Railroad Newsline for Thursday, June 14, 2007
Compiled by Larry W. Grant
In Memory of Rob Carlson, 1952 – 2006
FOR SALE: DM&E RAILROAD
ROCHESTER, MN --
A sale announcement may be coming soon from the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad, a rail industry magazine reports.
Trains magazine, in a report posted to its Web site on Tuesday, said that DM&E's parent company, Cedar American Rail Holdings, is accepting bids from about 10 bidders. The bidders are finalizing their offers this week, the magazine reported.
Among the bidders are three railroad companies: Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and a shortline railroad company that was not named.
Cedar American Rail Holdings owns both the DM&E and Iowa, Chicago & Eastern railroads, which together make up a 2,000-mile-plus railroad system.
DM&E was denied on Feb. 26 in its application for a $2.3 billion federal loan.
Selling all or some of its assets is apparently how the company plans to finance a $6 billion upgrade and expansion project that would extend DM&E's reach from near Winona to Wyoming coal fields. The project would create the most direct rail route from the Powder River Basin to the Upper Midwest.
The line passes through Rochester, Minnesota, whose leaders have objected to the project over fears that coal-train traffic would hurt the city.
DM&E President and CEO Kevin Schieffer could not immediately be reached.
According to Trains, however, Schieffer said last week in a letter to employees that "in the coming weeks, we will have potential investors and possible partners on the property."
The railroad has federal approval for the expansion. A question is whether regulators' green light is transferable to a new owner.
Rochester officials became aware of the magazine report this morning, said Mayo Clinic and Rochester Coalition spokesman Chris Gade.
"Regardless of who owns the DM&E, our goals and issues will remain the same," Gade said. "We want to be sure the safety needs of our patients, staff and community are met and met in a substantial and meaningful way." - Jeffrey Pieters, The Rochester Post-Bulletin
AT THE THROTTLE: 2012 WAS A GREAT YEAR
ELY, NV --
As 2012 now comes to an end, its time to look back and see how far we have come. Our 2007 Strategic Plan now needs updating. As we move into a new year, this is the ideal time to reflect and plan for the future. The short version is that we have blown by some of our goals, on others we have hit the target, and on a few we missed.
Taking stock of where we are now, it's been exciting. I think the biggest news is the new shop and classroom complex is open and will graduate its first class in Heritage Industrial Arts this spring.
This program, in cooperation with Great Basin College, is an Associates Science Degree program that teaches the thought process of working with metal, especially when there is little or no documentation. These problem solving skills are core to the program. It covers all aspects of working with metal: welding, casting, forging, blacksmithing and machining. The machining portion of the program is maybe the crown jewel. Students learn on everything from belt driven machines to the latest programmable machine tools and lasers.
In the beginning, a lot of people thought this program was just about maintaining steam locomotives. Nothing could be further from the truth. The program teaches working with metal and solving problems. It takes on projects where you need to develop your own processes. As a side benefit, our antique locomotives, cars and machinery just happen to be the perfect canvas to teach with. Already it appears that 100 percent of the first graduating class has jobs and most of these jobs are in industry with only two staying in the heritage railroad field.
The impetus to build the new shop classroom complex started at the 2007 Strategic Planning Session. The overriding question was how to make the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark complex self-sufficient. At that time, the complex was twenty-three years old and had only been in the black once since its founding. Revenues could cover expenses but the need for capital to invest in utilities, buildings, locomotives, rolling stock and infrastructure was overwhelming.
A decision needed to be made which path did the railroad need to take? The choices were to try and exist at 2007's ridership and revenue which would mean cuts across the board and frankly we'd be losing ground, or to develop the tourist aspect of the operation to hit 100,000 riders a year. Another option was to hit a target of 40,000 and develop additional programs that would bring in revenue from other sources. The other sources identified were outside projects and the Heritage Industrial Arts programs. The last option was chosen to pursue.
It was chosen because where revenues topped over $1.2 million for 2007, the revenues just barely covered expenses. Staff and volunteers were stretched very, very thin; some would say to the breaking point. Bottom line, operating revenues in actuality didn't really cover costs. And then the capital needs of the complex still needed to be addressed.
It was felt that 100,000 riders a year could be reached, but in doing so, we would not be taking advantage of the attributes of the railroad. In fact just the opposite, we would morph from a historical venue to almost a commuter rail operation. In addition, the pace would be very detrimental to the equipment and infrastructure. So this option was rejected.
The last option of holding ridership to around 40,000 a year; emphasizing our specialty trains and events; soliciting outside contracts and developing the Heritage Industrial Arts program seemed to make the most sense for our historic complex. And it proved to be the just the ticket. We have two years of stable revenues.
And as it turned out, 40,000 riders a year demonstrated to be very practical. To reach that goal required a full time marketing and group sales person who traveled around the area doing presentations on the railroad and soliciting business. A side benefit is our very successful school program. Where it's not a big money maker for us directly, it serves to introduce railroading to the youth. This is building the foundation for our future.
Along with group sales, our website is the most complete, interactive and dynamic one around.
We're now finding over 60 percent of our ticket sales and gift shop sales come from the web.
This is major advantage considering the remoteness of Ely.
Gift shop sales have been helped immensely by the development our own product line, Foamerific© products. This unique product line produces revenues two ways: first on our own branded products, Old 93 Condensed Steam (bottled water), Track Ballast (chocolate candies), You Know Someone Bad (coal for Christmas) and Hobo Rock Soup (think pet rock with a railroad twist.) Then secondly, we also provide the product line to other railroad gift shops branded for their operation.
Another revenue source was the creation of print on demand historic railroad textbooks and manuals. We undertook this project because we needed manuals that were now over a century old. And we didn't want to use the originals in the shop. So it stood to reason if we needed these books than others in the industry would also. Rather than print the books the traditional way, we would store the electronic files and then print out books when needed. We even took it one step further and made it possible for John Q. Public to print out the book using their printer and paper.
So our investment was just creating the electronic file.
The success of our print on demand books, eBay store and gift shop sales generated combined sales that almost exceeded our revenue from excursion trains.
Another success is the Building and Grounds Department. Over the past five years over $1 million dollars has been invested in the complex. Working with the Commission on Cultural Affairs we have been able to expand the department from just one person to a crew of four. By being our own contractor, we have been able to stretch every dollar that we have invested in the buildings.
Most of the wages of the building and grounds department is covered by grants. Since most of our buildings are wood, a side benefit is in that in winter we use these same people to work on our historic wooden equipment. By developing this expertise in house, we are training personal that are flexible and sensitive to our historic structures and rolling stock. Also the walking trail through the complex was finished in 2009. This made the property more accessible to the public and does a great job in explaining the significance of the complex.
On the equipment front, tremendous progress has been made on the steam locomotives.
Locomotive 81 received its ground up restoration and now is our work horse. 81's restoration was funded in part because of a PBS television series. The entire restoration was filmed. The resulting program was a cross between Orange County Choppers and from Rust to Riches.
Both locomotives 40 and 93 received extensive repairs to their running gear. We now have three solid steam locomotives. It was very expensive; we invested over $1.5 million on the steam locomotives. And there is a disappointment, Steptoe Mining and Milling 3 is still not done. Received from Niles Canyon in 2007, it is still in pieces, and it keeps getting pushed back.
Plans are going forward to recreate locomotive 21. This started as a controversial project. It wasn't understood why we needed a fourth locomotive or why we couldn't just rebuild any old locomotive. The 21 project was seen as solution to a couple of different problems. Locomotives 93 and 40 are now over a century old. Locomotive 81 will join them in the century club in five years. Every time you fire up a locomotive, you consume it. 40 and 93 could be argued to be the most historic locomotives in the country because they have been here for a century. So every time we heat them up, we consume them and they are expensive to operate. So the 21 project was seen as the answer to three very pressing problems. Save our historic locomotives, build a modern locomotive that will be less to operate and then we'll be able to have a steamer ready for the public at almost any time. Then there is the long shot business opportunity of actually constructing modern 4-6-0's for other railroad museums such as the V & T. TRAINS magazine last year ran an article on how the six coupled locomotive was an ideal locomotive for tourist and museum applications.
The diesel locomotives are in good shape. Due to purchasing spare parts from the California State Railroad Museum in 2007, the future of 105 and 109 are bright. Locomotive 801, our Baldwin VO is in service and is the star attraction for our diesel photo shoots. The Baldwin S-12 is still out of service. We have been frustrated in our attempts to retrieve locomotives 201 and 401 and bring them home.
On the rolling stock front we have four solid passenger coaches for excursion service, the Ely, Ruth, McGill and the Nevada. Flatcar 23 has been named the Copper Flat and has been joined by our second open air car Kimberly. All of the cabooses are in tiptop shape except for the little four wheel bobber.
Our heritage passenger equipment 05, 06 and 20 are in excellent shape after extensive work. We have just started the restoration on Coach 2. This is expected to a three year project and cost $400,000. After Coach 2 we intent to start on Combine 05. The heritage freight equipment is in good order. Every year a few more pieces are brought into service. The steam crane is still in operation and is the hit of the photo shoots. Work still hasn't started on the rotary snowplow, maybe next year.
On the building front we have had some major successes and one failure. The failure was the blacksmith shop located across from the RIP. The heavy snows of 2009 were too much for the building and down it went. On the bright side, most of the buildings in the yard have received roof repairs and repairs to their doors and windows so the building envelope is weather tight. The paint shop is back in business and its being used for car repairs. This project started in 2007 and proved vital to the museum.
The McGill Depot is another success. Now a vibrant part of the museum, it serves as an anchor to the north end of the line. And it also serves as the headquarters of the swimming hole program.
The program was initiated in 2010 and is very successful. The track to depot was repaired and trains could now reach the depot. Bicycles were purchased from the Las Vegas Police auction and painted orange with green polka dots. Swimming passes were sold and now kids can ride the train to McGill, and then ride one of the bikes to the swimming hole. They just need to remember to make it back to the depot before the last train of the day departs. Back in the 1920's, the railroad provided school trains to the community, now almost a century later we're providing swimming trains. This program only will become more popular with the introduction of the Edwards Motor Car. This is scheduled for 2013. Most people don't know that the railroad was considering purchasing a railcar for the school trains. The railcar, loosely, could be called a bus on rails, it is just the ticket to increase service to McGill for less cost and a couple of trips a year to Shafter.
The other exciting news was the opening of the track to Shafter this past year. It was a long time in coming but now trains from Ely can run all of the way to Shafter. This connects us with the world. In 2013, the mine will start shipping concentrate by rail. The lower transportation costs were a big plus in the decision for the mine to switch. With the opening of the line, the mine will be able to receive bulk materials by rail. So in addition to ore trains freight trains will also be using the track. The first power plant is in operation and coal trains are now running. Ore trains, coal trains, freight trains and passenger trains will be using the track 2013.
Also on the track front, the track improvement program was competed on the excursion tracks in 2009. This allowed for ties and ballast and tamping. Now the entire excursion track is in pretty good shape.
Another area where progress has been made is in curation. We now have all of the major artifacts cataloged properly. This was a massive undertaking. We still have the smaller artifacts to go and we need to finish the building inventory. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 there was big push to scan and archive all of the drawings. This has finally been accomplished and is available on line.
Working with the State of Nevada, progress is being made on an archive/library center. This is a desperately needed project. The goal is to consolidate all of the paper on the complex in one place. The second phase would be to do go through all of the paper and scan everything into a digital archive. Its estimated that will take decades.
Finally, membership is still increasing. We have over 3,500 dues paying members scattered through out the country. This source of support has allowed us to undertake many little projects that enhance the property.
