Railroad Newsline for Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Compiled by Larry W. Grant
In Memory of Rob Carlson, 1952 – 2006
EAST TEXAS RAILROAD NEAR THE END OF THE LINE
PALESTINE, TX --
For most of the last century, trains have trundled down the tracks between Palestine and Rusk, their distinctive whistles echoing through the river bottoms, puffs of smoke billowing above the trees.
But to the dismay of many East Texans, the whistles may soon be silenced, the smoke extinguished. The Texas State Railroad may soon chug into history, the victim of dwindling state park dollars
"I'm sick to death," said volunteer Newell Kane, shaking his head sadly. "I really am."
For Mr. Kane and other local residents, the Texas State Railroad is not only a priceless living link to the state's cherished past, but also a vital part of the local economy.
For state officials hundreds of miles away in Austin, the train is a black hole - a drain on the state's coffers.
Its last run is set for Dec. 30, unless officials secure emergency funding and find a private company to run it.
Mr. Kane is not optimistic and believes "it's going to shut down." But others refuse to consider the possibility of closing.
"It's not going to happen," said Steve Presley, a Palestine pharmacist and chairman of the Texas State Railroad Preservation Task Force.
The task force has asked state leaders for $650,000 to keep the train running for the first few months of 2007, then have the Legislature vote on additional funds to keep operating long term. If the Legislature will not fund long-term operations, then the task force hopes to turn running the train over to a private company.
'Little engine that could'
"We're going to do whatever it takes," Mr. Presley said. "We're going to jump up and down and yell and scream until we get our way. But more important, we're going to continue to show that it's an economically viable project and the state of Texas not only benefits economically but historically and culturally by saving this railroad.
"We're going to be the little engine that could," he said.
Thirty years ago, the Texas State Railroad was the little engine that did. In the early 1970s, as the state prepared to turn the line into a hike and bike trail, railroad enthusiasts prevailed upon the Parks and Wildlife department to investigate operating a tourist train.
"The findings were favorable," according to the Handbook of Texas, so the department spent several years developing the train ride.
On July 4, 1976, the railroad reopened with a red, white and blue engine rolling down the track in honor of America's bicentennial.
Despite limited marketing, the railroad drew schoolchildren, history buffs and families fascinated by the trip to a slower time.
"You come here, and with a little bit of imagination, you're back in 1920," said Mark Price, operations supervisor for the railroad.
"It's a learning experience," said Sarah Pryor of Palestine, recalling how her family picnicked at the park and watched the engines. The train is needed to teach kids "not everything runs on batteries."
Steam engines that were cutting-edge technology in the 1800s are decidedly low tech today. The engine chugs along at about 25 miles per hour, pulling a handful of passenger cars through blooming dogwoods in the spring and brilliant foliage in the fall.
On special occasion trains, Santa Claus or dance hall girls may be the high points. But for the regular run, it's hard to beat the moment the whistle blows.
"It's fabulous," said Lawanda Pennington of Grapeland. "You just look at the children's eyes."
Mr. Kane, like others, touts the economic benefits of having an operating train. But he also believes the railroad's value is intangible.
His family has lived in the area since the 1800s and once owned much of the land where the train runs. Unfortunately, he doesn't believe state leaders share his affinity for Texas' heritage.
"Nothing historic is sacred down there any more," he said. "I hate to think what would happen if the state got a hold of the Alamo. They'd probably pave it and make a parking lot."
East Texans are not oblivious to financial reality. The train is expensive. It loses about $1 million a year and needs $40 million over the next decade for the care of antique engines, cars and track.
Under the current budget, "we're not painting coaches, we're not buying cross ties, we're not buying wheel and axle sets," said Robert Crossman III, general superintendent of the Texas State Railroad State Park.
As park funding dwindles, the situation worsens.
"We're going to become basically a camping park with railroad displays," said Mr. Price.
East Texans are appalled.
"From a financial point of view, that would definitely bother me. The train brings in so much business for our bed and breakfasts, our restaurants, our antique shops," said Ms. Pryor, director of sales and marketing for Eilenberger's. The bakery provides food service at each depot and on the train, and feeds busloads of tourists at their downtown location.
Spurred by the possibility of losing the railroad, local leaders formed a task force, funded a study and lobbied politicians. They say they've made a strong case for keeping the train going.
This year the railroad expects to host 65,000 riders. Those riders gas up at the local convenience store, buy meals at a local restaurant and stay nearby.
According to a recent study by Texas A&M University, the railroad brings more than $5 million in direct expenditures, more than $8 million in sales, more than $5 million in income to local residents and 157 jobs to Anderson and Cherokee Counties.
