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35

The myth of intermodal growth

Posted yesterday by Fred Frailey
It has been said so many times that it has become mantra: The future for railroads is intermodal. Bye-bye coal, bye-bye crude oil, bye-bye carload traffic (CSX carload volume is off 20 percent from 2000). All that doesn’t matter, the mantra goes, because we have intermodal, and intermodal is the growth engine that will save us. That promise was Norfolk Southern’s chief line of defense in 2016 when Canadian Pacific tried to nudge it into a merger. But it appears to me that all this...
17

Auto-Train reborn!

Posted 4 days ago by Fred Frailey
 Just when I thought that Auto-Train Corp. would fade into the sands of time without a proper telling of its short but fascinating history, along comes Doug Riddell. Quite under my radar, Doug researched, wrote, and produced Auto-Train, which has been published by the Richmond Fredericksburg & Potomac Historical Society this spring. To order it, go here. It’s the sort of accurate and readable work we’ve come to expect from Doug over the decades. And it comes with lots of ski...
24

Clarence Gooden's classy exit

Posted one month ago by Fred Frailey
I am going to miss Clarence Gooden. Clarence retired as CSX president in March, in anticipation of Hunter Harrison’s arrival at that railroad. I’ve never actually met the man, although we did spend 28 hours close to one another one time. I guess I should explain. I had been slipped aboard a BNSF Railway-CSX test train run in 2002 from Los Angeles to Little Ferry, N.J., to judge the feasibility of taking a day off United Parcel Service cross-country deliveries. The tale of that advent...
53

Perils of public transport

Posted one month ago by Fred Frailey
How the worm has turned. I’m old enough to remember when public and press alike were as one in their disdain for the disgusting quality of most railroad passenger train service. Nothing has changed except the object of disdain. Now it is the airlines—you could have cut the derision directed toward United Airlines this morning  on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” with a dull knife. The spectacle of Chicago cops bloodily ejecting a gentlemen from his seat (which he had pai...
48

Remembering Mr. Johnston

Posted 2 months ago by Fred Frailey
I'm sitting in my room on the Auto Train, waiting to leave Lorton in Virginia, and struggling to come up with a single word that applies collectively to the chief executives of the seven Class I railroads. The best I can do is "uninspiring." Yes, Hunter Harrison makes good copy for writers such as myself. But these guys all lack something. Call it pride in the companies they captain, in how their railroads are esteemed by the public, in how their fellow employees take their jobs seriously. Gosh,...
163

What Hunter will do at CSX

Posted 2 months ago by Fred Frailey
Hunter Harrison and his partner Paul Hilal, who runs a hedge fund called Mantle Ridge, didn't just decide one day that it would be nice if Harrison ran CSX Transportation. Rather, they studied the company and all its moving parts the way an army's general staff examines a likely battlefield opponent. To hide their intent from CSX, they hired other investment companies to recruit as paid consultants retired or former executives of the railroad, the better to know what makes the railroad tick, whi...
130

What's on Matt's mind

Posted 3 months ago by Fred Frailey
It’s getting late. My assistant Barbara Turner is making noises she’d like to go home. I tell her to leave, but until I do, too, she won’t budge. Something is on my mind. I am not happy. I need to talk to Warren. Soon. The eastern railroads are unstable. Our window to create a viable national rail network seems to be about to close. All of this is Hunter’s fault, as is so often the case. You know, it’s funny how things come around. More than 15 years ago, when Rob ...
23

The world according to Michael

Posted 3 months ago by Fred Frailey
I had an email today from a friend who complained about a certain op-ed columnist for the Wall Street Journal. My friend even wondered if this person’s pen is for sale. I replied that it’s the first duty of any columnist to write with a point of view. Without a point of view, you’re nothing. Sometimes, however, columnists simply get it wrong. I said I happen to like reading this columnist. Maybe, I suggested, he just got it wrong today. That’s a roundabout way of saying ...
59

Greed versus Goody Two Shoes

Posted 3 months ago by Fred Frailey
An insider in these matters says that to understand the strange turn of events at CSX, the big eastern railroad, you need to watch the last five minutes of Scarface. So I did, and OMG. I’ll get back to that in a minute. First, let’s run the numbers. E. Hunter Harrison, who worked wonders at Illinois Central, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific, in that order, wants to become chief executive officer of CSX. In this he has the support of a hedge fund called Mantle Ridge that is ru...
25

The great race (conclusion)

Posted 3 months ago by Fred Frailey
Several of you have emailed and messaged me to ask how things went. Did I make it to my son's engagement party Saturday night? To them I said yes, everything worked out. But while I did not tell a lie, I did not tell the whole truth--a lie of omission, I guess it's called. This is the whole truth. To recap: VIA Rail's Canadian was definitely not going to reach Toronto today less than 5 hours late, the deadline for making a 4:30 p.m. flight from Pearson International to Washington, D.C. Before t...
12

