• Vermont Activity and Sightings

  • Discussion of present-day CM&Q operations, as well as discussion of predecessors Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) and Bangor & Aroostook Railroad (BAR).
Discussion of present-day CM&Q operations, as well as discussion of predecessors Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) and Bangor & Aroostook Railroad (BAR).

Moderator: MEC407

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  by F-line to Dudley via Park
 
This thread has gotten very unpleasant.

Is it possible to make a counterargument without attacking the poster? Please.
  by csx2039
 
Fortress will likely be looking to sell within a few years, They are an investment company, they will want their $ back. So Yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We'll just have to give it time for them to fail or sell then try again... Thats why in some weird way the Newport Subs lack of business with CMQ might be its saving grace. There are other railroads that would like to get their hands on it and would definitely do a better job with it as well. Thats just my personal opinion mind you...

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing personal against Giles and his railroad and I would not have a problem with CMQ it they acted half as good as they claim to be. But they are not. They have had nearly a year to get their act together down here and nothing has improved. Not even a little. I call it how it is. Like it or not... Yes CN that means you.
Vermont railway is the complete opposite of CMQ, They find ways to make things work for the customers. They have been around for 50 plus years now so we know for a fact that customer service will secure your future. They took a line nobody wanted (Conn River) and built up enough local business that now they are twice as busy with local business then all of us CMQ vermont customers put together, some of whom have 3 times the capacity then VRS conn River Customers. The Difference? VRS makes themselves an extension of their Customers business. P&W is another great railroad working for their customers. No customers, no railroad. We are not the only ones upset with CMQ. Those of you who subscribe to Chop Hardenbergh's ANR&P will recall his article on this very issue back in Dec. And it basically stated ALL of CMQs VT customers were very upset. And trust me, still are...


So yes we will have to be patient...
  by dnelson
 
F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:This thread has gotten very unpleasant.

Is it possible to make a counterargument without attacking the poster? Please.
Seriously.

I don't even know what to say in response to CN9634's most recent post.

I suggested that an unhappy railroad customer is worth listening to instead of slamming with statements like "Do you know anything about running a railroad? Your posts don't seem to contribute anything more than an opinion and one that is incorrect based off some preliminary observations". I'd like to think that isn't how most shippers talk to customers...

I shared some Giles quotes from a Press Herald article directly related to the discussion. I pointed out that CMQ's Vermont operations have thus far been the direct opposite of what he said they would be like in the article. I was criticized for sharing the perspective from just "one customer," being told "There are many more out there." In response, I am going to share some brief fair use quotations from Chop Hardenberg's Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports (which I believe CN9634 has been an active contributor for in the past?) so that more customer voices are heard. This is from December. (please subscribe for full article, I normally wouldn't quote so much from a subscription only newsletter, but I am in this instance because the content is essential if we're going to attempt to continue this discussion, plus it's months old now and likely going up on the back issues section of the site soon).

"THREE CMQ VERMONT CUSTOMERS GRADED SERVICE AND RATES POOR. Reportedly, WACR has switched customers Poulin Grain and Columbia Forest Products on CMQ in Newport as a favor to all parties." - Hardenberg

Jim Torrey of Newport's Feed Commodities International
-- on the quality of CMQ's service: “Service? It's all relative, but it's not as good as it used to be."
-- on the quality of VTR's service: "Why can’t the others do as well?...That said, MMA used to be pretty good.”
-- rate changes under CMQ increased $10-15/ton "forcing me to use more truck”
-- demurrage raised from $45 to $65 daily: “I don't like to pay it, I don't like to incur it.”
-- lack of CMQ consistency: “If cars are late, to keep pipeline going, I order more [by truck], then they stack up, instead of one arriving then three or four... at the same time, and I pay demurrage.”

Stella Paquette of Blue Seal Feeds
-- when asked if CMQ's service is awful, replied “You got that right.”
-- on CMQ not performing minor switching moves at the mill "You would think as the train goes through that it could spot cars for us."

