Railroad Newsline for Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Compiled by Larry W. Grant
In Memory of Rob Carlson, 1952 – 2006
MEETINGS BEGIN OVER PROPOSED RAIL LINE THROUGH YUMA AREA
YUMA, AZ --
Forty-two people representing the government, the military, the agriculture industry and others have met with Union Pacific to begin discussing a proposed rail line through the area.
"We're trying to get everyone the same level of information, so we can make an intelligent decision to guide this thing or stand against it," said Mack Luckie, executive director of the Yuma Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Even though actual shipments over a proposed rail line would not begin until 2012, it is possible that Yuma would need to decide where it stands on the rail line within the next 90 days, said Luckie and developer Rob Ingold, who also attended the recent meeting.
Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said the railroad is among a group of companies considering opportunities with the development of a super port at Punta Colonet in Baja California. Proposals for this project may be due as soon as this spring, and bids on development around the port could be taken in the fall.
If the UP group won the bid, it would need to build 200 miles of rail in Mexico as well as 16 to 30 miles of new track in the U.S. - KVOA-TV4, Tucson, AZ
BNSF'S CUSTOMER SUPPORT CENTER HONORED BY PURDUE UNIVERSITY FOR A SECOND YEAR
For the BNSF Railway Company's Customer Support Center (CSC) the accolades keep coming; for the second year in a row the CSC has received the Center of Excellence Certification by Purdue University.
The certification involves comparison of best-practice metrics from the world's largest database of call center performance information. The certification is presented to an elite group of customer service centers in 43 industries throughout North America that demonstrate the highest standards of efficiency and operational effectiveness. BNSF continues to be the only railroad recognized as having achieved a level of best practices within the transportation industry, according to Purdue.
"The company's support center has once again effectively optimized the use of people, processes and technology to consistently deliver a level of customer service that surpasses most others in the transportation industry," says Art Hernandez, director, Customer Support, BNSF.
To receive the Center of Excellence designation, a call center must place in the top 10 percent of all customer service centers included in the Purdue University database. BNSF earned a level of superior performance in customer service and satisfaction, demonstrating a balance between effective and efficient service.
"An honor of such magnitude is a proud and thrilling accomplishment for our team," says Mike Arita, assistant vice president, Customer Support Center. "Our vision is to become a leader in customer service by focusing on Our People, Our Customers and Our Commitment to Continuous Improvement."
Arita added that receiving "the Center of Excellence certification again not only recognizes, but also reinforces, our dedication and commitment to provide consistent and positive customer service experiences."
The certification process for BNSF began in March 2006 with a data collection and process questionnaire. More than 55 metrics, including customer and agent satisfaction and hold time, were measured to assess the support center's effectiveness and efficiency. – BNSF Today
MEMORIES OF THE HISTORIC TEHACHAPI DEPOT
TEHACHAPI, CA --
The Tehachapi Heritage League is searching for photos and remembrances of the historic Tehachapi Depot in Tehachapi, California. The photos will be a valuable resource, not only to the Heritage League's photo archives, but will also assist the Friends of The Tehachapi Depot in their efforts to restore the depot, the last remaining "Type 23" depot still in existence in its original location.
Photos can either be loaned to the Heritage League for a short time so that a digital image can be scanned into the photo archives, or donated to the League so that a permanent record is available for future research. Curator of Photography, Nick Smirnoff has been working with Charmaine Ripton to fully organize and computerize the photos and images currently in the League's collection. Anyone who has photos of the Tehachapi Depot, particularly interior shots, is asked to contact Charles White at 972-0958 to make arrangements for them to be added to the collection. Anyone with photos that show people, places, events or other aspects of Tehachapi's past are also encouraged to donate the actual photos or to allow the League to make digital copies for posterity.
An article in the February issue of The Settlers' Gazette, the newsletter of the Tehachapi Heritage League, will give a brief history and remembrances of the current depot, erected at its original site at the corner of Green Street and Tehachapi Boulevard in 1904. The newsletter is sent six times annually to members of the Tehachapi Heritage League, which operates the Tehachapi Museum and the historic Errea House Museum, the oldest house in Tehachapi.
Originally built circa 1870, the Errea House was moved from the Old Town area on horse-drawn log rollers to its present site around 1900, as a direct result of the location of the railroad tracks and the original Tehachapi Depot, which was more of a telegraph shack. Annual membership levels in the League start at fifteen dollars.
In addition to the history of the Depot in the February article, a few brief remembrances are being collected by Pat Gracey, a Tehachapi native who remembers when the railroad was the chief method of travel and shipping from the Tehachapi area. We ask anyone who remembers the depot during it's time as a stopping point for trains, to please write up a brief history and pass it along to the League so that we can start to compile those stories and anecdotes.
The Friends of the Tehachapi Depot is a separate organization from the Heritage League. Its members have been working with the City of Tehachapi to begin the restoration of the depot. So far they have spent many man-hours removing the lowered ceilings, false walls and other later additions to the building, in order to prepare for the interior restoration. A new roof and paint job will soon recreate the original exterior colors. The mustard yellow siding was complimented by brown trim and green wood shingles on the roof.
In the near future, a small exhibition of items from the Stokoe Collection, a comprehensive collection of railroad signals, lanterns, locks, signs, dining car china and other railroad memorabilia will be exhibited at the Tehachapi Museum at 310 S. Green St. in a collaborative effort of the League and the Friends. The Stokoe Collection is owned by the City of Tehachapi, and at a later date, the entire Stokoe Collection will be exhibited at the restored Tehachapi Depot. - Charles White, The Tehachapi News
HIGHWAY, RAIL AND AIR ROUTES MODELED; TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE WILL BE SPIFFED UP IN FIVE COUNTIES
SALEM, OR --
It's taken 18 months of deliberation, but an integrated transportation investment model covering five southwestern Oregon counties has been completed.
