25

The long autumn of Tennessee Pass

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Does Minturn, Colo., mean anything to you? To some it raises goosebumps. Others of us get teary thinking of what used to be. Minturn (pronounced “Min’urn”) was until 1997 a gritty railroad town situated between ritzy Vail and Beaver Creek, skiing destinations of those who own private aircraft. To call Minturn hardscrabble — a thorn between two roses — is appropriate even today, although it, too, is becoming a bit gentrified. It was in Minturn that eastbound freights...
18

Over the San Juans by narrow gauge

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
It has been 42 years since the Denver & Rio Grande Western sold its magnificent, 64-mile line over Cumbres Pass to the states of Colorado and New Mexico and gotten out of narrow-gauge railroading. And yes, it has taken me that long to get to Antonito, Colo., and savor the successor railroad these states created, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic — “Pride of the Rockies,” it calls itself, with some justification. The C&TS has had its ups and downs, about once a decade bein...
19

Amtrak's bad day at the office

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
How’s your week going folks? Don’t ask that of your friends toiling for Amtrak. I’m accustomed to reading about bad things that happen to good trains. But events on Monday, August 6, constitute a lulu, and for the most part are not of Amtrak’s making. I will share the low points with you. We start with what is not happening,  that is, locomotives not ready for prime time. More than one-fourth of the locomotives assigned to the Northeast Corridor are out of service. ...
25

The great debate: To mount or not to mount a moving train?

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
My dispatch titled “Hunter Hits the Ground Running” generated a slew of responses, to the point that I felt that I was attending a Safety Committee meeting and was about to ask if Canadian Pacific ball caps were being passed out to attendees. The way I put it was that new CEO Hunter Harrison was pressing his people to reconsider the rule banning getting on or off of moving equipment. So now, an update: The rule changed on July 31. Now trainmen can get on and off equipment going no f...
86

Hunter hits the ground running

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Hunter Harrison has wasted no time putting his imprint on Canadian Pacific. My friends at that railroad say he is already a making changes large and small. To my knowledge no one has been dismissed. That will come later. Harrison has been making his way across Canada and the northern United States since taking on the job June 29, and he keeps asking: Why do we do this? What do we do that? When he gets unsatisfactory answers, red tape gets cut, rules are changed, trains are operated differen...
45

I ask you: Have you missed me?

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
I’ve been AWOL lately, wrapping up work on one feature story for Trains and starting work on the next. That first story you’ll see when the October issue gets delivered in late August (yes, it is amusing that an October issue comes in August, but that’s the magazine biz for you). I’m supposed to be a retiree and would dearly love to kick back and do absolutely nothing for a long while. But I labor on, and when you finish reading this little essay you’ll understand w...
4

Genuinely interesting information

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Believe me, I get so many emails on even a slow day that I never go around looking for new sources of bedevilment. Still, I never regret the day I got that first note from Bill Baird. Bill is a BNSF Railway train dispatcher assigned to its San Bernardino office, which directs trains in California. Still, that’s not enough to absorb all the energy radiating from this man. So every day he sends a select group of people an email he calls “The Tortoise Tattler.” What does that mea...
17

Indian engineer and Amtrak have a bad day

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
This just in: The Deccan Herald in India reports that a passenger train bound for Bahareich on the North-Eastern Railway left 500 passengers stranded in seven of its eight coaches because the engineer was blissfully unaware the train had separated behind the first coach while standing in the station at Gullabeer. The hapless passengers at first believed there was a technical problem. “We thought the train might have come to a halt because of some . . . lack of signal,” one passenger...
6

Amtrak's answer to competition (Part II)

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
(Revised July 6, 2012) After months of wrangling, Congress recently passed a law reauthorizing spending on the nation’s roads and public transit systems. Like a Chrismas tree, it had something for everyone. Missing when Senate and House conferees reconciled their versions of this law were three provisions in the U.S. Senate bill that should be labeled “written for Amtrak.” They were simply bizarre, not to mention outrageous. I’ll describe them. Section 35601 required ...
26

In search of a few good men (and women)

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
            When I was decades younger, I regarded most people over the age of 60 as dangerously daft. They didn’t get it. As I have gotten older, my attitude has softened (surprise!). To use a newspaper metaphor, it’s about legs. Young reporters have legs, which is to say energy. They gain knowledge and experience from that energy, and as their legs wear out they become wizened editors of a younger generation of reporters. They ...
44

Waiting for Keith

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
I’ve been on the gossip circuit lately, asking people what’s holding up Hunter Harrison’s appointment as chief executive officer of Canadian Pacific. The hotly contested election of CP directors was five weeks ago, and the faction promising to bring Harrison out of retirement elected all seven of its nominees by overwhelming majorities and clearly won a mandate to install the management it wants. The prior explanations included word that Hunter flunked his physical (a roundhou...
12

Who will buy RailAmerica?