With twenty-seven employees and one hundred thirty-seven volunteers the future of the museum looks very bright. We still have a lot of work ahead of us. But we have managed to put the museum on solid financial footing and we saved the buildings and equipment. With a vibrant training program we have the opportunity to live up to our potential.
Well it is obviously not 2012. Time is speeding up as I age, but thankfully it isn't going that fast yet, we still have 5 years to go. The report is a vision of what the museum could be come. We have issues that will cost millions of dollars. The current staff and volunteers are miracles workers. But then need help. The reason for this piece is the Management Board is working on its strategic plan. This is just one possibility on how the museum may look in five years. As the plan is created, we'll post it on our website. You'll be welcomed to comment on and add your ideas.
Eventually, we will have a roadmap for our future growth and development. - Mark Bassett, The Ely Times
SEVENTY EMPLOYEES MEET WITH AMERICAN HERITAGE WEDNESDAY
RUSK, TX --
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) may have gotten a gold mine with the sporting goods tax, but Texas State Railroad employees have gotten the stuck in the miner's shaft, according to an announcement that state railroad employees who go to work for American Heritage Railways will not be eligible for administrative leave. Administrative leave is the TPWD equivalent of severance pay. Ellen Buchanan, regional director for TPWD, said when the department conducted a reduction in force 18 months ago, laid-off employees were given eight weeks of administrative leave.
"They were paid by TPWD to find another job, either with TPWD or outside," Ms. Buchanan said.
TPWD officials were on site at the Texas State Railroad to explain the transition process to employees last week. Ms. Buchanan said state railroad employees who do not go to work for American Heritage Railways or take another state job will be eligible for four weeks of administrative leave. Those who accept positions with American Heritage will not be eligible for administrative leave.
This is the result of legislation, which swept the $2 million state railroad budget from the train after the approval of the privatization bill.
Ms. Buchanan said as a result of the sweeping, TPWD officials in Austin say there is no money left for administrative leave.
"We have constraints on what we can do," said TPWD Human Resources Director Al Bingham. "We want to make the transition as smooth as possible for the employees. Whenever we lose employees or are forced to shut down some facilities, it is difficult on us as well as employees. We try to understand and make their situation as pleasant as possible."
Mr. Bingham said TPWD's hope is that state railroad employees will be offered positions with American Heritage. He said not giving administrative leave to employees who accept other state positions or positions with American Heritage is due to budget constraints and statutes against double-paying state employees.
One employee, who asked not to be named, said, "The announcement of the leave policy knocked morale down even more at the railroad."
Ms. Buchanan said last week's meetings between TPWD human resources personnel from Austin and state railroad employees went well.
"The folks were very nice, very professional," she said, but added that her concern is that state railroad employees would quit after having the opportunity to consider their options.
"They may take other jobs and there won't be enough employees to keep the train running after Aug. 31," she said.
Concerning employee retirement accounts, Ms. Buchanan said employees have several options. If they do not continue their employment with the state, they can leave their money in the retirement account.
Ms. Buchanan said outgoing TPWD employees may also withdraw their retirement funds, but heavy IRS penalties will be assessed.
Ms. Buchanan said employees who wish to continue with the state will have an opportunity, as TPWD was given 229 new positions in the region. Some of these positions are hourly, but are full-time equivalent positions. Mr. Bingham added the TPWD will try to place those employees who are close to retirement in some of those positions.
Al Harper, owner of American Heritage Railways, the company set to assume operation of the train under the Texas State Railroad Authority on Sept. 1, said he understands some employees will need to continue with the state. He said American Heritage offers good employment packages.
"American Heritage will offer different, but strong compensation packages," Mr. Harper said. "They are the best in the tourism industry."
Representatives from American Heritage are with state railroad employees to explain the transition process today. Representatives from TPWD are also on hand.
"People have to make choices," Mr. Harper said. "Government benefits are radically different from private enterprise benefits. They will have to study what those benefits will be."
Mr. Harper said while everyone fears the unknown, American Heritage has a track record of good employee relations.
"Call our other businesses in Durango, Colorado and the Great Smokey Mountains," he said. "Our employees are loyal. The average tenure in Durango is 18 years. I don't think (state railroad employees) will find they have a lot to worry about."
Mr. Harper said he wants to keep the railroad staff in tact.
"We want to keep the crew together," he said. "I am excited about the good nucleus and good staff in place. We have a great benefits program and want to keep the crew together."
Mr. Harper said his plans are for the Texas State Railroad to grow and additional staff to be hired. - Leland Acker, The Cherokeean Herald (Rusk, TX)
OPERATING AGENCY DISCUSSES TRANSITION
RUSK, TX --
The Texas State Railroad Operating Agency board of directors met Monday afternoon in Palestine to review the current status of transfer of the TSR from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to a proposed public-private operation with American Heritage Railways.
In an update, President Steve Presley was joined by attorney for the board, Ron Stutes, in explaining the status of legislation which will affect the legalization of the transfer from TPWD to the recently approved Texas State Railroad Authority.
The Authority will be composed of seven persons. Three will be nominated by the Rusk City Council and three from the Palestine City Council. These six will make a selection for a seventh member. Both Rusk and Palestine city councils are expected to announce their decisions in the near future.
The next meeting date will be 14:00 hours Thursday, June 28 at Citizens 1st Bank in Rusk.
Legislation remains unsigned by Gov. Rick Perry which contains the financial arrangements for the TSR transfer. He has approximately 20 days from the date of the session's conclusion. It can become law within a week.
"We have received no indications that there is any opposition. We expect this bill to pass as we understand it," said Mr. Presley.
Other items on the agenda were discussed including consideration of necessary amendments to the operating agreement with American Heritage Railways.
Representatives from AHR are in East Texas this week. Their itinerary included a reception Tuesday night in Palestine.
