The downfall of Luc Jobin

Posted 11 months ago by Fred Frailey
Imagine yourself as chief executive of the most dynamic company in your industry. Thanks to your initiatives and some good luck, customers flock to you, whereas your competitors languish. Profits are up, though due to reinvestment in your infrastructure, not as much as investors expected. And yes, it’s true that you are behind in delivering the goods to your customers. How should your board of directors react to these mixed circumstances? You, of course, are Luc Jobin, the CEO of Canadian...

Bon voyage, Moonlighters

Posted 11 months ago by Fred Frailey
At 8:30 sharp tonight, VIA Rail’s Canadian should be leaving Pacific Central Station in Vancouver with scores of happy and celebratory passengers in its sleepers—the Moonlighters. That’s the name Bill and Linda Schafer gave their merry band of train lovers who join them every year, these sojourns beginning about the time Bill retired from Norfolk Southern a decade or so ago. (You don’t need an invitation from Bill to ride, but you do need a ticket.) Anyway, Moonlighters d...

Au revoir, Amtrak! It's official

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
Hello, my name is Richard Anderson. I am president and chief executive officer of Amtrak. It is now clear that we are likely to face different scenarios where positive train control (PTC) is not yet operational by the end of the year. First, there will be carriers that have made sufficient progress to apply to FRA for an alternative PTC implementation schedule under the law. In these instances, Amtrak’s equipment will be ready for PTC operation, but additional work, testing or approvals ar...

Amtrak in crisis

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
We are in uncharted country. In its 47 years, Amtrak has been to the wall often. But those instances were political or funding dramas. This is different. Now the public is entitled to ask: Is it safe to board an Amtrak train? In December it was Tacoma. A train runs right off the rails doing 50 mph over the speed limit on a 30-mph curve. Safety violations were egregious. In January a train carrying Republican members of Congress hits a garbage truck at a gated crossing in rural Virginia. Again, ...

Who what when where why?

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
Did any of you notice, as I instantly did this morning, that none of the stories in our nation’s Big Three newspapers addressed the central question about the collision of a special Amtrak train carrying Republican members of Congress and a garbage truck, in Crozet, Va., just west of Charlottesville? I was taught that any good news story should answer five questions, the most important of which is the last: Why? Why did that truck get into the crosshairs of the Amtrak train? Nine reporters...

Will you still love me tomorrow?

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
The news from Canada today is that oil producers are at loggerheads with Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways. Pipeline capacity to preferred destinations on the U.S. Gulf coast is almost nonexistent, and producers want the two railroads to haul their product at favorable rates. The railroads insist the oil companies either put some skin in the game—commit to long term contracts—or pay the publicly posted carload rates. This the shippers are refusing to do. You may wonder...

Confirming Batory, funding Gateway

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
Thank you all for your responses to my blogs about the kidnapped nomination of Ronald Batory to run the Federal Railroad Administration. From the tone of some of your notes, there seems to be an assumption that I am opposed to the Gateway Project. This is because some of you seem to accept that we have a choice between confirming the FRA nominee or funding Gateway. That’s a false premise. Gateway Project would build two new tracks beneath the Hudson River, replace the ancient two-track li...

Free Ron Batory!!!

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
Foolishness by the senators from New York and New Jersey continues. Six months ago, these four Democrats—Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Bob Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey—put a “hold” on the confirmation vote for Ronald Batory to run the Federal Railroad Administration. Bear in mind that Batory, a career railroad officer, is the only person actually qualified to hold this job since the early days of the agency. The reason for the hold, you w...

The legacy of Hunter Harrison

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
We would all agree that he was a genius at breaking down railroad operations to its simple components and running trains economically. Hunter Harrison learned railroading at the knee of a brilliant, profane Texan, William (Pisser Bill) Thompson, who was on his way to becoming VP-operations of the Frisco in the late 1960s when Hunter encountered him at Tennessee Yard in Memphis. “Young man,” said Thompson, spreading his arm toward a sea of freight cars, “what do you see out ther...

Canadian arrival: Please be late

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
Updated 9 a.m. Dec. 7 In the fading light of an overcast December afternoon, the Canadian twists and turns in harmony with the North Thompson River, 30 miles away still from Kamloops, B.C., where we should have arrived at 11 last night. An hour from now, at 4:45 p.m., it will be dark. I prepared for my westward trip across Canada with certain assumptions. One was that VIA Rail No. 1, would take me past certain places during the eight-hour period of daylight and other locales at night. The othe...

