We’ve moved!

Please note as of Dec. 1, 2014, All Aboard Ohio moved its statewide offices to Cleveland’s public transportation and retail hub, Tower City Center! Our new mailing address is:

All Aboard Ohio
230 West Huron Road #85.53
Cleveland, OH 44113

Our telephone number remains (844) 464-7245, a toll-free number you may better remember as 844-GO4-RAIL. Our e-mail address continues to be info@allaboardohio.org for general inquiries.


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Fort Wayne Line rebirth

Map shows the Fort Wayne Line (thickest line) and some other rail lines referred to in the article below. (CLICK MAP TO ENLARGE)

Map shows the Fort Wayne Line (thickest line) and other rail lines referred to in the article below. (CLICK MAP TO ENLARGE)

For advocates of rail transportation, one of the most enjoyable developments is to see a railroad line come back to life. That’s been happening recently to the 270-mile Fort Wayne Line between Tolleston (Gary), IN and Crestline, OH via Ft. Wayne, Lima and Bucyrus. This was one of America’s premier passenger rail lines, linking Chicago and East Coast.

But will a sudden increase in freight traffic to this corridor help or hurt prospects for the return of passenger rail? That depends on how many freight trains and infrastructure improvements are coming.

The Fort Wayne Line west of Dunkirk, OH has been the subject of an initiative by a consortium of online communities to develop passenger rail service between Columbus and Chicago. If they are successful, service may begin with 79-mph trains. As more funding is found, the consortium would upgrade the line to progressively higher speeds.

A rebirth of this line for freight is more immediate. Norfolk Southern (NS) track resurfacing crews have been laboring between Ft. Wayne and Bucyrus since November – a time of year when such work is usually confined to NS routes in southern states. So what has them working in Ohio’s cold? A race to relieve traffic congestion.

As was reported on this blog and more so in the Ohio Passenger Rail News (SUBSCRIBE NOW for a full-year’s worth of news while supporting rail and transit advocacy!), NS is experiencing serious freight traffic congestion on its Chicago Line between Cleveland, Toledo and Chicago where up to 110 trains a day travel. This has also caused horrendous delays to Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited (CHI-NYC/BOS) and Capitol Limited (CHI-WDC).

For the first time in 30-40 years since freight train traffic was consolidated onto the Chicago Line from the Fort Wayne Line and other lines, some traffic is being moved back. The consolidations date back to a different era when railroads were in survival mode. Now the railroads are in a growth mode.

NS improved and continues to improve several lines to accommodate trains coming from BNSF at Streator, IL to NS’s Conway Yard near Pittsburgh. First, NS upgraded the former New York Central (NYC) “Streator Connection” and an ex-NYC Schneider-Indiana Harbor line in 2013 so more trains could bypass congestion in Chicago. Next, NS turned its capacity-enhancing attention to the Fort Wayne Line – the only underutilized rail corridor remaining east from Chicago into Indiana and Ohio.

Once upon a time, this route was the pride of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), the “Standard Railroad of the World.” The double-tracked mainline hosted more than 20 passenger trains per day, some at 100 mph (until the federal 79-mph limit went into effect in 1947), mixed in with twice as many freight trains. But later owners Penn Central (1968-76) and especially Conrail (1976-99) moved freight traffic to the route of PRR’s former rival, the former NYC via Cleveland and Toledo.

Conrail incrementally downgraded the Fort Wayne Line. It was single-tracked west of Crestline in 1984. Conrail rerouted Amtrak trains to more northerly routes in 1990. Its signaling system was removed soon thereafter while track maintenance was deferred, dropping train speeds from 70 mph to 10 mph in places.

As part of the 1999 split of Conrail’s assets among CSX and NS, NS gained trackage rights over the Fort Wayne Line (up to 8 daily trains Crestline-Bucyrus; up to 6 dailies Bucyrus-Ft. Wayne). CSX got the Fort Wayne Line west of Crestline from Conrail, but NS dispatches it. NS got the Fort Wayne Line east of Crestline, detoured rail traffic from it and single-tracked much of it.

