On Preparedness

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On Preparedness

Postby 2nd trick op » Wed Dec 19, 2007 1:17 pm

TO THE MODERATORS: This thread may be viewed as somewhat off-topic, but I'm starting it here because of the generally higher level of interest in similar subjects on the Amtrak Forum. Please feel free to move it.

A solid intermodal train with CSX power passed my HQ yesterday morning as I was getting off work. Several others were encountered one day last summer when CSX had a major derailment in upstate New York, but no further action was encountered yesterday; CSX power on the Reading Line is normally rare.

My point being that the remaining major railroads do not seem as willing to share each others' trackage in case of an emergency, and at a time when the combination of increasing traffic and reduced physical plant have likely increased the vulnerability of the entire system.

Admittedly, the basic conditions of rail operation have changed considerably from the days when PRR restored some semblance of service on what is now the NEC within twelve hours of the derailment of the Congressional under wartime conditions in 1943. Alternative means can usually be arranged if the volume of traffic isn't too heavy or the interruption too long. And in a post-industrial economy, the best approach is sometimes to just "ride out the storm".

But I do believe that the Upper Mississippi floods of 1994 demonstrated that our rail network becomes increasingly vulnerable as the number of alternative routes are reduced. Elsewhere, the growing pressure to revive local medium-distance passenger service or allow a few redundant main lines to evolve into corridors is going to further strain the capacity of the remaining lines. NS probably couldn't respond to a loss of its Pittsburgh Line as easily as PC and Conrail did in the floods of 1972 and 1977.

In the Northeast, at least, much of the capacity itself is still there; the former PRR Trenton Cutoff, the former Erie across New York's southern tier, the Lehigh Valley west of Wilkes-Barre and PRR's former Northern Region main (Harrisburg-Buffalo) are still essentially intact. But my point here is that the familiarity with the lines by the operating departments has probably become rusty, and a sudden-and-substantial increase in traffic might add enough strain to knock out the backup system. Then we're really up the "well-known creek".

Those of us who follow the rail indsutry on a daily basis posess a far deeper acquaintance with the realities and constraints of rail operation than does the general public. This knowledge dovetails nicely with the emerging realization that the changed realities of petroleum economics are finally going to force a re-orientation of our transportation system, both freight and passenger.

Finally, there remains the issue of the war on terror. Those of us who are familiar with the infrastructure of the Eastern seaboard can recognize any number of vulnerable locations without tipping our hand to anyone who might be watching with the wrong intentions. Again, backups and alternatives exist in many cases, but there is sometimes a question of how long these measures can hold up.

Regardless of anyone's personal feelings toward our military actions in recent years, reorientation of some of that effort toward strengthening our internal transport system might prove a wiser investment. (Let's remember that defense concerns were cited in the funding of the Interstate Highway System, now over 50 years ago.) The new realities of transportation probably justify re-orienting some of that system back toward the use of rail service in the primary role. And if this facilitates the revival of suitable, adaptable passenger service, hopefully on a decentralized, case-by-case basis, so much the better.
Last edited by 2nd trick op on Fri Dec 21, 2007 2:59 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Postby Gilbert B Norman » Wed Dec 19, 2007 1:53 pm

Mr. 2nd Trick, caring less about passenger trains, I think what CSX has done with their Southeast lines borders on incompetence. That they chose to emaciate the Seaboard (I think that is S-Line in railfanese) as a through routing for ANY class of service both through the Carolinas and Central Florida simply escapes me. They knew, whether they wanted it or not, more traffic from dereg and globalization was on the way, but Snowman, for whom I hold no respect whatever as an industry leader - CSX or Chrysler notwithstanding, was more interested in the "one day pop'. If I were the SEC, I would be investigating the possibility of any insider trading.

Yes, I know I take an "industry position" at this Forum which often is in conflict with Amtrak and other passenger train interests; after all, employemnt within such comprised one-third of my working life. But CSX simply insults anyone with a long term perspective to business planning. It certainly insults anyone here with a "social agenda" which is how I view those interests that seek any LD system over what is needed to ensure the legislative majority needed to ensure Federal funding of the Corridor.
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Postby Noel Weaver » Wed Dec 19, 2007 2:09 pm

One problem that I see is the overuse of some pieces of railroad simply
because parallel lines were abandoned and torn up. As GBN has stated
and I agree, what CSX has done with the former Seaboard and I will add
the B & O as well is simply ridiculous. They have literally put all of their
eggs in one basket. When something happens now on the former ACL
in certain areas, it ties them up very bad. Yes there are still other routes
that can be used and yes the railroads will still cooperate with each other
when something happens, there is not always capacity for all of the detour
movements that may need to go.
Another problem that can come up is the lack of qualified crews and
especially engineers. With the Harrisburg - Buffalo line nowhere near as
active as it was during the Conrail period, there may not be enough
qualified engineers for that territory as they might need for a major
detour movement of freight trains. Ditto for other pieces of railroad in
New York State and Pennsylvania.
The present system is probably adequate for the most part when things
all go OK but when something happens, the short comings of the present
set up all come up and present problems.
At least in some areas the railroad industry is not as well prepared to
move huge amounts of freight as they were a few years ago. It is just as
simple as that.
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Postby kevikens » Wed Dec 19, 2007 3:57 pm