Scaling Mount Edmonton

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
How do I explain Edmonton and the effect it has on the Canadian? Edmonton stands at the center of Alberta’s booming energy economy and appears to generate a substantial amount of traffic for Canadian National. Although CN’s facilities in Edmonton are spread over miles and miles and appear enormous to me, the railroad always seems overwhelmed. In other words, getting there on any day, either way, is a female dog. Edmonton appears as an anti-magnetic force, pushing back against objects...

Postcard from Goodeve

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
In Texas we have towns with sensible names like Ben Franklin, Dime Box, Cut and Shoot and Pecan Gap. In Saskatchewan we pass Goodeve, Undora, Xena and Allan with an “A.” Englishmen must have built the Canadian National through the province. In any event, it has been quite a morning on the Canadian, out among these towns with odd names. Let me give you the flavor of things. We pull into Melville at 7:15 a.m. in complete darkness to change engineers. We had just passed a westbound man...

The news from Sioux Lookout

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
We left Toronto on VIA Rail’s Canadian at 10:45 Sunday morning, almost 13 hours late, due to the even later arrival of our equipment on our eastbound counterpart. There are roughly 60 of us spread over 13 cars, 30 each sleeping car and coach. VIA put us up at a so-so Toronto hotel (coach passengers included) Saturday night—that is, everyone but yours truly. I asked to go to the Fairmont’s Royal York across the street from Union Station, and my wish was cheerfully granted. May...

The death of diesel

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
Did you read about the public debut of Metrolink’s new Tier 4 diesel locomotive the other day? Made by Caterpillar’s Progress Rail to meet the latest environmental rules, it pulled a special train to be greeted by the public and LA area politicians in Newall, Cal. But the train never got to Newall, its locomotive crapping out repeatedly and finally giving up for good within sight of the station. The failure of Progress Rail’s latest and greatest is a metaphor for the state of ...

The Worst Case Scenario

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
Those of you who have read this blog long enough know of my affection—my love—of Via Rail Canada’s Canadian. (For a sampling of what I've written, go here or here or here.) If I could, I’d ride it once a month and still feel deprived. This despite its chronic (and lately worsening) track record for lateness. My attitude has been that being late gives you more dome car time for the same low price. Of course, I too have my limit, which is somewhere in the 12-hours-late area...

There he goes again!

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
The senior hypocrite from New York made it to Long Island last week to demand crossing gates or flashing lights at a seldom-used road-rail crossing near Garden City. All it took, in fact, was this photo (posted on the Facebook page of a Rockville Centre attorney) to get Senator Chuck Schumer to Garden City and in front of a microphone. He insists the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration underwrite the cost of so equipping this crossing. Let’s think about it for a moment. The cost of insta...

The senior hypocrite from New York

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
One thing about Chuck Schumer, the senior U.S. senator from New York: You can’t fault his commitment to railroad safety. But I’ll do so anyway. My colleague Bill Stephens reports on the Trains News Wire that at least one safety expert is publicly calling the senator two-faced. On the one hand, Schumer will go anywhere there is a microphone to promote safe transportation. My own personal tabulation of his pronouncements just this year regarding railroads: January 8: He demands a co...

The beheaded FRA

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
We know that railroading is a dangerous sport. You can easily get hurt, or worse. In 2017 through August, 2,800 railroaders were injured on duty. At least ten of those employees died, the latest being 48-year-old Jon Beckman, crushed between two cars during a Union Pacific switch-yard derailment on September 22 in Arlington, Tex. Plus, it is worth noting that the two states with the most railroaders injured this year are New York and New Jersey. I mention that last fact because the four U.S. se...

Samson in the temple?

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
So wrote analyst Anthony Hatch in an email to friends today, on news that CSX is backing away from a $145 million investment to help enlarge Howard Street Tunnel in Baltimore and thereby extend double-stack clearances up the Atlantic coast to New York state. That’s another way of saying, as I did to myself: What the heck is going on here? The decision is clearly one made by CSX chief executive Hunter Harrison. Since coming to the railroad in early March, he has largely redesigned its appr...

Silver Service surprises

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
In the past month I’ve gone up and then down the Atlantic coast twice aboard Amtrak’s Silver Meteor and Silver Star. Nice, predictable trains, you say? I would agree with that first part, but they are not predictable. I’m always surprised by something, and every now and then those surprises are pleasant ones. Let’s get the unpleasant surprise out of the way. Bedroom A in Viewliner sleeping car 62027 has what I would call an unrepairable bathroom door. The southbound Star...

