• CSX Boston and Albany Line

  • Discussion of the operations of CSX Transportation, from 1980 to the present. Official site can be found here: CSXT.COM.
Discussion of the operations of CSX Transportation, from 1980 to the present. Official site can be found here: CSXT.COM.

Moderator: MBTA F40PH-2C 1050

  by QB 52.32
taracer wrote: Mon Dec 05, 2022 4:25 pm The MBTA's plans are ambitious and will require more track, but the old 251 wouldn't be able to handle it either.
Important to Conrail's decision in executing the plan for upgrading the B&A's traffic control, resulting in single tracking, was that the block signal system was deemed to be at the end of its useful life including an inherent safety risk of a technology with moving parts providing the aspects. IIRC, late 1970's /early 1980's a rear end collision in South Spencer was found to have been caused by a bad aspect displayed on a single-head block signal.

Amtrak and MA DOT's plans are ambitious: with a $2-3 billion political commitment to the project and powerful access to the big Federal infrastructure resources now available, this is probably just the start. 10-25 years out likely the B&A Worcester to Springfield will be doubletracked with triple track South Spencer-East Brookfield and 7-9 passenger train pairs operating over the territory at close to 45% 50-69 MAS and 55% 70-89 MAS. Beyond that, given the potential, there's always a chance for high-speed and additional passenger trains, including extension of MBTA commuter rail into the Brookfields.

As an aside and offering for consideration made in the spirit of curiosity to learn, if there is at least one thing fans and those inexperienced in the practice of the for-profit railroad business might try to understand or appreciate about railroads and their behavior beyond criticism it's the centrality of their unique private ownership of infrastructure and with it the management challenge of making investments in expensive assets lasting 25-50 years with an overall healthy return exceeding their cost of capital. I don't believe Conrail ever made the hurdle and CSX management fell 24% short as defined by regulators 2001-2017 with achievement only occurring with a change and application of Hunter Harrison's PSR principles.
  by QB 52.32
The story of the Boston and Albany during the past ~70 years provides a good case study illustrating the essential importance, management challenge and resulting impacts arising from a capital-intense business uniquely owning its infrastructure amongst competitors and dependent upon expensive long-term investments:

1956-66 During an era of New York Central investments necessary to modernize and increase productivity, the plan to single track the B&A with CTC traffic control in light of its traffic density are unrealizable, even with a positive return-on-investment, given the total amount of capital investment the railroad's returns can support and its ranking in competition amongst all of the needs. Among large impactful government investment into competing public infrastructure creating the Interstate Highway System and St. Lawrence Seaway, the easternmost ~11 miles of right-of-way is sold to the MA Turnpike Authority with planning executed for an eventual exit out of Boston and transition to containers with a small intermodal container terminals investment made toward productivity improvement and in land for future facilities.

1966-76 During an era where the B&A's owners are generating such poor financial results from operations they can't even invest capital necessary to maintain the railroad, the B&A falls victim to deferred maintenance and a number of expensive derailments, with a limited shot of federal investment into mainline track made late in this timeframe and sale of the railroad Framingham-Boston to the Commonwealth for its commuter rail service.

1976-86 With a big infusion of federal investment and then rapidly rising fortunes once again generating resources to be used to invest in the railroad under Conrail ownership and regulatory (including light-density spinoffs) and labor reforms, the B&A receives major investment in mainline track and necessary execution of earlier plans for new traffic control and single tracking, and, relatively small investment in intermodal terminals, all leading to productivity improvement and with that, more resources for investment generated by operations.

1986-96 With an industry-transforming big new traffic opportunity and introduction of container doublestack technology requiring new overhead clearances, despite sizable benefits the positive return on investment to clear the B&A does not clear the necessary hurdle rate determined by the amount of available capital generated from operations and in light of other competing and strategic return needs. Consequently, among less expensive capital options, a filleting/toupeeing Syracuse NY terminal is created for single-stacking as needed and low/high-cube doublestack container capability created only with a Commonwealth of MA shared infrastructure investment, and increased terminal capacity investments spun off to the Mass Central and Providence & Worcester. Additional B&A public investment is made for re-introducing extended commuter rail as far west as Worcester and with the MA Turnpike Authority selling the land under Conrail's Beacon Park yard for its redevelopment, political pressure for an exit and planning execution for that eventuality begins.

1996-2006 CSX, as part of the Conrail split, becomes the B&A's new owner making capital investments in terminal facilities as well as infrastructure supporting planned growth coming from projected new markets arising from their purchase short-lived and with overall returns well below their cost of capital and rumors of a partial or total New England ownership exit. Additional public investments are made supporting further increased commuter rail into Worcester.

2006-16 A large deal involving CSX and Commonwealth of MA 50/50 $300 million investment leads to full overhead B&A clearances as far east as Worcester, sale of the railroad between Worcester and Framingham, and closure of Beacon Park yard with improved terminals in Westborough, Worcester and West Springfield as well as commuter rail into Worcester, spurring investment in a renewed-Grafton & Upton and resulting in CSX operational productivity improvement.