The great race (Part II)

Posted 3 months ago by Fred Frailey
 Are you like me? Let me retract that question; we all know you are much my better. But like me, do you usually wake up on a train not when it is moving and knocking you about, but when when it is stopped? That was the case again this morning. It was 7:15 and starting to get light and we were somewhere in Ontario. It seemed we'd been stopped quite a while, too. Wherever we were, I figured we were in the time slot of train 111, Canadian National's most important Do Not Disturb intermodal tra...
25

The great race

Posted 3 months ago by Fred Frailey
VIA Rail's Canadian, from Vancouver to Toronto over four nights and three and perhaps four days, is as close to the Wild West as you ever expect to get in Twenty-First Century railroading. It is an adventure every time, and you never know what will happen next. I of all people should know not to ride this train when I have anything of importance happening the day of arrival, or even the day after arrival. Yes, but here I am anyway, engaged in a great race I appear to be losing, badly. I had pla...
117

Look out, Old Mackie's back!

Posted 4 months ago by Fred Frailey
Like Mack The Knife, Hunter Harrison is back and on the prowl again. He severed his ties to Canadian Pacific six months early and walked away from more than $100 million he would have gotten for standing still a bit longer. Word on the street is that he and investor Paul Hilal have their eyes on CSX—Hilal to engineer a proxy fight for control of the company (if need be) and Harrison to run the show. Myself, I’m making no predictions. I didn’t cover myself with glory a year ago...
82

The challenge of driverless trucks

Posted 4 months ago by Fred Frailey
Some of you don't see my columns in Trains Magazine. But even if you do, it’s not a format that can accommodate give-and-take between readers or between you and me. So I am reproducing my February 2017 essay here and inviting your comments. Fred What should the railroad industry do when technology threatens to upend it? This is the question of the hour, and it concerns not some new way to run trains, but a new way to run trucks, without drivers. Not all of you share my concern, but I pu...
126

Who will be our next Ike?

Posted 4 months ago by Fred Frailey
            Our 48,000 miles of interstate highways constitute the crown jewel of this nation’s infrastructure, bigger in their impact on our lives than even our world-class freight railroads. Without the interstate network, created by act of Congress six decades ago this June, our economy would today be a fraction of its present size. But I am tired of hearing arguments that say if we can build an interstate highway network, high-spee...
88

Amtrak's Mr. Fixit

Posted 5 months ago by Fred Frailey
I’m a plumber, Amtrak’s new president and chief executive said at the outset of a conversation this week with writers for Trains Magazine. Wick Moorman began by noting that he didn’t take the top job last September 1 with an eye toward staying very long. He’s vague on how long his short tenure will be—I’m going to guess 12 to 18 months. But he wants to accomplish a few things before he leaves, and one of them is to fix the railroad’s plumbing. By that, ...
48

The case of William Rockefeller

Posted 5 months ago by Fred Frailey
You hear about the herd of horses that stampeded off a cliff? Their owner sued God for failing to fence the cliff. No? Okay, that never happened. But the nearest thing to it did this week. William Rockefeller, the former Metro-North Railroad engineer whose commuter train careened around a curve and derailed while he dozed off, has sued the railroad and its parent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, seeking $10 million for injuries, lost wages and suffering. His claim: It’s all Met...
27

6 reasons to give thanks

Posted 6 months ago by Fred Frailey
1. The election is over. You loved The Donald. Or you loved Hillary. Or you loved neither nominee. Admit it: It was stressful. You may now exhale. 2. Wick is here. I liked Joe Boardman. He did many good things in his eight years as head of Amtrak. But the company now needs a railroader at the top to help make it more focused. Wick Moorman has it within him to accomplish this. 3. Brian is here. After eight years of a steady diet of Phillips and Frailey on the opinion pages of Trains Magazine, w...
36

FEC's new owner

Posted 6 months ago by Fred Frailey
Fortress Investments has Florida East Coast Railway on the block—no surprise there. The modus operandi of companies like this is go in, get out the money, and move on, and it has been nine years since Fortress went in. As I understand it, Florida East Coast Industries, the parent company, is not for sale. FECI owns All Aboard Florida, or Brightline, the new passenger train service set to launch next year, initially between Miami and West Palm Beach (and ultimately Orlando). So who wants t...
27

The Next New Thing?

Posted 6 months ago by Fred Frailey
Edited 9: 15 a.m. November 18 In the late 1990s, Rob Krebs of Burlington Northern Santa Fe proposed to his former colleague Mike Haverty of Kansas City Southern that the two railroads publish a joint rate for traffic to and from Mexico via the Laredo gateway that would blunt the competitive advantages of BNSF rival Union Pacific. The proposal didn't fly because its terms didn't pass the smell test. This week, the wheel completed its full circle. The two railroads announced a joint intermodal s...
49

Rose to DOT: We'll sue and win

Posted 6 months ago by Fred Frailey
The executive chairman of BNSF Railway has a message for Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and whoever replaces him next January in the new Donald Trump Administration. His message: If the Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration pushes through a rule requiring two people on moving trains, then his railroad will sue to invalidate the rule—and prevail in court. In a conversation with Trains Magazine today, Matt Rose says the railroad industry is in an untena...
41

Shrink or grow? The answer . . .