Francis Campbell of Poulin Grain
-- looking back at MMA: "When MMA was running well, we did 150 to 200 cars a year."
-- on having to significantly increase use trucks to make up for lack of rail car loads: [Poulin Grain is receiving] “ten to twelve trucks a day, on average. We're open around the clock.”

Excerpts from Giles responding to those criticisms: "We invested real money into that route and it's going to be a big deal . . . Apologies to any receivers who may have been disadvantaged here in the short term. Better reliability is near . . . this is a marathon not a sprint." Props to him for commenting and apologies.

Anyway, moving on from that. As I said in my last post, I know Giles is dumbing himself down for the average newspaper reading with no railroad background. But it still seems pretty strange to make indisputably false statements on fairly inconsequential topics that no one with any basic railroad knowledge would possibly take seriously.
CN9634 wrote: You are disgusted that he scraps out derelict and defunct lines that probably won't see a whole lot more action but will help get a new railroad off the ground? Sorry, railfans fantasies probably weren't taken into consideration when making this decision. The only scrapping issues I had were parts of 'Nocket yard and sidings on the Moosehead. Even then, there isn't any use for those right now and without collecting the $$ to scrap those sections it is entirely possible we wouldn't have any kind of railroad. Please start a crowdfund to save the dormant sidings if you take that much offense from it.
Ok, your paragraph above is really insulting and completely misses the point I was making. I'm not concerned by Giles enthusiasm for scrapping whatever he can because of my supposed railfan fantasies about long out of service sidings and spurs not being ripped up and instead left for nature to take over. (My railfan fantasies are of Giles scrapping the GP20Ds... jk). In all seriousness, you should know me better than that, considering the sort of stuff I post on here. Look, if they want to rip up the Millinocket yard, I'm not going to stop them. I grew up in Brunswick where there used to be a sixteen + track Maine Central yard, but nothing more than a siding by the time I was roaming the streets. That's life. Railroads have been ripping up unneeded track for scrap value for centuries. Giles represents the first CEO to laugh while bragging about doing it in a newspaper article where he talks about his fancy new faster engines replacing the slower ones, though. The obsessive scrapping mindset concerns me because should 2016 come and go without crude oil business returning to the Moosehead Sub, that the potential scrap value of the former CP rails across Western Maine could function as an acceptable windfall alternative to oil trains. I do not know how serious that possibility is, but that is a scenario railroaders and friends knowledgeable in business economics have described as a potential move on Fortress's end countless times by now.

I know you're pumped up about working in the transportation industry, and excited to share what you pick up for the job, but the way you're doing it is unnecessarily combative, self-righteous, and quite frankly a real drag to have to read. You've got a lot to offer here, and I've sorry if I've upset you in the past, but let's just take a chill pill and all get along.
  by CN9634
 
dnelson wrote:
F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:This thread has gotten very unpleasant.

Is it possible to make a counterargument without attacking the poster? Please.
Seriously.

I don't even know what to say in response to CN9634's most recent post.

I suggested that an unhappy railroad customer is worth listening to instead of slamming with statements like "Do you know anything about running a railroad? Your posts don't seem to contribute anything more than an opinion and one that is incorrect based off some preliminary observations". I'd like to think that isn't how most shippers talk to customers...

I shared some Giles quotes from a Press Herald article directly related to the discussion. I pointed out that CMQ's Vermont operations have thus far been the direct opposite of what he said they would be like in the article. I was criticized for sharing the perspective from just "one customer," being told "There are many more out there." In response, I am going to share some brief fair use quotations from Chop Hardenberg's Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports (which I believe CN9634 has been an active contributor for in the past?) so that more customer voices are heard. This is from December. (please subscribe for full article, I normally wouldn't quote so much from a subscription only newsletter, but I am in this instance because the content is essential if we're going to attempt to continue this discussion, plus it's months old now and likely going up on the back issues section of the site soon).