2016- (2026) CSX, now generating healthy returns exceeding their cost of capital under PSR operating principles, despite early rumors of a New England ownership exit, purchases Pan Am Railways and half of Pan Am Southern for $600m with planned and continuing -execution 1/3 public 2/3 CSX ~$150m initial infrastructure investment offering B&A traffic re-structuring and growth potential; East-West passenger rail receives a $2-3b public investment political commitment for expanded B&A passenger service with CSX agreeing to Amtrak conditions freezing its traffic considerations at PAR/PAS acquisition projections, including an additional NS intermodal/auto trackage rights train pair negotiated to be moved over in consideration of a necessary sizable $300 million investment hurdle for full PAS overhead clearance; and, with a $500m. CSX/pubic I-95 full-overhead clearance improvement investment offering renewed B&A traffic growth potential once earlier short-lived, all in simultaneous play.
  by woodeen
Nice retrospective, thank you for that. Having lived through all of that, in the pre-internet/railroad forum days, I saw it all happen, but never appreciated the larger context.
  by QB 52.32
My pleasure, Woodeen, thanks for your comment, much appreciated.
  by Lincoln78
Outstanding summary- very educational. Thank you!
  by QB 52.32
You're very welcome Lincoln78! Thanks for your comment.
  by copcars
426 and 436. I noticed in the last 7 days on the Chester railcam 436 EAST to Framingham ran all 7 days and hit Chester,ma between 6 and 8 AM. 426 went through between 10 PM and 2AM. In the past they would show up at all different times. It seems that most trains are nocturnal between WOR and PITTSFIELD. I was in FRAMINGHAM Monday and westbound freight, with newer safety cab engines, was doubling up on the main track,and taking all cars WEST. They used to do this before 7AM.They followed AMTRAK WEST at 1;30 PM,AND AMTRAK WENT BY THEM on the #1 track and they were on #2 NORTH TRACK.I caught this near old Ashland station.As soon as the freight pulled out,MBTA commuter rail inbound ,to boston,on track #1.CSX must be trying something new.Does anyone know if the 436 going all the way to Framingham,which would put them there between 11AM and 1PM.
  by Douglasphil
Currently a Worcester local crew still brings M436 east at night and a second local crew now brings the train west mid am. This is mostly due to the all the dipsy doodling required to add Aces equipped leaders and removing any DPU units.
  by taracer
No that's not why they do this, it was done to cut crews in Framingham as I've explained before, namely a yard job, as is typical for CSX PSR. It's a pure PSR move, and I just want to put the truth out there.

They were experimenting with this years before the PTC Access became active on Keolis during the pandemic, having the Selkirk road crew do the Westboro setoff for example. That didn't work because the Selkirk crew would usually outlaw there after the setoff. I mean think about it. They were making the road crew do work in a yard 6 miles outside of the final destination of the train.

There were plenty of Access equipped 400 series units even back then, so they could have just run 436 with one as a leader right from Selkirk direct to Framingham once Access was active.

The chose not to, and now they can't easily do it as Selkirk crews are no longer qualified east of CP-42 in Worcester.

Typical short-sighted PSR thinking, so now the train sits in Worcester on the main line for hours.
  by QB 52.32
From a railroad network planning and business point of view, it makes total sense. But just like a carpenter wants to solve everything with a hammer, as T&E you want to solve everything with more crews, more trains.

What difference does it make if the train sits for hours on the main in Worcester? None.

Truth be told, there's been less work in Framingham and now new work for Westborough. Why would it make any sense to run those Westborough cars into Framingham for additional touches? Just to make work for an additional yard crew? And, who says additional changes, even reverting back, can't be made?

What's truly short-sighted was the day when CSX had more yard crews only working 50-60% of their shifts, catching early quits, and hoping to dog catch the frequent re-crew for an extra day's pay all the while CSX didn't even earn their cost of capital --- which, in turn, lead to new management coming in and implementing PSR!

One man's truth is another man's griping.
  by taracer
Except it does make a difference for the customers, and for when things go wrong which they always do. PSR has cut the base down to captive customers, that is a fact. Anyone that could go to trucks has. They can't even service a recycling place less than 10 miles west of Worcester yard.

You need boots on the ground no matter how much PSR says you don't.

The PSR induced power shortage has caused all kinds of train delays. You can't move trains when the power is sitting out on the mainline, waiting for a recrew that doesn't exist. Again, thanks to PSR since there are no crews in the yards anymore.
  by taracer
PSR is also partly responsible for inflation, due to supply shortages.

For example, if you were trying to buy a new car a few months ago the dealers were probably gouging you saying they don't have the supply.

Meantime some of the loaded autoracks were sitting on the mainline just west of West Springfield yard for days on end. There are pictures of this online. Not on 264, which goes directly to the auto site, but on 424, since PSR doesn't like running unit trains. So that meant a crew would have to go out and yard the 424 and then the racks would sit in West Springfield for days or a week. Eventually they would stop a random passing 264, and that crew would outlaw at the auto site even though the power had to be brought to Worcester to be turned. So now you need another crew to get the power and turn it so the outbound empty 205 can have power. And they need the empties, but they are now late because of all this.

