Railroad Newsline for Saturday, 04/07/07
Author: Larry W. Grant
Date: 04-07-2007 - 04:48

Railroad Newsline for Saturday, April 07, 2007

Compiled by Larry W. Grant

In Memory of Rob Carlson, 1952 – 2006



PALESTINE, TX -- Local supporters of efforts to save the Texas State Railroad now have two more reasons for optimism -- a signed contract with a potential private operator and committee hearings set for Tuesday.

On Thursday, representatives of the Texas State Railroad Operating Agency and American Heritage Railways signed an eight-year contract to allow American Heritage to take over TSRR operations on Sept. 1, 2007, pending approval by the Texas Legislature.

On Tuesday, American Heritage owner Al Harper, TSRR Operating Agency chairman Steve Presley and possibly others are scheduled to appear before House and Senate committees to testify during a pair of afternoon hearings on House Bill 3113 and Senate Bill 1659.

“That’s one more step closer to completion to save the railroad,” Presley said late Thursday afternoon.

The two companion bills, sponsored by Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, and Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, would allow the transfer of operations of the TSRR from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to a Texas State Railroad Authority for the purpose of contracting with a private company, American Heritage, to run the trains. In the event that the legislature agrees to relinquish state control, the operating agency -- which was created by an interlocal agreement between the cities of Palestine and Rusk to find and contract with a potential operator -- would be dissolved and the railroad authority would be created to govern, or oversee, the operation of the railroad.

If the legislature does not agree, Presley said, then it’s over.

“Everything we continue to hear from Austin is either we manage to save the railroad with a private operator or it will close September 1st. There will be no other options,” Presley said, adding, “Parks and Wildlife says if they’re given the money (to fund the TSRR’s operation as a state park) they’re not going to use it on the Texas State Railroad.”

At least Harper and Presley and possibly more are expected to testify before the House Committee on Culture, Recreation and Tourism in a hearing set to begin at 13:00 hours, Presley said, and again at 14:00 hours. before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources. Both times are subject to change, he noted, at the discretion of the respective committees.

In the months prior to Thursday’s contract signing, Presley said local supporters had been advised that in order to give the railroad its best chance to remain on track, the operating agency should be formed to show joint support from both cities; the agency should issue an RFQ, or Request for Qualification, from rail companies interested in running the trains; and a detailed contract should be agreed to between the agency and the potential operator.

Under terms of the contract, and pending state approval, the Texas State Railroad would cease to be a state park as of Sept. 1, 2007, when American Heritage would take over operations until Aug. 31, 2015, when the contract would either automatically renew or action would be taken to terminate it or renegotiate terms.

Annually, American Heritage would pay the railroad authority either a guaranteed payment of $100,000 or 2 percent of the gross operating revenue, whichever was greater, for the use of the railroad. It also would pay $50,000 for each of the first five years in the form of promotional expenses at American Heritage’s two other railways -- the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway in Durango, Colorado, and the Great Smokey Mountains Railway in Bryson City, North Carolina -- and it would guarantee $50,000 of in-kind charter train services for non-profit fundraising purposes.

Additionally, the contract states that American Heritage would “endeavor to offer continued employment to all employees of the State of Texas Parks & Wildlife Department currently working at the Texas State Railroad” and that it would continue to run trains from both the Palestine and Rusk depots while marketing the railroad, be available to market the surrounding areas and attractions in Anderson and Cherokee counties and put in place a capital improvement and rehabilitation plan to make necessary improvements and additions to the facility and equipment and maintain it appropriately.

In return, the railroad authority will set up a $2 million revolving loan fund from $12 million requested by the agency from the state for repairs and maintenance. The loan would not accrue interest, and no payments would be required until 2010.

If the total number of riders in a calendar year meets or exceeds ridership goals, the agency would transfer to American Heritage an undivided 12.5 percent of ownership interest in railroad property — locomotives, rolling stock, concession equipment, buildings, structures and other real property other than rights-of-way, railbed and track. The percentage transferred would rise if ridership fell below those goals.

“This really is a great economic opportunity for our area,” Presley said. “We’re really proud to have worked it out with American Heritage Railways.” - Beth Foley, The Palestine Herald


CHASKA, MN -- Another party in the trestle bridge collapse is the Gopher State Railway Museum.

The group uses the area near the sugar factory for storage while its museum is under construction in New Prague.

However, with the track out, the museum’s vintage railway pieces are stranded on the wrong side of the river.

Mike Lehne, Chaska resident and museum president, reports on a few of the items at the sugar factory.

* An NSP No. 4: “It has been sitting at the plant since 1999. The locomotive still runs but the batteries are old and about to be recycled. We won’t put new batteries in it till it is sitting in New Prague as the cost is expensive over $400 each and there are eight.

“Built in 1940 by Electro Motive Corporation for the CB&Q Railroad. Originally numbered 9146, it was transferred to CB&Q subdivision Colorado and Southern as 155. It was then transferred to Fort Worth and Denver as 601, after the BN merger it became 103. The locomotive was sold to NSP in 1973 and was used at the NSP High Bridge Plant till it was donated to Gopher State Railway Museum in 1999. Reddy Kilowatt is painted on the side of #4 which was the symbol of NSP.”

* A tool car: “GSRM’s tool car is equipped with two hoists, a generator, a grinder, a work bench, all our hand tools and is storage for all of our track tools. Our tool car was used in ballast cleaning train in its prior life. Some of the lettering is still visible.”

* A CB&Q (Chicago Burlington and Quincy) caboose: “CB&Q 14534 was built in Galesburg as number 79 in 1871. This waycar is in excellent condition for its age. It was donated to GSRM by MTM in 1995. Either way the caboose will be trucked out, as it will never be track-worthy because of its age.”

