Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Railroad’

Spring at 5000′

April 1, 2011 Comments off

Sometimes change comes slow and is hardly noticeable, other times, it can be quick and profound. When we look at regional development, sometimes both types of change occur at the same time. While policy and process is often  invisible, construction and physical expansion is much more obvious and easily recognized. Our region of Ohio is seeing both of these changes taking place, and fortunately the news is good!

Once again we had the opportunity to fly around our beautiful region of the state. Last Sunday, our pilot friend took us up again to see the progress of the projects in our region most notably the wind farm near Van Wert, Ohio and the new CSX yard at North Baltimore, Ohio. I have included a few photos from our flying:

Van Wert County Wind Farm

Wind turbine parts have begun to arrive for the wind turbine installation near Van Wert, Ohio.  Below is the drop yard where the flat cars are unloaded and parts stored until installed.

The large foundation areas for the wind turbine towers…

Wind farm sub station.

CSX North Baltimore Yard

We then flew over to the new CSX yard at North Baltimore, Ohio.  The yard is impressive from the ground and is equally impressive from the air.

Thanks for looking,
Eric

The Midwest High Speed Rail Legacy

January 30, 2011 Comments off

With all the changes taking place in state government, the issue of the 3-C high speed rail corridor looks to be shelved once again. This is unfortunate, however, all along the misnomer of true “high speed” was an issue. Since the start up of this project would have used conventional passenger train cars and operated over freight railroad lines, the time savings and convenience may or may not have been apparent. The true project would have been to build an entirely separate infrastructure. After all, it has been done before here in Ohio.

Yes, Ohio was once home to a vast network of dedicated, high speed rail lines. It was known as the “Interurban”.

Below is a 1906 map of Ohio and the interurban lines that crisscrossed the state.

Impressive? Yes, and this was not even at the zenith of the systems development. After 1906, several hundred more miles of track were placed into service. The interurban were electric powered, high speed for there era (average running of 70 mph), frequent and customer centered. Not only were they clean and “green”, but they offered services unheard of at that time, such as same day delivery of goods and services.

The interurban lines tied together not the big cities, but the small towns and allowed commerce to take place on a micro level. This is a departure from what we think of in terms of high speed rail, major city to major city being the norm. The small electrically powered cars could accelerate much more quickly than long lumbering steam trains, so they could make many more frequent stops and still maintain a reasonable schedule. This flexibility allowed farmers living along the tracks, or merchants in small towns the ability to get on or off just about anywhere, rather than at stations spaced several miles apart. Also, most interurban lines scheduled trains every hour, with a few extra runs during busy periods. This much improved frequency, with many more stops, decent speed, and somewhat lower fares than mainline railroads (about 1/2 to 2/3 the cost for the same distance) allowed many more people to travel who couldn’t before. It was finally possible to a farmer’s wife or the small town family to take a trip into the big city for some shopping or to go to the theater and not have to spend the night in a hotel. Merchants and salesmen could travel between many more towns than before, and deliveries of express freight and milk could be made in a few hours.

The interurban would enter a small town and normally run up the main street, having a  “car stop” at the local hotel, store front or other business that was the designated location. The convenience factor was outstanding, the ability to tie together the region unprecedented.

The privately owned companies received no subsidies or stipends from the communities. Revenue was generated by fare and parcel post costs. Since these revenues were precarious, and since the industry was never particularly profitable to begin with, it didn’t take much of a drop in passenger traffic to send a company into receivership. Many companies never paid dividends on their stock and were saddled with debt throughout their whole existence. Without government subsidy (as found in the fledgling highway construction and auto industries at that time), the system faced a uncertain future.

So what happened?

With the growth of car travel, there was increasing pressure in the 1920s and 30s to get the rails off the roads. Towns began to see the tracks in their streets as a nuisance, especially as the traction companies began deferring maintenance of the road between their rails as required by franchise agreements. Out in the country, state and county governments tried to close down some of the interurbans so they could use their right-of-way to widen the adjacent roads. There was also growing investment in electric utilities, and many interurbans were bought out by syndicates and investors whose primary interest was in the electrical infrastructure, not the railroad.

The Great Depression was the final blow and after the late 1930’s, most lines were ripped up and their right of ways turned into new road ways. The interurban cars were scrapped and the electric substations re-purposed. Their impact on our region was substantial and profound, yet, their existence short lived. One can only wonder the “what if”…

Today, one can still find the remains of this interurban system. For example, State Route 65 between Columbus Grove and Ottawa, Ohio, was built on the right of way of the Cincinnati and Lake Erie. Careful observers can find bridge abutments, substations and even power lines of these transportation marvels.

Its often said that what was once old is new again and this idea holds true for high speed rail.

Eric

Super Conductor

December 16, 2010 Comments off

We all had childhood dreams of what we wanted to be when we “grew up”. Many of these dreams remain that for some sad reason. Weather we are told they are to lofty, or silly or what not, dreams remain a little thread in the mosaic of our lives.

I could launch into the discussion as to why this happens, how education, society, what not, makes it seem impossible to live dreams. However, I am tired of theory, I am tired of hearing about “planning” to see change. Simply, its now time for action.

This leads me to the recent story of Keith Fitzhugh. A talented football player that has enjoyed several seasons with the NFL, a dream job if you will, playing football. What young athlete does not imagine themselves making it big? Mr. Fitzhugh clearly did. Not only did he play at Mississippi State as a safety, but he “made it big” if you will in the National Football League.

