Sunday, January 13, 2013

Iron Horse Roundup For December 2012

A Canadian Pacific and DM&E SD40-2 lead a Rapid City to Huron, SD freight past an abandoned farmhouse in Wasta, SD in March 2010. Jeff Robertson photo

CANADIAN PACIFIC-Canadian Pacific has announced their intention to sell approximately 660 miles of former Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern trackage between Tracy, MN and Rapid City, SD along with branches from Rapid City to Colony, WY and Dakota Jct, NE.

Canadian Pacific acquired the DM&E as well as sister railroad Iowa, Chicago & Eastern in 2008. Even before it's acquisition by CP Rail, the DM&E had made plans to build new trackage west of South Dakota's Black Hills to tap coal traffic from Wyoming's Powder River Basin. Although CP Rail planned on following through with construction of the new line, declining coal prices and a hostile takeover of the company from Pershing Square Capital Management in 2012 have caused those plans to be shelved.

While the western end of the DM&E still generates considerable freight traffic in the form of grain, ethanol, aggregate and clay, much of the right of way through South Dakota is in need of an upgrade, with speed restrictions between 10 and 25 MPH commonplace. With no new line into the Powder River Basin and coal traffic, Canadian Pacific CEO Hunter Harrison has decided the railroad should divest themselves of the entire western end of the DM&E.

The DM&E itself started up in 1986 after taking over operations from former Chicago & North Western trackage in Minnesota and South Dakota that was spun off. In 2002, the DM&E purchased the assets of the Washington Company's I&M Rail Link, renaming it the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern. This encompassed the former Milwaukee Road/Soo Line route between the Twin Cities and Kansas City (via the Quad Cities) as well as the east west line between Sheldon, IA and Chicago, IL. It's believed that Canadian Pacific will likely retain most of the former IC&E.
With the shutdown of the Catalyst Paper mill in Snowflake, AZ looming Apache C420 #91 hauls a string of boxcars to the BNSF interchange at Holbrook, AZ in September 2012. Ted Ellis photo
APACHE RAILWAY- The facilities for Catalyst Paper's mill in Snowflake, AZ- including the Apache Railway- has been sold to Los Angeles-based Hackman Capital for a reported $13,460,000 and other non-cash considerations.

The massive paper mill at Snowflake, AZ permanently shut down in October- both the railroad and mill were owned by Canadian paper company Catalyst. While the long-term future of the Apache is up in the air, the railway has been kept busy with removing stored cars from the line and hauling feed to a sizable pig farm north of Snowflake. Meanwhile the town of Snowflake is looking into potential tenants for the former Catalyst mill just west of Snowflake. In November, the Snowflake town council had threatened to seize the Apache right-of-way via condemnation when it learned potential buyers for the railroad were appraising it for scrap value.

Although the Catalyst shutdown this fall resulted in nearly 300 layoffs, geologists and mining concerns have discovered significant quantities of Potash nearby in the Holbrook Basin worth more than $300 billion.

Ann Arbor GP38 #7791 switches autoracks in Toledo, OH in March 2011. Michael Harding photo
ANN ARBOR- Kansas-based shortline operator WATCO has announced their acquisition of the Ann Arbor Railroad at the end of December. In its most recent incarnation, the Ann Arbor's fortunes have been tied to the auto industry.
The Ann Arbor Railroad serves southeastern Michigan and the Toledo, Ohio, areas, mainly shipping auto and other manufacturing goods. It operates 50 miles of track between Ann Arbor and Toledo and has Toledo-area terminals serving General Motors Co., Chrysler and Ford Motor Co.
The original Ann Arbor operated line out of Toledo, OH as well as a number of train ferries on Lake Michigan until its 1973 bankruptcy and 1976 acquisition by Conrail. Eventually, a truncated version of the original Ann Arbor started up operations between its namesake city and Toledo, OH in 1988. This latest acquisition, along with the 2011 purchase of the Wisconsin Southern represents a trend where shortline operators such as Rail America or WATCO buy up independent shortlines or regionals rather than purchase lines divested by Class 1 carriers.
Hampton & Branchville GP9# 667 leads a unit coal train of former Chessie and Norfolk & Western GP9s at  Hampton, SC. Adam Finger photo
SOUTH CAROLINA- The 40 mile Hampton and Branchville made what may be their final revenue run at the end of December. The H&B's only customer is the South Carolina Electric and Gas power plant in Canadays, SC. The line, which started out as a lumber carrier in 1901, had the SCE&G plant as its only remaining customer before the plant switched from coal to natural gas.

The line uses a mix of former Chessie and Norfolk & Western GP9s for motive power- all of them still in the colors of their previous owner.

Amtrak Baggae/cab control car #90213 is seen departing Brunswick, ME with a southbound Downeaster on November 3rd, 2012. Michael White photo.
AMTRAK- Some changes are afoot for the national passenger carrier in New England. At the beginning of November, Amtrak launched an extended service on their popular Downeaster route. The daily Boston, MA-Portland, ME train has been extended east to Brunswick and Freeport, ME via Pan Am's former Maine Central Rockland Branch.

