Railroad Newsline for Friday, 11/24/06
Author: Larry W. Grant
Date: 11-24-2006 - 04:50

Railroad Newsline for Friday, November 24, 2006

Compiled by Larry W. Grant

In Memory of Rob Carlson, 1952 – 2006






RAIL NEWS

TRAIN CRASH SENDS CREW MEMBERS TO HOSPITAL WITH MINOR INJURIES

MEMPHIS, TN -- A slow-speed train crash derailed four freight cars and temporarily blocked a rail line near downtown Memphis on Wednesday.

Two crewmen aboard one of the trains sustained "cuts and bruises," but no one was seriously hurt, said Joe Arbona, a Union Pacific spokesman.

Two of the derailed cars contained potentially toxic chemicals used to make fingernail polish remover but none of the material spilled, Arbona said.

The crash occurred about 02:20 CST when a Union Pacific train from Little Rock, Arkansas, hit the front end of a stopped BNSF Railway Company train.

The injured crewmen were treated at a hospital and released, and the rail line near a Union Pacific freight yard was reopened to traffic about 15:00, Arbona said.

While the four freight cars were knocked off the track, they remained upright. Two of the cars were empty. The BNSF train, equipped to carry coal, also was empty.

The cause of the incident remained under investigation. - The Associated Press, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram




FBI INVESTIGATES DISAPPEARANCE OF RAILROAD TRACK

BARNSEVILLE, MN -- Several feet of railroad tracks are missing from the Ulen and Barnseville areas in Clay County, Minnesota.

The missing tracks are part of railroad lines that have been abandoned or are under construction.
Sheriff Bill Bergquist says investigators believe the case is linked to the recent rash of copper and aluminum thefts across the region. Similar cases have been reported in Iowa and South Dakota.

West Fargo (North Dakota) Police Chief Arland Rasmussen says federal authorities are looking into the matter. Rasmussen is coordinating a local effort to quash the thefts.

Police say the stolen tracks and metal are being sold to scrapyards for cash. - The Associated Press, The St. Paul Pioneer-Press





TRACKING THE FUTURE

ROCHESTER, MN -- It's tracks go through the heart of Rochester and for years the debate has raged between the railroad and the community as the company looks to expand it's operation.

In a Newscenter Extra Karna Bergstrom looks at the proposal and why the battle is heating up.

It's a tale of two engines wanting to secure their future.

One, a regional railroad wanting to grow it's business, to transport fuel and other products.

In August 2006, DM&E President Kevin Schieffer said, "An historic opportunity to build a new class one railroad. It hasn't been done in this country in over 100 years."

John Wade, president of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce says, "What we are most concerned about is preserving a way of life."

The other, a community and it's businesses seeking to protect themselves from increased train traffic.

For eight years Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad, known as DM&E, has been aiming to upgrade and expand it's tracks from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to Winona, Minnesota in hopes of transferring coal but also products for farmers.

Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau said in May 2006, "Our customers, our consumers do not live on our farms. We need a transportation structure."

DM&E Railroad needs approval from two federal agencies to move forward with the proposal.

The Surface and Transportation Board needs to okay the construction.

While the Federal Railroad Administration is deciding whether or not to loan DM&E $2.3 billion to fund part of the $6 billion project.

At a rally in August, Ken Brown, chairman of the Olmsted County Board, said "Mr. Schieffer promised at this time that if he can't find private financing for this project, it will not happen."

For the past eight years, the Rochester community has been the lone voice of decent along this line, trying halt a project that a majority of communities favor.

Terry Adkins, Rochester City Attorney says, "Rochester has problems and concerns that are unique to itself, and we can't be compared to other cities along this line."

Stopping the trains from coming down this track is gaining momentum in recent months with efforts fueled and funded by a Rochester institution.

Chris Gade, a Mayo Clinic Spokesperson says, "The 'Track the Truth' effort is an effort to draw visibility to the loan, it's merits, the safety record of the railroad and the proposal overall."

The opposition is called the Rochester Coalition consisting of Mayo Clinic, the city of Rochester, Olmsted County and the Rochester Chamber of Commerce.

Chris Gade says the lobbying, the signs, the billboards, even videos, like this one, is all paid for by the Mayo Clinic.

Gade says, "Given the magnitude of the risk we really feel what we're investing is an appropriate amount."

Gade would not give us a specific dollar amount when asked but the coalition says it is privately funded using no taxpayer dollars.

The two parties have met at least a dozen times in the past eight years but compromise was never found.

In May Schieffer said, "I would like to have an open dialog in Rochester so that people can see whether there are issues here or whether they are being scared into it."

The Rochester Coalition says negotiations are out the window concentrating their efforts on how to stop the loan.

Gade says, "We are literally working on all fronts to ensure that our community and our staff are protected."

While the loan is being considered by the FRA, a timetable for a decision is not known.

So the battle wages on with both sides hoping to keep their future on track. - Karna Bergstrom, KTTC-TV, Rochester, MN




TRAIN DERAILMENT CLOSES PART OF MINNESOTA STATE HIGHWAY 68

COURTLAND, MN -- A section of State Highway 68 in southern Minnesota was closed after a train derailed Wednesday night, officials said.

Between six and 10 Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad cars went off the rails south of Courtland, the Blue Earth County Sheriff's Department said. The department declined to immediately provide further details.

The section of highway that was closed -- in both directions -- stretched from State Highway 15 near New Ulm to Blue Earth County Road 47, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation said.

The road was likely to be closed until noon Thursday, the spokeswoman said. Motorists were advised that Highway 14 was an alternate route. - The Associated Press, WCCO-TV4, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN




UPDATE: CREWS CLEAN ETHANOL SPILL IN BLUE EARTH COUNTY AFTER DERAILMENT

COURTLAND, MN -- Crews were cleaning a major ethanol spill Thursday after seven tanker cars were involved in a derailment Wednesday night south of this Blue Earth County town.

Kevin Schieffer, president of the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad of Sioux Falls, said a preliminary investigation into the derailment points to problems with the more than 50-year-old railroad track in the area of southern Minnesota.

"It desperately needs to be replaced," he said of the track. "It is extremely frustrating because this doesn't need to happen."

The DM&E is awaiting word on a $2.3 billion federal loan that would pay for part of its $6 billion plan to rebuild 600 miles of track across South Dakota and Minnesota and add 260 miles of new track to reach Wyoming's Powder River Basin coal mines.

Schieffer said an estimated 30,000 gallons of ethanol spilled Wednesday night. It typically takes between two and four weeks to clean up such spills, he said.

A few homes were evacuated Wednesday, but their owners were back in them by noon Thursday.

Schieffer said repairs to the track would probably be finished by Friday. The derailment prompted the closure of state Highway 68 from Highway 15 near New Ulm to Blue Earth County Road 47 on Wednesday.

The state Transportation Department said the highway was expected to remain closed until noon Thursday. A department map on the Web showed no road closures in the area Thursday afternoon.

Schieffer said upgrades to the track in Minnesota was made even more pressing by the boom in ethanol around the state. "We are moving a little over 2,000 percent more ethanol than we did two years ago," he said.

There have been several delays to the railroad's expansion plans, some caused by critics of the plan. Chief among them is the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, which has been critical of DM&E's safety record and is trying to block the loan.

The clinic, and its allies at the city of Rochester, have argued that the increased rail traffic could threaten the safety of the clinic's patients because the line runs near the clinic. They want the railroad to build a bypass around the city. - The Associated Press, The Yankton Press & Dakotan




TOWN ON TRACK FOR PRESERVATION; DEPOT PART OF CASTLE ROCK'S VISION

CASTLE ROCK, CO -- Local leaders are banking on Castle Rock's past as they plan for its future.

Next week, the town will close a $140,000 deal to buy an old train depot, vacant, unlocked and vandalized for years. But someday, it could house a second town museum, a welcome center, a public meeting hall or even find new life as a depot for commuter rail.

The depot is the latest cornerstone in the town's plan for historical preservation. Next year, the town hopes to survey its historic buildings, if it can score a $30,000 grant to fund the task. For a photo of the depot, click here:

http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site36/2006/1122/20061122_114028_cd23depot.jpg

"I hope the town can save all the old buildings it can," said Castle Rock Museum director Lionel Oberlin, as he looked over the dilapidated Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Depot.

"There aren't that many left."

Fires from primitive home heating took out many of this historic town's original quarters, and in recent years, scrape-offs for new construction have taken many of the others, Oberlin said.

While the town celebrated its 125th anniversary this year, only one in five of its downtown businesses are older than 60.

But in Castle Rock, unlike most of south metro's modern boomtowns, the past is everywhere, and a railroad runs through it.

"This is a railroad town; always has been," said resident Harry Williamson. "Any money the town puts toward preserving that, I'm for it."

Preserving historic character pays off, according to the Colorado Historical Society.

Heritage tourism is a $3.4 billion a year business in Colorado, while attracting residents, businesses and private investment. The Douglas County seat sprang up along the rail lines in the 1870s and flourished because of them. Older buildings are built from stone from local quarries and timber from the foothills; newer buildings are constructed to resemble them.

"A lot of towns have to invent their history," said Fabby Hillyard, Castle Rock's downtown coordinator. "People here are interested in that history. It makes people feel more grounded.
The depot is a manifestation of that interest."

The old depot, at 928 Prairie Hawk Drive, is already connected to downtown by a trail under Interstate 25, along Plum Creek. Its high perch on the east provides a soothing view of downtown and Castle Rock's namesake butte.

The 1,480-square-foot Santa Fe depot served the rails from 1911 until the late 1940s. Two previous Santa Fe depots at the site, dating back to the 1880s, burned.

Before the depot becomes a public building, the town must remove lead paint and asbestos, an estimated $2,000 job. The depot also is hooked up to a well and a septic system, problems for a public building. Town water and sewer lines are nearby, however.

But if the depot stays at its current location, the rail crossing will have to be reclassified as public, meaning anywhere from $30,000 to $250,000 in safety improvements, according to the town's assessment of the site.

The value, however, far outweighs the possible costs, said Hillyard, who pitched the project to the Town Council.

"The structure is an important part of the town's historic rail history," she said. "We think that it's a good investment." - Joey Bunch, The Denver Post





REALIGNMENT OF GEIGER SPUR TRACK TO START THIS SPRING

SPOKANE COUNTY, WA -- Work on the long-awaited Geiger Spur project—which is touted as having the potential to save hundreds of jobs on the West Plains and to create thousands more in the next two decades—is expected to start this spring. Click here for map:

http://www.spokanejournal.com/photos/spurtrack.jpg

Spokane County, which has been planning the project for several years, hopes to complete the rail realignment part of it by the end of summer 2007, says Erik Skaggs, the county’s economic development director. The county will set a timeline for the project during a public meeting Nov30, Skaggs says.

The high end of estimates for the cost of the first phase of the project is between $7 million and $8 million, but the county is working to cut that cost to $5.5 million to stay within budget, Skaggs says. The county has received $5.5 million in state and federal funds to build the new track and to remove the portion of the line that runs through Fairchild Air Force Base and must cover any costs over that amount.

“Our main hurdle right now is refining the project, and getting it on schedule and on budget,” Skaggs says. “I’m optimistic that we can achieve those goals.”

Currently, the Geiger Spur runs from the BNSF Railway Co. line just to the north of Fairchild, to the east along the north edge of the base, then turns south and runs along the base’s eastern boundary as far south as McFarlane Road. From there, it runs east again along McFarlane before ending at Hayford Road. A new section of the spur most likely would start along the McFarlane stretch, about a quarter-mile west of Craig Road, and run 3.5 miles south to link with the Palouse River-Coulee City (PRCC) rail line near Medical Lake, says acting county engineer Bob Brueggeman. The tracks at Fairchild then would be removed, and sections of the older part of the line would be upgraded, he says.

Part of the second phase of the Geiger Spur project is expected to include building a Geiger Transload and Logistics Center somewhere along the new spur. The transloader, which is expected to be built by the end of next year, would use cranes and other equipment to transfer freight from rail cars to trucks and vice versa.

Earlier this year, the Washington Legislature appropriated $60,000 for the county to study possible sites for the transloader. HDR Engineering Inc., of Bellevue, WA, is conducting that study and will issue a report to the county soon, Skaggs says. The most likely location for the facility would be along McFarlane, where businesses that use the rail already are operating. The size of the transloader, which could occupy up to 20 acres, hasn’t been determined, he says. The county would contract out the operation of the transloader to a private company, he says.

Meanwhile, Reno, Nevada-based Railroad Industries Inc. is conducting a marketing and feasibility study for the planned transloader project, he says. Once the county receives both of those studies, which is expected next month, it will determine the size of the transloader and set a timeline for the project. An exact cost hasn’t been estimated for the transloader yet, but systems typically range in cost between $2 million and $3 million, he says.

Part of the second phase also is expected to include installing fiber-optic conduits from U.S. 2 to the PRCC line, along the new portion of the Geiger Spur, at an estimated cost of $1 million, he says. The county wants to install the conduits there so telecommunications companies can run fiber-optic cables through them to provide broadband Internet access to current and future businesses in that area.

In March of 2005, an economic-impact study found that the Geiger Spur supported five main industrial manufacturers with a combined total of 400 jobs and an annual payroll of $11 million, Skaggs says. The annual economic impact of those jobs on the Spokane region at the time was $66 million. The study projected that after the Geiger Spur project is completed, the improved line could create roughly 4,000 new jobs over 20 years, have an annual $773 million economic impact on the local economy, and generate roughly $77 million in new state and local tax revenue each year, he says.

“Our goal with the Geiger Spur project has been retention, expansion, and recruitment of businesses on the West Plains,” Skaggs says.

BNSF planned to abandon the spur in 2004, which would have meant the loss of several hundred jobs, he says. Instead, BNSF donated the line to Spokane County in October of that year.

Meanwhile, U.S. military officials wanted the line moved off Fairchild since it posed a security threat, and pulling up that portion of the tracks would have disconnected the spur from the BNSF line to the north. That BNSF line only operated one day a week, while the BNSF line that connects to the PRCC line in Cheney operates six days a week, he says.

Todd Weaver, president of one of the biggest users of the Geiger Spur, Metals Fabrication Co., says he expects the realignment project and the transloader project will boost that company’s business, and he is eager for the projects to get under way.

Weaver says Metals Fabrication plans to use the line more heavily once the realignment project has been completed. The company has 70 employees and expects to hire more soon.

“We plan on continuing to grow, and this project will help us stay competitive and stay around and keep hiring,” he says.

