Saturday, March 31, 2012

Iron Horse Roundup for March 2012

A pair of former Quebec, North Shore & Labrador SD40-2s are seen on the Wellsboro & Corning at Tioga Jct, PA hauling a cut of empty sand hoppers north to the Norfolk Southern interchange in Corning, NY in June 2010 Dave Seitzer photo
WELLSBORO & CORNING- Shortline operator Rail America [NYSE- RA] has joined the natural gas bonanza along Pennsylvania's northern tier with their purchase of a majority stake in the 38-mile Wellsboro & Corning railroad at the beginning of February.

The deal is worth an estimated $18 million and gives Jacksonville, FL-based Rail America a 70% stake in the northern Pennsylvania railroad. Previous owner Tom Myles and his family retain a 30% share of the railroad, which has benefited considerably from increased drilling and exploration for natural gas along the Marcellus shale- a formation that stretches from southern Tennessee to the Adirondack foothills in Upstate New York.

Formed in 1992 from an abandoned Conrail (nee New York Central) line, the Wellsboro & Corning operated with a single SW8 for the lines sparse traffic. The end-cab switcher was eventually sold to another Pennsylvania railroad and the WCOR would end up leasing power from the Norfolk Southern. While the first natural gas wells were being drilled in Northern Pennsylvania, Myles had just purchased the line and reportedly pinned the Wellsboro & Corning's future on shipping outbound wood chips and lumber from Tigoa County, PA. However, increased natural gas drilling in the area led to 60+ unit sand trains meant the Wellsboro, PA based shortline would need additional horsepower. In early 2010, that horsepower arrived in the form of four 3000HP SD40-2s that last saw service with Quebec ore hauler Quebec, North Shore & Labrador.

Pan Am GP9 #52 was released from the Waterville, ME shops as the second unit in Pan Am's 'Heritage' program towards the end of 2011. Painted in vintage Maine Central colors, the #52 is seen leading local SAPPI-3 freight back into the Waterville, ME yard in December 2011. Justin Franz photo
PAN AM RAILWAYS- Following up GP9 #77 being repainted in the Boston & Maine's maroon and gold 'Minuteman' paint scheme over the summer, Pan Am released a second 'heritage' unit from their former Maine Central Waterville, ME shops in December.

Pan-Am GP9 #52 was painted in a green and yellow paint scheme and lettered for Pan-Am/Guilford predecessor Maine Central. The unit was immediately put into service on Waterville-based local SAPPI-3.

There are unconfirmed reports that Pan Am may release an additional 'heritage' painted unit in Boston & Maine's McGinness-era paint scheme known as 'bluebirds'.

Marquette Rail SD40-2 #3001 is seen with two lease units idling at White Cloud, MI with a northbound freight from Grand Rapids to Baldwin awaiting a re-crew in August 2011. Michael Biehn photo
MARQUETTE RAIL- In a seperate transaction, Rail America announced in February that they had agreed to acquire 126-mile Michigan railroad Marquette Rail for $40 million- pending final adjustments for working capital.

The employee-owned Marquette Rail operates between Grand Rapids and Manistee, MI with a branch to Ludington, MI. Traffic include chemicals, paper and pulp. The company purchased the lines from CSX in late 2005.

Marquette Rail will become the 5th shortline or regional railroad in the Wolverine State to fall under the Rail America umbrella, joining Mid Michigan Railroad, Grand Rapids & Eastern, Michigan Shore and Huron & Eastern.

Norfolk Southern's Southern Railway-painted 'Heritage' GE ES44AC is seen leading Chattanooga, TN to Harrisburg, PA mixed freight 38Q north/east through Telford, TN on March 23rd. Tony King photo.
NORFOLK SOUTHERN- Not to be outdone by Pan Am or Union Pacific in the 'retro' department, Norfolk Southern recently announced an amibitous 'Heritage' program of their own.

The first three locomotives from the Norfolk Southern heritage program- painted for Conrail, Southern and the Nickel Plate- were unveiled earlier this month and put into revenue service.

The Class 1 carrier plans a total of 18 units being painted into 'Heritage' colors, including Erie, Norfolk & Western, Central New Jersey, Wabash, Lehigh Valley, Illinois Terminal, New York Central, Virginian, Savannah & Atlanta, Delaware, Lackawana & Western, the original Norfolk Southern, Interstate Railroad, Central of Georgia, Reading Railroad and`the Pennsylvania Railroad. The first three NS Heritage units were GE ES44AC GEVOs, but Norolk Southern anticipates applying the Heritage colors to nine brand new GE locomotives and nine new EMD SD70ACE locomotives.

Interestingly, Norfolk Southern has also set up their own account on to display pictures of the various heritage locomotives.

Interestingly, both Norfolk Southern and CSX still have a number of locomotives in service that are still in Conrail blue that were never repainted from their 1999 takeover of Conrail. Consolidated Rail Corp- better known as Conrail- was formed in 1976 by cobbling together struggling northeast and rust belt carriers Penn Central, Erie Lackawana, Lehigh Valley, Reading, Central New Jersey and the Lehigh and Hudson River.

