Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

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Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Fri Jul 31, 2015 6:36 pm

Former Wall Street Journal transportation reporter Daniel Machalaba has an interesting, and some will say controversial, article appearing in September TRAINS. While we all know that Kalmbach is quite protective of its copyrighted material, I think it is within the parameters of Fair Use to list the thirteen biggest blunders (10 additional are noted in a sidebar) the railroad industry has made over the past 100 years.

1) Dysfunctional Penn Central
2) Destruction of Penn Station
3) The Burden of Rate Regulation
4) Milwaukee Road's Pacific Extension
5) SPSF Missteps towards merger
6) Rock Island's merger bid
7) Gould's ill-advised Transcon effort
8) The flawed fever for Narrow Gauge
9) Passenger over-investment
10) Reluctant embrace of Intermodal
11) Mismanaged Mega-Mergers
12) The hidden cost of joining Amtrak
13) The inertia of railroad culture

TRAINS readers, let the discussion begin.
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Re: Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby rr503 » Fri Jul 31, 2015 8:57 pm

I'd move 1 conrail vs many conrails + excessive network shrinkage from sidebar to somewhere mid-list, replacing either 5, 12 or something(s) else, these are just the ones that pop to mind.
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Re: Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby Desertdweller » Sat Aug 01, 2015 5:47 pm

Gilbert:

I am not a Trains reader (Classic Trains, yes), but as a retired Operating Department person, I do have a couple comments.

4. Milwaukee Road's Pacific Extension: This had potential that was never realized do to poor management decisions. The problem was not the extension, but the way it was used.

6. Rock Island's merger bid: This implies that it was a mistake for the Rock Island to seek a merger partner. The ICC's failure to allow a merger for a prolonged period of deterioration resulted in the failure of the Rock Island.

(Full Disclosure: I worked for both the Milwaukee Road and Rock Island in the dismal 1970's.)

12. The Hidden Cost of Joining AMTRAK: As I have stated before in this forum, I think AMTRAK was conceived as a short-term political fix. I don't think either the Government or the railroads expected AMTRAK to last more than a couple years. In that context, joining AMTRAK made sense to railroads hoping to rid themselves of passenger trains. It was quite unexpected that railroads would have to accommodate passenger trains for decades. Consider D&RGW's decision not to join AMTRAK. They could schedule their own passenger train over their own single-track railroad, or join AMTRAK, knowing their route would be chosen over their competitor's. The competitor (UP) has a double-track railroad with easier grades. If AMTRAK trains (as they eventually were) were routed over D&RGW, they would operate on AMTRAK's schedule, not D&RGW's.

Conversely, it could have made sense to join AMTRAK if the expectation was AMTRAK would dissolve after a couple years. Railroads could join buying in with unusable passenger cars and locos, then be rid of all passenger trains soon thereafter.

When AMTRAK did not die as per the script, freight railroads were saddled with AMTRAK operations indefinitely. Talk about an unseen cost!

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Re: Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby Cowford » Sun Aug 02, 2015 10:52 am

They missed one of the more important points in Amtrak's struggle since its inception: In many cases, and particularly earlier in the Amtrak era, train service was influenced by political demand, rather than market need.
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Re: Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby Engineer Spike » Sat Aug 08, 2015 2:31 am

I think the Milwaukee built the extension to protect itself. The other grangers had friendly connections. SOO had CP, Northwestern had UP, Burlington had the Northerns. Rock had lines outside of the Midwest, and a western connection to SP. This leaves Milwaukee with no one.

This makes me surprised that CN didn't notice it until the bankruptcy in the 1980s, as a connection between DW&P and GTW.

Passenger train over investment might be a blunder, but the roads thought that streamliners and improved traveler convenience would retain traffic. Most started reequipping trains after WWII, and Eisenhower set up the interstate system in 1956. That's 11 years! There is no way that the railroad managers could see that far into the future. Many of the new orders were placed during the war. B&M ordered their first E units then, for example. They were also smart in the long run for only reequipping the best flagship trains. On the other hand, most roads had junk for equipment because the depression forced not being able to finance new cars, then the war production made them unavailable.

One omission is SCL merger. Many areas, such as Florida had only one class 1 choice. This has happened in Montana, with BN, but was unintended, as Milwaukee was supposed to be the competition. Unfortunately it was similar to D&H being set up as Conrail's competition.
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Re: Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby mtuandrew » Sat Aug 08, 2015 11:06 pm

Spike: I've wondered a few times whether it would have helped CMSP&P to have its own physical connection with CN, since CN seemed to have a pretty cozy relationship with the Hill lines. I feel that the Milwaukee really needed a strong eastern or mid-southern partner (IC, Wabash, the Rock or the like) and a strong trans-Pacific trade to make the Pacific Extension pay off - the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s killed that.