The county, which will continue to own the spur, is working with Railroad Industries, the Nevada company that’s the construction manager for the Geiger Spur project, to devise the rates that will be charged to users of the spur once the project has been completed, Skaggs says.

“That’s an important part of the project we’re working on as well, because we want to make sure we have economically competitive rates,” Skaggs says. “We could have a failed railroad if the rates drive customers away.”

The county has a contract with Western Rail Switching Inc., an affiliate of Western Rail Inc., an Airway Heights-based concern that sells and leases used locomotives, to operate the Geiger Spur until 2009, he says.

Rates charged to users of the Geiger Spur and the PRCC will be affected by the outcome of the state’s negotiations with Pittsburg, Kansas-based Watco Cos. to buy the 108-mile-long PRCC track, which runs from Coulee City to Cheney, Skaggs says. The state could reach an agreement with Watco by the end of this year, Skaggs says, although state officials are less willing to disclose details about the status of negotiations.

“Negotiations are ongoing and progressing,” says Scott Witt, freight multimodal program and policy manager for the Washington state Department of Transportation.

If the state buys the PRCC, it likely would contract out the operation of the line to a private company, and the terms of that contract would affect rates charged to users, Skaggs says.

Spokane County plans to work closely with the state on rates for both the Geiger Spur and the PRCC, he says.

Todd Havens, who owns Western Rail Switching, says he plans to submit an application to the state to operate the PRCC line. If the five-employee company wins that contract, it likely would hire up to 20 more workers, he says. - Emily Brandler, The Spokane Journal of Business




RUNNING OUT OF STEAM?

TOPPENISH, WA -- The vision is clear.

Operable steam locomotives hauling vintage box cars and tankers that circle the rail yard on a quarter-mile loop. A roundhouse and turntable where engines could be turned around. People visiting from across the country.

That's what Jerry Boekholder and about a dozen other volunteers dream will happen at the Yakima Valley Rail & Steam Museum, which is housed in the old Toppenish depot at the corner of Toppenish and Asotin avenues.

"It would be an operating 1902-to-1950s vintage rail line," says Boekholder, museum president.

A group of volunteers started the museum in 1988, after acquiring an old locomotive they began refurbishing behind the Del Monte plant on Division Street.

Related photos by Gordon King of the Yakima Herald-Republic are seen by clicking on the following links:

http://img.yakima-herald.com/temporaryimages/bp98040.jpg

and:

http://img.yakima-herald.com/temporaryimages/bp98039.jpg

Later, in 1992, the volunteers began breathing life back into the Toppenish-to-White Swan rail line and were instrumental in getting wood shipments from Yakima Forest Products in White Swan.

But after losing management of the Toppenish-to-White-Swan rail line to Columbia Basin Railroad last year following a decision by the Yakima County commissioners, the museum is struggling to stay afloat.

The museum, which already offers caboose rides during summer and the Christmas season, can't afford the annual $15,000 cost of insurance -- that once was covered by freight car fees -- when revenues from admissions only amount to $4,000 a year.

"I don't see the museum surviving more than a year unless funding kicks in," Boekholder says.

Despite the financial hardships, museum volunteers continue their restoration projects, and are seeking additional money through grants and fundraising drives to keep the museum alive.

Museum organizers hope to get strong turnouts during its annual Toy Train Christmas -- when caboose rides are offered -- that begins Saturday and runs each Saturday through Dec16.

Boekholder said he's even been calling on state and federal lawmakers for help.

Toppenish Chamber of Commerce president Frances Burger describes the museum as an integral part of the town's tourism, where a handful of other museums and about 70 murals depict American Indian history and early settlements in the Yakima Valley.

"We believe that the railroad museum is an excellent addition to the community," Burger said. "It's one of the featured tourism attractions of the chamber of commerce."

For nearly a decade, the group has worked to convert the old depot into a museum and develop the surrounding park. Volunteers are still restoring old boxcars and a 1902 Baldwin locomotive in the museum's engine room.

"The passion that these people feel for their project will pull them through their challenges," Burger says.

Most recently, the museum paid $1,000 for a 1909 Baldwin passenger locomotive from Veterans Park in Auburn, Washington. The 95-ton engine had to be lifted by a crane, and cost about $22,000 to deliver, Boekholder said.

A few passenger cars dating back to the 1930s sit at one end of the rail yard, while an old kerosene tanker, a bottom-drop gondola that hauled coal and a six-automobile car carrier rest on rail tracks nearby. Old rail crossing light posts as well as switches are also on hand.

Several engine parts and a 150-foot turnaround awaiting restoration sit at the rear of the seven-acre yard.

Boekholder says he would like to see the turnaround installed in an adjacent piece of property owned by two museum board members.

"There are very few museums that have an operating turnaround," he says.

Inside the museum, visitors can peer into a 1930s passenger rail car, or view the lobby and ticket booth of the depot. Memorabilia including historical pictures of how trains operated are also on view. A dock is at the rear where freight was once delivered.

Boekholder's passion for the museum dates back about 40 years to his college days, when he had a maintenance job with Chicago Northwestern Railroad in Illinois.

He says the historical role the railroad played in the Yakima Valley shouldn't be forgotten.

"If it weren't for the railway, the city of Toppenish wouldn't be here," he says. "This was the only way to get into the Valley. There were no highways. Everything moved by rail."

Toy Train Christmas

WHAT: Ride in a caboose to see Santa Claus, and check out model electric trains running beneath decorated Christmas trees. Hot chocolate and cookies will be available and there will be raffle drawings for electric model trains. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children 12 and under.

Where: Yakima Valley Rail & Steam Museum, corner of Toppenish and Asotin avenues

When: 10:00 to 16:00 each Saturday through Dec16

- Phil Ferolito, The Yakima Herald-Republic




WOODEN TRAINS ARE MOVING FAST FOR LOCAL MAKER

LOUISIANA, MO -- If you are looking to save a trip to the North Pole this Christmas, a drive to Louisiana, Missouri., may suffice.

Of course, the people there are of varying heights, wear sneakers without bells and the local toy train maker doesn't run as big an operation as the chief executive of the North Pole. But in 10 years, Whittle Shortline Railroad has made a name that could eventually rival the toy headquarters to the north.

Owner Mike Whitworth has a fast-growing business that is all about child's play. The wooden toy train maker had $250,000 in sales two years ago and $700,000 last year. For photo by Kevin Manning of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, click here:

http://images.stltoday.com/stltoday/resources/toys23flash.jpg

Whitworth is expecting between $700,000 and $1.1 million in sales by the end of the 2006 holiday season. He's currently sitting on more than $700,000 worth of hand-made toys awaiting orders from retailers, or to be sold on his website, www.woodentrain.com, where the company makes 35 percent to 40 percent of its annual sales.

"We make toys that I like to play with," said Whitworth, when asked about the philosophy behind the business.

The quality of Whittle Shortline's products has caught the eye of Amtrak, CSX, Union Pacific and even New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority. The railroads called the company to arrange production of a wooden toy models of their locomotives and cars.

In March, the company was asked by NBC/Universal Studios to make the Little Engine That Could toy train to be sold in various toy stores.

The only stipulation Whittle Shortline makes with each company is that it, too, can sell every train it makes on its website or in retail stores.

The business has come a long way since starting as Whitworth's hobby in 1996.

The retired aeronautical and mechanical engineer opened a store in the old Frisco Hotel in Valley Park in 1999. In 2005, he moved the company's manufacturing operations from the store to a three-story warehouse along the Mississippi River in Louisiana, MO.

The rate of orders and interest indicates the business could further expand. But Whitworth said he will delay that in the interest of maintaining quality.

Despite the realistic appearance, Whitworth said the trains are not built to scale, putting more emphasis on how they function as toys. Some would be off as much as 11 feet if built to actual size. Instead, the company's designers concentrate on being aesthetically accurate, using officially licensed logos and exact color hues. The pieces are cut by machine and spray painted by staffers.

Even while producing 700 to 3,000 toy trains daily — or about 135,000 per year across 168 types — details are painstakingly carved in and sanded out by staffers who are trained for several months. Quality control inspectors then examine each train under bright lights.

"Our reputation has been built fast," Whitworth said. "The railroads tend to be very specific about their image, so if we made bad cars they would pull back." - Christopher Boyce, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch




COPPER THEFTS LEAD TO SLOW-MOVING TRAINS

EDMOND, OK -- Copper thieves are being blamed for a slowing down some trains in Oklahoma.
Thieves who have been stealing copper anywhere they can find it for several months now have turned to the railroads for the recyclable metal.

For the second time this month, the BNSF Railway Company reported to police the theft of copper power lines that serve many of the electrical signaling devices along the rails in Edmond, Oklahoma.

The most recent theft last week cost the railroad about two-thousand dollars.

Railroad officials say all the signals and switches are backed up by battery power, but if workers don't notice the electrical power has been cut, when the backup power depletes, all the signals go red.

Officials say the thefts do not affect power of railroad crossings. - The Associated Press, KTEN-TV10, Denison, TX




TRANSIENTS LEFT DAMAGE, MOVED ON

WILLITS, CA -- Down came the rain and washed the people out at least the young people with backpacks and dogs visible on Willits, California's sidewalks and park grounds over the past month.

That they came here at all at the beginning of the rainy season, rather than in the easy-living summer, has most people convinced they were hoping to help harvest and consume the county's most famous agricultural product.

In the meantime, several of them fouled their surroundings, panhandled for change, smoked pot near the children's playground, loitered in doorways, and generally made a nuisance of themselves.

"The whole character of this town gets to be a real sour thing this time of year," said City Councilman Ron Orenstein during a recent discussion of the subject.

Resident Jolene Carrillo more than agreed. She identified what she considered the source of the pain:

"Since medical marijuana our town has gone to hell," she said. "Every year you have all these creepy people behind Safeway, Ray's. They leave beer bottles, go to the bathroom there, go to Our Daily Bread and eat the food poor people need."

