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TV series to spotlight 'awesome' trains — and 'gritty' rail workers

Coming soon to The History Channel: “Extreme Trains,” an eight-part series about the “biggest, most powerful and most awesome trains in history.”

So says a press release the cable TV network FedExed to me, along with a DVD of the show. The series will premier Nov. 11 at 10 p.m. (EST).

My first thought after opening the package: What’s an “extreme” train? According to The History Channel, a coal train moving through Pennsylvania and the Allegheny Mountains, an intermodal train making its way from Los Angeles to Dallas/Fort Worth and Amtrak’s Acela train running from Washington, D.C., to Boston fit the bill. Also making the network's grade are a Union Pacific Railroad refrigeration train, Ringling Bros. circus train, Amtrak’s Empire Builder, and the “Transcontinental” and “Steam” trains. All eight will be featured in separate episodes.

The series will be hosted by Pan Am Railways Conductor Matt Bown, a “genuine insider with an infectious enthusiasm for trains,” according to the press release. He will show how the Extreme Trains played a key role in U.S. history — from train robberies to World War II events — and continue to be vital to the nation today.

I’m not sure how “extreme” these trains really are or if the series is worthwhile (I haven’t watched the DVD yet). But The History Channel also says the show celebrates the men and women rail workers who “often perform tough, gritty jobs in extreme conditions just to keep America moving.” Now that sounds like a good reason to tune in.

Posted by: Jeff Stagl | Date posted: 10/17/2008

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Posted by Vincent Terrill on 10/17/2008 8:27:33 PM

"Gritty" Re: "demonstrating resolution and fortitude" from Webster II New college dictionary-2001. I''ve been working on the railroad for almost 61 years. In that time my concentration has been on maintenance and constuction of the track and the bulk of my friends are others who have worked with me with the resolution and fortitude to keep the "Awesome Trains" that we will be seeing on the History Channel on the track. Without knowing for sure, a single thing that we will be seeing in this series entitled, "Awesome Trains" let me take an educated guess: Freight and Passenger trains running through horrific conditions requiring skill, "resolution and fortitude", from their operators and crews to do their job. I much suspect that there will be heroes emerge from the ordeals and much will be said about the "awesome trains" that had the power to make all this happen. Here is what I don''t expect to see: The "gritty", hard working people who cleared the snow and mudslide debris, filled in the washouts, cleaned up the derailments and restored the track. "Gritty" has a slang meaning of getting dirty/soiled from hard work and the trackmen that I have worked with all of my railroad life have done just that all day, every work day for however hours it took to keep the "Awesome Trains" on the track in good weather as well as bad. We should include the Mechanical guys, the mechanics, car knockers, car shop/engine house repair people who were proud and willing to get "gritty/grease stained to keep these "Awesome Engines" in superior repair to pull their consists up the steep vertical grades and the braking systems working that allow the locomotive engineers to keep their trains stretched out or bunched up tight, whichever is necessary to deliver people or freight safely and efficiently to the destination. These, and other true grit, grounded, every day railroad workmen are always on call in the event that the "Awesome Engines" need a helping "gritty" hand to keep them on the rails and able to "deliver the mail". Like many other railroad men and women, I don''t like being wrong but I truly hope that I am and the "History Channel" does actually show the resolute, determined, gritty men and women who serve the "Awesome Engines" and possess the skills that provide these special engines with the conditioning, power and care that all railroad locomotives require. The History Channel is a leader in providing information to the watching public, I sure hope that their series reveals, indeed, shows off, the sometime heroic and all time efforts of the "gritty" individuals tht keep these awesome engines in top repair and always on the iron. Vincent Terrill

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Posted by George on 10/18/2008 4:46:09 AM

Now there's a non-review for you. How about looking at the DVD before opining? Change "extreme" to "impressive" and let's see what they've come up with, ok?

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Posted by Chris Burger on 10/20/2008 2:35:13 PM

Here's hoping the History Channel series doesn't get sidetracked into making hoboes look more heroic than railroaders as so many other railroad related TV series have.

