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Nostalgia & History > Conrail Bradford Line aka Panhandle


Date: 02/09/09 17:18
Conrail Bradford Line aka Panhandle
Author: howeld

On another forum a person posted the following about the rise and fall of the Bradford Line under conrail. I found it to be very interesting as well as sad. The moderator stopped the topic due to the historic nature of the discussion not following the current events of today's railroads. I would like some more incite on the decision to abandon the Panhandle line that I hope some of you can give. I was born too late to even remember much of Conrail.
Derek

If anyone ever read the United States Railroad Association reports
(apparently the guys who put Conrail together didn't)you will find
that it gave the Columbus-Bradford-Union City main a "secondary"
status rating. Which was supposed to mean other mains on the proposed
system would get a higher priority for maintenance and train volume.
I was living in Piqua, Ohio at the time of the formation of Conrail
and so I didn't expect a whole lot to happen on April 1, 1976, but
about four weeks before, one day at Saint Paris, 15 miles east,
several trucks of brand spanking new track equipment show up to be
unloaded onto the remains of the third track. Word had it the railroad
would be getting some attention after all. The equipment was enough
for a double rail CWR gang. A week before Conrail started up, a train
of CWR rail showed up in C&NW cars. They laid it up and down the Blue
Hill and one of the supervisors told me the entire line, both tracks
from Buckeye to Union City would be re-railed and other improvements
were also in the works. In the few days before Conrail started,
train-loads of new ties were dropped. This was going to be an
interesting summer!
The camp train pulled into St. Paris and Urbana the Sunday before the
start of Conrail and on April 1, 1976 began the most extensive
railroad reconstruction I had ever seen up until just a few months ago
on CSX.
The CWR gang started and at the same time a tie gang started
separately, doing CWR at that time, they could replace about a rail
mile or a little more per day. Ties were laid east and west on both
mains. And just as quick as a contractor could be lined up, all
ditches and pole lines were to be cleared under the scorched earth
policy. The C & S guys got busy repairing wire and code lines,
replacing many poles and cross arms and also a general reconstruction
of the signal system, even relocating many signals. This was the
nature of the beast between Columbus and Union City between 1976 and
1983. Road crossings were dug out and replaced, crossing flashers and
gates were replaced and many new ones added. Longer crossover
turnouts were installed so that trains could maintain higher speeds,
and we started seeing new trains, usually in excess of 30 trains
daily. Piqua Crossing was wired for remote operation in early 1978,
Urbana was closed completely but Bradford with its Armstrong plant was
left alone even though it only controlled signals. a pair of
crossovers and the EB siding at this point, although some S-8 machines
were brought in to replace some of the armstrong machines. Bridge
decks were re timbered with the last one planned to be the Great Miami
River Bridge at Piqua.
In 1982 just as it was about to be declared a completed railroad,
about 40 miles of new ties were dropped on the West Bound main and the
bridge timbers were off-loaded and spacers attached so that work could
commence.
There was a parade of EB and WB tains every night. I moved out to the
small burg of Fletcher, the top of the EB Ruling Grade and trains
didn't stall any longer. They also had new power or more engines. WB
trains, well, the local cop used to sit at the Fletcher crossing with
his radar gun and clock WB train heading down the hill at 80 mph many
nights. The COLO was a favorite for that speed.
Then in a dramatic move, newly hired president Stanley Crane came on
board and he toured the railroad. His train came through Bradford
just before noon EB in March 1983 and by 3:30 p.m. the railroad had
been cut back to four through trains daily plus locals. It was to be
operated as single track with two pieces of main used for a long high
speed passing track. Throughout 1983 the ties were all gathered up,
the bridge timbers loaded up and one strange thing happened that
caught everyone by surprise. At West Rice, the west end of the three
tracks west of Urbana, a long crossover was installed from the WB main
over to the EB main. This was odd and even the track supervisor had
no idea what was going on. The crossover was at the base of the Blue
Hill, the ruling WB grade. Any train could handle that WB grade
because it was eased to 1% and was almost straight with one small
exception in the hill itself.
It seemed a new operating order would take the WB trains off the WB
main at West Rice (base of Blue Hill) and put them onto the EB main,
much steeper and with more curves. And the railroad would be run as
single track from West Rice to Piqua Crossing, where it would go back
to active double track and trains would cross back over to the WB main
to Bradford.
We leaned the reason soon enough. The WB DIIN would be loaded with
extra tonnage and underpowered, yes perhaps as high as 150 cars and
not nearly enough horsepower to haul a train up the challenges of the
EB main on the Blue Hill without stalling. This was a night train,
usually coming through Fletcher about midnight to 1AM. Soon enough it
was stalling on the hill. So it would have to double and I even saw
it triple the hill a few times. So a nice six hour run to
Indianapolis soon turned into 24 hour plus run with two crews needed
to handle just that train.
In order to double the the Blue Hill, trains would pull the first
section west about 18 miles to Piqua Crossing and through the diamond
to the crossovers on the west side of the interlocking plant, then
shove east, back across CSX and shove up the ruling EB grade. Then
pull engines-light back through the interlocking plant and crossovers,
then back east to West Rice on the EB track, while waiting at times
for multiple CSX trains at Piqua Crossing. Then they go grab the next
section at West Rice and charged back up the Blue Hill again and same
routine at Piqua Crossing. If there was a third section, more time
was needed. One Saturday afternoon I talked to a crew who was just
bringing the third section of DIIN to Piqua and turns out they were
the relief crew, the first crew had run out of time while trying to
make the hill.
Now to change hats for a minute. Stats and operating ratios have very
high priority in the General Managers meetings and at this time
especially high importance because the feds actively wanted out from
under the Conrail financial drain. Since this line showed terrible
performnce, poor train times, extra crews, terrible tonnage ratios, it
was quite easy to show that it was not a justifiable line, and that's
all there was too it. The ICC gave its blessing to turn off the cab
signals, then the rest of the trackside signals were shut down and we
got down to being short-timers for two through trains plus the local,
which had been moved to Ansonia from Bradford. Bradford tower was
open for third trick to handle the two trains and that was it.
By early 1984 the line's fate was sealed. There was a need to
temporarily operate it for several months of detour trains while the
Big Four west of Ridgeway received CWR, then on January 1, 1985 it was
all over. It was estimated that somewhere around $150 million had
been spent rebuilding the railroad, much of it your tax dollars, and
suddenly it was just so much scrap steel. Through 1985 rail was
lifted, most going elsewhere on the Conrail system to be relaid. As
quickly as the roadbed could be sold, it was. And so the great
Federal Government experiment into railroad ownership and management
had failed in western Ohio. They drove off customers made customer
access to services difficult and called it success. Amtrak has been
no better and in many ways even worse. Conrail was laid to rest in
1999, right along with its sorry blue paint and that ugly steel wheel
logo that ranks at the bottom of my list next to the PC worms. May we
never have such a miserable excuse for rail transportation fall under
the frips of government again. Are you listening President Obama?

Scott Trostel



Date: 02/09/09 20:50
Re: Conrail Bradford Line aka Panhandle
Author: bnsfbob

howeld Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> On another forum a person posted the following
> about the rise and fall of the Bradford Line under
> conrail.

The writer was doing so well with this piece then it all fell apart in the last few sentences with these unsupported, fallacious statements:

> And so the great
> Federal Government experiment into railroad
> ownership and management
> had failed in western Ohio. They drove off
> customers made customer
> access to services difficult and called it
> success. Amtrak has been
> no better and in many ways even worse. Conrail was
> laid to rest in
> 1999, right along with its sorry blue paint and
> that ugly steel wheel
> logo that ranks at the bottom of my list next to
> the PC worms. May we
> never have such a miserable excuse for rail
> transportation fall under
> the frips of government again. Are you listening
> President Obama?

Unbelievable.

In my opinion, Conrail was one of the most phenomenal government/business success stories of all time. An independent Conrail was even more successful than the same properties under the last ten years of NS and CSX management.

Conrail was given capital and tax/legislative/regulatory relief from the feds. However, Conrail management was comprised of industry professionals with minimal interference from the government. One such professional, hailing from a strong capitalistic vs. a bureaucratic milieu, was the extremely capable Conrail CEO, Mr. L. Stanley Crane.

Not to lose sight of the original subject of the Panhandle line. Yes, the rebuilding of this line was a mistake and a waste of capital. Conrail fixed it. Totally private companies have made similar mistakes and similar retrenchments/recoveries. Motorola did it with the Iridium project. Coca Cola with the new-formula Coke. Reportedly, Microsoft is pulling the plug on Vista. And then Ford with that car, the Edsel. In each case, a privately-managed company realized it had made a mistake and then reversed course. No great government experiments gone wrong in these cases.

Bob



Date: 02/09/09 22:28
Re: Conrail Bradford Line aka Panhandle
Author: bnsfbob

howeld Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I would like some more incite on the decision to
> abandon the Panhandle line that I hope some of you
> can give.