Museum update: Many people might know the museum from its elaborate train floats that appear in local parades.

Here is Lehne’s update on the museum construction and upcoming parades – including Chaska parades on May 20 and July 28.

“Our efforts are staying with our site construction at New Prague. We paid off our land last year, one year early.

"This year we are going to be working like crazy to earn funds for the construction. Take a look at our summer parade and appearance schedule. This is our biggest year ever for giving train rides! We are going to have so much fun and so are our guests!

“The steam train will get another coat of paint in my backyard again this spring. Our first parade is the American Legion parade in Chaska May 20, so I have to get busy.” - Mark Olson, The Chaska Herald


ELY, NV -- We're gearing up. Opening Day is a week away and there are hundreds if not thousands of tasks that need to be done in the next week. And our Opening Weekend is also White Pine Weekend. The museum is offering adult residents of White Pine County half price tickets that weekend and better yet, kids get to ride FREE, when accompanied by an adult family member. This is our way of thanking the community for their support.

But for the trains to run there is lots of work to be done in the next week. Right now, locomotive 40 has its third driver set, setting on the machine shop floor, one main rod is off locomotive 93, locomotive 105 has a cracked cylinder head and that's just the big jobs. The interior of the coaches need cleaning or as one volunteer said, “They need to be GI'd.”

The new brochures need to be distributed, new tickets printed, a new walking tour brochure needs to be done and the gift shop needs to be restocked. Plus there are also hundreds of little tasks that all need doing. Every one these jobs needs to completed in preparation for our visitors and we are expecting thousands of visitors this year.

Last year 14,742 people rode our trains. This was our largest year ever and it was an increase of 13% over the previous year. And let us not forget, last year was when gas hit more than $3.00 a gallon and my anxiety level shot up at the same rate.

2006 was more than a record breaking year for us; it was the twelfth year in a row of ridership increases. Since the museum started offering excursion service in 1987, we have carried 131,965 passengers. Not to bad for a railroad that is in the middle of no where.

Stats here:


Chart here:


2006 was also notable for another reason. We carried passengers in every month of the year.

That was a first. Also noteworthy was December. The popularity of our Polar Express trains is changing our season. December was our fourth largest month of the year! We carried 1,919 passengers that month. This pushed our resources to the limit. As the Polar Express trains gets more popular, it is very conceivable, December could become our biggest month of the year. This will present new challenges, such as where do you keep hundreds of people warm while they wait to board a train in a blizzard? Also having some street lights on Avenue A would help. It gets very dark down here at night.

So where did all of our riders come from? Well for starters they came from forty-seven states and sixteen foreign counties. If you look at our ridership closer, just over half of our riders come from Nevada, 8,872 riders or just a little over 60% came from the Silver State. And if you start slicing and dicing Nevada's numbers, you find that 60% or 5,292 of our Nevada riders come from southern Nevada. 23% or 2,001 riders come from northern Nevada and the remaining 17% or 1,579 riders are from White Pine County.

Our neighboring states contribute a little more than a quarter of our ridership. As you might expect California is the largest, fifteen percent of our riders came from the Golden State. In quick succession, it is Utah with nine percent, Arizona with two percent, Idaho adds two percent to the total with Oregon adding one percent to our ridership. There were a couple of surprises in the numbers. People from Colorado, Washington and Texas travel a long way to ride steam-powered trains. Each state contributed almost one percent a piece to the grand total.

Our foreign visitors came from around the planet. The most visitors came from Canada followed by Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, Holland, France and New Zealand. We also had visitors from South Africa and Japan. In fact our visitors from Japan rented locomotive 93. It was a little unusual to have an engineer's test done in Japanese; it was also a little tough to grade.

This year the emphasis of the museum will be on the weekday excursion trains. Our specialty trains and locomotive rentals are doing excellent. In fact locomotive rentals for April and May are almost sold out. The first wine train is two-thirds sold. Where we are having difficulty is the weekday excursion trains. So this year we will premier a new program at the museum. From Mondays through Thursdays, Kids will ride FREE on excursion trains when accompanied by an adult family member. The thinking behind this offer is very similar to the reason McDonald's builds Playplaces at their restaurants, get the kids and you get the parents.

2007 promises to be an exciting year on the railroad. If our growth continues and I didn't jinx it by this article, by the end of this year we should hit close to 18,000 passengers. It promises to be an interesting journey, come ride the train this year. - Mark Bassett, The Ely Times


ORR, MN -- After a train derailment Wednesday night near Orr in northeastern Minnesota, city officials said the accident was another example of why the Canadian National Railway should comply with a state law passed to make trains -- some carrying hazardous cargo -- slow down as they pass through town.

The derailment, which caused no injuries, "supports our case that the train should not be flying through here at 60 miles an hour," said Brian Bruns, sitting in his Pelican Bay grocery Thursday. "Eventually, it is going to kill somebody."

Bruns said 15 to 20 trains a day go through town within 150 feet of the high school football field, a playground, a fire station, propane tanks and the business district.

The 2005 state law requires maximum train speeds in Orr to drop from 60 to 30 miles an hour.

The Canadian National Railway challenged that law in federal court, arguing that federal law -- which allows its trains to go up to 60 miles an hour -- overrules the new state law and a subsequent ordinance enacted by Orr's City Council.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said her office stepped in to defend the new law after the railroad sued. Swanson said the state contends that federal law allows local governments to pass stricter laws based on local safety concerns, such as those raised in Orr.

She said the case was argued in February before US District Judge Michael Davis, who is expected to rule in May.

Canadian National spokesman Jim Kvedaras said he had no comment on the lawsuit or on why the trains couldn't slow down in Orr.

No injuries, no spills

Wednesday night's derailment, the second in about two years, caused no injuries or cargo spills, according to the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office and railroad officials.

Kvedaras said it happened about 2 miles north of Orr at about midnight Wednesday when 14 cars on a 91-car train derailed. He said that most of the derailed cars were empty but that one carried gasoline and another was an empty tanker with flammable gas residue.

He said it's not yet known how fast the train was going.

The cause is under investigation, which could take weeks to conclude, he said.

The railway was expected to reopen Thursday night.

Other derailments

Orr, a town of 265 residents about 55 miles southeast of International Falls, has coexisted for nearly a century with the railway, depending on it to carry lumber, people and goods. The tracks run along Hwy. 53 and through the middle of town, which lies on the shore of Pelican Lake.

In recent times, the rail cargo has included hazardous material, and maximum train speeds were allowed to increase from 49 to 60 miles an hour in 2003, said Bruns, a member of Orr's rail safety committee.

Fire Chief Doran Klakoski, a former mayor, said a few rail cars derailed about a year ago.

Klakoski said another derailment happened about a decade ago when a rail car carrying potash lost its wheels south of town, skidded a way and landed against a bulk propane tank. He said the derailments and several unplanned car uncouplings haven't hurt anyone so far.

"If they slow down and something happens," Klakoski said, "it will keep damage to a minimum."

Thaw problems

Klakoski and Bruns said the railcar problems often happen in the spring when the ground shifts as frost thaws in the swampy areas around Orr.

The railway's Kvedaras said he is unaware of any concerns over car uncoupling near Orr, where a layer of rock was laid under the rails to prevent the ground from buckling during the spring thaw.

Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said that before he helped pass the state law reducing the train speed limit in Orr, Canadian National refused to consider a lower limit.

"We're saying we have a better chance of surviving a catastrophic derailment going 30 than 60 miles an hour," Dill said.

He said a carload of lumber that derails at 60 miles an hour "would be like bullets flying through town." - Jim Adams, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune


WASHINGTON, DC -- Capping off a month which had its fair share of inclement weather and erratic economic activity, carload freight and intermodal volumes on United States railroads were down March compared to last year, according to data released today by the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

The AAR said that U.S. railroads originated 1,310,037 carloads of freight in March, which was down 3.4 percent -- or 45,891 carloads -- from March 2006. Intermodal volume at 908,109 units in March saw a 1.4 percent decline -- or 12,914 trailers and containers -- compared to March 2006.

And for the first quarter of 2007, the AAR said that U.S. rail carloadings were down 4.9 percent -- or 211,519 carloads -- to 4,125,876 carloads, and intermodal volume was off 0.2 percent -- or 4,608 units -- to 2,939,039 trailers and containers. Total volume for the quarter was estimated at 419.2 billion ton-miles by the AAR, which was down 3.6 percent from the first quarter of 2006.

While both monthly and quarterly totals were down from the same timeframe a year ago, there are some anecdotal reasons for this, AAR director of editorial services Tom White told Logistics Management.

“Data in the first part of the year is notorious for being subject to weather problems,” said White. “And that is one of the reasons it makes it a little bit more difficult to draw a lot of conclusions early in the year.”

White cited the week ending March 31 as an example of this, with two feet of snow falling in the southern part of the Powder River Basin, which drove down coal loadings 15.9 percent for the month. This snowfall, said White, drove down coal “a huge amount” for the year-to-date, whereas before coal loadings were even or a little ahead for the year, he said.

Aside from weather problems, White said that the housing industry and automotive traffic remain very weak, with motor vehicles and equipment down 7.7 percent in March and 13.7 percent for the quarter. On the bright side, chemicals were up 5.8 percent for the month and 2.1 percent for the quarter.

Going forward, White said he is hopeful that railroad volumes will inch up as the weather gets warmer and the economy improves.

“There are some signs that the housing market may be improving at some point soon, but at this point we are still dealing with a lot of declines in a lot of areas,” said White. “I don’t know if we can say it is all weather-related ..I suspect it is only partly weather related.”

Another reason for optimism according to White is the fact that the class I railroads are still investing for growth, with all of them making some sort of inroads in terms of making significant investments to expand infrastructure and add capacity.

“Long-term growth is going to happen and we have to be prepared to handle it, and we know we have to continue to expand capacity which is what the railroads are preparing for even through traffic is down right now,” said White. - Jeff Berman, Logistics Management Magazine


OMAHA, NE -- The MUD drinking water plant in north Omaha is one of 24 nationwide that continues to receive rail shipments of chlorine gas even though safer alternatives are available, according to a report released this week.

In the post-9/11 world, water utilities and the 13 sewer treatment plants that still receive the gas by rail should change to something safer, said Paul Orum, a chemical safety consultant who wrote the report for the Center for American Progress.

Graphic here:


The center, a think tank headed by John Podesta, former chief of staff in the Clinton administration, isn't arguing against the use of chlorine as a disinfectant.

Rather, the center is concerned about the transport of bulk quantities of chlorine gas, which is such concentrated and deadly. The Department of Homeland Security considers the shipments potential terrorist targets.

Some utilities instead use liquid bleach or make chlorine on-site, the report said.

Tom Wurtz, president of the Metropolitan Utilities District, said the utility has no plans to stop using chlorine gas or to stop receiving it by rail.

"We've had good luck with safety at the Florence plant," he said. "We just really haven't had any problem with it since we've been using it, since about 1915."

Wurtz said a change would be costly and the utility would have to raise rates substantially.

Water utilities have spent $2 billion making their facilities safer since the 2001 terrorist attacks, said Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director of the American Water Works Association. That some utilities continue to receive chlorine gas by rail simply reflects their local circumstances, he said.

Orum said analyses by the federal government and industry indicate that a catastrophic incident involving a chlorine rail tanker like the ones arriving in north Omaha could sicken or kill people within 10 miles.

Chlorine gas hugs the ground like fog and flows in whatever direction the wind takes it.

Wurtz said water treatment requires a balancing act.

"Is there some security risk?" he said. "There may be. I'll leave that up to the federal government in terms of the regulations that are needed for transportation. In terms of treatment, I would be hesitant to change. This isn't simply a matter of replacing chemicals."

Accidental ruptures of chlorine rail tankers have proved deadly. Nine people were killed in Graniteville, SC, in 2005, and three people were killed in 2004 near San Antonio.

The EPA permits the use of chlorine gas, Wurtz said, and the utility follows all safety protocols. In 2003, MUD rebuilt its chlorine facilities at the Florence plant, making them safer.

About 60 percent of the chlorine gas used at the north Omaha plant arrives via rail tanker, and it is shipped during only a few months of the year. The rest arrives by truck.

All of the chlorine gas used at MUD's existing Platte River treatment plant arrives via truck as will the chlorine gas at its new facility in western Douglas County.

Orum said trucking in the gas would be better until other changes can be made, because the trucks carry only a ton of gas as opposed to at least 55 tons on railcars. As a result, an accident would affect a smaller area, with the vapor cloud traveling an estimated one to three miles.

Louisville, Ky., Indianapolis, and Cleveland either have or are switching from chlorine gas for water treatment. Doing so can be costly. Louisville, for example, is spending $10 million on a system to manufacture chlorine on-site.

In its reports to federal officials on chlorine gas, MUD has estimated that about 390,000 people live in an area vulnerable to a release, Orum said. In the event of a disaster, a smaller portion of the population would be at risk because the gas would follow wind direction, he said.

A rupture of a chlorine tanker is one of the worst-case scenarios that emergency workers in Omaha prepare for, said Jim Palensky, hazardous materials coordinator for the Omaha Fire Department.

Palensky said he couldn't comment specifically on MUD's practices.

"We always support people in the community looking at good, competent changes in safety if it betters the community and is effective for all."

Union Pacific and other rail companies advocate an aggressive move away from chemicals such as chlorine gas because vapor from spills can be so easily spread by wind. Railroads are legally required to transport the hazardous gas but are provided no liability protection.

Earlier this year, the Association of American Railroads called on the government to encourage a rapid transition from chlorine gas and other highly hazardous materials to safer alternatives.

Chemicals such as chlorine gas expose the industry to "multibillion dollar" judgments, the association said. - Nancy Gaarder, The Omaha World-Herald


TYLER, TX -- Operation Lifesaver as it's called wants East Texas drivers to follow three simple steps at railroad crossings: look, listen and live.

"What we need to do is get the cooperation of folks to stop at railroad crossings," says Officer J.D. Smith with the Tyler Police Department.

And a sting set up today showed some drivers are clearly breaking the law.

Look closely and you'll see one car cross and then another follows while the red lights are flashing!

Video clip here:


The driver in the red car stops, and shortly after a police officer goes after the two cars that completely ignored the oncoming train.

"When the lights start flashing you need to stop and wait until the light go off before you proceed," Officer Smith warns.

This driver bypassed the flashing lights too and crossed the tracks. But he couldn't ignore flashing lights of a different kind and was issued a citation.

"Which would dig into the pocket books and [the ticket] will cost you," says Officer Smith.
Eleven tickets were issued to violators during the sting. A lesson drivers hopefully won't pay with their lives.

"It's just not worth your life to try to beat a train across the tracks," says Officer Smith.
Again, authorities want to reiterate, you must stop and wait until the gates go up and the warning lights stop flashing before proceeding.

These citations carry a fine of up to $500. - Christine Nelson, KLTV-TV7, Tyler/Longview/Jacksonville, TX


ROSEVILLE, CA -- The Placer County Air Pollution Control District released a final report today (Friday) evaluating the effectiveness of an innovative project aimed at reducing pollution from non-moving or slow-moving railroad locomotives.

The test project was conducted at Union Pacific Railroad’s J.R. Davis Yard in Roseville, California. It used a ground-breaking concept known as an Advanced Locomotive Emissions Control System that combines conventional stationary control technology applied to locomotives with a novel hood-type exhaust-capture device.

The project was a public-private effort involving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Air Resources Board, three air districts (Placer, Sacramento Metropolitan, and South Coast), Union Pacific Railroad, Advanced Cleanup Technologies, and the City of Roseville.

The project’s purpose was to demonstrate the effectiveness of stationary control equipment in capturing and treating locomotive exhaust. The report documents how efficiently the test system reduced pollutants emitted by locomotive exhaust.

The complete report can be found on the Placer County Air Pollution Control District’s web site at [www.placer.ca.gov]. - Don Duffy, Roseville & Rocklin Today


AUSTIN, TX -- Trying to make a few bucks by stealing increasingly valuable copper, bronze or aluminum could soon land the thieves in jail.

A bill by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, would make theft of the metals punishable by a state jail felony. It passed the Texas House 142-1 on Wednesday and now moves to the Senate.

The price of copper has more than doubled in the last two years. A pound can fetch well over $3.

That has made criminals more likely to steal the metals for profit from construction sites, railroad crossings, utility poles, transmission towers and air-conditioning units.

Custom builder Onesimo Martinez has stationed a guard or employee around the clock at his Hidalgo County construction sites to deter metal thefts who come for the copper used in air conditioners and other pipes, he said.

Even with round-the-clock supervision, the sites are vulnerable to outsiders and the 500 or so employees of his subcontractors, said Martinez, who owns Designer Homes.

“Whatever piece they can take, they’ll take it,” Martinez said. “A lot of these guys say they work for me and they come and steal, and some of them probably work for me.”

Peña said he filed the bill at the request of a long list of groups, including builders, the railroad industry, electric providers, law enforcement and homeland security officials who worried that downed communications towers could make it harder to make emergency calls.

He has been surprised at the interest his bill has attracted among media and interest groups, he said.

“It’s amazing that the bill has hit a nerve all over Texas,” he said. “It’s a real problem.”

Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said he didn’t have data on whether reports of such crimes have increased in the last year, but he welcomed the law to stiffen the penalty, he said.

“If you’re a crook, you’re going to do what you want to do, bottom line,” Treviño said. “But law enforcement always welcomes when you to up the ante on punishments against criminals.”

Under current law, the punishment for metal theft depends on the value of the items stolen. - Elizabeth Hernandez, The Brownsville Herald


LAPLACE, LA -- Authorities have arrested a LaPlace, Louisiana woman who fled the scene after a moving train collided with a van she was driving Wednesday, a spokesman with the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office said.

Sandra K. Landry, 47, of 141 Lakeview Drive was booked with DWI, hit and run and a probation violation after she was taken into custody at her house Wednesday night. She was being held at the parish jail on a $31,200 bond, Maj. Mike Tregre, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, said Thursday.

Landry, who was driving with a suspended license, was under the influence of prescription medication when she was hit by the train, according to a Sheriff's Office report. She was on state supervised probation for a previous DWI and possession of narcotics offense.

The vehicle, a green van that she allegedly drove through a railroad crossing in LaPlace just as a Canadian National train was approaching, did not belong to her, authorities said.

Landry was driving the 1995 Ford van east on Peavine Road around 18:40 hours when she allegedly did not yield to the railroad crossing, according to the report. The Canadian National Train, which was traveling north, hit the passenger-side rear end of the Ford.

Authorities said Landry left the scene of the accident in the van and drove to her house. She was also cited for not having insurance and failure to yield to a train, the report said.

Wednesday's arrest was Landry's fifth DWI arrest in 10 years, according to authorities. - Victoria St. Martin, The New Orleans Times-Picayune


Houston, Texas could be the new Wal-Mart of North America, replacing the West Coast as the delivery door for consumer goods delivered to the continent, with shipping and trucking plans that only enhance the concept of a combined North American Union.

As Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez pushes for "major trilateral initiatives" that would capture the vision of the integration of the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and state lawmakers fight a rearguard action to restore confidence in the U.S. sovereignty, officials in Houston are watching plans to expand the Panama Canal, and measuring the depth of the port's water to see what limits there would be on ship sizes.

Jim Edmonds, chairman of the Port of Houston, told WND Houston already has 73 percent of the container market in the Gulf of Mexico, and 94 percent of the container market in Texas, and it is preparing to take advantage of the planned expansion of the Panama Canal. "So, it would be logical to assume that whatever growth in Gulf container traffic that comes from the expansion of the Canal would most likely come into Texas," he told WND.

A Cambridge Systematics study completed for the Texas Department of Transportation in October 2006 confirms that the impact of the Panama Canal expansion "will be felt most heavily on and around the Port of Houston, the state's largest container port and a key trading partner for goods shipped via the Panama Canal."

The study also documented the move away from West Coast ports, noting that "the Panama Canal's share of total container shipments between Asia and the United States has increased from 11 percent in 1999 to over 38 percent in 2004 and container volumes through the Canal are expected to grow by nearly 6 percent annually over the next several years."

It also noted that Texas ports are expected to grow by more than 40 percent on average between now and 2035. The report said when the canal expansion is completed in 2015, "the Port of Houston's growth rate will most likely increase significantly, placing pressure on terminal operators, trucking companies, railroads, state and local transportation planning agencies, and other stakeholders in the maritime and transportation communities to maintain operational efficiency on or around port facilities."

Edmonds told WND that the Port of Houston recently completed a project taking the depth from 40 to 45 feet, and that permits to go deeper – perhaps 50 feet – "are very challenging to come by in today's world.'

So he said plans are being considered to deal with that. "To handle post-Panamax ships, the Gulf Coast ports and probably the Florida ports will have go to a trans-shipment scheme put in place," he said. The huge post-Panamax ships will come into a facility in the Gulf or the Caribbean and the containers will have to be transferred to a smaller ship.

The Port of Houston just two months ago opened the Bayport Container Terminal in anticipation of an ever-increasing volume of container traffic coming through the port.

A press release on the Port of Houston website notes that container traffic at Houston has risen at an average growth rate of more than 10 percent per year for the last 15 years.

The press release also cited studies by the Texas Transportation Institute that predict a continued worldwide container growth rate of 7.2 percent through 2010.

WND previously has reported that an "all-water" route through the Panama Canal into the Gulf of Mexico is planned as an alternative to West Coast ports such as Los Angeles and Long Beach for container megaships from China and the Far East.

Cambridge Systematics concluded that the Bayport Container Terminal "will approximately triple the available capacity for containerized traffic at the Port and allow it to more effectively handle Panamax and post-Panamax ships."

According to the Port of Houston website, the $1.4 billion Bayport Container Terminal when fully developed will have seven container berths with the capacity to handle 2.3 million 20-foot equivalent units on a complex which includes a 376-acre container yard and a 123-acre intermodal facility.