"THREE CMQ VERMONT CUSTOMERS GRADED SERVICE AND RATES POOR. Reportedly, WACR has switched customers Poulin Grain and Columbia Forest Products on CMQ in Newport as a favor to all parties." - Hardenberg

Jim Torrey of Newport's Feed Commodities International
-- on the quality of CMQ's service: “Service? It's all relative, but it's not as good as it used to be."
-- on the quality of VTR's service: "Why can’t the others do as well?...That said, MMA used to be pretty good.”
-- rate changes under CMQ increased $10-15/ton "forcing me to use more truck”
-- demurrage raised from $45 to $65 daily: “I don't like to pay it, I don't like to incur it.”
-- lack of CMQ consistency: “If cars are late, to keep pipeline going, I order more [by truck], then they stack up, instead of one arriving then three or four... at the same time, and I pay demurrage.”

Stella Paquette of Blue Seal Feeds
-- when asked if CMQ's service is awful, replied “You got that right.”
-- on CMQ not performing minor switching moves at the mill "You would think as the train goes through that it could spot cars for us."

Francis Campbell of Poulin Grain
-- looking back at MMA: "When MMA was running well, we did 150 to 200 cars a year."
-- on having to significantly increase use trucks to make up for lack of rail car loads: [Poulin Grain is receiving] “ten to twelve trucks a day, on average. We're open around the clock.”

Excerpts from Giles responding to those criticisms: "We invested real money into that route and it's going to be a big deal . . . Apologies to any receivers who may have been disadvantaged here in the short term. Better reliability is near . . . this is a marathon not a sprint." Props to him for commenting and apologies.

Anyway, moving on from that. As I said in my last post, I know Giles is dumbing himself down for the average newspaper reading with no railroad background. But it still seems pretty strange to make indisputably false statements on fairly inconsequential topics that no one with any basic railroad knowledge would possibly take seriously.
CN9634 wrote: You are disgusted that he scraps out derelict and defunct lines that probably won't see a whole lot more action but will help get a new railroad off the ground? Sorry, railfans fantasies probably weren't taken into consideration when making this decision. The only scrapping issues I had were parts of 'Nocket yard and sidings on the Moosehead. Even then, there isn't any use for those right now and without collecting the $$ to scrap those sections it is entirely possible we wouldn't have any kind of railroad. Please start a crowdfund to save the dormant sidings if you take that much offense from it.
Ok, your paragraph above is really insulting and completely misses the point I was making. I'm not concerned by Giles enthusiasm for scrapping whatever he can because of my supposed railfan fantasies about long out of service sidings and spurs not being ripped up and instead left for nature to take over. (My railfan fantasies are of Giles scrapping the GP20Ds... jk). In all seriousness, you should know me better than that, considering the sort of stuff I post on here. Look, if they want to rip up the Millinocket yard, I'm not going to stop them. I grew up in Brunswick where there used to be a sixteen + track Maine Central yard, but nothing more than a siding by the time I was roaming the streets. That's life. Railroads have been ripping up unneeded track for scrap value for centuries. Giles represents the first CEO to laugh while bragging about doing it in a newspaper article where he talks about his fancy new faster engines replacing the slower ones, though. The obsessive scrapping mindset concerns me because should 2016 come and go without crude oil business returning to the Moosehead Sub, that the potential scrap value of the former CP rails across Western Maine could function as an acceptable windfall alternative to oil trains. I do not know how serious that possibility is, but that is a scenario railroaders and friends knowledgeable in business economics have described as a potential move on Fortress's end countless times by now.

I know you're pumped up about working in the transportation industry, and excited to share what you pick up for the job, but the way you're doing it is unnecessarily combative, self-righteous, and quite frankly a real drag to have to read. You've got a lot to offer here, and I've sorry if I've upset you in the past, but let's just take a chill pill and all get along.
You're right.
  by Ridgefielder
 
Just a word about Fortress from a finance guy who knows of the company but has no connection whatsoever to the company-- and for that matter, no connection to the Northeast Kingdom, the Eastern Townships or Central Maine apart from having been there on vacation a couple times.

