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Monthly Archives

January 2017

Hoosier State to use Amtrak Equipment in March

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Above: Iowa Pacific’s Hoosier State Train offers services and amenities not seen in American passenger railroading since the 1960s. In 2015, we rode along with CEO Ed Ellis for a behind-the-scenes look on Iowa Pacific’s joint operation with Amtrak.

Amtrak announced this morning (January 30, 2017) that The Hoosier State train will no longer use Iowa Pacific equipment in March. The news comes only weeks after the Chicago-based company laid off over thirty employees from the Texas State Railroad. On August 2, 2015, Iowa Pacific assumed the passenger operations of the state-subsidized Hoosier State train in partnership with Amtrak. The company owns nine freight railroads all over the United States, but are also known for operating Polar Express excursions on some of their properties and Pullman Rail Journeys.

Below: Amtrak’s official statement that was released this morning:

The Hoosier State train operates between Chicago and Indianapolis, serving various communities between. With service and amenities not seen in American passenger railroading since the 1960s, Iowa Pacific is stunning passengers from all over the country with their excellent service. To date, the train is equipped with a full-service dining car and a dome car. Breakfast and dinner meals are prepared fresh, every operating day by the two chefs on board the train.

The Hoosier State has been operated in a joint effort between Amtrak and Iowa Pacific. The vision for the train came from CEO of Iowa Pacific Holdings, Ed Ellis, who has a very successful and colorful career in the railroad industry. From his humble beginnings on the Illinois Central Railroad to today, Ed Ellis hopes to grow the services his company offers on other passenger lines a crossed the country. With this decisive blow in Amtrak’s announcement this morning, only time will tell if his dream comes to fruition.

In 2015, we rode along with CEO Ed Ellis for a behind-the-scenes look on Iowa Pacific’s joint operation with Amtrak. You can watch our video tour below.

How Christmas Moves: CSX Santa Train

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AboveSanta and his helpers are ready greet families at Haysi, VA.

On November 19th, 2016, CSX Transportation operated the 74th annual Santa Train on the former Clinchfield Railroad. Led by an SD40-3 locomotive that was wearing Clinchfield heritage decals, the train would stop in every town along the railroad between Shelby, Kentucky and Kingsport, Tennessee.

Beginning in 1942, the Clinchfield Railroad hosted the annual Santa Train as part of its local passenger train, No. 38. The train was originally conceived by several Kingsport businessmen who wanted to give back to their communities. Over time, the train grew and grew to become a regional spectacle – with children and families looking forward to the yearly visit of Santa Claus along the Clinchfield Railroad’s mainline.

Below RightThe entire town of Haysi came out to greet the train. This is a spectacle every year for the families in this small Appalachian community.

Every year, Saint Nick himself rides the on the rear of the train – tossing out candy and presents to the children below. For many kids, this is the highlight of their entire year. Thanks to the many sponsors of the train, the gifts were provided through monetary donations – giving these families joy and hope. For some families, these are the only presents they receive during the holiday season.

The train is not just exciting, it also makes one appreciate the spirit of giving. Operated the weekend before Thanksgiving, it reminds us of what it truly means to be thankful for what we have been given in this great country. Throughout the morning, the Santa Train rolls along at 25MPH over bridges, through tunnels, and up the steep grades of the Clinchfield mainline.

Though it’s cold and wet out this November morning, the excitement of the train’s arrival keeps the small town of St. Paul, Virginia on their toes. As the train slowly comes to a stop, the people greet Santa Clause – creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Below: Hundreds of families gather to witness the arrival of the Santa Train in St. Paul, Virginia.

To end our adventure with the Santa Train, we caught it one last time from above, over the famous Copper Creek Trestle. In our video covering the magnificent event, the train is seen soaring 167ft. above the Norfolk Southern’s mainline located  directly below.

Though the Santa Train’s days might be numbered, with 2017’s train rumored to be the last run – its legacy will forever be remembered. CSX takes pride in the former Clinchfield Railroad and there’s no telling what the future may see brought back. You can watch our coverage of the 2016 Santa Train below.

A Day on the Indiana Northeastern Railroad

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AboveIndiana Northeastern #2185 leads a westbound train by the Coldwater, Michigan depot.

The Indiana Northeastern Railroad is a Class III Shortline headquartered in Hillsdale, Michigan. The railroad operates over three railroad lines. In the south, the Indiana Northeastern operates most of the remaining trackage of the former Wabash 4th District between Montpelier, Ohio and South Milford, Indiana. On the north end of the railroad, the shortline operates over the former Fort Wayne & Jackson Railroad to Bankers, Michigan and the New York Central’s “Old Road” between Hillsdale and Coldwater, Michigan.

Below LeftA view from the cab of the classic, 1962 EMD product: GP30 #2185.

On June 22nd, 2016 and Conductor Jeff James and Engineer Jimmy Van Heerde were preparing for a long day’s work on the shortline. Starting the morning in Ashley, Indiana – Jeff and Jim fired up EMD GP30 #2185 and GP9 #1602 to use as the motive power for a long northbound train to Hillsdale, Michigan. Before going north, the train shoved several miles to the east, where it would then take the northern connection to Hillsdale at Steubenville, Indiana.

Also on duty that morning was a maintenance of way crew. Utilizing GP30 #2230, the MOW Crew will follow closely behind the shoving manifest train to Steubenville. After the manifest takes the connection to Hillsdale, the #2230 and crew would head east, toward Edon, Ohio. We chased the #2185 after catching the MOW train at the Steubenville Connection.

