Conrail Longevity, CSX/NS takeover

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Conrail Longevity, CSX/NS takeover

Postby Tadman » Tue Jan 05, 2016 2:30 pm

I was reflecting today and a bit startled to realize that Conrail has been gone almost as long as it existed. Wiki gives dates of 1976-1999 (23 years) and that means it's been gone 1999-2016 (15 years). Kind of crazy given that Conrail was supposed to be the be-all end-all solution for the troubled Northeast railroads and the "X" was unassailable as an operating model.

Alas, times change and CSX and NS are both making good use of their halves. I grew up in South Bend near the line and my dad's office was across the street. NS still runs a heck of a lot of trains down the former NYC.
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Re: Conrail Longevity, CSX/NS takeover

Postby Matt Langworthy » Mon Jan 25, 2016 10:24 am

The only constant in business is change. One hundred years ago, the RRing business in the Northeast was rather profitable. NYC, Pemsy, DL&W, LV, , L&HR and CNJ were all doing quite well in 1916. Even the Erie RR (which often struggled) was stable. I don't think any of them ever foresaw a time when major sections of trackage would be removed, but it happened before C-Day and continued afterward. There were plenty of good changes, too like the rise of CTC and intermodal traffic. Being a CR shareholder at the time, I can recall the Big X plan... which seemed IMO largely a "defense" against the round of mergers by other carriers, most notably UP/SP and ATSF/BN. I also recall UP expressing an interest in acquiring part of CR. After my initial surprise when CSX announced it wanted to buy Conrail, I sat down and thought it over. Conrail was ripe for acquisition and really had been since the move to privatize in the '80s. NS had expressed an interest in CR as early as 1983 or '84. The initial intention for CR was indeed to stabilize rail traffic in the Northeast, but it had been a desirable property after it was slimmed down and cleaned up.

While I do miss the dress blue of CR's locomotives, I think the split was a good idea. Two competing carriers are more likely to give better service to connecting shortlines and innovate for customers than a single RR with a near monopoly in parts of the Northeast. Among other things, NS halted the decline of the Southern Tier Mainline and has at partially revived it. That wouldn't have happened if Conrail had continued with the Big X plan.
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Re: Conrail Longevity, CSX/NS takeover

Postby JoeCollege » Sat Feb 06, 2016 8:38 am

I wish I could "Like" Mr. Langworthy's post! Actually, I do like it. The split was great. It doesn't do anything for my Utica branch of the old DL&W, not assist my fantasies of a vibrant O&W, but it's the best solution for the region as a whole.
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Re: Conrail Longevity, CSX/NS takeover

Postby Train Detainer » Thu Feb 11, 2016 3:13 pm

I have to disagree with the statement that NS halted the Southern Tier decline. It may seem that way in terms of current traffic, but that traffic would probably have developed regardless of the split. NS continued with the single-tracking project on the Tier that was begun by Conrail, including Waverly to Binghamton, Elmira/Southport, and through the CNY lease, SR to Deposit. The lease of the Delaware Division to CNY effectively ended the Southern Tier as a single carrier through route. Some of that makes sense to NS's current configuration, but long term it will probably have to revert to what it was earlier in Conrail's time.

You have to remember that at the time of the split, Conrail had emerged from its slash and burn downsizing and was, in fact, expanding capacity and at least starting to lose its aversion to local freight traffic, although it was following the national trend of spinning as much local freight off to shortlines as possible. Conrail made capacity improvements in Buffalo, re-installed miles of double track on the B&A, and made improvements to the River Line. More was in the works, and the Tier was in excellent shape overall. Track and speed upgrades between Deposit and Port Jervis would have made the Tier an even better relief valve for the River Line than it was, particularly for intermodal, which required less power to get over the Tier than heavy freight. An investment in track upgrades on the Delaware Division and more crews for the TIer would have been much cheaper than double-tracking the River Line, as CSX is having to do now, and positioned the Tier for the future. Had Conrail continued without interruption, it would have continued to make improvements because it would have had to with the steady up-trend in traffic. There would have been more double-tracking and other improvements simply because there was money to be made in doing so.