Wednesday's schedule called for meetings with personnel at the TSR. This was to focus on the company's human resource presentation in which salaries, health care and benefits will be explained.
Wednesday evening in Rusk, Charles and Leslie Hassell will host a reception for the owners and personnel of American Heritage Railways.
"We have a lot to do to make all this happen," said Mr. Presley. "The most important is the official designation of new members to the TSR Railroad Authority."
After the seven are chosen, they will draw for expiration dates in service.
The group discussed plans for a ceremonial transfer of the train to American Heritage with a combined fund raiser event, similar to last October's "Save the Train."
A September date was considered with invited dignitaries to include officials who supported the change of operation from TPWD to the public-private concept. It has already been announced that Thomas the Tank will pay an official visit to TSR Oct. 19-21 and Oct. 26-28.
In addition to those named, board members attending the meeting were Dan Davis and Dale Brown of Palestine; also Charles Hassell, Bob Goldsberry and Marie Whitehead of Rusk. Daniel Mahoney, administrative assistant to State Rep. Chuck Hopson, was also present. - Marie Whitehead, The Cherokeean Herald (Rusk, TX)
'FRIENDS' PLAN LUNCHEON
RUSK, TX --
The train keeps rolling for the Friends of the Texas State Railroad, who continue to plan special events for the train and look forward to assisting the Texas State Railroad Operating Authority, who will oversee the transition to a private operator beginning Sept. 1.
At the June 7 meeting, Friends' Board Member Ava Harmon explained plans for the Murder Mystery Train on July 14. Mrs. Harmon said she hoped to be able to use two cars for the special run. She said she is currently in the process of publicizing the Murder Mystery Train and details were available on the Texas State Railroad's Web site, [www.texasstaterailroad.com
The Friends of the Texas State Railroad also discussed hosting an appreciation luncheon for all state railroad employees and tried to make sense of the $12 million appropriation bill to fund the transfer of the train to American Heritage Railways.
Robert Crossman, superintendent of the Texas State Railroad, gave a report on train operations. He reported that the movie set for "The Great Debaters" was blown over by a storm at 10:55 hours on Sunday, June 3. He said as a result, the Sunday runs had to be canceled.
"Most people were understanding. They could understand why you wouldn't want to drive a train through a depot," he said.
Mr. Crossman explained in such a situation, railroad staff tries to reschedule the passengers whose run is canceled. Passengers who do not want to reschedule are given a refund, he said.
Representatives from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department were on site at the state railroad Wednesday and Thursday to explain the transition process to the employees.
"That dropped morale," Mr. Crossman said.
Of the morale killers, Mr. Crossman said the future of the employees' retirement accounts was the biggest let-down.
"They feel like they have sacrificed in the short term for a long-term benefit - only to wind up sacrificing the long-term benefit," he said.
Mr. Crossman said state railroad employees who go to work for American Heritage will not only be unable to continue investing in state retirement, but if they choose to withdraw their retirement accounts in order to put it into another account, they will do so with a 10 percent penalty plus IRS fees. Another option is to leave their money in the account until they retire.
Mr. Crossman said some of the staff is leaving to continue with the state so they can keep their retirement.
"We're doing the best we can to keep the staff we have and replace those who leave," Mr. Crossman said. "We have the power-driven revolving door in high gear."
Board Member Sarah Welch thanked Mr. Crossman for his leadership, commitment and loyalty during the uncertain times of the state railroad. After that, the meeting was adjourned.
The next meeting of the Friends of the Texas State Railroad will be at 10:00 hours Thursday, July 5, at the Rusk Depot. - Leland Acker, The Cherokeean Herald (Rusk, TX)
TUPELO COULD GET ELEVATED RAILROAD TRACKS
TUPELO, MS --
Engineers of the city's $2.2 million railroad-relocation study have narrowed their options for solving congestion-causing train traffic through town.
Of the eight choices presented to the public last year, only three remain -- and two of them have been radically tweaked.
The study team will present the choices during a public meeting tentatively scheduled for July 12, but it gave a sneak preview Monday to members of the city's Major Thoroughfare Committee.
The options are:
- Elevate the existing BNSF Railway Company tracks through the city so that they do not intersect a single street and so trains do not have to sound their whistles. This option, called a rail viaduct, would keep the tracks on the same route but lift them 23 feet above street level. Cost - $407 million.
- Build an alternative route for the BNSF tracks so that they bypass downtown but still intersect some city streets. The new route would depart the existing tracks northwest of town and follow the future Coley Road extended to Highway 45, then follow 45 south to rejoin the existing tracks southeast of town. It would create 12 miles of new tracks. Cost - $521 million.
- Build an alternate route for BNSF that bypasses Tupelo altogether. The new route would depart the existing tracks near Sherman and follow the Coonewah Creek until rejoining the existing tracks near Verona. It would create 26.8 miles of new tracks. Cost - $670 million.
The study aims to alleviate a longstanding problem in Tupelo caused by an estimated 25 BNSF trains passing through town each day. The tracks cross through the heart of downtown as well as several other areas, causing minutes-long bottlenecks at key intersections. A couple of years ago, a train held up Crosstown traffic for several minutes while its engineer stopped to fetch breakfast at a nearby fast-food restaurant.
Feedback at the public meeting will determine which alternatives merit further study by engineers, said E. Claiborne Barnwell, environmental division engineer for the state Department of Transportation, one of the study participants.
A final option might not emerge, however, until the end of the study, which is scheduled for April 2009.
Engineers got an earful at the Major Thoroughfare Committee meeting at City Hall, where committee members criticized the Coley Road Extended option for interfering with their own transportation plans.
The committee is scheduled to extend Coley Road north and east to join with Barnes Crossing Road near the mall. Members worry a railroad there will thwart their efforts to get property owners along the future road's path to donate land for their project.