Film companies also pay to use the equipment and location in such television shows as Walker, Texas Ranger
and such movies as Streets of Laredo
. And local nonprofit organizations rely on the train for large chunks of their budgets, raising funds by hosting murder mystery tours, special celebrations and a North Pole Express
Railroad supporters don't expect the state to keep operating the train. But they're hoping for money to keep it going until it can be leased to a private operator. They've found a company interested in pursuing the opportunity.
At least $12M needed
Whatever happens, the state will have to come up with approximately $12 million to run the railroad as is for two more years; maintain a "static display" for 10 years; or improve the rail line if it is turned over to a private company to operate.
For task force chairman Presley, the choice is clear. An operating train, no matter who runs it, benefits the community.
"But if they turn it over to us, the private operator thinks they will get double the employees and four times the ridership," Mr. Presley said.
Mr. Presley and others made their pitch to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick several months ago. Before the recent election, all three signed a letter supporting the task force fund-raising efforts. Supporters expected an answer by mid-October.
They're still waiting.
The sense of urgency in East Texas is not apparent in Austin.
Mr. Perry's press secretary, Kathy Walt, said she saw no indications that the Legislative Budget Board was going to take up the emergency funding issue. Mr. Craddick's deputy press secretary, Chris Cutrone, said "talks are still under way," but he had "no idea when a decision will be made."
And Mr. Dewhurst's spokesman issued a statement that said he applauds the effort and "looks forward to assisting local leaders in implementing their plan to move the railroad from the state to local ownership."
Still, train supporters refuse to give up.
But just in case, a last ride is set for Dec. 30. The trip may be just a farewell to 2006, but it could also be "the last run of the Texas State Railroad," the railroad's Web site says.
The ride will include music from the 1940s and '50s, a candlelight dinner and "a tipping of our hat to the old gal who made many a child's heart race as they heard the steam train whistle float through the air."
Mr. Kane plans to be there.
"We're going to have just a sentimental journey," he said.
Going out in style
Special Victorian Train Rides are scheduled for Saturday and Dec. 9 and 16 on the Texas State Railroad. Costumed strolling carolers and Santa will be on the train, and brownies, cookies, lemonade, eggnog and hot cider will be served.
The steam train departs the Victorian-style depot in Palestine at 15:00 for the 26-mile trip to Rusk. The cost is $30 for adults, $10 for children ages 3 to 12, and free for those 2 and younger.
Reservations are required and can be made by calling 903-683-2561 or 800-442-8951.
To view a related video clip, please click on the following link:
- Diane Jennings, The Dallas Morning News
$1 DEAL STRUCK FOR KING STREET STATION
SEATTLE, WA --
Seattle's King Street Station is a big step closer to a $29 million renovation now that Mayor Greg Nickels has struck a deal to buy the historic train station for $1.
If approved by the City Council, the deal would speed restoration of the station from eyesore to polished landmark. The station's renaissance is seen as a boon for Pioneer Square and two proposed developments in the area. City leaders also hope a makeover of the 100-year-old station would encourage more people to take passenger trains.
"We want to create a train station we can be proud of. Now it's pretty embarrassing to have a station in that state of repair," Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis said.
City officials say no strings are attached to the tentative agreement the council's transportation committee will take up today. The station's owner, BNSF Railway Company, wants to unload the property, city and state officials said.
The historic station is a protected landmark, so the company can't sell the property to a developer. And the station needs expensive repairs the company doesn't want to take on. "It's kind of a drag to them. It's not an asset they can convert to cash," said Ron Sheck, urban-rail-program manager for the state Department of Transportation.
BNSF officials couldn't be reached.
The city began negotiating with the railroad company about a year ago to acquire the property near Qwest Field, after talks between the state and BNSF stalled. Nickels and the council included $10 million for the station in Proposition 1, the $365 million property-tax levy voters approved Nov. 7 for street repairs and other transportation improvements. That money would be added to $19 million the state and federal governments have earmarked for King Street Station.
The $29 million would renovate the station's roof, brick exterior, first-floor interior and its 242-foot-tall clock tower. The money also would pay for earthquake safeguards and a plaza leading to the station from Fourth Avenue South and South Jackson Street.
The station already has undergone $2.5 million worth of repairs using the state and federal money, Sheck said.
Ceis estimated it would cost an additional $15 million to renovate the station's second and third floors, money that has not been set aside. Council Budget Committee Chairman Richard McIver has voiced concerns the station could end up costing the city more than projected.
Still, Jan Drago, chairwoman of the council's transportation committee, said the city should "seize the opportunity" to buy and beautify "a historic icon and gateway to the city."