I've thought about this question further. Why did Conrail rebuild, then later tear up the Panhandle? In my opinion it is because they, like several other U.S. railroads in the mid to late 1970s, were ambivalent with regard to a "carload freight" vs. a long-distance, high-speed intermodal mentality. Since Conrail needed to streamline its rail network should they have focused on retaining routes with minimal end-to-end transit times well-suited for long-distance intermodal? Or, should they have focused on routes with the customers, capacity and hump yards best suited for short/intermediate distance, non-time-sensitive carload freight? If the prevailing mentality was to be high-speed intermodal, then the ex-NYC would be the logical core of the surviving Conrail system. On the other hand, a focus on carload freight, yarded on average twice en-route would seem to favor an emphasis on the former PRR including the Panhandle. By the early 1980s, the ambivalence was resolved. Conrail, in order to be successful would remake itself as a reliable, high-speed intermodal carrier. The surviving trackage would be a mostly ex-NYC system forming an "X" with the crossing of the X deep in ex-NYC territory in Northeast Ohio. One leg of the X would extend westward from Boston to Cleveland, Indianapolis and St Louis. The other leg would extend from the eastern ports of New Jersey, Philadelphia and Baltimore converging near Cleveland and then westward to Chicago on the former NYC Water Level Route. The Panhandle route didn't really fit with the new intermodal emphasis reflected by a change of management at Conrail. In my view, that is why it fell out of favor even though significant capital dollars had already been invested.

Bob



Date: 02/10/09 08:39
Re: Conrail Bradford Line aka Panhandle
Author: exopr

Retaining the Panhandle was part of Conrail's pre-Crane management philosophy that traffic would boom again some day and these lines would be needed. Then Crane came along and pointed out that these lines were simply not needed. Of course he was also under pressure to make a profit. I've heard that a secondary reason for abandoning the Panhandle was that Chessie raised the fee for trackage rights between Columbus and Newark.

The book "The Men Who Loved Trains" provides insight into the decisions that shaped Conrail. Highly recommend it!



Date: 02/10/09 15:25
Re: Conrail Bradford Line aka Panhandle
Author: sixaxle

Many decisions made in the 1980's were indeed very poor and short sighted
The work Scott mentioned was done, no one could beleive all the work that went in and then see it all ripped out.



Date: 02/10/09 17:22
Re: Conrail Bradford Line aka Panhandle
Author: NEtower

If you want to see how Stanley Crane went about making the decisions that eventually led to Conrail going public, go to the website www.multimodalways.org and click on the Conrail archives link, then scroll down the page 'til you get to the link that says Stanley Crane's Conrail history thru 1988. Its a pdf file and I found it to be a very informative read to say the least.
NEtower



Date: 02/11/09 06:05
Re: Conrail Bradford Line aka Panhandle
Author: NYCSTL8

Perhaps Scott's commentary turned bitter toward the end of his treatise because he lived along the Panhandles, watched it being upgraded, took in all that dynamic traffic, and then watched as the whole thing was suddenly destroyed. Take the r.r. out of Fletcher, OH, and there ain't much left in that wide spot. Scott is an excellent author of several great r.r.books, and as far as I know, still lives in Fletcher, where the abandoned r-o-w is clearly visible along the southern edge of the burg. FWIW, my sentiments re: Conrail pretty much match his. Too many amputations of the patient's limbs to call the surviving entity a success. I pretty much blot out CR from my r.r. memory bank, although I guess CSX here in Galion and environs is even worse in some respects.



Date: 02/11/09 08:58
Re: Conrail Bradford Line aka Panhandle
Author: trainmaster3

The line was upgraded in the 70's. Deregulation 1981. The line(and several others)is then downgraded as traffic that is unprofitable is shed because management is now free to make business decisions, instead of just being able to maximize based on ICC dictum. The now(1981 onward)profitable traffic base is shifted toward a concentrated corridor(NYC)across Ohio and CR begins to make undreamt of profits.

It was only a bit more than a decade from the time the rr's were freed of the passenger trade until deregualtion began working it effects, so the fact that the final CR map "evolved" over a period of years as opposed to a set formalized plan isn't really so surprising is it??? All the while CR had several Billion dollars of infused capital to work with, and lots of wrecked physical plant to throw money at.



Date: 02/11/09 16:29
Re: Conrail Bradford Line aka Panhandle
Author: challenger604

Pardon my skepticism, but it's probably a disgruntled ex-Conrail employee disguised as a railfan.



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