There's such a thing as too much Hunter

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
Is anyone else suffering from a depressive condition outlined in this month's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine? It's called Hunter Fatigue. Researchers found that it affects railroaders in general but in particular railroaders or friends of railroads with a low anxiety tolerance. Symptoms include sweating, bed wetting, temper tantrums, vomiting, sexual dysfunction, loss of vision, speech and appetite induced by reading of or talking about the doings of E. Hunter Harrison, c...

Love in the time of Hunter (an allegory)

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
Karen noticed the change in Eric in late April. His normally cheerful, funny personality turned dark, sarcastic, bitter. He used to spend hours on weekends at the Starbucks near their brownstone in Brooklyn, happily engaged in the Times Sunday Magazine crossword puzzle or the latest issue of The Nation and Mother Jones. Now Eric snapped at the friendly young woman at the counter when she asked him to repeat his order for a double butterscotch latte. Even the Sunday crossword lost its appeal. "It...

Supremacy in the West

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
CSX is struggling, driverless trucks are on the horizon, and the railroad world seems in disarray. Let’s talk about something that works: railroading in the West. Let’s talk about BNSF Railway and Union Pacific. We have here two magnificent companies, each well run and hugely profitable. Their differences are what interest me. Why, for instance, has BNSF’s business over time been growing and Union Pacific’s shrinking? And why, despite this, does Union Pacific consistentl...

Shrink the Water Level Route?

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
CSX has been studying the feasibility of single-tracking its route from Chicago to Selkirk (Albany), N.Y. But is it feasible, people are asking? Wouldn’t the railroad grind to a halt? Some of you have already said as much in comments to an earlier blog. I decided to find out. A couple of years ago I built a simulation model for CXS between Buffalo and Selkirk using interactive Train Dispatcher 3 software. I’ve just employed this platform to run the trains actually operated over the ...

The CSX follies

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
First, what I know. Then, what I think. I asked a railroader with excellent access to the details of CSX operations how he would rank the current disarray, on a scale of 1 to 10, a 10 being the equivalent of Union Pacific’s historic 1997 meltdown. His reply: “A 5 heading toward 7. A slow railroad dies faster than a fast one does.” And I agree.  Metrics continue to head down, and now there’s the pileup of a train descending Sand Patch grade near Cumberland, Md. You w...

Great ball of fire!

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
Steam locomotive 844 and I entered this world months apart in 1944. The last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific, it never left that railroad’s active roster. Instead, it has served for half a century as UP’s good-will ambassador. With its 80-inch driving wheels, it is a magnificent machine that impresses people of all ages. Yesterday, Cathie and I rode behind the 844 from Denver to Cheyenne and back aboard the train the Denver Post and UP sponsor to celebrate Frontier Days in C...

CSX is about to look like CN

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
In recent weeks, Hunter Harrison-led CSX Transportation has terminated all nine of its division superintendents (called managers) and their assistants, among many other field personnel, according to multiple sources close to the company. None has been replaced. The firings appear to be part of a broad realignment of the transportation structure of CSX. When the smoke clears, the railroad will cease to have divisions but be managed from as few as two regional headquarters. A couple of sub-region...

Fred has a brand new gig

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
The news has been my life. I became a reporter for my dad’s little daily newspaper in Sulphur Springs, Texas, at the age of 16 in 1960. At the time, I expected to be a newspaperman until I died, just like my dad. But life is full of strange turns we can’t predict. At age 27, I left a Chicago newspaper and became a magazine writer. What’s the difference? The best way I can describe it (I think Trains editor Jim Wrinn, an old newspaper hand, would agree) is that newspapers are m...

Railroading in a fiery furnace

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
About 4 o’clock Tuesday afternoon, Tom Hoback and I drove across the Colorado River from Topock, Ariz., and entered California a few miles south of Needles. I glanced at the temperature readout on our rental car. It said 134 degrees. That day’s Los Angeles Times had reported that the highest recorded temperature anywhere, ever, was in California’s own Death Valley, in 1917. Then it was 136 degrees. That’s how close we came to becoming living history. When I’d step o...

The meaning of "My Life With Trains"

Posted one year ago by Fred Frailey
Jim McClellan’s testament—My Life With Trains: Memoir of a Railroader—is out and being distributed by Indiana University Press. I can safely say that it is the railroad publishing event of the year. But I am biased, because I had a hand in its final stages of production after Jim’s death last autumn and read it cover to cover, several times. I was taken by the comments made to friends about My Life With Trains by Jim Blaze, Conrail’s final corporate strategist (and...

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