Railroad Newsline for Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Compiled by Larry W. Grant
In Memory of Rob Carlson, 1952 – 2006
TRAIN DERAILS, CATCHES FIRE NEAR LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY
More video here:
BROOKS, KY --
Black smoke poured from chemical-laden railroad cars Tuesday after a fiery train derailment south of Louisville sent 11 people to the hospital, state and railroad officials said.
"At this point we are doing everything possible, working with first responders, to protect the community and the environment," said Gary Cease, a CSX railroad spokesman.
"But we still have a fire ongoing and certainly a serious situation."
Twelve of the 80 cars on the Birmingham-to-Louisville train were carrying hazardous materials when it jumped the track shortly before 09:00, Cease said.
The crash set ablaze three cars loaded with cyclohexane, a solvent used to produce paint, nylon and resins, said Jason Keller, a spokesman for the Kentucky Department of Emergency Management.
"It's flammable, explosive, and an inhalation hazard," Keller said.
Officials have decided to let the flames burn themselves out, he said.
"We're doing everything we can first to make sure we're managing the fire in a safe way,"
Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher told reporters.
Cyclohexane can affect the central nervous system if inhaled or ingested.
Authorities ordered nearby residents to evacuate after a pall of thick, black smoke began to spread across the town of Brooks, about 20 miles south of downtown Louisville, and surrounding areas.
At least 11 people sought treatment at Jewish Hospital Medical Center, a spokesman for the facility said, but he would not give any information on their conditions.
The two-person train crew escaped and they were unhurt, Cease said.
Other hazardous chemicals aboard the train included aniline, which can be fatal if swallowed or inhaled; butadiene, which can damage the central nervous system; and maleic anhydride, methionine, methyl ethyl ketone, polyethylene and sulfuric acid, all of which can cause serious health effects from exposure.
As many as five tanker cars jumped the tracks and were left jumbled perpendicular to the track.
The blaze lit the dark morning sky, sending black smoke billowing into the air, while orange flames lined the railroad track for hundreds of yards alongside the derailment.
The cause of the crash had not been determined, Cease said. A team from the National Transportation Safety Board will go to the scene later Tuesday to investigate the accident, the agency announced.
The only school in that area, Brooks Elementary, moved its students to another school in a safe zone, Kentucky Emergency Management spokeswoman Nikki Ploskonka said.
Fire crews -- which at one point were trying to douse the blaze with water -- were asked to pull back from the site due to the risk of another explosion, Ploskonka said.
A Kentucky National Guard unit, the 41st Civil Support Team, was called in to assist with the scene and help determine exactly what chemical is burning, Ploskonka said.
The unit's members are trained in biological and chemical detection, she said.
The blaze also forced authorities to close portions of two highways, state Route 1020 and Interstate 65. Those closures remained in effect Tuesday afternoon, Kentucky State Police said.
And the Federal Aviation Administration imposed a temporary flight restriction for planes at Louisville International Airport, requiring aircraft to avoid a one-nautical-mile radius around the scene, spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.
The rule forced planes to use another runway at the airport, which is about 10 miles north of Brooks and home to a huge UPS hub. - CNN and Fox News
BNSF CONTINUES TO EXPERIENCE WINTER WEATHER DELAYS IN SOUTHEAST REGION
Severe winter weather conditions continue to impact BNSF Railway Companyoperations on the Southeast region.
Trains destined to or originating from this region are being staged until the extreme weather subsides. The hub facilities of Los Angeles and San Bernardino have been asked to not load traffic destined to the Southeast region for the next 24 to 36 hours.
BNSF personnel are continuing efforts to regain the network's integrity and fluidity for this corridor.
Customers may experience 48-72 hour delay on traffic moving through this region. - BNSF Service Advisory
BNSF ISSUES WEEKLY PRB COAL UPDATE FOR January 16, 2007
Average BNSF Railway Company daily train loadings for the Powder River Basin (PRB), including Wyoming and Montana mines, totaled 47.9 trains per day for the week ended January 14, 2007, compared with an average of 44.9 trains per day for the week ended January 15, 2006.
Year-to-date through January 14, 2007, BNSF has loaded a total daily average of 46.9 trains in the PRB, up 1 percent from the 46.4 trains loaded through the same period in 2006.
Slower empty train flows related to weather and unplanned mine outages late in the week resulted in reduced loadings. Some mine outage repairs are expected to last into the following week.
Systemwide, BNSF has loaded a total of 10.4 million tons through January 14, 2007, up 2.3 percent from the 2006 year-to-date total of 10.2 million tons.