Fortress is a Private Equity investor. The PE guys take money from institutional investors-- primarily state, union and corporate pension funds, charitable foundations, insurance companies and endowments for hospitals, universities, etc.-- raise a fund and go out and buy assets they think they can in some way turn around.

PE money is patient money. These are not investors looking to put in $1 today and get $1.50 tomorrow. They're looking to put in $1 today and get $100 10+ years from now. Usually you, the investor, don't even start expecting a cent in return until 5 years out.

I'm not saying that the management Fortress brought in might not be screwing up on the CM&Q. They absolutely could be; they're humans. What I am saying, though, is that I don't think you're going to see the scrap train moving west through Jackman by next August if traffic doesn't pick up. They know they bought a "fixer-upper" and they have the wherewithal to wait this out a couple years and see if they can improve things.
  by newpylong
 
csx2039 wrote:CMQ service continues to spiral south, no power, not enough crews, and VERY unhappy customers, cars sitting for weeks on end. Rumors of more power to come but no confirmation...
It's easy to have more resources for operations when you don't have the overhead of paying real estate taxes or large portions of maintenance as a quasi-state railroad like VRS.

Not taking anything away from VRS, just saying some roads aren't that lucky.

That said, CMQ is making Pan Am look good from what i hae heard. Hopefully things improve for all their customers especially those in Vermont that rely on rail so heavily.
  by dnelson
 
I want to reiterate after my last few posts, I am not actively trying to disparage CMQ, and rather strongly hope they are ultimately able to triumph as a railroad. CMQ has the opportunity to bring a success story to lines have seen multiple owners go bankrupt (and worse), not to mention being left for dead by a Class I eager to leave Maine before that, which ended VIA service across the state in the process. Also don't forget the failed tourist railroad on the former CP, the Acadian Railway. They ran a relatively fancy train for one year starting in 2002, from Montreal to St John, with an off train overnight in Greenville. Discontinued in May 2003 because of poor ridership numbers. I know the passenger stuff isn't truly relevant to the CMQ discussion, but I use its to illustrate just how many unsuccessful railroads CMQ is following the footsteps of. Hopefully the Fortress money will prove to be a unique blessing the previous railroads didn't have, rather than the stereotypical Wall Street curse that I know many are concerned about. There is little I'd like to see more when it comes to Maine railroading than CMQ succeed. Time will tell, and I'm giving them some more time... Not going to deny their problems when problems arise, but I'm still very cautiously optimistic.
  by Cowford
 
It's easy to have more resources for operations when you don't have the overhead of paying real estate taxes or large portions of maintenance as a quasi-state railroad like VRS.
Interesting point. While this isn't a VRS thread, if anyone can lead me to VRS's lease agreement with the state, I'd appreciate it. I did look up VT DOT's 2015 budget, which includes a hefty $25 million in VRS line improvements/capital projects. Assuming VRS's annual 25,000 carloads are all generated in VT, that's $1,000 per-car subsidy. I'd be curious to know how much VRS contributes to the line's upkeep.

Back to topic - I'm going to submit that the trustee's requirement to sell the MMA property intact was politically-motivated. Either that, or he was not very bright. The system, broken into thirds would have been worth more than the whole. "Worth" here needs to be defined: There's commercial worth and political worth. The middle portion is worth nothing from a commercial standpoint, but as the state has it stuck in their craw that the segment is absolutely essential to the state's economic future, it's got significant political worth. As such, the trustee could have sold the two ends, and extracted a price from the state for the middle much higher than it was worth commercially. And the trustee SHOULD have done that, but probably was pressured by the state to sell it in whole, so to avoid the state being forced into that purchase decision.

