8

Fred finds a stuffed goose

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
A couple of days before Dick Strong and I flew into Alamosa, Colo., to ride the awesome Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, I received an email saying that the tourist railroad, one of the last remnants of Colorado’s fabled narrow-gauge empire, would have a special visitor that day and the rest of the week: Galloping Goose #5. I thought to myself: How lucky can we be to ride a narrow-gauge, steam-powered train through the vast, unpopulated mountains of southern Colorado and northern New ...
45

Incident at Medill

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
Little things tell you a lot. Mark Hinsdale and I are exploring the Chicago-Kansas City artery of the former Santa Fe Railway. Leaving the southeast corner of Iowa at Fort Madison and entering Missouri, we may as well be traversing a foreign country. The present BNSF Railway veers southwest through a depopulated countryside. In fact, the biggest town in the 215 miles between Fort Madison and Kansas City is Carrollton, population 3,784. The population of Medill, where we end up, is almost zero; i...
27

The East Coast Hogger

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
The first words I said to David Shelley when we shook hands last week in Jacksonville, Fla., were, “You’re the closest thing I know to a rock star.” David just blushed. But he is a rock star in his universe, the 350 miles of the Florida East Coast Railway, stretching south to Miami. So I guess this all needs explaining. David has been an FEC engineer since December 27, 1971, and stands number four today on the combined seniority roster of engineers and conductors. He loves rai...
94

Joe Boardman's second-term challenge

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
Amtrak’s board of directors has extended Joe Boardman’s contract as president for two additional years. Boardman, who turns 65 in December, will remain at Amtrak’s helm until at least November of 2015. That’s fine with me. It’s good to keep the revolving door of the executive offices from spinning around so often. Some continuity will do Amtrak good. But will what’s good for Joe Boardman be good for Amtrak’s customers? Only if Boardman, now that he&rsqu...
44

KCS Part II: The minnow can swallow a whale

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
In a response to my last blog, D.Carlton this morning jolted me wide awake. He said, in regard to which railroad might buy Kansas City Southern: “You have it backwards. The question is: Who is KCS going to buy?” Damn! That Mrs. Carlton sure raised a smart boy. In essence, what D. is saying is that the inflated stock price of KCS is a huge gift that translates into enormous buying power if that railroad went shopping for a bigger partner. It completely turns the table on the usual way...
19

Is KCS buyable, and by who?

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
It’s silly time on Wall Street again. Bloomberg Businessweek calls Kansas City Southern, North America’s smallest Class I railroad, both alluring and expensive to acquire. It then goes on to explain which larger railroads may find it attractive. Among securities analysts surveyed by the publication, all but two Class I lines are named as a potential buyer. But I think Businessweek and its sources have it mostly wrong. The larger railroad nobody mentions, I maintain, has the most to g...
57

Mr. Buffett, tear down this wall!

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
BNSF Railway has an identity problem. If you ask, as I did, a dozen strangers on the sidewalks of Washington, D.C., what BNSF Railway means, you will get just quizzical stares. You see, one thing a professional writer learns early on is that words, and names, have meaning. They inspire (“rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air!”), they repel (“serpent”), they tickle your taste buds (See’s Candies), they inspire you to dreams of great wealth (Apple Computer and ...
21

What you see when you see a train

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
In early evening you pull your Dodge Durango to a stop in Strong City, Kan., beside the handsome Santa Fe-built brick depot. Sitting in front of it are three BNSF Railway locomotives fronting a double-stack container train that stretches out of sight around a curve half a mile away. And looking the other way you see a train of empty coal gondolas making its way toward you down the 11,800-foot siding. Presently, the container train gets a green signal, toots its whistle twice, and begins to move...
27

Life and death in the energy markets

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
So much that affects railroads is really out of their control. The energy markets are a case in point today. Coal has historically been a bedrock commodity for railroads, and emergence of Wyoming and Montana coal in the 1980s led to just about every railroad being a beneficiary. Then two developments came together last year to alter that status quo. First, approaching regulatory deadlines from the Environmental Protection Agency made it likely that hundreds of older, smaller electrical generatin...
6

Romancing Keith

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
It was known by practically everyone, when hedge fund manager Bill Ackman fought to install retired Canadian National CEO Hunter Harrison in the top job at rival Canadian Pacific, that Keith Creel would eventually follow his former boss to be Harrison’s right-hand man in Calgary. And in February he did just that, becoming CP’s president and chief operating officer as well as heir apparent to the top job. Now writer Scott Deveau of Canada’s Financial Post has revealed in a fasci...
112