Whether you are talking about Amtrak or CSX or Mtero North our railroads are extremely vulnerable to massive disruption from a lack of redundancy. Everyone reading these forums knows of choke points which if damaged would have immediate and potentially catastrophic effects on the movement of goods and people. It makes no difference if the damage is caused by floods, earhtquakes or sabotage. Railroadas have so downsized their infrastructure that their only option would be to stop moving anything pending repairs. It's not so much that one railroad would not be willing to assist another it is that physically it does not have the plant do so. I fear that the only way we will learn this is from when it happens. If our federal government were wise it would mandate, and fund, as a matter of national defence, a rail system with built in redundancy so that if a line were totally cut a parallel line would be available. There may yet come a day when this country will need a rail system to survive, as in WW II. My fear is that we will not have that rail system or the resources to quickly rebuild one. Experience runs a dear school but fools will learn in no other.
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Postby 3rdrail » Wed Dec 19, 2007 4:10 pm

I have a tendency to take an alternate position from Mr. Norman's in that my concern is more for a passenger network to enlarge it's efficiency and people carrying ability, particularly for a time when large scale evacuations (for any reason) may be necessary. I hate to say this, but I think that we need to look at European systems very seriously, and pehaps adopt quite a few lessons learned.
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Postby Noel Weaver » Wed Dec 19, 2007 10:23 pm

3rdrail wrote:I have a tendency to take an alternate position from Mr. Norman's in that my concern is more for a passenger network to enlarge it's efficiency and people carrying ability, particularly for a time when large scale evacuations (for any reason) may be necessary. I hate to say this, but I think that we need to look at European systems very seriously, and pehaps adopt quite a few lessons learned.


In Europe there is today a good and efficient passenger train network in
most countries. There is fast and frequent passenger service to many
different locations and people use the trains to a huge extent. They have
built this system with tax dollars and built it well.
In the USA by contrast, we are spending billions to fight a war half way
around the world while we are not tending to things at home. As long as
our priority is to be the world's police force I don't think much will get
better.
Even the leadership in China has built and continues to build and improve
on a very efficient railroad network throughout the entire country, too
bad we can't do the same here.
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Postby Suburban Station » Wed Dec 19, 2007 11:27 pm

Noel Weaver wrote:In Europe there is today a good and efficient passenger train network in
most countries. There is fast and frequent passenger service to many
different locations and people use the trains to a huge extent. They have
built this system with tax dollars and built it well.
In the USA by contrast, we are spending billions to fight a war half way
around the world while we are not tending to things at home. As long as
our priority is to be the world's police force I don't think much will get
better.

don't they move far more of their goods by truck?
Noel Weaver wrote:Even the leadership in China has built and continues to build and improve
on a very efficient railroad network throughout the entire country, too
bad we can't do the same here.
Noel Weaver

the same government that has displaced millions with little regard for dams?

Not that I disagree with your premise about mispent tax dollars. If they're gonna be spent, they shoudl be spent for our benefit at least.
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A Different Set of Rules

Postby 2nd trick op » Thu Dec 20, 2007 1:36 pm

from Mssrs. Weaver and Suburban Station:

Noel Weaver wrote:

In Europe there is today a good and efficient passenger train network in
most countries. There is fast and frequent passenger service to many
different locations and people use the trains to a huge extent. They have
built this system with tax dollars and built it well.
In the USA by contrast, we are spending billions to fight a war half way
around the world while we are not tending to things at home. As long as
our priority is to be the world's police force I don't think much will get
better.

don't they move far more of their goods by truck?

Europe is less oriented toward rail freight for a number of reasons, but the biggest one is likely distance. You can get between a lot of the places that count in a single 10-hour truck haul, or less.

The electric utility system relies more on nuclear power in many nations (80% in France) so there aren't as many high-volume coal moves. and a check of the map shows that most places have relatively easy access to tidewater, plus a well-developed canal system in some areas.
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Postby 3rdrail » Thu Dec 20, 2007 3:56 pm

I think too, that our system of government has inherent problems with the political and construction aspects of efficient systems like we are talking about. We have evolved into a country which allows special interests to not only be heard, but to block progress for the vast majority. (look at the illegal alien "debate") One individual on a block has the ability to stymie construction of a super-efficient railway system that could, in a time of crisis, save thousands of lives. I don't propose to know the answer. Personally, I know first-hand the experience of being displaced by construction as my childhood home was displaced by the then proposed Boston "Southwest Expressway", which due to community pressure, never materialized (after our home was bought and levelled by the State). I must say, however, that I believe that in these particular times that the ante has been up'd dramatically. We need a great railway system now, more than ever. It is the only possibility for mass expediant re-location. To not have this in place is courting big trouble.
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MODERATOR'S NOTE: Thread moved