Construction Projects Update
The track laying machine began work January 11 to install three additional tracks in the Donkey Creek Yard. Scheduled completion is March 1. Double crossovers on the Moorcroft-Rozet double track will be installed in early February. Seven miles of double track work between Angora and Northport is well underway and expected to be completed by February 5, at which time signals will be cut over and the line will be in-service by mid-February. The projects will help increase capacity and improve fluidity into and out of the PRB. - BNSF Service Advisory
NEW HIRES SAY FAMILY LEGACY HELPED LEAD THEM TO BNSF
It is a fact that future retirees look to the next generation to continue the railroad legacy at the BNSF Railway Company.
Often new team members are surprised to learn that BNSF is no longer the railroad their grandparents use to tell them about. The railroad industry has made significant strides in technology, logistics, service and more.
Dustin Helbling, conductor, and Kris Kraft, hostler, who both recently took the torch as the railroad's next generation at the Dilworth Terminal in Fargo, Minnesota, tell how having a railroad legacy helped them to make the right career decision.
Helbling learned about the railroad firsthand. His father Davis Helbling, terminal manager, Dilworth, and uncles Dan and Daryl Helbling, both locomotive engineers, have worked at BNSF for many years.
Dustin needed a job after graduating high school in 2002 and decided to apply in 2003. Since then, he has learned to value the advice and railroad stories from experienced railroaders. "I have learned things from them that I would have never learned in the classroom," Dustin says. "I learned by observing and working beside them."
Kris Kraft, hostler, Fargo, Minnesota, agrees. He decided to join the railroad thanks to his father, Kent, a machine operator. "He told me about the good salary and benefits, and how it is a stable job," Kraft says.
His grandfather also worked for BNSF and would bring Kris to the terminal. "I remember seeing trains all the time," he said. Because of his exposure to the railroad through his childhood and his family railroading legacy, he decided to join BNSF in 2005 as a conductor. Soon after, Kraft became a hostler.
"You meet a lot of people," Kraft says. Like Helbling, he appreciates experienced railroaders' advice. "They show you how to switch cars and other things they picked up during their careers," he says. "I learned how to do the job and how to do it right!"
If you know someone who may be interested in a career with BNSF, direct them to [www.bnsf.com
]. - BNSF Today
WISCONSIN RAILROAD COMMISSIONER FINED FOR TRAIN RIDE
MADISON, WI --
State Railroad Commissioner Rodney Kreunen agreed Tuesday to pay $500 to the state Ethics Board to settle allegations he demanded to ride in a train engine cab for no official reason.
Ethics Board investigators looked into whether Kreunen violated state statutes that prohibit a public official from using his or her position to gain anything of substantial value. Kreunen denied wrongdoing, but agreed to the settlement.
A Wisconsin & Southern Railroad train provided free rides between Madison and McFarland on July 2 as part of McFarland's 150th anniversary celebration. Kreunen showed up at the festival and climbed into the engine cab, according to investigators.
The train's supervisor, Donald Pingel, told Kreunen to get a free ticket at the ticket area.
Kreunen then left.
But the train's engineer, Paul Swanson, said Kreunen came back and said he had spoken to William Gardner, Wisconsin & Southern's president, and received permission to ride in the cab.
Dale Thomas, a Wisconsin & Southern foreman, told he didn't have permission and to get out of the cab. Thomas told investigators he had met Kreunen earlier in the day, when Kreunen was trying to get into a passenger car without a ticket.
Gardner and Kreunen have been locked in a long-running feud. Gardner told investigators Kreunen found him at the ticket area, swore at him, poked him in the chest and threatened to cut off safety funds for the railroad.
Kreunen gave investigators a different account. He said he spoke with a Wisconsin & Southern Railroad attorney before July 2 about boarding the train in McFarland, and the attorney suggested the festival would be a good time to conduct a safety inspection.
The attorney, Brian Baird, told investigators that conversation never happened.
Kreunen said he told the engineer in the cab he wanted to conduct a safety survey of the route between Madison and McFarland. He abandoned the idea after being turned away but found Gardner and told him to stop being a "flaky nuthead." Kreunen denied swearing at or poking Gardner.
He pleaded no contest in August to a disorderly conduct charge stemming from the confrontation, however.
A Wisconsin & Southern Railroad maintenance official told investigators no one has raised any questions about the safety of the route between McFarland and Madison. Gardner said Kreunen could have ridden the train at any time by simply arranging it in advance, but no request was made.
State statutes allow the railroad commissioner and his employees to ride in any engine, car or train to perform inspection duties. But Ethics Board attorney Jonathan Becker said nothing suggests Kreunen was trying to fulfill official duties.
Kreunen said in an interview Tuesday he should have left Gardner alone after Gardner's employees warned him he was in a bad mood. He said he didn't do anything wrong.
"He's not an easy person to deal with," Kreunen said of Gardner. "My attorney advised me to just get it settled."