Spokespersons for the food kitchen confirmed they served twice to three times the usual number of meals when the wandering bands arrived in town.

Chief of Police Gerry Gonzalez said the damage this year has been more costly than cleaning excrement from park grounds and collecting beer bottles. He also confirmed the connection between the fall waves of backpackers and the marijuana harvest.

"The homeless people congregate in and destroy railroad cars," he said. "They set fires inside to keep warm. We may take action to have the cars removed. I recall touring those cars when I first came to town. They were just beautiful. Now they're just horrible."

Chief Gonzalez has no doubt who the perpetrators are. He's talked to and arrested some of them:

"It's the same individuals seen walking down the street seeking employment in our agricultural trade. At least one openly said he was here to trim dope. He was lured here for that but he was surprised he was not securing employment or free dope. Several others, when asked, have not denied they are here in that trade. They get the impression 'Gee, it's legal in this county.' That's what they actually thought."

In 2000, Mendocino County voters did pass Measure G, which would have prohibited local sheriff's deputies from arresting anyone with 25 or fewer "adult flowering female marijuana plants or the equivalent in dried marijuana" regardless of the ultimate uses made of the plant. Measure G, however, was pre-empted by state laws on the subject, which permit marijuana growing only as medicine for qualified patients and only at the rate of six mature plants per patient.

The would-be trimmers may also have been unaware that crimes committed in other counties could provoke action in this one.

"I picked up one in the park from a warrant down south," said Chief Gonzalez.

Several, he added were from the Los Angeles and Central Coast areas of the state. One had migrated in from Oklahoma.

Chief Gonzalez said they were easier to deal with this year now that the city has passed an ordinance outlawing camping without the property owner's permission, as well as panhandling.

But why were they panhandling?

Another fact the young people may not have realized is that most large-scale marijuana farms are part of a major, unregulated, for-profit industry, often making full use of contaminating pesticides and armed guards. This season, two people were shot and killed when they came too close to an illegal grow operation.

Those hired for labor in such an industry are likely to be chosen for their ability to work hard, remain alert, and keep their mouths shut. Backpackers eating at food banks and sleeping in parks are not in great demand. - Claudia Reed, The Willits News




BAKERSFIELD TEEN KILLED BY TRAIN WHILE TRYING TO HELP FRIEND

BORON, CA -- A 15-year-old girl was killed by a train after helping a friend who had tripped on the tracks while playing a game with the locomotive, authorities said Wednesday.

Sheriff's deputies said six minors, including Brittany Louise Juilfs of Bakersfield, California, were attempting to beat the train across the railroad tracks late Tuesday when one tripped and fell. Juilfs stopped to help the friend and failed to make it out of the train's way.

Her stepmother Brisha Juilfs said she wasn't surprised to hear the girl had died while trying to help someone.

"She was that kind of girl," she said. "She loved her family, her brothers and sisters. And she had a lot of friends." - The Associated Press, The San Luis Obispo Tribune




'TIS THE SEASON FOR TOYS AND TOTS

CARSON CITY, NV -- As the official Christmas shopping madness begins Friday, so does the kickoff for the annual Toys for Tots toy drive.

Two large trucks, complete with a dozen living Marine action figures from the U.S. Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif., will be at Wal-Mart in the Clear Creek shopping center from 07:00 - 11:00 Friday to collect toys donated by shoppers.

"The dozen Marines who will be here Friday are donating their time," said Valerie Perkins, Carson area Toys for Tots coordinator. "I really appreciate what they're doing."

It is through the generosity of strangers many children in the area will have a Christmas.

"Everybody has this desire to help and give and do something to feel good about themselves at the holidays," she said.

"Toys for Tots makes it convenient for people to do that by giving toys, cash donations or volunteering their time. It's strangers helping strangers - an instinct. This project fills that need."

The Marines, under the command of Sgt. Maj. Michael Redmyer, will be accepting toys at Wal-Mart from 07:00 - 11:00, where a live remote with a DJ from The Bandit, 92.9 FM, will be broadcast. From Wal-Mart the Marines go the Nevada State Railroad Museum to collect toys donated there. Anyone bringing a new, unwrapped toy 10:00 - 16:00 Friday and Saturday at the museum will receive a free steam train ride.

The toys are then taken to the Nevada Appeal warehouse where they will be stored and sorted until they are distributed to area families. The Marines will have lunch at the Casino Fandango before heading back to Bridgeport.

Families in need of assistance may call a designated phone line for Toys for Tots - 443-7072. Taking calls is Miriam Sills, who is bilingual, from 08:00 to 17:00 beginning Monday. The last day to call and request toys is Dec15.

Sills is the child safety specialist at the Ron Wood Family Resource Center.

"I have been here almost a year," Sills said. "I will be trying to do both my job and take the toy calls."

For Perkins, her biggest challenge as first-year coordinator is getting the program exposed to the public.

"The volunteers working with me said it will be the biggest (collection) they've ever done," Perkins said. "We have toy drives scheduled every weekend before distribution just to get it more exposed."

In 1948, the U.S. Marine Corps adopted the Toys for Tots program expanding it nationwide as the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves program. Over the years, spokespersons for the program have included John Wayne, John Glenn, Tim Allen, Johnny Carson, Clint Eastwood, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush.

In 2005, 505 families were helped in Carson City; 111 in Douglas County, and 55 families in Mound House and Dayton.

"It's nice to know some family's going to have an enhanced Christmas experience from what volunteers and I have done," Perkins said. - Rhonda Costa-Landers, The Nevada Appeal




TRANSIT NEWS

PLAN EYES WYOMING FOR HIGH-SPEED RAIL

CASPER, WY -- Passenger rail service in Wyoming is edging toward a “back to the future” scenario as interest grows in a high-speed railroad corridor down Interstate 25.

The line would run from Casper to Cheyenne, down Colorado’s Front Range, all the way to Albuquerque, NM.

Many Wyoming communities started as railroad towns: Cheyenne was created by the Union Pacific, while Casper owes much of its early growth to the Chicago and North Western line. And Wyoming’s tourism industry was jump-started by railroads funneling tourists into Yellowstone National Park.

This rich history might come alive again, boosters say, with high-speed passenger rail operations carrying passengers at the breathtaking speed of 90 to 124 mph.
Business planners and railroad boosters say high-speed rail could lessen the congestion of major highways and airports.

Here and there along the I-25 corridor, communities are already embracing rails as the most cost-effective way to move people. Earlier this month, Denver opened a 19-mile southeast light-rail line along I-25, part of the Fas-Tracks project. Farther south in New Mexico, the Rail Runner Express started service for the Albuquerque metro area this past summer.

Vision

Bob Briggs, president of Front Range Commuter Rail, envisions high-speed rail lines running up and down the I-25 corridor, from Albuquerque to Casper and beyond, and possibly over to Yellowstone National Park. Another section of his proposed Ranger Express line would run along Interstate 70 from Grand Junction to the Denver International Airport.

“We’re raising money for a feasibility study,” said Briggs, a former board member of Denver’s Regional Transportation District who’s been ramrodding the high-speed passenger service idea for the past two years. He wants to knit together a system of more than 1,000 miles of track, with the Denver Fas-Tracks system which plans to build a $4.7 billion, 119-mile light rail system by 2016.

Briggs has just about lined up $1.5 million from Colorado. He needs $400,000 from Wyoming and $600,000 from New Mexico to reach a $2.5 million regional goal before he seeks $2.5 million from the federal government in matching funds.

Last week, Briggs addressed Cheyenne LEADS, the local economic development organization for Cheyenne and Laramie County.

“I asked a roomful of people if they knew any commuters to jobs in Colorado,” Briggs said. About 60 percent of those in the room raised their hands, he said.

Need

Briggs said the three-state region of Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico is going to have a total population of 10 million people by 2015, and desperately needs high-speed passenger service to avoid expensive gridlock on the region’s streets and highways -- as well as horrendous congestion in airports including DIA. He estimates that his proposed system could move 26 million commuter trips a year between Pueblo and Fort Collins by 2015.

“The key question is whether there is the political will to do this,” Briggs said.

A big step would be construction of new north-south rail lines out on the eastern plains of Colorado, bypassing the built-up Front Range and freeing the Front Range rail lines for passenger service.

Randy Bruns, director of Cheyenne LEADS, said he believes the railroad companies will ultimately do just that, so they can sell and/or develop their Denver railroad yards -- all bordering on some of the most valuable real estate in the Denver metro area.

Bruns said he has identified sources of money in Cheyenne, Casper and Wyoming to support Briggs’ feasibility study, which also requires a federal designation of I-25 as a high-speed rail corridor -- making it the 11th such corridor in the nation.

Briggs wants to use existing BNSF Railway Company and Union Pacific Railroad tracks and right of way.

The feasibility study will look at train traffic, tracks, topography and much more to determine whether trains could operate at 90 mph or faster for 75 percent of the time. Briggs’ research indicates that an interstate highway can move some 1,550 cars per hour in each lane at 65 mph or better. Yet a double-track rail line can transport more people than eight lanes of interstate, taking far less space.

The top limit for the proposed system, Briggs said, is 124 mph. Faster than that, he said, and the federal government requires much more stringent standards that could triple the cost.

“I’m a flaming optimist,” said Bruns, who sees the idea for high-speed passenger rail service rippling out from Denver, extending sections city by city.

In a real sense, rapid rail service will tend to negate the disadvantages of distance, just as the Internet has done, Bruns said. “That’s when we can play to our local strengths,” he said.

Bruns said he doesn’t buy the fears that Wyoming could become a minor appendage to the Front Range. “We’re already part of the Front Range,” he said, and passenger service would run both ways, carrying Coloradoans and tourists from DIA up to Cheyenne, Casper and beyond to Yellowstone.

