The loss of rails

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The loss of rails
Posted by kenny dorham on Tuesday, December 26, 2017 10:53 AM

I am no Rail Expert, i just have a general interest in Freight and Passenger Trains. 

It seems like circa 1920-1980 was a hard stretch. Lots of mergers, cuts in service, lay-offs, dieselization...  and many  Names would disappear altogether.

It is really Shocking, not to mention Sad, that just about All of the Big Names, that were so prevalent and well known, hardly exist today.

I realize that this is true with most big business..... we live in a structure that breeds monopolies..... but it is a wonder to look back... and see all those Fabulous Passenger and Freight Trains of:

Illinois Central

Southern

Northern Pacific

Milwaukee

Chicago NW

Pennsylvania

The list goes on and on.

They were so Big and Important and Far-reaching. I guess that is what gets me, how fast their ubiquity vanished.

I moved to San Francisco in 1984. I can Remember all the Western Pacific tracks that still existed even then. I was coming home from a Union Meeting, late at night, and there was a Southern Pacific Loco moving two cars of Cement, to a factory at Harrison and 20th. Today the factory is gone, there are all kinds of Business/Housing in that area, and the tracks have been erased from History/Memory..

Every town and City has a similar story x30.

I wish we could have held onto a lot of that. *:( sad

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, December 26, 2017 11:01 AM

Where you can - get comparative photos of the same location - generation to generation to generation.  What thrives in one generation is diminished in the next generation and may ceased to exit in the following generation.  Such is the pace of life and civilization.

         

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Posted by DSchmitt on Tuesday, December 26, 2017 11:27 AM

I tried to sell my two cents worth, but no one would give me a plug nickel for it.

I don't have a leg to stand on.

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Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, December 26, 2017 12:03 PM

When I was first transferred to Baltimore in 1971 the B&O was still servicing industries on both sides of Pratt Street as well as industries along Key Highway to Light Steet and on down to Pratt Street.  It wasn't unusual to be on Pratt Street at 3 or 4 AM and see two B&O Yard engines performing their duties switching industires.

The following picture is from a earlier generation's motive power servicing the Baltimore News American newspaper with their printing paper -

In my era, the engine from Mt. Clare was one of the GE 44 ton switchers.  The engine from Locust Point that wound it's way along the waterfront down Key Highway etc. was a EMD SW-1 shoving a caboose as a shoving platform.

All that activity ceased with the creation of the Harbor Place

         

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Posted by kenny dorham on Tuesday, December 26, 2017 4:10 PM

All Good Info ^^^^^^^^^ Thanks.

I knew you guys would understand. Smile

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Posted by Convicted One on Tuesday, December 26, 2017 8:17 PM

kenny dorham
They were so Big and Important and Far-reaching. I guess that is what gets me, how fast their ubiquity vanished.

 

In addition to the excellent replies you have already received, there are a few less obvious factors at work, as well.

When some of the older mainlines were first constructed, they were the only reliable means of intercity transport that did not become mud-filled quagmires during inclement weather.  As such they could often charge a premium.  As other modes of transportation evolved in subsequent years, that premium value erroded. 

Also, not all railroads were built by ethical people having only noble intentions to run a transportation company.  Some lines were built expressly with the intent of creating a competitive threat to an existing railroad, where the  ultimate strategy was to sell or lease the new line to the original operation just to mitigate the threat of competition.   Alternately, unscrupulous developers might offer to build a line connecting endpoints already served, but taking advantage of communities in between who are willing to pony up substantial funds for the privilege of becoming a node on the new network (that "public/private cooperation" scam). Such lines  might have appeared worthwhile to communities that were originally bypassed when previous efforts chose to build instead through the neighboring county, but whether they ultimately  paid off for the entities later charged with running them likely had a lot to do with their longevity (or lack thereof)

 

All of those scenarios could lead into a "perfectly serviceable railroad" that generates little incentive to operate. 

 

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Posted by Murphy Siding on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 7:58 AM

DSchmitt

     I'd suggest you try to get these through an inter-library loan. I did and I read both of them. To be honest, they were interesting books, but weren’t what I was expecting or at least not what I was hoping for. I was looking for something that maybe talked about how the towns changed or adjusted to no longer having a railroad. Those books, as I recall, kind of gave a brief history of the town and railroad up until the day the tracks were pulled up. Then it’s off to the next chapter.

