Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Iron Horse Roundup For August/September 2013

Arkansas & Missouri SD70ACe #71 is seen crossing Arkansas route 127 at Garfield, AR with a northbound Monett turn on September 23rd, 2013. Michael Harding photo
ARKANSAS- The formerly all-ALCo Arkansas and Missouri has acquired a trio of EMD SD70ACes for use on their 139-mile ex-Frisco line between Ft Smith, AR and Monett, MO. A&M #70, #71 and #72 were released from Progress Rail's Mayfield, KY paint shop in September sporting the new Arkansas and Missouri livery which included larger, more prominent lettering on the sides of the burly EMD's [and immediately reminded some viewers of the fictional Allegheny & West Virginia from the 2010 movie 'Unstoppable'- NANESB!].

The Arkansas & Missouri is the latest US shortline or regional to purchase new EMD power. In 2005, the Montana Rail Link took delivery of 16 new SD70ACEs from EMD while in 2008, the Iowa Interstate took delivery of fourteen new GE ES44AC 'GEVO' units. Strictly speaking, those units were brand new- the trio of SD70ACes that A&M had acquired had logged considerable time as EMD/Caterpillar Demonstrator units.

Even with the new purchase, the A&M plans on retaining much of their ALCo fleet for use on locals between Springdale and Ft Smith, AR.

Paducah & Louisville GP40-3 #2103 is seen heading southbound with the Vermont Railway's Bennington Turn up the grade outside of Arlington, VT on October 1st, 2013. John Cullinan photo
VERMONT- The Vermont Railway has recently taken delivery of a GP40-3 Slug/mate set, borrowed from Kentucky's Paducah & Louiville railroad for trials throughout the VTR system. While slugs are normally designed to produce additional tractive effort at lower speeds and don't even require a cab in many cases, road slugs retain the cab controls and are paired up with a 'mother' unit so they can operate at track speed.

The GP40-3 'mother' for this particular set started out life on the New York Central in 1967 and was paired with road slug #2108, which started out life as a Southern Pacific GP35. Both were rebuilt by VMV of Paducah in 2001.

In recent years, the Vermont Railway has leased SD9043MACs and Gensets from CIT leasing as well. Starting in 2010, the Vermont Railway began handling overhead movements of ethanol between the Midwest and the Motiva facility in Providence, RI via a Canadian Pacific/Vermont Rail/New England Central/Providence & Worcester routing. The initial movement required nine units and more than 24,000 horsepower to get 80 loaded cars over the summit of the Green Mountains on the former Rutland line between Rutland and Bellows Falls, VT. Subsequent unit ethanol trains have been broken down into two 40-car sets before being moved over the Green Mountain railroad and reassembled in Bellows Falls.

Central Montana GP9 #1809 leads a dinner train over the 1, 698 foot lone Sage Creek Trestle in Danvers, MT in June 2006. Matt Wellborn photo

MONTANA- Sidelined for more than two years, the mostly-dormant Central Montana Railroad will receive federal funding to repair a trestle that was undermined and knocked askew during a 2011 flood. The damaged trestle isolated a number of shippers on the line from the BNSF interchange at Moccasin, MT.

The loss of rail service over the last two grain harvests have cost farmers in Denton and Geraldine an estimated $1 million annually as they've had to move their harvest to elevators some 70 miles further by truck.

While the line couldn't operate freight for the last two years, it still hosts the seasonal Charlie Russell Chew Choo dinner trains based out of nearby Lewiston, MT. In September 2012, a group of railfans chartered a series of photo freights on the undamaged portion of the line, using the line's five unrebuilt GP9s, a caboose and some MofW ballast hoppers.

The line was originally built about 100 years ago by the Milwaukee Road as part of a branch from their Twin Cities to Seattle transcontinental line. However, by 1980 the bulk of the Milwaukee Road's transcontinental line was abandoned, as well as the branchlines around Lewiston. In 1985, the non-profit Central Montana was formed to operate some 63 miles of the former Milwaukee Road branch through Choteau, Fergus and Judith Basin counties as well as another 19 miles of a former Great Northern branch between Moccasin and Kingston Jct.

Santa Fe Southern GP7u #07 is seen trundling along the former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe route between Santa Fe and Lamy, NM with a 'mixed freight in March 2012. James E House photo
NEW MEXICO- A shortline whose ownership once included Family Ties actor Michael Gross and was made famous by a particularly tense and dark episode of AMC's Breaking Bad is out of commission.

A message on the Santa Fe Southern website said the railway won't be operating through 2013 and hopes to resume operations by the spring of 2014. The line was also one of the few remaining in the nation to still regularly operate mixed trains [carrying both freight and paying passengers- NANESB!].