Without the tracks, land owners can develop commercial and residential property on both sides of the new road. With the tracks, they can develop only one side of the road, committee members said.
Some also warned that residents near the proposed tracks would strongly oppose the idea.
"If public support is necessary for this proposal, I don't think you're going to get it," said Greg Pirkle, committee chairman.
Pirkle and others at the two-hour meeting favored the in-town rail viaduct, especially if engineers could build an attractive concrete bridge structure to support the tracks.
In other cities, artists have decorated similar structures with murals or Native American sand paintings, said Wayne Parrish, MDOT planning manager for the study.
Barnwell said he appreciated the committee's opinions but urged, "Let's let the public see all the options and come to their own conclusions."
The Tupelo-area railroad relocation study has nearly reached its two-year mark but has almost two years left before completion. A look at the key dates:
- August 2005 -
Study launched. Feasibility examined first.
- May 2006 -
Relocation project deemed feasible. Study moves ahead.
- August 2006 -
Public meeting. Eight options presented. Environmental phase of the study begins.
- July 2007 -
Public meeting. Three options to be presented.
- April 2008 -
Engineers to release a draft public document (environmental impact statement) with their strongest alternative(s).
- October 2008 -
Public hearing scheduled.
- April 2009 -
Engineers to release the final public document (environmental impact statement) with its strongest alternative(s). The Federal Railroad Administration will approve or deny the findings. If more than one option is presented at this stage, the FRA likely will decide the best one.
- Emily Le Coz, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
FIREFIGHTERS DOUSE PILE OF BURNING DM&E RAILROAD TIES
EYOTA, MN --
The glow from a pile of burning railroad ties could be seen from miles away at about midnight Tuesday as flames from the fire shot more than 100 feet into the air.
The fire, about a half-mile west of Eyota along 19th Street Southeast, was initially believed to be a structure fire. But when Eyota and Dover firefighters arrived at about 23:45 hours, they found the pile of full-sized railroad ties fully engulfed in flames.
No houses are near the small wooded area where the fire started. ]
According to firefighters at the scene, the railroad ties were placed at the location a year or two ago while improvements were being made to nearby stretches of Dakota Minnesota & Eastern tracks.
Greg Staloch, second assistant Eyota fire chief, said it's unclear whether the fire was set or if there was some kind of spontaneous combustion, perhaps from sunlight shining through a broken bottle that would concentrate the light.
The cause will be investigated, but "It's something we'll probably never know the cause of," he said. - The Rochester Post-Bulletin
SIOUX CITY, IOWA MULLING RAILROAD QUIET ZONE DOWNTOWN
SIOUX CITY, IA --
The installation of railroad crossing gates and lights at two major downtown streets and closure of another street is under consideration at City Hall as part of a plan to create a railroad "quiet zone" near the planned Stoney Creek Inn.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks run between the north end of the Tyson Events Center and the planned new motel and conference center. Because the trains would run so close to the motel, the city is looking at ways to silence train horns at night so hotel guests would not be awakened.
If a quiet zone is created, Larry Popoola, senior civil engineer for the city, said Tuesday, "That means railroad trains will not be able to blow their horns within a certain period of time -- probably between midnight and 6 a.m."
The city does not plan to close Jackson Street by Knoepfler Chevrolet, as has been discussed, Marty Dougherty, the city's economic development director, said Tuesday.
"In order to create a quiet zone, you have to have it a half-mile long," Dougherty said. "From about Wesley Parkway to the east, we can achieve that quiet zone without doing anything to Jackson Street. That's my understanding."
Closing Jackson Street would have a major impact on Knoepfler, at 100 Jackson St., according to Marlo Hermelbracht, general manager of the longtime Sioux City car dealership. He said he had been told by other downtown interests the city was considering closing the street, which is a major entrance to the dealership.
"We were really blind sided by this," he said.
He said he and others will meet with officials at City Hall today to discuss the matter.
Closing Jackson Street at that location would also prevent motorists from taking a quick route to and from the main Sioux City Post Office.
City Manager Paul Eckert emphasized he does not believe Jackson Street will be closed, despite word to the contrary.
"We care very much about Knoepfler Chevrolet, and we would not do anything to harm their business," he said.
Earlier Tuesday, Popoola said the proposal did call for possible closure of both Jackson and Douglas streets. The city will vacate Douglas Street north of the Tyson Center to make room for construction of the Stoney Creek Inn and was looking at closing Jackson Street since it dead-ends at Knoepfler Chevrolet.
Popoola's comments came before he talked to Dougherty and Eckert, who then concluded Jackson Street would not have to be closed.
In a report last month, City Finance Director Bob Padmore estimated it would cost $25,000 each to close Douglas and Jackson streets as part of the quiet zone project. He sent his report to Janese Martin, executive director of the Taxpayers Research Conference, who provided the document to the Journal.
Dougherty said, "Back about a year ago the council approved an agreement with the DOT (Iowa Department of Transportation) and the Burlington Northern Railroad for some crossing improvements at a number of crossings in the city. Included in that agreement were new automatic gates at Pierce and Nebraska streets. ... This agreement was made before we knew about Stoney Creek."
In his report to the taxpayers research group, Padmore said it would cost $219,262 to install crossing gates at Nebraska Street and another $220,063 to install gates at Pierce Street. The railroad tracks cross both streets. The state will pick up 90 percent of the bill, and the Burlington Northern and the city will split the remaining 10 percent..
For the Nebraska Street improvements, the city's share will total $10,963, and the Pierce Street improvements will amount to $11,003.
No promises made
The development agreement between Stoney Creek's developers and the city "does not have anything in it specifically about requiring quiet zones," Dougherty emphasized. "We did not negotiate or promise that. On the other hand, it is something they indicated they would like to have."
Installation of automatic gates and signals is required in order to create the quiet zone, including improvements at the Pearl Street crossing.