That said, someone in the Milwaukee's offices probably uttered, "I wish we'd just built our own lines to Duluth and to Northgate (Sask.) At least we could have gotten iron and wheat traffic!"

As for the SPSF merger, the Santa Fe made out remarkably well - it came away with not only its own land holdings, but those formerly associated with SP.
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Re: Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby Gadfly » Sun Aug 09, 2015 9:27 am

Desertdweller wrote:Gilbert:

I am not a Trains reader (Classic Trains, yes), but as a retired Operating Department person, I do have a couple comments.

4. Milwaukee Road's Pacific Extension: This had potential that was never realized do to poor management decisions. The problem was not the extension, but the way it was used.

6. Rock Island's merger bid: This implies that it was a mistake for the Rock Island to seek a merger partner. The ICC's failure to allow a merger for a prolonged period of deterioration resulted in the failure of the Rock Island.

(Full Disclosure: I worked for both the Milwaukee Road and Rock Island in the dismal 1970's.)

12. The Hidden Cost of Joining AMTRAK: As I have stated before in this forum, I think AMTRAK was conceived as a short-term political fix. I don't think either the Government or the railroads expected AMTRAK to last more than a couple years. In that context, joining AMTRAK made sense to railroads hoping to rid themselves of passenger trains. It was quite unexpected that railroads would have to accommodate passenger trains for decades. Consider D&RGW's decision not to join AMTRAK. They could schedule their own passenger train over their own single-track railroad, or join AMTRAK, knowing their route would be chosen over their competitor's. The competitor (UP) has a double-track railroad with easier grades. If AMTRAK trains (as they eventually were) were routed over D&RGW, they would operate on AMTRAK's schedule, not D&RGW's.

Conversely, it could have made sense to join AMTRAK if the expectation was AMTRAK would dissolve after a couple years. Railroads could join buying in with unusable passenger cars and locos, then be rid of all passenger trains soon thereafter.

When AMTRAK did not die as per the script, freight railroads were saddled with AMTRAK operations indefinitely. Talk about an unseen cost!

Les


Don't forget Southern Railway System who also declined to join Amtrak and continued on into 1979 with the "Southern Crescent' from New York to New Orleans.
Amtrak was used to dealing with marginally successful, even near-bankrupt Class I's, and thought they could dictate to Southern like all the rest. SR explored the possibility of joining Amtrak in '71, but discovered that Amtrak was going to clutter up Southern's most profitable routes with passenger trains, indeed, demanding to do so. I believe it was Claytor or L Stanley Crane ( I forget which), according to our internal "railroad rumor mill", that told Amtrak in no uncertain terms to go f*** themselves: He'd run the Crescent for FREE and lose the 2 million or so it was costing before they or any other sumb*tches would tell Southern what to do!!!!!! SR could AFFORD to absorb this cost, and continued to make good profits and pay nice dividends until 1979 and on into its merger with NW in 1982! :-D Amtrak didn't know how to deal with a very independent-minded and profitable road such as Southern whose previous president, one Dennis Brosnan, struck terror in the minds of railroad employees AND government officials alike! it was this hell-on-wheels approach of this former CEO and past presidents with aggressive and shrewd attitude that had made Southern Railway an envy of much larger railroads! :-D Yet it is one of the more "overlooked" railroads (by railfans and historians) when its achievements (such as standing up to ICC in the grain carload lawsuit against them and WINNING) are many and varied. Unfortunately, you don't see much about Southern in the railroad press. To read its history and achievements is truly enlightening! Its slogans, "Look Ahead, Look South", and "Southern Gives a Green Light to Innovations" were not invented, but EARNED--often to the consternation and puzzlement of rival roads.

I count it a privilege to have worked FOR Southern Railway System,then Norfolk Southern, and to have ridden the cabs of the Crescent many times! :-D

GF
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Re: Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Sun Aug 09, 2015 10:56 am

Since the TRAINS article we are discussing here addresses thirteen points, and of which only two are passenger related, I have chosen to submit additional discussion of Mr. Gadfly's SRY passenger related points over at the linked topic.

viewtopic.php?f=150&t=160271

I hope others will choose to do same.
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Re: Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby Engineer Spike » Sun Aug 09, 2015 3:32 pm

I've wondered why BN didn't go after MKT at the same time, or shortly after the Frisco merger. That would have given now BN a better presence in the south central states. Katy would have been a cheap acquisition.