Once the goods are on land, Edmonds confirmed, there also are plans working through the Trans-Texas Corridor for the expansion of I-69 to take the goods from shore to store.

"The Port of Houston's largest trading partner is Mexico," Edmonds told WND. "There are 13,000 truck crossings per day at Laredo, Texas. Most of those trucks are destined for the Port of Houston. Mexico uses this port a lot for its import/export traffic. So for many years we have been working on road and rail enhancements to move cargo back and forth from Mexico. The Port of Houston has been an advocate of the I-69 corridor since its inception."

"I-69 is basically an upgrade of I-59 to a super-freeway system," Edmonds explained. "About a year-and-a-half ago, the Trans-Texas Corridor project and I-69 merged their efforts. The scope of TTC planning is huge, involving auto lanes, truck lanes, rail lanes, plus broadband corridors and pipeline corridors, all together with a funding source."

The TTC website now includes an I-69 section. The funding source for TTC-35, the superhighway planned to be built parallel to I-35 from Laredo to the border of Oklahoma south of Oklahoma City, is Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A., a Spanish investment consortium.

"I am hopeful that the south Texas segment of I-69 will be among the first to be upgraded," Edmonds said. "I-69 is a good benefit for the Port of Houston. I-69 goes from Mexico to Detroit and over into Canada. I-69 is an excellent trade corridor. I see I-69 over time as a real improvement to the ability to move cargo from Canada to Mexico and the Port of Houston needs to be a player in that."

"There is also an initiative by the four Mexican states around Laredo, Texas, to come together on upgrade issues involving bridges and highways," Edmonds noted. "We also work with Mexico on customs issues. There's a lot of conscientious effort going on in Texas to make sure we have a better mobility system between Texas and Mexico."

According to the Port of Houston's website, the port is made up of the Port of Houston Authority and the 150-plus private industrial companies along the Houston Ship Channel.

Edmonds said that ancillary facilities also are growing.

"We have seen a spate of growth in distribution centers around the Port of Houston," he said, "and I anticipate that we will continue to see growth in distribution centers. From the distribution centers, the goods will either be sent directly off to a retail outlet or they will be repackaged and shipped them to where the need is for that particular product."

"If you look at this country, Chicago, L.A.- Long Beach, and Houston are three key freight-rail center," Edmonds said. "The Port of Houston in addition to the Port Authority is the second largest petro-chemical complex in the world. So, you have a huge amount of refined petrochemical product moving into the U.S. marketplace everyday through the port."

Edmonds said one of the goals is a port complex that would load trains and sent them out seamlessly to a marketplace including the West Coast, the Midwest and Mexico. The port estimated more than 32,000 jobs will be created at full build-out in 15 years or more. - Jerome R. Corsi, WorldNetDaily.com, courtesy rj



Photo here:


Caption reads: The northbound Rail Runner races toward the fire.

Video here:


ALBUQUERQUE, NM -- More than a dozen passengers onboard the northbound Rail Runner saw the flames and felt the heat as the train traveling more than 70 mph rushed headlong through a wildfire late Thursday.

The rail runner's crew knew there was a fire.

So why didn't they stop the train?

Passengers told KRQE News 13 they couldn't believe what was happening:

“While we were riding, I saw a whole bunch of smoke and stuff,” Calgray Maze, one of the younger passengers said. “At first when I saw the fire, I thought we were going to burn.”

The fire on Isleta Pueblo began as a controlled burn, but winds blew it into the Rio Grande bosque and up against the railroad line connecting Albuquerque with Los Lunas and Belen.

“All the kids were like, “Oh, that's cool,’ and all the parents were like, ‘Oh, that's scary,” passenger Shileen Barker said. “It was really scary, and you could feel the heat on the train.”

Video from Skyranger 13 showed a southbound Rail Runner train speeding by when the flames were still some distance from the track. When the separate northbound train arrived about 10 minutes later, flames were at the right-of-way with smoke roiling over the rails.

News 13 showed the video to Lawrence Rael, executive director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, the agency managing Rail Runner for the state.

Rael said his first priority is passenger safety and that this event is a first.

Rael said the conductor on the southbound train warned the northbound conductor about the fire but said it was a safe distance away.

The decision to stop is the conductor's, and Rael said he may have made the right decision.

“At the speed that the train was operating at that point, it may have been in his judgment much more safer to run through the fire and get through quickly,” Rael said. An emergency stop might have put it in the middle of the flames, he added.

Rael said he'll meet with the conductor today to assess the decision and procedures to see if any changes are needed.

Area fire crews aided by a helicopter doing water drops extinguished the fire which burned about 50 acres.

Rail Runner canceled the last southbound train of the day and substituted buses for the run to Los Lunas and Belen. - Michael Herzenberg, KRQE-TV13, Albuquerque, NM


ISLETA PUEBLO, NM -- Rail Runner officials want to know why they were not notified about a brush fire on Isleta pueblo Thursday evening.

That left passengers on a northbound commuter train to experience the drama of racing past approaching flames. Video from Skyranger 13 showed flames licking perilously close as the train sped past, and commuters told KRQE News 13 they could feel the heat.

But the man in charge of the Rail Runner, Mid-Region Council of Governments executive director Lawrence Rael, said the train was a safe distance from the fire.

Rael also it's the responsibility of local law enforcement and fire officials to call the BNSF Railway Company about any dangers near the tracks so dispatchers can stop approaching trains.
Rael says that didn't happen.

“The point being that emergency personnel responding to the fire did not use the protocol to get in touch with BNSF to shut the train down,” Rael said.

Rael said he has talked with the governor of the Isleta Pueblo, and they agreed communication between fire personnel and the railroad needs to be improved. - Addie Knowlton, KRQE-TV13, Albuquerque, NM


SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- Muni's new Third Street light rail line will begin full service Saturday, after wrapping up a test phase.

Officials hope the pricey project will mean improved transit service for the city's southeastern neighborhoods and for Giants fans heading to the ballpark.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will begin full, daily rail service of the new T-Third metro line Saturday, the agency reported.

The rail service brings 5.1 miles of new light rail to the Muni system, as well as 317 new jobs for local neighborhoods, according to Muni spokeswoman Maggie Lynch.

Lynch said the T-Third will operate daily between Visitacion Valley and Castro stations.

The new service, which completes a $648 million joint project undertaken by six city departments, also boasts new streetlights and enhanced streetscapes, new traffic signals, a new maintenance and operations facility, and 112 pieces of public art, according to Lynch.

The new line is linked to a new digital traffic management system, SFgo.

Full service is also planned to begin for the 9x San Bruno bus, which will replace the 15-Third bus, Lynch reported.

A ribbon cutting ceremony and community celebration for the new Muni lines is planned for April 14. - KGO-TV7, San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, CA

LAGNIAPPE (Something extra, not always railroad related, for Saturdays only)


Photo here:


CARMEL, IN -- In the early 1880s, the newly built Indianapolis & Chicago Air Line, running north from the capital city through Nora, Carmel, Westfield, Sheridan, the rail center of Frankfort and beyond, combined with the over 30-year-old Louisville, New Albany and Chicago Railway.

The tracks of the two lines crossed at the small Northern Indiana town of Bradford just as that hamlet's name was changed to Monon. It remained the Monon Route until its demise in the 1970s.

The Monon depot in Carmel was built in 1883 featuring three basic characteristics: a generous roof overhang, an alcove for the depot agent and two large rooms -- a public area (ticket window, waiting room), and a freight room opening to the tracks.

Inside the depot, the railroad agent sold tickets and created the paperwork facilitating shipment of items.

For decades, railroads such as the Monon contracted with the U.S. Postal Service to deliver and pick up sacks of mail for sorting aboard a specially equipped postal car. Across the tracks from the depot stood an upright heavy metal pole with a metal swinging arm that caught or dispensed mail bags for the mail car.

Monon freight trains brought a wide variety of merchandise to Carmel. And in these early years especially, the effect on the town was significant. For example, this increased availability of merchandise that could be ordered from mail order catalogs of Montgomery Ward & Co. and Sears & Roebuck from their huge warehouses in Chicago.

The railroad provided the lazy recreation of train watching. One could ponder the destination and freightage of the long freight trains, or ponder the system of train-car switching by the shorter, busier locals that came to pick up or drop off box cars, flat cars, gondolas, or cattle cars.

After each train passed through, those who had stopped to watch often visited the depot agent, or visited among themselves.

In early spring, the depot freight room resounded with the high-pitched chirping of spring chicks, which local residents had ordered from hatcheries far and near. The chicks would grow into laying hens for the family's essential daily egg supply.

The many farms in the area provided shipping revenue for the railroad. Dairy farms shipped milk -- much of it to a processing plant in Sheridan.

At least three Carmel businesses over the decades shipped in reasonably large volume on the railroad: orchids from a local greenhouse, wine bottled in Carmel, and Rhode Island Red chickens from a hatchery in the early 1900s.

There was tragedy all too often associated with the railroad. In the early years there was always the impending danger of personal injury or worse at the many road crossings over the rails. Many horsedrawn buggies, storm apron drawn tight during a rainstorm, were struck by trains not heard by the buggy driver. The result was deadly, and not uncommon. - Tom Rumer, The Indianapolis Star


When he was in his 80s, retired Martinez, California pioneer blacksmith John Maloche used to take long walks from his Oakland home to Lake Merritt, telling his young grandson, Eldon Anderson, marvelous stories of his youth along the way. Anderson, of Castro Valley, now shares these stories of early Martinez with us.

. . .

When the blacksmith business hit hard times in Martinez, John Maloche turned his shop into the town's first movie theater. While it was an intriguing novelty for Martinez residents, they didn't show up in droves. Shortly after it opened, Maloche found that he couldn't make a profit, and the widower had to find some way to support his young daughter, Lucy.

His blacksmith-shop-turned-theater had been a simple wooden frame building, not very attractive. "He got a proposition from some men that if he would let them build a building on his property and rent it to them for 10 years, he could retire. He said fine, and the first Martinez automobile dealership showroom was born!" said Eldon Anderson, his grandson.

The automobile showroom only lasted for five years, but when it closed down, Maloche was left with a fine brick and stucco marketable building on one of the best downtown sites in Martinez.

"My grandfather eventually split the building into two separate stores. One became Karl Shoes, and the other was rented out to Western Auto Supply. Karl Shoes put in the first round glass window on the corner displaying their shoes."

Today, the building houses Margarita's Restaurant, which occupies both old stores.

While Maloche remained in Martinez, his young daughter had moved to Oakland with her uncle and aunt, Sam Robin and his wife. But she continued to feel that Martinez was her true home.

She would visit her friends often, spending her summer vacations at the homes of the McNamaras, the Milliffs or the Hurleys.

After she finished school, Lucy found a job in the office of the Graham Plumbing Co. in Oakland.

"One day my Dad came into the office looking for a job," Anderson says. "As my mother tells the story, when my Dad came into the office, she saw that he walked slow and was very big. He was very muscular and was 6 feet tall, which was unusual in 1919."

The reason John Anderson needed a job was that he had just been discharged from the Army. "He was ready to board a ship to France just as World War I ended."

Lucy thought that Anderson moved much too slowly for the plumbing business and told her boss he shouldn't hire him.

