Monday, November 30, 2015

Q & A on Canadian Pacific's Bid for Norfolk Southern

The CPR made the news in November when it made an offer to buy Norfolk Southern. I’ve taken a look at various articles and analysis of the proposed merger/takeover; find a few questions and answers below.

What would a merger mean for the two railways?

A merger of the CPR and NS would mean the creation of a second transcontinental railway in North America (CN is the other one). The system would run from Canada’s west coast to the U.S. east coast, and also down to the Gulf coast.

Why does the CPR want to merge with NS?

It could simply be a vanity project for Hunter Harrison, his ambition to create a trans-continental railway. After all, he tried to buy CSX in 2014, but was rebuffed.

CP argues that customers would benefit from a seamless system; among other things, the CPR is notes that a merger of the two railway would mean cars would no longer need to be exchanged in Chicago, thereby speeding up transit times.

There’s also the question of cash—NS owns a lot of expensive real estate that the new railway could sell to recoup its investment. 

Said Harrison: “I think we’ll be able, like we did at CP, to take some of their yards that are probably not needed in my view, and convert them to maybe real estate and generate huge cash flow—huge –without having a negative impact on the railroad. It’s gravy. It could be a lot. That’s why I’m excited.” 

That would be on top of an estimated $1.8 billion in operational savings, he said.

This is the same strategy he pursued at CPR after becoming CEO in 2012, closing unneeded rail yards and intermodal terminals, and unveiling plans to sell about $1 billion of real estate.

He might also sell off some of the lines that NS owns. “They probably have got the best mile-for-mile physical plant in the U.S., but I think they’ve got too much of it,” he said.

How much is the CPR offering NS to merge?

$28 billion.

Does NS want to merge?

NS has been publicly cool to the idea, branding the offer “unsolicited, low-premium, non-binding and highly conditional.”

How many miles of track are involved?

NS has 20,000 miles in 22 eastern states. The CPR has 13,700 miles in Canada, and in the U.S. Midwest and northeast.

Why would NS shareholders want to merge with the CPR?

Since joining the CPR, Harrison has led a turnaround that transformed one of the North American industry’s least-efficient operators into one of its leanest carriers. NS, on the other hand, is one of the least-efficient major carriers as measured by operating ratio.

“We see no reason why we can’t do there what we’ve done at CP,” said Harrison. “It may be even easier. They have a better infrastructure than we do. They have always been well respected for having a wonderful physical plant. Some of us have teased them about being gold-plated.”

What are the hurdles?

For starters, NS has to want to do it. But it would also need the approval of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board or STB, which has been cool to the idea of railway mergers in the past. 

The last time a major one was proposed, in 1999, between CP's main rival Canadian National and BNSF, the STB blocked the move and implemented a temporary moratorium on all future Class I railroad mergers.

If the merger is successful, what might it mean for the CPR in Canada?

Some are speculating that it could mean a move of the corporate headquarters from Calgary to somewhere in the U.S. Harrison has denied this speculation.

For additional information, click here for a perspective from the CBC. For a perspective from the Globe and Mail, click here.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Update on Chris Plue's Rapido Route

It was back in early 2014 that I first posted about Chris Plue's amazing Rapido Route.

The layout--his first--is based on Chris’ memories of taking the train from Toronto to Montreal and Quebec City as a child. 

From that he developed an interest in urban scenery, CN and VIA Rail. The Rapido Route is the result.

Since it’s been awhile, I asked Chris for an update and some new photos. Here’s his reply.

“There haven't been too many stark changes to speak of. . . . yet (more on that in a minute). 

“I did scratch-build a new overpass that I had been wanting to do for some time, and positioned it in place where the girder-style overpass existed before. That bridge ended up being moved further down towards the maintenance shop area of the layout.

“I think that the new overpass adds to the 'feel' of the metropolitan area of the layout as it just seems to fit in better than the girder style did.