Now UP is dominant there due to the SP, MP, MKT, and ex RI lines which it owns there.
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Re: Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby mtuandrew » Sun Aug 09, 2015 4:52 pm

Engineer Spike wrote:I've wondered why BN didn't go after MKT at the same time, or shortly after the Frisco merger. That would have given now BN a better presence in the south central states. Katy would have been a cheap acquisition.

Now UP is dominant there due to the SP, MP, MKT, and ex RI lines which it owns there.

The sidebar at the end of the article mentions the Rock Island's Tucumcari-Memphis "Choctaw Route" too. That line would have fit nicely into either the BNSF or UP systems, and would have been a crown jewel for the Kansas City Southern. It could be resurrected in theory, at least as far as Little Rock, except that it's split between a multitude of agencies, shortlines, and UP.
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Re: Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby JayBee » Sun Aug 16, 2015 6:46 pm

Gadfly wrote: Amtrak didn't know how to deal with a very independent-minded and profitable road such as Southern whose previous president, one Dennis Brosnan, struck terror in the minds of railroad employees AND government officials alike! it was this hell-on-wheels approach of this former CEO and past presidents with aggressive and shrewd attitude that had made Southern Railway an envy of much larger railroads! :-D
GF


Who the heck is Dennis Brosnan? I am very familiar with William (Bill) Brosnan, but I have never heard of the other guy.
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Re: Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby ExCon90 » Mon Aug 17, 2015 4:25 pm

Was it Dennis William Brosnan? Many people use their middle name by preference. And the railroad practice of sticking to initials (the Southern referred to him as D. W. Brosnan) was usually no help. As far as I know he was always called Bill, except when it was Mr. Brosnan, or other things.
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Re: Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby Gadfly » Fri Sep 18, 2015 11:32 am

ExCon90 wrote:Was it Dennis William Brosnan? Many people use their middle name by preference. And the railroad practice of sticking to initials (the Southern referred to him as D. W. Brosnan) was usually no help. As far as I know he was always called Bill, except when it was Mr. Brosnan, or other things.


It was DW most of the time. I also heard him called "Dennis". I wasn't around in his time, tho he was very much alive, both in person and in practice for I worked for people who came up under him like Jack Parks, Shop Superintendent, Roadway Equipment. Mr. Brosnan apparently didn't believe in "engineering" departments or people pushing pencils, so when he set out around 1955 to fully mechanize track maintenance, most of the "design" work was done in yellow chalk on the floor of the Roadway Shop backshop. Remember the famous (at least among Southern railroaders) incident where he removed the desks of hundreds of employees! :-) So even, in MY day of the 70s-80s, tho we now HAD an Engineering Dept (with desks and drawing boards), a lot of the old heads from the Brosnan era [like Parks, John Stubbs] ) STILL would whip out a lumber crayon and draw out a new design in the floor. They'd then set barrels and yellow tape around this "art", then go try the idea on a track machine. WHOA be unto one who moved the barrels or ran over the drawing with a fork lift! :wink: Mr Brosnan's influence was still that strong in the 80's! And the gruff persona of the people who worked under him, and dealt with current employees, was still very much evident. If Brosnan had suddenly appeared at the shops, some of the people would have had heart attacks!!!!!! That's how scared of him they were. And the stories told about him by RR employees were classics! Mr Stubbs was the overall Superintendent over all the mechanical operations. He was gruff, but fair, and so long as you did your job, you'd never hear a thing from him. He'd even stop and talk with you out on the yards, but you knew to mind yer P's and Q's. If you were one to be a slacker (and we had a few that worked harder at getting out of work than if they had just DONE the job), He'd be on your A&& in a heartbeat and so would your supervisor! If he barked, some workers would almost jump over a boxcar they were so nervous around him. Stubbs got that from Brosnan.

The work was hard in the early days, but I thrived at Southern, and have fond memories of this proud company. :-D
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Re: Fascinating Article - September 2015 TRAINS

Postby D.Carleton » Sun Sep 20, 2015 7:27 pm

Engineer Spike wrote:One omission is SCL merger. Many areas, such as Florida had only one class 1 choice. This has happened in Montana, with BN, but was unintended, as Milwaukee was supposed to be the competition. Unfortunately it was similar to D&H being set up as Conrail's competition.
Professor Norman, thank you for posting the list; I have not caught up to my Trains magazines yet. I will second Spike's missed blunder: The SCL was a bad idea for their service area and horrible for the State of Florida. The regulators at the state and federal level failed us and we have paid the consequences ever since.
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