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Ask Trains: Why did a railroad remove a connection with another, nearby railroad?

By | August 14, 2019

Published: Aug. 14, 2019

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Trains readers aren’t the only ones to wonder about happenings in the railroad world. Trains editors and friends recently shared an email discussion about why two Class I railroads near Trains’ headquarters removed a connection at a diamond crossover. Here’s a condensed, edited version of the best explanation we’ve seen:

A: I would say that not having this connection in service will not haunt either railroad at all. Why? Because Class I railroads don’t care anymore about detours, reroutes, or interchanges. If a Class I can’t physically do any of these things an easy way, they just won’t do it. And they will be happy about it because it means less paperwork, less expense, not having to call pilots and additional crews at the last minute, and in general not having the extra bother.

All too often, when a derailment or weather event causes a stoppage or bottleneck, the Class I railroads will just as soon stop trains, let them sit, and resume operations when the problem is cleared.

To be fair to today’s railroads, they no longer have the staff and often the alternative routes to quickly facilitate a detour at a moment’s notice as they did years ago. So they don’t. And everyone’s job is suddenly easier. Except for the customer who is waiting for their cars. But then many will say that customers seem to be the last thing railroads worry about these days. And pundits will argue that it will be that way until re-regulation occurs, and if that happens, the railroads will have no one to blame but themselves.

As for any trackage rights agreements that are already in place, disconnecting either one or both ends of the connecting track at the diamond near Trains‘ offices will not affect any trackage rights one railroad has into Milwaukee, whatsoever. Trackage rights agreements are legal contracts that are in place whether or not the physical facilities are actually in place. Taking out a connection does not mean the trackage rights agreement goes away.

This kind of situation is no different than when a railroad removes an unused turnout into an industry, diamond with a track owned by someone else, or grade crossing.

Railroads may save on the nuisance and expense of maintaining the particular track item, even though they might not have legal or regulatory permission to do so. And this kind of thing actually happens more than you might think. If the owner of that turnout or crossing in question suddenly decides they want service, and are legally entitled to it because nothing has been legally abandoned or taken out of service, then the railroad that removed — whatever — is legally obligated to put the track or whatever back in place.

The railroad may not like having to do this. And it very well might stall and put up a fight. And railroads are good at doing this. But how uncooperative the railroad is in resolving this matter will depend on how much it wants to invest in fighting, what it has to gain or prove, and what it’s local reputation is likely to be. Gee, railroads worrying about their local reputation? Now there’s a funny one.

Finally, railroads have a long, rich history of being stubborn and fighting each other over a multitude of issues, sometimes over small things. And that may be the case with this connection too. — Otto P. Dobnick, railroad consultant and author

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