The Future Of The Sunbury Line (1 of 7) A Perspective From Pan Am Land

4-Train-Hump-Day-Scranton-Pa-6-17-2015 (3)

Part 2 >>>>

Norfolk Southern Train 30T, running as Canadian Pacific 930, ducks underneath Lackawanna Avenue in Scranton, Pa. and drifts downgrade into Taylor Yard and on to Enola Yard on June 17, 2015…. In three more months (almost to the day) NS will take over and become the official owner of this line. And along with CP, this train, 30T will also disappear, becoming a part of Train 11R in early 2016.

Norfolk Southern Banner

I got an email a few weeks ago which gave me the inspiration to finish this series of articles I’d started last year highlighting my thoughts and opinions about the future of the (now) Norfolk Southern Sunbury Line….

Here’s that email….

“I used to live in PA and work for Schneider Intermodal. It was quite an experience learning about intermodal hands on and I got to spend a lot of time in/around rail yards. Now I live in New England but still see quite a bit of intermodal. When I was at Schneider, Hunt had decided to start playing the rate game and sending a lot of freight by CSX. This meant White and Orange boxes on the same train — not a good combination! NS refused to let us use our own chassis, a grudge they held for years since we gave CSX an exclusive contract. Hunt still hedges one off the other and I see a lot of boxes up here in New England go to both Worcester and Ayer on CSX and NS.

CSX owns the North/South freight out of New England, running Worcester to Jacksonville, and some new ramp they have down there (Winter Haven). NS wants to run another pair of trains from Atlanta to Ayer to compete, but we will see how that comes along. They lost a LOT of Hunt traffic last year when Pan Am’s line got embargo’d. It was sad really, they just couldn’t make it work. Won’t be long til the NS comes in and takes over all of Pan Am Southern.

Back in the late 90s, CN launched an intermodal service into Auburn, ME that saw a pair of dedicated trains on Maine’s only double stack corridor. Of course, CSX & NS tightened their grips and took a lot of the traffic, but CN never did much to stay competitive (it was through a shortline, the St. Lawrence & Atlantic). Then about 2 years ago the terminal was limping along on some marginal international container traffic and ultimately CN pulled the plug.

My opinion is that Pan Am Southern will fold into Norfolk Southern sooner rather than later. A lot of us believed it would be in the next 2-3 years, but now with the proxy battle on their hands, who really knows. However, as for what happens to the rest of the railroad, Pan Am Railways? Some speculate CSXT will attempt to move in. There is plenty of intermodal opportunity up here in New England for either NS or CSXT to expand into Pan Am Railways territory.

Of course working for Schneider Intermodal, I knew all the customers up here in New England, but also a lot out in PA. They were really going after the intermodal business and were turning up some notches on NS. NS is trying to connect the dots with the Crescent Corridor, which follows the seaboard to a degree, so the two are rather competitive.

Maine is actually a pretty big freight target. Poland Springs is the biggest source of outbound trucks, moving nearly 700 a day out of the state. Pan Am’s terminal in Portland, is moving 45 loads a week right now on three separate moves. These moves are of course on a trial basis but are quite interesting to watch. As of April 8th, Pan Am is going to expand this operation to their old intermodal facility in Waterville running a connecting service with Portland. We will see ultimately what happens here, but from what I’m told, NS might jump on board with it too. For now, Pan Am will move 105 containers a week from Maine into the Boston/Metrowest market.”

NorfolkSouthern

To understand (and maybe appreciate) my opinions about the future you’d have to have an idea of what was happening in the past…. Many people would agree that the 90s wasn’t a particularly happy decade for the railfans watching the railroads who were disappearing one after the other. It started right here with the Delaware & Hudson who became part of the Canadian Pacific system in 1991.

Back then, mainline railroading on the Sunbury was dominated by red SD40-2s and when NS came into the picture it was a breath of fresh air…. Because unlike CP which only ran its oldest (albeit beloved) locomotives, Norfolk Southern was running almost anything it had on its roster and for the first time railfans in NEPA were able to see GE’s and EMD’s newest 21st century hi-tech, widecab diesels, not to mention high hoods and even foreign power to boot. Plus there was a wide variety of commodities that included (for the first time since loss of the anthracite industry in the region) unit coal trains albeit now bituminous.

Immediately after the break up of Conrail, black and blue diesels started parading through the region and what a sight it was!… It looked like early Conrail again!… The following year the first Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus Train came to the area behind two big SOO LINE SD60s followed by the James E. Strates Carnival Train a few years after that. But the real purpose for the Sunbury Sub from the start was for intermodal traffic, more specifically double-stacks.

Even back then intermodal was the jewel of the Sunbury’s crown and Norfolk Southern’s stake in that crown was that with Conrail’s breakup CSX gained entry (by way of the Hudson River, Selkirk Yard and the old Boston & Albany) into the lucrative New England market while NS did not. That and the fact that the Sunbury Sub was the only fully cleared double-stack container route into New England from the South is what gave the Sunbury Sub its luster and the NS its interest in it.

For a while…. For the first ten years or so, CP and NS operated a brisk business in the region whether it was “over the mountain” on the Reading & Northern or on the Sunbury Sub. But somewhere along the way (after one E. Hunter Harrison took control) CP seemed to lose interest in that business and by the time the announcement was made that the South End was up for sale in 2014, CP was only running one pair of trains between Binghamton, NY and Allentown, Pa.. Trains 258 and 259…. (Ok, technically two pairs as even though the 458 and 459 utilized NS power, they were in fact CP trains that operated with CP crews). Even the ranks of the SD40-2s had dwindled to almost nothing more than the #5690 who (since the days of the St. Lawrence & Hudson) toiled day in and out for the remainder of CP’s presence in the region….

(BELOW) Canadian Pacific #5690 shown in Saratoga Springs, NY in 2004 as it was back then…. Painted for CP’s red-haired stepchild, the St. Lawrence & Hudson and then again over 10 years later on August 16, 2015 (BOTTOM) exiting Taylor Yard with Train 259, now in full CP livery.

Canadian-Pacific-Saratoga-New-York (3)

4-Train-Sunday-Scranton-Pa-8-16-2015 (204)

On Saturday, September 19, 2015 Norfolk Southern assumed all operations on the Sunbury Sub which became the Sunbury Line and resumed with new symbols, new players and a new vision. The D&H South Line makes up the northernmost extension of Norfolk Southern’s massive Crescent Corridor project. 2.5 billion dollars and over a decade long in the making, the Crescent Corridor is designed to be a truck-competitive alternative between New England, the Northeast and the Southeast. And with its Kansas City Southern connections in Mississippi and Florida East Coast in the Sunshine State, possibly between Mexico and the Port of Miami too.

In Part 2 we’ll go deeper into this subject and take a look at how….

The Future Of The Sunbury Line (Part 1 of 7) A Perspective From Pan Am Land

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Author:Railfan AC

AC is a U.S. Air Force Veteran, a long haul trucker, a transportation enthusiast and a lifelong lover of trains. AC's mission is to travel America documenting American railroading in the 21st century while educating those who want to know about the importance the railroads play in our daily lives including, but not limited to, the movement of goods, services and more.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply