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February 2000


Union Pacific Returning Winged-Shield Logo to Locomotives

Union Pacific has announced the return of the winged-shield logo for its locomotives. It will be applied to new SD70M units scheduled to begin arriving in April, and will be applied to older wide-nose units as they move through overhaul cycles. The return of the logo is to "honor the rich heritage of Union Pacific and the contribution generations of UP employees have made to the company."


Amtrak Launches "Rail Sale" Program on Internet

Amtrak has launched a weekly internet-based "rail sale" program whereby customers may purchase discounted tickets on-line using a credit card. Tickets purchased through the program are available only for coach-class travel, but may be upgraded on board subject to availability. Other restrictions apply. Updates to the sale are posted every Monday, and the fares are available for at least one week.


CSX Expects Lower 4th Quarter Earnings

CSX Corporation expects to report financial results for its fourth quarter and fiscal year on February 9. Fourth quarter earnings are expected to be in the range of 20 cents to 24 cents a share, compared to 51 cents a share for the same period the previous year.


Norfolk Southern Announces Early Retirement Program

Norfolk Southern has announced an early retirement program for 1200 non-union employees. In addition, the company intends to lay off 550 union workers, blaming falling revenue, high diesel prices, and a weak export coal market. NS reported fourth-quarter profits were down 81 percent to $31-million, or eight cents a share, compared to $160-million, or 42 cents a share, in the corresponding quarter the previous year.


U.S. Proposes New Train Horn Requirement at Crossings

The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced a proposal to require trains to sound their horns at all highway-rail crossings except at selected crossings in areas that meet specified criteria for "quiet zones." In 1998, there were over 3500 grade crossing collisions resulting in 431 fatalities, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. Studies show that there is a 62 percent greater probability that an incident will occur at crossings where train horns are not sounded.


Virginia Railway Express Achieves Ridership Gain

Virginia Railway Express achieved an average ridership of 7624 a day in December, an 11 percent increase over the same month the previous year. VRE recently introduced the first of 13 new double-deck commuter coaches capable of seating 145 passengers apiece. The new cars will replace 1950s-era cars which will be acquired by commuter rail systems in Vermont and California.


LaVere Neale Dies - B&O Chief Train Dispatcher

[By Allen Brougham] . . .

LaVere Thornton Neale, retired B&O chief train dispatcher, died on January 22. He was 78.

I first met LaVere in 1970, when I joined the railroad as an extra operator. At the time he held the first-shift "CTC" position in the old Camden Station dispatchers' office. His territory included the "East End" between Philadelphia and Bay View, the Old Main Line west of Halethorpe, the main line trackage from Point of Rocks to Harpers Ferry, and the branches from Weverton to Hagerstown and from Harpers Ferry to Strasburg Junction. I recall how he was always calm under the pressure of the job, always speaking in an unruffled manner. I was a sidewire operator who, among other duties, kept track of train performance and therefore had a great deal of contact with him throughout the shift. He was always professional and helpful in sharing the information I needed. Later, as an extra agent-operator at Sykesville, I worked with LaVere on the dispatchers' line.

He was promoted to chief train dispatcher about a year later, working on first-shift, and as a sidewire operator I worked with him in that capacity a number of times as well. He retired in 1982 after 43 years of service.

Following his retirement, he remained in touch with his many railroad friends. He and his wife regularly attended monthly meetings of the B&O Retirees Luncheon Club. They also attended HX Remembrance day in 1990. He was a reader of the Bull Sheet, often sharing information about the railroad and its people for use in articles.

Early in his railroading career he had worked as a leverman, first at Lee Street in Baltimore, then as an operator at Poplar, Aikin and Bay View.

A veteran of the second World War, he was an Army infantryman in the 104th Timberwolf Division, and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. According to his January 27 obituary in the Baltimore Sun, his life was saved from his battle wound by a German medic.

He is survived by his wife, Iva, two daughters, and four grandsons.


