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CSX, Wall Street want a steel wall across Ohio

CSX added a second main track along much of its 350-mile Chicago-Cleveland line in 1998. This track construction view was in New London, OH (All Aboard Ohio file photo).

CSX added a second main track along much of its 350-mile Chicago-Cleveland line in 1998. This track construction view was in New London, OH (All Aboard Ohio file photo).

Imagine how Ohioans would react to a new Ohio Turnpike commissioner seeking to halve the busy toll road from six lanes to three. It would be soundly rejected and the commissioner promptly shown the exit.

An equally zany idea is reportedly being pursued by E. Hunter Harrison, the new CEO of CSX Transportation Inc., one of the nation’s largest railroads. CSX’s spine line is its Chicago-Albany, NY corridor which carries as much gross freight tonnage per year as the Ohio Turnpike.

CSX carries that much freight by operating more than 60 trains a day over any given Chicago-Boston segment. That number may be halved by running trains twice as long as before Harrison’s arrival. To him, that presents an opportunity only Wall Street would like — single-tracking a valuable transportation artery that parallels the Ohio Turnpike west of Cleveland. Ironically, Harrison’s plan would likely clog the Chicago-Albany mainline and send more rail shippers to dial up pavement- and bridge-damaging trucks that use the turnpike and other roads. Each train carries enough freight to fill 250 trucks.

The CSX mainline goes through these and other Ohio cities (from west to east): Hicksville, Defiance, Deshler, North Baltimore, Fostoria, Tiffin, Willard, Greenwich, New London, Wellington, Grafton, Berea, Brook Park, Brooklyn, Cleveland, East Cleveland, Euclid, Wickliffe, Willowick, Willoughby, Mentor, Painesville, Perry, Madison, Geneva, Ashtabula, and Conneaut to name just a few.

However, there are two main differences with the Ohio Turnpike: 1. The CSX mainline crosses hundreds of state and federal roads, city avenues, small-town streets and farm access routes at-grade. 2. CSX’s mainline is a privately owned property and must be profitable to Wall Street’s standards, whereas the Ohio Turnpike is a government-owned property operated for the public’s benefit. It should be noted that CSX’s predecessors did not gain their properties from 19th-century federal land grants. Indeed only 7 percent of U.S. railroad route mileage was built on land grants and nearly all was west of the Mississippi River.

But that doesn’t excuse Harrison who cares more about Wall Street and less about Main Street. He is a pathological, public-be-damned executive straight from 19th century robber baron lore, selected by Wall Street hedge fund managers who dominate CSX’s shareholders and the company’s board of directors.

What he seeks to do with the Chicago-Albany line would literally cut in half dozens of Northern Ohio towns with a steel wall — longer, slower-moving trains up to three miles long that are more susceptible to mechanical breakdowns from burned-out locomotives, broken couplers and frozen brake lines. Northern Ohio businesses, school buses, safety forces and agricultural commerce will also be blocked by long freight trains stopped for tens of minutes or even hours in sidings more than three miles long. There they will wait for opposing rail traffic to clear each 10- to 15-mile single-tracked portion in between sidings. There will be dozens of these sidings across Northern Ohio. Consider:

  • CSX’s Chicago-Albany mainline has 247 route miles in Ohio;
  • This mainline has 259 public and private road at-grade crossings in Ohio;
  • Also in Ohio are 10 critical, busy junctions with other railroads where their rail traffic may be slowed as well;
  • 25.5 continuous miles of CSX mainline through Greater Cleveland have no at-grade road crossings;
  • Excluding Greater Cleveland, there is an at-grade road crossing every 4,500 feet along the CSX mainline in Ohio;
  • Building new taxpayer-funded roadway overpasses / underpasses costs $10 million to $20 million each.

“There comes a point where the national interest must come before Wall Street’s desire for more profits,” said All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast. “This is one of those cases. Following deregulation in 1980, the nation’s railroads were allowed to eliminate parallel railroad lines to boost profitability. There are only a few trunk lines left and they are heavily used. That means any further reductions in capacity will harm shippers, communities, and rail passengers by negating nearly $1 billion in infrastructure investments along this rail corridor by federal, state and local taxpayers over the last 40 years. Control over this strategically important national asset should not be left to the whims of a management that wants to conduct a fire sale.”