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Posted by MICHAEL WILLIS on 10/20/2008 11:26:33 PM

Does anyone remember ''The Great Train Store''? The one located in Troy, Michigan in the Somerset Collection Mall was closed in 2000. Somerset Mall has a distant similarity to Londons'' Victoria Railway Station.I used to spend a lot of time there and recall the wealth of videos(principally VHS format).If you added at least 2hours/video x at least 300 tapes you know that there is lots to see! Add up railroad at least 100 years of company films, video & photo archives & private videos & photos by amateur trainspotters and you have enough there to launch: ''THE TRANSPORTATION CHANNEL'' The transportation channel would have to be all inclusive with the other modes of transport to have a larger viewing audience-including people who know very little about railway history-and could generate new interest because all of the modes-for the sake of efficiency need to eventually tie together in a seamless manner.

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Posted by Ted on 10/22/2008 9:52:02 AM

I would hope they would go to Bill WY and show the awesome three and four track coal line with coal trains running with the frequency of street cars. Not some pokey trains.

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Posted by n.c.halden on 10/22/2008 10:33:49 AM

Please allow me to correct one of the awesome train claims. the Acela train is a slow apology for a high speed train and weighs far too much to ever be such. The ALSTOM Duplex TGV and AGV is a really awesome train, you should experience it then you will know the difference. America is 30 years away from ever having a decent HST.

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Posted by marv on 10/22/2008 11:32:42 AM

On TO, it was listed as a 1,400 ton coal train in Penn. That is a small train and no biug deal.

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Posted by David Smith on 10/22/2008 6:46:02 PM

Let's just hope they didn't turn it into a soap opera like they did the "Ice Road Truckers".

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Posted by michael willis on 10/22/2008 11:05:39 PM

I just had to quote the famous railway book author S. KIP FARRINGRTON, JR. from the forward of his 1951 edition of "RAILROADING The Modern Way". Published by Coward-McCann inc. New York- the 1st paragraph : this is very awesome to read! "FORWARD" "During the last two years it has been my good fortune to travel and inspect the railraods of sixteen foreign countries. Some years before I did the same thing in six other countries. After having the oppotunity of viewing all of their very fine railroads and territories plus the tremendous job they accomplish with their tedious and tough operations, I am even more thotoughly concinced that that UNITED STATES RAIL TRANSPORTATION IS THE BEST AND MOST LUXURIOUS IN THE WORLD. NOWHERE ELSE ON EARTH AREA THERE SO MANY PASSENGERS AND SO MUCH FREIGHT ON THE MOVE WITH SPEED, SUCH REGULARITY,SUCH SAFETY, AND SUCH PUNCTUALITY AS IN THE STATES". S. Kip Farrington, Jr. Montauk, New York February 1, 1951

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Posted by Tom Price on 10/23/2008 12:10:47 PM

I am puzzled about the all American content. I suppose the History Channel people feel rest of the world just operates wayfreights. Not much interest here.

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Posted by James Mancuso on 10/23/2008 12:52:01 PM

If one wanted to see some really impressive trains, for one example, try the 4 mile long monster operated by Norfolk and Western in November of 1967 using six SD45s, three up front and three buried in the middle, or the three mile long monsters operated out of Buffalo,NY for a time by the same railroad. I am sure that, even with radio control of the midtrain diesels, these trains were quite a challenge for the engineer to operate safely, let alone get over the road at all.

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Posted by Bruce on 10/23/2008 3:14:46 PM

Awesome would be well portrayed by the 10,000 foot double stack trains we take from San Bernardino to Needles (and on to Chicago). Three 4,400 hp units up front and two 4,400 DP units on the rear. We run these 7000 ton monsters at least 3 times a week safely and efficiently at 70mph.

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Posted by Larry Kaufman on 10/23/2008 3:44:04 PM

These increasingly lengthy comments began with what one reader referred to as a "non-review," and have moved on to criticisms and suggested trains that should have been covered -- all by people who haven't seen the History Channel special. Come on, folks, at least wait until the producers have shown their work before skewering them. And remember, "awesome" is in the eye of the beholder - and the producer.

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Posted by Peter Sexton on 10/23/2008 3:49:38 PM

Why would you comment on the Extreme Trains show without viewing the DVD?

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Posted by James Swidergal on 10/23/2008 3:58:14 PM

It's a pity that so much goes into this blog site,and the program didn't even air yet. The History Channel usually get's it right,most of the time,(ie as previously mentioned Ice Road Truckers...hiccup...puke...zzzzz! But quite honestly I'd rather see all the gritty being depicted as the burn and turn hours of service,the greasy,dirty,knuckle bustin of a grinder crew, or track crew repairin switches after a knuclehead new hire ran threw in the dead of winter. Instead, I'm sure, it'll be some mediocre,glitz,whizbang episode, that'll make the Carriers' look like some great marvel,instead of the on the backs of rails kinda show.