However, like many of us, the rise and fall of the tides in life effected him and his dream of NFL stardom. Being released from an NFL team is a powerful message and without clear prospects for the future, Mr. Fitzhugh reinvented himself, and followed yet another dream…a dream of riding that magic carpet ride of steel, a dream of working on the railroad.

Mr Fitzhugh, all 210 lbs of him, will now climb the ladder of a locomotive, not of NFL stardom, for he was hired on with Norfolk Southern Railroad. Soon after, he learned that the New York Jets picked up his option to play…and wanted him on the next flight. Faced with super stardom or obscurity, he kept his commitment with the railroad, saying that he did not want to let them or his family down. NFL life can be fleeting, but the railroad was more secure.

When asked about his fans, he said simply:

“You have families that go outside in their yards or go by the tracks, and just wave at the conductors and engineers as they are riding by — that feeling is really good…” , “Like the experience in the NFL, you still have fans out there.”

He’s gained another…

Eric

 

And now for the rest of the story…the good news.

December 2, 2010 Comments off

I loved Paul Harvey’s radio programs. My Grandparents were avid listeners to this distinctive voice of reason. The crackle of my Grandfathers AM radio would be but a minor distraction to Paul Harvey’s distinctive Oklahoma accent…In the spirit of Paul Harvey, I will attempt to provide “the rest of the story” and why I think things are getting better for our region.

We continue to hear conflicted news on the state of our economy. With the holidays approaching, the prognosticators look at numbers on graphs and sales receipts to say if this is going to be a “good” or “bad” season. But much like the teaser from Paul Harvey’s programs, this is the first part of the story. While these trained professionals in economic data crunching are surely experts in their field, I take a bit of a different approach and use a slightly less scientific approach.

And now the rest of the story…

I watch trains…yes, trains…I am a big railroad buff/historian/photographer so I find myself along the tracks quite a bit, usually with our oldest son, who is a railroad buff as well.

What I am seeing is that trains are growing longer and there are more trains running. Yes, not very data driven or visible in fancy graphs, but important none the less. Here are some examples:

On CSX, which is the primary rail line that goes through Lima and this region. There has been an overall gain of 4 trains per day over the past few months. All the trains have gained about 5 to 6 cars more of freight per average. Oh, and I guess I lied a bit on the data stuff. I do have some data that I occasionally receive from professional railroad friends. In addition to more trains and longer trains, one special train has started to run just to handle the overflow traffic that is getting generated from the crush of shipments on UPS. One other special train that travels are region carries iron ore to the large steel mill at Middleton, Ohio. This train is now a daily occurrence, partly because of the soon to be closed ports on the Great Lakes, but also because the blast furnace’s appetite has grown.

In addition to the trains, one can not overlook the massive improvements to the infrastructure that is taking place in our region. CSX and their yard at North Baltimore is a prime example…more locally, more industries are building side tracks to receive and ship good directly by rail. Silgan Plastics, in Ottawa, is a notable example of a recent spur track built to serve an expanding industry.

Norfolk Southern, another regional player, is also seeing spikes in traffic and our two local short line operations, RJ Corman and the Indiana and Ohio, also are experiencing expanding traffic base and more traffic, which means more trains, which means more crews, which means of course, more jobs. In fact, for every 1 railroad employee, there are nearly 5 other individuals employed in the myriad businesses served by the rail industry, or about 1.2 million other American jobs. (Source, the Association of American Railroads)

The moral of the story? The next time you sit at a railroad crossing waiting for that long train to go by, enjoy the brief pause in the busy day and.remember that this minor inconvenience is pumping vital energy into our region and our nation. The friendly wave from the engineer or conductor represents not only the pride in their craft, but also the hundred of others who’s hands have touched the goods they are hauling.

Make sure you wave back…

Eric

The Case for Museums

November 11, 2010 Comments off

Our son and I attended the members reception last evening at the Allen County Museum. We were celebrating the opening of their new wing which features their exhibits on the regions railroad history, industry and military contributions we have provided to our nation.

After the usual accolades, recognition moments, and thank you speeches, we toured this amazing facility. Surrounded by history, one can feel the stories in their presence.

The center piece of the exhibit is the Lima Stone Companies Shay locomotive number 10. Built at the Lima Locomotive Works, she spent her whole life working at a stone quarry not far from the location of the new Lima Senior High School. The Shay, among the countless other pieces of history, immerses you in several realities.

Another example of our quiet past is the Herring Neon Sign company in Lima. Long a fixture on storefronts and signs, the history of neon is one of those quiet pieces of our past that has firm ties to our region. Little did I know…

Oh, and one cannot forget to mention the full sized mock up of the WWII service canteen…these canteens were dotted across the country to aid our service men and women as they traveled on troop trains. Lima was home to one at the PRR depot in down town Lima.

Where is all this going? Well first, GO AND SUPPORT THE MUSEUM!  You will love it. The new wing is spacious, open and kid friendly (and just COOL too). You will learn something new. The new wing will be publicly dedicated this Sunday.

Second, take some time during the next few days to look around at what is around you. It is very easy to get caught up in the day to day rush, a museum is designed to make us slow down. It also serves to reminds us that every day is a museum. Every day we have the opportunity to reflect and learn some new things along the way. Every day we can recognize what we can contribute.

Third, young people are important in this process. With camera in hand, our 11 year old absorbed the information with that sense of curiosity we still all have, even in our adult bodies. Our children seeing their place in history helps them realize they too can make a difference, just as the generations before have done.

His smirk and my grin say it all…

Eric

%d bloggers like this: