Old 07-15-2017, 04:25 PM   #1
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Default Thoughts from the RP community - G&W...love it, or hate it?

As an avid shortline fan, the thought of how Genesee & Wyoming is viewed among fans crosses my mind from time to time. I had lunch with another shortline fan last weekend, and over a beer we had a discussion on whether G&W is the worst thing to happen to shortlines or not so bad.

I think to many fans, it is bad, as I often see the company referred to as "the orange Borg" or any number of negative monikers. But our conversation went further than that, and we both agreed there are much worse things among the shortline holding companies which can happen. Points we discussed included--

1. They actually paint their power. Need I bring up an operator whose name rhymes with OmniTrax? So many of these companies are only concerned with the bottom line that paint is the last thought to cross their mind. As a business-minded individual, I fully agree that paint doesn't move freight, but you also must realize that shortlines are essentially small businesses. And if people don't know you exist, you won't build your business. At least spray the name of your railroad over the marked out Class 1 logo on your locomotive. But many are just fine with junk leasers or retired Class 1 power with markings sprayed out.

2. The working conditions are not so bad. Many of their lines pay well on the shortline industry scale. We both agreed there are wide-ranging differences between lines, and labor agreements (or lack thereof) vary widely among the properties. If you look at their operations, they tend to be in line with the local wage scale; that is, a nice place to live with low cost of living is likely to pay something above waiting tables, but certainly won't have you living in the city's exclusive gated community. But neither of us could remember G&W trying to quash a property when the train crews sought to organize, as many independent shortline operators have done over the years.

3. Locomotive variety. OK, sure, it's the same paint scheme with a different emblem, but look at the roster. Is there any other shortline holding company rebuilding first generation EMDs? I personally watched RailAmerica implement their "645 powerplant only" policy and sideline many, many good locomotives. If they had been the "winning" company in all of these buyouts, you could kiss those handsome (in my opinion) Arizona Eastern B40-8s goodbye. I also saw several 567-powered geeps sidelined, even though they had 645 power assemblies, and were darn near on par with a GP38, which is what RailAmerica was essentially trying to standardize upon.

Well, that's enough to get the conversation started. I would love to hear what you all have to say. And if the response is "Dang, Mike...already drinking on a Saturday morning?!?" bring it. I have thick skin. I enjoy hearing what y'all have to say.
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Old 07-16-2017, 04:24 AM   #2
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Mike, I have very mixed feelings on this, and I know I am one who has used the "orange Borg" term that you referenced. I have always liked the uniqueness of most short lines, and the homogenization of many of them is somewhat disheartening

Digressing to a parallel in Class 1 railroading, the romanticism in me would much rather see the railroads represented by the NS and UP heritage units than a single unit wearing a variant of each railroad's paint scheme. I grew up with the LV, RDG, and CNJ, L&HR PC and EL as my local railroads, and I hated to see them be absorbed by Conrail. but the reality is that none of them could survive on their own, as the physical plant was in terrible shape, and these roads were all in a downward spiral of deferred maintenance. Here is a photo that I had rejected for PAQ early in my digital RP days - it needs to be reprocessed, but it illustrates a point:

Click image for larger version

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It's the Rockville bridge, part of one of the most vital east-west arteries in the country, in 1978, with weed-covered, jointed rail tracks. Although it took time, Conrail rebuil the northeastern rail infrastructure to a standard where most current railroad photographers would believe that this condition ever existed.

I see a parallel in short line railroading with G&W, Corman, a Watco, et al. We hate to lose the identities of these short lines, but better to lose it to revitalization than to abandonment. I would rather shoot a G&W road in clean paint than something like the Hartwell. I just know that I would be really pissed at deciding to spend a day there when one of their rolling junk piles rolled into my viewfinder.
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Old 07-18-2017, 03:58 AM   #3
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You already know my views Mike but you also know I never miss a chance to express how much I hate G&W!
For the most part my involvement with railroads is just taking photos, so any good they have done on the business side of things doesn't really matter to me. Not to say I'd prefer to see the lines abandoned but honestly G&Ws not Pioneer, if they buy a railroad its usually because its doing well already. G&W's paint scheme is not the absolute worst (its garish and bad but not the worst), what really makes me hate them and that scheme is how they plaster it on everything in such a malicious way whenever they buy a new operation, the examples are numerous. Take when they bought the Columbus & Greenville, they could have painted the patched black GP11 on the west end or a number of the SD40-2's still in GATX colors, instead they paint the CAGYs 25th anniversary unit into standard G&W colors first. That sends a clear message of F you, your history and everything you stand for, we own you now. Same thing with the P&W SD70ACe's, I've heard MMID's heritage unit was not really sanctioned either and there was some corporate backlash. The number of cool operations (GC, MMID, P&W, CAGY, OHCR) with nicely painted power that have had their paint schemes and interesting rosters erased is enough of a reason for me to hate them.
Second from the railfan perspective G&W takes away the usually friendly small railroad feel and replaces it with the Class 1 corporate mentality, no longer is it easy to just walk into the office and ask for information. Forget about cab rides too. It seems that employees in some places are not happy with how G&W runs things, from more restrictive rules (no kicking, no on off moving equipment) to general micromangement. Might be a regional thing, my knowledge of that side is limited to a few lines in the south.
While there are a small few G&W roads I would like to photograph (AZER and Portland & Western) their acquisition of pretty much every shortline in Georgia has played a big part in my loss of interest in shooting shortlines locally.
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Old 07-18-2017, 05:59 AM   #4
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Things I wonder about G&W:

Failed acquisitions (targets not interested in selling)?

Why they acquired the Utah (down to one mine).

Why they need to paint the pilots yellow (those ugly dirt spray trails).
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Old 08-16-2017, 08:53 PM   #5
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One thing that really makes me wonder about G&W is when they will divest of some lower-performing properties. There are some very marginal lines (if not outright losers) that came with the acquisitions over the years. Some are bound by operating contracts (such as the Chattooga & Chickamauga), others could just be sold off. I've been predicting this will happen for sometime, but were this a "Fantasy Railroading" league, I would be our biggest loser right now. There are several lines I would have sold years ago that G&W is still right there operating, for whatever reason.
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Old 08-16-2017, 09:28 PM   #6
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Miningcamper, when G&W got the UTAH, coal was booming, which was the railroad's bread and butter. I think had they known what they do now, that's one G&W would have just let die on its own. The UTAH also was doing pretty well providing helper services for BNSF and UP across Soldier Summit. So much has disappeared from that railroad in the past few years. For all practical purposes, they are a contract switching outfit for BNSF. There are still occasional runs to Martin with some oil tanks, but that's not something contributing heavily to the bottom line with Wall Street beating the drum for more profits...
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Old 08-17-2017, 04:53 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by miningcamper1 View Post
Things I wonder about G&W:

Failed acquisitions (targets not interested in selling)?
I forgot to include this one last night-- the biggest standout in this respect is the Copper Basin. When G&W bought RailManagement (the holding company which brought some notables into the fold, such as The Bay Line and Georgia Central), Copper Basin was held by that company.

A few years after the deal was done, I had the opportunity to speak with someone very knowledgeable on all things Copper Basin. When I inquired about how that property didn't wind up in the G&W fold, the answer was "Simple-- they couldn't afford it with the Copper Basin in the deal." And that is how the railroad stayed independent, and was subsequently bought by ASARCO, the company which owns the copper mine the railroad serves. I am pretty certain the RailManagement principals retained ownership of the Copper Basin until ASARCO bought it, but not 100% certain.
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