Sheck and Ceis said tests show no major contamination or hazardous waste on the site. "All of our work indicates no major problem. It's been thoroughly vetted," Sheck said.
Craig Montgomery, executive director of the Pioneer Square Community Association, said he was excited by the pending deal. "King Street Station's importance to Pioneer Square can't be overstated," Montgomery said.
The station would enhance the appeal of two major projects proposed by Nitze-Stagen, a local development firm. Nitze-Stagen plans to build almost 1,000 condos and apartments on the north half of the Qwest Field north parking lot.
The firm also has floated a separate proposal to build a lid over railroad tracks south of King Street Station and develop office, retail and hotel towers on the property between Fourth Avenue and Qwest Field.
"We think King Street Station is the linchpin. It's the hole in the doughnut. It's important for our potential clients and residents that the issue is getting solved," said Kevin Daniels, Nitze-Stagen's president. - Bob Young, The Seattle Times, courtesy Dick Seelye
RAILROAD RELIES ON TIPS FROM 'FOAMERS'
ROCHELLE, IL --
With a round face, curly mop of sandy hair and shy demeanor, bespectacled Wayne Davis looks like an average American, but he claims that, as a railroad buff, he is also a vital asset to national security.
"We are a valuable natural resource in the war on terror," Davis, 33, says of himself and hundreds of thousands like him.
A machine worker from Beloit, WI, Davis has come to Rochelle, a small town where the tracks of the two largest U.S. railroads -- Union Pacific Corp. and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. -- cross, guaranteeing that around 100 trains will pass every 24 hours.
"I've loved trains since I was 2 years old," he said, his boyish face lighting up.
Whenever a train comes into view, Davis springs to his feet and grabs his video camera to record the event so he can relive it later at home. Although it is a weekday in November, around 30 other people are here.
In Rochelle and at hundreds of other locations around the country -- from Pennsylvania's Horseshoe Curve to Dolton Junction in Chicago -- rail fans gather to take notes or shoot photos of the passing trains. They watch the tracks via webcams and discuss their observations in Internet chat groups.
Often ridiculed for their obsession with everything to do with trains, they have earned the industry nickname "foamers" -- alluding to a passion verging on the rabid.
Some fans complain that, following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, they were harassed by the authorities for photographing or filming trains. Such scrutiny, in light of events, in fact can be viewed as suspicious for fear of fresh attacks on U.S. soil.
"Due to concerns over national security, we saw a number of rail fans apprehended while pursuing their hobby," said James Andrisen, spokesman for the 19,000-member U.S. National Railroad Historical Society.
But as their activities have persisted, one railroad has sought to use train buffs as a volunteer force to help monitor its 32,000 miles of track and report any suspicious activity.
BNSF's club, Citizens for Rail Security, since its launch in July has attracted nearly 6,000 members and gained the approval of folks such as Davis.
"A lot of fans are pleased BNSF has realized what we can do on its behalf," he said.
The other major railroads presently have no plans to follow suit, but analysts say this may be a good, low-cost way to boost surveillance along tens of thousands of miles of track.
A trip to Rochelle for many rail buffs is tantamount to making a pilgrimage. To accommodate visitors, the town has set up a year-round pavilion.
"On average, we get around 1,000 people a week here," said Rick Barnes, a self-confessed foamer and owner of a train-focused gift shop located in a parking lot near the pavilion.
Among the visitors is Don Gosnell, 43, who has traveled nearly 500 miles from his home in Ashtabula, Ohio.
Here for nearly 30 hours -- Gosnell spent the night watching trains from his car in the parking lot -- he takes notes rapidly every time a train passes.
"Trains make me feel like a kid again," Gosnell said, eyes gleaming. When asked how many trains he has seen, he quickly consults his notes and replies: "111 so far."
Rail fans such as Gosnell are so devoted that when legislation on the industry is due for debate, they "write to their representatives in Congress supporting the railroads," said Tom White, spokesman for lobby group the Assn. of American Railroads.
Trains Magazine, the largest publication for train aficionados, has 96,000 subscribers.
It is this passion that BNSF has decided to harness using Citizens for Rail Security.
"We feel it's time to take their devotion to the next level," BNSF spokesman Patrick Hiatte said.
Rail fans are encouraged to report suspicious activity by calling the railroad's hotline. The club adheres to BNSF rules: Fans are not allowed on railroad property and may not photograph trains hauling military equipment.
National Railroad Historical Society spokesman Andrisen said "in doing this BNSF has recognized a tremendous asset."
He said rail fans are very familiar with how the railroads work and would instantly recognize suspicious behavior.
"We are best suited to notice and help out," he added.
But so far, BNSF is the only major U.S. railroad to offer rail fans official status.