In 2004, the Chicago, Fort Wayne & Eastern (CFE) signed a 20-year lease to generate shipments from CSX’s Tolleston-Crestline tracks. Today, CFE handles a daily average of about 80-100 carloads of freight traffic.

In recent years, CFE resurfaced the tracks – notably between Ft. Wayne and Bucyrus – with new ties and ballast to operate more consistently at 25 mph although some 10 mph sections remain. However, NS’s crews began working in November 2014 to improve the line further with a resurfacing program, including new ties, track hardware, ballast and tamping. This should allow NS trains to routinely operate at 40 mph.

The first NS trains began showing up on the Fort Wayne Line in early November. Mixed freight trains of 100+ cars got the railfan community buzzing. Then NS ran its Office Car Special – an NS passenger train for NS executives, current and potential shippers plus other VIPs – over the line on Nov. 20 (see video on our YouTube channel).

Next came an army of NS track surfacing crews working at a rapid pace. Then news filtered out that NS was transferring engineers and conductors to crew bases in Mansfield and Fort Wayne to open a crew district between the two cities effective Jan. 15. That’s why the normally warm-weather work was being done between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

A Norfolk Southern tie-renewal gang upgrades the CSX-owned Fort Wayne Line near Ada, OH for up to six additional freight trains daily. (PHOTO COURTESY OF JAMES SEXTON)

On Dec. 8, 2014, a Norfolk Southern tie-renewal gang upgrades the CSX-owned Fort Wayne Line near Ada, OH for up to six additional freight trains daily. (PHOTO COURTESY OF JAMES SEXTON)

According to numerous reports, it appears that NS’s plan is to a run an every-other-day mixed NS freight train (that started in early November) and five daily crude oil trains (to start on or about Jan. 15).

This increased rail traffic is bringing improved track conditions and that may aid prospects of future passenger rail service – to a point. The Fort Wayne Line still has many shortcomings, such as no automatic traffic control system, long sections without continuous welded rails, and a lack of passing sidings. A few more daily freight trains would likely cause these shortcomings to be addressed at the freight railroads’ expense, and potentially reduce the start-up costs of a 79 mph passenger rail service.

However, if freight volumes increased to more than 10 a day, they could tip the scales. If passenger service is added to that traffic, it could require extra capital improvements especially since speeds higher than 90 mph are desired. Since railroad rights of way are typically owned, managed and financed by the private sector (not the government, as is the case of waterways, roadways and airways) the costs of adding more tracks and advanced signal systems to accommodate a fast passenger rail service are typically the responsibility of its sponsors.

Routes with 100+ mph passenger trains (Chicago-Detroit, Chicago-St. Louis, Harrisburg-Philadelphia, Schenectady-New York City, and the Northeast Corridor) have fewer than 10 freight trains per day. All but the time-sensitive freight can be relegated to nighttime hours when there’s few if any passenger trains. When there’s more than 10 total freight trains a day in both directions on a single-track line with passing sidings, it becomes difficult to confine freight trains to between midnight and 6 a.m.

All of these questions have answers, and the Chicago-Columbus consortium is organizing funding for a Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to get those and other answers. A Tier 1 EIS is required before federal construction funding can be sought for a major transportation project. It will be interesting to learn from this planning work if the rebirth of the Fort Wayne Line will help more than hurt the return of passenger rail.


Cleveland intermodal hub: “like an airport downtown”

Cleveland can learn from Anaheim which is opening on Dec. 6 the $185 million Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC) seen under construction in September 2014. This intermodal transportation center  is uniting rail and bus services, making it easier for passenger to conveniently connect between multiple modes of transportation in a comfortable, attractive setting. The project also united multiple stakeholders with individual needs, who came together under the leadership of local and regional officials.

Cleveland can learn from Anaheim, California which is opening on Dec. 6 the $185 million Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC) seen under construction in September 2014.