The ambitious proposal discusses investment strategies in transportation infrastructure -- rail, highway, air and the Port of Coos Bay -- and the potential economic impacts for the region.
According to the report, the key is upgrading the Port of Coos Bay to accommodate container ships. That will require dredging, the construction of facilities to offload containers and rail upgrades to Eugene.
"Those are the key components," said Rep. George Gilman, R-Medford, who served on the ad hoc committee that met during the interim. "The spinoff for our area in terms of transportation and distribution could be huge."
Gilman cautioned the report is a "work in progress" that must still be summarized and brought before local governments, area chambers of commerce and the general public for a thorough discussion.
"Our job now is to get people to understand what we're trying to do," Gilman said.
Involved in the beginning was the Oregon Department of Transportation, which funded and provided staff and expertise while letting the study group set the agenda.
Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, a member of the study team, characterized the report's findings as a springboard for a long-term regional strategy for transportation and economic development.
"We won't be coming back every session trying to figure out what our regional needs are," he said. And with legislators from Coos, Curry, Jackson, Josephine and Douglas counties involved, that only increases the area's clout, Buckley said.
"To have 14 of us all looking in the same direction is very helpful," Buckley said.
If there's a starting point, it probably is The Oregon Gateway Project, a plan to dredge Coos Bay and provide container shipping facilities. Estimated costs total $670 million, according to the analysis. The project could create 1,214 jobs.
Upgrading the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad to handle container traffic between Coos Bay and Eugene is estimated at another $120 million. Container cargo could then be routed to distribution centers such as Medford for shipment.
New highway and rail infrastructure and expansion of the Medford airport carry significant economic benefits as well, the report stated.
Ten projects have been identified at a total cost of $71 million. The largest, a new terminal costing $50 million, is currently under construction. Another potential Jackson County project includes $40 million for improvements to the Siskiyou rail line.
The report contains a number of other recommendations that could spur economic development and study committee members want to vet the many alternatives before coming out with recommendations.
Buckley said the initial task of the study group was to analyze what exists now in terms of moving goods and people.
"Then the committee began to focus on the question of what are the logical next steps," he said. "So we began to focus on the Port of Coos Bay and the rail system that would take goods from the port both north and south."
Buckley said elements of the plan could easily fit in with 2005's Connect Oregon grants program for air, rail, transit and marine. The House Transportation Committee, which both Gilman and Buckley serve on, has hearings on distributing another $100 million this year.
Buckley praised the dedication and tenacity of Rep. Susan Morgan, R-Myrtle Point, for inspiring the study effort and getting everybody in the room during the interim.
"She really did an outstanding job," he said. - Don Jepsen, The Medford Mail Tribune
TOLEDO RAIL WORKERS ON EDGE AFTER NEW YORK DEATH
TOLEDO, OH --
The December death of a CSX railroad yard worker in upstate New York has reinforced local workers' fears that similar incidents could occur in Toledo railyards where CSX assigns remote-controlled switching locomotives.
At Stanley Yard in Lake Township, CSX is on "a real drive for productivity" that results in pressure on workers to take safety shortcuts, according to several employees who spoke to The Blade recently on condition their names not be used for fear of disciplinary action.
They're especially concerned about the effect on a "point protection" rule under which workers are supposed to watch the leading end of any train movement operated by remote control.
The combination of so-called "blind shoves" and freight cars accidentally being switched onto the wrong tracks is a recipe for danger, the workers said. When tracks thought to be empty have cars on them, they said cars can be pushed out the other end of the yard and into the paths of other trains.
"We had a propane car that went missing in the middle of the yard for three weeks," one worker recalled.
In the Dec. 14 incident at CSX's DeWitt Yard in Manlius, NY, near Syracuse, the unattended leading end of a string of freight cars being shoved through the freight yard struck a car inspector's pickup truck on a crossing.
The pickup was shoved 444 feet before it was flipped onto its roof, then shoved about 490 feet farther before the train stopped. Inspector Ronald Foster, 54, a 30-year railroad employee, was killed.
According to a Federal Railroad Administration safety advisory issued Jan. 18, the crewman operating the train by remote control observed the track to be clear at the start of the movement, but he did not keep watching the moving cars' leading end while he was driven to another spot in the yard by a co-worker.
Riding in a vehicle placed the remote-control operator in violation of a CSX company rule prohibiting workers from riding a vehicle or any other equipment not connected to the trains they are controlling. Such riding is not forbidden by federal regulations, although a pending FRA rule would require employees to observe that tracks they are using remain "clear within the range of vision for the complete distance to be shoved or pushed."
The road that the DeWitt Yard car inspector was using was a private road within the railyard. But the Toledo workers said remote-controlled trains cross public streets near Stanley Yard sometimes without anyone providing "point protection."
They also said that a road that crosses the south end of nearby Walbridge Yard, while officially closed to the public, is often used by motorists as a shortcut and is routinely subjected to "blind shoves."
Gary Sease, a CSX spokesman from the railroad's Jacksonville, Florida, headquarters, declined to comment on the specific local complaints, but said that "ever since" the DeWitt Yard fatality, "we have been emphasizing point protection and the rules associated with that."
But on Jan. 8, the workers said, two remote-controlled trains being controlled from opposite ends of Stanley Yard collided when one train operator overshot the end of his train's track and hit the other train on an intersecting track at the far end.
And while an April 11 derailment at Stanley involving 15 freight cars - including four tank cars loaded with flammable methanol - pushed by a remote-controlled engine was officially blamed on a track defect, workers said the accident's severity increased because nobody was aboard the engine to feel the resistance when the derailment started.
"When you're in the [engineer's] seat, you know you have a problem. When you're working a box, you just give it more juice," one of the railroaders said.
Mr. Sease said speeds involved in yard switching are generally low enough that a derailment is unlikely to cause catastrophic damage that could release hazardous cargoes. None of the methanol cars in the April 11 accident leaked, nor did three hazardous materials cars involved in a seven-car derailment at Stanley five days later that the railroad blamed on a remote-control operator running his train through a misaligned switch.
CSX began using remote-control locomotives for yard switching five years ago, starting in Florida and soon thereafter at Stanley and Walbridge yards. Mr. Sease said the company now uses the system at 51 facilities across its system, which spans from Chicago, St. Louis, and New Orleans to Miami, Washington, and Boston.
Other major U.S. railroads, including Norfolk Southern at its Homestead Yard in Oregon, have introduced remote-control locomotives during that time. The technology has been a continuing source of conflict between the industry and its work force, especially the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, which lost a court battle after the railroads reached an agreement with the rival United Transportation Union under which its members operate the remote devices.
Instead of giving an engineer instructions over the radio, crewmen switching cars with remote control command the locomotive themselves. In most uses, Mr. Sease said, CSX uses two men for each remote-control assignment, although in certain jobs one man works alone.
Workers said pressure at Stanley to sort freight cars in a timely manner is heavy enough that management tolerates rules violations "as long as you don't screw up."
Local managers have written disciplinary reports against employees for delaying trains because they were complying with operating rules, one worker said, while another said those who quote the rule book are scrutinized for any tiny violations for which they can be written up.
Mr. Sease responded that CSX expects employees "to feel empowered to report problems to their supervisors" and that if they can't, there are hot lines and other "channels" to refer issues elsewhere within the company.
"We believe, we are confident that the training is adequate for remote-controlled operations," Mr. Sease said. "When used safely, the technology is safe. We do not put production ahead of safety."
The DeWitt Yard accident also highlighted communication problems among different groups of rail workers within a railyard.
When his truck was hit, the DeWitt car inspector immediately pleaded on his truck's radio for the train to stop. But the remote-control operator's radio was on an operations channel rather than the car department channel, so he heard nothing until a yardmaster who had radios on both channels alerted him.
In response, the FRA safety advisory directed railroads to "address the ability of employees to call for assistance in emergency situations through the use of common emergency radio frequencies, or both other means."
Mr. Sease said CSX is studying possibilities for better radio communication, but noted as well that having all of a railyard's business conducted on a single radio channel could itself compromise safety.
"If we think we can improve it, we will evaluate it and do so," he said. - David Patch, The Toledo Blade
TXU FACES A TEXAS COAL RUSH
For whatever reason -- the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina, Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," the plight of polar bears in the Arctic, the Democratic takeover of Congress -- this is the moment when corporate America has at long last decided to get serious about global warming.
Joining hands with environmentalists, the CEOs of ten Fortune 500 companies, among them GE, Alcoa, DuPont, and utilities Duke Energy and PG&E, last month called on the government to regulate the greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels. Dozens of big companies, including Wal-Mart, have pledged to reduce their own emissions of carbon dioxide. In a twist on the theme, Dell will arrange to have trees planted for customers who pay $2 to offset the CO2 generated when a computer is plugged into the power grid.
And then there is TXU.
A $10.4-billion-a-year energy company based in Dallas, TXU is staking its future on coal -- the dirtiest of all fuels used to generate electricity. Last spring the company announced plans to build 11 new coal-fired power plants in Texas at a cost of nearly $1 billion apiece. That has set off a firestorm of opposition -- lawsuits, pickets, petitions, anti-TXU Web sites, lobbying at the state capitol, even a hunger strike.
One environmental group calculated that the new plants would generate 78 million tons of CO2 each year -- more than the emissions of Sweden, Denmark, or Portugal. Texas already ranks first in the U.S. in carbon emissions.
"This is an $11 billion step in the wrong direction," fumes David Hawkins, a climate-change expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "And when you're marching backward with $11 billion, you can do a lot of damage."
But TXU is just getting started. The company says it will soon unveil plans to build another eight to 15 coal-burning plants outside Texas, counting on economies of scale to hold costs down. TXU also operates strip mines, which supply 70 percent of the coal it burns.
To explore the logic behind TXU's plans, I went to see Mike McCall, the company executive in charge of selling the coal plants to Texans. A burly, easygoing 49-year-old, McCall is a coal man to his core. He went to the college at the Missouri School of Mines with the financial help of Peabody Coal, the nation's largest producer, worked in coal mines in Illinois, ran a private railroad that shipped coal, and climbed the ladder at TXU to become head of its wholesale electricity unit.
McCall's argument on behalf of coal is straightforward. Coal is abundant, and it is mined in the U.S. It's cheaper than natural gas and more reliable than wind or solar power.
TXU would like to generate more nuclear energy -- it plans to apply for permits to build up to three nukes in 2008 -- but getting a green light from industry-friendly Texas regulators for coal plants, even with all the brouhaha, is a lot easier than obtaining the federal government's approval to build a nuclear power plant. No new permits for nukes have been issued since the 1970s.
That leaves coal as the best fuel available to satisfy America's ever-expanding appetite for electricity -- all our computers and big-screen TVs and air-conditioned homes and offices need juice.
Currently, coal supplies about 52 percent of the nation's electricity, and U.S. demand for electric power is projected to grow by about 1.5 percent a year. (Nationally, more than 150 new coal plants are planned.) With its hot summers, fast-growing population, and expanding industrial base, Texas has an even more urgent need for power; peak demand could exceed supply as soon as the summer of 2008.
"If you care about national security and you care about energy independence," McCall says, "you want to find a way to use coal that's acceptable to the public."
As for climate change, he allows that it's an "important and long-term issue" and says TXU's plants will be designed so that someday they can be retrofitted to capture and store carbon.
Right now, there's no way to capture carbon from coal-burning plants. But, McCall says, "we have confidence that technology will come along."
That, say TXU's critics, is hokum.
A long list of opponents
TXU is fighting not just the usual activists from the Sierra Club and Public Citizen but environmental groups like Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which are ordinarily business-friendly. (With GE, DuPont, and others, they formed the coalition of big companies to lobby for carbon caps.)
Opposing the plants, too, are the Democratic mayors of Dallas and Houston, Texas celebrities such as rocker Don Henley, and prominent businesspeople, including real estate scion Trammell S. Crow and Garrett Boone, the chairman of the Container Store.
Albert J. Huddleston, a pro-business Republican who helped finance the Swift Boat television ads against John Kerry in 2004, is funding a lawsuit against TXU because he's concerned about mercury contamination of lakes and fish.
So intense is the fervor that a 50-year-old activist, Karen Hadden, went on a ten-day hunger strike last fall to call attention to the issue. "It is certainly an uphill battle," Hadden says, "but we're trying to keep the pressure on every front."
Opponents have sued Texas regulators as well as TXU. They are asking the Texas legislature to impose a moratorium on new coal plants. They have taken their case to Wall Street, where Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup, the lead underwriters for the plants, have come under fire.
They are telling the TXU story in Washington as Congress moves closer to setting mandatory caps on greenhouse-gas emissions.
"TXU is becoming the poster child for why we need mandatory federal legislation," says Jim Marston, who runs Environmental Defense's Texas operations.
A cash cow
Maybe so, but until the U.S. or Texas regulates greenhouse gases, TXU's big bet on coal looks like a sure thing. John Wilder, TXU's chief executive, who has won respect on Wall Street, has said that the new plants could generate an additional $700 million in annual profits; in the past four quarters, the company earned $2.4 billion.
Burning coal is an especially good business in Texas, because the retail price of electricity is tied to the cost of more expensive natural gas, which supplies 70 percent of the state's power. Of course, it's also a good business because the costs of carbon emissions, air pollution and underground mining accidents are borne by the public.
But even if Congress decides to put caps on carbon emissions and somehow persuades President Bush to go along, analysts say that TXU's $11 billion investment should deliver a healthy return.
Hugh Wynne, an analyst with Bernstein Research, looked at a scenario under which gas prices would fall to $6 per million British thermal units (they're now about $7.50 per million BTUs) and CO2 would be taxed or regulated at a cost of $10 per ton, and concluded that TXU would still generate a return in excess of its cost of capital.
"The economics of TXU's proposed expansion plan appear to be remarkably robust," Wynne says.
Then again, if plants cost more to build or take longer than anticipated to get online, or if coal is taxed at a higher level or the costs of solar or wind power come down dramatically in the next decade or so, TXU could have a problem. Coal plants have a lifespan of about 50 years.
A dirty business
As the plants go through regulatory review this winter, TXU and its critics can't agree on much. The company says it will deploy state-of-the-art technology to trap the conventional pollutants caused by burning coal - sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, and nitrogen oxides, which combine with sunlight and ozone to make smog.
That will make the air cleaner, the company says, because its overall emissions of SOX and NOX, as they're known, as well as mercury, will drop by 20 percent after the new plants come online and older ones are retired. Replacing plants will also offset some of the greenhouse-gas emissions from the new generators.
The greens are not impressed, saying TXU is only doing what it's obligated to do under the Clean Air Act at a bit faster pace. Besides, says Jim Marston of Environmental Defense, air quality will get worse in some places, even if it improves in others. "You don't breathe average air," he says. "You breathe the air you breathe."
Another dispute revolves around mercury emissions. Kim Morgan, a company spokesman, took me on a tour of a surface mine ("We don't call it a strip mine") next to the 1.6-megawatt Big Brown coal-burning plant in Fairfield, Texas; after 35 years of mining, some land has been reclaimed as a nature preserve, and a popular bass-fishing tourney is held at a nearby lake. Mercury? Not a problem, she assures me -- TXU's new plants will comply with the EPA's mercury rules.
But at a regulatory hearing in Waco -- ground zero for the battle, because nine coal plants would be built within 50 miles of the city -- dozens of farmers, ranchers and local businesspeople, including the director of the Waco Chamber of Commerce, posed pointed questions about the potential for smog and mercury pollution.
Sloan Kuehl, a local banker, raises cattle and manages ponds stocked with bass and catfish on a 90-acre tract near one plant. "This is a beautiful area," he said. "My concern is about our quality of life." He and others say the EPA's mercury standards are inadequate.
Outside the hearing room, meanwhile, a protester stood before a TV camera waving a sign you don't often see at a political rally. It said, "IGCC is the best solution."
This is yet another bone of contention. IGCC stands for integrated gasification combined cycle, a technology that turns coal into synthetic gas and makes it possible to sequester carbon dioxide underground. TXU's critics say that if the company must make electricity from coal, it should do so using IGCC. At least try the technology on one or two plants, they ask.
The trouble is that only two of the 1,300 coal plants now operating in the U.S. deploy IGCC technology. Both are small, required government subsidies, and don't work as well as they should, some people say.
General Electric, which has touted "clean coal" and IGCC under its Ecomagination initiative, is nevertheless selling conventional generators to TXU for its proposed coal plants. "We'd love nothing more than to crack that nut," McCall says about IGCC. "But it's not a technology that has ever been built to scale." GE's chief executive, Jeff Immelt, says that IGCC suffers from a chicken-or-egg problem, meaning that until more plants are built, economies of scale won't come into play.
No new technology, by contrast, is needed to drive what looks to be the cheapest and cleanest answer to Texas's electricity needs: efficiency. A study commissioned by the NRDC and Ceres, a Boston-based coalition of institutional investors and environmental groups, has called on Texas to require more efficient appliances, heating and cooling systems and office equipment.
The consulting firm McKinsey recently said that efficiency measures, using today's technology, could reduce the growth rate of worldwide energy consumption by more than 50 percent over the next 15 years.
Here California's experience is instructive. "Aggressive standards and incentive programs are a big reason that per capita energy usage in California has remained flat over the past 30 years, while the rest of the nation has increased its usage by 50 percent." That argument comes not from the greens but from a utility executive, Peter Darbee, the chairman and CEO of PG&E. He supports stricter national efficiency rules and mandatory federal caps on greenhouse gases, and he's enthusiastic about solar thermal technology and plug-in hybrid cars.
All that is more evidence, as we said, that corporate America is getting serious about global warming. As for the rest of America, well, that's a different story. There's no sign that consumers are willing to give up big houses and cars. Despite Wal-Mart's best efforts, millions of us still buy energy-wasting incandescent light bulbs rather than money-saving compact fluorescents.
Greg Gordon, managing director of electric utility research for Citigroup, says, "There continues to be massive demand for electricity, in part because we choose as a political and economic entity not to aggressively pursue conservation. You have demand growth. You have to ask, How do we meet that demand?" TXU says the answer is coal, and unless Texas gets serious about global warming in a hurry, it looks as if the company will have the last word. - Marc Gunther, Fortune Magazine
FREIGHT TRAIN DERAILS NEAR COLLEGE
Caption reads: Weather blamed for track failure
THATCHER, AZ --
No injuries were reported when 10 empty freight cars jumped the tracks in Thatcher, just east of the Eastern Arizona College.
Dennis Giacoletti, general manager of the Arizona Eastern Railway, said the tracks were repaired by 16:30 on Jan. 30 - about 13 hours after the cars left the tracks at approximately 03:30.
"The trains are back running," Giacoletti said Wednesday morning.
According to Giacoletti, the 36-car eastbound freight train included 12 loaded hopper cars and 24 empties. Ten of the empty hopper cars left the tracks. Hopper cars are freight cars that may be opened from the bottom to unload their contents.
"A rail broke under the train heading east," Giacoletti said. "No loads derailed."
He said the railroad tracks held up under the load of the engine and loaded cars, but a stretch of track about 100 yards in length buckled under the empty cars. Giacoletti said the accident happened in an area where the tracks had been upgraded.
Had the upgrades not been done, the whole train may have derailed. Giacoletti blamed the unusually cold and wet weather for weakening the ties.
Giacoletti said the engineer realized something was seriously wrong when the train was moving smoothly through Thatcher then suddenly began to jerk. He said the engineer then quickly applied the emergency brakes to stop the train.
Arizona Eastern Railway hauls copper anodes, copper cathodes, copper rods and copper concentrate for Phelps Dodge Mining Company. - Diane Saunders, The Eastern Arizona Courier
MEMORIES: LOCOMOTIVE NEARLY TUMBLED INTO RIVER
HUNTINGTON, WV --
What looks at first glance like a toy locomotive tossed aside on someone's model railroad layout is in truth the real thing, having slid down the Ohio River bank near the Mason County community of Letart. Only a clump of sugar maple trees kept it from going into the river.
Engineer H.D. Bee, fireman John Dean and brakeman Carl Lott rode the locomotive out of Huntington on the dreary evening of Wednesday, Feb. 10, 1960, 47 years ago this week, with a freight train of moderate length.
They made stops at several locations to pick up and set off cars, including at the Vanadium Corporation of America at Graham. It was about midnight when, a few miles above Graham, the 61-car train entered a stretch called the Letart Narrows -- a place where the track meanders through a narrow strip of land bordered by cliffs on one side and the riverbank on the other.
Unbeknownst to the crew, several days of rain had eroded the cinder roadbed until finally, under the weight of the locomotive, the subgrade washed out and the crew members, their engine and nine freight cars went tumbling down the bank.
"Bee said his first thought after the plunge was that he might drown, or the engine topple over on him as he and the others scrambled clear," an article in The Huntington Advertiser said.
Two weeks went by before the locomotive was retrieved because the river kept rising and practically covered it up. The three crewmen -- all residents of Parkersburg -- were injured, but eventually went back to work. Bee retired on May 10, 1962, and lived to be 101. Two other crew members were riding in a caboose at the rear of the train and were not hurt. - Bob Withers, The Huntington Herald-Dispatch
ILLINOIS ETHANOL PROJECT TO BREAK GROUND THIS SPRING
ROYAL, IL --
When Walker Filbert and other Pike County leaders started making plans to build an ethanol plant at Griggsville, Illinois, the fuel enhancer made from corn was selling for less than $1 a gallon.
But four and a half years later, that price has nearly quadrupled, ethanol is the talk of the market, the Pike County project has expanded to a site at Royal in Champaign County and planners are ready to break ground this spring, after they wrap up a few details, at a 62-acre site just north of the JBS United elevator.
