Freight boom means more passenger delays  |  October 9, 2014  |  by Eric Anderson

Tracks busy carrying record grain harvests, crude oil shipments


The westbound Lake Shore Limited that leaves Rensselaer each night for Chicago lately hasn't made it past Toledo.

There, passengers have been transferred to buses to complete the last 250 miles of their trip.

The reason? Norfolk Southern, the railroad that owns the tracks from Ohio west to Chicago, is so overwhelmed with freight that the Amtrak trains on the route — the Lake Shore Limited and the Capitol Limited from Washington, D.C., to Chicago — were arriving as much as 10 hours late.

"We're handling carload levels we haven't seen since before the 2008 recession," said Norfolk Southern spokesman Dave Pidgeon, "So while that's a good sign for jobs and the economy, it comes with staffing and capacity challenges."

The surge in hydrofracked shale crude from the Bakken fields of North Dakota, coupled with record grain harvests, has strained the nation's rail system.

Delays became so bad that the U.S. Surface Transportation Board this week ordered the nation's largest railroads to publicly provide weekly reports on a variety of performance measures, from delays to average train speeds how well they were meeting plans to move such commodities as grain and coal.

The first reports are due Oct. 22, STB spokesman Dennis Watson said.

Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said busing between Toledo and Chicago began this week as part of an effort by the railroad to minimize the disruption the delays were causing passengers.

"There has been some frustration among the passengers, which is understandable," Schulz said. "Poor on-time performance is unacceptable to our passengers, employees, management and other stakeholders.

"It creates a major inconvenience for our customers and impacts our business through decreased ridership, lost revenues and higher operating costs," he added.

Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern says it is adding employees and spending heavily to expand capacity.

"We're in a strong hiring phase right now, adding 1,300 new conductors by the end of this year with another 1,900 expected to be hired next year," Pidgeon said Thursday. "And on NS's network, there are between Chicago and Cleveland more than $700 million in public and private funding committed to infrastructure and capacity projects."

And Amtrak says it's pushing to get its trains rolling west of Toledo again.

"We're in regular direct contact with the host railroad on this and have expressed the urgency around the need to ensure reliable service for our passengers," Schulz said Thursday afternoon. "We're hopeful we can get back to normal within a few days but that's not definite."

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commented 2014-10-14 00:23:05 -0400 · Flag
The oil companies DON’T CARE about ag products or passengers. They’ll do whatever they want until we stop them from carrying crude and get back to what rail transport should be carrying.
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.