"We don't have funding for it yet," he said of the Pearl Street crossing. "We hope to have that in another year or so. ...The motel developers were very pleased we were working in good faith to create quiet zones."
Eckert said installation of the gates at Nebraska and Pierce streets "meets an important safety need we haven't met in the past. I think we are unique among cities our size in lacking signalized crossings in heavily trafficked areas. Recently, just on Court Street there have been two accidents."
City staffers have been working with Stoney Creek Hospitality Corp. of Johnston, Iowa, on its plans to build a $14 million, four-story, 160-room hotel and conference center. City officials have agreed to provide $1.8 million in assistance, which includes assembling the land.
Other downtown motel/hotel operators have objected to the city providing money to assist Stoney Creek and questioned the need for more motel rooms. The TRC also has gone on record opposing funneling city dollars into the project.
What's a 'quiet zone'?
According to the Federal Railway Administration, local governments may create "quiet zones" at railroad grade crossings. In those zones, train engineers are prohibited from sounding their horns.
The horns can be silenced only when the crossings are equipped with adequate safety measures. The federal rules, which were enacted June 24, 2005, include:
cooperation from all affected jurisdictions.
zone must be at least 1/2 mile long.
install gates and lights at all public crossings that meet federal specifications for crossing construction.
Without that quiet zone designation and the gates and lights, the railway administration requires engineers to sound their horns at least 15 to 20 seconds before entering a crossing.
Source: Federal Railway Association Web page.
- Lynn Zerschling, The Sioux City Journal
MAN CHARGED WITH STEALING COPPER WIRE FROM UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD
MASON CITY, IA --
A 41-year-old Mason City, Iowa man was arrested for allegedly taking copper wire from the Union Pacific Railroad, which in some cases caused crossing signals to malfunction, officials said.
Michael James Young was arrested Monday after someone reported him walking with wire. He was charged with fifth-degree theft and first-degree criminal mischief.
According to Lt. Ron Vande Weerd of the Mason City Police Department, the Union Pacific has been experiencing thefts of small amounts of copper wire. Someone had been pulling down wires from the poles alongside the tracks, at times causing interruption with train signals.
Tampering with a service rendered to the public is a Class C felony under the criminal mischief code. It is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Young was taken to the Cerro Gordon County Jail. - Bob Link, The Mason City Globe Gazette
CN PRESIDENT AND CEO E. HUNTER HARRISON RECEIVES HONORARY DOCTOR OF LAWS DEGREE FROM UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA
E. Hunter Harrison, president and chief executive officer of the Canadian National Railway received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Alberta at spring convocation Wednesday.
David G. A. McLean, chairman of the board of directors of CN, said: “On behalf of the company’s directors, I extend sincerest congratulations to Hunter on his honorary degree from the University of Alberta. This honour is due recognition of Hunter as a pre-eminent innovator and leader in the North American rail industry.”
Mr. Harrison commenced his railroad career in 1963 when he joined the Frisco Railroad as a carman-oiler while still attending school. He advanced through positions of increasing responsibility with Frisco, Burlington Northern, and then the Illinois Central Corporation and Illinois Central Railroad Company. At Illinois Central, he initiated the concept of scheduled service for freight shipments, producing industry-leading operating ratios and on-time performance results.
As president and chief executive officer of CN since 2003, Mr. Harrison manages the company based on five guiding principles: service, cost control, asset utilization, safety and people.
A member of the North American Competitiveness Council and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, Mr. Harrison was named North America's Railroader of the Year by Railway Age magazine in 2002. In 2006, he received the B'nai Brith Canada Award of Merit, the Canadian Jewish community's most prestigious honour. - Jim Feeny, CN News Release
FUNDING THE ISSUE FOR RAIL CROSSING UPGRADES
Caption reads: Union Pacific held a meeting Tuesday night to discuss the company's plan to continue with construction of its second rail line through Yuma, to accommodate more traffic in both directions. (Terry Ketron/The Sun)
YUMA, AZ --
Pleas were made for improved railroad crossings at two locations in particular during Tuesday's public meeting by the Arizona Corporation Commission on potential safety issues of Union Pacific's plans to double track the Sunset Route through the community.
But the issue comes down to who will pay for the grade separations, either underpasses or overpasses, said Gary Pierce, the lone commissioner at the meeting. He explained that his fellow commissioners were busy preparing for Arizona Public Service Co. rate hearings.
"It's an interesting dilemma," Pierce said. "Union Pacific probably isn't willing to bear the cost and the community doesn't have the money. If it must be done, the financing needs to be sorted out."
Chris Peterson, the Arizona representative for Union Pacific, said federal regulations that when federal money is used for a project, "the railroad should pay 5 percent." The local share in some cases is also 5 percent, with the rest being federal dollars.
"We do evaluate each project individually," he said. And in some cases, it's possible UP would pay more."
He noted that there is no economic benefit to the railroad of grade separations. Trains don't run faster or with less crew or with more cars as a result, Peterson said.
"My primary concern is the crossing at Avenue 9E," said Paul Johnson, a Yuma city councilman who spoke as a private citizen. "That is a key school bus crossing. Double tracking will greatly increase the danger to school children being bused or driven to school."
He said an estimated 3,800 students attend elementary and junior high schools in the vicinity of Avenue 9E, with the expected opening of Gila Ridge High School in the fall to bring another 2,500 students.
"All the buses cross that 9E grade crossing," Johnson said, adding that traffic counts for that route already exceed minimal federal guidelines for a grade separation.
Wellton officials, meanwhile, are concerned about the impact on the growing community of the railroad crossing that splits the town at Avenue 29E.
Most of the community's public services are on the north side, said Bryan Patterson, a Phoenix engineer who is a consultant for the town of Wellton in its efforts to get a grade separation.
With development of Coyote Wash on the south side, there is increasing traffic on Avenue 29E, the main route connecting the two areas, he said. That raises issues of safety for motorists and trains, and increasing train traffic is causing delays for emergency vehicles, school buses and businesses.
