15

Up and over the Alleghenies

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
Your train is still 20 miles east of Altoona, Pa., several miles past the location called Tunnel, when engineer Ron Washington announces, “We don’t really need a helper.” You look across the cab and ask why not. “Because if I can haul us up a 0.4 percent grade at track speed [35 mph] in notch five or six, we can make it up The Hill.”   The Hill, of course, is the Allegheny Mountains. You’re just in the foothills, crossing the Little Juniata River again and again as a summer mo...
8

Witnessing the birth of a diesel locomotive

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
You should have been with me today. In the company of my TRAINS colleague David Lustig, I walked the factory floor of the Electro-Motive Diesel assembly plant in London, Ont., from soup (truck delivery ramp for parts) to nuts (test for finished products). In due course, you can read in TRAINS all that we learned during this remarkable visit, including insights into EMD’s competitive strategy against arch-rival General Electric, the dominant maker of North American diesels. I want ...
1

Five things to know about Great Plains railroading.

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
Here’s an idea for someone wanting to break into print in TRAINS or Trains.com:  A feature story on industrial switchers along the Overland Route. Somewhere west of North Platte, Neb., today it occurs to me that I have seen more than a dozen of first-generation diesels living out third or fourth lives as plant switchers at grain elevators and agribusiness factories abutting the Union Pacific west of Omaha. The last one is a GP7 or GP9 in faded Florida East Coast colors, in the ...
2

Like burying an old friend

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
I anticipate spending some quality time today on BNSF Railway’s Chicago-Kansas City artery, near Carrollton, Mo., where, due to joint track and trackage rights, you never know whether you’ll next see one of its trains or those of Norfolk Southern or Union Pacific. I get there, all right, but it’s an anticlimax after spotting the exit sign on Interstate 70 to Rocheport, Mo.   I’ve always had this thing for Katy, she being the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. I grew up near her ...
7

I am living your daydream

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
My wife says I’m crazy. She doesn’t actually say that. What she says, when I tell her this afternoon that I had reached eastern Illinois, is, “I’m just glad I’m not with you.” That’s a woman’s way of saying you’re crazy. Let’s examine that idea. Where is Cathie when she says this? In hot, steamy Boca Raton, Fla., during day two of a three-day corporate meeting. People gather at 7:30 a.m. and meet uninterrupted until 5:30 p.m., then re-gather at 6 for cocktails before dinner that la...
4

What do the rails need more of, right now?

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
The answer: domestic intermodal containers, and I trust you sense the irony. Here we are in mid-2010, coming out of an economic Armageddon, with 369,090 freight cars (23 percent of the fleet) in storage, and railroads and their intermodal customers are falling all over themselves scrounging up 53-foot boxes and the chassis on which they ride over the highway. Whether it's boxes or chassis in critical supply depends upon who you talk to, but it’s a serious problem. Union Pacific in mi...
4

Railroad CEOs with tin cups

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
When railroads these days want to add capacity — say, some double track or Centralized Traffic Control or a big new intermodal terminal — the first place they look for money is the government. As I stood on a bridge watching Norfolk Southern trains recrew in Oakdale, Tenn., the other day (photos at right), at one end of what used to be called the Rathole, I wondered what Bill Brosnan would think about this new method of financing improvements.   Brosnan was president of the So...
7

Norfolk Southern's problem in the Crescent Corridor

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
It’s 8 o’clock in the morning when you drive into Bulls Gap, Tenn.  This is the fifth time you’ve been here over the past four years, and each time two things remain constant: It’s always overcast. And you always see a train. Today is no different. The clouds are so heavy and low you wonder why there’s no downpour. And a signal on the south track is high green for a westbound Norfolk Southern freight train. You park your car to wait.   Bulls Gap’s population exceeds  ...
6

The reflection of a gold earring

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
You’re hearing a great deal of debate these days over the hard choice to be made between high speed trains some years from now, versus higher-speed trains (and more of them) in the here and now. We can’t have all of both because money doesn’t grow on trees. I’ve been traveling in Ontario and Quebec lately, and notice that VIA Rail Canada has made its decision.   Canada’s version of our Northeast Corridor is the 333-mile Montreal-to-Toronto Kingston Subdivision. The capital city ...
2

The eastern tip of the Milwaukee gets clipped

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
Almost from the day he bought the Indiana Rail Road from Illinois Central in 1986, Tom Hoback set his sights on acquiring what had once been Milwaukee Road’s Terre Haute Division. President and part owner of the Indiana, he envisioned the Chicago-Louisville line, then owned by Canadian Pacific, as a perfect fit to the old IC Indianapolis Branch. But scarcely four years after realizing that dream, Hoback is pulling up the easternmost 20 miles of what the Indiana Rail Road calls its Chicago Subdiv...
6

