Railroad Newsline for Tuesday, 06/19/07
Author: Larry W. Grant
Date: 06-19-2007 - 00:01

Railroad Newsline for Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Compiled by Larry W. Grant

In Memory of Rob Carlson, 1952 – 2006



BNSF Railway Company train operations have been stopped due to washouts at various locations around Gainesville, Texas. Gainesville, Texas is approximately sixty miles north of Fort Worth, Texas.

Customers may experience delays up to 24 hours on traffic moving through this corridor. - BNSF Service Advisory


NEOLA, IA -- Several cars in a BNSF Railway Company freight train went off the tracks Saturday afternoon, spilling grain onto the ground.

The derailment occurred shortly after 15:00 hours about three-fourths of a mile south of the Neola exit off Interstate 80, according to Mike Fort, who lives just north of Neola. He saw the wreckage while traveling south on the interstate, he said.

"I saw the train go by, and then we came up and there were these cars tipped over and corn was everywhere," he said. "It was about a mile-long train, and it was the rear portion that went off. There were two cars over on their sides, and there was probably one more that was off."

The derailment occurred just a few miles from the proposed site for construction of an elevator by Scoular Co. of Omaha, Fort said. For him, it renewed concerns that the railroad tracks may not have been maintained well enough to hold up under grain shipments.

Scoular requested that 237 acres near Whippoorwill Road and Iowa Highway 191 be rezoned from agriculture to general industrial to accommodate the elevator. The Pottawattamie County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously denied the rezoning in April after neighbors voiced opposition because of truck traffic the elevator would generate while students would be driving to Tri-Center School, an old bridge that they feared would not withstand the weight of grain trucks and the elevator's possible effect on property values.

The issue is to be taken up by the Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors at its meeting Monday, Fort said. - Tim Johnson, The Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil


DURANGO, CO -- Rumors are swirling and stories abound: Who killed the tree swing?

Some speculate authorities cut it down because it was a hazard. Another version has a father cutting it down after his child was injured on it. Or maybe it was just some troublemaker.

The tree, located on the west bank of the Animas River, just north of the 32nd Street Bridge, has long been known as one of the best places to get a quick thrill and a cool dip.

Photo here:


Caption reads: This tree north of the 32nd Street Bridge along the Animas River has been a local favorite for its swing. Part of the tree has been cut down, including the part holding the swing. (Eli Rubel/The Durango Herald)

But earlier this year, when most were still donning ski coats rather than swim trunks, people started noticing that a major portion of the tree - the portion used for swinging - had been cut down.

"I went to hit it in February and it was gone," Lee Chojnasky said Sunday.

Chojnasky, who said he hung a chain from the tree to make for a more durable swing, used to visit the spot to go for a plunge all year 'round, even in the depths of winter.

"It was better than coffee," he said.

The land the tree stands on belongs to the railroad. Swimmers had to cut across the tracks and follow a short path down the bank to get to the tree.

"It's on railroad property, but we definitely did not cut it down," said Andrea Seid, marketing manager for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

She said she was not aware of the swing ever having been discussed as a potential liability to the railroad. And, as far as she knew, no one had complained to the railroad about it, though the general manager had heard that some residents of the area were unhappy about people cutting through their property to get to the tree, she said.

"We absolutely did not cut it down," she said.

Neither did the city, said Ron Stoner, arborist for Durango.

It's unclear exactly how long the swing had been an attraction. Chojnasky, 22, said he used to play on it when he was in junior high. A bicyclist who was taking a break in the shade on Sunday but declined to give his name said he was a 20-year Durango resident and it had been there as long as he could remember.

During the hot summer months, when rafts and inner tubes dot the Animas, groups of a dozen or more would gather around it, with daredevils pulling back flips and other stunts.

"It was a blast," said Riley O'Brien, 27, as he was preparing to launch his raft.

More than a few beers were consumed by those enjoying the spot, another reason people wondered if it hadn't been targeted as a nuisance.

A new swing recently was installed on the east bank just down from the raft put-in spot. A swimmer trying it out Sunday said the branch it hung from seemed a bit "sketchy" and the water may be a bit shallow.

Though temperatures have been rising into the mid- to upper-80s, the river, rushing with spring melt, remains too cool to be comfortable for most. But as it warms, the swing is going to be sorely missed.

"It was a fun swing," said Brian Barnes, 24. - Katie Burford, The Durango Herald


Team BNSF members are continually making security a priority around BNSF property and facilities. In a recent incident, two employees’ actions helped save local communities from a drug dealer.