 

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Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 8:45 AM

The adapion to the loss of trains and tracks preceded, did not folow, in most cases.  The trains stopped running and the tracks were pulled up because a large portion of the railroads customers had already switched to using their private automotibles for personal transportation and to shipping by truck, either shipper or receiver owned or by truck company, instead of the railroad.  And over-regulation certainly helped the process with regard to freight.

Imagine how much better off the railroads would have been in meeting the competition presented by Interstate Highway System if the container technology pioneered by the PRR and NYCentral long before WWII had been allowed to develop!  It might have even helped bring WWII to a more rapid conclusion!  But it might not have saved a lot of the street trackage and branch lines.

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Posted by Murphy Siding on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 8:58 AM

Convicted One
 
kenny dorham
They were so Big and Important and Far-reaching. I guess that is what gets me, how fast their ubiquity vanished.

 

 

In addition to the excellent replies you have already received, there are a few less obvious factors at work, as well.

When some of the older mainlines were first constructed, they were the only reliable means of intercity transport that did not become mud-filled quagmires during inclement weather.  As such they could often charge a premium.  As other modes of transportation evolved in subsequent years, that premium value erroded. 

Also, not all railroads were built by ethical people having only noble intentions to run a transportation company.  Some lines were built expressly with the intent of creating a competitive threat to an existing railroad, where the  ultimate strategy was to sell or lease the new line to the original operation just to mitigate the threat of competition.   Alternately, unscrupulous developers might offer to build a line connecting endpoints already served, but taking advantage of communities in between who are willing to pony up substantial funds for the privilege of becoming a node on the new network (that "public/private cooperation" scam). Such lines  might have appeared worthwhile to communities that were originally bypassed when previous efforts chose to build instead through the neighboring county, but whether they ultimately  paid off for the entities later charged with running them likely had a lot to do with their longevity (or lack thereof)

 

All of those scenarios could lead into a "perfectly serviceable railroad" that generates little incentive to operate. 

 

 

In addition, I'd say that a lot has to do with change- plain and simple. In my part of the world, the upper plains, we have a lot of underutilized rail lines because the world of farming changed. Unless someone starts ripping up the interstate highways I don't see that changing.

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Posted by Shock Control on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 9:13 AM

daveklepper
Imagine how much better off the railroads would have been in meeting the competition presented by Interstate Highway System if the container technology pioneered by the PRR and NYCentral long before WWII had been allowed to develop!  It might have even helped bring WWII to a more rapid conclusion!  But it might not have saved a lot of the street trackage and branch lines.

Dave, I didn't know about this.  Did those railroads develop an early version of intermodal shipping that did not catch on?

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Posted by Murphy Siding on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 10:06 AM

Shock Control
 
daveklepper
Imagine how much better off the railroads would have been in meeting the competition presented by Interstate Highway System if the container technology pioneered by the PRR and NYCentral long before WWII had been allowed to develop!  It might have even helped bring WWII to a more rapid conclusion!  But it might not have saved a lot of the street trackage and branch lines.

 

Dave, I didn't know about this.  Did those railroads develop an early version of intermodal shipping that did not catch on?

 

I believe they tried, and government regulation would not allow it. Greyhounds has written a lot about this in the past.

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Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 10:29 AM

Go ahead and use the Forum search button for "containers," and you should be able to pull up past discussions, inlcuding photograps.

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Posted by richg1998 on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 10:45 AM

Not unusual at all. Bottom line, the world is evolving.

Many cannot handle change.

I now ride my bicycle on rail trails in my area. Those rails where not longer needed.

The small station in my town is now a nice bagle shop. Another town nearby, the Union Station is a great restaurant with a small Amtrak platform nearby.

Rich

N

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Posted by Shock Control on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 11:12 AM

kenny dorham

I wish we could have held onto a lot of that. *:( sad

 
Not to derail your thread - pun intended - but Kenny Dorham's Afro Cuban album on Blue Note is a fave of mine!
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Posted by tree68 on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 11:30 AM

LCL and passenger service were once a huge part of the railroad scene.  As mentioned, other modes have taken their place.  What was less than a full car load is now a nice truck load, and as we all know, the automobile is king for personal transportation.