"Much to my mother's amazement, Mr. Graham hired my Dad, as he thought he looked like he could carry a lot of pipe and could handle a very spirited horse, which was used for the delivery wagon."

Lucy soon changed her mind about Anderson. The two fell in love and were married in Oakland in 1920. They had two sons, John Edward Jr. in 1921 and Eldon in 1924.

Eldon said his father fell ill soon after he was born. He remembers visiting him at hospitals. He would come home from time to time, but he never recovered. He died at the Veterans Letterman Hospital in 1927.

It was at this time that John Maloche came to live with his daughter in Oakland on Excelsior Avenue in the house that Lucy and her husband bought in 1924.

"I was 4 years old. He would tell me stories when we walked and in the evening at home. He died when I was 12 years old. It was 1936."

Eldon went to Oakland schools, but summers became a very special time, when he would go to Martinez.

In 1930, the railroad bridge was completed over the Carquinez Strait. From that date on, train cars and engines would no longer be loaded on the giant ferry, Solano, which went from Benicia to Port Costa. Martinez would now become a transfer stop on the transcontinental system. But it didn't happen all at once.

"I have vivid memories spending several weeks of vacation time in Martinez. One of those memories is staying at Mae McNamara's, my mother's good friend. One day she said to me, 'Tomorrow the first Transcontinental train is coming to Martinez, and we must go see it!' We got up at 05:30 (I'm not a morning person and never have been) and went to the railroad station.
I think 90 percent of Martinez was there. Along came the Union Pacific streamliner, and it gave several whistle blasts and passed through! I said, 'Isn't that train supposed to stop so we can see it?' 'No,' she said, 'We just came down to see it, that's all!' Everyone seemed excited to witness the event but me! I have since learned to appreciate what had happened."

Eldon also remembers members of the Martinez Redmen Lodge, "all dressed up as Indians and parading for the opening of the railroad bridge."

He also tried fishing at the Martinez pier. He would snitch a hook from the local hardware store. He would pick up a long stick or branch, attach a string and tie the hook to it.

"I didn't know you had to use bait," he said.

Someone gave Eldon a small fish to use for bait.

"I stuck it in my pocket and forgot it."

He said it was only much later at the dinner table when people complained about the smell that he remembered what he had in his pocket.

"I never did catch a fish," he said.

Lucy remained active living in her home in Oakland. "She cut her front lawn and kept the place up until age 99. She lived alone, but had wonderful neighbors that looked out for her. She moved to a convalescent home and passed away in 1992."

On Lucy's 100th birthday, she visited Martinez as was her tradition, and posed in front of the house where she was born at 1014 Alhambra Ave. She died at the age of 104. - Nilda Rego: Days Gone By, The Contra Costa Times


NEWTON, KS -- Buffalo Bill Cody is one of the legends of the “Old West.”

And, according to Buffalo Bill, our city of Newton, Kansas also was a legend -- but of a dubious kind.

It had the reputation of Babylon of the West. We don’t know exactly when Buffalo Bill visited here, but it was more than once, starting in the early 1870s.

In later years, he brought his Wild West show to Newton.

Buffalo Bill’s first comments were about the early days, when Newton was the end point of the railroad.

Photo here:


Here is what Buffalo Bill said: “The toughest, cussedest, wild west town I ever knew was Newton, Kansas, in the early seventies.”

People talk about Dodge City and Macon Junction as tough towns, but “Newton could give them cards and spades on wholesale depravity and recklessness.”

Buffalo Bill had a few more colorful words to describe Newton. Words like “lawlessness, bloodshed, a population mostly of whisky sellers, gamblers, and thieves.”

The original Newtonians were all out “to rob the cowboys and cattlemen.”

There were better moments, of course. Buffalo Bill heard about a religious service in a gambling hall. One Sunday night, a Methodist preacher went to Doc Thayer, the boss of the gambling den, and requested permission to preach amongst the card tables and whiskey bottles. He wanted to spread the Gospel. Permission was granted, but while the pastor was preaching, a fight broke out and someone was shot.

In later trips, Buffalo Bill found Newton turned into a peaceful, prosperous town.

“Civilization” now prevailed. “Newton is today, one of the most quiet and respectable towns on the great plains.” These words appeared in a Denver newspaper, The Denver Field and Stream, on Jan. 19, 1895.

Steve Friesen, director of the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave at Denver, says the story of “Buffalo Bill in Newton” has the ring of truth. He never made a similar statement about any other town in the West.

Although we have the stories and legends, Newton, from the standpoint of historic preservation, has very few surviving buildings from that tumultuous era. A couple of our historic churches go back to the 1870s, the old Methodist church at Tenth and Oak, and the 1877 Meeting House (originally the Baptist Church) at East Twelfth and Logan.

Imagine the 1877 Meeting House filled with cowboys and Indians. Perhaps Buffalo Bill?

Newton has several histories, not just one. The Buffalo Bill wild west era is one. Another is our city as a prosperous railroad and business center -- “quiet and respectable.”

The city of Newton, like Kansas as a whole, has usually been a little hesitant to market itself as the “Wild West Babylon,” instead preferring images of prosperity and tranquility.

Remember “Small Town -- No Apologies” and the rope swing hanging from the tree?

Just to the south of us, entrepreneur Thomas Etheredge is launching the theme park Wild West World. According to Buffalo Bill Cody, that could have been the picture in miniature of Newton of the 1870s. - Keith Sprunger, The Kansan (Newton, KS)


Subject Written By Date/Time (PST)
  Railroad Newsline for Saturday, 04/07/07 Larry W. Grant 04-07-2007 - 04:48

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