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Posted by Gary on 10/24/2008 11:28:17 AM

I worked in the Railroad Industry 43 years with 30 years as a Dispatcher for Soo Line and last 17 years with BN/BNSF I am looking forward to watching this program can remember some very large trains that moved some huge loads also fighting the Northern Blizzards could go on all day talking of my RR days Thank You

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Posted by Amy Plummer on 10/24/2008 1:03:15 PM

I have been working in the real estate industry since 1990, early in my career I sold residential property and have since turned to Industrial Development years ago. I currently contract with a short line in South Carolina. I think shows like this are a very exciting and a positive addition to the rail industry. Were it not for the tireless and continual dedication of the railroad employees and workers, many Americans would not have jobs, commodities, retail goods, energy for their homes and cars, and the list goes on. It’s about time, in my opinion that Railroader’s received some intense recognition for their contribution to our personal, professional, commercial and industrial prosperity and success. I grow tired of public meetings where people ask for jobs from the industry rail brings while all the time trashing and degrading the railroad as being tyrants and bully’s. It is about time that all Americans realized that the rail industry is and will continue to be the backbone of our economy. I say thank you to all of you railroaders out there that do everything from keep up tracks to running trains and beyond. Were it not for you a staggering percentage of Americans could not live the lifestyle the live. Keep up the good work, and thank you from this developer, my family, and community for all you do. I hope this show will allow all of America to see the incredible part of our economy that all of you play.

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Posted by michael willis on 10/24/2008 3:56:42 PM

GENERAL MOTORS NEEDS TO GET BACK ON THE RAILROAD TRACK! The following taken from "The WONDER BOOK OF TRAINS" new & revised edition by Norman Carlisle published by John.C.Winston co.1957 Chapter 24 features the "GM AEROTRAIN-pattern for future rail travel" "A group of railroad presidents asked GM for any suggestions that they might have for new hauling equipment would reduce operating and maintenence costs, lower center of gravity, increase average speed, improve riding comfort and make lower passenger fares possible. This request seemed like quite a proposition, but General Motors took it as an inspiting challange and eventually produced the AEROTRAIN" "The train gets its name ''Aerotrain'' from the fact that its suspension is on compressed air in rubber bellows instead of on conventional springs." "The train''s low center of gravity and lighter weight permit much faster speeds than are attained by present equipment. The 10-car unit, seating 400 passemgers, can travel at the rate of 100 miles per hour." " A taxi driver, passing the AEROTRAIN on display in Chicago, was heard to exclaim with enthusiasm, "Boy, you just know that thing will get you there in a hurry!" "SO fast does experimentation become reality in this day and age of mechanical miracles, that MANY OF THE NEWER TRAINS MAY BE IN ACTUAL OPERATION BY THE TIME THIS BOOK IS OFF THE PRESS" What I getting at is this-- The GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan is a massive and impressive sight, filled with some of the best engineering and design talent in the world, but in order for GM to survive it must re-embrace the railroad industry as one of its vital components.

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Posted by KKasten on 10/24/2008 7:04:32 PM

Im a firefighter and any show about firefighters always gets me going but I would rather watch a show like this on the History Channel. I know one thing me and my eight-year old will be waiting to enjoy this series.

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Posted by william cormeny on 10/27/2008 10:49:22 PM

There's no question US railroads,like Australian,Indian,Chinese,Russian,Brazilian,and Argentinian railroads must cover enormous areas of difficult terrain. However,given this similarity one wonders how these railroads were financed and how they manage to run systems where 97% of the workers do not suffer from disabling injuries.Either they have different insurance companies,or someone in the US is taking advantage of the system and the American taxpayers who foot the bill. Frankly,these other systems subsidize their railroads and ours seems to be run on a muddling through basis of accountants, management,union leaders,and attorneys.Only the health care system is morely poorly run.