Our local newspaper runs snippets of old news stories - some of them involve groups travelling by train for what today would be  a hour's drive (or less) for some special event with a similar group, or even special trains being put on for things like the county fair.  As was mentioned, rail was preferable to a long slog over rutted roads.

There are a number of abandoned lines in my area.  Most were groundbreaking in their day - today no one rues their absence.  One village near me was the terminus or origination for nearly 20 passenger trains per day.  Thousands travelled to that village by rail to board steamers to the huge island hotels, and coal came in to fuel those steamers.  A few disjointed portions of that line still exist, but even some of those are down to zero traffic.

One cannot discuss this topic without reference to the first major railroad to fold (in 1957) - the New York, Ontario and Western.  Some have questioned whether the line should have been built at all.  But its two major commodities basically disappeared as customers (milk and coal) and today all you can find are a few scattered snippets of the line still in place, and lots of opportunities for railroad archeology.  

The abandonment predated the trails movement (indeed, I suspect someone suggesting such a thing would have been laughed out of the room at the time), so hiking or biking the O&W isn't something to put on your bucket list.

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Posted by greyhounds on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 1:48 PM

Shock Control
Dave, I didn't know about this. Did those railroads develop an early version of intermodal shipping that did not catch on?

It wasn't that it did not catch on.  It "Caught On" quite well.  It was shut down and blocked by the US Government's Interstate Commerce Commission.  For no discernable rational reason.

Lead by the New York Central, railroads began to develop intermodal container services in the early 1920s.  This was about as soon as highway trucks that could carry a decent load of freight became available.  This rail container system greatly reduced the cost of moving freight.  The container system also improved service quality by speeding shipments and significantly reducing loss and damage.

Due to competitive pressures the railroads passed most of the cost savings through to the customers, but they were able to hang on to about 1/3rd of the savings.  

So, the customers were getting a higher quality service at a lower charge while the railroads made more money.  Sounds great to me.  A real win-win situation.

The development of a new technology, such as motor freight in the 1920s, will commonly produce something economists call "Creative Destruction".  In creative destruction an old economic/business order is replaced (destroyed) by a newly created, more efficient, system.  Such change is painful to those being replaced, but it is totally necessary if our economy is to grow and our living standards increased.  (Think of typewriters being replaced by word processors.  For the typewriter people, it sucked.)

The government can't really do anything to stop these changes without destroying the economy.  They really shouldn't even try.  (They can mitigate the pain, but not by stopping change and progress.)

But all that was beyond the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1931 when it ordered the railroads to increase their container rates to non competitive levels.  This killed the development of the nascent COFC system and hindered rail intermodal for ever.  (There was a 50 year black hole in US intermodal development.  We don't know where we'd be if it wasn't for those lost 50 years of development.)

The old order of rail freight rates was being destroyed by motor freight and the competing rail container system.  At the time, the ICC had no authority over motor freight rates so they couldn't order them increased.  But they did kill intermodal development.

I'm glad Dave Klepper mentioned WWII.  A significant impediment to the US was a lack of shipping capacity.  One great advantage of containerization is the more efficient use of ships.  They can be loaded/unloaded much faster with containers and can, as a result, make more voyages.  If containers would have been allowed to develop it might have shortened the war and saved some lives.

I hope I kept this short enough.     

 

 

 

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 2:34 PM

Murphy Siding
. . . In my part of the world, the upper plains, we have a lot of underutilized rail lines because the world of farming changed. Unless someone starts ripping up the interstate highways I don't see that changing. . . . 

I think it was anti-regulation transportation economist George W. Hilton who wrote in Trains back in the 1960's or early 1970's that the reason there were so many branch lines in Iowa was that they needed to be about 14 miles or less apart.  The reason was that is about as far as a farmer with a horse team and wagon could go to the railhead to pickup his supplies and deliver his grain to be sold, and still get back in a single day.  As soon as a practical truck for farmers was developed, that distance probably went to 40 - 60 miles or so, hence many branch lines were rendered surplus.  