B&P Tower to be Rebuilt at Sykesville, Maryland

The former B&P Junction interlocking tower, which from 1910 until 1988 served as a proud sentinel to railroading just south of Baltimore's Penn Station, and almost got lost to the wrecking ball afterwards, has found a new home. The town of Sykesville, Maryland, acquired salvageable parts to the structure and intends to reconstruct it this spring for use as a welcome and information center. The site for the tower will be along Oklahoma Avenue, in front of a former Pullman sleeping car, not far from the old Sykesville train station.

A portion of the ground floor of the building will be used as a place for visitors and residents to pick up brochures and information on town events and to view displays and photographs depicting local scenes. Another portion of the ground floor will be occupied by the Sykesville & Patapsco Railway Association to store its model train equipment.

The top floor, where the operator once worked, will be a 20-by-38-foot open area for use as meeting space. Visitors may also use this space to get a panoramic view of the town through its 20 large windows.

B&P, named for the old Baltimore & Potomac Railway, had the largest interlocking plant between Philadelphia and Washington. With 107 levers on its machine, it controlled part of the Northern Central branch, the switches into the old sleeper yard, the tracks leading to Calvert and Hillen stations, as well as main track moves between Penn Station and B&P Tunnel. Other action in its time included moves onto the Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad directly across from the tower, and moves up the high-line behind the tower to the B&O diamond at North Avenue en route to Mount Vernon yard.

The tower closed as an active office on July 14, 1988.

The building sat unused for a number of years, but it was in the way of construction of the Penn Station leg of Baltimore's light-rail line. In 1995, the city of Bowie, Maryland, agreed to take the building for a park project, possibly as a boat house, but not as a tower museum since it already had one of those. B&P Tower's top floor was dismantled (its base remained at the original site and remains there today) and its parts were stored in an unprotected area. Plans for the park project never reached fruition. When the town of Sykesville acquired the salvageable parts, it was noted that much of the rest of the original building had deteriorated too badly for use. An architect was hired to design the building patterned after the original and incorporating as much of the original material as possible.


John Snow Named AAR Chairman

[From CSXT Employee News] . . . John Snow, chairman, president and CEO of CSX Corporation, is the new chairman of the board of directors of the Association of American Railroads. He served in the same capacity in 1996. He succeeds Robert D. Krebs, chairman and CEO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation. "John Snow is one of the architects of today's rail freight system," said Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the AAR. "He played a leadership role in developing the Staggers Rail Act of 1980. He was also a key player in the restructuring that followed. He brings leadership, foresight and experience to the office of AAR chairman." Snow said the AAR "has a critical role to play both in promoting sound transportation policy and in working with the railroads to enhance safety and improve customer service.


CSXT Supports FRA Train Horn Proposal

[From CSXT Employee News] . . . CSXT is applauding the Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration for actions to restrict so-called "quiet zones." FRA administrator Jolene Molitoris and transportation secretary Rodney Slater proposed a rule that will require trains to sound their horns at all public highway-rail grade crossings unless in a federally designated quiet zone. Molitoris said the agency was responding to studies that show there is a 62 percent greater probability that highway-rail grade crossing incidents will occur at crossings where train horns are not sounded. To be considered a quiet zone, communities would have to implement certain safety measures ranging from four-quadrant gates to photo enforcement to deter motorists who violate crossing signals. Community hearings are scheduled for the spring, and the proposal could be adopted as early as next year. Jim Schultz, vice president and chief safety officer, supports the proposal. "Highway-rail crossing safety is a major focus at CSX," he said, "and the sounding of a locomotive horn is a proven means to enhance public safety.


CTC Project in Chicago

[By Jon Roma] . . . Word is that State Line Tower will close around May. I visited there recently and learned that only two mechanical pipe-operated switches are still in service; the rest have been powered since my last visit. CSX has been going great guns with their CTC project for the Barr Subdivision in the Chicago Terminal. CTC rules were put into effect between Clarke Junction (former PRR crossing) and Pine Junction early this month. This project is moving west toward Calumet and State Line, and CSX is expected to cut this next section over within a matter a weeks. Also, word is that Calumet will probably close later this year as well. The project is killing a lot of B&O color-position lights, including a set with full marker lamps at Curtis. These things are getting scarce in the Chicago area.