UP is next to test gas locomotives

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
Edited April 23, 2013 By early next year or even sooner, Union Pacific will begin experimenting with locomotives fueled by natural gas. This follows tests that began last year on Canadian National and BNSF Railway’s announcement that it may decide by 2014 whether to substantially convert its 6,400 locomotives to natural gas. Robert Turner, UP’s senior vice president for corporate relations, confirms rumors that his railroad is taking a serious look at the alternative fuel. As with ...
20

I'm back: Things you may not know

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
Natural gas as locomotive fuel. Within six months BNSF Railway will be testing six high-horsepower locomotives, three each from General Electric and Caterpillar’s Electro-Motive, using liquefied natural gas. A switch from diesel fuel would cost BNSF billions of dollars up front, but could pay for itself very quickly. Lest you think the rest of the railroad world is standing idly by, I’m here to tell you: Not! The CEO of another major Class 1 told me the other day that while stopping...
21

This blog has been captured by Red Army hackers

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
When Jim Wrinn asked whether I would write a twice-weekly blog, I said sure — when I have something to say. I’ve learned, however, that I’m not good at multitasking. And lately I’ve been bearing down on two feature stories for a future issue of Trains. For instance, I’m off in a bit for Chattanooga, Tenn., where I’ll board a Norfolk Southern intermodal train tomorrow morning and begin winding my way toward Harrisburg, Pa. Then on Thursday I have just enough t...
9

Ode to Lewistown Junction

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
Loads east, empties west. Norfolk Southern doing what it does best. -- Burma Shave...
4

A Haiku For Newport, Pa.

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
Newport (b. 1829), plucky town, knew both boom and bust. Its depot tells you the ending....
41

Entering Chicago, the hard way

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
I’ve written before about Norfolk Southern’s Funnel of Fun, its busy line into Chicago from Cleveland, Toledo, and Elkhart, Ind. It has always been a minefield of potential problems. Sixty years ago, New York Central ran 48 passenger trains on weekdays in and out of Chicago. But I wager today these tracks are even busier than in Central’s heyday. You’ve got 14 Amtrak trains, at least 30 NS freights, and 10 freights belonging to Canadian Pacific using trackage rights to ge...
7

Why we all love Julie

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
Julie, Amtrak’s “automated agent,” is a fixture in my life and possibly in yours. She’s the interactive computer program, humanized since 2001 by the voice of a real woman, Julie Stinneford, that you hear when you dial 800-USA-RAIL to do business with Amtrak. Rather than explain my own affection for this digital personality, I thought I would share with you that of a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Patrick Crowling. Patrick, raised in Dallas, is a lover...
76

NARP raises my blood pressure

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
My email inbox this week contained a press release from the National Association of Railroad Passengers, denouncing a “partisan political attack” on a proposed high-speed electrified railroad between Victorville, Calif., and Las Vegas. Letters opposing the railroad from two Republicans, Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, were called “part of a total attack on intercity passenger rail” by NARP, whose executive director, Ross Capon, wen...
57

Bigger than the shift from steam

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
I’ve been wrapping my arms around the announcement this week that BNSF Railway will test-fuel locomotives with liquefied natural gas (LNG), with a view toward starting large-scale conversions away from diesel fuel as soon as 2014. This is a game-changing development, and holds out the promise of altering railroad economics even more than the switch from steam to diesel locomotives seven decades ago. “This could be a transformational event for our railroad,” BNSF’s chief ...
50

Two railroads, two trains, two outcomes

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
Updated March 1, 2013 I am just back from two transcontinental train trips, one after the other, from Chicago to Seattle on Amtrak’s Empire Builder and from Vancouver, B.C., to Toronto on VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian. I enjoyed both experiences — in each instance, the well maintained equipment, the good food, the winter scenery, and the excellent on-board service from motivated employees. What amazed me were the two host railroads, BNSF Railway and Canadian National Railway. Bot...
52

A world dressed in white

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
You enjoy traveling by train in winter. In part it's the comfort of being warm while outside your window it is bitterly cold. Trains aren't crowded this time of year, either, and the introvert in you likes that. Plus, there is a feeling of adventure you won't experience in summer. Who knows what storm lurks in the distance? The temperature when the Empire Builder leaves Chicago is 17 degrees. The land seems vacant crossing Wisconsin. People are inside, as well they should be in weather like thi...
66

