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Welcome aboard the leaning locomotive line
March 23, 2014 9:53 PM   Subscribe

The old Maumee & Western Railroad, in northwestern Ohio, had, arguably, the worst railroad track in existence. Built in a swamp, the line has, apparently, never had any maintenance since it was completed in 1964. Railfans used to travel there hoping to catch the (seemingly inevitable) derailment. So far as can be found, it never happened.
posted by pjern (26 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm not really a rail fan but these are interesting clips, and it seems rail fan footage is crisper and more stable than a lot of the plane spotting footage I've seen on YouTube. I guess that must be the appreciation for trains doing their thing amidst the scenery.

Related: The worst former railway in the world would probably have to be the Salekhard-Igarka railway, built above the Arctic Circle as Stalin's pet project. The pictures look like something out of Roller Coaster Tycoon. More info.
posted by crapmatic at 10:20 PM on March 23 [8 favorites]


There's a kitty in the railroad link plus some wildly wavy track at 3:33. I'm sending this to my favorite track manager.
posted by maggieb at 11:14 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


Can confirm, kitty sighted at 6:38.
posted by crapmatic at 11:17 PM on March 23 [1 favorite]


I too confirm kitty found between 6:36-6:39, Temporal Snuggle Agents are being deployed.
posted by JHarris at 11:25 PM on March 23 [4 favorites]


I love trains. I've probably done about 25,000 miles of not-commute on Amtrak. A man I met and sat next to on the Empire Builder [Seattle to Chicago, though I was getting off at Grand Forks] for two days and who identified himself as "Amtrak Al" had logged more than 250,000 miles. His wife had died some years earlier and the job he found for himself was to drive motorhomes from the where they were manufactured to where they were sold and he took the Amtrak back home. One of my proudest moments was when Al told me I was perhaps the best rowmate he had ever had.

I've ridden the "City of New Orleans" route many times. One time in the early morning we hit a car just south of Memphis while New Orleans bound. The car was only nosed onto the tracks and the driver was fine but it delayed the train for two hours.

South of Memphis the "City of New Orleans" starts to go really really fast [about 80], the track is uneven and if you are sitting in one of the cars toward the rear of the train it feels like you are being towed by a bungee cord; the acceleration pulls your head back until you "catch up" to the engine and then releases - again and again. It's a bit frightening actually.

The least lucky man in the world was the old man driving his car who lived just south of Jackson MS. The train was up to speed and had been coming through an uncontrolled intersection, rounding a corner, at the same time every day for decades but because of the incident just south of Memphis the train was delayed.
posted by vapidave at 11:49 PM on March 23 [7 favorites]


Can't they just swap in bigger wheels on the downhill side of the train to level it out?
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:54 PM on March 23 [2 favorites]


Man, it looks like that train is totally hiding in the bushes, trying to eat up some delicious cars.
posted by poe at 12:07 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]


I'm imagining rail fans emerging out of the underbrush to hook it and ride it like a sandworm.
posted by XMLicious at 1:02 AM on March 24 [11 favorites]


Ironically, I was just about to post this, but it looks like it might sort of fit here... (not really, but, well, because...trains)
posted by HuronBob at 3:19 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]


You know, it's kind of funny you mentioned derailment, given that the Chicago L just had a tiny problem with a train not stopping at O'Hare.

To those who don't know the line, well, this is a tiny problem because the line ends at O'Hare. Personally, I honestly don't know how many times I've been on those stairs or that escalator, but "many many times" is accurate. Thankfully, nobody was killed or seriously hurt, although six are reported in "fair condition" and 26 others with minor injuries.


Although, I must say, the caption to the picture in this story that I immediately thought of when I saw it was "Hai Guys What's Going On Up Here?"
posted by eriko at 4:02 AM on March 24


Blue Line?

Green Line.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:39 AM on March 24


The most gratuitously wiggly lines I've ever seen are the Bord na Móna narrow gauge lines in Ireland. Some of these are laid temporarily over the bogs so the trains can get out and harvest the peat. The linked pictures are only slightly wobbly; some of the ones I saw in Mayo were rollercoaster material.
posted by scruss at 4:47 AM on March 24 [2 favorites]


This is pretty bad, but actually there are literally thousands of kms of ill-treated lines in daily use in North America. When you hear about the way we let rail fall into disrepair this is exactly what they are talking about. So many lines have spent decades unmaintained, and still in regular use.

This is why high speed rail service is still a dream: there is almost always a segment between here and there where the safest speed is single-digits, like we see here.

There is no value in maintaining most corridors. Owning the track for right of way is pretty much the only incentive. Letting the track rot is actually good business. These lines will continue to offer marginal freight service, and no one really gives a shot about your hipster need to get to work in the mornings.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:01 AM on March 24


It's harder to derail a train than you'd think.
posted by Western Infidels at 6:06 AM on March 24 [8 favorites]


I can't remember where it was specifically, but I remember reading a story about 10 years ago about a piece of track in such bad shape that a train derailed while stopped.