Fortress was the only bidder for the whole, and they got it for a bargain, when you sum the commercial and political values of the segments. You can bet they went into this with a clear exit strategy in mind as a contingency. Purchase, modestly invest, try to make a go of it. If it succeeds, great; if it doesn't, split it up, selling the middle to the state of Maine under threat of abandonment, a la MMA's northern Maine sale. Absent the return of oil trains, the latter is inevitable.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
 
Cowford wrote:
It's easy to have more resources for operations when you don't have the overhead of paying real estate taxes or large portions of maintenance as a quasi-state railroad like VRS.
Interesting point. While this isn't a VRS thread, if anyone can lead me to VRS's lease agreement with the state, I'd appreciate it. I did look up VT DOT's 2015 budget, which includes a hefty $25 million in VRS line improvements/capital projects. Assuming VRS's annual 25,000 carloads are all generated in VT, that's $1,000 per-car subsidy. I'd be curious to know how much VRS contributes to the line's upkeep.
Hard to say. Historically speaking, VRS is one of the very oldest operating leases on a publicly-owned railroad. It was 1961 the state purchased the Western Corridor and Bennington spur from bankrupt Rutland RR; VTR was incorporated and took over operations 1/3/1964. 51 years ago this winter. That type of arrangement at that type of scale was almost unheard of 10 years before the Penn Central bust-up. All of the loans for the original purchase and the state upgrade aid to get VTR running from the Rutland's ashes were paid off in-full by 1982. Which in turn was what allowed VTR to have the money to buy Clarendon & Pittsford from the D&H and pour a ton of its own private money into upgrading that line. The state made a handsome amount of money off all that investment when the loans were paid off and they had real traffic to show for their efforts.

The same could be said--in more roundabout fashion, and with an unfortunate 1980's-90's traffic famine stalling progress--for the Green Mountain part of VRS. That track went to the state from the Rutland same time as the Western Corridor, originally for Steamtown excursions. And then went through a protracted and more controversial version of the same repair process until GMRR finally gained its footing in the mid-90's as a CP<-->NECR bridge line that had enough of a market cap to get acquired by VRS. That likewise ends up a line that has already amortized a few decades worth of public investments in ways you could probably quantify on a spreadsheet.


So you have to consider that when you see freight line items on a VTrans budget...this isn't 'surge' spending to jump-start something all-new. There's a half-century of numbers to look back on that have fully amortized themselves with these lines. And that's not an easy comparison to transfer to other freight RR's in other New England states where the public-private assistance is either just being talked up now or has really only been a belated planning priority since late-90's/early-00's and "peak truck". These value propositions are multi-decade...and almost none of the ready comparison investments have been in existence for enough decades to chart the payoff in real data like it is here. People thought VT was absolutely insane in 1963 for doing what they did, but history shall record that the taxpayers did make money off the Western Corridor (and probably have at least broken even on GMRR) from those moves. History can't record anything for any neighboring state because in most cases there hasn't been 10...let alone 50...years of results to judge the wisdom of those investments by. And clearly some are going to be wiser than others. There's no guarantee VTrans is going to replicate past success with WACR if the Newport sub gets parceled off to VRS and the state pours money into the upper Conn River. But at least they can sell the spending plan on the taxpayers by pointing to past successes on the same template with the same railroad that made good on that template. MEDOT's track record, on the other hand, has a lot more skeptics to overcome given some of its past choices for freight funding dumps and generally...er, confused...notions of ROI prioritization.
  by cvrr5809
 
RP-A.jpg
I feel that the Vermont debacle is taking away from how CMQ is doing everywhere else. VT is NOT the center of the universe or system for that matter, unlike what some would like us to think. As for Northern Maine Junction and South end, CMQ has been running WAY more trains along with the NBSR/PAR traffic. Compare CMQ with PAR for a moment.....Last Saturday, a CMQ crew went on duty in Searsport and brought the local back to NMJ. About 30 miles for that. They dropped that train, then took a Brownville turn up AND back to NMJ before their day was over! They do that type of coverage most every day, at least in this area.