Postby wigwagfan » Fri Dec 21, 2007 1:15 am

--------------------------------------------------
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Postby David Benton » Fri Dec 21, 2007 1:07 pm

i think it boils down to , the govt must simply invest more money in rail .
The usa has finally joined the rest of the world on the global warming issue , and rail can provide a very big part in helping to meet those goals . but it will take alot more capacity and higher speeds .
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Right Diagnosis, Wrong Remedy

Postby 2nd trick op » Fri Dec 21, 2007 2:52 pm

While I agree with the need for much more comprehensive emergency planning, Mr. 3rdrail, I feel that several of the posts here appeal to the same over-centralized, made-in-D. C, remedy which, as with Federal highway aid, led to boondoggles such as the Southwest Expressway in Boston and the stillborn Cobb's Creek Expressway here in Metro Philadelphia. Also, for some reason, warning signals which aren't acknowledged within a few days tend to get pushed to the "back burner", and forgotten. (Happened with a little pest named Osama some years ago.)

All the examples cited in my first post are well-known to local railroaders and rail enthusiasts. The problem can be quickly addressed, to some degree, simply by encouraging the operating companies to regularly evaluate the routes in question, and make certain that the pool of operating crews contains a sufficient quota of employees familiar with the route. Just divert the move occasionally for training purposes -- as an aside, PRR Employees Timetables from the 1950's contain listings for Chicago-Enola symbol freight NW-88 via both the Fort Wayne and Panhandle Divisions.

As another example, I grew up and lived near the former PRR Wilkes-Barre Branch, which lost much of its raison d'etre in the wake of the Penn Central merger, and lay nearly idle from 1989 until the Conrail beakup again made it financially viable. In the spring of 1996, NS and CP ran a series of test moves (2 each way daily) for a month or so at fairly respectable speeds, but it was to be another four years until the line was completely rehabilitiated. It now sees 4-6 moves in each direction.

My personal suggestion for increasing the capactity of lines where freight vs. passenger conflicts are likely to develop would work from the other end of the spectrum. That is, the low-value, low-priority movements could be diverted to under-utilized segments in flat country, similar to the "land barges" C&NW used to operate on light-duty trackage on the Great Plains. NIMBY opposition is likely to be less here, dispatching can be accomplished through the simpler system of track warrants, and safety issues aren't as much of a concern with slower speeds.
Last edited by 2nd trick op on Sat Dec 22, 2007 12:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby David Benton » Sat Dec 22, 2007 1:38 am

Interesting idea 2nd trick . Do you think there are enough connecting lies to do it ???
Ive often thought on the nec , instead of building a high speed line , why not try and move the frieght amd local traffic to seperate lines
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Postby David Benton » Sat Dec 22, 2007 1:38 am

Interesting idea 2nd trick . Do you think there are enough connecting lies to do it ???
Ive often thought on the nec , instead of building a high speed line , why not try and move the frieght amd local traffic to seperate lines
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Uncharted Territory

Postby 2nd trick op » Sat Dec 22, 2007 11:10 am

If abandoned or dormant lines are included, Mr. Benton, there are surely enough. Furthermore, the US interior between the two major mountain ranges is relatively flat. That opens up everything in a triangle bounded by Buffalo, New Orleans and Billings, Montana.

In addition, while it's not often thought of, the lowest-level rail crossing of the summit of the Alleghenies is the former PRR Low Grade Branch betweeen Driftwood and DuBois, Pennsylvania. That line sees no more than 4-6 moves daily (usually less), mostly unit coal for Pennsylvania Power and Light and Potomac Electric Power, and helpers are seldom required.

The removal of freight from the NEC is already pretty much a fait accompli. All scheduled through moves were diverted in the wake of the Chase disaster, but a number of industrial customers remain, particularly around Newark and Elizabeth, N. J. That Potomac Power service mentioned above also has to use the NEC for a few miles to reach the plant at Pope's Creek, Maryland, near Bowie.

And the line itself no longer crosses any city street or Federal/State highway at grade, so most of the obvious problems have been addressed. But the fact remains that it runs through densely-settled territory, with a population that is extremely litigation-conscious. So any further increases in speed will have to be carefully introduced. We've come a long way, but remember that the same growing pains will show up if and when new corridors emerge from redundant main lines.

But many of the problems cited above are not a factor when the speeds are slow, and the surrounding territory is lightly populated. In addition, disparity between train speeds can be a factor requiring additional plant; the great 4-track main lines evolved at the turn of the twentieth century precisely because passenger moves could reach 60 MPH, while freight speeds were 15-20.

To summarize: Freight traffic, unlike passenger service, is pretty well insulated from political pressures. How the load moves is determined largely by economics, and right now, the advantage of rail service is increasing rapidly. Under those conditions, it seems more sensible to divert the least time-sensitive traffic, thereby stretching the expensive infrastructural upgrades, which, I believe, will still be needed in the long run.
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