Gardner didn't immediately return a message left at his office Tuesday. - Todd Richmond, The Associated Press, The St. Paul Pioneer Press
PARDON OUR DUST: AMTRAK SAN JOAQUINS AFFECTED BY TRACK WORK; BNSF MAKES IMPROVEMENTS TO CENTRAL VALLEY ROUTE
OAKLAND, CA --
BNSF Railway Company's annual San Joaquin Valley track maintenance and rehabilitation will mean smoother rides and more reliable Amtrak San Joaquin Service when completed.
The BNSF Railway will undertake a major track work project between Bakersfield and Fresno in January and February. At the end of the project, San Joaquin passengers will have smoother rides and track capacity will be increased.
During the project, buses will substitute for some trains between Bakersfield and Fresno, and there may be some resulting delays.
The work will begin on January 17, 2007, and will continue through February 20, 2007. Buses will substitute for Trains 702, 712, 713 & 715 on Sunday through Thursday. Stations affected are Bakersfield, Wasco, Corcoran, Hanford and Fresno.
In addition, Train 701 will operate 30 minutes earlier than the published schedule, leaving Bakersfield at 06:45. Bus connections from Los Angeles, Glendale and Van Nuys for Train 701 will also operate 30 minutes earlier than the published schedule.
On Fridays and Saturdays all trains will operate to or from Bakersfield; however Train 701 will continue to operate on the earlier schedule. At the completion of the project, all train service will return to normal, and Train 701 will return to its usual schedule, leaving Bakersfield at 07:15.
Amtrak operates the San Joaquin Service , with six daily round-trips to Bakersfield from Oakland or Sacramento, under a contract with Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation. - Amtrak News Release
BRAKES PULLED ON DEVELOPMENT OF RAILROAD
CARSON CITY, NV --
When the first passenger trains pull up to a new Virginia & Truckee Railway depot off Highway 50 East in 2010, tourists will look out over a former landfill and 150 acres of sagebrush, rather than an expansive commercial and residential development.
Lynn Hettrick, a former state assemblyman and president of RIDL LTD., said plans have stalled to complement the future depot with a casino resort and shopping center.
"We had the opportunity to have investors get involved, but the issue with the old landfill ended up running them all off, so we ended up without partners, which we needed to proceed," Hettrick said Monday.
Cleaning up the 13 acres, once used as a city landfill, could cost from $2 million to $5 million, an expense and long-term liability the investors weren't willing to make, Hettrick said.
The option to purchase 118 acres off Highway 50 East and Drako Way from owner John Serpa expired in October.
The Hettrick family owns 33 acres, broken into six parcels, between the highway and Astro Drive, which is near the location for the future V&T depot.
A mining museum and Chinese workers museum were also proposed for the area.
"We think it would be an asset for the train to have a viable development out there," he said. "That's what we were trying to do and it just didn't work out."
Hettrick said he still believes the project will work for a railroad that is set to steam into Carson City in 2010.
The $40 million V&T Railway will carry tourists from Virginia City to the depot east of Carson City.
A state commission in charge of the reconstruction of the historic right-of-way completed 1.8 miles of track from Gold Hill to American Flat, in Storey County.
The next phase of construction will go out to bid in spring.
Bob Hadfield, chairman of the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway, said multiple attractions at the depot location would be the best for the overall tourist experience.
"I hope other investors would come forward," he said Monday.
"It is a difficult time right now, but Carson City would benefit from more hotel rooms." - Becky Bosshart, The Nevada Appeal
WILL $19.2 BILLION FIX AMTRAK, THE BELEAGUERED RAILROAD?
WASHINGTON, DC --
Amtrak would receive $19.2 billion under bipartisan legislation unveiled Tuesday, kicking off a new chapter in a long-running debate over how to fix the beleaguered passenger railroad.
The legislation by Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., would provide $3.2 billion per year over six years.
In recent years, Congress has given the quasi-private railroad about $1.2 billion even as some critics have said Amtrak is so poorly managed it should be turned over to the private sector.
The Lautenberg-Lott bill seeks to "revitalize and reform" Amtrak by boosting security, establishing quality standards and changing the way the railroad operates to put the passenger first, according a statement from the two senators.
The bill also would create a new debt refinancing plan and financial accounting system for Amtrak.
"After several gloomy years, the future of America's passenger railroad is bright. Our legislation will provide the necessary resources to bring Amtrak up to speed as a real alternative to taking a plane or driving a car," Lautenberg said in a statement.
Critics like Adam Summers of the conservative Reason Foundation say Congress shouldn't reward Amtrak with larger federal subsidies.
Lott and Lautenberg sponsored legislation in the previous Congress giving Amtrak $11.4 billion over six years. The Senate approved it by a 93-6 vote, but the measure languished.
The bill introduced Tuesday has 10 Senate co-sponsors: Tom Carper and Joe Biden, both Democrats from Delaware; Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Arlen Specter, R-Pa.; Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas; Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.; Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.; Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. - Raju Chebium, Gannett News Service, The Bridgewater (NJ) Courier News
CP RAIL DELETED E-MAILS RELATED TO MINOT ACCIDENT
MINOT, ND --
A new twist in the legal wrangling over a deadly train derailment five years ago this Thursday has shed some fresh light on the tactics purportedly used by one of the parties in the resulting lawsuits.
According to a legal brief by U.S. Chief District Judge James Rosenbaum dated Thursday, the deletion of e-mails concerning the deadly Jan. 18, 2002, derailment of a Canadian Pacific Railway train just outside Minot has prompted Rosenbaum to allow a defense team access to evidence gathered by a computer forensics expert.
The brief states that during state court proceedings, representatives of one of the derailment plaintiffs, Claudia Roberts, discovered an e-mail message sent by a Soo Line manager to the railroad's top claims agent that began by stating, "In the tradition of keeping very few Minot-related e-mails." During the deposition of the same manager in the case, he was asked about the message, at which time he admitted destroying e-mails about the Minot derailment, saying he had been ordered to do so by a higher-up in the company.
After this revelation, CP Rail hired the computer forensics expert to investigate whether electronic data had been destroyed and, if so, whether that data could be retrieved, according to the brief.
The plaintiff was seeking, via the discovery process, access to the information gathered by the computer expert and permission to depose the expert as soon as possible.
The railroad argued that the motion should be denied until the issue of preemption had been solved, stating that if it was ruled to be immune to lawsuits under federal law, any destruction of evidence in the case would be irrelevant. Calling it a "no harm, no foul" argument, Rosenbaum denied the request, likening it to a group of bank robbers planning to rob a bank, only to arrive and "find that the bank failed and closed its doors the day before the robbers' arrival.
Just as the conspiracy to rob the bank is, itself, a crime, regardless of the impossibility of the bank robbery's success, so too, is an attempt to suborn the fact-finding process an affront to the court, even if there will ultimately be no fact-finding."
Also, the railroad argued that any issue on the state court cases would be precluded by the change in jurisdiction to federal court. Rosenbaum also denied that argument, stating that the court has authority to make sure that its processes are followed properly.
Attorney Mike Miller of the Fargo office of Solberg, Stewart, Miller and Tjon, which represents Roberts in the case, said that the revelation that evidence is being destroyed could be "dynamite stuff if the cases go forward."
"It's a very unusual thing," he said. "I can't think of too many cases where one of the parties involved has destroyed evidence. Right now, we don't even know the amount of evidence that has been destroyed, but we're going to get those answers."
Attempts to contact Minneapolis transportation attorney Timothy Thornton, who represents CP Rail in the cases, were unsuccessful Monday.
Miller said that regardless of what the outcome is on the issue of preemption, the discovery is going to make a difference to the judge in the case.
"The judge may be able to pursue numerous remedies available to him," he said.
Miller said that issues being addressed by Congress in Washington, D.C., might also have an impact on the status of the cases.
"This fight is being fought on more than one front," Miller said. "I can't say an adverse decision by the Eighth Circuit is going to be the end of it."
Miller said that if the Minot cases go forward in front of the jury, the judge will be able to inform the jury that evidence was likely destroyed in the case and that evidence was likely very harmful to the railroad's case.
"It could be a big step in the right direction when we go forward," Miller said. - Dave Caldwell, The Minot Daily News
EMINENT DOMAIN HEARING FOR RAIL PROJECT DELAYED AGAIN
PIERRE, SD --
A state hearing has been postponed for a second time on the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad's request to use eminent domain for its proposed $6 billion expansion project.
The South Dakota Transportation Commission originally planned to hold a hearing in late December to determine whether the railroad can use the legal procedure to get the right to cross private land in South Dakota for its project, which seeks to haul Wyoming coal east to power plants in the Midwest.
The hearing then was rescheduled for Jan. 26, but that date has now been scrapped because the hearing examiner has removed himself from the case at the request of one of the parties, said Bill Nevin, a lawyer for the state Transportation Department.
A new hearing examiner will likely be appointed in about two weeks, and the commission's hearing will then be rescheduled, Nevin said.
Mark Moreno, a Pierre lawyer and part-time federal magistrate, had been set to handle the case.
But during a pre-hearing conference Tuesday, a landowner along the route asked that Moreno take himself off the case.
The hearing examiner will eventually conduct the hearing and make a recommendation to the Transportation Commission, which will decide whether the rail line can use eminent domain.
State law allows railroads to take land from unwilling owners only if a project is for a public use consistent with public necessity. Railroads must have already negotiated in good faith to acquire the property.
A notice of hearing issued earlier in the case said the Transportation Commission's hearing will deal with whether DM&E has negotiated in good faith to privately acquire sufficient property for its project and whether it has a program in place to make such acquisitions without the use of eminent domain.
The DM&E project would rebuild 600 miles of track across South Dakota and Minnesota and add 260 miles of new track around the southern end of the Black Hills to reach Wyoming's Powder River Basin. It would haul low-sulfur coal eastward to power plants.
South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, the state's congressional delegation and many agricultural and business groups support the project.
But the project is opposed by some landowners along the route, including those whose ranches in southwest South Dakota would be crossed by the new track. Other opponents include residents in Pierre and Brookings in South Dakota, and the city of Rochester, Minnesota, and its Mayo Clinic. - Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press, The St. Paul Pioneer Press
CREWS CLEANING UP AFTER TRAIN DERAILMENT IN LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA
LONG BEACH, CA --
Firefighters and city health department workers early Tuesday morning cleaned up a diesel fuel spill caused by a Monday night train derailment.
The task was completed by 01:15 Tuesday, said Long Beach Firefighter Chris Milburn.
The incident didn't impact traffic because it happened in an isolated portion of the tracks near an industrial area, he continued.
The incident occurred around 22:20 Monday when four northbound locomotives traveling on the railroad parallel to Terminal Island derailed as they changed tracks. In the process of getting back on track, the wooden railroad ties buckled and ruptured the external 2,500-gallon fuel tank under the locomotive, authorities said. Firefighters also put out a small fire that erupted. - Samantha Gonzaga, The Long Beach Press-Telegram
LOS ALAMOS HOLDS ONTO BYGONE ERA
LOS ALAMOS, CA --
In Los Alamos, you can almost hear the echo of a ghost train whistle over the west wind.
The small community's wide main street, named Bell Street for an early settler, runs east-west from Highway 101. Downtown Los Alamos, less than a mile long, appears little changed from the days when Pacific Coast Railway locomotives pulled passenger cars and freight on narrow rails from Port Harford, near San Luis Obispo, through Los Alamos to Los Olivos.
The lone surviving depot from the railway, which ran from the 1880s to the 1930s, lies just off Bell Street.
Nested between the Purisima and Solomon hills in a valley carved by San Antonio Creek, Bell Street - which was part of Highway 101 until 1958 - is like a page from the past, from the 1880 Union Hotel (locked up tight on a recent visit), a 1918 flagpole in the street, and the 1880 general store, now an art gallery and the Cafe Quackenbush. A few sycamore leaves fluttered down in a small park, though Los Alamos means "the cottonwoods."
On Leslie Street, a block north of Bell, is the weathered old depot, a rambling one-story wood structure. Tracks once ran under a road on the building's south side. Attached to the wood structure on the east is a former grain elevator, from which sugar beets once were shipped, said Barb Fagan, manager of the Depot Mall, a large antique emporium now in the building.
Along with railroad memorabilia - a large 1901 photo on a wall shows a passenger train at the depot - the mall features rooms of old china, glassware, metalwork, toys, books and furniture.
"Fascinating, just fascinating," murmured one browser.
"There's something for everyone," Fagan said.
In a nod to the area's newest attraction, a wine pub has been added in the mall.
The depot is one of several downtown buildings that have been turned into antique shops, Fagan said.
Despite some new outlying development, Los Alamos seems made for antiques. - Sally Cappon, The Lopoc Record
TRAIN DERAILS NEAR LOVELAND, COLORADO
Caption reads: A train engine sits on its side after derailing Monday afternoon just off of U.S. Highway 34 east of Loveland. There were no injuries. Times-Call News Group/Chad Spangler
LOVELAND, CO --
A giant crane lifted a railroad locomotive that had tumbled from the tracks across a ditch just east of Loveland on Monday.
The Great Western Railway train was en route from Loveland to Windsor when the lead locomotive derailed, Windsor Fire Lt. Todd Vess said. Two men were in the locomotive when it rolled, but neither was injured, he said.
While investigators are not sure what caused the accident, they suspect it could have been the frigid temperatures and ice.
"It could have heaved the tracks," Vess said. "It's a possibility they're looking into."
The lead locomotive had just crossed U.S. Highway 34 near the town of Kelim about 12:40 Monday when it rolled from a bridge spanning a ditch and landed on its left side, Vess said.
Just behind the locomotive, a boxcar came slightly off the tracks but remained upright.
The locomotive carried 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel as well as several large battery packs, but no hazardous materials spilled.
The rest of the train stalled across westbound U.S. 34, blocking traffic for about 10 minutes until crews were able to unhook it from the affected cars and move it, Vess said. However, firefighters kept one lane of the westbound highway closed for safety while workers cleaned up the wreckage and righted the engine.
The crane arrived in Loveland in pieces carted by multiple semi-trucks from Cheyenne, Wyoming. Crews quickly assembled the crane to lift the locomotive. - Pamela Dickman, The Longmont Times-Call
PACIFIC ETHANOL TO BUILD NEW PLANT IN IDAHO
Burley, Idaho, has been picked at the location for the third ethanol refinery owned by Pacific Ethanol Inc. of Fresno, California.
The company says it expects to begin construction within 30 days on the 50 million gallon per year plant. It's expected to be in operation within a year.
The plant site is located on a parcel of 177 acres, with direct access to both Union Pacific Railroad and Interstate 84. Burley, Idaho, is in an area that has about 300,000 dairy cattle and 100,000 feedlot cattle. The plant will turn out wet distiller's grain - a product aimed at all those animals.
"The Burley plant expands our production footprint to new markets in the Western U.S., from existing markets in California, Oregon and Colorado," says Neil Koehler, chief executive officer of Pacific Ethanol (NASDAQ: PEIX). "Moreover, the Burley plant fits well with our destination model and will serve local markets for both fuel and feed with significant production cost advantages over products imported from the Midwest."
Pacific Ethanol operates an ethanol plant in Madera County and is finishing construction on a second plant in Boardman, Oregon. - The Central Valley Business Times
DRIVER CHARGED AFTER TRAIN HITS TRUCK IN EASTERN IOWA
CENTRAL CITY, IA -- A truck driver faces a traffic charge after his truck was hit by a train.
It happened Monday in the eastern Iowa town of Central City.
The driver, Dennis Russell of Monticello, was hauling a load of grain. The truck was already on the tracks, and the train was about 30 feet away.
Russell says he knew he couldn't stop on the snow and ice-covered road.
The Canadian National Railway hit the back of the truck.
Russell was cited for failing to yield when crossing railroad tracks. Linn County sheriff's Captain Brian Gardner says Russell is required to stop and not enter unless it's clear. - WHO-TV13, Des Moines, IA
REINDEER HAMMERED TO DEATH IN MERCY KILLINGS
A train collided with a flock of reindeer in the Norwegian mountains over the weekend, and passengers had to use a hammer to help put injured animals out of their misery.
The tragic and bloody incident took place in the mountains known as Saltfjellet in the early morning hours of Saturday.
"It was a gruesome scene," the reindeer herd's owner, Per Ole Oskal, told local newspaper Saltenposten. "The carcasses were lying for several hundred meters along the tracks."
Oskal arrived at the scene hours after the state NSB train plowed into the herd of 18 reindeer.
NSB no longer allows railroad personnel to keep rifles in the locomotive to shoot animals injured in such collisions, which occur frequently in Norway.
That's because the locomotives no longer are separated from the rest of the train carriages, so security issues are involved. Locomotives had been equipped with rifles since the 1950s, but now the presence of rifles violates Norwegian weapon laws and they've been removed.
"It's difficult to secure the rifles," said Preben Colstrup of NSB. "We can't risk that passengers can get hold of the weapons." He noted, meanwhile, that responsibility lies with the state agency in charge of railroad infrastructure, Jernbaneverket, not NSB.
Reindeer herder Olof Anders Kuhmunen said he and colleagues will demand the return of rifles on board, to relieve injured animals' pain and suffering. Oskal agrees.
"The trains will continue to collide with animals, and they must have weapons necessary to destroy animals that weren't killed," he said. He's heard of cases where injured animals suffered for two days before they could be shot.
"I think this is an issue for animal protection agencies or the Food Control Authority," he said. - Nina Berglund, Aftenposten
MASS TRANSIT OPTIONS HAVE ARIZONA STATE LEADERS ABUZZ
PHOENIX, AZ --
Trains, lanes and automobiles.
Those are the big options on the table as state leaders prepare for millions of new cars expected to clog our roads and freeways over the next two decades, pumping out tons more pollution to cloud the skies.
With rapid growth, lawmakers say transportation seems to be a hotter topic now than it has been in years.
Last week Gov. Janet Napolitano signed an executive order for the Arizona Department of Transportation to look into mass transit options.
The move has the mayors of Tucson and Phoenix, as well as some legislators, beaming about the possibility of a commuter train between the two cities. With the order, ADOT is putting the pedal to the metal to update a 1998 study on the train within the next 90 days.
Imagine: Hop on the train, take a seat, even open up your laptop to surf the Web - and before you know it, you're in Phoenix for shopping, sports, business or a weekend at a spa. And never give a thought to wildly fluctuating, ever higher gas prices.
Likewise, Phoenicians could enjoy hiking, art galleries, summer resort discounts and the more relaxed ambiance Tucson has to offer.