Bessemer & Lake Erie Adds SD40-3 Units

[By Buck Magee] . . . January 5 marked the first revenue run of Bessemer & Lake Erie's first three of 11 "new" SD40-3 locomotives, numbers 900, 901 and 902. The units are rebuilt SP and SSW SD45T-2's. The trio made a turn south to North Bessemer, returning with northbound loads. The train met #869-north at KO, dropped their train on track 100 there, and returned lite to Greenville, meeting #890-north at GV (north end of Greenville). Pluses and minuses? The orange and black paint scheme remains and looks traditional. A couple of changes include the addition of the logo on the nose below the sand hatch, and the painted numbers below the cab look good, but are not in the classic style found on the older units. The oscillating "mars" light is still present above the cab, and the ditch lights do not alternate when the horn blows as do most modern units. Since the units are "tunnel motors," the flared radiators found on standard SD45's are not present. Apparently, the units will run in sets of three, replacing standard 4-unit consists of SD18's and SD38's.


Lucky Moves to Pittsburgh

[By Allen Brougham] . . .

Lucky, the stray cat who found his way into the hearts of the operators at Miller Tower in 1998 and remained as a member of the household for nearly a year, and then got shot by someone with a .22 caliber rifle, is now happily at home with Debby Haddix. [See "Kitty of Miller Tower" in the January issue.]

Debby, an extra operator living in Frederick, Maryland, took Lucky (whom she had renamed) to her home while he recuperated, and then decided to keep him.

But during January, Debby was awarded a regular position at the (x-Conrail, now CSXT) customer service center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and now the two of them have packed up and moved.

On January 17, just before they moved, Debby brought Lucky back to the tower for one last visit.

Lucky is doing quite well, has only the slightest limp from his injury, and has lovingly adopted Debby and the lifestyle of living in an apartment.


Railroads & Unions Seek Improvements to Railroad Retirement

Retirement at Age 60 with 30 Years of Service Proposed

[Excerpted from Transportation Communications International Union Special Alert dated January 20, 2000] . . .

TCU and a coalition of other rail unions have reached a historic agreement with the national rail carriers to seek major legislative and contractual improvements to the railroad retirement system. The agreement now must be drafted into legislation, and then passed by Congress. These changes, if enacted, would be the first major benefit improvements without corresponding cutbacks to our railroad retirement system in over 25 years.

The improvements are made possible because the agreement calls for changing the current law that limits the investment of Railroad Retirement trust fund assets. Under the agreement, a newly established investment board would be permitted to invest trust fund assets like other large pension plans. According to both sides' actuaries, this should increase future returns. Employees will receive the improvements [below] immediately upon the passage of enabling legislation, and the carriers will receive an equivalent phased-in decrease in their Tier II tax rate.

Improvements at a glance . . .

"The starting point of negotiations was that nothing could be done to jeopardize the solvency of what already is an excellent retirement system," says TCU International President Robert Scardelletti. "Doing that meant making sure the Railroad Retirement Board signed off on the numbers, and they have. Just as important, the legislation will require the carriers, and only the carriers, to absorb any future tax increases that might be necessary to protect the system if projections don't pan out, with no tax increase or benefit reduction for employees and retirees. That alone is unprecedented. In the past, employees have had to reduce benefits and suffer tax increases when the system was in crisis."

Today, employees must attain 62 years of age and have 30 years of service in order to receive an unreduced annuity. If employees with 30 years of service retire at age 60 or 61, their annuity is permanently reduced by taking 20 percent or more off the Tier I amount and the annuities of their spouses are also reduced. This significant permanent reduction discourages most eligible employees from retiring before age 62. Under the proposed change, employees with 30 years of service will be able to retire at age 60 with an unreduced annuity. The fact that retirement ages are rising under Social Security will not impact this.