From Greenwich, OH eastward, roughly 530 miles of the 815-mile Chicago-Albany mainline was acquired by CSX during the split and purchase of Conrail’s assets in 1999 by CSX and rival Norfolk Southern. Conrail, by the way, was restored to profitability thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-fund infrastructure improvements in the 1970s and 80s. As part of the Conrail acquisition, CSX invested nearly a half-billion dollars of its own capital to add a second main track along the single-tracked portions of the 350-mile Chicago-Cleveland portion.

In the last decade, CSX benefited from $280 million in federal and state funds, including from Ohio, to upgrade portions of this and other rail infrastructure for CSX’s $850 million National Gateway Corridor linking Ohio to the East Coast. The Greenwich-North Baltimore, OH portion of the Chicago-Albany mainline was a beneficiary of some of this public investment. That doesn’t include many millions more spent by taxpayers to build roadway overpasses and underpasses to mitigate the community impacts from freight rail traffic increases since the 1999 Conrail split.

Harrison’s plan is similar to what he did with the less-busy Chicago-New Orleans Illinois Central Railroad years ago. There, he took a two-track railroad mainline with fluid traffic flow, combined its freight trains to make them longer, and then removed the second track wherever possible. For more than a year after single-tracking, the Illinois Central mainline was in chaos. After enough shippers fled the railroad and train dispatchers got a handle on what was left, things settled down on the former “Mainline of Mid-America.”

But Chicago-Albany is a different animal. CSX runs a lot more daily trains here — more than 60 freight trains and up to eight Amtrak passenger trains east of Cleveland and especially east of Buffalo (where state and federal taxpayers are investing $200 million to construct or improve tracks, signals, crossings and stations to make passenger service more convenient and efficient). The route east of Cleveland has been called the “Water Level Route” for more than a century when it was the pride of the New York Central System (the route follows the shoreline of Lake Erie as well as the Mohawk and Hudson rivers). West of Cleveland, the railroad is mostly straight and flat, too. These physical conditions have, no doubt, influenced Harrison to try to squeeze more efficiencies out of this line. But Wall Street’s gain will be Ohio’s pain as this valuable transport asset is diminished at Main Street’s expense.

What can we do?

Get informed: Local, state and national leaders along the route need to learn from professional, independent railroad operations managers and planners what impacts Harrison’s plan will have on Northern Ohio communities, businesses, shippers, safety forces, and road traffic. See All Aboard Ohio’s backgrounder to learn what at-grade crossings and communities would be affected.

Get organized: One city, even one as large as Cleveland, might not be able to force a multi-billion-dollar Class I railroad company or the federal Surface Transportation Board (federal regulatory body that oversees railroads) to positively respond to any complaints. All affected stakeholders need to unite and speak as a single, coordinated voice.

Consider the options: Action steps could include filing a taxpayers’ lawsuit considering the amount of taxpayer money invested into rail-related infrastructure along all parts of this corridor in recent decades. Also, stakeholders should consider filing complaints with the Surface Transportation Board (as Murray Energy just did) which is charged with having a big-picture public interest when it comes to vetting potentially destructive actions by private interests. Lastly, public agencies such as the New York State Department of Transportation, the Ohio Turnpike & Infrastructure Commission and/or others should consider buying significant portions of the CSX mainline and lease it back to CSX or other qualified, competing bidders.




July 2017 e-Edition newsletter


Download the July 2017 issue CLICK HERE to read the following stories:

  • Ohio cuts funding for transit, rail that create, access jobs and development
  • NOACA OK’s a robust transit plan for Greater Cleveland
  • Nashville studies airport lease to expand transit
  • Ohio hosts a trio of “Rally For Trains” events
  • Cincy transit vote delayed until after mayoral vote
  • Illustration of the month (Columbus’ rainy Rally For Trains event)
  • Join us at Age of Steam roundhouse Aug. 12!

Please contact us at info@allaboardohio.org if you have any difficulties downloading the newsletter or if you have any comments or questions. Thank you!


Northwest Ohio Rally4Trains drew passenger rail advocates from near, far

Rally4Trains-Toledo 062417-BillGill2

Northwest Ohioans rallied June 24 outside Toledo’s MLK Plaza station served by Amtrak to protest federal budget cuts that would eliminate passenger rail service, proposed by the Trump Administration. Ohioans are urged to ask their Congressperson/Senators to stop Trump’s proposed Amtrak cuts by calling 202-224-3121 or via the Web at http://www.house.gov or at http://www.senate.gov (Bill Gill photo).