Walker Filbert, a Pike County lawyer who's a spokesman for the Griggsville project, said the partnership put together there initially made the Royal site a natural because JBS has elevators at both sites to get the corn the plants will turn into ethanol.
"We had been working to plan the Pike County facility and as part of the process, we said, JBS has a facility at Royal so let's do something there, " Filbert said. "A year ago in January, we started putting that plan together."
"Royal has productive farmers, great soil, lots of corn, a natural location," said Reg Ankrom, who's part of the planning team for the $200 million Royal project.
Les Busboom, manager of JBS' Royal elevator, said the elevator will scout far afield to find the estimated 37 million bushels of corn to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol a year beginning in about 2008.
"We'll quadruple our corn business," Busboom said. "We've purchased another area elevator and we expect to close this month. The arrangement between JBS and the ethanol plants is fantastic because we have exclusive rights here and in Griggsville to supply the plants. That's a high-end market every day."
"It's a good market, the first time farmers have had an opportunity to benefit on the value-added side. Now with $4 corn, benefits are already funneling back to farmers."
Busboom said he expects to take in most of the corn within 20 miles of the two elevators and he'll pay good prices so farmers as far as 50 miles away will truck their corn to the ethanol plant.
Busboom and Ankrom said new jobs will be available at the elevator and at the ethanol plant.
Filbert said the plant will employ 45 to 50 people with a payroll in the $2 million range.
"It's going to be a big shot in the arm for the area," Ankrom said.
Filbert said businessmen in Pike County first looked at the ethanol project "long before ethanol was sexy. The primary emphasis was, Pike County is right at the bottom economically and we wanted to do something to generate activity and play to our strong suit here, corn. We have corn, we have JBS and we have a railroad. We have gas, water and electricity. We said, let's see if it will work."
He said he's learned a lot lining up start-up money and major investors and addressing logistical issues. Filbert said if the Royal plant breaks ground this spring, it should be ready to open in January 2009.
"A key problem is obtaining stainless steel for the tanks," he said. "It's a tight commodity on the world market, and lead times for obtaining it are long. China's eating up lots of steel and so is the Gulf Coast."
The Griggsville group raised money for both plants from local investors and from a huge German bank, West LB Bank.
Royal plant planners have had success working out an agreement to sell a feed byproduct of ethanol production, distillers dried grains. Busboom said Kansas-based Bartlett Grain will market all of it. He said it can be fed to most livestock, but poultry markets, which are a big customer for the Royal elevator, are still working out formulations.
Meanwhile, the Union Pacific Railroad which runs along one side of the proposed site, goes straight to Texas and Mexico, where there are a lot of cattle feeders.
Busboom said Bartlett will have a representative on site to sell the distillers dried grains to any local farmers who might want to buy feed.
Filbert said the efficiency of ethanol plants has increased greatly just in a few years, improving production economics, although oil and commodity markets also have a big impact on profits.
"If oil got down to less than $40 a barrel, that would be somewhat problematic on the ethanol side," he said. "And corn at $4 causes a lot of stress on the input side. But I don't think corn will be $4 when we see 2007 crop reports."
Busboom said commodity prices will depend a lot on planted acreage estimated in upcoming reports and on weather this spring.
"If we see an increase in corn acreage and good weather, I expect prices to ease off," he said. "But prices have been up $1.50 a bushel since harvest, and that's all ethanol. This market has real demand behind it."
Ankrom, Busboom and Filbert were all elated to hear President Bush call for a boost in renewable fuel production to 35 million gallons by 2017.
"The country uses 140 billion gallons of gas a year, and if we did 10 percent of that, that's 14 billion gallons of ethanol," said Ankrom of the blend most widely available at stations all over the country, the market the three men think has the most future promise.
"We are absolutely excited about Bush's alternative fuels emphasis," Filbert said. "If the country wants 35 billion gallons, we have to build the plants."
"It's not going to be the savior of the country to get us beyond our crisis with foreign oil," said Jonathan Schroeder, a Champaign County Board member and a board member of Grand Prairie Co-Op Inc., which is a partner in another ethanol plant proposal in Ford County.
"It's not the silver bullet, but it's a step in the right direction," he said. - Anne Cook, The Urbana/Champaign News-Gazette
CABOOSE FOR SALE
AUSTIN, TX --
Even in this red hot real estate market, there are still some properties that are a challenge to sell. In Buda, Texas where a building boom is keeping developers busy, one family's "For Sale" sign is drawing a lot of interest, but not many serious buyers.
"This is where we cooked our burgers and made our fries," recalled Janie Hinojosa and her daughter, Elizabeth. Both remember what is was like cooking in a real train caboose.
The train car was built in 1973 and rolled along the Burlington Northern railroad line for many years.
It's 39 feet long and about 10' wide, and for the past ten years it's served up homecooking. "Basically the steps here walked up to the window and you placed your order," Elizabeth Hinojosa said.
Photos show brisk business a few years ago. "People who didn't even know it existed would just pull up to the gas pumps (at a nearby gas station) and they would see it and it would just draw them over," she said.
But the recent building boom in Buda, including the nearby Cabela's, is leading the property owner to clear the lot to make way for new opportunities. The Hinojosa's have until mid-February to get rid of the caboose
"Anyone who's interested is also wanting to move out in the country, open area where there's land they can put it on," says Elizabeth.
However, since it weighs more than 57,000 pounds moving it won't be easy or cheap. It took two cranes to get it to its current location from just a short distance away.
The sales price for the caboose is $10,000, but without a buyer, the family may be forced to start taking bids from companies willing to demolish this railroad relic.