The need for a grade separation at the Avenue 29E crossing has been talked about for some time and was listed as a "needed improvement
project" in the March 2007 Yuma Metropolitan Planning Organization Regional Transportation Plan, Patterson said.
Complaints about rail crossings can be filed by calling the ACC at 1-800-222-7000 or e-mail railroad.azcc.gov.
Peterson also encouraged people to call Union Pacific at 1-800-848-8715 with the concerns. - Joyce Lobeck, The Yuma Sun
AMTRAK PRESIDENT SAYS OLD EQUIPMENT COULD SLOW EXPANSION PLANS
WASHINGTON, DC --
Amtrak is still using some equipment that dates back half a century, and obstacles to getting new equipment could stand in the way of the railroad's expansion plans, the company's president told Congress on Tuesday.
Alex Kummant said one major difficulty is the lack of existing U.S. manufacturers of rail cars.
“While we have enough equipment to serve today's needs, we lack the equipment it takes to foster corridor development,” Kummant said in remarks prepared for the railroads subcommittee of the House transportation and infrastructure committee.
“It will be a challenge to obtain the necessary equipment to fully exploit our intercity corridor development opportunities, as well as to modernize and replace much of the existing fleet, some of which dates to the early 1950s,” Kummant said.
Since taking over at Amtrak last fall, Kummant has said Amtrak needs to focus on developing and enhancing service on corridors – frequently traveled routes up to about 500 miles, like the northeast corridor running from Boston to Washington. The railroad wants to forge partnerships with states, which can pay for such service where they see a need. Currently, 14 states pay Amtrak for service.
Kummant said Amtrak would continue to invest in the northeast corridor, its central asset, even as it focuses on the needs of the states. He said company officials are meeting later this week with northeast corridor stakeholders.
“In the past several years, Amtrak has made significant investments in this asset, and I believe that it is in the best condition it has been in decades,” Kummant said. “Our challenge now is to maintain the northeast corridor at a high level of utility and to define and move to the next level of use for the northeast corridor.”
Some outside of Amtrak have proposed breaking off the northeast corridor – the only significant portion of track owned by the railroad.
Kummant testified a day after a House appropriations subcommittee proposed $1.4 billion for the railroad, well above the $800 million President Bush requested. - Sarah Karush, The Associated Press, The San Diego Union-Tribune
THEFT OF TWENTY FEET OF WIRING COSTS RAIL COMPANY 'THOUSANDS'
OLYMPIA, WA --
The theft of about 20 feet of 10 gauge wire on a railroad line near Bucoda, WA last Saturday has cost the BNSF Railway Company "thousands of dollars," a Thurston County official said Tuesday.
The wiring itself was reportedly worth about $20, Lt. Chris Mealy of the Sheriff's Office said.
The theft, however, triggered an alarm at BNSF offices in Texas that indicated a landslide had occurred on its tracks in the area of Connor Road S.E. near Grade St. S.E.
Consequently, the rail line was closed for about three hours Saturday night as inspectors checked the scene. - The Olympian
RICHARDSON BACKS LIGHT RAIL IN LOS ANGELES
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA --
In the nation’s capital of gridlock, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson promised Monday to create a partnership to build a light rail network and help untangle the Los Angeles region’s notorious traffic.
With gas prices rising and roadways jammed, Richardson said it was time to rethink a federal transportation policy that pumps billions of dollars into new roads each year. Mass transit, he said, will be the best, cleanest way to move metropolitan residents in the future.
If elected, he would “make it a major effort to refocus transportation construction of roads into light rail and more energy efficient transportation,” the New Mexico governor told reporters at a news conference.
“I would make light rail at least an equal partner” with highways, he said. With more rail and clean-running buses, “it’s going to improve the quality of life in this country.”
Richardson provided few specifics about funding, but said the construction would be financed with bonds backed by the state and federal government.
Richardson started a commuter rail project, the Rail Runner Express, that runs along a 50-mile stretch through New Mexico’s most populous city, Albuquerque. It is not light rail; it uses existing track and conventional engines and cars.
The nearly $400 million project also includes a planned extension north to Santa Fe to help ease roadway congestion.
Richardson said the Bush White House has been “absent” when it comes to developing light rail, high-speed trains and other cleaner-running transportation systems in big cities. He said vast sums of money are siphoned off for pork-barrel road projects, which are of questionable value.
“I believe light rail is for the future,” he said. “The president can be a partner, working with state and city and local communities in joint funding.” - Michael R. Blood, The Associated Press, The Santa Fe New Mexican
MAN ARRESTED IN ATTEMPTED KIDNAPING AT DART LIGHT-RAIL STATION
RICHARDSON, TX --
Richardson, Texas police on Tuesday arrested Michael J. Taplin in connection with an attempted kidnaping that took place at DART's Spring Valley station over the weekend.
Caption reads: Michael J. Taplin
Police had been looking for Taplin, 32, because investigators wanted to speak to him after they had conducted interviews with a witness and the victim, DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said Tuesday.
The attempted kidnaping took place Sunday afternoon when a woman and her 1-year-old daughter were approached by a man, DART police had said. The man asked for money and when she told him she did not have any, he pulled a gun and walked her down the sidewalk. The gunman fled when another man came out of the stairwell and began shouting, police said.
Anyone with information on the incident was asked to contact DART police at 214-928-6300. - The Dallas Morning News
SAN JOSE CRASH INVOLVING CAR, LIGHT-RAIL TRAIN CAUSES SERVICE HICCUP
SAN JOSE, CA --
A minor accident involving a car and light-rail train in downtown San Jose caused some delays on two service lines Tuesday morning, according to Valley Transportation Authority spokesman Ethan Winston.
Commuters on the Alum Rock-to-Santa Teresa line and the Mountain View-to-Campbell line were affected by the accident. A temporary bus bridge was put in place until service was fully restored around 10:25 hours, Winston said.