An average PAR train out of NMJ......Call a maintainer from Waterville to come wipe the damn cab windows, the loco's engine and possibly dig out switches for you as well. Then, dink off in the yard for 3-4 hours doing minimal switching before finally calling D1 and departing for Waterville. Spend another 4.5+ hours over roughly 45 miles of 10mph on hideous track and barely make it in the allowed time to Waterville. Most instances, it's one train either East or West in a day. Recently, only two eastbounds made NMJ in a week from Waterville and possibly one westbound went out. Sure, weather has been a factor, but I'm one who is sick of everyone bashing CMQ when it's very much PAR that's quietly dictating patterns down south with their pathetic lack of reliability. So while there are several things CMQ could do to improve their service everywhere, how long have they been around now? Ask that question of PAR and Guilford, and it's no contest. The latter has had more than three decades to get their * together and little has changed other than a mothballed east end. That's just my two cents
RP-A.jpg
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  by csx2039
 
cvrr5809 wrote:
RP-A.jpg
I feel that the Vermont debacle is taking away from how CMQ is doing everywhere else. VT is NOT the center of the universe or system for that matter
Yes I know! Its painfully obvious for anyone who has to rely on them down here!
  by csx2039
 
cvrr5809 wrote:
RP-A.jpg
Sure, weather has been a factor, but I'm one who is sick of everyone bashing CMQ when it's very much PAR that's quietly dictating patterns down south with their pathetic lack of reliability.
RP-A.jpg

I agree with you PAR sucks. IS PAR COSTING YOU $? Cause VT customers are loosing $ because of CMQ. And its not just my company. You can be sick of it all you want but I will stop when they start providing reliable service to VTs customers.
  by KSmitty
 
csx2039 wrote:Cause VT customers are loosing $ because of CMQ. And its not just my company. You can be sick of it all you want but I will stop when they start providing reliable service to VTs customers.
Vermont is the only area not seeing daily or every-other-day trains. It seems perfectly possible that CM&Q has enough assets to operate 90% of the system with good frequency, but that the assets to operate the final 10% of the system (Vermont) are not currently available. Also, it is conceivable that the cost (in additional locomotives, car hire, and crews) to "properly" serve the customers in VT is greater than the additional revenue from said operations.

Their common carrier classification doesn't allow them to turn away business, but it doesn't mean they will be able to do it in a timely manner. VT is not currently within the means of the company to effectively serve the needs of your employer, as you have repeatedly stated. That doesn't mean the company as a whole is incompetent, inept or otherwise bound for bankruptcy. It simply means CM&Q does not currently have the ability to properly handle traffic in Vermont and doesn't have the financial strength to change the situation in the near term. It by no means implies they don't want the business, or that their long term plan is to "screw the customer and run to the bank." They simply don't have the assets to run the whole railroad and VT is considered the least important.

As an example, I've lost count, but they must have about 5 B23's, 8 SD40's and a handful of operable GP20D's. 18 or 19 units maybe? MM&A seemed to be running with at least 28 or 30. This must contribute to the shortage of service, and it really seems possible the additional revenue may not justify the lease on an additional 2-3 units.

I appreciate your struggle, and I don't mind the report of "another week with no service in VT" but the constant complaints about a service issues are obviously starting to wear thin with readers here. This is, after all, a railfan oriented board. While many of us enjoy, in hobby, the operational, and financial/business side of the industry, a stream of "CM&Q SUCKS!" really doesn't do much for me, and evidently many others. That statement is also not true, universally. Outside of VT freight is moving, regularly. You are extrapolating, "if service here is poor it must be poor everywhere." When it just isn't true.

Finally, It is extremely unlikely your complaining here affects any change at all. You've effectively set everyone here straight. We all understand customers in Vermont are unhappy. There's also nothing anyone here can do about it. I'd suggest you and/or your employers talk with your CM&Q customer service rep or salesman. Tried that? Try again, because complaining to someone with the ability to affect change is 100% more effective than posting here. Should that fail, I'd suggest your employer's legal representation look at the contract with the railroad and pursue legal action if there is any justification.

Friendly advice from someone who knows how much standing around costs...Please don't take it personally.
  by fromway
 
Bangor Daily News reports that the CMQ has had a derailment in Brownville today. They reported some LPG cars, box cars and a tanker. A crane is expected this afternoon to put everything back together.
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