In case you're interested, the caboose is located on Overpass Road in Buda, just off IH-35 across from the Cabela's Sporting Goods store. - Olga Campos, KVUE-TV, Austin, TX
RAILROAD FAN WAS DOCENT AT MUSEUM
SACRAMENTO, CA --
John Pesely looked like Clark Gable.
So said his daughter, Mary Fischer.
"And that wasn't just me," Fischer said. "My friends would say, 'Oh, your dad's so handsome!' "
Looks came with substance, too.
Born on Sixth Street in Sacramento, Pesely lived in the city all his life.
He would have never thought to leave, his daughter said.
Loyal to family above all else, he cared for his parents -- who immigrated to Sacramento from Croatia -- until their deaths in their 90s.
Pesely died Wednesday. He was 91.
Family members describe a man who loved to learn and always wanted to understand "how things worked."
"My dad didn't just look at the stars at night -- he joined the astronomical society," Fischer said. "He was interested in all these magic things -- especially trains, radios, technology."
At 15, Pesely built a ham radio from scratch on his back porch on Sixth Street.
He was a ham radio operator for most of his adult life.
"As a little girl, my lullaby was a radio static," Fischer said, describing her father turning knobs in search of a signal.
His love for technology and machines led to a career with IBM as a customer engineer.
But he always wanted to be a railroad engineer, Fischer said.
Pesely was a charter member of the California State Railroad Museum, where he was a docent until last summer.
In his free time, Fischer said her father would take museum videotapes home.
They featured trains going over Donner Summit in the summer, winter, spring and fall.
"And he would just sit and watch the tape," she said.
Pesely embraced new technology, too. After his family introduced him to the Internet, he did his banking online into his 90s.
"He said, 'I'm glad I lived long enough to see this technology,' " Fischer said.
His wife, Maria, describes a husband who was earnest, serious and thoughtful.
He had lived through the Depression, she said, and that had affected him.
When his father lost his job, Pesely supported his family with work at a gas station and a drugstore.
"He didn't smile a lot, but when he did, it was worth it," Maria Pesely said. - Melissa Nix, The Sacramento Bee
PBS SHOW 'TRACKS AHEAD' TO VISIT HUCKLEBERRY RAILROAD
GENESEE TOWNSHIP, MI --
Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad are going Hollywood this summer.
The hit PBS series "Tracks Ahead" plans to shoot a segment at the village in June. The show is seen on more than 200 PBS stations in America and Japan. It features steam locomotives, railroad stories, model trains and art.
Past seasons have aired on Detroit, East Lansing and Saginaw PBS stations. The show's Web site is [www.tracksahead.net
Producers learned of the historic local attraction in a May 2006 feature in Trains magazine about Paul Dalleska, Huckleberry's master mechanic.
Village staffers are guessing the star of the show might be Engine 464. Built in 1903 for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, the narrow gauge steam engine is one of only two in its class still surviving, Dalleska said. The other is in storage in Colorado, awaiting restoration.
Filming dates are slated for June 13-14, but no other details are available yet.
"We're just going to be running trains and hoping there's a good crowd here," said Dalleska. - Elizabeth Shaw, The Flint Journal
DING, DING, DING GOES THE COMMUTER TRAIN
AUSTIN, TX --
It's still possible, even after 3-1/2 years on this transportation beat, to have one of those "Ding!" moments.
No, I haven't subscribed to that infernal Southwest Airlines alert thing. What I mean are those moments when you learn something new and fundamental on a subject or suddenly see clearly what was there all along.
I had one of those last month, when Capital Metro officials called me and agency board member Fred Harless in for a briefing on the progress of the 32-mile commuter rail line project from Leander to downtown Austin.
Just to let you know briefly how that stands, assembly has begun in Switzerland on the first of six diesel-powered rail cars that the agency ordered.
Construction is moving along on the Leander station and has begun on a rail overpass that will carry the Capital Metro line over the intersecting Union Pacific line in Northwest Austin.
The "ding" occurred when Harless asked project managers what would happen if, happily, customer interest was huge when the line opened in late 2008. Wouldn't it take awhile to get more cars delivered?
Well, yes, it would. The $5 million babies are not bought off the shelf; they are built to customized specifications, and dozens of subcontractors are involved. So, doubling the capacity might take two or three years and an additional $30 million or more.
And that's when the bell went off.
Those cars carry about 200 people, including standees, and Capital Metro plans to run just five routes in from Leander in the morning on 30-minute intervals and five back in the evening, with a handful of midday inbound and return routes.
That means, if all goes perfectly, about 1,000 commuters in the morning could use this service that we're paying $90 million or more to build. And if Capital Metro spends a bunch more money and time to have twice the cars, well, that number could "soar" to 2,000 people. This, in a Northwest Metro corridor with a couple hundred thousand people.
Capital Metro, when they were asking voters to approve the project back in 2004, predicted about 2,000 rides a day at first.
What I hadn't realized is that modest number wasn't a conservative prediction, but virtually the full initial capacity.
What that points to, something we don't tend to think about, is how railroads have finite carrying capacity, just like a highway.
Yes, you can buy more cars, and run them more frequently, and hook them together to carry more on each run. But that's wildly expensive. And more trains mean more times that gates will come down on the 50 or so streets intersecting the railroad, including big ones like Parmer Lane, Lamar Boulevard, U.S. 290 and the frontage roads of Interstate 35.
Go to 10-minute intervals with three-car trains, and you could bring in about 10,000 people in the morning. And need about 50 train cars.
All this math applies to the other passenger lines being discussed as well.
So, $90 million to give 1,000 people a nice commute.