A $185 million intermodal transportation center with the acronym ARTIC will unite bus and rail passengers for the first time Dec. 6 in this city of 341,000. No, it’s not Cleveland. It’s Anaheim, California. But it shows the excellence that can be achieved when multiple stakeholders with competing needs are brought together under the leadership of local and regional officials.

The similarities between Anaheim and Cleveland aren’t exact, but they aren’t as far apart as their 2,500-mile distance would first seem to indicate. Consider:

——————————- ANAHEIM    CLEVELAND

City population:          341,0000             390,000
County population:  3.1 million         1.3 million
Visitors per year:      40 million           14 million

If the investment in the new Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center is scaled, a reasonable investment in a North Coast Transportation Center for Cleveland would be about $77 million based each county’s population, or $64 million based on each city’s annual visitors. Orange County is accessed by other significant transportation centers, the largest of which is the classically designed Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center. Cuyahoga County, which is seated in Cleveland, has other transportation centers too.

For now, no facility in Cleveland unites under one roof these services that operate into downtown: Akron Metro RTA, Amtrak, Greater Cleveland RTA, Greyhound, Laketran, Megabus, Portage Area RTA (Kent), and Stark Area RTA (Canton). Many Clevelanders do not know all of these services exists, which have multiple arrival and departures per day at different, uncoordinated locations downtown — let alone where all of those boarding locations are.

“All of these services stop at different sites downtown without a common point of transfer, let alone in a well-marked, climate-protected setting,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio. “If they were all routed via a downtown Cleveland intermodal hub, up to 1 million boardings per year would occur at that location based on their existing Cleveland boardings. That’s more than what occurs at the Akron-Canton Regional Airport. That’s enough to support spin-off retail, restaurants, rental car counters, car sharing and bike sharing services at the center. This would be like having an airport in downtown Cleveland.”

The existing downtown transit routes for Akron Metro, GCRTA, Laketran, PARTA, and SARTA would remain largely unchanged. Their downtown routes could add an identifiable curbside stop at an intermodal station.

Citing his experience from developing the Walsh Regional Transportation Center in Syracuse, NY, GCRTA CEO Joe Calabrese noted that boardings on all transportation modes grew 20 percent after the center opened in 1999. Cleveland’s 1 million boardings figure is based on the existing usage of transportation modes into downtown Cleveland and doesn’t reflect the likely increase in usage that would come from having a more convenient, attractive, simplified and identifiable place to connect between multiple modes of transportation.

“We are thankful that officials from the City of Cleveland, Amtrak, GCRTA, Greyhound and others have started joint discussions about an intermodal station,” Prendergast added. “It’s the only way an intermodal station can be achieved — by having all stakeholders work together. But funding remains a key unanswered question and that requires political leadership.”

Several transportation services have their own needs. Greyhound and the City of Cleveland are discussing a land swap to get Greyhound out of its Chester Avenue location to enable future real estate development near Playhouse Square and Cleveland State University. Amtrak is discussing with Cleveland the need to make improvements to its lakefront station to comply with Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requirements.

However, Amtrak cannot relocate its station away from the lakefront tracks between West 3rd and East 9th streets because of the layout of specific tracks used by Amtrak and freight trains. Fortunately, all of the land between the tracks and the Shoreway highway is owned by the city, making a land swap with Greyhound possible here too — if there was the political will to find the money for an intermodal station befitting a city the size of Greater Cleveland.


Amtrak delivers strong financial results

Amtrak's financial performance now exceeds that of the FAA and Federal Highways. But how can we in Ohio, the nation's 7th most populous state, take advantage of Amtrak's growing success? Photo Courtesy of The Daily Progress

Amtrak’s financial performance now exceeds that of the FAA and Federal Highways. But how can we in Ohio, the nation’s 7th most populous state, take advantage of Amtrak’s growing success? Photo Courtesy of The Daily Progress

In addition to the Amtrak press release below, All Aboard Ohio notes that Amtrak revenues now cover 93% operating of costs, compared to only 71% for the Federal Aviation Administration. Federal funding provides the difference in both cases. Also, Amtrak uses mostly private sector-owned, financed rails whereas aviation and road infrastructure is almost all government-owned and financed. Federal highways are funded 49% by general taxes, a subsidy which artificially reduces the cost of driving and distorts the travel marketplace.

Currently, Amtrak’s $227 million federal operating grant in 2014 cost federal taxpayers only one-fourth as much as it did in Amtrak’s first full year ($845.46 million in 1972, inflation adjusted).

“We applaud Amtrak’s success and recognize that difficult decisions regarding operating expenditures and on-board service cuts have been made and will continue to be made,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio. “But we also realize that innovative actions are needed to expand into populous, albeit difficult markets like Ohio which are under-served by Amtrak.”

Innovative actions could include:

  • Working with coalitions of local and regional governments
  • Jointly pursuing station-area developments to provide new sources of value-capture revenue
  • Organizing public education efforts about rail’s benefits in concert with the Midwest’s and especially Ohio’s huge rail industry supplier base, and
  • Seeking new mail & package express business in revenue-sharing partnerships with the freight railroads.

In its latest financial report, Amtrak notes these Fiscal Year 2014 Highlights:

  • Record revenue of approximately $3.2 billion
  • Operating cost recovery rises to 93 percent
  • Lowest federally funded operating loss in 41 years
  • Moody’s confirms long-term debt rating at A1/Stable

Today, Amtrak reported unaudited record revenue totaling approximately $3.2 billion for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2014, representing the fifth consecutive year of revenue growth, and the eighth out of the past nine years.

In FY 2014, America’s Railroad® covered 93 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues, up from 89 percent the year before. In addition, Amtrak’s unaudited federally funded operating loss of approximately $227 million was the lowest level since 1973, representing a 37 percent decrease from the prior year and 52 percent lower than in FY 2007.

As a result of the company’s strong operating performance, long-term debt reductions of approximately 61 percent over the past seven years to $1.3 billion, and other contributing factors, Moody’s Investor Service confirmed Amtrak’s A1/Stable debt rating on Nov. 12, 2014.

“Our financial performance over the past year is the clearest indication yet that Amtrak’s investments, operating efficiencies and focus on its customers is paying off,” said Amtrak Chairman of the Board Tony Coscia. “Under the leadership of Amtrak’s Board and management,the company is transforming how it does business. We are delighted with our latest financial results and committed to making further progress in the years ahead. As we continue to make improvements in our operating and financial performance, we call upon the federal government and our stakeholders to support the capital investments necessary to keep moving Amtrak forward.”

“Our efforts to operate a more financially sound railroad for our stakeholders continues to exceed expectations,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman. “Amtrak’s customer value proposition improves each year as seen by our continued ridership and revenue growth for the better part of the past decade.”

Amtrak’s corporate restructuring has resulted in a strong emphasis on increased financial transparency, a de-leveraged balance sheet, and providing an improved product to its existing customer base while attracting new passengers. This has resulted in consistently strong ridership and revenue growth, and less reliance on federal operating grant support.

Amtrak also is building the equipment, infrastructure and organization needed to ensure its strong growth continues. Over the past few years, the company has seen the expansion of state-supported services, the introduction of Wi-Fi and eTicketing technologies, the procurement of new equipment for Northeast Corridor and long-distance services, a major planning effort for the development of next-generation high-speed rail, and the installation of positive train control safety technology to more sections of track maintained by Amtrak, among other critical capital projects. These actions form the foundation that will support more and faster service, improve the reliability and safety of current and future operations, and meet the expectations of a growing number of customers choosing Amtrak for their travel needs.

Boardman added that to meet future passenger demands, increased levels of federal capital investment are needed to improve, expand and replace the aging infrastructure that supports intercity passenger rail. Predictable dedicated funding from the federal government to build new tracks, tunnels, bridges and other rail infrastructure—particularly on the Northeast Corridor and in Chicago—will keep Amtrak advancing and its customer base growing.