Today, if employees working for one of the national carriers retire at age 60, they are ineligible for the National Early Retirement Major Medical Benefit Plan, otherwise known as GA-46000. That means they go without health coverage until age 65, when Medicare kicks in. Employees must be 61 and have 30 years of service before they are currently eligible for GA-46000. Eligible employees and dependents are subject to an individual lifetime benefit maximum of $75,000. Ever since GA-46000 was negotiated more than 20 years ago, rail labor has unsuccessfully tried to negotiate eligibility for coverage at a younger age, as well as increases in the lifetime maximum. Under the agreement just reached, employees who retire at age 60 with 30 years of service will gain GA-46000 coverage. And, the $75,000 lifetime maximum will be annually increased to keep pace with the rate of medical inflation, which is estimated to be much greater than the overall CPI increases in the foreseeable future. "Reducing the retirement age without achieving health coverage would have little value to the vast majority of our members," says President Scardelletti. "Who could afford to retire without medical coverage in today's world of astronomical health costs? From the beginning, our coalition made it clear to the carriers that any reduction in retirement age had to be accompanied by insurance coverage to make it worthwhile..." These health insurance improvements are the only part of the agreement that do not require amendments to the Railroad Retirement Act. All the rail carriers in GA-46000 have agreed to them. A committee of labor and management is charged with ensuring that rail carriers outside GA-46000 will agree to equivalent changes. We will seek to exclude in the legislation any rail carrier that doesn't agree to these changes from being subject to the Tier II tax reductions.

Under current railroad retirement and social security law, a widow(er) under social security is eligible for the full amount of the retirement benefit previously paid the deceased employee. In contrast, a railroad widow(er) is eligible for the full amount of the deceased railroad employee's Tier I benefit, but only 50 percent of the employee's Tier II benefit. Consequently, the widow(er) of a retired railroad employee suffers a proportionately greater reduction in family benefit income after the retiree's death than a widow(er) covered under social security. Under the proposed change, the widow(er)'s annuity would be guaranteed to be an amount no less than the amount of the annuity the retiree was receiving in the month before death.

Under the agreement, the carriers will be required to automatically absorb any future tax increase necessary to keep the railroad retirement system solvent. In the past, cash flow crises in the railroad retirement system led to employees paying higher Tier II taxes and/or cutbacks in benefits and eligibility. Under the agreement, this would never happen again.

Currently, the total amount of railroad retirement benefits payable to an employee and spouse is limited to the Railroad Retirement Act Maximum (RRAM) geared to the employee's average monthly earnings prior to retirement. The RRAM amount is derived from the highest two years of creditable railroad retirement or social security covered earnings in the 10-year period ending with the year the employee's annuity begins. When the benefit maximum is applicable, the reduction in earned annuities can be significant, and most often penalizes long-service employees with moderate earnings, or employees forced to take buyouts. The number of retirees affected by this reduction has grown in recent years, to where it currently affects about 10 percent of awards. Under the agreement, the RRAM would not only be repealed for future retirees, but also for retirees currently subject to it. Their annuities will immediately increase. This improvement has been mischaracterized by some as amounting to a benefit for high-paid railroad CEO's. According to the Railroad Retirement Board, that is simply false. Annuities for higher paid railroad employees are limited by the caps on creditable earnings, which in 2000 are set at $76,200 for Tier I and $56,700 for Tier II. In other words, the annuity for an employee making $76,000, or a CEO making 10 times that amount, is the same. Eliminating the RRAM will not affect this at all.

Currently, an employee must have 10 years (120 months) of creditable railroad service to be eligible for railroad retirement benefits. Under the agreement, the 10-year vesting requirement would be reduced to five years for employees currently in service.

The agreement calls for automatic future improvements if the retirement plan becomes overfunded. Should the plan assets exceed a level deemed by the Railroad Retirement Board to be more than adequate to pay benefits, employees and the carriers will split the surplus on a 50-50 basis. The carriers will be able to reduce their tax obligation, and the employees will have the choice of reducing their Tier II tax obligation, or using their share for benefit improvements such as further age reductions or increased monthly annuities.

The agreement now has to be drafted into legislation, and then introduced into Congress. None of the changes will take effect unless Congress approves and the President signs it into law.


How Might This Affect Me?

[By Allen Brougham] . . . I'll be watching this legislation VERY closely... That's because I'll achieve both 30 years of service AND 60 years of age later this year... Stay tuned!