UPDATE: Below are links to media coverage of the Toledo Rally4Trains event:


For Immediate Release

June 24, 2017
Contact: Bill Gill 419-536-1924

Bruce Becker, Vice President of Operations, National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) Joins Tim Porter, Chair of the Northwest Ohio Passenger Rail Association (NOPRA) and Toledo Rail Passengers to Protest Cuts to Trains
Local Event Mirrors Rallies Held Across the Country for #Rally4Trains

TOLEDO, OH — Along with leaders of NARP, NOPRA and All Aboard Ohio, Patrick Miller, Chair of the Passenger Rail Committee of the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, and State Representative, Michael Sheehy, joined more than two dozen local rail passengers as part of a national “Rally For Trains” at the park in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza – home to Toledo’s Amtrak facility – on Saturday afternoon at 3 o’clock June 24. The rally was one of dozens that were planned across the country in response to a proposed federal budget that would wipe out long distance train service in more than 220 communities and 23 states.

“The goal of the ‘Rally For Trains’ was to come together as one voice to ensure that the proposed federal budget is not implemented without considerable amendments to restore and even increase funding for passenger rail,” said Jim Mathews, President and CEO of the National Association of Railroad Passengers in Washington, D.C. “This series of events shows enormous, bi-partisan and widespread support for our national rail network,” he said.

As part of the rally, local volunteers in Toledo held signs and engaged in enthusiastic conversations with visitors. The event was also attended by Tom Galloway, on the Legislative Board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Robert Seyfang, head of the Toledo Design Center and J. Michael Galbraith, candidate for Ohio’s 5th Congressional Seat.

“A train ride as a boy taught me to appreciate the geographic diversity of my home state,” said Representative Sheehy. He went on to point out that the proposed cuts in President’s budget will hurt job growth and deter people from traveling to Toledo. “It’s another nail in the coffin of the economy in the state of Ohio.”

Michael Friedman, retired Amtrak Conductor and Democratic State Central Committee representative, joined the speakers in urging everyone to contact their local congressmen and representatives and voice concerns about the railroad cuts. An invitation was extended to all to join one or more of the advocacy groups to further the cause.

Loss of long distance rail service would dramatically affect Toledo – as well as Cleveland, Elyria, Sandusky and Bryan – along with more than 31 million passengers nationwide. The Amtrak cuts would impact as many as 500 communities nationwide. In Toledo, Ohio’s busiest Amtrak passenger station, there would no longer be passenger trains to Pittsburgh, Washington, DC, New York City, Boston or Chicago served by the Lake Shore Limited and the Capitol Limited.

“It would be a terrible loss,” said Toledoan Bill Taylor. Mr. Taylor detailed many enjoyable trips taken on several Amtrak trains.

Economic and other data have shown that towns without trains have fewer jobs, less tourism, lower economic activity, lower real estate values, less healthy people, more traffic congestion, less mobility and fewer travel options. While Congress holds the purse strings and will eventually decide on a federal budget for 2018, the initial proposals from the White House have drawn scrutiny from both sides of the aisle.

The rallies show strong support for trains in both rural and urban areas, and the rail passengers plan to continue their fight for as long as it takes to achieve funding that will help achieve a positive outcome for trains.

They have also continued their effort online at www.townstwithouttrains.com and on Facebook and Twitter @railpassengers. Visit the website to see the full list of train stations that would lose service under the proposed budget.


About the National Association of Railroad Passengers
NARP is the only national organization speaking for the nearly 40 million users of passenger trains and rail transit. We have worked since 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the U.S. Our mission is to work towards a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. Our work is supported by more than 28,000 individual members nationwide.


Northeast Ohio rail passengers rally at Cleveland to raise the alarm – and hope


Several dozen passenger rail advocates gathered June 23 at the Cleveland Amtrak station to urge that Congress support better access to opportunities and reject the Trump Administration’s proposed transportation budget. Instead, All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast, second from left, urged Congress to increase funding for public transportation and passenger rail. In attendance was Cleveland City Council Transportation Committee Chair Marty Keane, staffers for Congresswomen Marcia Fudge and Marcy Kaptur, along with representatives of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, and Western Pennsylvanians For Passenger Rail.