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Posted by Michael Willis on 10/27/2008 10:55:40 PM

"WESTWARD THE COURSE OF EMPIRE" by photographer Mark Ruwedel The ATLANTIC magazine of November 2008 on pg. 140 'COVER TO COVER A Guide to Additional Releases' just posted this from YALE press: "A veteran photographer of the American West, Ruwedel here takes as his abtruse but evocative subject the additions to the landscape made by the great expanding U.S. and Canadian railroads of the 19th and 20th centuries. The cuts and grades, tunnels and trestles that mark the terrain in in these starkly beautiful photographs seem like the North American equivalent of ruined Greek temples and Roman viaducts. For ruins many now are, testament to a burst of once-triumphant engineering swept aside by highways. Yet they seem oddly natural, such is the topography''s power to sublime human attempts to scratch away at something so grand and forbidding".

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Posted by Larry Kaufman on 10/28/2008 11:49:12 AM

William Cormany injects a public policy issue into the discussion of "awesome" trains. That's OK, there are answers to his questions. They begin with the response that no one with the exception of some rail union leaders, has defended the high rate of disabilities that retiring Long Island Rail Road workers have been able to get. I wonder how long they will continue to receive those payments, now that the light of the New York Times is shining on the sleazy practice. I'm not aware of any "awesome" trains operated by the LIRR. As for how railroads were constructed, U.S. railroads were 92% financed by private - often foreign - capital, and 8% of system miles were built with the aid of public land grants. I claim no expertise on the foreign rail systems that Mr. Cormeny cites, but I suspect many of them were built with direct government funding, as they are public entities to this day. I'm not sure what, if anything, this has to do with "awesome" trains.

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Posted by MICHAEL WILLIS on 10/29/2008 11:21:08 AM

"LIONEL TRAINS" represent North American railroad history in the most incredible way! The LIONEL Visitor''s Center in Chesterfield, Michigan(586-949-4100) was temporarily closed in June of 2008, supposedly for a remodeling. I checked back today, October 29th and found out that it is now permanently closed. The only good news is that the extensive ''LIONEL TRAINS'' layout will remain intact, but who is going to ever see it again? Quoting the LIONEL Visitor''s Center flyer: "LIONEL HISTORY" "The Lionel Visitor''s Center was constructed between September of 1991 & January of 1992 by employees and their families who volunteered their time after work hours. The layout is 14'' X 40'' and has over 30 push buttons that allow you to control the operating accessories. At any given time, between 10 & 15 trains are running on the layout which is updated continually to display the latest LIONEL product. Little stools are provided for the younger children. There''s also a train layout just for kids, so they can join in the fun too. JOSHUA LIONEL COWEN opened a small a small shoip in New York City in 1900 & established the LIONEL MANUFACTURING COMPANY. He created a motorized toy train car for window displays. It turned out that customers were more interested in the little train than what it carried, and with that, LIONEL TRAINS were born.For over a century, LIONEL has grown from a little toy company to the best loved name in model trains throughout the world. The company has crossed bridges from the Great Depression through two World Wars.Through many times of economic uncertainty LIONAL TRAINS HAVE LED THE MODEL TRAIN INDUSTRY WITH PROGRESSIVE ENGINEERING & TOUGH, RELIABLE OPERATION. LIONEL remains an AMERICAN ICON that designs and markets train sets for children, and limited-edition trains and accessories for hobbyists and collectors. LIONEL TRAINS are the most valued model trains in America today, being collected or operated by over 100,000 model train hobbyists. The success of LIONEL is the result of a 100-year tradition of painstaking attention to quality and innovation." "LIONEL-SINCE 1900"

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Posted by Terry on 10/29/2008 12:00:54 PM

Appreciate their effort, but as with any of these shows there are a number of inaccuracies (which drives all of us nuts) so we can only hope they seek guidance from someone with industry knowledge when editing.

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Posted by A Railroader Who Remembers Things on 10/29/2008 1:03:29 PM