This the reality of PSR, and it goes on and on like this, all in an attempt to cut resources.
  by QB 52.32
C'mon, now. What else do you want to blame PSR for? Just look around.

PSR has increased the B&A's business in steel, energy, food, auto, intermodal, and waste traffic. I'd love to hear the details of which customers you are referring to in this "cut down to only the base". As is usually the case, the cause often has nothing to do with railroad service. And, if it belongs on rail, like your Webster Jct. customer, it's still going to move by rail....just trucked locally to another rail-served facility that is being serviced (that's always been a tough place to serve, especially with a lack of other carload customers nearby).

PSR showed both improvement in service and growth in traffic leading up to the pandemic. Sort out the labor shortages and the resulting impacts all across our economy, the specific serious impact it had on the B&A summer into the fall as part of a problem all across the US rail network, PSR and non-PSR roads alike, it's much less about PSR and much more about the Great Resignation. And, if PSR were the sole culprit, how would you explain the lack of staffing issues at PSR railroads CN & CP? During all of these service problems, sure looks like CSX did a damn good job protecting the premium traffic, including handling additional seasonal trains, all the while also taking on additional trains because other carriers also dealing with labor shortages couldn't move them.

Freight trains serve customers who want reliability above all else. If it's 7 days, they don't want 6 and they don't want 8. Speed is secondary. So, when you talk about "late trains", make sure you understand whether it makes a difference. I read a few weeks back your gripe about a late M426, but it made no difference to how that traffic was expected to be handled in the next legs. And, CSX is hiring, has committed to improve T&E quality of life and things are looking pretty good not only on the B&A, but also for the overall service for which they understand is important to their need to grow.

In terms of your M424 auto racks, PSR helps provide the capital resources now being put to use full clearing the I-95 corridor and, consequently, that could be used to build intermodal density which, in turn, could take them out of the hump and off M424.

And, gees, I think the new vehicle supply chain shortage is much more about microchips than PSR.

But, let's get out of the weeds. in the long railroad game there's no way CSX could have continued to sustain not earning their cost of capital in our real world. That was a much bigger problem (that also brought plenty of gripes) than the anecdotal, short-term examples you've raised. PSR has brought a major strategic improvement to CSX, including making it possible to purchase PAR in pursuit of one thing- growth.

Beyond what I have offered, we'll just have to agree to disagree.
  by copcars
The local out of W Springfirld used to take auto racks to Brookfield,after dropping cars off at Palmer.I always wondered why the auto racks went to W Spfd.New cars coming from auto plants in Georgia,S Carolina,virginia would go through NJ to Selkirk.Why did the east auto train from Buffalo not pick them up in Selkirk and bring them to Brookfield.That seems to be the most efficient.I would think it would be much more efficient for 436 to go to Framingham directly, they could drop cars at Grafton and Upton.A local out of Framingham could work Westboro and get Mts at Grafton and U and bring them to Framingham. If 436 got to Framingham at 12 noon the cars for Mansfield and Attleboro could go out that night.The Westboro local and readville turn could go after EVENING rush hour . The cars they bring to FRAM,and ATT MANSFIELD cars could head west with the same power that came in on 436.All the cars that came in on 436 would be gone in 10 hours, except Fitchburg cars.The westbound cars would be gone that night, possibly as 115,Framingham yard would be MT at midnight except for Fitchburg cars.The same crew that brought 436 east could go west in 9 hours.
  by QB 52.32
Railroads are a network business serving differing demands across different markets with plans driven by blocking and train operations. So, any of your suggestions have to be considered across the entire network, not just in our little piece of paradise.

When you want to talk efficiency it's really driven by taking out unnecessary work, balancing traffic, seeking consistency and, like every other transportation carrier during the ages, looking for the greatest load factor, in this case, with trains. All that is factored into the decisions, and, during this time of network recovery from crew shortages, that is probably taken into consideration as an existing, hopefully shorter-run, constraint as well. And, their ability to execute according to plan is also affected by the disruption arising from this latest serious crew shortage, again, at least, hopefully in the shorter run.

Today's railroads have a good handle on their networks and business, understanding using technology and management science, how to piece all of the parts together to optimize the overall system (not just our little piece of paradise or only one part or another) with constant review. Within train operation decision-making, I can tell you from experience, among the 3 basic components, crews & power have long trumped cars when necessary (for better or worse). And, with PSR applied to CSX, for the first time they are measuring door-to-door service begging the question, how could you have managed something you weren't measuring?

When you fill in the missing pieces to your considerations, looks to me that what you are suggesting in total, is a less-efficient operation with probably less, certainly no more, reliability. Perhaps we'll see some changes as things evolve or when the network has fully recovered with enough crews hired, trained and retained.
  • 1
  • 67
  • 68
  • 69
  • 70
  • 71
  • 75