HSR = DOA

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
"Do not be dissuaded by a few detractors," Ray LaHood, the soon-to-be former secretary of transportation, told the U.S. High Speed Rail Association this week. LaHood spoke after learning that Florida Republican congressman John Mica will again try to privitize the Northeast Corridor. But the fact is, high-speed rail is dead in the water in the U.S., aside from Amtrak's NEC and the California bullet train. And the people I blame the most are not the John Micas of this world but the so-called frie...
135

Let's try this again: CSX vs. Auto Train

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
The one thing we can all agree on is that Fred is not perfect. I have been persuaded by you that I could have cast “CSX fillets the Auto Train for supper” in a less-combative tone that would have engendered a more civilized discussion. So here we go: Dispatchers and the railroads they work for are sometimes put between a rock and a hard place. You do your best, and it doesn’t work. Or your priorities are in conflict with each other or even with acts of Congress. Or maybe this ...
51

CSX fillets the Auto Train for supper

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
CSX Transportation dispatchers may not realize that less than five years ago they played a role in changing national transportation policy, but not the kind of change their employer likes to talk about. They and dispatchers of Union Pacific handled Amtrak trains so poorly that in the Passenger Rail Improvement & Investment Act of 2008 (PRIIA), Congress gave Amtrak the right to ask the Surface Transportation Board for damages for such behavior by Amtrak’s host railroads. Amtrak a year ...
20

Amtrak side-steps the fiscal cliff

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
It’s increasingly likely that come March 1, Amtrak and every other federally supported agency, including the military, are going to collectively share $85 billion in non-negotiable budget cuts for the ensuing seven months. Sequestration is the awkward term used in Washington to describe what is about to happen; TV newscasters simply call it the fiscal cliff. To cut to the quick: Amtrak tells me that it can survive such a budgetary whacking without curtailing any train services. That&rsquo...
13

The funny numbers of Amtrak Guest Rewards

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
There are bragging rights for we Amtrak customers, and for years the gold standard has been achieving Select Plus status with Amtrak Guest Rewards. To get there, you must amass 10,000 “tier qualifying points,” two points being awarded for every $1 spent on Amtrak tickets (but there’s a 100-point minimum per trip, no matter how short or cheap). In other words, you must spend as much as $5,000 on Amtrak tickets. For that, you get upgrade coupons, companion passes, 50 percent poin...
10

Amtrak’s $700,000 Auto Train idea

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
The best idea I’ve ever had made a couple hundred grand for my employer. I felt good about it. So imagine the pride of Amtrak employees who thought up and pushed through a genuinely good plan that deals with a perennial customer-service issue involving the Virginia-to-Florida Auto Train. Namely, when will I get my car off the train? From the time you arrive at the end of the run in Lorton or Sanford, it takes up to 30 minutes to get the first cut of auto carrier cars spotted and to begin ...
30

The Seldom Willing: A railroad inside my head

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
It’s not true what they say of Kansas: That it is flat. Okay, central Kansas is flat, say, from WaKeeney east to Salina. But western Kansas flat? Definitely not. Call it gently rolling. However, western and central Kansas were both definitely empty this Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Empty of cars of Interstate 70, empty of people, and empty of Union Pacific trains. So how does one stay awake while tooling east at a steady 81 mph, hour after tedious hour? I did it by plotting a novel, the wo...
34

The cult of Fred W

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
Many of you wonder why I sign each of my articles, columns, and blogs as Fred W. Frailey instead of plain old Fred Frailey. The American way, after all, is to avoid affected airs of this sort. Just who does this Frailey guy think he is, sticking that middle initial in-between the first and last names his mother and father gave him, you must be feverishly wondering? Okay, I admit, not one of you—ever—asked about the “W” between “Fred” and “Frailey.&rdquo...
16

Thoughts while waiting for a train

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
I am writing this while sitting on a hard, unforgiving wooden bench inside the Amtrak station in Glenwood Springs., Colo., pecking it out one letter at a time with my right index finger, onto an iPad. This is not my ideal work environment. But what else is there to do waiting for a train that never comes? At 11 this morning, Julie, the automated agent, said train 6, the eastbound California Zephyr, would arrive at 1:23. At noon it was expected at 2. At 1, make it 2:30, and at 2, make it 3. You g...

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy