Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Iron Horse Update for November 2011

Using the last steam locomotive it ordered- ALCo 4-8-4 #844- Union Pacific operated a special train through New Mexico and Arizona to commemorate those states respective centennials in November before taking a roundabout route home to Cheyenne, WY. Here #844 is paired with specially painted SD70ACe #1996 heading west along the Salton Sea at Bombay Beach, CA having left Yuma, AZ a few hours earlier on November 17th, 2011. Photo- Craig Walker
UNION PACIFIC: Although a few weeks ahead of the official anniversary dates of statehood for both Arizona and New Mexico, Union Pacific operated a steam special through both states over the former Southern Pacific 'Sunset Route' line.

At the end of October the #844 departed its Cheyenne home base. The 1944 built 4-8-4 headed south through Colorado and made stops in Dalhart and El Paso, TX; Tucumcari, Alamogordo and Lordsburg, NM as well as Tuscon and Yuma, AZ where it was on public display.

From Yuma, the 844 took a roundabout trip back to Cheyenne, continuing west to the former Southern Pacific yard in Colton, CA before heading over Cajon Pass for the first time since 1989 and returning via Las Vegas and Salt Lake City at the end of November.

CHINA: The investigation into a collision on China's high speed rail network over the summer has led to no official disclosures from China's rail ministry regarding the cause or any remedies taken to prevent a similar accident.
The secrecy surrounding the probe, which ended in September, is typical of the sensitivities shown toward wider troubles plaguing the showcase high-speed rail program.

The accident inflamed criticism that the powerful Railway Ministry may be sacrificing safety in its costly quest to quickly roll out the bullet train network.

Based on regulations on major transport accidents, a report on the accident was due by Nov. 20. Railway Ministry officials refused comment Tuesday.

The few slivers of information about the probe have been quickly recanted.

A railway expert and deputy director of the investigation team, Wang Mengshu, backtracked from comments in the state-run Beijing Times newspaper quoting him as saying the crash near the eastern city of Wenzhou largely resulted from mismanagement.

State media on Tuesday carried reports of Wang claiming he was misquoted, that his comments were only his personal opinion, and that he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The lack of transparency has left some in China skeptical that problems with the high speed rail network are being resolved, said Li Hongchang, an economics professor at Beijing Jiaotong University.

“People want not just the report but to understand how it was compiled. Openness and credibility are actually more important than the report itself,” Li said.

Shortly after the accident, authorities blamed problems with the high-tech signaling systems used to run and route the trains for the crash. The collision occurred after railway staff failed to notice anything amiss when a lightening strike stalled a train and the signaling system failed to turn red.

But they have since backed away from that analysis. The Beijing Times report quoted Wang as saying the lack of problems with the same signaling systems on other lines suggests human error was to blame.
32 people were killed in July when the two high speed train sets collided outside the city of Wenzhou.

Grenada Railway B30-7A #242 heading north with what's likely the last through train between Grenada and Canton, MS for the foreseeable future is seen passing through Vaiden, MS on July 27, 2011. Photo-Fred Goff
MISSISSIPPI: The parent company of Mississippi-based Grenada Railway have announced that they are backing off plans to abandon 83 miles of former Illinois Central track between Grenada and Canton, MS.

Canadian National sold off more than 180 miles of former Illinois Central track between Southaven and Canton, MS in May of 2009 to A&K Railroad Materials, a salvage and scrap company with the stipulation that they operate the line for at least two years.

While the northernmost portion of the Grenada line between Grenada and Southaven, MS is still in operation, a Grenada Railway official said that a 112-foot bridge south of Vaiden, MS needs an estimated $750,000 in repairs to get the line back in service. The same official also said that considerable upgrades would be needed since much of the line south of Grenada is restricted to speeds of 10 MPH. The Grenada to Canton portion of the old Illinois Central mainline has been under embargo since July.

If that portion of the line was abandoned, it would leave the 21 mile Kosciusko & Southwestern Railway at Aberdeen Jct. without a rail connection to the rest of the country.

This portion of the former Illinois Central is perhaps best known for the infamous wreck in Vaughan that claimed the life of folk hero engineer Casey Jones in April 1900. Until 1995, this portion of the Illinois Central also hosted the City of New Orleans passenger service.

Wisconsin Southern SD40-2 #4025 is seen leading a Madison to Janesville, WI freight through the snow in January 2009. The #4025 is wearing a special 25th anniversary paint scheme while the trailing MP15AC is still painted in Milwaukee Road colors. Photo- Thomas Williams

WISCONSIN: The Wisconsin Southern and Kansas-based Watco Transportation announced that they have reached an agreement in which Watco would acquire a controlling interest in the 600-mile Milwaukee-based regional railroad.

The WSOR operates a cluster of former Milwaukee Road and Chicago & North Western lines throughout southern Wisconsin and Northeastern Illinois, connecting with Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, BNSF, Union Pacific and Belt Railway of Chicago. Traffic is primarily grain, lumber, agricultural products, coal and aggregates. The WSOR also operates a locomotive painting facility and car repair shop in Janesville where it carries out contract work for other railroads.

Earlier this year, WSOR CEO William Gardner was sentenced to probation and 100 hours community service after he pleaded guilty to circumventing Wisconsin state campaign finance laws by awarding bonuses to WSOR employees, and then arranging for the employees to donate their bonuses to different politician's campaign funds, including now governor Scott Walker's campaign.

Granted- a shortline or regional changing ownership is a pretty routine transaction, but apparently the foaming-at-the-mouth progressives in Madison have decided that WATCO is a shell company of those diabolical Koch Brothers and they are acquiring the Wisconsin Southern for some very unclear but no doubt nefarious purpose.

The sale is expected to go through on Jan 1st, 2012 pending STB approval. Watco has said they anticipate minimal changes in WSOR's day-to-day operations once they acquire controlling interest. I wholeheartedly encourage the progressives in Madison and elsewhere to spend every waking hour between now and January attempting to stop Watco from acquiring WSOR- petitioning the STB instead of supporting the 'Occupy' movement, gathering signatures for Walker's recall or working on Obama's 2012 campaign.
Newly Restored Valley Railroad 'Mikado' 2-8-2 #3025 awaits its second its second run in Essex, CT on November 26, 2011 Photo- Paolo Roffo
CONNECTICUT: The Valley Railroad has debuted its 'New Haven' 2-8-2 Mikado, which is actually a Chinese-made 'SY' class steam locomotive that was acquired during a 2008 liquidation auction of Pennsylvania's Knox and Kane Railway's assets.

The locomotive started out life as Knox & Kane 'SY' #58 and was made in 1989 by the Tangshan Locomotive Works and imported from the People's Republic of China. The K&K shut down operations in 2006, a few years after the Kinzua Viaduct was heavily damaged by a tornado. In 2008, a devastating arson attack on the railroad's shops dashed any hopes of the line reopening. While the exterior of #58 was heavily damaged in the blaze, the boiler, frame and running gear were salvageable. The Valley Railroad also successfully bid on a number of spare parts that survived the blaze.

Most of the major work in rebuilding K&K #58 to 'New Haven #3025' was undertaken at the Valley Railroad's shops in Essex, CT. The extensive external damage to #58 meant that the Valley Railroad could rebuild the Chinese SY steamer into a reasonable facsimile of a New York, New Haven & Hartford Mikado. Sadly, no steam locomotive rostered by the New Haven survived the scrapper's torch, but there were plenty of drawings, blueprints and detailed period photos for the Valley Railway to use in their restoration project.

On November 15, 2011, the Valley Railroad fired up New Haven #3025 for the first time. The restored steamer was put to use switching the yard and facilities over the next few days before she went to work hauling passengers on the Valley Railroad's 'North Pole Express' Holiday excursions on November 25th.

UNIONS: Major US freight haulers have reportedly reached a collective bargaining agreement with three unions after a board appointed by President Obama was ordered to review an impasse between companies and labor groups over contract talks for the last two years.

The agreement is seen as helpful in preventing a walkout that could cost the economy as much as $2 billion a day. The tentative deal announced in mid-November covers wages, benefits and other employment conditions, according to the American Association of Railroads.

Although a deal wasn't reached with one holdout union- the Teamster's Brotherhood of Maintainence of Way Employees- the BMWE agreed to extend negotiations to early Feburary.

INDIANA: Progress Rail Services held an Open House for the grand opening of its new facilities in Muncie, IN on October 28th.

Although Progress Rail Services projected that as many as 650 jobs could be added by 2012, the plant currently employs somewhere between 160 and 180 people full time. Both Progress Rail and local officials hope that the number will continue to go up as worldwide demand for new motive power increases.

The locomotive shop had once been part of the Westinghouse ABB factory that manufactured electrical transformers, but has been shuttered since 1998. The factory had been in operation for a few month, hence a fully assembled and operating FerroMex SD70ACe being on hand for the October open house. Ironically, the locomotive destined for the subsidiary of Mexican-owned conglomerate Grupo Mexico [BMV: GMEXICOB] is the first EMD locomotive manufactured in the USA for nearly 20 years. A second locomotive for Gabon-based SETRAG (Société d'Exploitation du Transgabonais) was also being built in Muncie at the time of the open house event. The Muncie plant will reportedly be building additional SD70ACes for FerroMex and BHP Billiton's [NYSE: BHP/ ASX: BHP] Western Australia iron-ore hauling railroad.

Both Progress Rail Services and EMD are wholly owned subsidiaries of Caterpillar, Inc [NYSE: CAT]. Since the late 1980s, most of the production of EMD locomotives has taken place in London, Ontario, Canada. Caterpillar acquired EMD last year and is reportedly hoping to shift some of the locomotive production back the the USA from Ontario.

Grand Canyon 2-8-2 #4960 seen heading north out of Williams, AZ at sunrise with a mixed freight in May 2011. Photo- John West
ARIZONA: In addition to Union Pacific #844's visit to the Grand Canyon state, a number of steam excursions are planned to mark the centennial of Arizona's statehood in 2012.

The Grand Canyon kicks things off on Valentine's Day 2012 when vegetable oil-fired 2-8-2 Mikado #4960 departs Williams, AZ hauling restored coaches to the South Rim. In a somewhat unique twist, the Grand Canyon will be charging $7.50 for coach tickets- the 1912 price for a train trip to the Grand Canyon.

The #4960 may have company later on in the year, as well. The Santa Clara, CA based Central Coast chapter of the NRHS announced a 9-day rail trip featuring vintage passenger cars and Santa Fe 4-8-4 steam locomotive #3751 that will depart Los Angeles on May 13th and travel to the Grand Canyon via Rail America's Arizona & California and BNSF's former Santa Fe 'Peavine Line' between Phoenix and Williams, AZ. There is even talk of a May 16th doubleheader over the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams to the South Rim featuring both the #4960 and #3751 before the restored Santa Fe Northern heads back to California (returning via the Peavine line and the Arizona & California).

Even after the #3751 returns to Los Angeles, the Grand Canyon announced plans to run three more trips to the South Rim using #4960, as well as a pair of shorter excursions out of Williams in May and June.

Nickel Plate Berkshire 2-8-4 #765 seen outside of Ithica, MI with a Steam Railroading Institute of Michigan excursion on October 15, 2011 on the Tuscola & Saginaw Bay Railway. The excursions were to help raise funds for boiler work on sister Berkshire Pere Marquette #1225. Photo- Steven McKay
MICHIGAN: The Owosso, MI-based Steam Railroading institute announced that an anonymous donor has offered a $100,000 matching grant towards the restoration of the Institute's Pere Marquette 2-8-4 Berkshire #1225. That means as soon as the SRI tallies $100,000, their unknown benefactor will deposit an additional $100,000 in the organization's coffers.

Fundraising for the #1225's restoration has been ongoing prior to that announcement. In October, the Ft. Wayne Railroad Historical Society's Nickel Plate Berkshire #765 travelled from Indiana to Michigan (via a brief stint on Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway) to help raise funds for the #1225's restoration by powering a series of excursions out of Owosso before returning to the Hoosier state.

A duo of former Kansas City Southern, nee Canadian National SD40-3s lettered for MobilGrain seen on the Big Sky Railway's former CN tracks in Eston, SK. Photo- Mark David Zuikoskey/Canadian Railway Observations
SASKATCHEWAN: The province's newest shortline railroad kicked off operations in late September when Big Sky Rail assumed control of 354 km of former Canadian National track running north-south between Deslisle and Beechy, SK and east-west between Macrorie and Laporte, SK.

Big Sky Rail is jointly operated by MobilGrain and West Central Road & Rail and recieved an interest-free provincial loan to the tune of C$5.6 million towards the acquisition of the line from Canadian National, with formal purchase agreements and title transfers to be finalized in 2012.

Power for both the Big Sky and affiliated Last Mountain Railways is a small fleet of rebuilt former Kansas City Southern and Wisconsin Central (nee Canadian National) SD40-3s.

In a rather interesting move, Canadian Railway Observations reports that Last Mountain and Big Sky's affiliate Mobil Grain purchased 7 General electric 70-ton switchers from California's Modesto & Empire Traction railway as dedicated switchers for the various grain elevators along the Big Sky and Last Mountain lines. The newest of these ex M&ET locomotives date back to 1955.

Big Sky is thought to be Sasketchewan's 12th shortline- and at least the 4th to begin operations in the last two years.


  1. Railyard Productions is proud to present Pere Marquette 1225 Return to Rails Excursion.
    This is a one day excursion March 15th 2014. Tickets are $124.00 per person for coach seats. We will depart Owosso Mi at 9:00AM and arrive at Clare Mi 11:30AM We will have a 3hr layover in Clare so passengers can partake of the Irish festival which will coincide with our excursion. The train then departs Clare at 2:30 running backwards to Alma Mi. at which point it will be turned on the Wye. Then continue to Owosso to finish up around 6:00PM. Please note that these times are subject to change. We will have at least two photo run-by’s so be sure to bring your camera.http://railyardproductions.com

  2. We are doing this trip again March 14 2015.

    Railyard Productions is excited to present Pere Marquette 1225 Return to Clare Excursion.
    This is a one day excursion March 14th 2015. Tickets are $124.00 per person for coach seats. You may like to ride in an authentic caboose ( Very Limited Seating $149.00 ). We will depart Owosso Mi at 9:00AM and arrive at Clare Mi 11:30AM We will have a 3hr layover in Clare so passengers can partake of the Irish festival which will coincide with our excursion. The train then departs Clare at 2:30 running back to Owosso to finish up around 6:00PM. Please note that these times are subject to change. We will have at least one photo run-by so be sure to bring your camera. In true Irish spirit, ALCOHOLIC beverages will be available for purchase! Subscribe to our newsletter -Don’t miss important news and event information! railyardproductions.com

  3. We are doing it again March 14 2015
    Railyard Productions
    We are Happy to announce Railyard Productions Steam Train Excursion to the Clare Irish Festival March 14th 2015. Get Tickets Click Here!
    Pere Marquette 1225 “Return to Clare” Excursion
    Railyard Productions is excited to present Pere Marquette 1225 Return to Clare Excursion.
    This is a one day excursion March 14th 2015. Tickets are $124.00 per person for coach seats. You may like to ride in an authentic caboose ( Very Limited Seating $149.00 ). We will depart Owosso Mi at 9:00AM and arrive at Clare Mi 11:30AM We will have a 3hr layover in Clare so passengers can partake of the Irish festival which will coincide with our excursion. The train then departs Clare at 2:30 running back to Owosso to finish up around 6:00PM. Please note that these times are subject to change. We will have at least one photo run-by so be sure to bring your camera. Subscribe to our newsletter -Don’t miss important news and event information! We will never share your personal information!