Executives at Union Pacific, CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp. said they had no plans to follow suit, but point out that they have public hotlines available to report suspicious activity.
Stephen Brown, a transportation analyst at Fitch Ratings, said he could "not see any negative aspects" for railroads thinking of adopting a program such as BNSF's.
"If it's cost-free and allows the railroads to use extra eyes and ears on tens of thousands of miles of track that are difficult and expensive to police," he said, "then why not?" - Nick Carey, Reuters, The Los Angeles Times
RAILROAD OVERPASS EATS SEMITRAILER IN FARGO
FARGO, ND --
A truck driver from Omaha, Nebraska, was cited for careless driving after crashing into a temporary railroad overpass on this city's Main Avenue.
The impact about 04:00 Monday heavily damaged Aaron Craig's semitrailer and scattered twisted metal on the street. "It basically ripped the top of the trailer off," he said.
Trucks are not supposed to use the route because of low clearance at the underpass. The state Department of Transportation has put up a number of signs directing trucks to use an alternate route.
"People just don't follow the detours," said Jeff Kohlrud, who works for the city public works department.
Other accidents have occurred at the overpass, and BNSF Railway Company has asked the Transportation Department to close the route until a permanent overpass is finished. Officials have declined, citing the 20,000 vehicles that use the route daily. - The Fargo Forum, KFGO-AM Radio, Fargo, ND
ANCHORAGE PORT COULD MOVE COAL FOR AGRIUM SWITCH
ANCHORAGE, AK --
Agrium Corp.'s plan to switch its Nikiski fertilizer plant from running on natural gas to coal would initially rely on coal shipped from the Usibelli coal mine at Healy to Anchorage and transferred to barges at the Port of Anchorage.
Agrium's project would require about 3 million metric tons of coal yearly. If all of the coal were acquired from Usibelli, it would require the company to approximately triple its current production of 1.5 million tons per year.
Tim Johnson, manager of Agrium's "Blue Sky" project, told the Resource Development Council's annual convention in Anchorage Nov. 16 that the base case for the project would be purchasing coal from Healy. Johnson also said that coal might also be acquired from a planned new coal mine at Beluga, on the west side of Cook Inlet, if the mine is built.
Steve Denton, Usibelli's vice president for business development, said his company is also looking at Port MacKenzie, across Knik Arm, as a place to load barges bound for Nikiski. Port MacKenzie now has facilities for loading bulk commodities. However, to make shipping from the port feasible, a 43-mile rail link would be needed to connect the port with the Alaska Railroad, he said. Costs of a rail spur have been estimated at about $200 million.
Agrium announced the coal gasification project a year ago and has completed an initial feasibility study, Johnson said. If it succeeds, the plan would secure the future of the Nikiski plant, which is now uncertain because of the tightening of gas supply in Southcentral Alaska.
Agrium is now in the front-end engineering design and permitting phase for the project, which is expected to last 18 to 20 months, Johnson said. If the company determines the project is feasible, a decision which could come in 2008. Agrium would then proceed to detailed engineering and construction, with a start-up possible in late 2011, Johnson said.
Donna Boltz, deputy director of the Port of Anchorage, confirmed that discussions have been held with Agrium regarding shipments of coal. The port is now undergoing a major expansion, and once it is completed there will be room for a coal stockpile and loading facility, she said. The expansion plan includes a barge loading dock at the north end of the expanded port which would be suitable for loading coal, if Agrium's plan goes forward, Boltz said. A rail spur has been built to the port as a part of the expansion.
"There have been no decisions yet, just an exploration of possibilities," she said. Denton said about 20 to 40 acres might be needed to stockpile coal.
In Nikiski, Agrium is looking at building the planned gasification and power plants on a 75-acre tract to the south of the existing ammonia and urea plant, Johnson told the RDC. Homer Electric Association would take the lead role in building the power plant, which would be a conventional coal-fired facility.
The power plant is now planned at 190 megawatts with two-thirds of the power needed for the gasifier planned by Agrium. There would be about 70 megawatts available for the regional power grid, Johnson said.
Agrium had initially considered a larger coal-gasification project that would have included an integrated gasification combined cycle power plant that would have produced both ammonia and urea. Agrium, however, changed the plan because it would be less economic than a conventional pulverized coal power plant, and Agrium is now focusing on a process for just urea production rather than ammonia and urea, Johnson said.
The original process would have required 2 tons of coal to produce 1 ton of ammonia, Johnson said. The latest plan would produce 1 ton of urea from 1 ton of coal. Even through there would be less ammonia produced, the new plan is more attractive, he said.
