Railroad Newsline for Monday, December 04, 2006
Compiled by Larry W. Grant
In Memory of Rob Carlson, 1952 – 2006
DM&E SUES IN WYOMING FOR RIGHT TO SURVEY LAND
GILLETTE, WY --
Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad has initiated court proceedings against more than a dozen northeastern Wyoming landowners for permission to look over their land for a proposed rail project.
The company filed three separate lawsuits Nov. 21 in Campbell County District Court so that they could "make surveys, studies and gather information" on private lands in several Wyoming counties, for the rail project that has generated significant opposition in Minnesota.
The Wyoming cases are not eminent domain actions. DM&E's lawyers noted in the court documents that courts can grant access for surveys even when a company is not considering eminent domain.
The Sioux Falls, S.D.,-based company started asking some landowners for access as long ago as 1998, but they've always refused, according to court documents.
The company wants to rebuild 600 miles of its existing line, now mostly located in Minnesota and South Dakota, and build about 260 miles of new line in Wyoming to extend rail access to the Powder River Basin coal fields. The project would cost an estimated $6 billion.
In Minnesota, the expansion would go through the city of Rochester, which has angered many civic and business leaders there, particularly the Mayo Clinic which has raised concerns about patient safety.
This week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters will attend meetings in Minnesota on the expansion plan, at the invitation of U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.
The DM&E has already secured federal regulatory approval for the project, but it is now seeking approval for a $2.3 billion loan from the Transportation Department's Federal Railroad Administration.
Company officials say the new track would lower the railroad's operating costs and make the routes between the coal producers and utility companies shorter and more efficient.
"This project presents a unique opportunity in an era of mergers and consolidations to create a new, ultra-efficient class I railroad that can help coal shippers meet increased demands for Powder River Basin coal," the company's attorneys wrote in the court paperwork.
However, landowners in Wyoming think the rail line will disrupt their ranching operations.
Dan Tracy, who is a defendant in one of the Campbell County lawsuits, said the company wants to put 13 miles worth of track on land he ranches. The line would likely run along a creek bed that is prime land for his cattle, he said.
Tracy said he also has been told that between 17 to 30 trains could come through a day. He worries about what could happen if he got bit by a rattlesnake while a mile-long train was between him and emergency care.
"I don't want 'em through here," Tracy said. - The Associated Press, WCCO-TV4, Minneapolis, MN
A&M RAILROAD MAKES MERRY: HOLIDAY EXCURSIONS, FUND-RAISERS SET
SPRINGDALE, AR --
Whether it's a Children's Christmas Train or Polar Express, the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad will be chugging along the tracks throughout December, making the holidays a gift come true for several children.
Brenda Brown, passenger train operations manager at the railroad, said December will be filled with charitable events for children, shopping excursions for adults and a Mary Kay Christmas party.
The fourth annual Children's Christmas train was held on Saturday.
Employees of J.B. Hunt Transport and the Arkansas Missouri Railroad started the train rides about four years ago as a community event created to bring the joy of Christmas to children and to raise funds for charitable organizations in Northwest Arkansas.
The money raised supports the following nonprofits:
* The Beau Foundation Fund was created by Terry and Gwen Matthews in memory of their late son, Beau Alexander Matthews. It seeks to address proper prenatal health care.
* Children's Safety Center offers a child-friendly environment where members of law enforcement, Department of Human Services and other children's advocates assist child victims of physical, sexual abuse and neglect.
On Dec. 16, Santa will make an appearance at the annual A&M Railraod Christmas with Santa.
Another event, Christmas for Kids, will depart at 2 p.m. on Dec. 17. Parents may make a donation or bring a toy to receive a reduced ticket price for the train ride.
A Polar Express event allows the railroad staff to teach children railroad safety with a program called Look, Listen and Learn. It teaches children to read railroad safety signs and stay away from the track.
Teachers at Harp Elementary School in Springdale will read to children from "The Polar Express" book or play a CD from the movie's soundtrack.
December passenger numbers rank second only to fall, when the foliage is out in full display, Brown said. This year, passengers have increased about 15 percent, she said.
Preparations have been made to begin decorating the passenger cars for Christmas. Passengers should be especially pleased with the new parlor section that includes tables and chairs, she said.
Christmas music will be played on the train, in addition to the special appearance by Santa, Brown said.