Early one morning, D.W. Royal, hostler; Michael Sheldahl, switchman; and Michael Strickland, locomotive engineer, Spokane Terminal in Washington, identified a suspicious vehicle parked near the east end of Latah Bridge in Spokane, Washington. The vehicle, which had its lights off with the exception of a red light emanating from within, looked out of place.

The crew took action and notified both BNSF special agents and the Spokane Police Department (SPD).

SPD arrived at the scene to find two occupants in the vehicle, one male and one female. Upon initial contact, the man, who was in the driver’s seat, became hostile.

"Spokane Police reacted properly and aggressively after the male suspect became hostile," says Carlton Lyon, senior special agent.

The male subject was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine with intent to deliver, assaulting a police officer and second-degree trespassing. The man also had an extensive criminal background with several prior felony narcotic convictions.

"If it were not for the watchful and alert eyes of the crew," Lyon says, "this dealer would have conducted his business and gotten away. It is truly beneficial that we have concerned and caring BNSF employees such as this crew, and this was one of those occasions where we and the community were fortunate to get this drug dealer off the streets and behind bars."

Employees who notice anything suspicious should call 1-800-832-5452. Remember, you should never take action on your own if you spot a possible problem -- you should always call your local Resource Protection agents. - BNSF Today


SPRINGFIELD, MO -- Significant logistical and financial obstacles uncovered in a year-long study have derailed the likelihood of an Amtrak passenger train zipping back and forth between Springfield and St. Louis, Missouri on a daily basis.

The nation’s taxpayer-supported passenger train system delved into the study last summer at the request of the Missouri Department of Transportation, which has long been interested in connecting Missouri’s largest and third-largest cities by rail.

There are, however, more than a few complicating factors, not the least of which is the six-hour travel time by train. That’s twice the driving time from Springfield to St. Louis on Interstate 44.

The study also calculated that ridership in the rail’s first year would amount to a paltry 29,000 people, generating only $700,000 in ticket revenue. With estimated operating costs of $4.1 million, the state initially would have to subsidize the service to the tune of $3.4 million annually, according to the report.

Economics aside, the 235-mile route -- owned largely by Texas-based BNSF Railway Company -- lacks the necessary infrastructure to support a swift-moving passenger train.

At least 25 railroad crossings along the route would need warning-system upgrades at a cost of about $6 million, and heavy freight traffic in downtown Springfield would make a center-city train station problematic.

Auto travel prevails

Obstacles highlighted in the Amtrak report are “pretty daunting,” said Jim Anderson, president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.

Anderson said the costly state subsidy and lengthy travel time dealt the biggest blows to the proposed rail service.

“You look at the amount of time it’s going to take -- it further restricts the use for business travel,” he said. “I think that was disappointing to a lot of us.”

While employed at the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, Anderson said he would often ride Amtrak to St. Louis – using time during transit to work.

Barbara Pierce had also imagined working on her laptop as the scenery scrolled by outside an Amtrak train. Pierce is president and founder of Millennium Communications Inc., a St. Louis-based public relations and marketing firm with an office in Springfield.

“I think having a link between St. Louis and Springfield would be fabulous, especially with the rising cost of gas,” Pierce said. “When you’re driving it’s basically nonproductive business time. I would be one of the first people on that train and would ride it frequently.”

Pierce said she travels from St. Louis to Springfield by company car about three times a month.
Millennium account executives who make the trip are reimbursed the federal rate of 48.5 cents per mile, or $213 round-trip, Pierce said. Based on fares in Kansas City and St. Louis, a round-trip fare between Springfield and St. Louis would be about $40.

And don’t forget potential leisure travelers. An obvious connection between the two cities: the Cardinals fan base.

Matt Gifford, general manager of the Springfield Cardinals, said the team’s season-ticket holders were privy to St. Louis Cardinals tickets for designated home games before the tickets went on sale to public.

“If the train was efficient time-wise, it would be a great way to take families up to St. Louis to see a game,” Gifford said. “But sometimes, it’s just easier to get in the car and drive.”

Gifford’s remark is one Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari hears time and again.

“Our primary competition is the automobile,” he said. “That’s everyone’s primary competition.”

Complications plague route

Not surprisingly, a feasibility study that examined a Springfield-St. Louis rail connection 10 years ago had similar results.

But last summer -- amid the seasonal surge in gas prices -- MoDOT decided to revisit the idea and gauge public support for expanding Missouri’s Amtrak network.

Amtrak has shuttled passengers back and forth between Kansas City and St. Louis since 1971.

