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Conrail under a lucky star

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The New York-New Jersey railroad complex is a mess, following Hurricane Sandy. Subways are flooded in lower Manhattan. So are Amtrak’s tunnels under the Hudson River and at least one of the tunnels leading east to Long Island. New Jersey Transit experienced “unprecedented devastation,” says its board chairman. And Consolidated Rail Corp., the switching railroad in the middle of all this in North Jersey? Reports president Ron Batory: “We’re resuming operations tomorrow.”

Conrail is the remnant of the Class I railroad that now provides switching and terminals operations for owners CSX and Norfolk Southern in North Jersey opposite New York City, plus Philadelphia and Detroit. I spoke to Batory expecting the worst. But he reports mostly good news.

Bridges and main lines are okay. The Lehigh Line that carries most CSX and NS freights as well as Raritan Valley Jersey Transit trains, is operational. This is Conrail’s primary route, and that it’s good to go is welcome news.

There are two primary issues, Batory reports. One is the absence of electrical power at about a dozen Conrail control points, meaning junctions or crossover locations. To solve this, Conrail is installing generators to activate the signals. Dispatcher control of signals via microwave towers is largely intact, he adds. Related to signals are grade crossings. On the Lehigh Line, two Conrail employees will protect each disabled road crossing until power is restored. On other lines, trains must stop at each crossing and then proceed.

The other problem is not really Conrail’s but that of its customers. Particularly on the Chemical Coast Secondary along Newark Bay, Hurricane Sandy threw anything in its path around like Tinker Toys. The container terminals that feed the trains of Conrail’s owners may be a day or two getting the Tinker Toys picked up and the properties ready to load and unload trains. So will many other customers in the area.

You will be reading some disheartening stories about the damage Sandy did to railroads. This is a story with a happy ending.—Fred W. Frailey

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