A holiday shopping excursion with the International Executive Women's Association will travel to Van Buren.
"December holidays are a festive time for us, especially the children's events. J.B. Hunt volunteers come out and do such a nice spread with games and activities," Brown said. - Marla Hinkle, The Springdale Morning News
REPORT BLAMES TRAIN DERAILMENT ON LOOSE CHAIN
NORTH BALTIMORE, OH --
A loose chain dragging from an empty railroad car became entangled with a switch handle on the tracks, causing a train derailment that injured three people, according to a preliminary investigation.
The chain yanked on the switch handle, causing rails under the CSX Corp. train carrying steel and other items to change positions Thursday and wreck, a report from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio said.
The wreckage tumbled onto three cars waiting at a crossing, injuring people in the automobiles.
CSX confirmed the report's findings, spokesman Gary Sease said. The chain was a tie-down device that should have been secured on the flatbed car, he said.
The company has ordered that switch handles on its tracks be turned away from the direction of oncoming trains, Sease said.
Two of the people injured in the crash received minor injuries and were treated and released from hospitals Thursday. The third victim, village superintendent of streets Bob Loe, 48, was hospitalized with a broken collarbone, broken shoulder and a cut on his face, according to his mother.
The train was moving about 47 mph, well below the 60 mph limit, when 15 railcars derailed, according to the PUCU report.
The accident also created a domino effect, with cars jumping the tracks and derailing part of a second CSX train traveling in the opposite direction on parallel tracks. Traffic on the rail lines halted until heavy equipment could be brought in to right the tipped cars and clear the tracks. Both rail lines reopened early Friday morning.
The reported noted that the train's crew "felt two tugs" just before the accident.
Damage to the tracks and crossing area totaled at least $500,000, the PUCO report said.
The Federal Railroad Administration's investigation could take several months, and Sease said the company will continue to examine tracks and the train's data recorder to identify other factors that might have contributed to the crash.
CSX, based in Jacksonville, Florida, handles 280,000 carloads of freight annually and operates more than 2,100 miles of track in Ohio. About 75 trains pass daily through North Baltimore, about 35 miles south of Toledo. - The Associated Press, The Akron Beacon Journal
RAILROADERS HAVE SEEN THEIR SHARE OF TRAGEDY
BAKERSFIELD, CA --
They can usually spot it from the engine compartment, even from a half-mile away.
A pedestrian approaching the tracks with an unusually carefree gait.
A driver coming up on an ungated crossing, hunkering down as he accelerates. A trespasser, intentionally loitering in the train's path.
Sometimes the locomotive's horn startles daydreamers back to reality or brings impatient leadfoots to their senses.
Sometimes it doesn't.
Train conductors and engineers don't forget those cases. They may try, sometimes with therapy, but they never, ever forget.
And for many, reading about another accident involving a driver who thought he could beat the train to the crossing, or kids playing chicken on the tracks, brings the anguish back all over again.
"Once someone steps in front of your train," Union Pacific conductor Larry Fredeen said, "you're almost helpless to stop it. And when something like that happens, bottom line is, it stays with you."
Fredeen, who is also the United Transportation Union's safety committee chairman, knew why I had called him. A motorist had been killed a few days before at the ungated Kratzmeyer Road railroad crossing, hit by an Amtrak train going 79 mph.
Rafael Marin Carrillo of Bakersfield, inexplicably crossing the tracks at about 15 mph, died instantly -- and at just about the same moment funeral services were wrapping up for 15-year-old Brittany Juilfs of Bakersfield, who was among a group of teens who tried to beat the BNSF across the tracks the night of Nov. 21 in the desert town of Boron. She had gone back to help a friend who had fallen on the tracks as the train approached.
Tragedies like those can rip apart families, sometimes even entire communities. They can often be just as devastating for the people at the controls of the train.
"It affects you," said Fredeen, who's worked for the railroad for 29 years -- and has seen six people die on the tracks before his eyes. "I've come across gruesome scenes that will stick with me for the rest of my life."
That's no big revelation to Guy Perkins of Bakersfield, a former Amtrak engineer who took a disability retirement 18 months ago for that very reason. He figures he's been involved in 54 accidents on the job between 1977 and 2005, resulting in 18 deaths.
"And that's all I'm going to hit because I'm done," he said. "I've been called by my peers too sensitive, but be that as it may, I just can't take killing people anymore. It was physically unhinging to watch people die."
Every incident has stayed with him, none more so than the three farmworkers who tried to beat his Amtrak train across the tracks near Hanford in December 1994. The crossing gate had come down to allow another train to pull onto a siding. The gate went up briefly after it passed, then came down again almost immediately for Perkins' train.
"They were tired of waiting so away they went," he said. "It was a dead blind fog, in one of the worse fog years on record."
It's tough enough for railroad employees to move on after their train kills a drunk, or a suicidal man, or a careless driver.
It only gets tougher when they're regularly passing the scene of a particularly memorable accident.
"You get really hinky when you approach the same crossing or the same curve," Perkins said. "You memorize where things have happened and you never forget. You get jumpy every time you pass it."
Not enough people seem to realize how fast trains typically move, railroad employees agree, or how long it takes them to stop. At just 55 mph, a freight train with eight cars will take a mile or more to come to a standstill. Even fewer understand the human dynamics at work aboard a train.
"People talk about the train like it's a piece of unmanned equipment," said Union Pacific conductor Stephen Montgomery. "But there are people involved on our end, too."
Some, of course, do grasp that fact.
Fredeen was piloting a train though Glendale one afternoon several years ago when he realized, too late, that the object on the tracks ahead of him was a young man reclining in a chaise lounge with a beer in his hand, determined to end his life on his 21st birthday.
"My engineer and I both got cards of condolences from the parents of the guy, expressing that they were sorry we had to witness this," Fredeen said. "And believe me, we were."
Sadly, they'd both grown all too accustomed to such things. - Robert Price, The Bakersfield Californian
SANTA WELCOMES RESTORATION OF MISSOURI-SPONSORED AMTRAK SERVICE ON ST. LOUIS-KANSAS CITY ROUTE
JEFFERSON CITY, MO --
Amtrak and the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), together with Union Pacific Railroad (UP), are celebrating the restoration of regular twice-daily round-trip trains on the St. Louis-Kansas City Missouri Mules route. Participating in a series of special events Friday, Dec. 1, were "Santa Claus" and volunteer station hosts from Kirkwood and Jefferson City.
"Santa Claus" and others will be riding westbound across the Show Me state this Friday in the "Cheyenne," an historic UP railcar, leaving St. Louis at 08:30 on the Kansas City Mule (Train 311). The train will make all the regular stops and dignitaries and media are invited to ride a short distance or across the state, returning that afternoon and evening on the St. Louis Mule (Train 316), leaving Kansas City at 16:30.
"The interrupted service has been frustrating for several months for passengers," said Missouri State Senate President Pro Tem Michael R. Gibbons. "We can all be thankful for the return of safer and smoother full service in time for the holiday season."
The celebration marks a $32 million rehabilitation of the 283-mile route, which is primarily owned by UP. Nearly 70 miles of track has been improved to make rail service more reliable and smoother. The track work, which began April 1 and ended this week, resulted in lengthened travel times and the substitution of chartered motor coaches for all or parts of many of the trains.
The end of the 2006 track work project also means the reintroduction of regular schedules (below) for all four trains on the route, two westbound and two eastbound, including Trains 313 & 314.
Fare Promotion Announced
Another part of the celebration is the introduction of a fare promotion to welcome the regular service. From Dec. 1 to April 1, customers who use Fare Code V539 are entitled to bring along a companion for 50% off the regular fare. Some restrictions apply and the discount can be obtained when booking via Amtrak.com, by calling 800-USA-RAIL or by visiting staffed Amtrak stations, including those in St. Louis and Kansas City.
Amtrak operates the St. Louis-Kansas City route under a contract with MoDOT. - Marc Magliari, Amtrak; Jeff Briggs MoDOT; and James Barnes, UP; Joint News Release
BNSF SUFFERS TRACK OUTAGE AT THACKERVILLE, OKLAHOMA
At 11:00 a.m. CT Saturday, December 2, 2006, the single main track between Gainesville, Texas and Thackerville, Oklahoma was blocked by BNSF Railway train H EMPEAP1-01 due to a broken axle on one of the train’s railcars. This location is approximately 67 miles north of Fort Worth, TX.
The main track was cleared and returned to service at 9:00 p.m. CT, Saturday, December, 2, 2006.