Posted 6 months ago by Fred Frailey
The TV audience for NFL games was down noticeably this season. Nobody really professes to know why, but the television networks are worried, the National Football League less so. The NFL’s attitude is let’s wait and see what happens—in other words, do nothing. I’m telling you this because it’s an apt analogy for what’s happening in the railroad business these days. Business has been down pretty much across the board, including intermodal, the past year. But th...
33

Passports on the Cal Zephyr

Posted 6 months ago by Fred Frailey
I am a news junkie, and salute Bloomberg News for a great beat this morning: The grand poobahs of Silicon Valley—the founders and CEOs and CFOs and financiers of the tech businesses centered near Palo Alto—are so upset at the result of the presidential election that they are plotting a secessionist movement. That’s right, create the Republic of California. I’m all for it. Oregon, too (citizens of Portland are seeking a vote on succession). Been good to know you and all th...
25

Rail Pundit, we'll not forget you

Posted 6 months ago by Fred Frailey
Edited 9:30 pm, November 11 For several years, it’s been a poorly kept secret that a frequent responder to my blogs was my friend and fellow journalist Larry Kaufman. His handle was Rail Pundit. OMG, but he could raise hell! I would read his posts taking one after another of you to task for  your alleged stupidities and think, geez, should I step in? One time I did intervene after Larry and another participant got really hot and personal with each other. Off list, I emailed them and ...
21

A busy day at Rigby Yard, 1981

Posted 7 months ago by Fred Frailey
Stories of Dave Fink in the days when he ran the former Boston & Maine and Maine Central for majority owner Tim Mellon could fill a book, and probably should. Let’s just say the man was direct, in your face, and unafraid of a fight—you punch him, expect to be flattened in the counterattack. A bit like Donald Trump, maybe, and Dave made a lot of enemies. I’ve always thought you had to have a certain amount of those characteristics to survive in running a big New England rail...
11

A Canadian diary, in a nutshell

Posted 7 months ago by Fred Frailey
In my blog describing VIA Rail Canada’s new Prestige service on its Canadian between Toronto and Montreal, I told you everything about Prestige-class service and nothing about the trip itself. So here it is, fast and dirty. We got the usual handling on VIA #2, the eastbound Canadian. That is, we took the siding for 95 percent of the opposing freight trains we met. This has always been standard practice. So the variable becomes this: Is Canadian National having a relatively good day, its f...
25

My wacko day (and night)

Posted 7 months ago by Fred Frailey
I write in my column in the December issue of Trains (soon to arrive in your mailbox) that I look upon every trip by train as an adventure. I’ve just had another adventure, one worth sharing. It began when I booked a trip from New York City to Jacksonville, Fla., on the Silver Star. As you know, any extended trip on the Star is by definition an adventure, because it now lacks a dining car and therefore fresh food. My strategy on food became twofold. First, I didn’t really leave Goth...
22

The lowdown on Prestige

Posted 7 months ago by Fred Frailey
Half a dozen years ago, the folks at Via Rail Canada asked what was needed to attract the 1 percent crowd to their flagship, the Toronto-to-Vancouver Canadian. That is, the 1 percent of us with the most money, who can have about any travel experience they want. Back then, they weren’t getting these people. Well then, they decided, let’s create something that will cost the big bucks but will leave people thinking they got something really impressive in exchange. Thus was born, in 2014...
18

Jim McClellan, in his own words

Posted 7 months ago by Fred Frailey
“Frailey? McClellan here!” Those words, spoken over a telephone every couple of weeks, were my signal to put aside whatever I was doing and indulge myself for 20 or 30 minutes in the wit and wisdom of Jim McClellan. Of this man, Rush Loving wrote in The Men Who Loved Trains: “Ambling from job to job, often by misadventure and sometimes even by getting fired, McClellan had happened into the center of every major event in the railroad industry. ‘I call myself the Forrest Gu...
19

For God so loved cows

Posted 7 months ago by Fred Frailey
In my youth in Hopkins County, Texas, which proclaimed itself then the dairy capital of America, cattle were sacred. Ever so often a farmer’s fence would go down and milk cows would placidly chew grass on the Cotton Belt’s right of way, until struck by a passing train. In the inevitable lawsuit, those aging milk providers would be mysteriously transformed into prize breeding cattle that would still be working for the benefit of the children of Texas but for Cotton Belt’s neglig...

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