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
According to several sources, Deutsche Bank Securities has opened the first round of bids to buy RailAmerica, the short line conglomerate that runs 45 railroads totaling about 7,500 miles of track in 28 states and three Canadian provinces, along with a railroad construction and maintenance firm. A second round of bidding has an August 1 deadline. Then Deutsche Bank will try to hammer out a deal with the most attractive bidder. Who, you must be wondering, might that most attractive bidder be? I ...
6

VIA Rail Canada drops the other shoe

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
For weeks it has been common knowledge that VIA Rail would announce reduced frequencies of its two flagship trains (and some other services as well) as soon as Canada’s parliament adjourned, lessening the chances of political blowback. The cuts result from subsidy reductions by the Conservative government. Today is that day. Employees were summoned to briefings at all the major stations. VIA’s president, Marc Laliberté , made a public announcement. If this took you by surprise...
20

Amtrak's answer to competition

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Congress this week continues to wrestle with the highway reauthorization bill, which largely finances road and public transit spending. It’s like a Chrismas tree, with something for everyone. Railroads are a flea on the tail of this big dog, but three provisions in the U.S. Senate version of this legislation should be labeled “written by Amtrak.” They are simply bizarre, not to mention outrageous. I’ll describe them. Section 35601 requires that all public agencies, priva...
20

The Santa Fe's Transcon in 1953

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Nobody called it the Transcon then. It was just Santa Fe’s freight main line across Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, on its way to California. But almost 60 years ago, what was this corridor like? Let’s forget Hunter Harrison and 2012 for a bit and go back in time. I’ve been delving into my piles of dispatcher trainsheets from the Fifties, and a bunch from 1953 and 1955 just got turned into dispatching simulations of the former Plains Division, from Waynoka, Okla., to ...
42

Will the marriage of rail and oil be everlasting?

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
The Financial Times today reports that Phillips 66, a refining spinoff from ConocoPhillips, is ordering 2,000 tank cars able to carry some 120,000 barrels of crude oil a day out of the Bakken Shale oil fields in North Dakota. This is just the latest sign (although the biggest one yet, costing $200 million) that the oil industry badly needs railroads, at least for the short term. Producers, refiners, and pipelines were all caught by surprise by the strength of the oil boom in western North Dakot...
106

Waiting for Hunter

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Guess what everyone is doing at Canadian Pacific HQ in Calgary? The place is like a besieged city that has sent up the white flag and now waits for the invading army to enter the gates and plunder. So yes, copier machines are running off copies of Hunter Harrison’s two books, “How We Work & Why” and “Change, Leadership, Mud & Why” and everyone who isn’t busy working on resumes is giving those books a read, trying to divine what working for this man wil...
21

Do you want to own a railroad? How about 45 of them? Here’s your chance

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
RailAmerica, the conglomeration of 45 short line and regional railroads, is for sale. Fortress Investment Group, which took RA private in 2007, has employed Deutsche Bank to find a buyer for its majority (56 percent) interest in the company, several sources are telling me. RA’s properties total 7,500 miles of track in 28 states and include such names as the Arizona & California, Kiamichi, Kyle, and Toledo, Peoria & Western railroads. Fortress took the company public several years ...
139

The fight for Canadian Pacific seems over

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
“It’s sealed,” a securities analyst emailed me today about the fight to control the future of Canadian Pacific. Institutional Shareholder Services had condemned the stewardship of CP by its present board of directors and recommended that seven directors nominated by an opposing faction, New York hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, be elected. Few people are even aware of ISS. But within the investment community it speaks with a loud trumpet, acting as a shareholder a...
21

Ghost towns of the Clovis Subdivision

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
When you leave Fort Sumner, N.M., on U.S. 60, there's a turnoff to an unnamed, unmarked, unsigned road that hugs BNSF Railway’s Transcon toward the west coast for 61 miles, to Vaughn, N.M. I am not recommending you take it, because it is a rough, unmaintained dirt trail that takes four hours to drive. Plus, AAA’s truck will never find you if you puncture a tire (as I did once). You are on your own out here. But if you brave this road, about 10 miles from Fort Sumner you will come to...
18

Tom Hoback has not passed

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
There is a beautiful hillside overlook near Curtis, Okla., where westbound freights on BNSF Railway’s Transcon must labor mightily to overcome a long 1 percent grade. I was standing there this morning with my fellow traveler, Tom Hoback, president of the Indiana Rail Road. Tom was ahead of me, waiting for a westbounder we could both clearly hear to pop into view.  I looked through my camera’s viewfinder and clicked. Then I yelled to Tom over the noise of wind and train: “H...
6

Is a peace treaty at CP in the wings?

