 4:30 a.m. as I backed down the driveway of my home for a one-day trip to central Pennsylvania in a quest to photograph trains and fall foliage.

The VisitPA.com website reported that foliage in the area around Cassandra was at 80 to 90 percent peak.

The weather forecast for Oct. 22 was promising with high temperatures in the region expected to reach the low 70s. The following days would see clouds and rain moving in.

I needed an early start in order to catch Amtrak’s eastbound Pennsylvanian.

No. 42 is due out of Pittsburgh at 7:30 a.m. and I figured it would take about four hours to get to my first photo location in Summherhill.

The trip down the Ohio Turnpike was uneventful. Ditto for my journey on the Pennsylvania Turnpike other than a highway robbery incident at the state line.

No, it was robbery in a legal sense. I was shocked that nowadays it costs $7 to get into the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

When we traveled through here last summer I thought the toll was about $2 less, but the toll booth attendant insisted it has been $7 at least since he began working there last April.

So I entered the Keystone State $11 lighter, counting the $4 toll I had paid to get out of Ohio. I got off at the U.S. 22 exit east of Pittsburgh. Dawn’s early light had yet to break and I already had paid $15.75 in tolls.

I had stopped at the turnpike service plaza at Oakmont, Pennsylvania, to stretch my legs. I needed to refuel but the price of gas there was sky high so I ended up getting gas at a Sheetz in Murraysville shortly after exiting the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

It wasn’t cheap there either, some 30 cents a gallon more than what I last paid in Ohio.

Aside from high tolls, no trip on the Pennsylvania Turnpike is complete without construction zones. I was not disappointed, but at least I was able to cruise at 70 mph for most of my time on the self-described “America’s First Super Highway” which is perpetually under construction.

The sun began rising somewhere east of Blairsville and I pulled over to get a photograph of a better than average sunrise.

I tried to judge how much fall color was on the adjacent hills, but that was tough to do in the dark.

As the sky got brighter I got a better feel for the autumn leaves and they looked promising.

Few people were out and about in Summerhill as I arrived, parked and walked up the bridge that spans the Pittsburgh Line of Norfolk Southern.

This is former Pennsylvania Railroad territory and the PRR-style position light signals in Summerhill just east of the bridge are still standing.

But probably not for much longer. Just behind the U.S. 219 overpass to the west an NS crew was at work putting in new signals. Another signal crew was working in Cresson.

I had not come to Summerhill to get the PRR signals, but it occurred to me this might be the last time I see them.

It was quite cooler in Summerhill than it had been at home when I left. The foliage was nice, although not quite as colorful as I would have liked. Many trees had already lost their leaves.

I chose Summerhill rather than Cassandra to photograph the Pennsylvanian because at the latter the train would be coming through a narrow cut that was likely to be in shadows. Besides, I’ve already photographed Amtrak at Cassandra.

As it turned out, the cut in Summerhill west of the bridge was also in shadows due to the low sun angle. Gradually the sunlight began creeping over the trees.

A westbound stack train was going through town as I arrived and it had helpers on the rear. It would be the only intermodal train I saw all day with rear-end helpers.

I had arrived in Summerhill shortly after 8 a.m. and other than the stack train, NS was as sleepy as the town.

I thought there might be some early morning fog, but that wasn’t the case other than a thin layer to the east. There was in the air the scent of wood smoke and maybe that was what I was seeing.

The signal heads on the east side of the bridge were lined clear for Track 1 and displayed a stop indication for Track 2. There is no eastbound signal for Track 3. I didn’t see it, but as I waited on the bridge the signal for Track 2 went to clear.

I heard a horn to the west and a headlight came around the curve belonging to intermodal train 20A.

About 10 minutes later a set of helpers went west and 10 minutes after that eastbound manifest freight 38Q came grinding past.

Amtrak No. 42 is due out of Johnstown at 9 a.m. and a couple of railfans from New Jersey said it usually comes through Summerhill about 9:30.

Another set of helpers went west on Track 3 at 9:28 and No. 42 showed up two minutes later barreling along on Track 2, having left Johnstown six minutes off schedule.

With Amtrak gone, I strolled down to ground level to get an image of a train passing beneath the PRR signal bridge.

It was not a long wait. Twelve minutes after Amtrak went shooting past came an eastbound loaded coal train on Track 1.