The bad/good news is the Southern Tier will continue to be something of a political animal for the time being, but long term it will eventually be necessary to rebuild capacity on the Tier. Someday, unless a new cheaper technology that can replace traditional rail comes along (beam me over, Scotty!), there will be commuter trains west of Port Jervis and probably a giant new intermodal facility to supply the ever-expanding downstate NY and northern New Jersey, which will necessitate through service on the Tier again. There is no room to do that on the River Line and little room to do so further south, so the Tier is a logical spot. It's already been looked at and is probably just a matter of time before the economics are there. In the end, I think the Tier will do well, as long as some as some shortsightedness doesn't destroy its potential.
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Re: Conrail Longevity, CSX/NS takeover

Postby Flat-Wheeler » Thu Feb 11, 2016 9:45 pm

Well Mr. Detainer, I appreciate your post. And I bet Matt Langworthy does as well. Fact of the matter is, as I gather up more info, the Southern Tier is about to go through a huge reawakening. With the biggest hurdle being fixed as we speak (Letchworth Bridge), and the Panama Canal expansion, Norfolk Southern has found itself positioned mouth wide open for all kinds of increased stack train service between the ports and Buffalo.
For example; I believe Toronto bound cargo containers will shift to the massive ships that will now be able to dock at Philly, Newark, or Baltimore... then rail bridge from the East Coast up to Buffalo. This eliminates the inefficient use of the St. Lawrence Seaway, where smaller ships must run all the way up North of Nova Scotia in order to begin the Southwestward navigation of the seaway all the way to the Great Lakes. Perhaps some Detroit traffic will do the same, and shift from West Coast origin, to East Coast via Buffalo. It'll be interesting to watch what happens.
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Re: Conrail Longevity, CSX/NS takeover

Postby Matt Langworthy » Fri Feb 12, 2016 10:54 pm

Train Detainer wrote:I have to disagree with the statement that NS halted the Southern Tier decline. It may seem that way in terms of current traffic, but that traffic would probably have developed regardless of the split. NS continued with the single-tracking project on the Tier that was begun by Conrail, including Waverly to Binghamton, Elmira/Southport, and through the CNY lease, SR to Deposit. The lease of the Delaware Division to CNY effectively ended the Southern Tier as a single carrier through route. Some of that makes sense to NS's current configuration, but long term it will probably have to revert to what it was earlier in Conrail's time.


Single tracking is largely irrelevant to the discussion because it has little do with actual traffic volumes. Speed limits on the Tier effectively increased under NS. River Junction had a 10 mph speed restriction dating back to the 1980s. The Tier also had 25 mph and 30 mph speed restrictions in many locations during much of CR's ownership. Even the portions of the line that didn't have speed restrictions topped out at 40 mph. NS under Wick Moorman raised the speed limit on most of the Tier in the mid 2000s. We can talk "coulda woulda shoulda" but Conrail allowed the Tier to decline under deferred maintenance from 1976 to 1999.

Since I did mention it, let's talk about traffic volume. Conrail was down to just 4 trains per day on the Tier in the late '90s- OIBU, BUOI and the pair of TV stack trains. NS currently has 10 regularly scheduled trains per day, plus some coal and ethanol traffic. Much of this traffic involves the Pan Am Southern. i just can't see Conrail short hauling itself to develop traffic on competing route. This is a major reason why the CSX/NS split matters. Competition returned to the Northeast for rail traffic. Does anyone honestly think 22K, 23K, 205, 206, 287 and 28N would have fared well with NS or CP having trackage rights on the Tier? CR's "wrong paint" treatment of the D&H is well documented, so it seems unlikely they would been friendly to competing traffic in the 21st Century.

Train Detainer wrote:You have to remember that at the time of the split, Conrail had emerged from its slash and burn downsizing and was, in fact, expanding capacity and at least starting to lose its aversion to local freight traffic, although it was following the national trend of spinning as much local freight off to shortlines as possible. Conrail made capacity improvements in Buffalo, re-installed miles of double track on the B&A, and made improvements to the River Line.


