Category Archives: News (current)

The legacy of Hunter Harrison

Special Guest Blog by Fred Frailey

We would all agree that he was a genius at breaking down railroad operations to its simple components and running trains economically. Hunter Harrison learned railroading at the knee of a brilliant, profane Texan, William (Pisser Bill) Thompson, who was on his way to becoming VP-operations of the Frisco in the late 1960s when Hunter encountered him at Tennessee Yard in Memphis. “Young man,” said Thompson, spreading his arm toward a sea of freight cars, “what do you see out there?” “A lot of good business, Mr. Thompson,” replied Harrison. Retorted Thompson: “What? Good business? See, that’s the difference, Hunter. I see a bunch of delayed cars, and you say it’s good business.” Hunter Harrison retold that story the rest of his life, which ended unexpectedly in mid-December from complications of a respiratory disease.

From lessons such as this, Harrison learned inventory control and asset utilization. Later, within Burlington Northern’s Seattle Region, he tried before others did to run individual cars strictly by schedule, thereby getting better utilization of equipment, including locomotives. Later still, running operations at Illinois Central, he put into practice all the ideas that had been brewing within him, including balance—if you run a train east, run one west, and better yet, have them meet mid-way and swap crews, thereby ending away-from-home expenses. He later did his magic at Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, and upon his death was eight months into a remaking of CSX.

So a genius at railroad operations, yes. But was the man a genius at running a railroad? Running a railroad, after all, is about more than running trains. You have to consider retaining your customers and finding new ones, dealing with government, building high morale and on and on and on. No, he was not a genius, and in fact I would call the man merely ordinary in some aspects of being a chief executive and deficient in a few critical areas. To say this does not detract one iota from the respect I have always shown for him. We are all imperfect creatures.

Harrison was so focused on operations that other aspects of the CEO’s job may simply have bored him or conflicted with his operating policies. His big blind spot at Canadian National was customers, getting them and keeping them. I wrote (see “Hunter’s Way,” August 2009) that he insisted customers load cars seven days a week. The natural traffic cycle is low volume Sunday and Monday, building to a crescendo on Friday and into Saturday. This played havoc with his desire to achieve operational balance, running the same trains every day, each way, and thereby always having cars, locomotives and people in the right place.

To force customers to play the game his way, Harrison had his marketing vice president, Jim Foote, institute low rates for early in the week and successively higher rates through Friday. It worked, I guess, but at the cost of alienating the customers, who were bludgeoned into changing their way of doing business. One of the first things Claude Mongeau did upon becoming Harrison’s successor in 2010 was to publicly apologize for the way customers had been treated and pledge to turn over a new leaf, which CN did.

Later, at Canadian Pacific, Harrison’s blind spot became politics. You may recall he tried to publicly entice Norfolk Southern’s new chief executive, Jim Squires, into agreeing to a merger of their railroads. Squires didn’t just say no, but hell no, and to make sure Harrison got the point, put the full weight of Norfolk Southern’s formidable Washington, D.C., office into poisoning the well within the federal government. The effect NS had in Washington must have stunned Harrison, who told me years earlier that visiting Ottawa or Washington was “a waste of time.” CP did not have a Washington office, just a law firm that did lobbying under contract. Harrison, clueless to the intricacies of the political process, was publicly humiliated and gave up his grand plan to get the final round of mergers rolling.

But give the man his due. What Mongeau did at CN was keep Harrison’s operating practices intact while instituting more customer-friendly policies, along with some sophisticated initiatives that wed the railroad to the specific logistical needs of customers. The result is the hugely successful Canadian National you see today. Harrison’s protégé at CN and CP, Keith Creel, now chief executive of Canadian Pacific, is giving marketing and customer relations the attention that his former boss did not. I expect good results. Hunter Harrison’s practices, modified by customer-friendly policies, are a win-win combination.

This bring us to CSX and 2018. Did Harrison put the railroad on the right path or leave it in shambles, having ripped its practices and institutional knowledge almost to shreds while not living long enough to build a new foundation? I wish the former but suspect the latter.

His former colleague at CN and now his successor at CSX, Jim Foote, has his work cut out. I interviewed Foote in 2009 and thought him whip-smart and funny (meaning a quick thinker). Nowhere in his background is experience in operations. And operations is where CSX now stands exposed.

Lastly, I wish Hunter Harrison had been better teaching people how to think like him than he was, through his Hunter Camps, to act like him. It’s an important distinction. In other words, you can tell me what to do (Hunter Camps) but how do I learn to think like you? Maybe that is our biggest loss.

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Private rail car travel will accompany some Amtrak runs

Roanoke.com

Private rail car operators plan to tag along shortly after Amtrak resumes service to and from Roanoke next week.

Private rail cars, which offer what’s billed as a premium rail travel experience, will be hitched to Amtrak trains for special outings. Two operators currently offer the excursions in restored passenger cars of yesteryear, one as a fundraiser for the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

Amtrak has scheduled service to and from Roanoke beginning Tuesday, offering hundreds of daily seats with leg room, Wi-Fi and access to a food and beverage car. There is a four-piece luggage allowance and the option to bring a cat or small dog for a nominal fee.

Private rail car travel is a second option that has received less attention than Amtrak’s return, which will result from a private-public partnership and nearly $100 million investment of taxpayer money. Private rail cars do not operate on a schedule as Amtrak does, nor travel as often. But when put into service in response to passenger demand, they go anywhere Amtrak goes hitched to the rear of the standard train.

Private rail car travel is available to individuals or groups. Options are endless as private rail car operators say they can create a unique experience. Name your destination and “we’re [able] to put something together for you,” said Chuck Akers, who co-owns a restored Pullman car built in 1923. He is in business as the Roanoke-based Virginia Rail Investment Corp. with partner Chuck Jensen and has sold out trips from Roanoke to Washington, D.C., Nov. 4 and 5, he said.

The Pullman car seats 20 people in the day and sleeps 10 during overnight travel. It has a kitchen and the company will provide food and a chef or allow groups to bring and cook their own food. Information is available at http://www.virginiarail.com.

The car reserved for the transportation museum trips is a Moonlight Dome belonging to the Cincinnati Railway Co. based in Ohio.

The Moonlight Dome, which seats 24 in a luxury setting, will travel to Roanoke from Washington, and vice versa, on various dates between Nov. 10 and 13. Tickets cost $225 each way, which includes food and beverages. From each ticket, $16.11 will go to the upkeep of the museum’s 611 steam engine, said Shayne Dwyer, museum spokesman. Further details are available at FireUp611.org.

Perhaps it is time for the “Girl Of The Century” to return?

Check it out on our 20th Century WebSite

Moody’s: Amazon still far from ruling retail

From Amazon’s Prime membership numbers to its entry into the grocery space to its retail “dominance,” Moody’s analysts led by Charles O’Shea tackled some widespread assumptions about the e-commerce giant’s place in the world in a recent report emailed to Retail Dive. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Analysts with the bond rating agency noted that, though Amazon dominates online sales, those sales account for just 10% of the industry as a whole. As for its recent acquisition of Whole Foods, the analysts wrote, “We believe it’s a big stretch to say — as many in the market have been doing — that Amazon will dominate food retail, and some have said this will happen within two years.” They pointed out that Amazon, even now with Whole Foods in the fold, controls only a $20 billion piece of an $800 billion market for food sales in the U.S.

O’Shea and his fellow analysts also called into question oft-cited estimates of Amazon’s Prime membership at 85 million, which they call “seriously overstated,” “highly improbable” and made “in the absence of any real guidance from the company itself.” Moody’s analysts, based on an evaluation of demographic data, think the figure for Prime members is closer to 50 million, well below Costco’s total of 86.7 million members.

RetailDive.com

CSX Woes Hurting Shippers…Wake Up Hunter Harrison

Dozens of U.S. trade groups have asked federal rail regulators to investigate CSX Corp’s “chronic service failures,” saying problems at No. 3 U.S. railroad have rippled across the North American rail network, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

The letter, from the Rail Customer Coalition sent on Monday, is the latest challenge to CSX Chief Executive Hunter Harrison’s effort to ramp up productivity at the Jacksonville, Florida-based railroad and fulfill investor expectations for substantially better financial performance.

The 44 trade groups, representing chemical and agricultural companies, steel and auto makers, and beer producers and importers, among other companies, told U.S. lawmakers on House and Senate Transportation committees “chronic service failures” could degrade the nation’s broader rail network.

“This has put rail dependent business operations throughout the U.S. at risk of shutting down, caused severe bottlenecks in the delivery of key goods and services, and has put the health of our nation’s economy in jeopardy,” they said.

The shipper groups want Congress to make it easier for them to file complaints and allow other operators to use CSX track during service disruptions, according to their letter.

CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said the company has acknowledged that some customers are experiencing service issues as Harrison implements his vision for driving efficiency, known as Precision Scheduled Railroading.

The letter comes about two weeks after the Surface Transportation Board notified Harrison of complaints about CSX’s service. And an analyst survey last month found shippers have moved freight to rival Norfolk Southern Corp and truckers.

CSX’s service problems were exacerbated by an Aug 2 derailment in rural western Pennsylvania that forced the company to re-route trains. Federal safety officials are investigating the cause of the accident.

Shippers and employee sources said Harrison’s changes and cuts are causing rail cars and trains to sit idle or be re-routed across multiple states, delaying product shipments, and leading to inadequate customer service.

Crowley Maritime Corporation hauled 150 container loads by truck from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida, and then loaded them onto Florida East Coast Railway trains to avoid CSX’s system issues.

Current and former CSX employees say the railroad is suffering from poor communication from leadership, job cuts, and rapid changes to operations – like doubling train sizes, shutting hump yards where train cars are sorted, increasing the frequency of crew changes on a service line, and blocking overtime pay.

In Montgomery, Alabama, dwell times jumped to 60.9 hours from 35.8 hours a year earlier, and doubled in Nashville, Tennessee, to 71.9 hours. However, some of CSX’s cost-cutting moves do not appear to be dramatically affecting operating performance in other locations, based on data CSX provides to the AAR.

At CSX’s Barr Yard in Chicago, roughly seven managers now run the company’s service line, down from more than 35 managers a month ago, an employee told Reuters. The overall work force has been halved by furloughs, he said.

Gondola plans pushing forward in Albany, New York

Detailed ridership, economic impact assessment being prepared.

Just over a year after the concept was first floated to wide publicity, backers are quietly planning construction of an aerial gondola over the Hudson River between the Rensselaer Amtrak station and downtown Albany.

“We have continued our work on the project, developing plans, meeting with stakeholders and raising private investment capital,” said Peter Melewski, project manager for the proposed Capital District Gondola and national director of strategic planning for McLaren Engineering Group of West Nyack, Rockland County.

A detailed ridership and economic impact assessment for the project is being prepared, he said. In addition to providing a scenic option for people arriving at the Rensselaer Amtrak station on business, a feasibility study completed last November concluded an aerial tram would have significant tourism potential. More information is expected after Labor Day, he said.

“The gondola, combined with other visitor attractions, will enhance the area as a major destination,” Melewski said.

The idea, first proposed in July 2016, has received support — at least as a concept — from local officials on both sides of the river.

Since it was proposed, plans for the state to spend $15 million on a gondola at the State Fargrounds in Syracuse were announced — an idea many people have ridiculed on social media. Melewski said the projects are different, and each should be judged on its own merits.

Initial construction for the Albany project has been estimated at costing between $17 million and $20 million, with annual operating costs of about $2.4 million. These costs could potentially be offset by a mix of private funds, passenger ticket revenue, advertising and public funds, according to McLaren Engineering’s November report. Melewski said the current emphasis is on trying to raise private financing. He didn’t have a timeline for how quickly money might be raised.

The rail station is owned by the Capital District Transportation Authority. CDTA CEO Carm Basile said he’s continued to have contact with the backers over the last year.

“They’re legitimately pursuing it,” Basile said Wednesday. “There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered, especially in the financial area.”

McLaren has identified a one-mile-long corridor between the Amtrak station and a proposed station on South Pearl Street near the Times Union Center. In a later phase, the gondola could continue to the Empire State Plaza.

The gondolas would run on cables anchored to towers on each side of the river. Such systems being used for public transportation are rare in the United States, but are found in other parts of the world.

McLaren is working with is Doppelmayr USA, the U.S. branch of Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, an Austrian-Swiss aerial gondola system maker whose projects include the gondola system built for the London Olympics.

A project scenario developed by McLaren has up to 45 gondola cabins operating 16 hours per day, with the potential to move up to 3,000 people per hour. The travel time across the river would be roughly four minutes — less time than it takes to drive between the two destinations, according to Google Maps.

Public officials including U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Rensselaer Mayor Daniel Dwyer have expressed support for the idea, though without making any financial commitments.

Andrew Kennedy, president of the Center for Economic Growth, a nonprofit economic development organization in Albany, said he’s attended meetings with McLaren’s engineering and finance teams in recent months.