In 2010, Amtrak and the Maine Department of Transportation announced their plans to extend the Downeaster route another 30 miles to serve Freeport and Brunswick. Freeport, ME is perhaps best known for being home to LL Bean's flagship store while Brunswick is home to the small Bowdoin College. During warmer weather, the Downeaster  will also reportedly connect with Maine Eastern's seasonal excursions between Brunswick and Rockland, ME.

Meanwhile, in western Massachusetts, work is proceeding on rerouting the Vermonter to PanAm's former Boston & Maine line between Springfield and Greenfield, MA. The move would eliminate a 20-mile dogleg over the CSX's former Boston & Albany mainline between Palmer and Springfield, MA before travelling north on the New England Central to St Albans, VT. The Vermonter's predecessor, Amtrak's Montrealer, ran this route until deteriorating track conditions forced its suspension in 1987.

There has also been talk of restoring Amtrak service all the way to Montreal via White River Jct and St Albans, VT. In June, Vermont's Agency of Transportation was awarded a $7.9 million TIGER grant to upgrade some 20 miles of New England Central line used by the Vermonter. At the time, Rail America was reportedly contributing $3 million to the effort.
"The award shows the confidence in the state of Vermont and the railroad by the Federal Department of Transportation," said Christopher Parker, executive director of the Vermont Rail Action Network, an advocacy group. Parker noted Vermont's TIGER IV grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation was given to primarily to improve freight train speeds and raise weight limits for freight, but passenger trains also eventually would benefit. The federal funds will help pay for 19 miles of new welded rail, ties, ballast, and bridge upgrades that will raise speeds to 40 mph for freight (and 59 mph for passenger trains). The weight limit will rise from 263,000 pounds per car to 286,000 pounds. resulting in a competitive benefit for Vermont. Vermont is providing $7 million and the NECR, owned by RailAmerica, Inc., is contributing $3 million. Said Parker, "This award checks off one of four steps needed to extend Amtrak's Vermonter to Montreal," said Parker. "Progress is happening on the other three items as well, thanks to Vermont House and Senate member] efforts and the work of the Agency of Transportation and Amtrak." St. Albans, Vt., has been Amtrak's northern terminus for the Vermonter since 1995, when the Montrealer's route was cut back.
Meanwhile, the western Massachusetts reroute of the Vermonter through the rather presumptively named 'Knowledge Corridor' will eliminate Amherst, MA as a stop while adding Greenfield and Northampton, MA. Currently, the line sees freight service from Pan Am Rail serving the coal-fired power plant at Mt Tom as well as the CSX interchange in Springfield and Pioneer Valley Railroad interchange in Holyoke, MA.

MBTA- Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority has announced the resumption of service to Cape Cod beginning this summer.
The service, dubbed the CapeFLyer, will run through Labor Day. Trains will depart South Station Friday evening , and also on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Trains depart from Hyannis Saturday and Sunday evenings, with a possible Monday morning departure still being discussed. Round-trip tickets will cost $30, and bicycles will be allowed on board. The two-hour trip time is considered time-competitive, given the near-legendary, decades-old seasonal road gridlock that occurs on approaches to both the Bourne Bridge and Sagamore Bridge, each of which spans the Cape Cod Canal. Cape Cod is a major summer destination not just for Massachusetts residents, but for many in the New York metropolitan area as well.
Between 1988 and 1996, Amtrak handled trains to Cape Cod with their New York to Hyannis, MA Cape Codder service- at the time running over trackage belonging to the Bay Colony Railroad and being one of the few Amtrak trains to regularly operate over a shortline.

You can't tell through those weeds, but apparently this train HASN'T derailed yet. Still lettered for Santa Fe, Maumee & Western GP7u #5 trundles over the former Wabash right of way in Okolona, OH. WM Heilman photo

OHIO- A shortline that has gained infamy in some circles for its deferred maintainance has found a new owner.

Pioneer Railcorp completed their purchase of the 51-mile Maumee & Western at the end of December, renaming the line the Napoleon, Defiance & Western. Although the line runs from the Norfolk Southern interchange at Woodburn, IN to Cecil, OH, the line between Defiance and Cecil is currently used for car storage. Trains typically operate at what could be describes as walking speed over the rest of the right-of-way due to deferred maintenance.
The line was spun off as a result of Indiana Hi-Rail's bankruptcy in the 1990s and in apparent defiance of both gravity and at least a few FRA regulations, hauled aggregates, manufactured goods and feed with an array of secondhand Geeps from the Santa Fe and Illinois Central.

Saratoga & North Creek B39-8 #8524 is seen with BL2 #52 with the Snow Train to Gore Mtn in March 2012. John Sesonske photo
NEW YORK- Saratoga & North Creek's aspirations to be a freight carrier may be realized sooner than expected thanks to Superstorm Sandy. Over the summer, Saratoga & North Creek's parent company, Iowa Pacific holdings, outlined plans to rehab more than 30 miles of  abandoned former Delaware & Hudson line to Tawahus, NY to remove tailings and waste rock from abandoned mines there.

The tailings were to be used in making cement and concrete- something needed along the northeastern corridor as parts of New York City and elsewhere are still cleaning up after the damage from Superstorm Sandy.

Although the S&NC started out as an excursion line, Iowa Pacific began actively courting potential shippers along the route despite opposition from the Sierra Club.

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