Customers may experience delays between 12 and 18 hours on traffic moving through this corridor. - BNSF Service Advisory
HAMMOND TRAIN ARRIVES FOR CHRISTMAS; CHILDREN GET READY TO RIDE MINIREPLICA
HAMMOND, LA --
When the Christmas lights go on at Zemurray Park in Hammond, Louisiana, it means only one thing: the train comes out of hiding to ferry children around the magical displays.
The miniature brown-and-yellow gasoline-powered choo-choo named Peggy Lee has been a Hammond tradition since the 1960s, giving children rides around the entire park for 25 cents each.
Related Photo by Debra Lemoine of the Baton Rouge Advocate here:
The replica 1940s streamliner was purchased and installed by the Kiwanis Club in the 1960s and later sold at auction in the 1970s, said Tom Davidson, city historian.
G.F. Tycer, who owns a cement mixing business in the city, bought the train at auction and restored it, Davidson said. He donated the Peggy Lee back to the city in the 1990s.
Since then, the train comes out of its shed twice a year — for Christmas and the Fourth of July — to give free rides around the pond.
But the aging train nearly didn’t show this year after it stopped working in July.
“The train is the tradition,” said Mayor Mayson Foster, who rode the train as a child. “It was very disheartening when there was a number of children there for the Fourth of July who couldn’t ride. The tears moved us to action.”
The brakes were shot and the 1949 model Illinois Central miniature locomotive’s four-cylinder engine needed an overhaul, city workers said. The narrow track itself also needed a makeover.
An initial estimate on the work was $40,000, Foster said.
The problem facing the city was to find someone who could repair the train, said Brian Thayard, supervisor of the city’s garage. The usual man fled New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina and couldn’t be found. Other train mechanics would not come to Hammond to do the work.
The mechanics who keep the city’s engines running downloaded old manuals off the Internet and used their own knowledge of engines to do the work.
No one makes parts for a child’s excursion train, so the city bought parts for industrial-sized lawn mowers and air compressors. Some parts, such as the connecting rods to the brakes, had to be made in-house.
City Street Department employees set to work on the tracks, Thayard said. New ties were installed, new limestone ballast was placed around the ties and the tracks leveled for a smooth ride.
The Street Department workers — Rodney Randall, Frank West and Mike Cantrell — also double as the conductors and gatekeepers, since they are the only three certified to drive the train around the tracks.
In all, the work cost about $8,000, Foster said with a smile.
On Friday night, the train rolled out of hiding when the city flipped the switch on its light sculptures at Zemurray Park. It wasn’t long before children congregated around Peggy Lee’s depot crying, “a real train,” and begging their parents for rides.
Free train rides will be given to children in Zemurray Park from 18:00 to 21:00 every Friday and Saturday until Christmas. The lights are turned on every night at dusk. - Debra Lemoine, The Baton Rouge Advocate
WORKIN' ON THE RAILROAD: SEVERAL FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO INDUSTRY GROWTH
GALESBURG, IL --
A combination of baby boomers reaching retirement age and an economy that has suddenly decided shipping by rail is the way to go is good news for Galesburg and a challenge for BNSF and other railroads.
BNSF spokesman Steve Forsberg said the challenges faced by railroads will hit all sectors of the U.S. economy eventually, but the rail industry is an "early precursor" because of congressional action in 2000 that allows railroad employees with 30 years' seniority to retire at age 60 with full benefits.
"So that's part of the reason the rail industry became an early barometer of what other segments of industry will go through," he said.
Forsberg said 2003 was when the rail industry began to feel the effects of that legislation.
"Each year we re-evaluate what we feel are the hiring needs," Forsberg said. "One of the unknowns is you never know for certain how many people eligible for retirement are going to take it."
Forty to 50 percent "or more" of the employees in the rail industry will be eligible to retire in the next several years. The challenge is hiring enough people to replace the retirees and keep up with increased volume.
"Over the past four years, across our network, from 2003 to the current time, we've hired more than 14,000 people across our network and I estimate about 400 in the Galesburg area," Forsberg said. "A good deal of that was replacement (for retirees), but a good chunk was expansion."
Forsberg estimated over that period a net increase in employment in Galesburg of 200 to 300 employees. The most recent figures provided by the Galesburg Regional Economic Development Association showed BNSF as the top area employer, with 1,250 people on its payroll in the Galesburg area.
More and more goods are being shipped by rail.