While I am a little uncertain exactly what the subject of this blog is supposed to be, it appears that several comments have drifted severely off-subject. Most trains operated today are awsome when one observes them from trackside as they pass at speed. Today most of the workers on those trains do not get "gritty" until something goes wrong. But that does not mean that their life is particularly easy, either. I have been fortunate enough to ride the cab of a locomotive on a unit train decending the eastern slope of the Allegheny Mountains into Altoona. It does not take brute strength or an ability to survive in the dirt to do so, it takes skill to control 16,000 tons of train down such a grade. What is amazing is that it happens as many as twenty times every day, and literally hundreds of individuals have shown that they are capable of doing so. But, the real point of this blog is to review an idea for a television show, a show that none of the individuals commenting have yet had an opportunity to view. It sounds like it could be very interesting, and if told correctly, it could make the engineer in the locomotive cab once again the hero of young boys across the country. Concerning some of the other points made, I will just point out that the Aerotrain was considered a failure. The bus bodies that were adapted to the rails did not hold up well in rail service. The interiors were not considered roomy. The overall comfort level was not high enough to do the job desired, attract passengers. The four train set prototypes finished out their abbreviated lives in commuter service on the Rock Island out of Chicago. They were cheap equipment for the financially strapped Rock to use for the services that they were required to provide. Incidentally, they did not meet the current safety requirements for passenger equipment even as closely as the several diesel "light rail" cars that need FRA exemptions and special operating protections do today. Which brings up another passenger failure, the United Aircraft Turbo Trains that were operated between Boston and New York in the early days of Amtrak and in Canada between Montreal and Toronto for a few years longer. The turbos died because they used too much fuel (even back when it was cheap) and needed too much maintenance to provide reliable serveice. They did not meet the current FRA requirements, either. Both sets of equipment did teach the industry something, though, about what is and what is not durable and pleasing enough to sell in rail passenger service. However, as good engineers learn from their mistakes, both contributed a bit to the design of the Amtrak Superliners which are definitely big and sturdy, which taken together make a long train of them "awsome".

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Posted by Larry Kaufman on 10/29/2008 2:48:00 PM

A Railroader Who Remembers Things has an excellent memory. If his is based on personal experience and observation, he's about as old as I am. He's basically right. I still find it kind of amusing that so many have so much to say - mostly negative - about a TV documentary that they have not even seen. The producers may or may not have used a railroad expert as a consultant to ensure accuracy. Some do, others do not. The program, I am confident, will meet the standards of the History Channel. And don't forget, the real objective of the cable channel is to draw eyeballs to the screen so they will be exposed to the commercials. Nothing at all wrong with that, but it's a bit of perspective some 'critics' might want to consider.

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Posted by James Swidergal on 10/31/2008 1:26:39 PM

So Much Larry who seems to think this is his own blog site,and the other long winded types who must have more time then anything else. Perhaps it's time to relinquish this site to the blowhards and otherwise old heads of yesteryear,withtheir hub-bub of "when I was a has been". Considering, this is Progressive Railroading, not degenerative railroading.

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Posted by Larry Kaufman on 11/3/2008 11:21:47 AM

James Swidergal must have gotten out on the wrong side of the bed. His personal attack on me is annoying, but it will have no effect. I shall continue to comment here whenever I read something that I think justifies a comment. Mr. Swidergal is free to ignore my comments; that's his business. Are you sure you're not Dave Smith using James Swidergal as a nom de plume? If you are a real person, perhaps we now know why NS didn't hire you.

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Posted by RSB on 11/3/2008 12:17:17 PM

Great response Larry but in your last paragraph your claws are out a liiiittle bit too far. In my 31+ year railroad experience (must be a has-been by now) I've seen many times where we return to doing something we used to do. To me the term progressive also means avoiding the mistakes of the past so it's never a bad thing to know the history of something so you can move forward rather than in a circle.

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Posted by Robert Mann on 11/8/2008 12:47:03 AM

"Awesome?" Maybe. I guess it's in the eyes of the beholder. For a great paycheck I'd rather be working in the offices of one of those "Awesome Train Companies." But if I want something that REALLY gets at the romance and human side of railroading, give me an old and tattered shortline anyday. The Pecos Valley Southern, Florida Central, Mason City and Clear Lake etc. Railroading on a wing and a prayer, low joints, weeds and odd motive power somehow speaks to the soul.

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Posted by James Swidergal on 11/17/2008 3:15:43 PM

Ok..let's put on the critics cap Managed to watch the first installment of Extreme Trains,although I must say the film taking and the technical side of this show was right up there with History Channels' great standards. But who is this guy,the host,a veteran conductor... "I'm scared","hey engineer you mean to mtell me your not scared" Jump around and act all silly like you're twelve years old, and not one shred of professionalism on this hosts part. Impart knowledge you fool, maybe you need to return to your job as a...(clear my throat..) as a (almost can't say it) as a conductor because you certainly aren't a TV host either. I could see and understand trying to sell excitement to the viewer,but not with this buffune waving his arms willynilly,and screaming and acting utterly ridiculous. History Channel you owe this Industry and all who work, and have worked and are in association with this great industry known as railroading either a re-make or one big apology....and this was just the first episode..lordy lordy!