Today, the state subsidizes the service to the tune of $7 million annually. Ridership on the route continues to steadily decline.

Amtrak service between Missouri’s two biggest cities has long suffered from poor on-time performance and delays caused by conflicts with coal trains that also utilize the Union Pacific corridor. Ongoing track maintenance has compounded the problem.

In some cases, delays were so long that Amtrak unloaded train passengers and ferried them to their destination in chartered buses, Amtrak’s Magliari said.

With 12 regularly scheduled freight trains, the BNSF route between Springfield and St. Louis also is susceptible to congestion. Much of the route, which curves through the hilly Ozarks terrain, has maximum authorized train speeds of 45 mph or less.

Train station infrastructure along the tracks also is inadequate, and before it reaches downtown Springfield, the railroad merges with BNSF’s Thayer Sub -- a primary coal route to the southeast.

The route would include a stop at Kirkwood, which has a station in place. However, none of the other proposed stops along the route -- Sullivan, Rolla and Lebanon -- have existing train stations or platforms, according to the report.

Springfield has been without passenger rail service since 1967, when Frisco shut down the Meteor. The century-old Frisco depot on Main Avenue was demolished in the late 1970s.

Tabled, not abandoned

Officials didn’t release a cost estimate for upgrading the BNSF corridor between Springfield and St. Louis, but they agree that funding sources for the multimillion-dollar investment are scarce.

But tight purse strings at the state and federal levels aren’t reason enough to abandon the proposed Amtrak expansion, said MoDOT Multimodal Director Brian Weiler, who pointed to Amtrak’s expanding service in neighboring Illinois.

The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative -- backed by a consortium of nine states including Missouri -- envisions Chicago as the hub of a 3,000-mile rail network in the central United States, Weiler said. The initiative’s $7.7 billion price tag hasn’t deterred proponents, who Weiler said are pursuing a matching federal funding program similar to the one in place for airports.

“I’d like to see a major infusion of federal funds,” he added.

An Amtrak reauthorization bill being debated by Congress may also include a pot of funding for rail infrastructure improvements, Weiler said.

On the state level, lawmakers could earmark general revenue to subsidize passenger rail service between Springfield and St. Louis, Weiler said, adding that public transit isn’t known for its profitability.

“There’s a common feeling that it needs to pay for itself; that’s not realistic,” he said. “Like all public transit, this service will never pay for itself.”

Weiler doesn’t see the Amtrak study as a waste. In fact, he said, passenger trains may eventually emerge as a worthwhile expenditure amid government efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and wean the country off of foreign oil.

“I don’t regret taking a look at it,” Weiler said. “To say that will never work -- I think -- is short-sighted.”

The chamber’s Anderson agreed.

“As there’s more congestion and need, I think we’re going to have to look … at alternative modes of transportation -- for both economic and environmental reasons,” he said. - Matt Wagner, The Springfield Business Journal


HAVRE, MT -- The BNSF Railway Company Special rolled through Havre, Montana Friday to pick up 325 passengers, including Boys and Girls Club of the Hi-Line members, who enjoyed a two and a half hour adventure on the tracks.

The train swayed gently most of the way, but there were some fun bumps and a few stops along the way to let other trains pass by. Passing by the neighboring towns to the east was an adventure for kids and adults who participated in the Boys and Girls Club adventure that revived the romantic era of railroading.

The 11th annual trip was designed to say thank you to employees as well as community members who have contributed to BNSF's success, according to a spokesperson.

In addition to a free train ride for kids, the BNSF also donated $10,000 to the club to further youth activities. The club was also the winning recipient of a new bus to transport members to and from activities. As the club celebrated the achievement of being recognized as a Centennial Partner in Orlando Florida last week, where they became eligible for a 17-passenger minibus drawing at the Centennial Conference.

"The opportunity that the BNSF foundation provided has allowed us to be able to fulfill a promise we have made to the community to make our program accessible to all youth. We used this opportunity to raise funds for transportation and now, winning the bus, coupled with the transportation fund, we will be able to provide rides to the club during the summer months," Krista Solomon of the Boys and Girls Club said. I am very grateful for our generous corporate sponsors!”

Gus Melonas, BNSF spokesman, said "Each year, we select a specific geographic location and key operations in that area are recognized as having exceptional employees, as well as Boys and Girls clubs. Everyone seems to have a railroad connection -- whether its a train they have ridden on before or a family member who have worked on a train. Over the years, I've seen everything from 3 week old children to elderly that were celebrating their 70th Anniversary with a train ride. But for many, this was their first ride and the joy that it brought was evident."