The line was also used for filming an episode of the fifth and final season of the critically acclaimed crime drama Breaking Bad in which mild-mannered chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin Walter White along with his partner Jesse Pinkman and ex-cop Mike Ehrmantraut orchestrate a complex heist in which thousands of gallons of methamphetamine precursor chemicals are stolen from a tank car on a stalled freight train. The episode was rated one of the best in the series by critics and the producers thanked the Santa Fe Southern for their considerable assistance in the credits.

Lousiville & Indiana GP38-2s #2003 and #2002 leads a northbound Columbus, IN to Jeffersonville, IN turn across a bridge at Sellersburg, IN in September. Photographer Joe Vittitoe points out that faded Pennsy lettering is still visible on the bridge.

INDIANA- Anacostia Pacific's Louisville & Indiana has acquired a trio of GP38s for service on their southern Indiana line between the two namesake cities.

Besides the EMDs being rebuilt, they were also painted into Pennsylvania Railroad-inspired Tuscan red at mid America Car of Kansas City, MO, joining L&I's all-EMD roster. The Pennsy heritage units arrival coincides with the announcement by Louisville & Indiana officials that they plan on spending $90 million to upgrade approximately 100 miles of rail and replace bridges along the route.

Prior to the 1994 formation of the Louisville & Indiana, the line was previously operated by Conrail, Penn Central and the Pennsylvania railroad.

Milwaukee Road #261 heads southbound on the return leg of a Duluth-Twin Cities excursion over the BNSF Hinckley sub at Askov, MN in May 2013. The trip was the first run of the #261 in more than four years.

MINNESOTA- Just a few months after the Milwaukee Road #261 made its triumphant return to the rails with a mainline excursion from its Minneapolis home to Duluth, MN, the big 4-8-4 is slated to return to the mainline during the second weekend of October.

This time, the 1944-built ALCo will hit the high iron on the BNSF Wayzata Subdivision between the Twin Cities and Willmar, MN on October 12, 2013. The total round trip will be 186 miles and will be followed up by a partial reprise of the May 11-12 excursion between the Twin Cities and the Duluth-Superior Twin Ports area over the BNSF Hinckley sub. The key difference between the May Excursion and this upcoming excursion is that the 261 will turn around at Boylston, WI south of Superior instead of navigating its way through the massive yards, crossings and over the swing bridge between Duluth and Superior.

Tickets for the excursions range from $99 to $359 and are available through the Friends of the 261 homepage.

Newly acquired and repainted Paducah and Louisville SD70ACe #4519 is seen awaiting pickup behind the VMV backshop in Paducah, KY in July. Terry Redeker photo
KENTUCKY- Apparently when they aren't sending off their 4-axle mother/road slug sets to Vermont, Four Rivers Transportation's Paducah & Louisville is in search of bigger and brawnier motive power.

The Paducah & Louisville took delivery fifteen SD70ACes from the CSX earlier this year. All units were purchased new by CSX and repainted at VMV Paducah, KY facility- quite literally in the PAL's backyard- before delivery.

CSX owns roughly 40% of the PAL's parent company- Four Rivers Transportation- and there's speculation that the units could end up in service on one of the PAL's sister railways, namely the Evansville & Western and Allegheny and Ohio. Slumping coal traffic on the CSX along with the Class one's affiliation with the parent company likely resulted in some sort of a deal on the newer units that the PAL felt was too good to pass up.

Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 'Big Boy' #4104 is seen during a special night photography session- complete with smoke- at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, CA where it has been on static display since 1961. Mike Massee photo

CALIFORNIA- The largest class of steam locomotive in the world may once again be under steam on the high iron thanks to its original owner, the Union Pacific.

In late 2012, there was speculation that the Union Pacific was scouting various museums and parks with the intent of adding one of their 4-8-8-4 ALCo Big Boys to their steam excursion fleet. This included Big Boys on display in St Louis, Cheyenne, Los Angeles, Omaha, Denver, Green Bay, WI and Scranton, PA.

By July, not only did the Union Pacific make it official that they did intend to restore a Big Boy to operating condition, they had chosen former UP #4104 which had been on display at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds since its 1961 retirement. The railway agreed to purchase the #4104 from the Southern California Railway & Locomotive Historical Society at the end of June with the stipulation that it be moved after the LA County Fair in late September- the delay also gives UP and the RL&HS time to figure out how to best move the slumbering behemoth from its display area to the nearby mainline.

Once out of the Pomona Fairplex, the #4104 will be moved to Cheyenne, WY for restoration. Cheyenne is also home of Union Pacific's two other operable steam locomotives; 1943-built 4-6-6-4 Challenger #3985 and 4-8-4 #844, which holds the distinction of being the only steam locomotive in the USA that was never retired by its original owner.