- PDN. 

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
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Posted by Convicted One on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 5:34 PM

Murphy Siding
Unless someone starts ripping up the interstate highways

 

Is there much talk up your way about potentially converting existing interstates to toll roads?

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Posted by tree68 on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 6:01 PM

Paul_D_North_Jr
The reason was that is about as far as a farmer with a horse team and wagon could go to the railhead to pickup his supplies and deliver his grain to be sold, and still get back in a single day.

I suspect that same line of thought can be applied here in the northeast as well.

My mother has related taking the milk cans to the closest railway station to their farm.  She's 91, which does put the method of getting the milk to the station as a truck, vs team and wagon.

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Posted by mudchicken on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 7:18 PM

When PC started choking on itself and deregulation was still a long ways off, you had studies like this :  http://www.lib.niu.edu/1975/ii7511323.html

Funny, Prairie Central tried and failed drinking that kool-aid. 

Mudchicken Nothing is worth taking the risk of losing a life over. Come home tonight in the same condition that you left home this morning in. Safety begins with ME.... cinscocom-west
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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 9:21 PM

mudchicken
When PC started choking on itself and deregulation was still a long ways off, you had studies like this :  http://www.lib.niu.edu/1975/ii7511323.html

Funny, Prairie Central tried and failed drinking that kool-aid. 

The article is mainly about the 1970's attempts and process to "rationalize" / abandon excess mileage in Illinois.  What's clearly evident is a lot of objections in the nature of "Don't take the rail line from my back yard" (to coin a phrase).  

I think it was Hilton too who said that in that time frame (maybe back to the 1960's?) that there were something like 7 railroads from Chicago to Omaha, the eastern terminus of the Union Pacific.  Clearly by then - and possibly for decades earlier - that was several too many.  Accordingly, some had to and were abandoned or downgraded to essentially local service only.

- PDN. 

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Posted by jeffhergert on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 9:40 PM

Paul_D_North_Jr

 

 
Murphy Siding
. . . In my part of the world, the upper plains, we have a lot of underutilized rail lines because the world of farming changed. Unless someone starts ripping up the interstate highways I don't see that changing. . . . 

 

I think it was anti-regulation transportation economist George W. Hilton who wrote in Trains back in the 1960's or early 1970's that the reason there were so many branch lines in Iowa was that they needed to be about 14 miles or less apart.  The reason was that is about as far as a farmer with a horse team and wagon could go to the railhead to pickup his supplies and deliver his grain to be sold, and still get back in a single day.  As soon as a practical truck for farmers was developed, that distance probably went to 40 - 60 miles or so, hence many branch lines were rendered surplus.  

 

- PDN. 

 

Even during the time in Iowa when you were no more than 12 miles from a railroad, they new the rail system was overbuilt.  That view was of course from the railroad companies-every town and city wanted 2 (or more) railroads to keep prices competitive.  The first abandonments began about 1911.

Jeff

PS.  I grew up in Iowa in the Amana Colonies.  The seven villages are between 1 to 3 miles apart and were laid out in the 1850s.  Those distances were equal to so many hours apart by ox team.  Their were four railroad stations in the colonies, two on the Milwaukee Road, two on the Rock Island.  Before 1936 they did not have a high school.  Those students selected to go on to higher academics would travel by train to nearby towns that did have high schools.   

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Posted by kenny dorham on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 10:52 PM

Shock Control

 

 
kenny dorham

I wish we could have held onto a lot of that. *:( sad

 

 

 
Not to derail your thread - pun intended - but Kenny Dorham's Afro Cuban album on Blue Note is a fave of mine!
 

Smile Cool Yes

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Posted by Shock Control on Thursday, December 28, 2017 9:56 AM

greyhounds
It wasn't that it did not catch on...I hope I kept this short enough.

Thank you for the detailed response.  I had no idea.  That is really fascinating. Thumbs Up

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Posted by greyhounds on Thursday, December 28, 2017 3:37 PM

Shock Control
Thank you for the detailed response. I had no idea. That is really fascinating.