The accident happened around 09:30 hours at Market and San Carlos, near the Convention Center, where a Toyota Avalon reportedly hit a light-rail train, Winston said. No injuries were reported. - Mark Gomez, The San Jose Mercury News
WILL TACOMA STREETCARS ROLL AGAIN?
TACOMA, WA --
They threw a parade when Tacoma’s streetcars made their last run down Broadway in June 1938. The next day, buses took over.
Nearly 70 years later, city officials are following the lead of other West Coast cities, including Portland and Seattle, and beginning to talk seriously about rebuilding a streetcar network in Tacoma.
It would likely start small, and it could take several years before there’s any parade for a new streetcar system. But a city feasibility study concluded that a new streetcar network could be built.
“If we could do it 100 years ago, we can do it now,” said Steve Shanafelt, manager of Tacoma’s public works engineering division.
An advisory committee that included officials from Pierce Transit and Sound Transit has identified three possible beginning routes:
• Sixth Avenue Line –
Beginning where the Link light rail ends on Commerce Street, it would climb up the hill and connect to the east end of the city’s burgeoning restaurant row.
• Downtown Line –
A serpentine line crisscrossing north and south through the core of downtown, possibly with one east-west connector going up and down the hill along South 11th Street.
• Portland Line –
Beginning where the Link light rail ends on East 25th Street, it would run along Portland Avenue toward the new Salishan neighborhood on Tacoma’s East Side.
The committee concluded that streetcars would help promote economic development, provide an environmentally sensitive alternative to cars, and give a needed service to low-income residents, the elderly and disabled, and students.
All of the details still need to be determined, including precise routes, the order in which they would be built, the style of streetcar, and funding. The routes identified by the advisory committee were not proposed routes, Shanafelt emphasized, merely possible routes based on previous locations. A substantial public process would be needed, he said.
At a recent study session, Councilman Tom Stenger, a backer of streetcars, asked city staff to prepare a resolution for the City Council adopting the advisory committee’s report, and outlining the next steps. That could include hiring a consultant to determine such details as potential ridership figures and cost estimates, City Manager Eric Anderson told The News Tribune.
Anderson said the city’s feasibility study was pretty basic: It didn’t take the committee long, he said, to conclude that a streetcar system could be built. The hard work remains to be done.
Still, Anderson said he expects that streetcars will be an important piece in Tacoma’s ongoing effort to create a comprehensive parking strategy for downtown.
“It feels doable,” Anderson said of streetcars. “I can’t tell you how yet, but it feels doable.”
The city manager’s embrace of the idea adds momentum to a discussion that began more than a year ago as a grass-roots effort led by Morgan Alexander, a commercial real estate consultant.
Alexander started a Web site promoting the return of a Tacoma streetcar, [www.tacomastreetcar.org
], and began lobbying public officials. A streetcar system could help reduce traffic and auto emissions and reconnect the city’s neighborhoods, he said.
Alexander said he’s pleased with the committee’s report, though he wishes people would move beyond just expressing interest in the idea and become vocal cheerleaders.
The city’s advisory committee focused its report on electric-powered cars running on tracks in the street, though other models include diesel and biodiesel-powered cars running on rubber wheels.
A streetcar system would likely run on a less expensive and less robust track system than Sound Transit’s 1.6-mile Link light rail line downtown.
The Link tracks and infrastructure were designed to accommodate heavier light-rail trains, though the system now uses modern streetcars. Tacoma’s streetcars might look similar to the Link trains or might have a vintage trolley design.
The report didn’t address the potential cost of a streetcar system, but it noted the cost of some other systems. They range from $3 million per track mile in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to $19.4 million per track mile for Seattle’s South Lake Union streetcar.
Seattle broke ground last summer on a 1.3-mile streetcar line connecting South Lake Union with Westlake. It’s scheduled to begin operating late this year. Portland’s streetcar, which fired up in 2001 and has since expanded to 7.2 miles, cost $11.5 million per track mile. By comparison, Sound Transit’s 1.6-mile Link light rail in Tacoma cost $30 million per track mile.
It’s unclear how a new Tacoma streetcar would be funded.
Tacoma’s original streetcar network began operating in the late 1880s, and included lines to virtually every section of town and beyond, including Puyallup, American Lake, Camp Murray and Steilacoom. Horses pulled the first Tacoma streetcars, and electric-powered streetcars began a couple of years later.
By 1914, there were 125 miles of street car trackage in Tacoma, according to an article in the October 1978 edition of “The Trainsheet,” official publication of the Tacoma Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.
The article’s author, Robert E. Paine, recalled riding the cars as a young boy.
“We would swing and sway the cable way as we rode up and down Tacoma’s steep hills,” he said. “They were noisy, with their clicks and bangs on the rails, and with their warning bells, but they were, for the most part, a very efficient means of transportation.”
STREET CARS VS. LIGHT RAIL
“Streetcar” and “light rail” are sometimes used interchangeably, but represent variations on electric urban transit.
are smaller-capacity vehicles, operating at street level alongside pedestrians and autos, with frequent stops and easy access. A streetcar track requires less infrastructure and costs less because the cars are lighter. Cars can have a modern or a vintage trolley design.
is designed to carry more people quickly over longer distances. It typically has its own right-of-way and station platforms separated from traffic. Multiple rail cars may be joined together to increase capacity. Because light rail uses heavier cars, it needs a more expensive, heavier-duty infrastructure.
What’s Tacoma Link?
The 1.6-mile downtown system has elements of both – it’s essentially a streetcar operating on a light-rail track. Eventually, the tracks will hook into Sound Transit’s regional Link light-rail system. Those heavier cars used by the regional light rail will be able to navigate Tacoma’s downtown tracks because they are built to the higher standard.
- Jason Hagey, The Tacoma News Tribune