This special event featured a particularly fun outing for the Boys and Girls Club of the Hi-Line whose members packed the passenger trains with fun and laughter.

"The train ride was really fun. The Boys and Girls Club is cool," Michael Duval, a young Boys and Girls Club members said. Michael is the son of Jim Duval a 26-year veteran of BNSF. "He was always asking me to go on a train ride to visit his uncle in Fargo, North Dakota, so he was very glad to take this trip," Jim said. "He has wanted to work on the BNSF as a conductor since he was 3 years old. This is a good experience for him and all the kids. It's a different mode of transportation and there's actually jobs out there for it."

One grandmother, Teri Brix seemed to enjoy the experience as she sat with her grandson Connor Harris and talked about her husband Bob Brix. Bob is a disabled railroad worker who worked for BNSF for 30 years. "Connor wanted his grandfather to ride with him, but I haven't been on a train since his mother was a freshman in high school and I wanted to take the ride. The kids have never been on a train before, so it was a fun experience." "It was wonderful -- a great experience for the kids,"

Jill Reber, a parent who rode along with her children, said. "The activities were perfect to keep the kids entertained."

Passengers were kept satisfied with their train ride with snacks, drinks, making a BNSF conductor hat and coloring in an BNSF coloring and activity book in their travel outside the city limits of Havre.

BNSF operates in 28 states and two Canadian provinces. The 2007 Special Railway was made up of 13 1950s era passenger cars along with two modern 4400 horsepower GE Diesel locomotives.

It was the 11th annual special railway event for BNSF. - Elizabeth Doney, The Havre Daily News


The financial chiefs of three major U.S. railroads said Thursday they expect their ability to set prices to hold this year and next even though volume has been soft so far this year.

The railroad industry has seen solid pricing for the past several quarters. But a slump in the housing market and weaker production from U.S. auto makers has led to lower volumes this year as less freight is shipped.

Omaha, Nebraska-based Union Pacific Corp., for example, said second-quarter volume is down about 4 percent so far, due to weakness in some markets and bad weather that affected shipping.

But the volume woes aren't expected to affect pricing, said the financial chiefs of Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX Corp., Norfolk, Virginia-based Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.

"We don't see a risk to pricing," said CSX Chief Financial Officer Oscar Munoz at the Merrill Lynch Global Transportation conference, which was broadcast over the Internet. He said the railroad expects to see a 6 percent to 7 percent increase in pricing on shipments with the same destination and origination for 2007 and the strength continuing into 2008.

Union Pacific Chief Financial Officer Rob Knight said that in addition to pricing, the railroad also is adding "enhanced" contract terms, such as fuel surcharges and volume caps.

"Pricing is still holding very firm," he said.

Norfolk Southern Chief Financial Officer Henry C. Wolf said that he expects further price increases, though perhaps more modest than what the railroad has seen in the past year or so.

"But we believe there's still further pricing opportunities as we move along," he said.

Despite the drop in volumes this year, railroads in general have improved their footing in the past several years. At the conference CSX, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific all outlined plans to spend on infrastructure and equipment as demand is expected to remain strong in the coming years.

The key to exploiting that growth is to keep improving service and operational efficiency to get more customers using rails instead of road transportation, CSX's Munoz said.

The executives said growing congestion on the roads is a prime opportunity to sell the benefits of rail shipping.

Although all three painted a positive long-term picture for railroads, Union Pacific's Knight said re-regulation of the railroad industry by the government would reduce growth and derail capital investments.

He said it's up to railroads to point out "the value we bring to the table."

As for volumes, Knight said there could be a "pickup from what we're seeing thus far" in the second half of the year. - The Associated Press, Forbes.com


ADDIS, LA -- A man and his 11-year-old grandson were taken to a hospital with moderate injuries Sunday after a train clipped the front of their truck.

Herman Fitch, 66, Slidell, Louisiana, and his grandson were in the white GMC about 11:30 hours on a private road just off First Street when they inched over the railroad tracks, said Addis Police Chief Ricky Anderson. The train, heading west, caught the front fender on the passenger side of the pickup.

Fitch and the boy were taken to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center with moderate injuries, Anderson said. Their injuries were not considered life threatening.

The train was blowing its horn well before it reached the crossing -- privately used for the Saint Delphine plantation -- even though its crew was not legally required to do so, Anderson said. The train was also moving below the legal 60 mph speed limit.