Here's a PDF reproduction of a Pennsylvania Railroad brochure on their 1930 container service.  It is fascinating that this developed so early on.  Please note the plans for expansion of the service.

http://pennsyrr.com/kc/freightops/downloads/container_service.pdf

The OP lamented the demise of the Pennsy, along with some others.  Well, changes are inevittable and we can't live in the past.  But the damn government just flat out killed this innovation one year later, for absolutely no good reason other than it was change.  This did hurt the Pennsylvania and at least hastened its demise.

The elimination of rail container service by government decree took away an important competitive tool vis a vis motor freight.  There were other such equally stupid government restrictions on railroads.  I wrote a masters thesis focusing on how the regulators literally allocated the movement of high revenue freight to the truckers.

These allocations not only hurt the railroads, they hurt the American People by preventing the development of the most efficient logistics network to serve the economy. 

"By many measures, the U.S. freight rail system is the safest, most efficient and cost effective in the world." - Federal Railroad Administration, October, 2009. I'm just your average, everyday, uncivilized howling "anti-government" critic of mass government expenditures for "High Speed Rail" in the US. And I'm gosh darn proud of that.
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Posted by Shock Control on Thursday, December 28, 2017 5:15 PM

greyhounds
Here's a PDF reproduction of a Pennsylvania Railroad brochure on their 1930 container service.  It is fascinating that this developed so early on.  Please note the plans for expansion of the service.

http://pennsyrr.com/kc/freightops/downloads/container_service.pdf

Very cool!  

I am imagining an alternate reality in which this technology continued, and my older brother had Athearn or Mantua HO models of the cars!  ;)

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Posted by greyhounds on Thursday, December 28, 2017 6:20 PM

Shock Control
Very cool! I am imagining an alternate reality in which this technology continued, and my older brother had Athearn or Mantua HO models of the cars! ;)

Well, it's not Athearn or Mantua, but...

http://fandckits.com/HOFreight/8120.html

I've got two.  Still in their box.  I guess I could try to assemble the kits.  It's like 3 degrees outside and I'm retired.  No excuses.

"By many measures, the U.S. freight rail system is the safest, most efficient and cost effective in the world." - Federal Railroad Administration, October, 2009. I'm just your average, everyday, uncivilized howling "anti-government" critic of mass government expenditures for "High Speed Rail" in the US. And I'm gosh darn proud of that.
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Posted by samfp1943 on Thursday, December 28, 2017 6:36 PM

Larry(tree68) wrote the following post [in part]

"...My mother has related taking the milk cans to the closest railway station to their farm.  She's 91, which does put the method of getting the milk to the station as a truck, vs team and wagon..."

     That was the 'lifeblood' arouund Parsons, Kansas; [and I would assume, other smaller communities that had industries that were processing agricultural commodities, in the early 1900's] .       The KATY RR, (and the FRISCO, also) from its Parsons division point, operated a number of locoal daily trains to serve those various industries. ie: Creameries, Poultry Packing Houses (Swift, Meadow Gold Milk, come to mind off the top. Grocers who bought local produce)  The locals would stop at  'jerkwater(?)stations' to pick up the raw goods for transport. [while watering locomotives.]. Thus the raw materials for those agricultural based industries was moved in to be processed. Those business also employed a number of farmer's wives to help in their processing plants.

Sam

 

 


 

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Thursday, December 28, 2017 6:39 PM

greyhounds
Here's a PDF reproduction of a Pennsylvania Railroad brochure on their 1930 container service. It is fascinating that this developed so early on. Please note the plans for expansion of the service. http://pennsyrr.com/kc/freightops/downloads/container_service.pdf

   Interesting that you had the option of leaving the containers on the car and loading/unloading them like a boxcar.

_____________

   My mind's made up.   Don't confuse me with the facts.

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Posted by mudchicken on Thursday, December 28, 2017 6:45 PM

And along with railroads willingly abandoning, others like Tree's Adirondak RR and Ed Ellis' Saratoga and North Creek are under pressure to abandon. (S&NC is under attack by the same irrational New York state government nutcases that played hell with Adirondak - The newswire should be humming shortly.)

Mudchicken Nothing is worth taking the risk of losing a life over. Come home tonight in the same condition that you left home this morning in. Safety begins with ME.... cinscocom-west

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