Sippin’ at Tim’s: Good intentions gone bad

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
I’m sure all of you (okay, a few of you) wish there were a place you could go after work and order a beer or wine or other drink while right beside you, one train after another rushes by. I found such a place: Tim’s Riverside Restaurant & Crab House. You sit at open-air tables or the outside bar. On one side of you is the broad Potomac River south of Washington, D.C., the Maryland shore barely visible a mile away. On the other, no more than 100 feet distant, is the double-track ...
6

Crossing western America by train

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
It’s been almost 40 years since I’ve ridden Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which means it’s been at least 35 years too long. The Builder epitomizes the long-distance train. It is Amtrak’s most-ridden train, and also the one gathering the most revenue (more than even the much-longer Auto Train). If there is an All-American Train, it is probably this one. I choose to board the Portland, Ore., section, No. 28, a four-car stub (two coaches, a sleeper, and a Sightseer lounge). At Spokane, Wash....
1

Canadian National tells customers: “We love you”

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
Canadian National’s efficiency is the envy of the railroad world. Last year, in the middle of a bruising recession, CN once again posted the lowest operating ratio (67 percent) in the business, meaning that only 67 percent of its operating revenue was eaten up by operating expenses. This is a real tribute to the operations team assembled by president and CEO Hunter Harrison.              But as I wrote last August in a prof...
0

Just another crappy day on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
How many things can go wrong in one day on a railroad? If we’re speaking of Amtrak’s Baltimore Division, from Wilmington, Del., to Washington, D.C., as it existed one-third of a century ago, the answer is ... a lot. From 6 a.m. on April 6, 1977, to 6 a.m. on April 7 are the 24 hours in question. I’ve just read the typewritten log kept that day by the assistant chief dispatchers. Shall we get started?   Back then, dozens of Conrail freight trains shared the corridor with Amtra...
2

Further confessions of a train chaser

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
Sometimes I am too smart for my own good. Let me tell you about today. I am in Selma, N.C., where the CSX New Jersey-to-Florida “A Line” crosses a Norfolk Southern branch. Two things to know about Selma: It has a beautifully restored union station immortalized by J. Parker Lamb in a 1960s black-and-white photograph. And it is where Amtrak trains from Raleigh, N.C., curve gracefully past that station to go from NS to CSX stewardship.   Now, the plan. The northbound Silver Star ...
2

Rail traffic bounces back (and stays back)

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
The economists who officially date the start and finish of recessions know when The Big One began. That would be December 2007, when the previous economic expansion topped out. But the group, called the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research, says it’s still too soon to declare that recession over. While they dither, I’ve got news: The nation’s railroads are back in business, big time.   Latest data, covering the week ending Saturday, Apri...
6

Why you maybe don't want to work for the railroad

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
If you occupy a position of authority on a Class 1 or regional railroad, read this. If you’re thinking of becoming a railroader, read this, a case study about how front-line supervisors treat their employees and would-be employees.   Our tale begins as a seasoned train dispatcher with an unblemished record prepares to leave his home to drive more than 1,000 miles for what he has been told is a pro-forma interview to dispatch trains for a regional railroad. Let’s call him Mik...
5

The ticking time bomb on a commuter railroad

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
I take a friend the other day to watch the afternoon parade of commuter trains leaving Washington, D.C. We’re in Alexandria, Va., as a Manassas-bound Virginia Railway Express train comes in and a crowd pushes its way aboard. I’m at the front of the train, on a little hillside, and can clearly see inside the locomotive cab. There sits a young man with a job I envy him for having. Engineers on this line pull down $100K a year, have their daytimes and weekends free, and always go home...
2

Confessions of a train chaser

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
When people ask what I do for fun, I say I chase trains. They usually think this is a figure of speech — that I watch or photograph trains. Nope. Nothing beats a good chase. The other day I chased a train hundreds of miles. Unfortunately, it was a lot of effort for very little fun. I guess I should tell you the story.I had ridden Amtrak’s Auto Train to Sanford, Fla., my speedy red Jaguar resting at the rear of the train in one of the auto carriers. The minute Old Red pops off the ramp in Sanford...
5

Ode to an unsung train

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
What’s the matter with you, America? There's a Morning Sun book about everything, but no “Amtrak’s Auto Train, In Color!” Where's the buzz about Auto Train on the online forums? Why is this not the most talked-about train in the land? The Auto Train is not just an Amtrak train; it’s an experience, even to someone who merely watches it pass in the night — especially to someone who merely watches it pass in the night. I once asked Lou Whitley, an Auto Train engineer these many years betw...
7