If the project goes ahead it would create a mini-construction boom on the Kenai Peninsula. Construction would take about three years, from 2009 to 2011, and would require 1,100 workers in the first two years and 1,300 in the third year, according to Lisa Parker, Agrium's public affairs manager.
If it is successful, however, the Agrium plant would be assured an indefinite lifetime. The company now employs 230 at its manufacturing facility and is the Kenai Peninsula's largest employer.
Agrium now uses natural gas as a chemical feedstock in the manufacture of ammonia and urea, but reserves in Southcentral Alaska gas fields are being depleted and Agrium has encountered difficulties in getting enough gas to operate the plant. The company down-sized the plant to use less gas in recent years and has suspended ammonia and urea production this winter because of inadequate gas supplies.
Normal operations will resume in the spring. Agrium has been operating on a series of one-year gas supply contracts. The latest contracts will expire in late 2007. - Tim Bradner, The Alaska Journal of Commerce
ALL ABOARD FOR AN AUDIENCE WITH SANTA
NORTH FREEDOM, WI --
Blaze orange was not the only color out in the woods of Sauk County this weekend. The big man himself - Santa Claus - and his bright red coat were the center of attention during Mid-Continent Railway Museum's Santa Express train rides.
The train took eager-looking riders of all ages on a seven-mile, 50-minute round-trip ride on a former branch line of the Chicago & North Western Railroad. Children received candy and gifts from Santa.
Five trains ran both days, keeping Santa quite busy. Conductor Steve Brist said it was an overflow crowd, with the first two rides Saturday sold out. He said this is the 14th year for the train rides, and the event's popularity outside Sauk County is rapidly growing.
Stan Paquet and Roberta Wilcox of Warrens saw an ad for the event in a local flyer and decided to make the trip.
"I thought it would be something fun to do," Wilcox said. "It's just a couple hours' (drive)."
They invited some other family members to join them, including Tammy Worzalla of Camp Douglas and her daughter Sophia, 7.
"She was just ecstatic when she found out Santa was coming," Worzalla said. "She was just crazy. We didn't tell her until she was in the car."
Sophia got a special encounter with Santa to remember for a while. It was her first time either meeting Santa or being on a train, and the family was lucky enough to sit in its own car, where Santa made a private visit to talk with the family and ask Sophia what she wants for Christmas. The answer? A trampoline.
While Santa and Sophia sat together, a small piece of his red coat came off. Afterward, she held onto it as a souvenir. "It's magic," Worzalla said with a smile.
Adults appreciated the event, too - especially the scenery. "They had someone sit with us and explain everything," Worzalla said. "You can see everything (without the leaves) from the train - we saw deer running along right in front of the train. It was wonderful." - Scott De Laruelle, The Baraboo News Republic
PRESERVING A BRIDGE TO CITY'S PAST
CHICAGO, IL --
For decades, Chicago's hulking railroad bridges carried rumbling freight and passenger trains through the city, serving as a link that bolstered industrial and economic growth.
Twelve of these movable structures, which evolved in design as shipping needs and technology changed, were recommended for landmark status recently by the Chicago Commission on Landmarks.
"They are pretty standout structures," said Terry Tatum, director of research for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development's landmarks division.
"The city was such an important center of railroad commerce from the 1850s on that identifying structures of importance to that history was something that we wanted to do."
Works like an elevator
The oldest standing bridges considered for landmark status, which needs City Council approval, are a pair of Illinois Central Railroad bridges that stretch across the Sanitary and Ship Canal on the South Side and date to the late 1800s.
The most modern is the Chicago & Western Indiana structure on the Far South Side. It was completed in the late 1960s.
Another bridge the commission seeks to preserve is the asymmetrical 19th century Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway's Bridge No. Z-2, which played a crucial role in the development of Goose Island because it was the only rail line to service industries and the freight yard there.
One of the more impressive bridges, Tatum said, is the Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge, located south of 19th and east of Lumber.
When the bridge was completed in 1914, it was considered the most innovative style of the "vertical lift" model designed by engineers John Alexander Low Waddell and John Lyle Harrington. The bridge essentially operates like an elevator as its 1,500-ton span, which is suspended between two towers, is vertically raised and lowered by cables and pulleys.
Most still functioning
Other bridges recommended for landmark status include two Lake Shore & Michigan "vertical lift" bridges and the Chicago & Alton; Chicago & Northwestern; Pennsylvania Railroad "eight track;" Chicago & Illinois Western, and St. Charles Air Line bridges.
Most of the bridges, which could get landmark status as soon as spring, are still operable. - Rummana Hussain, The Chicago Sun-Times
WORD NERD: AND TODAY'S WORD IS....