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Pressure is mounting on the warring parties battling over the leadership of Canadian Pacific to negotiate a truce prior to the scheduled May 17 annual meeting and shareholder vote for directors. That pressure is greatest on the board of directors of CP, who favor retaining Fred Green as the railroad’s chief executive officer. But also feeling the heat is William Ackman, the activist investor whose New York hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management, owns 14.2 percent of CP shares and i...
6

Blowing through Tornado Alley

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
As we drive through the Kansas Flint Hills, toward Emporia, I turn to Tom Hoback and say, “Wouldn’t it be cool to encounter some really bad thunderstorms tomorrow — maybe see a tornado?” Tom gives me a look that says, why do I put up with people like this? The next morning, a few minutes after 6 and sunrise, I bound out of the hotel in Cottonwood Falls, Kan., for a brisk walk. My destination is the BNSF LaJunta Subdivision crossing a mile and a half to the north, in Stro...
10

In the arms of Mother BNSF

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
I lived on the Atlantic Coast for a quarter century before I admitted that eastern railroads really are railroads and actually deserving of some affectionating. Today my wife says the CSX North End Subdivision in southern Virginia is “Fred’s second home” and suspects me of supporting a second family there.  Still, after all these years, there’s something about a western railroad that quickens my pulse.   Two-thirds of the way across Missouri yesterday, I steer...
6

The man in charge of Amtrak operations

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
I had been interviewing D.J. Stadtler for about 15 minutes several weeks ago when a thought crossed my mind. So I asked: Would he consider throwing his hat into the ring to become vice president of operations of Amtrak, rather than the acting VP? At the time, D.J. had another full-time job, as Amtrak’s chief financial officer. And until he came to the passenger train company three years ago, he’d not worked a day for a railroad in any capacity. But this man seems to impress everyone...
25

Is the Canadian about to be cooked?

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
In the forthcoming July issue of Trains, Ross Capon of the National Association of Railroad Passengers describes Amtrak’s long-distance trains as “meat waiting to be roasted” by fiscal conservatives and insists there is no guarantee that those trains will always be there — words well spoken. Now comes news from Canada that VIA Rail Canada’s premier train, the Canadian, also faces an uncertain future. The Globe and Mail of Toronto this week quotes from Transport Can...
77

Canadians and their Hunter Harrison thing

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
I’ve been called to account for my column in the April issue of Trains Magazine that argues Hunter Harrison would make a better chief executive officer of Canadian Pacific than the incumbent, Fred Green. The arguments against my opinion piece are of three sorts, and deserve a closer look. I should add that they come from Canadians, about which more in a moment. One line of attack against Harrison, the president of CP rival Canadian National until his retirement at the end of 2009, is th...
26

That Commodore Vanderbilt feeling

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Coincidence? The evening before I begin driving west along the former New York Central, my wife and I taxi down Park Avenue, winding our way around Grand Central Station. There in the spotlight and a spring rainstorm stands that bronzed Dutchman himself, looking proud and a bit vain, I imagine. What a combination of character traits he possessed: intelligence, cunning, stubbornness, resourcefulness, foresight, guile. In his 83 years on earth, Cornelius Vanderbilt (Commodore was a sobriquet) buil...
64

Death to taggers

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
But only upon the third conviction. After all, I am not a vindictive man. On the first conviction, those who spray paint on railroad equipment would only have their first two fingers of each hand amputated, making it more difficult to press the button on spray cans. Can we all agree on that? Thank you! On the second conviction, if they prove so resourceful, off go their hands, somewhere north of the wrists. Then, the ultimate punishment. Fair’s fair. They’ve screwed with us; we&rsquo...
10

The night creature ventures forth

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
By the time I was 12 I had narrowed my occupational choices to a mere two. One was to be, like my father, a newspaperman. The other option was train dispatching. I chose the former, but my, I have always admired the men and women who direct the trains across their railroads. The best of them are like artists, because keeping a busy railroad fluid requires creative solutions to the problems that arise. ATCS Monitor, the software that gives you a dispatcher’s view of some railroads lines (fo...

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