The Indiana Northeastern Railroad began operations in 1992. Evolving from its initial operation as the now defunct Hillsdale County Railroad, after twenty years of steady growth and rehabilitation, the Indiana Northeastern has become a key shortline player in the region.

The railroad features a classic roster of EMD four axels, with two GP30s, a High Nose GP7 and 9, a former Santa Fe GP7U, and an ex-Illinois Central GP10. The railroad also purchased two six axel EMD locomotives in 2016. Both are SD40-2’s, with one having a rebuilt carbody of an SD45 and the other being rebuilt from a standard SD40 carbody.

The #2230 was built in April of 1963 for the Pennsylvania Railroad and still retains its original road number. The locomotive became part of the Penn Central Railroad System in 1968 and later, in 1976, became under Conrail ownership for the next twenty years. The #2185 also has a similar history, being built for the Reading in July of 1962. It also became part of Conrail in 1976, when the Reading dissolved into the newly formed super railroad. In late 1996, both locomotives were sold to Larry’s Truck & Electric for leasing service to shortline railroads. Power hungry in the early 2000s, the Indiana Northeastern acquired the #2230 and the #2185 from Larry’s and began operating the vintage locomotives on their system ever since.

After the long shove to Steubenville, the manifest train headed north on the Fort Wayne & Jackson mainline to Hillsdale. There, the connection is very tight and trains have to take the curve slowly. After the #2185 and the #1602 take the train north, the #2230 and crew headed east on the Wabash to Edon, Ohio.

At Fremont, Indiana – Jeff and Jim switched out a few cars. The Indiana Northeastern services Letica Plastic Fabrications and New Horizons Bakery in Fremont. Engineer Jim stopped the train to pick up Conductor Jeff, who had been following the train closely between Steubenville and Fremont in the company crew vehicle.

The second unit on the train, EMD GP9 #1602, is one of the oldest locomotives on the Indiana Northeastern’s roster. Built in April of 1957 for the Great Northern Railway, the locomotive operated all over the GN system between the Twin Cities and Seattle, Washington. In 1970, the locomotive fell under the ownership of the newly created “super railroad,” The Burlington Northern. Sold off after fifteen years of hauling trains for the BN, the locomotive was purchased by the Hillsdale County Railroad, where it continues to operated today, but under the ownership of the Indiana Northeastern.

After switching out the hoppers and dropping off Conductor Jeff at the crew vehicle, Engineer Jim the #2185 eased the train out of town. The lengthy consist continued on through the communities of Ray, Montgomery, Reading, Bankers, and finally Hillsdale before breaking for lunch and switching over to The Old Road. At the tiny community of Ray, the train will cross the Indiana and Michigan State Line. Montgomery is another rural, farming community in Southern Michigan. The original Lake Shore & Michigan Railroad depot is still located there.

AboveThe train rolls through Montgomery, Michigan while on route to Hillsdale.

The Fort Wayne, Jackson & Saginaw Railroad (later called the Fort Wayne & Jackson) was built between 1868 and 1869 to connect namesake cities with the rest of the growing rail network in south-central Michigan and northeast Indiana. The Lake Shore & Michigan Southern would have a controlling interest in the Fort Wayne & Jackson until the New York Central acquired the Lake Shore in 1914.

The Fort Wayne & Jackson would continue to operate under New York Central ownership and was the industry giant’s only access point into the City of Fort Wayne. Since Fort Wayne was primarily a Pennsylvania and Wabash dominated railroad town, the Fort Wayne & Jackson allowed the Central to access the thriving hub and compete with the two other companies for traffic heading north.

South of Reading, Michigan, the train stopped due to a fallen tree blocking the right of way. Engineer Jim stops to assess the situation and then decides to shove the train back to the nearest grade crossing, picking up Conductor Jeff who was wielding a chain saw. We gave Jeff a ride, leaving the crew van in Reading to take him to the grade crossing Jim had the train stopped at. After chopping the troublesome tree down, the train continues north to Reading, where Conductor Jeff is dropped off at the crew vehicle.

Continuing north, the train wound along the beautiful southern Michigan countryside. The train would go through the Community of Bankers. The curve at Bankers is where the Detroit, Hillsdale & Southwestern Railroad connected with the Fort Wayne & Jackson. The Indiana Northeastern operates over the DH&SW line to Hillsdale, where it then takes “The Old Road” line to Coldwater.

BelowIndiana Northeastern services this large Anderson’s grain elevator at Reading, Michigan.

At Hillsdale, the train arrived at the Indiana Northeastern’s Yard. Hillsdale is the location of the company’s headquarters, with the yard office being the central dispatch facility and crew base. There, the train tied down for a short lunch break before going further to Coldwater.

North of Hillsdale, in the small town of Jonesville, the Indiana Northeastern services Omni Source Metals. The #2185 did the switching. Taking loads and dropping off empties, Indiana Northeastern provides a vital service to industries like Omni Source in south-central Michigan.

After switching at Omni Source, the train continued on “The Old Road” to Coldwater. At Jonesville, the train will turn to the west. Jonesville is also the location where the Litchfield Branch connects to “The Old Road.”

Rolling along, the train slowed outside of Quincy, Michigan. The train will service the Star of the West Elevator before continuing to Coldwater. Star of the West is one of the key customers along “The Old Road” line, being serviced several times a week in the summer.

Right#2185 and #1602 switch out Omni Source in Jonesville, Michigan.

After switching out the elevator, the train rolled through Coldwater at speed, ending a long day’s work for the dedicated crew on the Indiana Northeastern Railroad. Truly, this shortline serves a vital part in keeping the economy moving in a unique region of the midwest. See the full video below.