Seriously though, I adore trains but when people talk about trains as the solution to America's transportation problems, remember that travel time on many of Amtrak's routes are longer today than they were in the late steam era. Think about that for a second.
posted by dry white toast at 6:37 AM on March 24


These videos are neat. However, as somebody who knows nothing about trains, I was surprised. If these cameramen were "hoping to catch" a derailment, they sure seemed to be standing mighty close.
posted by cribcage at 6:47 AM on March 24


There were far more passenger lines and light rail in the late steam era. You could catch a train from anywhere to anywhere - Amtrak has to piggyback on freight lines, which are congested, not terribly speedy and not tied to a by-the-minute schedule.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:14 AM on March 24 [3 favorites]


I am just happy to see something posted related to my home town (Toledo, Oh.) other than recently being selected by the Weather Channel as having just had the worst winter in the US.
posted by rmhsinc at 7:36 AM on March 24


when people talk about trains as the solution to America's transportation problems, remember that travel time on many of Amtrak's routes are longer today than they were in the late steam era. Think about that for a second.

When people talk about trains as a solution to America's transportation problems, they're proposing we re-invest in train tracks and cars and lines so we can get back to, or even surpass, that prior level of utility. Most of Amtrak's passengers lines outside of the Northeast Corridor run on freight track, and even trains within that area are held back by lack of infrastructure investment -- the Acela Express line, for example, has been getting faster and faster over the years with the same trains as Amtrak slowly addresses track and congestion issues holding it back from realizing its full potential.

To be sure, it's worth remembering that America couldn't simply abandon cars for trains and expect a fast and easy transition, but that has more to do with a lack of investment in trains over the last half-century than anything intrinsic to train travel.
posted by cjelli at 7:49 AM on March 24 [6 favorites]


remember that travel time on many of Amtrak's routes are longer today than they were in the late steam era. Think about that for a second.

It's worth noting in thinking about this, that Amtrak employs about 20,000 people today.

The Pennsylvania Railroad alone employed 279,787 workers in 1920. And that included people whose job it was to do nothing but walk the tracks, every day or night, looking for defects.

Norfolk Southern, which now controls most of the former PRR's territory (except for a very small amount that Amtrak owns directly along the NEC), has only about 30,000 employees. So there's been an almost order-of-magnitude decrease in employees, even though freight ton-miles have gone up. Something has to give, and that 'something' is the ability to haul fast passenger trains, unfortunately.

However, on Amtrak's own trackage, things move very quickly. I used a little GPS speedometer app the other day on a Northeast Regional, and it clocked the train at 98 MPH on a straight stretch between Philadelphia and Wilmington. That's very close to the top speed of the 20th Century Limited, which peaked at 105, and the Regional isn't even an express.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:33 AM on March 24 [3 favorites]


These videos are neat. However, as somebody who knows nothing about trains, I was surprised. If these cameramen were "hoping to catch" a derailment, they sure seemed to be standing mighty close.

I think there's a lot of telephoto/zoom lens work there.
posted by yoink at 8:46 AM on March 24


It's harder to derail a train than you'd think.

I was wondering as I watched that whether it was research on how to prevent derailments or how to cause derailments and got my answer when the narration ended in,
To minimize the uncertainties of success in the field, the Office of Strategic Services intends to continue experimental operation.
posted by XMLicious at 11:01 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]


I don't really unrestrained this. in Australia there are some pretty ordinary grain freight lines, speed restricted to 40kph, but nothing as bad as this line. Do we just have far higher safety standards than in the US?
posted by wilful at 3:22 PM on March 24


You do quite possibly have far higher safety standards, and I'd expect that your rail system in general is probably more centralized and better-maintained.

My impression is that fairly short privately-owned rail routes in the U.S., particularly ones that are only used for freight, can turn out to only be profitable versus the modern road infrastructure that has developed nearby (and has received much more public investment) if they cut corners somehow on maintaining the rail route.

So, the tracks and other infrastructure gradually degrade and the speed of the trains is set lower and lower until service is completely stopped and everything gets shipped by truck instead, or the less-profitable final few miles of the route get lopped off and abandoned.
posted by XMLicious at 4:18 PM on March 24


Do we just have far higher safety standards than in the US?

The underlying cause of these situations is the structure of railroad right-of-way ownership in the USA.

In the United States, the railroads own, build, operate, and maintain their own tracks and right-of-way. They compete against increasingly subsidized road motor freight that operates on highways that are built and maintained by tax dollars. (Trucks that have signs on the back saying "This truck paid $XXXX in highway use taxes" are disingenuous: those taxes came directly off of the corporate profits as deductions.)

This state of affairs dates back to the great western expansion of the United States during and after the Civil War: The railroads privatized the great expenses of building Transcontinental railways in exchange for ownership of the right-of-way and huge land grants along their tracks. (as much as every other square mile on alternate sides of the track!)

The end result is deferred and/or completely neglected maintenance as the times changed and real competition for the freight business came along.
posted by pjern at 5:14 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]


"The old Maumee & Western Railroad, in northwestern Ohio, had, arguably, the worst railroad track in existence."

It isn't even in the running for 100th-Most-Dangerous.

Mining trains in 3rd-world countries are largely unregulated, and often only carry one person - the driver. Those rails are kept just serviceable enough to keep the ore moving, but like everything else in the mining industry, not one unnecessary penny is paid for safety.

And replacement drivers are cheap.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:41 PM on March 24


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