'Gandy dancer' or 'gandy-dancer'
(GAN dee DANTS er), n., a worker on a railroad section gang, an itinerant or seasonal worker usually on a road construction crew; secondary meanings include "petty criminal" and "active socialite," the proverbial "man about town," and "tramp."
Used in a sentence: "Last summer Bob worked as a gandy dancer just south of Chicago, repairing the road bed for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad."
Other forms: "gandy stiff," and "gandy hand," both nouns.
Why this word? Because I grew up in a railroading family and spent my youth living in a house situated next to an intersection of what were then two railroads, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy and the Santa Fe, the word "gandy dancer" was part of my early vocabulary.
Interestingly, the word can be spelled with or without a hyphen and has no certainly known etymology. "The Dictionary of American Regional English" provides what seems to be the most likely possibility. It suggests that "gandy dancer" combines the first element of the Gandy Manufacturing Company, which made tools used in railroad work, with the word "dancer." A gandy stick is a tamping bar used in rail maintenance, and "dancer" signifies someone who moves rhythmically. A gandy dancer is therefore one who hammers and tamps in rhythm while repairing or maintaining a roadbed. But the etymology remains an educated guess. - Dr. Larry K. Uffelman, The Elmira/Corning (NY) Star-Gazette
(Dr. Uffelman is an emeritus professor of English, Mansfield University)
RAIL FANS RUSH TO TRAIN'S DEFENSE
OCEANSIDE, CA --
When we chronicled Michael Kennedy's negative experience with Amtrak a couple weeks back, and how it drove him to give up on the train, several of you rushed to the defense of rail.
Kennedy, as you may recall, is the semi-retired Orange County surgeon who was counting on Amtrak to drop him in San Diego in time to catch the last jet headed for Tucson, Arizona, where he has a second home. But on one Friday night in October, Amtrak was an hour late and he almost missed his flight.
A recurring theme in e-mail comments was surprise that he jumped ship so quickly.
The thoughts expressed by Diane Scholfield of Oceanside were representative.
"I must be missing the logic of Michael Kennedy's decision to abandon his use of Amtrak because it was late once," Scholfield said. "Here he was using it time after time, the train is serving him well, it's late one time and he decides, 'That's it! I'm driving from now on.'"
She's got a point. Would we park our cars after one bad ride to work? I don't recall seeing a sharp drop-off in traffic the day after an accident shut down one of our freeways.
Scholfield went on to suggest that, while the train is far from perfect, we need to keep its performance in perspective.
"Is there any mode of transportation less reliable as far as keeping to a timetable than a car in Southern California?" she asked.
According to Vernae Graham, a spokeswoman for Amtrak in Oakland, the national passenger railroad's performance is actually improving, if only slightly. Its Pacific Surfliner trains, the ones that travel between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, were on schedule 76 percent of the time last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, up from 73 percent a year earlier.
Running on time three out of four days isn't exactly something to write home about. But on the other hand, can you count on a timely auto commute three-quarters of the time?
Commuting aside, retiree Bernice Reda of Temecula says Amtrak is a great way to travel across the country, if one exercises a little patience.
"Seeing our country is worth the time spent," Reda said. "We have traveled with writers, professors, ranchers, clergymen, students and even Diane Keaton. Cross country train travel is not for those in a hurry, but I hope that it will continue so that I may take all my grandchildren to see the red hills in New Mexico, the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts and the Atlantic sea coast." - Dave Downey, The North County Times
AMTRAK AND LIONEL ANNOUNCE ESSAY WINNERS
WASHINGTON, DC --
Fifteen children are the lucky winners in the seventh annual Amtrak-Lionel Kid's Essay Contest.
"Scenery, food and crew friendliness are the top reasons for riding Amtrak according to our young passengers," said Amtrak marketing and sales vice president Barbara Richardson. "These three categories have consistently been at the top of kids' lists since the inception of the contest." Entries were received from 38 states, 2 Canadian provinces and one from New Zealand.
The contest, for children ages 12 and under, began in June and concluded in August. Each contestant filled out an entry form in their own words, expressing what they liked best about riding Amtrak. The winning essays were evaluated on content and originality by a panel of Amtrak judges.
The grand prize winner, 12-year old Wilmer Jay Lantz of Economy, Indiana, will receive The Santa Fe El Capitan
train by Lionel. Lantz, who traveled on the Southwest Chief
wrote, "I like the ever changing scenery from the sightseer lounge. But what I'd really like to do is help the engineer drive the train." The fourteen other winners will receive The Polar Express
train by Lionel.
Derek Strangway, age 5 ?, from Vancouver, BC, onboard the Amtrak Cascades
wrote, "I like to go fast on the train. Sometimes I pretend that I am the engineer and I am blowing the horn. Toot, Toot!" Kevin Mitchell, age 9, from Fort Myers, FL, on board the Auto Train
wrote, "I like how they show movies and the beds are very comfortable, especially the top bunk." Breanne Johnston, age 9, from Bremerton, WA wrote while traveling on Amtrak Cascades
, "It's really simple; Amtrak trains are the coolest trains in the world!"
Entry forms were available on board 43 Amtrak trains across the country. The top trains with the most entries included Amtrak Cascades
with 85, Auto Train
with 50 and the Coast Starlight
with 35. Participating trains included: California Zephyr, Texas Eagle, Ann Rutledge, Blue Water, Hiawatha Service, Hooiser State, Illini, Illinois Zephyr, Missouri Mules, Pere Marquette, State House, Wolverine, Capitol Limited, Vermonter, Acela (Metroliner), NEC Regional, Adirondack, Cardinal, Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Lake Shore Limited, Lake Shore Limited (Boston section), Maple Leaf, Palmetto, Pennsylvania, Downeaster, Capitol Corridor, Cascades, Empire Builder, San Joaquin, City of New Orleans, Auto Train, Carolinian, Crescent, Piedmont, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Coast Starlight, Heartland Flyer, Pacific Surfliner, Southwest Chief and Sunset Limited.
Lionel LLC is one of the world's leading marketers of model trains and accessories. Established in 1900, the Lionel name is the most widely recognized brand in the toy train industry and one of the most recognized brands in America.
Amtrak provides intercity passenger rail services to more than 500 destinations in 46 states on a 22,000-mile route system. For schedules, fares and information, passengers may call 800-USA-RAIL or visit [www.Amtrak.com
- Amtrak News Release
FEDS GREEN LIGHT $750 MILLION FOR SEATTLE LIGHT RAIL
SEATTLE, WA --
Sen. Patty Murray says the federal government is giving a green light to an extension of Sound Transit's light rail line in Seattle.
Murray and U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters say Sound Transit is getting approval for the final phase of Sound Transit's line from downtown Seattle to the University District.
This step could be worth up to 750 million dollars. Sound Transit says the money would allow construction to begin by the end of 2008.
The University District link is three miles long, all underground.
Peters is visiting Seattle today with Sen. Murray. - The Associated Press, KGW-TV8, Portland, OR
BEAUTY ALONG THE RAILS: ART HELPS SHAPE IDENTITY OF DENVER'S NEW LIGHT-RAIL STATIONS
DENVER, CO --
Whether it's a five-story wall dotted with gleaming glass blocks or a row of small steel birds, art helps shape the identity of stations on the new Southeast Corridor light-rail line.
And it continues the local trend of adding art to transit projects, from the $8 million in work at Denver International Airport to RTD's tiny Art at the Stations program on the initial light-rail line from Gates to Five Points in 1994.
"It felt like it would be a shame to do a billion-dollar project and not do art," said T-REX project manager Rick Clarke, who started here in 2000 after working 10 years on the light-rail system in Dallas. (T-REX's 17 miles of highway, 13 light rail stations, 12 park-and-ride structures, and numerous highway improvements cost $1.75 billion.)
"When we opened our lines in Dallas, (the art) was what everyone talked about. It is ingrained in me how important that was. So within the limit of our budget, I thought it would be a good area to put our resources in."
Clarke got buy-in from Andy Mutz, the light-rail stations manager with RTD, and Steve Wilensky, who for a decade was urban design architect on the project with Carter & Burgess.
That resulted in the selection of artists Susan Cooper and Rafe Ropek to work on station enhancements, calls for artists to create individual works for each station and the decision to put designs created by Carolyn Braaksma and Barb McKee on the walls that define the new Interstate 25.
"There was always a need to have continuity along the line and a consistent statement," said Brenda Tierney, who manages the art program for RTD. "The challenge was to find unified elements to tie it all together, but make each place unique."
To accomplish apparently opposing goals, Cooper and Ropek started with the overall concept of light and motion.
Then they devised a theme for each station and used that to create designs for those enhancements: existing elements such as windscreen benches, high-block railings, pillars shooting through the roofs of some stations, and bike racks.
Cooper designed the stylized patterns for the bench windscreens, while Ropek created the designs of the high-block railings and pillars.
As in many public art projects, elements that are required - so already structurally in the budget - are identified for design by artists.
"The windscreens and benches (at each station), they were going to be added anyway," Clarke said of the enhancements that carry the various themes.
Cooper and Ropek also participated in the 13 selection committees that commissioned works at each stop. The actual stations from Lincoln Avenue to Louisiana Street were intended to be one aesthetic, while the commissioned art and station enhancements would differentiate each stop.