Ding. - Ben Wear, The Austin American-Statesman
LIGHT RAIL WILL BE KANSAS CITY'S LONG HAUL
KANSAS CITY, MO --
One might suspect that Clay Chastain does not trust Our Fearless Leaders to follow through with his voter-approved light-rail plan.
The fact that he calls the mayor and council "cagey" is one tip-off.
Also, when he had his lawyer wife last week threaten to sue the whole lot of them, well, that was another sign.
Then there was this on my voice mail the other day:
"I guess there you have it, Mike, they've dropped the gauntlet," said the all-too-familiar voice. "I think it's clear what they're trying to do is change the plan and steal it."
Now, some might call that paranoia. However, to a degree, I'm with Clay.
I don't much trust them, either, given history. So light-rail supporters would be wise to keep an eye on the Kansas City Council as this thing progresses.
Still, like Dick Cheney, I'm a half-glass-full sort of guy.
Contrary to the vibe Chastain notices from his home base in far-off Bedford, VA, I get the feeling that KC officials are trying to make light rail work.
Take that council work session a couple of weeks ago. Chastain saw it as the city throwing down the gauntlet, but I saw it as cautious first steps.
True, assistant city attorney Bill Geary's analysis wasn't the most upbeat.
It focused almost entirely on the several legal problems with the light-rail plan voters approved in November.
He said the City Council didn't have jurisdiction to run a light-rail line across the Heart of America Bridge, or through property controlled by the parks and rec board or through the cities of Gladstone and North Kansas City.
Oh, yes, and the whole thing may be unconstitutional because it depends on financing from the feds that is far from being secured, he said.
Hey, but that's what lawyers do.
They point out the many ways that their clients could trip and fall, thus giving them every excuse to never get out of bed.
But mostly that's just to cover their fannies. Because when Geary was accused by Councilman Bill Skaggs of being something of a wet blanket, Geary said this:
"It wasn't my intention to try to put a negative spin on what we're trying to do," he said. "Don't shoot the messenger."
My sense of it so far is that they're not trying to torpedo the plan. Some of them might like to, of course.
But the effort so far is focused on fixing only as much of the plan as they have to for it to be constitutional and please the feds.
As far as foot-dragging, another Chastain complaint, I don't see that, either.
Politically speaking, not much can be done until a new council takes office this spring.
Meanwhile, it's encouraging to know that the technocrats are taking high dives into a steaming bowl of alphabet soup.
This month alone, folks from the ATA and MARC in KC will consult with the FTA in DC about the A and A.
Translation: The planning process is about to begin.
Figure on two years, said Dick Jarrold, the Area Transportation Authority's chief engineer.
They'll have to do ridership forecasts, environmental impact assessments, town meetings, the works.
"We basically have the answer (the route the voters approved) and now we need to come up with the need," Jarrold told me.
I can understand why Chastain would get upset when some candidates for office say his plan is flawed, but offer few specifics.
But as I told him the other night on the phone, he's too impatient for his own good at times.
He wants the city to start building the rail line even before the feds buy in.
"The people want to see light rail in their lifetimes," he said.
I agree, Clay, but let's be realistic here. This is not the Manhattan Project in World War II.
It's transportation planning in modern day America and it takes time.
Right now, City Hall and the ATA deserve the benefit of the doubt, not scorn.
There'll be plenty of opportunities later to jump down their throats, if need be. - Commentary, Mike Hendricks, The Kansas City Star
SCOTTSDALE RESIDENTS SEEK VOTE ON TRANSIT OPTIONS
SCOTTSDALE, AZ --
Scottsdale residents from the north and south are calling for a city election to gauge the community's interest in a light-rail or streetcar system.
Bob Vairo, president of the north Scottsdale-based Coalition of Pinnacle Peak, and Mike Merrill, a south Scottsdale activist, submitted signed petitions from residents and business owners last month requesting a nonbinding "advisory" election on the fixed-rail transit systems being considered for Scottsdale Road.
"An issue of this importance should go to the voters first," Vairo said. "It would be the biggest step and most expensive step the city has ever taken."
The council is scheduled to take up the issue Tuesday - the city's charter requires it to act on a petition within 30 days - but is under no obligation to call such an election. The meeting starts at 17:00 at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Boulevard.
State law allows the council to call a public transportation advisory election at any time. The council would not be bound by the results of the advisory election. The next election opportunity would be Sept. 11.
Merrill gathered more than 200 e-mails and signatures in support of the advisory election, while about 60 COPP members signed the petition that requests sending "an advisory question to the voters regarding any plan, funding or construction of any rail transit system down any portion of Scottsdale Road."
If the council approves light rail or modern streetcars without a vote of the people, both Vairo and Merrill said a referendum effort is likely. The city is also considering bus rapid transit that would initially run from the city's southern border north to either SkySong at McDowell Road or to downtown.
Council members have indicated a public vote is likely to decide the future of light rail, if for no other reason than to obtain funding for the project that would connect to the $1.4 billion, 20-mile light-rail route under construction in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa that's set to open in December 2008.
"I would imagine all of us thought that if we ever got to the point where we felt that light rail absolutely should be a component of the plan that it would go to the voters," said Mayor Mary Manross, who did not say how she'd vote on the advisory election request.
The petitions are the latest development in the light-rail debate that has heated up in Scottsdale over the past few months as the city's $1.1 million transportation plan update - which is also studying traffic circulation and bike and pedestrian paths - moves closer to a council vote this fall. In December, the council voted 4-3 to keep Scottsdale Road as the city's designated transit corridor for a possible light-rail line or streetcar system despite an effort from some council members to kill the possibility of a fixed-rail system ever running up and down the city's major thoroughfare. - Brian Powell, The East Valley Tribune