Amtrak's real competition on the Northeast Corridor

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
I’m headed from Washington to New York this weekend on an Amtrak Acela. My friends Richard Simon and Nancy Ross, a married couple who practice optometry in downtown Washington, are going to New York, too. They could well afford the Acela, but instead, they’re taking a bus.  “We’ll save $350,” she told Richard. They’ll actually save more than that. I paid $270 for my round trip on Acela. They’ll pay $50 each for a round trip on the bus, saving $440 over the Acela price. Do you begin to see A...
3

An insomniac’s nighttime adventure

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
What do you do when you can’t sleep? If you were me last night, you got up at 3:30 and watched trains. Okay, it helped that I was overnighting 40 miles south of Richmond, Va., alongside the CSX mainline to Florida. There’s not much else to do in Stony Creek.A call to Julie, the automated agent, revealed Amtrak’s northbound Silver Meteor to be about an hour late. When I booted up my laptop to ATCS Monitor, the software that gives you a dispatcher’s view of a railroad, there was the ...
3

The commuter train that leaves Acelas in the dust

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
Amtrak’s Acela high speed trains cover the 40.3 miles between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore in a brisk 29 to 33 minutes at speeds of up to 125 mph. But MARC, the Maryland commuter-rail agency, has some Acelas beat. One of its trains, No. 406, gets from D.C. to Baltimore in 32 minutes and did it today in just 31, at an average speed of 78 mph. This has to be the fastest commuter train in the world on the fastest commuter railroad in the world.        &...
0

Bring on the dancing girls! Business is booming!

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
Have you noticed your sleep being disturbed more often these last few days by the dulcet sounds of locomotive whistles in the night? I thought so. Now comes proof: The railroad business is finally showing signs of life again. It’s worth a celebration if the latest big up-tick continues. Data made available today by ASI/Transmatch reveals that last week (ending Feb. 27) saw the second-highest level of carloadings since the recession began in late 2008: 631,867 carloads and intermodal units, ...
10

A radical idea: Take the lead out of Amtrak!

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
I awoke the other day aboard the northbound Coast Starlight and raised the bedroom shade. We were stopped in Klamath Falls, Ore. I got dressed, brushed my teeth, went to the diner, and ordered breakfast. We were still in Klamath Falls. I ate bacon and eggs and leisurely drank a second cup of coffee. Still there. So I got off the train and walked around 10 minutes, until the engineer whistled the five-minute warning.             You’ve...
6

What brought mighty CSX to its knees

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
Readers of the TRAINS News Wire know that two severe blizzards, on Feb. 6 and again on Feb. 10, played havoc with railroads on the East Coast. Less well known is that Amtrak service between Washington, D.C., and Savannah, Ga., was suspended for a week, and CSX freight trains on this corridor were either canceled (mostly) or ran hours or even days late.   The trouble centered on the 114-mile RF&P Subdivision of CSX, between Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Va. One source told me...
8

Aboard the last streamliner

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
Fifty-five years ago this spring, Canadian Pacific introduced its new transcontinental train, the Budd-built Canadian, operating between Montreal and Toronto in the East and Vancouver on the Pacific Coast. It was the proud accomplishment of N. R. (Buck) Crump, CP’s president during the mid-Twentieth Century. Legend has it that within six months, Crump realized that even the newest and finest streamliner in the world would never come close to paying its way, and Canadian Pacific rapidly beg...
4

As good as a cab ride

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
I had some time on my hands in the Oakland, Calif., area the other day. Actually, I had a lot of time to kill. So I decided to take a round trip from Oakland to San Jose on Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains. And when I got to San Jose, I extended that round trip another 48 miles, to downtown San Francisco and back, on the Caltrain commuter line. That’s when things got interesting.   Caltrain is a busy railroad, operating 45 scheduled trains each way on weekdays (fewer on weekends). Its...
1

China's busiest passenger route

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
Every night in Beijing, starting at 9:15 p.m., seven sleeping-car trains leave for Shanghai on five-minute headways. The same scene is enacted at the other end, 914 miles away. Riding one of these trains is a great experience, if you don’t mind sleeping with one to three strangers who don’t speak your language. More than that, I wanted to see what lies between these two great Chinese cities, so I took the first of two daylight bullet trains from Beijing: D29 — a 10-hour, 50-minute experi...
2

By bullet train in the People’s Republic

Posted 9 years ago by Fred Frailey
I don’t hold myself out as an expert on China or of Chinese railways. But finding myself in Beijing this week, what better to do than start my learning curve by experiencing that nation’s burgeoning railroad system? So I spent a day between the Chinese capital and Shenyang, 437 miles to the northeast and itself one of China’s 10 largest cities.   As you may know, the Chinese do nothing by half measure. China is well on its way to becoming the high speed rail capital of the world. H...

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