Friday, June 29, 2012

Colorful Locomotives and a Birthday Party!

I am going!

It's probably going to be a long, hot, crowded day, but figuring out how to get a peak at all of these any other way would be difficult, at best....even with "inside" information.  I just hope my camera battery is up to the task.

Here's the scoop:

Here's the participants:

There is some irony here, however. 

Norfolk  Southern is 30 years old and is the product of a period of large railroad mergers.  Railroad have been around since the 1830s and just about every railroad company whose paint scheme is represented here was founded over 100 years ago.  Railroads were the "high tech" companies of the 19th century.  Most of the stock market crashes and recessions in the second half of the 19th century were the result of "issues" related to funding railroad construction.  In fact, the very long and deep recession of 1893 was the result of a railroad "bubble" collapsing.  (It has many similarities to the current housing bubble induced recession, in fact...)

Railroads were such a good idea, that the government did their dead, level best to kill them.  At first railroads were monopolies, pure and simple, so they wound up being regulated in just about every manner possible.  Rates were public and tightly controlled.  Partnerships and mergers were controlled.  Routes were controlled.  Intermodal activity was forbidden.  (A railroad couldn't own and control a trucking company or an airline, for example).

The monopoly ending with the coming of highways in the early 20th century, but the regulation continued.  And, the world changed.  Manufacturing left the north and moved south.  Global trade increased.  People left the cities for the suburbs.  Home heat changed from coal to gas, oil and electric.  The railroads were left with 19th century regulation in a 20th century world.  The railroads needed to merge to better serve changing markets. They couldn't.  Railroads needed to have flexible pricing and contract pricing.  They couldn't.  Railroads needed to shed unprofitable lines of business, like passenger trains.  They couldn't.  Railroads needed to shed branch lines with dwindling or non-existent traffic.  They couldn't.

Finally, the industry almost collapsed.   The two biggest railroads in the northeast, the Pennsylvania and the New York Central merged after a decade of pleading their case to the government.  The merger was quickly followed by a surprising, but predictable (in hindsight) bankruptcy.  The other railroads in the northeast that had made their living haul coal for heat, raw materials for manufacturing and finished good away from factories found themselves overbuilt for the remaining markets.  They followed PC into bankruptcy.  The railroads in the south and west had these same problems, but to a lesser degree.  They were surviving but had to frequently sell other assets in order to keep the railroad going.

The result of the collapse in the northeast was Conrail - a government sponsored merger of all the bankrupt northeast railroads.  The thought was a larger, more efficient railroad with fixed-up track and equipment could do better.  It did.  But, not enough.  After four years, it was clear Conrail could not survive.  This led to a push to modernize the hopelessly outdated government regulatory scheme.

This worked!  Mergers happened.  Branchlines shed. Markets were better served and more profitable.  By the 1990s the industry was close to making enough money so that it could stay in business for the long haul.

All of the railroads whose locomotive paint schemes that are part of NS's heritage only existed because the government regulation kept them from merging well into the diesel era of the 1950s.  They are very colorful and varied and perhaps the best positive legacy of government regulation that nearly killed an industry.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Red means Blue

In 2006, the Phillies slogan was "Red means go!"  It was appropriate.  The team was on the rise.

Since then, they have won five straight division titles, been to two World Series and won one of them.  Not too shabby.

Now, they are making the fans blue.  We are spoiled, perhaps, but they are in last place and they deserve it.  They are a lousy team.  Okay, that's overstating it a bit.  They are a lousy team with really good starting pitching.  One third of the starting lineup is made up of guys who are near the bottom of the league's offensive stats.  They regularly start guys who would have a hard time hanging onto the 25th spot on other teams.  The bullpen is full of holes and question marks.

Mayberry has been awful.  Galvis doesn't get on base much.  Rollins is not much better.  Wigginton and Nix are bench players.  Thome can only pinch hit - and what I mean by "hit" is strike out.  Victorino and Pence have been their normal selves, Ruiz is doing really well, and Pierre looks like a nice reclaim project, but if they are the heart of the lineup, runs will be hard to come by. This gang would have a hard time finishing over .500.

But, this is baseball and it is only June.  Any team with Halliday, Lee and Hamels has a chance, so there is always hope.  Polanco is hitting more line drives and fewer ground balls lately.  Mayberry has finally hit a couple of home runs.  Utley and Howard look like they might actually make it back this year. How good will they be?  Can they be worse than Galvis/Orr and Nix/Wigginton/Mayberry/Thome?  Hardly.

Can they still win the division.  Sure.  But lots of things have to go right and few things can go wrong.  Here's how.

Halliday, Lee, Hamels, Worley and Blanton have to keep pitching well.  You can lose one of them at a time for a while - Kendrick is an okay sub - but they all have to play well nearly all season.  It's hard to imagine how truly awful things would be if they weren't playing so well.

Utley AND Howard have to come back and be at least 2/3 of their normal selves.  Between the two of them, they should be worth about a run a game more than their replacements.  Just one timely hit in a handful of games this year would have the Phillies near the top of the division.  Utley and Howard are worth at least that.   Utley might actually wind up being healthier than he was last year, from the sounds of it.  Howard might struggle.  His injury is a tough one to come back from in less than a year.

Pierre is proving to be a nice addition, but he has a noodle for an arm and no power at all.  He just can't be the starting left fielder if this team is going to go anywhere.  Mayberry has to at least become an average offensive left fielder or Dom Brown better figure out how to escape AAA.  This is pretty iffy.  Mayberry is not some young rookie.  Last season might have been a fluke.  Dom Brown is only starting to hit a bit at Allentown.

Martinez has to come back from his broken foot.  Martinez?  Why is he a big deal?  Because he's a solid, speedy, versatile fielder with an average bat.  Having him back means the regulars can get a rest and there'll be less late inning juggling to get good pinch hitters to bat and good fielders back into the field.  The bench right now is a mess.  Getting Utley and Howard back will help it a lot, but Martinez will really solidify it.  I'd much rather have Wigginton and Nix pinch hit for the pitcher in late innings than Kratz and Orr.

The bullpen has to settle down.  The only solid piece is Papelbon.  They've blown a few games lately.  Contreras is out.  Too bad.  He was starting to pitch well.  Big questions.  Can Bastardo be close to what he was last year?  Close might be as good as it gets.  Are Herndon and Stutes coming back?  Not looking likely.  Having one of these two guys would be very helpful.  Is Schwimmer a career AAA guy?  Most likely.  Qualls?  Savery?  Diekman?  Somewhere in that sea, they have to find 3 or 4 guys who can pitch reliably...and they better do it pretty quickly.

So, the hopeful view from June looks like this.

Utley, Howard and Martinez come back by mid July. The middle of the lineup is plugged.  The guys hitting there now, go back to support roles and the bench and the non-hitters playing now fall off the end of the roster.  Mayberry improves to average and Polanco approximates his normal self. Rollins hits at least as well as an average shortstop. Wigginton, Nix, Pierre and Martinez anchor the bench and provide regular rest for the starters and solid pinch hitting. Victorino, Pence and Ruiz remain healthy and solid.

Qualls, Diekman and Bastardo become the set up guys.  Papelbon does his thing.  The starters stay healthy.

If all these things come to pass, they have a chance.  Can they, sure. It'll be fun watching to find out.

Otherwise, Red means Blue.

Monday, June 4, 2012

If you're not having any fun, you're doing it wrong

Working for a railroad is a job.  You have to do it whether you feel like it or not on a particular day.  However, no job should be all bad.  In fact, if you never have fun at work, you ARE doing it wrong.

Working for a railroad is serious business and many of the work related tasks I do are far removed from actually being around trains.  I like my job most days,  but some days are better than others. Last Sunday was a really good day "at work".  Okay, it really wasn't a work day, but Norfolk Southern is running a series of steam train excursions for employees this summer.  Our CEO, who also admits to liking trains more than is normal, said:

“The chance to ride behind a living part of our history, to be with
our families and coworkers, and to commemorate the remarkable
progress we’ve made as a team in the last three decades are great
reasons to come out and participate in these trips,” said CEO Wick
Moorman. “Besides, why should railfans have all the fun?”

Indeed.  It was a fun day.  NS ran 4 trips a day on Saturday and Sunday, June 2nd and 3rd, between Atlanta and Forest Park.  The train ran down the old Central of Georgia mainline, now NS's "S" line.  It is lightly used compared to the ex-Southern route to Macon and perfect for these short excursions.  The Atlanta Division employees who worked the event did the company proud!
Boarding at Spring Street.

Departing for Forest Park

Rolling onto the main track, flags flying.
My (mostly) willing companions for the day waiting for me to take a picture of the next departure.
I took a few "better to ask forgiveness than permission" open dutch door shots.
What's a steam train ride if you can't hear the locomotive working or smell the smoke?
Happy train riders
The ancient consolidation (2-8-0) locomotive (Alco - 1904) had to work hard to pull the relatively small train.
At one point, the steam exhaust blew the walkway on an overhead signal bridge out of position!
Passing a Triple Crown Train at East Point

A GP40-2 and road slug pulled the train back to Atlanta from East Point

Cylinder cocks open - getting rolling.
Always a lot of action at Spring Street.
Last trip of the day departs as two freight trains up from Macon approach Atlanta's Inman yard.
Monday at work, a crowd gathered to watch the steam excursion train deadhead to the next location.
Here is it sliding through the Amtrak station on a soaky-wet Monday in Atlanta, as seen from NS's office building on Peachtree St.
Later on Monday, my son Dan caught the train as it passed through Duluth on it's way to Spencer, NC.