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal and his planning staff are “generally supportive” of the high-speed rail idea, said press secretary Laura Azar. Staff members have been attending meetings and want to be kept informed. - Brodie Farquhar, The Casper Star-Tribune




REALTORS WANT LIGHT RAIL DERAILED IN SCOTTSDALE

SCOTTSDALE, AZ -- Scottsdale realtors want to derail any plans for a light rail route through their city.

The 89-hundred member Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors is the latest group entering the debate against light rail.

In a news release and letter to the city council and top city officials, the association criticizes the city's public process.

It believes the city has been one-sided in favor of light rail.

Realtors say they oppose light rail because it's a fixed route.

Other factors include a price tag of about $70 million a mile -- and an opinion that light rail actually worsens traffic congestion.
Scottsdale's city manager says a light rail line through town isn't a done deal. - KOLD-TV13, Tucson, AZ




SOUTHLAKE DELAYS VOTE ON SUPPORT FOR REGIONAL RAIL

SOUTHLAKE, TX -- With two of its members absent, the Southlake, Texas City Council postponed voting this week on a resolution that pledges support for a regional rail initiative.

Some residents raised questions about the resolution, and the council wants the language to be broadened.

Communities across North Texas have expressed support for the initiative, which urges the Texas Legislature to give cities the option of lifting the 2-cent cap on local sales tax.

In Tarrant County, the effect would be a half-cent increase, to 8.75 cents, if voters agreed to use the extra money for commuter rail.

Several communities have adopted resolutions of support, including Fort Worth, Burleson, Euless and North Richland Hills. The Tarrant County Mayors' Council and the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition have also thrown their support behind the effort.

But the Southlake City Council put off voting on the issue until Dec05. Council members Gregory Jones and John Terrell were not present at Tuesday's meeting.

"For some things, we like to have all members present," Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Morris said.

"If we vote to support this, it's not saying Southlake will do it," she said. "It's saying the city supports asking the Legislature to allow communities at the 2-cent cap to vote whether they want to participate."

Morris said she does see a need for commuter rail.

"When you look at the future for the area, we're going to have to have some type of rail initiative," she said. " We can't build highways fast enough to handle the tremendous amount of cars that will be on the roadway. It would be a benefit to the entire Metroplex."

Southlake Public Works Director Bob Price said the city wants to encourage the Legislature to consider other funding alternatives, too, such as an increase in the gasoline tax.

"The general idea is that Southlake is supportive of a regional rail initiative," he said. "We're having problems in the Metroplex with congestion, but we want to look at whether the resolution's language is broad enough as far as considering different funding mechanisms."

Councilwoman Virginia Muzyka added, "Rail will be a wonderful thing for this area as long as the tax is used for rail only." - Adrienne Nettles, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram




FALLING LEAVES LEAVE RAIL RIDERS IN PAIN

NEW YORK CITY, NY -- Hundreds of MTA railroad cars are crippled and riders are being crammed into shorter trains all because of autumn's falling leaves.

The wet leaves cause trains to slide and skid, and that flattens sections of the metal wheels, officials said.

The expected seasonal challenge has wreaked much more havoc on the Metro-North and Long Island railroads this year, officials said, because an unusual stretch of weather cleared the trees in a much shorter burst.

The rustling deluge overwhelmed efforts to keep the rails clear, transit officials said.

Metro-North needs 392 train cars to run full weekday service on its Hudson and Harlem lines, but only had 268 available yesterday, Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said. That's a 32% shortfall.

The LIRR said that 20% of its fleet was knocked out.

Commuters and holiday travelers, many forced to stand on their rides north and east of the city in recent days, were not filled with good cheer by the news.

"We're paying a lot and feeling uncomfortable," said kindergarten teacher Amy Bautista, 35, of Fleetwood, Westchester County, traveling with her 7-year-old son from Grand Central. "I have to stand on the train even when it's 8 p.m. at night. You don't expect to have to stand at that time."

Metro-North said that its New Haven line was not affected by the car shortage because it uses different equipment.

It appears that the newer Bombardier-made M-7 cars are more prone to being tripped up by the leaves, officials said. Metro-North and Bombardier are trying to figure out why that seems to be the case and come up with a long-term fix, Anders said.

Lawyers from both sides are expected to battle it out over who will pick up the tab, which will include plenty of overtime.

Metro-North and LIRR said they have train-repair crews working around the clock to get as many trains back into service as possible. Still, that could take a week or two, officials said.

Anders said Metro-North paid some $730 million for 336 of the Bombardier train cars. They were delivered in batches from 2004 to July. - Ivan Peirera and Pete Donohue, The New York Daily News




THE END



Subject Written By Date/Time (PST)
  Railroad Newsline for Friday, 11/24/06 Larry W. Grant 11-24-2006 - 04:50
  Re: Railroad Newsline for Friday, 11/24/06 Larry W. Grant 11-24-2006 - 04:59


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