But that goal went only so far. Community input played a role. The artists, consultants, RTD and Southeast Corridor Constructors spent plenty of time running plans by the public.
"As a public artist, you put art in a public setting, but it's very much your vision," said Cooper, who has worked in the field for years. "This was different. The community input was really important."
And that is why north and south diverge.
"The communities to the south didn't care for the design of the station shelters," said Clarke. "So they are different designs and different colors."
That ranges from white in the north - except at University Station, awash in cranberry red at the request of the University of Denver - to black and dark green at the south.
Bridges at the south are span and double-span designs, while those to the north are much simpler. And there are three styles of shelter canopies.
The northern stations are white because "we wanted the lightest-colored structures for the canopies so they didn't look heavy," said Mutz. "We wanted a clean, open feel to it, but it also needs to look appealing. It can't look like a prison."
To those involved in the project, the art and design elements are more than intangibles.
"It doesn't make the trains run any faster, and it doesn't make the trains run on schedule," said project manager Clarke. "But I think it will attract patrons, and they'll appreciate it more."
Light-rail art by the numbers
How the T-REX art project breaks down:
pieces of art commissioned
pieces of art installed at opening
interactive art pieces
patterned wall panels arrayed along I-25
cost of commissioned art and station enhancements
$2 million to $3 million:
cost to add patterning to the highway walls
- Mary Voelz Chandler, The Associated Press, The Longmont Daily Times-Call
A STREETCAR NAMED DEVELOPMENT
MINNEAPOLIS, MN --
We can get a glimpse of the mayor's transportation vision by looking at the city's past. But we'll need to see into the future to understand why it's worth funding.
That was the message of a speech last week by Mayor R.T. Rybak, who was encouraging people to envision the eventual economic and environmental benefits Minneapolis could reap from investing in a citywide streetcar system.
"In many ways, we are going 'back to the future' to recreate the Minneapolis we grew up in," Rybak told reporters and supporters Thursday in an auditorium at the Central Library.
A streetcar task force is studying 10 possible routes and plans to reduce that list down to the four or six most likely options in the next couple months. Corridors under consideration include Chicago, Hennepin and Washington avenues.
The streetcars would replace existing bus lines at a cost of about $30 million per mile. The mayor has committed money in next year's budget for a finance work team to continue studying the potential projects.
An exact mechanism hasn't been designed, spokesman Jeremy Hanson said, but the mayor would like the work group to explore ways to leverage some of the property value increases expected along the routes to help pay for costs of building the lines. And public-private partnerships would also be key, he said.
Cory Reiman, owner of Uptown Appraisal, was skeptical of whether the city could depend on property values rising as a result of the construction of streetcars.
"It's an extraordinary assumption," Reiman said. "Only the market is going to say whether that comes to fruition. It's just as likely to not help. It's a gamble."
It's possible perceptions about noise and traffic could hurt residential property values near streetcar lines even if they boosted business properties, Reiman said.
Jim Erkel, land use and transportation director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said it's true the market will decide what happens, but other rail transit projects offer strong evidence for success.
A light rail line that opened this month in Denver cost $875 million to build but $4.2 billion worth of construction was built, underway or in planning before a single fare-paying passenger got on board, Erkel said. Portland has seen about $2.4 billion worth of development along a three-mile streetcar line, he said.
"It's very likely that a streetcar line would provide the kind of development the mayor is looking for," Erkel said. "These transit lines that are rail-based provide the certainty that developers need to move forward with new developments."
Rodger Skare, senior vice president for appraisal with Colliers Turley Martin Tucker, has studied the impact of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line on property values and development and thinks streetcars would have a similar, positive impact.
"There would definitely be a value impact," Skare said. "That's been proven around the county."
A light-rail station can increase property values between 20 percent and 50 percent within a quarter-mile radius, he said. That includes single-family homes. Streetcars would have a more linear effect, boosting values along properties facing the street and maybe going in half a block or so, he predicted.
The multi-million dollar question, Skare said, is whether there's any way for a government to harness any of that value in advance to help start construction of transit projects. It'd be complicated at best, he said.
The city could identify a route and set up special tax breaks and zoning to encourage dense, mixed-use development along the line before it's actually built, he speculated. That way, it could see some benefit before it was built.
Some of the same characteristics that make streetcars appealing to developers also attract riders, primarily that the route doesn't move, said Teresa Wernecke, director of the Downtown Minneapolis Transportation Management Organization.
Rybak said rail transit typically attracts 40 percent more riders compared to buses. Erkel said that estimate may be on the conservative side.
"With rail, you know where you're going," Wernecke said. - Dan Haugen, The Minneapolis Downtown Journal