"There's been a persistent shortage of long-haul truck drivers," Forsberg said, fuel prices have increased, making rail once again a popular option. International trade, through the use of container cars shipped by train, also have led to increased demand "with Asia in general and China in particular," Forsberg said.
"Whenever you have a rail center, you have a concentration of the hiring and for Galesburg, it works out quite well. It's not unusual for retirees in a low-cost area like Galesburg to stay in that area and the new employees mean more money into the local economy."
In addition to the increased hiring by the railroad, Galesburg officials are attempting to tap into the Asian market. In September, a contingent led by GREDA Executive Director Greg Mangieri and Mayor Gary Smith traveled to China to attempt to drum up interest for firms there to locate facilities in Logistics Park - Galesburg.
Mike Hobbs of Galesburg, himself a 30-year railroad employee, said he is hoping Mangieri's knowledge of the logistics industry and the Chinese and Galesburg emphasis on that sector, will pay off. Hobbs used to work with Mangieri on the railroad.
"We have the railroad hiring, but I would like to see good-paying jobs in other industries," Hobbs said, saying he also is encouraged by Westcode locating here. Westcode makes air conditioners and other parts for trains.
As for BNSF's recent hiring here, Hobbs said, "Thank goodness, because they've taken up a lot of the guys who have lost their jobs at Briggs, Gates, Butler and Maytag. It hasn't been a huge number, but it has been some. ... For the sake of the young people, I hope the railroad will hire more people."
Forsberg said for a rail operations center like Galesburg, "yeah, the hiring opportunities create a real economic plus for the area because rail jobs are some of the highest-paying in the area" with good benefits. - John R. Pulliam, The Galesburg Register-Mail
CITY OF SANDPOINT, IDAHO MAY BUY BNSF DEPOT
SANDPOINT, ID --
Three years ago, the BNSF Railway Company offered to sell the city its 90-year-old train depot fronting Sand Creek for a dollar.
But there was a catch -- the city would have to either purchase the land under the historic depot on the mile-long peninsula separating Lake Pend Oreille from Sand Creek, or lease it from BNSF.
Either way, Mayor Ray Miller said it was just too pricey.
But that may soon change.
Although there's no offer on the table, a deal may be brewing for the city to purchase the depot as well as the property.
If the deal can be reached, the city would then lease the it back to BNSF to use as its AMTRAK station, according to Miller, for a cost that would cover maintaining and operating the building.
BNSF has an obligation to provide AMTRAK stations along its railway lines.
Part of deal would include the Seasons at Sandpoint bankrolling the cost of completely renovating the depot, which has been placed on Idaho's National Register of Historic Places. Over the last several decades the condition of the depot has severely deteriorated.
Plans for the U.S. highway realignment project call for a new roadway that will be about 6.5 feet lower than the existing ground as it passes between the Cedar Street Bridge walkway and the depot.
"Nothing is firmed up yet," said Miller who will meet with officials from BNSF, Amtrak, Idaho Transportation Department and Gov. Jim Risch in Coeur d'Alene Dec. 6. "Seasons has said that they would like to participate in refurbishing the depot if it can be in the possession of the city.
"If the property and the building can be deeded to us, we'd be very interested in going forward with this."
Steeped in historic lore when railroads were once the main source of shipping and long-distance travel, the compact, brick depot built in 1916 for $25,000 was the second building constructed on the site.
It replaced an older train station -- the Northern Pacific Railroad Passenger Depot -- and had a tool house, ice house and a freight warehouse just north of the building.
A recent ITD engineers' study touted the depot as still structurally sound, but found it in cosmetically poor condition. Only a few of the original vintage-era light fixtures still remain.
Along with cracks sustained in the depot's floors, wall and ceiling due to what engineers say are from cracking in the concrete slab, subsurface material has also settled and shifted to create a non-level platform. The study calls for re-roofing the entire building.
"Although depot appears to suffer from weathering and general lack of maintenance, the building appears to be relatively sound," the report said. "However, if continued lack of maintenance persists, structural repair costs will continue to increase." - R. J. Cohn, The Bonner County Daily Bee
AMERICA'S DRIVE IN -- THE ROADKILL CAFE
Like other aficionados, Bart became a roadkill gourmet by default. As the founder of a school for primitive skills, he needed furs, hides, feathers, antlers and sinew to teach tanning, arrow fletching or tool hafting. Highways seemed like the best places to procure these materials. Bart started by calling the Colorado Department of Transportation for recent deer kills, and there were usually a few in the Boulder vicinity.