New England Central GP38 #3857, Providence & Worcester GP38-2 #2008 and E9B #668 lead a joint NECR/P&W/CN office car special south across the White River in W. Hartford, VT on February 7th 2012. The train is approaching White River Jct and will continue south to Worcester, MA. Shaun McGinniss photo
NEW ENGLAND CENTRAL/PROVIDENCE & WORCESTER- The Providence & Worcester and Rail America's New England Central and operated an Office Car special between St Albans, VT and Worcester, MA in February. The special was to highlight the potential for officials from the Canadian National to utilize the two New England regional railroads to access shippers in the Boston area and operated on the NECR line south of Palmer, MA to P&W's Willamantic Branch before returning north to Worcester on P&W Rails. Officials from the three railroads are hoping the route can help them compete with CSX's former Boston & Albany mainline between Selkirk, NY and Beacon Hill yard in Boston, MA and Norfolk Southern and Pan Am Railway's joint Patriot Corridor between Mechanicville, NY and Ayer, MA.

Ironically, the St Albans, VT to New London, CT NECR mainline used to be operated by Central Vermont- a subsidiary of Canadian National- before the line was spun off to RailTex (later Rail America) in the mid 1990s. However, the Central Vermont didn't enjoy the close degree of cooperation with the Providence & Worcester that the NECR does today.

This would be the second Office Car Special with officials from a Canadian class 1 carrier to operate over the NECR and P&W in the last few months. An OCS between Whitehall, NY and Worcester, MA via Rutland VT and the Vermont Railway was supposed to take place over the 2011 Labor Day weekend, but serious damage to the Vermont Railway and NECR lines in the wake of Hurricane Irene meant that the OCS was postponed until October. That OCS also had officials from the Vermont Railway and Canadian Pacific to highlight the VTRR's Green Mountain Gateway between Whitehall, NY and Bellows Falls, VT. Canadian Pacific already sends unit ethanol trains from North Dakota to Providence, RI via the Green Mountain Gateway to the NECR and Providence & Worcester. Additional traffic could be sent through the Green Mountain Gateway as Pan Am is starting a project to improve clearence for double-stack containers at the 4.75 mile Hoosac Tunnel.

OTHER NEW ENGLAND CENTRAL NEWS- By late December 2011, all Florida East Coast GP40-2s and SD40-2s on NECR property had their FEC markings removed. The FEC 'Hurricane' nose logo was replaced by a New England Central herald and lettering on the sides of the units.

Soo Line 2-8-2 #1003 seen passing through Fairwater, WI with vintage freight cars in October 2010, about a month before being pulled from service for her FRA-mandated 15 year boiler inspection. Tom Binger photo
WISCONSIN- After being taken out of service for her 15 year boiler inspection in late 2010, the owners of Soo Line 2-8-2 #1003 have announced that the 1913-built Mikado will return to steam.

The announcement was made on the 1003's website and credits Wisconsin & Southern president William Gardner with a significant donation towards the #1003's eventual return to service- the #1003 would often haul excursions over rails operated by the WSOR while she was in service. The total cost of the neccesary boiler work is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $400,000.

Things are looking quite promising for steam in the upper Midwest. In addition to the Soo Line #1003's scheduled return to service, the nearby Mid Continent Railway Museum has announced plans to restore Chicago & Northwestern 4-6-0 #1385 to service and has already recieved a $250,000 challenge grant towards the full restoration of the 1907-built ten wheeler. Over in the Twin Cities, the Milwaukee Road #261 could return to service as soon as this fall and the Minnesota Transportation Museum is currently restoring Northern Pacific 4-6-2 #2156.

CEFX SD9043MAC is seen leading sister #130 and two dead-in-transit Vermont Railway EMDs past the entrance of Okemo ski resort outside of Ludlow, VT with Rutland-Bellows Falls train #263. Kevin Burkholder photo.

VERMONT RAILWAY- The Vermont Railway System is currently testing a pair of SD9043MACs on their Green Mountain route to evaluate their ability in hauling heavy freight trains over the Rutland-Bellows Falls Green Mountain line.

The Vermont Railway, New England Central and Providence & Worcester have been promoting the Green Mountain Gateway in recent years with some success, resulting in heavier unit coal and ethanol trains moving through the Green Mountains to and from the Canadian Pacific/Vermont Railway interchange in Whitehall, NY. However, the advent of unit ethanol trains from Canadian Pacific destined for Providence, RI in March 2010 highlighted the VTRR's need for bigger locomotives and additional power when the initial 80-car train required most of the Vermont Railway roster to clear the Green Mountains. Currently, the 80-car trains are split in two at Rutland and moved to the NECR interchange at Bellows Falls, VT in 40-car sets while the empties return to Canadian Pacific with 80 cars.

The SD9043MACs are rated at 4300 HP each and features AC Traction motors and radial steering trucks. CEFX #125 was previously in service with Four Rivers Transportation's Appalachian & Ohio and wears an A&O hearald on its long hood.

Interestingly, this is not the first time VTRR has tested CEFX SD9043MACs on the Green Mountain route. In 2000 CEFX #138 and #139 also underwent evaluation on the Green Mountain line, although it was 10 years before heavy unit trains would regularly appear on the VTRR.

Should the Vermont Railway purchase the new EMDs, they would join the Indiana Railroad and Montana Rail Link as shortlines or regionals who have purchased late model EMDs new from the manufacturer in recent years.

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