Since the concept has been discussed for years and always resulted in nothing more than studies, some wonder if the excitement is premature.
This time, however, with the corridor between Tucson and Phoenix anticipating major growth over the next decade, advocates can already hear the sound of whistles blowing. But completion might be years away, even if it received the massive funding needed to get off the drawing board.
"We already have the need to expand I-10 to (six) full lanes between Phoenix and Tucson," said Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup. "But right behind that you're really looking at, what we need in the future is a way to move people between those populated areas and stay off the roads."
Walkup and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon say they've been working together on the issue for three years and see the governor's order as a major turning point.
"There have been a lot of folks who have expressed interest to the governor. A lot of elected officials and basically the community transit organizations," said Shannon Scutari, the governor's policy adviser for growth and infrastructure.
But the governor is waiting to see what ADOT reports, and is interested in examining solutions statewide, Scutari said.
Walkup and Gordon were expecting a specific mention of the train in the governor's address. She didn't do that. Still, her call on the Department of Transportation to study a commuter train is "music to my ears," Gordon said.
The rail makes sense because "it's no longer city against city in this state," Gordon said. "It's region against the rest of the world."
In the 1998 report done by ADOT, the department concluded that at that time, a commuter train would cost at least $380 million.
Chantal Ottino seems like the ideal customer for a commuter train.
All too often, the 21-year-old University of Arizona accounting senior gets homesick for her family in north Phoenix. So at least once a month, you'll find her speeding up Interstate 10 in her black Ford Mustang.
Traffic is a constant problem.
"When there's an accident, it can get backed up forever, and then you're stuck," she says.
Still, when it comes to riding a train, "I'm torn," she says.
"I like to leave when I want to leave," Ottino says, and boarding a train at 21:00 in Downtown Tucson - well, that could be dangerous.
Plus, "Leaving my car? That would be hard. How am I going to go to the clubs in Scottsdale?" she says, laughing.
And that's the big dilemma: How to get around in either city, both built around the car culture of the post-1950s.
"You would still have the same problems of congestion within Maricopa (County) and Tucson even if the rail moved you from point A to point B," said Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix think tank that advocates smaller government.
But Gordon and Walkup both say that issue is working itself out already. Phoenix has started a light-rail system, and Walkup pointed to plans for a streetcar system in Downtown Tucson.
Still, Olsen says advocates "don't seem to take into account individual preferences, which is people prefer to drive. (Rail) is impractical and undesirable."
Steve Farley disagrees. Farley, a freshman Democratic state representative from Tucson and advocate of mass transit, says the best time to introduce a passenger railway is during expansion of Interstate 10, when people are looking for an alternative to avoid construction. Federal funds can help, he said.
As for demand, Farley points to a new state-subsidized railway in New Mexico, the "Rail Runner," which will eventually connect Santa Fe with Albuquerque.
"All the stars are aligning, with gas going through the roof and all the consequences of global warming issues and all the people in the business community seeing how much money is available from development along rail."
But funding for a railway may collide with money for road improvements and expansions.
A proposal to spend $450 million of the state's $650 million rainy day fund for road construction is already on the legislative table. Napolitano opposes dipping into those funds and instead wants to refinance bonds to pay for construction.
"I guess it all comes down to how you define emergency," Bob Burns, a Peoria Republican and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said last week. "If we can stimulate the economy and help speed up our transportation construction . and at least keep up with the flow of people who are coming here, maybe we can prevent an emergency."
Meanwhile, Democrats in the House have already started talking about an increase in the gas tax, while Olsen is pushing for the state to look at efforts elsewhere, like having a private developer build a toll highway, as is being done in Texas.
From all those choices, Farley is hopeful the train will be included in the mix of solutions. "I haven't really come across anyone who's against that," he said. - Daniel Scarpinato, The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, AZ)
STREETCARS A MIXED BAG FOR LITTLE ROCK RESIDENTS
MADISON, WI --
Do we really want streetcars in downtown Madison?
Like a lot of people here, I'm still not sure what to make of the idea.
Sad to say, I'm old enough to remember when streetcars were in vogue in Milwaukee in the 1950s. And, frankly, I hated them, mostly because they were torturously slow. (OK, I was just a toddler, but the memory still makes me wince.)
On the other hand, while visiting New Orleans a few years ago - before Katrina - I rode the St. Charles trolley line and found it a marvelous experience. Quiet, relaxing and, well, just plain fun.
I do think the mayor's top priority right now should be to secure federal funds for a commuter-rail or light-rail system linking Middleton, downtown Madison and Sun Prairie, with a spur to the airport. Something similar to the enormously popular Hiawatha light-rail line that opened in Minneapolis three years ago.
But would streetcars complement a rail system? More importantly, can we afford both? I've got my doubts.