Conrail hadn't stopped the slashing and burning in the '90s. One only needs to look at the Southern Tier Extension for proof. CR removed 100 feet of track in Corry circa 1995 and was forced to restore it under court order. One would think that a RR supposedly in expansion mode wouldn't be dismantling a potential through route, or cutting the Falls Road a year prior.

Again, credit goes to NS for working with the WNYP to redevelop the Southern Tier Extension. Much of it was OOS from 1991 to 2001.

Train Detainer wrote:The bad/good news is the Southern Tier will continue to be something of a political animal for the time being, but long term it will eventually be necessary to rebuild capacity on the Tier. Someday, unless a new cheaper technology that can replace traditional rail comes along (beam me over, Scotty!), there will be commuter trains west of Port Jervis and probably a giant new intermodal facility to supply the ever-expanding downstate NY and northern New Jersey, which will necessitate through service on the Tier again. There is no room to do that on the River Line and little room to do so further south, so the Tier is a logical spot. It's already been looked at and is probably just a matter of time before the economics are there. In the end, I think the Tier will do well, as long as some as some shortsightedness doesn't destroy its potential.


Now i will agree with this. NS needs the Tier in order to have a presence in NY, and it fits well with the Northeastern rail network in general. The new bridge at Letchworth should open the TIer to more traffic. If CSX and NS can figure out a way to alleviate the bottle neck at CP Draw, traffic on the Tier could grow even further. The Lehigh Line seems pretty full, especially east of Bound Brook, so I can foresee NS wanting to eventually route some trains on the eastern end of the Tier.
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Re: Conrail Longevity, CSX/NS takeover

Postby Train Detainer » Sat Feb 13, 2016 5:00 pm

The Tier also had 25 mph and 30 mph speed restrictions in many locations during much of CR's ownership. Even the portions of the line that didn't have speed restrictions topped out at 40 mph. NS under Wick Moorman raised the speed limit on most of the Tier in the mid 2000s. We can talk "coulda woulda shoulda" but Conrail allowed the Tier to decline under deferred maintenance from 1976 to 1999.


Simply not true. Things definitely improved during the 80s. I was an engineer and later dispatcher on the Tier. Normal Speed Buffalo to Bingo was 50 (and yes, some sections were lowered to 40 later on). Speed at CP River was 50 on Single/#1 track and 25 on #2 track. Portage bridge was/is 10 due to bridge condition, and we know what's happening there. Speeds on the Delaware were 40 and 35. Yes there were (and are) slower permanent and temporary (come and go all the time) speed restrictions and yes (with the 10MPH between 352 and 334) #2 track was referred to by Conrail crews as 'the D&H main'. Unless there was opposing traffic, eastbounds usually ran #1 track against the current from CP358 to Cass Street and D&H trains sometimes got the shaft. Do you put your competition ahead of your own business? At the time the Tier was very much a political animal, what with NYS providing financial incentives to keep it alive and CR playing that game while at the same time wanting to keep the Tier out of the hands of its competition. Smart businessmen like those who ran Conrail (and I'm not blowing sunshine) hedge their bets and protect their interests using all means available to them, and once serious merger talks began in the mid-90's, all bets were off when it came to any changes. For a while van speeds on the water level route were raised an additional 10MPH to compete with trucks. The fact that the higher speeds were cut doesn't mean that things were in decline on the main line either.

CR removed 100 feet of track in Corry circa 1995 and was forced to restore it under court order. One would think that a RR supposedly in expansion mode wouldn't be dismantling a potential through route, or cutting the Falls Road a year prior.