I got the images I wanted and decided it was time to head for Cassandra.

But not before stopping at the Sheetz in Portage to get a tuna salad wrap, potato chips and a set of Tastykake cupcakes to have for lunch.

No visit to Pennsylvania is complete without Tastykake, which traces its heritage to the Tasty Baking Company that was founded in Pittsburgh in 1914. Today, though, Tastykake is based in Philadelphia.

I also bought a copy of the Altoona Mirror and learned that Penn State had defeated Michigan the night before in Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley.

I had watched part of that game on TV and listened to some of it on the radio after going to bed. But I turned it off in order to get more sleep.

I had bought a copy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the Sheetz in Murraysville, but it was the early edition and didn’t’ have the Saturday college football scores.

I was most pleased to learn the Nittany Lions had bested the Wolverines 42-13.

A closer view of the eastbound 20A.

Helper sets coming (above) and going (below)

Here comes the 38Q in the first of a two-shot sequence.

Another set of NS helpers and the PRR signal bridge.

This could be the last time I see, let along photograph, this PRR signal bridge in Summerhill. Is that fog or smoke clinging to the hillside in the background.

An SD80MAC leads a coal train past the PRR position light signals in Summerhill.

 

What Was That Doing on CSX?

October 23, 2017

For nearly two hours the CSX New Castle Subdivision through Kent had been quiet. That is not necessarily a rare occurrence as that line can have some long dry spells.

From what I could tell it didn’t help that train Q299 had suffered a locomotive failure, which had Track No. 1 tied up.

Finally, I heard the Q137 call the signal at Davey Tree northeast of town. I got into position on an observation platform that is part of the now decorative dam on the Cuyahoga River just south of the Main Street bridge.

I couldn’t see the train until it emerged from beneath the bridge. Imagine my surprise to see a Norfolk Southern unit leading the train.

Now that’s something you don’t see every day on the New Castle Sub.

At first glance, the trailing unit, though, didn’t look anything like NS or CSX.

What is this? As the train continued its westward trek on Track 2, I recognized that it was the Virginian heritage locomotive of NS.

A check of the unit’s spotting history on HeritageUnits.com found that No. 1069 has been on CSX since at least Oct. 17 when BNSF handed it off in Chicago.

No. 1069 led Q138 eastbound through Akron on Oct. 18 at 7:30 a.m. and when I saw it last Friday it was returning westward.

As of this morning, NS 1069 was still on CSX, having been spotted on two trains in Michigan over the weekend.

Boats, Trains and a Jet

October 12, 2017

A Norfolk Southern stack train crosses the Cuyahoga River on Lift Bridge No. 1

Last January my fellow Akron Railroad Club officer Marty Surdyk published a feature article in the ARRC Bulletin describing a New Year’s Day outing that he and his brother Robert had made in Cleveland on the Chicago Line of Norfolk Southern.

They spent most of their time photographing near the lift bridge over the Cuyahoga River and in the Battery Park neighborhood.

I’ve been to Battery Park, but I’ve never photographed trains on the lift bridge, which spans the Cuyahoga River just south of its mouth with Lake Erie.

Marty and I talked about replicating that January outing but it didn’t come about until late September.

Who would have thought that the temperature that day would soar into the 90s? But it did as part of a string of six consecutive days during which Cleveland set records for high temperatures.

My outing with Marty would not exactly replicate what he and Robert had done eight months earlier.

For starters, they had gone out on a holiday when the bars were closed. On a Sunday in September there would be more people out and about in the Flats and all of the restaurants and bars would be open.

Our outing began with driving around the Flats looking for a parking spot.

The lot in which Robert and Marty had parked was largely vacant, but it’s a pay lot and although no one was manning the entrance gate, that could change at any time.

Complicating matters was the fact that the parking meters on the streets had covers saying “no parking, police order.”

I noticed, though, that temporary signs on utility poles referenced no parking on Friday and Saturday. This was Sunday and maybe no one had come yet to remove the covers.

Some cars were parked in those spots and after driving around for awhile we decided to chance it.

We found a space on Front Avenue near the Margaritaville Cleveland Restaurant and bar and walked the short distance to the east bank of the Cuyahoga.

There is a nice wide sidewalk along the river that leads right up to the lift bridge.

During our driving around we had not missed any trains, but had missed a lake freighter headed out to Lake Erie.