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Posted by eugene gleason on 11/19/2008 12:35:49 PM

please somebody calm this looney moderator down. he is embarrasing the crews he is filming.

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Posted by Jack Fuller on 11/20/2008 1:49:40 PM

Would certainly agree with the comments about the series narrator. Is he really a Conductor?

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For NS, a few steps to self improvement

It’s hard to find your way on a long journey on an unfamiliar route without a road map. For Norfolk Southern Corp., the directional tool that will guide the Class I down the right self-improvement path the next few years is “Track 2012.”

An initiative launched in the third quarter, Track 2012 sets specific goals for improving safety, operational and financial performance. The initiative will be the “focal point for our company to continuously improve over the next five years,” said NS Chairman, President and CEO Wick Moorman in June while addressing the Merrill Lynch Global Transportation Conference in New York City.

The railroad plans to meet or exceed “aggressive” targets for a number of key service metrics by the end of 2012, not the least of which is fuel efficiency. NS consumes 1.4 million gallons of diesel per day, or about 500 million gallons annually. Finding ways to save one cent per gallon can cut annual fuel costs by $5 million.

One implement in Track 2012’s fuel-efficiency toolbox is the Wireless Event Recorder Information System (WERIS). Installed on about 1,600 locomotives, the system wirelessly downloads information from event recorders at various access points across NS’ system. A mechanical department team analyzes the data to identify train crews’ fuel-conserving strengths and weaknesses, and determine ways to further reduce diesel usage.

“We are working to ensure that our crews will receive feedback based on the data that can help them improve their fuel conservation and train-handling techniques,” said team leader and Manager of Train Operating Practices Brian Keller in the October issue of NS’ monthly newsletter.

The team plans to recognize top train-handling performers, who will serve as role models for others. NS expects to equip more locomotives with WERIS during the next few years.

In the meantime, the Class I is rolling out InnovatioNS, an initiative aimed at encouraging workers to come up with new operational-improvement ideas. Here are a couple of recent ones from crew management employees: provide a volunteer crew management center (CMC) mentor for each new hire and update all 11 operating divisions’ CMC guidebooks.

“Employees at all levels and locations [can] find creative ways, big and small, to improve the company,” said Moorman.

With Track 2012 and InnovatioNS, Norfolk Southerners believe they’ll leave no large or tiny stone unturned — and avoid any wrong turns — on the road to self improvement.

Posted by: Jeff Stagl | Date posted: 10/8/2008

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Posted by Bill on 10/13/2008 1:09:28 PM

Fuel conservation is important. However, some railroads have implemented conservation programs that focus so much on the most fuel conserving methods of train handling that they put trains at risk of overspeed past signals and the possibility of failing to stop at the appropriate location. Throttle modulation and dynamic braking are good, but only when they are effective for controlling train speeds.

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Posted by Bruce Gillings on 10/17/2008 12:04:06 PM

Cost controls are necessary and deserve a high priority. But, as a member of the "other side" (I design industrial facilities) the mantra I keep hearing is: when will the railroads get their service to quality levels. That means that whether it is intermodal or carload, shipments need to scheduled and the schedules met with very limited exceptions. That is not what today's railroads are delivering. There is still a significant gap between what businesses need and railroads are providing. That gap needs more than catchy, motivational phrases: it needs to be addressed through performance, period.

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Posted by Larry Kaufman on 10/17/2008 3:27:04 PM

Bruce Gillings is right about what railroad service should be like. I believe he is wrong when he states that rail service is not good. Every railroad of which I am aware measures its performance in terms of how well each carload hits the specifications - plus or minus so many hours from schedule. Is it perfect? Of course not. Will it ever be? Probably not. But perfection is a goal worth striving for. As a journalist over many years, I have come to know that many rail shippers will tell reporters how bad it is, but only if they are granted anonymity. There's a reason why most new organizations have policies against using anonymous sources and for explaining to readers when they do why a source is not identified. In this case, precision operations are more profitable operations requiring fewer locomotives, fewer train crews, etc. The suggestion from Mr. Gillings that rail service is poor and that management doesn't care is just plain wrong.