CR also turned rail at Cass Street on the east end of the old main too and suspended the signal system. Standard RR practice when a line is taken out of service long term. Tax implications among other things. But they didn't pull up the entire thing - not exactly a 'dismantling'. Court order? Sometimes you win, sometimes you loose - I don't remember the specifics now but IIRC it had to do with local traffic on the west end, not some bigger issue. Why would you keep up that much duplicate route for ELOI/OIEL and an occasional coal train? And the Falls Road? Really??? Keeping up 50 miles of duplicate main from Rottenchester to Niagara Falls? For what? After Niagara Falls (Canada) made them tear up one route through town and most of the remaining traffic was to be diverted to Black Rock, was there any reason, at all, to have a duplicate main there? It's one thing to keep a real alternate through route of several hundred miles around and quite another to save truly redundant items like the Falls Road.

I wasn't debating the merger itself, just the statement about decline. The Split (not merger to Conrail people) was definitely good for competition in the northeast and I hope NS wins the battle if it comes to that. I have little good to say about CSX. NS traffic is mostly from fracking and NS's use of the Tier in establishing a workable network in the northeast. Good for them. I also wouldn't be surprised to see a new interlocking pop up in Binghamton (maybe reinstall West BD?) now that NS owns the old A&S - think Chicago-Boston traffic. BTW, when I said long term, I mean 50 years plus, not 5-10 years.
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Re: Conrail Longevity, CSX/NS takeover

Postby Matt Langworthy » Fri Mar 11, 2016 7:45 am

Train Detainer wrote:Simply not true. Things definitely improved during the 80s. I was an engineer and later dispatcher on the Tier. Normal Speed Buffalo to Bingo was 50 (and yes, some sections were lowered to 40 later on). Speed at CP River was 50 on Single/#1 track and 25 on #2 track. Portage bridge was/is 10 due to bridge condition, and we know what's happening there. Speeds on the Delaware were 40 and 35.


I stand corrected. Most of the Tier was indeed 40-50 mph as per the Conrail 1996 timetable, which a friend posted for me on Facebook.

Train Detainer wrote:CR also turned rail at Cass Street on the east end of the old main too and suspended the signal system. Standard RR practice when a line is taken out of service long term. Tax implications among other things. But they didn't pull up the entire thing - not exactly a 'dismantling'. Court order? Sometimes you win, sometimes you loose - I don't remember the specifics now but IIRC it had to do with local traffic on the west end, not some bigger issue.


Yes, there was a bigger issue. The D&O/NYSW and CSX were looking at the Southern Tier Extension as a possible route in case NS acquired Conrail. Indeed, the office of US Rep. Amory Houghton was involved, with future WNYP President (and then LA&L President) Bill Burt also being involved. Conrail fought against the sale of the line, and even resisted attempts by a regional RR authority to establish the local service you referenced. Again, I have to ask- does that sound like a RR in expansion?

Train Detainer wrote: And the Falls Road? Really??? Keeping up 50 miles of duplicate main from Rottenchester to Niagara Falls?


You missed the point. Defenders of Conrail lack a plausible explanation as to why CR didn't sell the entire line. There was business on the east end of the Falls Road. A shortline could have handled that portion, too.

Train Detainer wrote: Yes there were (and are) slower permanent and temporary (come and go all the time) speed restrictions and yes (with the 10MPH between 352 and 334) #2 track was referred to by Conrail crews as 'the D&H main'. Unless there was opposing traffic, eastbounds usually ran #1 track against the current from CP358 to Cass Street and D&H trains sometimes got the shaft. Do you put your competition ahead of your own business?


That's not expansion. Rather, it illustrates the fact that Conrail was pretty close to having a monopoly on rail traffic in central and western NY.

Train Detainer wrote: NS traffic is mostly from fracking and NS's use of the Tier in establishing a workable network in the northeast. Good for them. I also wouldn't be surprised to see a new interlocking pop up in Binghamton (maybe reinstall West BD?) now that NS owns the old A&S - think Chicago-Boston traffic. BTW, when I said long term, I mean 50 years plus, not 5-10 years.


I agree that continued growth on the Tier will take time. The widening of the Panama Canal should also help, since it will increase shipping to/from the East Coast... and probably NS traffic on the east end of the Tier.
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