“Some of the backdrop areas were changed as well. I added some backdrop images that Bill Brown from LARC Products did up for me, and I have been really happy with the depth and look that the images have added.

“The foreground structures closest to Union Station were changed around as I built a new pedestrian walkway bridge that extends from the foreground shopping centre, over the tracks at Union Station, and into the hotel on the other side. 

"I'm also pretty happy with the newer 'grittier' look to things as well.

“One thing that is in the planning stages right now is a revamp of the trackplan. 

"Although the current track configuration is okay, it does have its flaws and I have really come to learn that hard lesson after a year or so of running trains. As a result, a new trackplan is in the works that will be quite the project in the making.

“This will mean that the layout is going to get approximately 15 more feet added to its current size. This will provide a more smooth operating layout, with the ability to run more trains at one time.

“I plan on using Fast Tracks to build handlaid turnouts for the new layout, and continue to use the PECO Code 83 flextrack for the mainline runs.

“One lesson I have learned (albeit through some frustration with turnouts and stalls) is that I'm really going to take my sweet time in ensuring that the trackwork in the new plan is nothing short of bulletproof.

"Everything from proper easements, superelevations, and smooth turnout transitions is something that I have learned a lot about (and am still learning about), so the new plan will be done right.

“The city scenes won't change all that much, save for a few areas, but that will be something that I will evaluate later on after the trackwork is down. 

"I'm hoping to start construction (again) in the spring and have the trackwork completed within a year—which I think is very achievable. From there, the Rapido Route will take on a different look with better operations and more staging.”

Chris has also created a video tour of the Rapido Route. Click here to view it.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Random Railfanning on the M & M Sub.

It's been a while since I did a bit of railfanning on the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub. So I went out the other day to take a few photos.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

New Display in Memory of Jock Oliphant

One of Jock Oliphant's structures, on display
at the Winnipeg Railway Museum.

Not many people know the name Jock Oliphant—maybe a few model railroad oldtimers. But in Winnipeg, where I live, that name is well-known in the model railroad community.

Jock, who died in 2000, was Canada's first Master Model Railroader (MMR #15), and the only person to win best-in-show at three successive NMRA national conventions.

The former Winnipeg Model Railroad Club member  was renowned for his intricate and detailed structures. A number of his award-winning structures were incorporated into his layout.

At club meetings, he did an annual scenery clinic where he would demonstrate the steps to go from raw bench work to full scenery in 4 inch increments on a 4 foot long module.

According to WMRC member Dave Downie, Jock invited new club members to sit up front to get a really good view. This was a signal to older members to move back—Jock always sprayed those in the first row with water. 

His children decided to donate some of his structures to the Winnipeg Railway Museum, where they are now on display today in a temporary exhibit space.

I only met Jock once or twice, and never saw his layout. It’s great to see his structures on display at the Museum. 

Jock Oliphant

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tim Berners-Lee, Model Railroading and the Invention of the World Wide Web

It's impossible to imagine the world today without the World Wide Web, which celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary last year.

And it’s all because of model railroading.

OK—maybe not all because of model railroading. But the hobby played a significant role in the life and technological development of Tim Berners-Lee, considered the creator and founder of the Web. 

In interviews, Berners-Lee shared that as a boy he had a model railway in his bedroom.

“It was a long thin layout with a 4-track station in the middle, and on each side pairs of tracks going off into tunnels to actually loop back to each other,” he said, adding that he was also an active train-spotter (what the British call a railfan).

To help with operations on the layout, he “made some electronic gadgets to control the trains.”

This included making a making a whistle for his locomotives.

“To control a model train it’s useful to make whistles,” he said. 

“We would make a ace table multiplier for each of the back-to-back-to-back couple flip-flop, which made two transistors which will make a whistle—a ‘wee’ noise—and you might want to have the whistle run for a certain period of time, which is another way of coupling two transistors back to back so that one is stable.”

As a result of making gadgets for his model railway, “I ended up getting more interested in electronics than trains.”

He went on to build his own computer out of an old TV, study physics at Oxford and then, while at CERN in 1989, laid out his vision for what would become the World Wide Web.

As Stephanie Lynn put it on her blog, the boy who tinkered with circuits for his model trains became the man who invented the single most valuable creation of our time.”

And to think it was all because of a young boy’s interest in model railroading.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Great Canadian Layout: Another Look at the Waterloo Region Model Railway Club

One of the best layouts in Canada is the Waterloo Region Model Railway Club in Maryhill, Ont. (near Kitchener).

The club, which is modelling CP Rail near Sudbury in the 1970s, is building a massive multi-deck and multi-helix layout in a country quonset hut.

Club members are posting photos of the layout on Facebook (an increasingly common occurrence these days). Find a few of them here; for more, including construction photos and other information, visit the Club's Facebook page.

Click here to learn more about the Club on this blog. Click here to ready about the ten helixes that make the layout possible. Click here to visit their website.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Going All O. Winston Link on the Thompson Canyon Layout

I'm no O. Winston Link when it comes to night photography of trains. But I tried to be "Linkian" the other week by taking a "night" photo or two of the N scale Thompson River Canyon layout, using only a flashlight.

The result is on this page.

The colour version.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Canadian and U.S. Elections and Whistle Stop Tours

Wilfrid Laurier on his 1904 whistle stop tour.

During the election that just finished here in Canada, leaders of the federal parties engaged in what the media called “whistle stop” tours.

Of course, there were no trains involved—the traditional meaning of a whistle stop. In these cases, the leaders used busses.

In railroad parlance, a whistle stop is a small station where a train only stops on a signal. (Also known as a flag stop, since a passenger at the station might wave a flag to stop the train.)

A typical whistle, or flag, stop.

According to one source, the “whistle” in whistle stop comes from how the engineer would whistle twice to acknowledge a signal from the conductor that he would stop to pick up a passenger.

It didn’t take long for politicians to realize the potential of using trains to help with election bids, including U.S. presidents (beginning with Theodore Roosevelt).

One of the most famous U.S. whistle stop tours was conducted in 1948 by Harry Truman, who used a special train to travel through over 20 states as part of his re-election bid.

Truman's 1948 whistle stop tour.

During the tour, he made up to eight stops and speeches a day in communities along the way from the rear platform of a passenger car.

In 2009, President Obama took the train to his inauguration from Philadelphia to Washington.

Here in Canada, politicians began using trains in the late 19th century for election purposes. According to Michael Nolan of the University of Western Ontario, trains were a key part of election campaigns for politicians between 1867-1925 (together with newspapers, public meetings, picnics and, later, radio).

One Prime Minister who used trains to good effect was Wilfred Laurier. 

In 1894, as leader of the opposition, he used the train to visit various communities in Ontario. For the 1900 election, he used trains to travel through Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.

Another photo of Laurie's whistle stop tour.

As Nolan put it, when the train arrived at its destination, Laurier would hold an informal reception on the station platform with local dignitaries and others. He’d make a few remarks, shake some hands, and then proceed to the next stop.

The last Prime Minister to use a train for campaigning was Pierre Elliot Trudeau, visiting the eastern Canada in 1974.

Pierre Trudeau on his tour.

In 2008, Green Party leader Elizabeth May travelled by regular VIA trains across Canada to meet voters.

She did it partly to reinforce the party’s position on sustainable energy and climate change, but also because it was cheaper. She did it again in 2011, but this time from Toronto to Montreal.

Today, the traditional whistle stop tour is mostly a quaint thing of the past, what with politicians using planes and busses to get around. But the term lives on.

But now the son of Pierre Trudeau is the new Prime Minister. Since he displays his father's easy way of connecting with people, and a desire to do so, maybe one day he will resurrect his father's whistle stop ways.

For another look at railroad terms with political meaning, click here to read about the gravy train.