Skinning the carcasses, Bart found that much of the meat was still good. A frugal guy who hates waste, he began to take these scraps home. When in doubt about its freshness, he has a surefire way of testing roadkill. "I cook a small piece without seasoning and taste it. If it tastes like it was dipped in vinegar then it likely won't make you sick. But my kids won't eat it, and so I leave it."
As a parent of three with little income, Bart is quick to point out the economic aspect of scrounging. Since the 1980s, he has supplemented his family's larder with deer, elk and bobcat. At times, up to a third of the meat consumed by the Blankenships comes from fender benders. At 30 to 50 pounds of usable meat per deer and a store value of $2 to $5 per pound, the savings can be substantial.
A roster of Bart's "finds" reads like a who's who of western wildlife. My friend admits to having boiled and eaten a great horned owl once. "I ran it over and felt I had to do something with it," he says. But generally, he sets aside the "exotics" -- coyote, raccoon, fox, opossum, wild hog, otter, badger and rattlers -- to transform them into hatbands, mittens or arrow quivers.
Bart does well to remember federal and state laws. It is illegal, for example, to collect certain animals, from the road or elsewhere. Only Native Americans with a religious permit are allowed to possess an eagle feather. And while motorists in Arizona are entitled to keep meat from a deer they have hit, the same act can land them in prison in Oregon.
While Bart may strike some people as eccentric, more Americans are discovering the potential of roadkill. Taxidermists fix flattened pelts for natural history museum exhibits. A gallery owner in South Dakota plucks porcupine quills to fashion into jewelry. A New Mexico sculptress and tattoo artist assembles bones into motorcycles or Gnarleys. An Arizona state biologist prepares skulls and other skeletal parts to be used as educational kits in schools. Frozen corpses serve him as models for scientific illustrations; fresher meat ends up on the barbecue grill or feeding his boas and pythons.
Despite their value and utility, creative uses of roadkill can hardly disguise the social and ecological costs incurred daily on U.S. highways. Aside from abetting habitat fragmentation, pollution or noise, roads take a more direct and bloody toll on biodiversity. Vehicles kill hundreds of millions of animals every year. Snakes and amphibians -- including many endangered species -- take the brunt of this onslaught.
Not even our National Parks are safe. On Yellowstone's roads alone, 1,559 large mammals died from 1989 through 2003. To wit, the boundary between victims and perpetrators becomes blurred.
Two-hundred people died last year in about 250,000 collisions with animals. The average repair of an automobile damaged by deer (or by reckless driving) runs around $2,000.
Perhaps, like our fellow creatures, we humans are not hardwired for life in the fast lane. Neither, some critics insist, were we meant to eat carrion.
Simply the thought of consuming possum paella or rattlesnake ragout will induce dry heaves in most people. Yet the widespread prejudice against scavenging only masks humble origins. It is a credo, a pretense akin to the convert's denial of obsolete pagan practices. The vile reality may be hard to stomach: Gleaning is in our genes. It helped us become who we are. Opportunists to the bone, our hominid ancestors on the African savanna stuffed their faces with leftovers wrangled from lion or leopard kills, in competition with hyenas, jackals and vultures.
In my home state of Alaska the roadkill menu happens to be less varied than Bart's backyard fare. As if to compensate, the servings are supersized. Trains and vehicles annihilate about 820 moose per year, carnage only surpassed in Sweden, where motorists cull 4,000 to 6,000 moose each year.
About 120 Alaskan moose annually fall prey to the Alaska Railroad's yellow-and-blue engines. Alaskans call the train between Fairbanks and Anchorage "the Moose Butcher." When northern lights play above snowdrifts, animals follow the plowed tracks as substitutes for easy trails. Bull moose are even said to take on locomotives -- as they would rack-sporting competitors -- during the fall rut.
Occasionally, the quick hand of technology also cuts short the lives of black bears, Dall's sheep and mountain goats. Sixteen-hour nights and icy roads result in tons of high-quality foodstuff: prime cuts, tenderloin, spareribs and minced meat. And at bone-chilling temperatures, this bonanza does not spoil easily.