For Immediate Release – June 23, 2017
Contact: Ken Prendergast,
Executive Director, All Aboard Ohio
(216) 288-4883

Click to download a printable PDF of this press release

CLEVELAND – Northeast Ohio rail passengers gathered today at the Cleveland Amtrak Lakefront Station to sound a cautionary alarm but also a message of hope about federal transportation funding. The concern isn’t just about Amtrak funding but also for capital improvement funding for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s (GCRTA) rapid transit train system.

The Trump Administration’s 2018 proposed budget would eliminate the Federal Transit Administration and its $4 billion annual budget within four years. It would also slash all funding to Amtrak’s National Network that has seen ridership grow 18 percent since 2000.

“I remain hopeful because on May 1, Congress agreed to a omnibus spending plan for 2017 that would have increased funding for public transportation and Amtrak,” said Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio. “I believe Congress will fund trains and transit in 2018 as it outlined in its five-year Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015.”

For GCRTA riders, Northeast Ohio employers and our quality of life, the cuts to public transportation would be devastating:

  • GCRTA gets about $34 million per year in federal funding for capital purchases and preventative maintenance. About 80 percent of that goes to the rail system that GCRTA owns and is wholly responsible for, unlike the road system to which GCRTA pays no fuel taxes or other fees to support.
  •  One out of five GCRTA boardings is on the three-route rail system (GCRTA has nearly 100 bus routes). Rail accounts for only 17 percent of GCRTA’s operating budget. About 150,000 people board GCRTA buses and trains each day. Additional weekday boardings in downtown Cleveland and University Circle are on Akron Metro RTA, Laketran, Portage Area RTA and Stark Area RTA who would also be hurt by the proposed budget cuts.
  • This comes on top of a nearly 10 percent loss in sales tax revenues from Managed Care Organization transactions starting later this year. Many Northeast Ohioans depend on public transportation to get to work, school, health care and shopping.
  • These federal cuts are proposed as transit in Cleveland faces a backlog of more than a half-billion dollars worth of unfunded state-of-good-repair needs. Due to GCRTA owning its rail system, this backlog and the proposed federal cuts would hit disproportionately hard on the rail system.
  • The backlog of state-of-good-repair needs include track, signal and bridge work, bringing stations up to ADA compliance, and replacing train cars whose average age is about 35 years — well past their normal life expectancy.
  • Without federal funds, public transit in Greater Cleveland could be cut back to a handful of bus routes. Rapid transit trains would stop running in 5-10 years due to declining train, track, signal and bridge conditions. Bus replacements, garage repairs, equipment replacements, and other unfunded capital needs will hit the bus system hard as well.

Amtrak budget cuts would cost Northeast Ohio these emerging opportunities:

  • All Ohio Amtrak trains (part of the National Network) would end as a result of the proposed cuts and push higher costs and a loss of connecting passenger revenues onto surviving routes which may not be able to offer the same level of service.
  • The existing Amtrak trains that travel through Cleveland and Toledo each night are used by 650,000 people per year, enough to fill every seat on more than a dozen Boeing 737 jets per day. They link big cities to small towns that have no other intercity public transportation, like Bryan, OH and Alliance, OH.
  •  Nearly 50,000 people boarded four nightly Amtrak trains last year in Cleveland, an increase of almost 40 percent over the past decade. For perspective, Greyhound boards 250,000 people per year at Cleveland but that’s on roughly 30 buses per day.
  • The city of Cleveland, Amtrak, Greyhound and GCRTA are planning a multi-modal transportation center at the site of our rally to improve connectivity and promote downtown development. This and other Ohio rail improvements will need federal funds.
  •  The Federal Railroad Administration’s Midwest Regional Rail Plan and Ohio’s neighboring states are seeking passenger rail improvements that could expand into Ohio. If we lose our existing train services, we cannot improve them.
  • Restoring lost trains is very difficult. Columbus and Dayton lost their Amtrak trains in 1979 due to federal budget cuts. Akron and Youngstown lost their trains in 2005. None have returned due to the difficulty of restoring lost trains or instituting new services.
  • Despite having only five trains a day serving Ohio, Amtrak in 2016 spent $30 million into Ohio’s economy buying goods and services from Ohio companies.