We didn’t have a long wait before bagging a pair of intermodal trains, the 21G and an eastbound stack train whose symbol we missed.

We also found out that since January that either the owner of the lot in which Marty and Robert had hung out or the railroad have erected a tall fence along the tracks.

That prevented us from making images of trains coming through the bridge and of RTA Waterfront Line trains crossing over the NS tracks as Marty and Robert had done earlier.

Not wanting to chance getting a ticket, we didn’t stay long on the east bank of the Cuyahoga.

We drove to the west side where we found a parking spot without a meter on Main Avenue beneath the Shoreway bridge over the Flats.

Back in January, Marty and Robert had parked in the lot for Shooters restaurant and bar and hung out on its deck along the river.

But it had been closed that day and no one was around. That was not the case on this September Sunday.

We had noticed while standing on the east bank a viewing platform next to an inlet of the Cuyahoga adjacent to Shooters.

It belonged to an establishment that was closed so we spent some time there.

The advantage it had was a straight-on view of the NS bridge. Another advantage was that the lighting was ideal for that photo angle.

The 17N (manifest freight) was approaching the bridge as we arrived, but we then had a long wait to get the next train. The BF10 was in the area, but the Cleveland Terminal Dispatcher had told the crew to be patient because the bridge was open.

It would remain open for quite a while and we speculated that the bridge tender was holding it open because the Goodtime III and Nautica Queen were scheduled to depart their respective docks at 1 p.m.

The Goodtime would go up the Cuyahoga while the Queen was headed out to Lake Erie. They passed each other just north of the bridge.

It is our understanding that commercial boat traffic has the right of way at the bridge, but the railroad is not obligated to open it for pleasure craft if it has a train coming.

Having not seen the written regulations, I’m not sure how it is supposed to work.

Based on what we observed on this day, though, the bridge remained up most of the time. But when rail traffic was imminent, it came down.

As it turned out, it was the approach of the 24M, a hot intermodal train with UPS trailers, that sent the bridge down.

BF10 was the first train to cross followed by the 24M. But much to the displeasure of the armada of pleasure boats waiting on both sides of the bridge, NS had more traffic to run.

Also approaching the bridge were the 412 (coke train) and the 18N (auto racks).

The latter cleared the bridge about 2:15 p.m., which made the wait for the boats nearly 45 minutes. Some boaters floated in place while others drove around in circles.

After the passage of the 18N, we went to get lunch at a Subway outlet near Battery Park.

We would eat our sandwiches at Battery Park and catch four trains, the 375 (empty coal hoppers), the 20E (intermodal), a light power move that earlier had taken the BF10 to Rockport Yard and the 11K (manifest freight).

The latter was of particular interest because it had the Nickel Plate Road heritage unit in the motive power consist, albeit trailing.

It also was, of course, the last train of the four to pass our position.

After that we meandered over to Wendy Park where we had more luck catching boats than trains. One lake freighter had already passed the bridge by the time we arrived, but I was able to get going away photos of it navigating up the Cuyahoga amid a flotilla of pleasure craft.

We also caught another freighter coming off the lake. As it made its way toward the NS bridge, a Delta Air Lines Boeing 757 passed overhead landing at nearby Burke Lakefront Airport with a load of Minneosta Twins coming to town from Detroit for a series with the Indians.

After all of that activity, we got one last train of the day crossing the bridge, intermodal train 21Q.

We also heard the dispatcher tell a track maintainer that the computer system in the dispatching officer was going to have an outage at 6 p.m. That might have had something to do with the paucity of train traffic.

Daylight was fading so we headed to nearby Edgewater Park for some sunset photographs before calling it day and heading for home.

The westbound 21G was the first train that we photographed on the east bank of the Cuyahoga River.

Westbound train 17N crosses the bridge.

BF10 crosses the bridge after a wait. There aren’t many boats on either side of the bridge — yet.

Box cars and boats.

The EOT of the 24M was welcome sight, but there were still two more trains to go.

Still waiting. A westbound coke train crosses the bridge.

18N was the last of four trains to cross the bridge in mid afternoon after about a 45-minute wait for the boats.

Between the condos of Battery Park is an NS train and Lake Erie.

Spanning 73rd Street in Battery Park

A Delta Air Lines 757 lands at Burke Lakefront Airport with the Minnesota Twins as lake freighter Saint Mary’s Cement III pulls into the Cuyahoga River from Lake Erie. The massive boat is being pulled backward by a tug boat.