Alaska's urban and semiurban centers have implemented programs to retrieve and distribute roadkill to the needy. In Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and on the Kenai Peninsula, hundreds of charities and individuals benefit from low visibility, speeding, drunken driving and poor road conditions. Nearly all roadkill moose in the state goes to nonprofit organizations, many of which are churches.
Eileen Brooks is the roadkill coordinator for the Anchorage region and Mat-Su Borough of south central Alaska. Colleagues refer to her as the "Queen of the Gut Pile." But according to Brooks, the Blankenship diet helps alleviate hardship in a place where the cost of living is high. "A lot of people can't afford to buy steaks or even hamburger," she says. And while many Alaskans enjoy the fruits of subsistence hunting and fishing, that venue is barred to the urban poor.
In her area alone, 100 nonprofits are signed up for roadkill in a typical winter, and some community churches receive an average of 10 moose a year.
To connoisseurs sick of French, Thai or Mexican food, Bart recommends the chef's special: grille gopher in crankcase oil, with a side of creamed coyote -- guaranteed to tickle the palate while sparing the wallet.
Bon appetit! - Michael Englehard, The San Francisco Chronicle (Anthropologist, freelance writer and guide Michael Engelhard lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. He is the editor of two anthologies and author of "Where the Rain Children Sleep." )
POLAR EXPRESS TRAIN, SUV COLLIDE
ROCKLAND, ME --
A Maine Eastern Railroad train, running a special Polar Express-theme ride for children, collided early Friday evening with a sports utility vehicle at the Broadway Street railroad crossing.
Kristin Saunders photo of the accident here:
The train left the scene at approximately 17:45, and returned to the Maine Eastern Railroad train station.
Gordon Page, director of passenger operations for the Maine Eastern Railroad, said, "There was a flagger in the middle of the street, protecting the crossing. [The driver] apparently didn't recognize that there was a flagger."
According to Page, the flag man was positioned across the tracks from the oncoming SUV. He signaled the train engineer to stop, then ran out of the way of the vehicle as it approached the crossing. The train then blew its horn and came to a stop, but not before the train struck the SUV as it entered the crossing.
"The train was obviously going at a very slow rate of speed," said Page.
Page was aboard the train, which left Union Station approximately two to three minutes before it reached the Broadway crossing, when the collision occurred. He said the train was traveling so slowly that when it came to a stop, there was no noticeable lurch forward. Polar Express volunteers continued reading stories to the children and parents aboard, and it appeared no one knew the collision accident had occurred.
The train returned to the station after police cleared the accident
scene. Maine Eastern added a third train tonight for the people whose trip was canceled due to the accident.
"There will be an investigation internally," Page said. He could not say whether the Federal Railroad Administration or the National Transportation Safety Board would also investigate.
Flaggers are used instead of horn signals as a courtesy to people who live around the crossings, Page said. He said it was possible that federal railroad officials may decide to require trains to use horns at all times as a result of this collision.
Crossing gates were scheduled to be installed at the Broadway, Lisle and Broad street crossings earlier this year, but equipment theft at the rail yard postponed the project, according to the railroad. They are expected to be operating by year's end.
Rockland City Councilor Harold "Hal" Perry was on the scene shortly after the collision occurred, according to Page. He said Mayor Brian Harden arrived later. - Kristin Saunders and Bill Bloede, The Belfast Village Soup
WITH HOLIDAY TRAIN, CALTRAIN AND GOLDEN GATE RAILROAD MUSEUM TURN COMMUTER TRAVEL INTO VIBRANT HOLIDAY EXPERIENCE
From the iconic Lionel model railroad running around the Christmas tree to the magical locomotives that steam through books and films such as "The Polar Express," trains have been a beloved part of the holiday season for generations. Continuing the seasonal tradition, Caltrain presents its annual Holiday Train this weekend, making nine stops between San Francisco and Santa Clara, bringing music, carolers, and, of course, Santa Claus to the thousands of people that flock alongside the tracks to see the brightly lit and colorfully decorated train.
A cooperative effort between Caltrain and the Golden Gate Railroad Museum, the Holiday Train has been entertaining and delighting spectators since 2001, evolving and growing with every passing year. Ross Peterson, a volunteer with the museum and chief decorator of the Holiday Train, points to the old-fashioned fun of the event and its wide-ranging appeal as the reason for its enduring popularity.
"People can come down to see the train and the carolers and the characters," he says, "so it's a chance for the community to really get involved in something special. It's different than the Santa Claus at the mall."