Anderson said the train’s crew saw the pickup waiting in front of the tracks before it inched forward, leaving the front fender in the path of the train.

Fitch, who did not have permission to be on the private road, will be cited for trespassing and failure to yield, Anderson said. - The Baton Rouge Advocate


PHOENIX, AZ -- The fight about whether to build a rail yard near Picacho Peak could easily fall down the classic Democratic-Republican split.

It's big business versus the little guy. And there are environmental concerns, because the rail yard would be located near the Central Arizona Project canal that supplies water to Southern Arizona. Picacho Peak is about 35 miles northwest of Tucson, near Interstate 10.

But with the Legislature moving toward creating another hurdle for Union Pacific in its attempt to build the switchyard, legislative action is winning unexpected support -- and surprising opposition. It's also pitting a group of Tucson lawmakers against one another.

After months of retooling, debate and pressure from lobbyists on multiple sides, the Legislature will decide on a bill this week that would allow the Arizona Corporation Commission to review railroad proposals that include acquiring land through eminent domain or at auction -- and let it hold public hearings.

Farmers from Yuma and Picacho have complained that Union Pacific hasn't made an effort to listen to their concerns, a point that railroad officials dispute.

At the Legislature, the issue hasn't been so cut-and-dried.

The bill is sponsored by one of Tucson's most conservative Republicans, Rep. Jonathan Paton, who has rounded up support from Republicans on a property-rights argument.

On the Democratic side, many members support the bill based the potentially negative environmental impact.

But opponents of the bill include Tucson Democratic Reps. Steve Farley and Tom Prezelski -- who typically are at the forefront on environmental issues. They're joined in opposition by some Republicans who are inspired by the thought of protecting the property rights of farmers, though those same conservatives are skeptical about giving added influence to the Corporation Commission.

Farley and Prezelski say that what Paton wants to do oversteps state boundaries, because railroads are overseen by the federal government.

Farley, in particular, says Paton's bill could derail efforts to develop a Phoenix-to-Tucson commuter rail line.

"We should be trying to work with the railroad," Farley said.

There also are union interests involved in the debate, and Farley and Prezelski say the rail yard could boost job growth in Pinal County, an area that already is seeing a huge surge in housing development.

The yard could provide 290 jobs, including about 90 new positions and 200 workers relocated from Tucson operations.

"The jobs are a big part of this," Farley said.

Originally, the bill said the commission could prevent the railroad from condemning private property. The measure now says railroads must hire independent experts to study the impacts of their expansion plans. At that point, the commission could suggest, but not require, the company to use a different site.

Rep. Lena Saradnik, D-Tucson, said the key issue is that Pichaco Peak is a state landmark that should be preserved.

"I think we should allow public input, even though, in the end, the feds control the railroad," she said.

In addition, Saradnik is concerned about the proposed rail yard's close proximity to the CAP canal.

Farley and Union Pacific representatives said that with increasingly strict state and federal rules, contamination would not happen.

Still, Paton said Farley and others are being hypocritical.

"He represents a district that has a strong tradition of neighborhood involvement in a number of issues, and that's all we're developing for the railroad," Paton said. "You can't have it both ways. You can't say if it's a heavy-use railroad, it's a bad thing to have community involvement, but if it's Wal-Mart, it's a good thing."

But Farley said Paton is creating a false perception that the public will have input.

"It's a bad thing to have community involvement if nothing's going to come of it," Farley said.

In addition, Farley said supporting rail development could be environmentally beneficial because it could reduce truck traffic on Interstate 10.

Prezelski said he would rather see the issue resolved at the federal level.

"I would like to see the rail yard built if it can be done responsibly," he said.

But Paton said he's not necessarily opposed to the rail yard; he just wants to ensure there will be community input. To that end, he said the public pressure from a forum could have an impact.

Paton said the legislation already has produced results, because Union Pacific has backed off from plans for a rail line through the Yuma Valley, which angered farmers there. - Daniel Scarpinatro, The Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, AZ)


COLUMBUS, NE - The City Council received the master agreement for the viaduct proposal last week and will meet June 25 in a special session to decide whether to approve the contract.

The agreement, involving the City of Columbus, the Nebraska Department of Roads and the Union Pacific Railroad, is based on the previously proposed “Hybrid Plan ‘B'” that was advanced by the council last January.

The master agreement stipulates a three-viaduct package, with Third and 12th avenues to be considered as a package, and a 23rd Avenue viaduct package to follow. The two portions would require separate authorization by the city voters.

The agreement maintains the same construction and crossing closure schedule and minimum cost estimate of $1.65 million.