Of course, to hear the pro-trolley crowd tell it, any skeptic who visits Little Rock, Arkansas - whose 2.5-mile River Rail line has been operating since November 2004 - will quickly change their mind.
Well, maybe, says Jake Sandlin, a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Or maybe not.
Sandlin, 53, is a Little Rock native and, among other things, covers the River Rail beat for his paper. And when I contacted him last week, he agreed to share his impressions of the streetcar line, which serves both downtown Little Rock and, just across the Arkansas River, downtown North Little Rock. (A 0.9-mile extension to the Clinton Presidential Library opens next month.)
Though he's hardly a cheerleader for the project, Sandlin says in his opinion it's been a definite plus for both downtowns - and a good deal as well, seeing as how the feds picked up 80 percent of the $20 million cost.
But, he adds with a laugh, "a lot of people here disagree with me." Including, he says, the editorial writers at the Democrat-Gazette.
Having never visited Madison, Sandlin says he can't say if streetcars would be a good fit for our city. But here, in his view, are some the pluses and minuses of the River Rail for the Little Rock area.
. It is a tourist magnet and, as such, has been an economic boon to the downtowns. It's been especially popular at special events, says Sandlin, who notes that some 13,000 people used the River Rail last March, when Little Rock played host to the state basketball meet, the Little Rock Marathon, the Southeastern Conference women's basketball tournament and a Rolling Stones concert.
. It has spurred residential and commercial development in the downtowns, with more to come. In fact, when Texas oil magnate T. Boone Pickens recently spoke to the Little Rock Rotary, he told the business leaders, "You ought to be building more rail."
. It's cheap: 50 cents for those 5 and older; 25 cents for seniors and disabled persons.
. It's convenient. People can park in ramps on the outskirts of the city and then use the streetcar to reach their downtown destinations. And downtown workers use it to have lunch and dinner in the River Market District, a hot spot for the under 40 crowd.
. It's attracted oodles of free publicity from the national media - almost all of it positive.
. It's only going to get better. More than 121,000 people rode the River Rail in 2006, according to Central Arkansas Transit. That would put it in the top tier of Little Rock's highest ridership bus routes. The opening of the extension to the Clinton Library is expected to add another 2,000 riders a month.
And the minuses?
. It has had no impact on rush-hour congestion. Then again, that wasn't one of the objectives, says Sandlin, who points out that the streetcars don't begin running until 11:00. (The lone exception: On Saturdays from May to October, they start operating at 07:30 to accommodate the hordes at the Farmers' Market.)
. It does move at a snail's pace. "I doubt it goes much faster than 10 mph," says Sandlin, noting that some people could probably walk the entire 2.5 mile route just as fast. "But most riders don't seem to mind."
. It has hurt the bus system. Though it hasn't affected bus ridership, the River Rail does compete for the same government funding - which has prevented the bus system from expanding. "For instance, a lot of people want the buses to go out to western Little Rock, which is highly populated," Sandlin says. "But there's just no money to do that."
There is, Sandlin says, one other point that needs to be made. Though he suspects the River Rail will always be controversial - what government project isn't? - he notes that thousands of people abandoned downtown Little Rock in the 1970s and '80s. Today, people are moving back in droves, as they are in many big cities, and the River Rail is playing a major role in that rebirth.
"There's lots of luxury condos being built," Sandlin says, "some of them right on the streetcar line." Of course, he adds, "there aren't a lot of average Joes living in them."
Now there's something we can identify with. - Rob Zaleski, The Madison Capital Times
NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT AUTHORITY ORDERS 11,000 COMPOSITE CROSSTIES FROM TEXAS FIRM
Composite railroad crosstie manufacturer TieTek (Marshall, Texas) announced in October that MTA New York City Transit (NYCT), the nation's largest mass transit system, has signed an agreement to buy and install 11,000 composite crossties. The NYCT Div. of Track will test the crossties on yard turnouts and track panels. "The NYCT order further confirms the applicability of TieTek's products across a wider range of customers, including large transit authorities," says Neal Kaufman, CEO of TieTek.
TieTek's crossties can be used in rail applications wherever wood crossties are used, but provide reported benefits that wood can't match: They are impervious to fungi and insect damage, highly weather resistant and durable - TieTek predicts a 40-year lifespan compared to 5 to 20 years for wood ties. Further, TieTek's crossties are 85 percent recycled material, primarily scrap tires, plastic bags and plastic bottles. These raw materials are melted, compounded with glass fiber and then formed in a mold to traditional crosstie dimensions. Each tie weighs 240 lb to 275 lb (109 kg to 125 kg) and can be installed by the same means as, and intermixed with, wood ties. TieTek claims that over the long haul, its ties can save up to $48,000 per mile of track compared to traditional wood ties. - Composites Technology