Most estimates have the #4104 returning to service by 2016 at the earliest. Once it does return to service, it would displace the #3985 as the world's largest operating steam locomotive. The Big Boy's were originally assigned to the Union Pacific mainline out of Cheyenne, WY.

Nebraska Northeastern SD40-3 #127 is seen leading an all EMD 5 unit lashup through Osmond, NE in May 2012. Kenny Thies photo.
NEBRASKA- In something of a reversal, the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe has acquired the Nebraska Northeastern Railway- a 120 mile shortline that was formed in 1996 when the 120 mile line between South Sioux City and O'Neil, NE was sold off by none other than the BNSF.

The line served three major ethanol producers and also hauled popcorn. However, track along parts of the line are in dire need of an upgrade as speeds were restricted to 10 MPH in places and the NENE had the notable disadvantage of having only one interchange partner in South Sioux City- the BNSF. Across the Missouri River in Sioux City, IA, two additional Class 1 carriers (Union Pacific and Canadian National) and the Dakota & Iowa shortline were tantalizingly close but the NENE didn't have any trackage or haulage rights across the river to any of those carriers.

BNSF has promised shippers lower rates since the Nebraska Northeastern takeover would eliminate any interchange between the BNSF and NENE. The massive railroad can carry out much-needed trackwork more efficiently than the NENE. The Nebraska Northeastern was affiliated with the Texas, Gonzalez and Northern Railway prior to the BNSF takeover.

A Class 1 carrier reacquiring trackage that it had spun off years ago is unusual, but not completely unheard of. In 2008, Canadian National took over operations of the 311 mile New Brunswick East Coast and nearly 250 miles of mainline, branchlines and trackage rights from the affiliated Ottawa Central Railway. The NBEC acquisition came almost exactly 10 years after the Canadian National spun off the line in the Maritimes.

Burning wreckage in the immediate aftermath of the July 2013 runaway train in Lac Megantic, Quebec. Sûreté du Québec handout.
MONTREAL, MAINE & ATLANTIC- A federal judge approved a $3 million loan that would keep the beleaguered Montreal, Maine & Atlantic operating through the month of October. In August, Canadian authorities ordered the MM&A to operate their trains carrying hazardous or volatile cargo through Quebec with two man crews after the devastating train wreck and fire killed at least 47 people in the Quebec town of Lac Megantic in July.
The loan is structured as a revolving line of credit up to $3 million and may be used only as working capital, according to court documents. It will be secured by the property and tracks the railroad owns in the U.S. and Canada.

“The loan will ensure that the [MMA] and MMA Canada have adequate working capital to continue operating pending a sale of their assets,” bankruptcy trustee Robert Keach wrote in his motion seeking approval of the loan.

Eight potential suitors have expressed interest in purchasing MMA’s assets, and seven have signed nondisclosure agreements, Keach confirmed Wednesday. Gordian Group, a New York-based investment bank Keach has secured to handle the sale of MMA’s assets, is speaking with the suitors this week, according to Keach. He hopes to begin the auction by the end of November.

Keach also said that the Canadian Transportation Agency’s certificate of fitness, which expires Oct. 18, was dependent upon obtaining operating capital.

The Hermon-based railway has been using a $6 million line of credit, provided by Ohio-based Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Co., to continue operating since it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Bangor and Canada on Aug. 7. Keach said Wednesday that it would continue using that cash collateral to fund operations once a new agreement is worked out with Wheeling’s attorneys.
The bankrupt railroad is slated to have their assets sold off to potential buyers in an auction slated to take place in late November or early December. As many as eight potential buyers have reportedly expressed interest, but only one- J.D. Irving's New Brunswick Southern has been identified. A refinery in St Johns, NB- also owned by the Irving Group- was the final destination of the MM&A oil train that fateful July night.

TEXAS- Dramatic video from west Texas has emerged showing a Union Pacific freight train colliding with a stalled tractor trailer at a crossing in Midland.
Officials say that a semi with a flatbed loaded with pipes was stuck by a train at the railroad crossing on County Road 1130 in Midland.

Officials say the train collided with the semi and pushed it a little over half a mile down the tracks.

cials from Union Pacific, the Department of Public Safety and Midland County Sheriff's Office all responded.

One crossing arm was damaged in the crash and 100 gallons of diesel was spilt due to the accident.

The railroad crossing will be closed until the crossing arm has been repaired.
There were no injuries to the crew and the truck driver was clear of the vehicle before the collision.

Last November, four people were killed when a Union Pacific freight train slammed into a tractor-trailer carrying a veteran's parade float in Midland, TX.

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