“We’re excited about the possibility, and from that point of view, you want to be encouraging and hopeful,” Kennedy said. “Something like this, if the numbers make sense and there is limited taxpayer money involved, it would be a great thing to have, giving people another option for getting to and from the train station.”

He cited the credentials of some of the other partners involved as a reason to take the gondola idea seriously.

The partners with McLaren include Doppelmayr, Capital Gondola LLC, Camoin Associates, Lemery Greisler, Urban Gondola Systems LLC, and Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors Inc. So far, all the development work has been self-funded.

The complete study is available on the McLaren website, http://www.mgmclaren.com.

Published in the Schenectady Daily Gazette

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

So What Is Going On With TWITTER?

Last night I finished planned work early and decided to do something I had never done before! Go on TWITTER. So I typed “www.twtter.com”. I guess I am already logged in because of always posting blogs and WebSites. They must “track” my interests as I got a lot of train pictures.

Then I got a “tweet” from @Write inTrump
“Jeff Bezos may be the richest man in the World but how many nuclear submarines does he have?”

Then I got a picture of Amazon Headquarters

Finally, a cute little poster

Then I got tired and gave up.

Super train that would speed between cities at 700mph has its first successful test

The concept of a ‘hyperloop’, a rail system that works in a vacuum tube and thus reaches very high speeds, has been a pipe dream for a while now.

Elon Musk mentioned the concept back in 2012 and liked its immunity to weather, speed and low power consumption.

The speeds of such creations, which some analyses suggest could reach up to 760mph, would reduce a 6 hour journey by car to 35 minutes – even quicker than a flight, which currently takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Now, one of the startups working on this transportation system, just shared footage of their first full-scale test in a vacuum.

The trial run in a track built outside Las Vegas, saw the test vehicle reach 70 mph using magnetic levitation, pulling 2 Gs of acceleration.

A HYPERLOOP ONE affiliate “The Muhammad Ali Hyperlink” has plans to build this new revolutionary transportation system between Louisville and Chicago; It will follow Interstate 55 and stop in Indianapolis!!!

So it is closer than you think! Check it out!

Walmart commissioning Griffiss Airport for drone delivery research

From Utica OD

ROME, NY — Drone delivery service just got a little closer to becoming a reality — at least for Walmart.

The Oneida County Legislature Wednesday approved two resolutions that will allow the national corporation to rent and commission research on the possibility of drone delivery for orders.

″(Walmart) is working with another UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) test site; they’ve already started doing preliminary work and they’re working out West,” said Oneida County Aviation Commissioner Russell Stark. “We’re going to basically be the East Coast arm for research and development.”

The first resolution is for a lease agreement for Nose Dock 785 at Griffiss International Airport in Rome. The agreement started July 1 and will end June 30, 2018, for $84,000. Included in the lease, there are provisions for nine one-year extensions following the first year.

The other resolution is for a research services and testing agreement between the county and Walmart. The agreement is for a two-year term, ending June 30, 2019, and will bring in $1,674,816.

High-Speed Rail Service Between Springfield, Boston Proposed

From NECN via California High Speed Rail

Some senators say a proposed high-speed rail service between Boston and Springfield could solve the skyrocketing cost of living in Boston.
Under the proposal, the line would link Boston, Worcester and Springfield, the state’s three largest cities.

Senators supporting this project believe it would help solve the out-of-control cost of living in eastern Massachusetts and help the economy in western Massachusetts that is being left behind.

This proposal is part of the 2018 budget and could make it onto the governor’s desk.

Your time to help us out too!!!

If you follow us, you know that we USED TO HAVE 3 WEBSITES

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Well, the GOD of the Internet, GOOGLE decided to KILL US

If you try and go to OLD WebSites you get a message

“This WebPage is being updated.
GOOGLE no longer supports it because it is not REMOTE ACCESS FRIENDLY
See the new WebPage at:
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In addition, WE ARE NOW ADVERTISING FREE
WELL; We Started new WebSite
https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/

The new WebSite is very popular. It is much better than old ones.
New host for all this is WordPress who is great too.

At same time we got rid of paid advertising. AMAZON was taking all the money….not us.

LET US KNOW YOUR COMMENTS!!!!!

WordPress has added a feature to WebSites that they already use for BLOGS: the FEATURED IMAGE

If you see a site with a BAD FEATURED IMAGE, please send a new one

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send to penneyvanderbilt@gmail.com

Thanks and have a good day.