Work begins on the Holiday Train in October, when Peterson and a crew of dedicated volunteers start transforming an ordinary locomotive and commuter passenger cars by adding more than 40,000 lights and a host of decorations to the exteriors. Candy canes, toy soldiers, snowflakes and other seasonally themed images come to life in lights, and on two specially customized flatcars, stages have been built for the groups that will be performing at the station stops, including a Salvation Army band and a local boys choir.
"It's takes a lot of people to put all this together, there's a lot of work behind the scenes," says Peterson.
Each stop consists of not only musical entertainment and viewing of the glimmering train, but also visits from Santa Claus and his friends from the North Pole including Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman and a host of elves. Service members from the Marines will also be on hand to accept donations for their Toys for Tots program, which Peterson sees as an important part of the festive event.
"Come enjoy the show," he says. "A lot of work went into this, and we hope everybody comes. If every family that comes and brings the kids can bring one toy, we would be extremely happy. If we did that we would probably have 10,000 toys."
The crowds along the Holiday Train route are filled with all sorts of spectators, ranging from little kids to kids at heart, which proves that the sight of a train coming down the tracks can still capture the imagination of people no matter what their age.
"Most kids love machinery, and trains are just that one awe-inspiring piece of machinery that they can get close to and see and feel," says Peterson. "We have a picture that was taken the first year, that shows this 4-year-old on his father's shoulders, looking at the train, wide-eyed, mouth open, just taking in this sight — that explains why we do it. Come out on the corner of the stage here, and look at the crowd, and you'll know why we do it. There's no other way to express it. You've got to see it." - Sean McCourt, The Santa Cruz Sentinel
METROLINK HOPES TO BE RESTORED MONDAY
ST. LOUIS, MO --
The Metro public transportation agency will begin Saturday dealing with the fallen trees and broken wires that have shut down sections of the MetroLink light-rail train lines.
But service will remain substantially reduced, with trains running only between the Fairview Heights station and the North Hanley station in north St. Louis County. Shuttle buses will service all other stops, including those along the Shrewsbury line.
Late Thursday and early Friday, eight trees fell on the catenary lines that feed electricity to trains, according to Metro. Five of those trees were in Illinois.
"East of Fairview Heights, we've got to repair a lot of wire," said Ray Friem, senior vice president of transit operations.
As freezing rain fell Thursday, ice accumulated on the catenary lines faster than the trains' ice cutters could keep up with it, Metro officials said. That, in conjunction with substation failures and falling trees, led to a situation the transit agency has never dealt with.
Several hundred passengers were evacuated from 21 trains.
On Friday, Metro ran special bus routes to help riders
David Reynolds was waiting for a bus at the Shrewsbury station. His usual one-hour trip from downtown to south St. Louis County was taking two hours, because the Shrewsbury line was down.
"Most people were understanding," he said, after riding MetroLink to Forest Park and then enduring a bus ride that included a wrong turn. "I tried to be understanding."
The transit agency aims to have full MetroLink service restored by Monday morning, Friem said. This also will depend on factors such as weather and AmerenUE repairing multiple substations that feed power to the system.
And then there's the issue of frozen trains, which also has transit officials concerned.
"You get one problem and it leads to the next," Friem said. - Elisa Crouch, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY CHOOSES TIETEK COMPOSITE CROSSTIES
CHICAGO, IL -- The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has chosen to buy and install 7,000 TieTek composite railroad ties for transit installation, to be supplied as part of Menard's Railroad Materials supply to CTA.
The CTA operates more than 1,000 rapid transit cars over eight routes and provides 500,000 customer trips each day to 144 stations in Chicago and 40 surrounding suburbs. The TieTek ties will be used for maintenance and spot replacement along CTA's 222 miles of track.
"TieTek composite crossties deliver significant performance and financial benefits," says Bob Menard, Owner and President of Menard's Railroad Materials. "They are a smart choice for transit rail applications and we look forward to working with them."
The crossties are made from 80% recycled materials and have a projected lifespan of more than 40 years. New York City Transit also recently purchased 11,000 TieTek composite crossties in what has been a busy year for the company.
"Our partnership with the CTA is another exciting development for TieTek," says TieTek CEO Neal Kaufman. "TieTek professionally engineered composite crossties are a great choice for our transit customers who want to improve performance and reduce operating costs for their entire system." - netcomposites.com