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Posted by Bruce Gillings on 10/17/2008 4:44:07 PM

I don't mean to imply that rail management does not care; I am sure they do and the management people I have met in operations seem that way (in industrial development it is a different story - it is a "this is the way we do it" attitude). But in operations, I have to stand by what I said. I have two projects underway now that involve major shippers, both involving perishable products. For one, they have tried both intermodal and carload. In neither case is the service reliable: on-time ratios are unacceptable to the level where only products with long shelf lifes are shipped, and deliveries can be on time for a while, then late by days or a week. There is always a "good" reason to the railroad, but ulmately a shipper does not care if the reefer was bad-ordered or there was a derailment so all trains were delayed for three days: bottom line is the shipment was late and my client is put in a position of missing a delivery date. My second case client has given up on intermodal, in spite of fuel costs, because his shipments kept getting bumped, missing hot connections, and he was getting perishable trailers delivered two, three or four days late. Produce doesn't look good on a supermarket shelf when it is already aging. That will take a paradigm shift in the industry of recognizing that schedules must be met, not just a goal. Again, I don't think the problem is whether or not management cares, but it is a challenge for railroads to move into a new world of service and operations delivery where service interruptions - defined as any event that interferes with a delivery schedule - are the exception, not the norm. That is not the case now.

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Posted by Larry Kaufman on 10/20/2008 10:40:03 AM

I don't dispute what Mr. Gillings says about his two clients and their unhappy experience with rail service. There are at least two solutions to the service problems his clients have encountered. One, negotiate a contract that covers rates and minimum service standards, with reparations paid by the railroad for any failures under that contracts. Second, if the railroad refuses to sign such a contract and accept real service standards, pay the freight, so to speak, and ship the goods by truck using team drivers. It may cost more money, but the perishables won't look aged on the shelf. I'm not trying to make light of Mr. Gillings' clients problems, but I'm unaware of any requirement that railroads disrupt their service as common carriers in the interest of satisfying one or a few customers. Some of us remember when UP guaranteed a maximum time of transit for UPS containers. It wasn't long before UP determined that it couldn't meet the contract terms to which it had agreed and ended up paying UPS to take its traffic off its rail system and put it on the highway - or back on BNSF, which was able to provide that level of service. Until shipments are made in one car behind one locomotive, the demands of some shippers - probably including Mr. Gillings' clients - will be impossible to meet.

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Posted by James Swidergal on 10/23/2008 4:00:50 PM

If the NS wanted to take steps to self improvement, they should have hired me,at least I have experience.

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Posted by An Ex-Con(railer) on 10/29/2008 2:09:03 PM

It is a little early yet to determine if the current chapter in self improvement will work out exactly as Wick Mooreman envisions. Somehow, though, I think that it might surprise him, because railroaders often take the position of "Chief, point us to where you want us to go, then watch us get there. But, pardon the smoke." Then we sometimes just start up again and go to the next three stations beyond the original destination on down the line. That said, improvement is something that has always been sought since I started with Penn Central well over 30 years ago. At NS safety is always a prime concern. "It is not worth it if someone gets hurt" is taken to heart. We want everyone to go home the same way they arrived at the start of the day, except maybe a bit tired. This is right, this is appropriate, this is key to improving. Actually this also dates back to Penn Central. We just know more about how to accomplish it now. 30 years experience teaches something, I guess. But everyone needs to remember, the purpose of a corporattion is to earn money for its investors. That is why corporations are created. If you cannot make money in a given business, find one that you can make money in or get out of business altogether. Improvement in business is doing the things that make money and doing them more efficiently. The Union Pacific got out of the priority train for UPS business because they could not provide the desired level of service without spending too much to deliver it. Unfortunately, safety also enters into this calculation. Lack of safety is costly. It disrupts things. It keeps people from doing what they must do to serve the customer efficiently. If giving a produce customer the level of service that a trucker delivers costs us more than it does the trucker, then it improves the process to give the business to the trucker. Service improvement involves learning how to give that service at a cost less than the trucker incurs if that is possible. By the way, volume counts too, if we can gain 52 unit train moves of coal (15,000 tons per train) on which we make $5 a ton or can gain one 35 ton move of produce on which we can make $6 a ton, where would the sane manager be expected to devote his efforts? (That is $3,900,000 earned versus $210, for those who need help with the math.)

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Posted by Max Mitchell on 11/13/2008 5:59:23 PM

I watched the first episode of "Extreme Trains" on November 11 and was very pleased to see that it included material about more than just the train operations. So many "Train" or "Railroad" programs don't even mention the track and structures OR mechanical maintenance issues. It was refreshing to see this included even though not to the extent I would have preferred.

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