Vermont: “Perfect Storm” Causes System Meltdown

CN Strike Hangover, Early-Season Snowstorms, and Crew Shortages Hold Up Vermont Freight, Cram Yards, and Blow Up Schedules During Two-Week Cleanup.

26 November – 16 December, Statewide VT – While the CN strike lasted only a week, ending on November 26, New England-bound heating fuel was one of the hardest-hit sectors (as well as numerous other goods). LPG and fuel oil shipments that would normally have been handed off to NECR in St. Albans VT and to SLA for routing to Lewiston Jct. ME, were held for the week of the strike, building up in yards up and down Vermont. With the strike settled, CN began running extras to reduce the build-up, including several 80-100 car movements to the New England Central.

Heavy snow hits the region

The signatures on the CN Agreement were barely dry when series of earlyish winter storms hit the region. On 03. December, the Albany NY region got a 23-inch dusting that backed up New England freight at Selkirk. As well, CSXT’s recent assignment of a Springfield local to serve NECR at Palmer MA, was hard-pressed to respond to the external problems. Even before the storm, the local’s other duties, plus typical late-Fall crew shortages, kept CSX from making Palmer for a day or two at a time, allowing NECR and MCER traffic to build up in Springfield. While NECR southbound trains were running at maximum tonnage to keep up with the CN extras from the north, there was no northbound traffic in Palmer, leaving an NECR crew to head north from Palmer on 04.December, pulling only itself. Nearly 400 cars waited in Springfield and Selkirk (combined) for delivery to NECR and P&W.

Shorthanded crews

Meanwhile, crew shortages plagued NECR in White River Jct. The yard’s two crews are split between a day shift, which conducts in-town switching, and a night shift that services the VRS Bellows Falls VT interchange, plus the lumber and salt traffic to Claremont NH. The shorthanded night shift did not make the Bellows Falls VRS interchange for at least 3 consecutive nights, building up several dozen cars at that tight interchange.

On 05.December, with the CN traffic still flowing heavily from the north, the NECR #324 St. Albans — Brattleboro train had only made it to White River Jct. before the crew timed out, due part to new snow and frozen switches at some LPG customer sites. Plan B was launched, sending the White River Jct. switching crew and their power to deliver the Brattleboro freight, and service Bellows Falls on the way back north. The pickups included passenger cars due at White River Jct. and north for sold-out holiday excursions. The plan worked flawlessly, and the freight crunch eased, too.

As late as Friday 13.December, it was still necessary to run an NECR extra to bring 27 cars lumber and LPG loads from St. Albans to WRJ, and then retrieving 80 cars at Montpelier Jct., including 21 loads of VRS-originated granite, and salt/LPG empties.

It’s just New England railroading

By 16.December, service was returning to more-or-less normal levels, despite some lingering backlog and crew gaps. Kudos to the yardmasters, crews, dispatchers, and others at all of the railroads involved {Exclusive ANRP sources}.