Containers of NS train 21Q rumble through downtown Cleveland.

Sunset at Edgewater Park was a good way to end a most productive day in Cleveland.

Planes Were the Objective Along With the Trains

May 1, 2017

Having picked up a third unit, the motive power set of the 20R is returning to its train, which was parked east of CP 194.

When I saw the weather forecast for Sunday, April 23, I knew I just had to get out someplace trackside.

The winds were going to be northeasterly, which sealed the deal on going to Olmsted Falls. Why? Because aircraft landing at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport would be landing on runway 6 left and that would put their final approach path just to the west of the depot.

I could photograph trains and planes. Maybe I would get lucky and get a heritage plane as well as an NS heritage unit.

It turned out that I got neither. All of the motive power was standard NS black. All of the planes were in their usual colors and markings.

Not a single foreign unit led a single train during my nearly nine hours there.

I did succeed, though, in photographing for the first time Allegiant Air, which began flying into Hopkins in February. That same month Allegiant stopped serving the Akron-Canton Airport.

I also got an American Airlines MD80 in its original livery. American plans to phase the MD80 out of its fleet later this year so those planes are flying on short time.

This outing had something in common with the ARRC’s Dave McKay Day back on April 1.

On McKay Day, NS train 20R had to pick up another locomotive. The same thing happened on this day, too.

The 17N cut off its power and dropped a spare unit at the far west end of the Berea siding. The 20R power set ran light through the Falls to pick it up.

Otherwise, it was a pretty routine day, but even a routine day can be a good day when you are trackside on a nice spring day.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Eastbound 22K passing a budding tree by the depot.

The crew of NS train 17N returns to its train after dropping off a unit for the 20R in the Berea siding.

A stack train with a colorful set of containers approaches the Olmsted Falls depot.

I believe this is NS train 206.

Big wheels keep on turning. Tractors hitch a ride on eastbound NS train 14A.

An Allegiant MD80 is lined up to land on at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. Catching Allegiant for the first time was at the top of my objective list for this outing. This flight is inbound from Orlando Sanford Airport.

NS 1st Quarter Net Income Up 12%

April 27, 2017

Norfolk Southern said on Wednesday that its first quarter 2017 net income rose by 12 percent to $433 million compared with the same period in 2016.

The railroad said it set records for operating ratio, income from operations and earnings per share.

The increase in net income was attributed to a 7 percent rise in income from railway operations, as well as a lower effective income tax rate.
Diluted earnings per share climbed 15 percent to $1.48 compared with the EPS for the first quarter of 2016.

Railway operating revenue rose 6 percent to $2.6 billion compared with 2016 as overall volume rose 5 percent due to growth in coal, intermodal and merchandise. Income from railway operations was a record $773 million, up 7 percent year over last year.

The operating ratio of 70.0 percent was a first quarter record, compared with 70.1 percent in 2016.

Operating expenses increased 6 percent to $1.8 billion compared with 2016. NS said that targeted expense cuts were offset by inflation, particularly related to fuel expenses, which were higher by $64 million.

Chief Marketing Officer Alan Shaw said overall traffic volume increased 5 percent. Merchandise traffic grew 1 percent, intermodal rose 4 percent, and coal was up by 21 percent.

A 71 percent spike in export coal was an aberration, Shaw said, due to the effect of cyclone damage in coal-producing regions of Australia. That tightened the global supply and created demand for U.S. coal.

Shaw said NS expects demand to remain strong in the second quarter before returning to more normal levels in the second half of the year.

Utility coal shipments grew 14 percent in the quarter thanks in part to higher natural gas prices.

“Norfolk Southern’s record results for the first quarter demonstrate the efficacy of our strategic plan, under which we are enhancing our service quality and network performance while driving significant efficiency improvements,” said Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer James Squires in a statement. “Our focus on providing a superior service product has positioned us for growth and, coupled with our cost discipline, has contributed to a solid start to the year. Our strategy provides a strong foundation for growth at low incremental costs, a powerful formula for enhanced shareholder value.”

During a conference call with in analysts, Squires said NS is watching closely what is happening in the railroad industry, particularly at competitor CSX.

Squires said NS still plans to cut its operating ratio below 65 percent and continue to boost productivity while reducing costs by $650 million by 2020.

In 2017, Squires said NS expects to save $100 million in expenses.

When asked if NS expects to gain market share if CSX suffers service disruptions as it streamlines operations, Squires said, “We’re always looking for good revenue growth opportunities.”

NS Chief Operating Officer Mike Wheeler said that although the railroad has ceased yard humping operations at three yards in the past couple years its 10 hump yards are a vital part of the network and are key to providing good service to merchandise customers

Wheeler said NS will rationalize terminals if it can do so without affecting service.

He said NS has made improvements in key service metrics, including train length and locomotive productivity.

Train lengths grew for the sixth straight quarter largely due to an “aggressively accelerating use of distributed power.”

NS has mothballed 50 locomotives from its switching and local service operations and is eyeing the retirement of another 100 engines in the second quarter. Since early 2016, NS has sidelined 300 locomotives.

Wheeler said a smaller locomotive fleet reduces maintenance costs and improves fuel efficiency, noting that the railroad realized a 6 percent improvement in fuel efficiency in the first quarter of 2017.

The Paint Was Barely Dry on NS 7328

April 26, 2017

Norfolk Southern 7328 used to be Union Pacific 8263.

There was something that looked different about the Norfolk Southern train of hoppers as it approached Olmsted Falls.

The lead unit of train 547 was gleaming in the mid-morning sunlight and there was a couple of specs of orange behind it.

It turned out that NS 7328 had just been repainted. That was good news and bad news.

The good news is that a freshly-painted locomotive, even one that is black, makes for a nice image. The bad news is that this is one of the former Union Pacific SD9043MACs that NS purchased used a while back.

These units ran around in UP Armour yellow for a while, sans their UP markings, and added a spot of color to the otherwise all black NS world.

Sure, NS has heritage locomotives and special tribute locomotives to break up the black monotony, but it is still good to get some color every now and then.

In the case of this train the two trailing BNSF “pumpkins” helped to provide just enough of that to enhance the interest of this motive power set.

Article and Photograph by Craig Sanders

Let’s Get Behind the Horses

April 19, 2017

Many years ago when I was a kid we were on a family vacation out east. We saw a billboard that read, “let’s get behind the birds,” making a reference to the Baltimore Orioles Major League Baseball team.

The billboard had a team photo that was taken from behind the players, not in front of them.

The vast majority of the time, railroad photographs show the nose of a locomotive approaching the photographer.

This Norfolk Southern light power move — symbol 967 — is headed from Columbus to Bellevue.

With the exception of DPU units, it is not often that the rear of a locomotive is also the rear of the train.

Last Gasp of Winter

April 11, 2017

Where did the winter go? That’s a term more commonly heard about summer, a season  that most people embrace, and not winter, a season that most people dread.

We had snow this winter, but not as much as I remember there being in past winters and for various reasons I didn’t get out when we had it to make any photographs.

It is not that I didn’t make photographs during the winter months, but when I did get out there was little to no snow on the ground.

So here it is April and this is one of the best snow and trains photograph that I have to show for the winter of 2016-2017.

Yeah, I know it is kind of lame, but at least there is snow in the image even if little of it.

There will always be another winter and the next one might have more opportunity than I care to have. But I’ll deal with that then.

NS Opens New Chicago Locomotive Shop

February 15, 2017

Norfolk Southern has opened a new locomotive shop in Chicago adjacent to its 47th Street intermodal facility.

NS logo 2The $9.5 million facility has 16,300 square feet and comes with a 125-ton drop table to inspect, repair, or replace traction motors; a mobile, 7.5–ton overhead gantry crane, and a 77-foot-long inspection pit.

It can handle four locomotives indoors at once and will employ 25 craft workers around the clock.

“The new facility is strategically located on Norfolk Southern’s primary rail line serving Chicago, and it will allow NS to rapidly make repairs to locomotives moving freight to our major terminals,” said NS vice president mechanical Don Graab in a statement. “The investment is part of NS’s commitment to provide timely and reliable service and will enable us to move goods even more efficiently across the Chicago gateway and benefit intermodal customers shipping freight to East Coast markets.”

With the opening of the shop NS will no longer have to move locomotives requiring extensive maintenance to other shops on its system.

NS also operates a minor repairs shop in Chicago at Calumet Yard. NS has six yards in the Chicago region that handle more than 100 trains a day.