Cap amounts are not included in the agreement.

Photo here:


Caption reads: A Union Pacific freight train rolls westward at a crossing at 27th Avenue Thursday afternoon in Columbus. The city has received the master agreement for the viaduct proposal last week and will meet June 25 in a special session to decide whether to approve the contract. (Telegram photo by Blaine McCartney)

According to the agreement, “all actual costs exceeding such cap amount shall be borne 100 percent by the city. The state and railroad shall confer and agree on the cap amount utilized in the construction and maintenance agreement.”

City Administrator Joseph Mangiamelli said that cap agreement and other ancillary agreements associated with the project would have to be approved by the City Council before they are authorized.

Mayor Mike Moser said this agreement is similar to the previous plan, but it contains greater detail and legal terminology.

“Since this is a complicated and legally binding agreement, the city attorney will have to interpret some of the provisions and offer us his opinion,” Moser said Friday.

“(The wording of “Hybrid Plan ‘B'” made it) pretty plain to me what the goals and the terms of the agreement were,” Moser said. “This new agreement is a legally binding document and has things in it that may not be readily apparent to the average citizen because attorneys and courts have their own way of coding these things, and we just have to sort through all the terms of it.”

A concern brought up by some citizens the last time the council addressed this issue was the inclusion of fencing, which is not included in the master agreement, but such a design would be the responsibility of the city, according to the agreement.

Also according to the agreement, the city would be responsible for the development and preparation of “all preliminary and final design detailed plans and specifications, including cost estimates for all the overpass (viaduct and pedestrian overpass) structures and street closures. The project plans shall include and show the required fencing to funnel pedestrians to the pedestrian overpass structures and to prevent pedestrians from trespassing on (the railroad's) adjacent property.”

All plans must be approved by the state and railroad prior to execution.

The city also would bear the initial costs associated, but those costs would later be apportioned among the city, state and railroad upon the start of each respective project.

Mangiamelli said the fencing is a design detail that will be worked out, but he does not consider it to be of such importance that it should stall the advancement of the project.

“Fencing is such a minor detail. I would hope we wouldn't get hung up on fencing or have the election swayed one way or another by a fence,” he said.

Overall, the agreement is in line with what the council approved in January, Mangiamelli said.

“There aren't any surprises and it is, from my perspective, what we asked for last July when I recommended to the city council that the city move forward on the proposal,” he said. “It has taken a long time to get to this point, and I hope the council adopts the resolutions and agreements presented to them on June 25” during a special meeting of the council to try to advance the project in time for a November special election. - Adrian Sanchez, The Columbus Telegram


ANAHEIM, CA -- Jerry and Cheryl Keys' model train business is back on track after being temporarily derailed by the California Department of Transportation.

Photo gallery here:


When Caltrans decided to build a railroad overpass at the corner of Orangethorpe Avenue and Imperial Highway in Anaheim Hills, the couple had to relocate the model train store they opened there in 2001.

They named their business for the location along the BNSF Railway Company railroad tracks -- Milepost 38 -- so they couldn't go far. From the front window of the first store, shoppers could view as many as 125 freight trains daily that sounded their whistles as they rumbled across the busy intersection.

Milepost 38 Model Trains' move across the intersection has proved to be good for business, the couple says.

Their new location, 200 yards south of the Milepost 38 marker, is becoming a magnet for Anaheim Hills residents.

"We have much better visibility here," Jerry Keys said. "And knowing that we'd no longer have the trains across the street (as an attraction), we had to make this store more interesting."

So scenic artist John Rayburn created a train wreck in the front window, with a near-life-sized locomotive bursting through one of the interior showcases.

"The kids love it," Keys said. "Whole families come in to have their pictures taken here."

The first store focused on adults. The new one is larger and much more kid-friendly. The additional space provides separate areas for serious hobbyists and enthusiastic tots who just want to get up close and personal with Thomas the Tank Engine.

"Jerry was a little scared to have children in the store," Cheryl Keys said. "But the only yelling and screaming we get is when the parents want to leave and the kids don't."

The number of families shopping together is helping build their business when most model train shops are cutting back or closing.

"It's still a very vibrant industry," Jerry Keys said.

Last year he helped the Train Collectors Association build a huge Christmas train display at the Richard M. Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.

"It brought in so many visitors, it had to be extended. And this year they have invited us back," he said.

Model trains attract people of all ages.

"Sometimes we have three generations here, sitting on the floor and playing with Thomas," Cheryl Keys said. "The Polar Express and Thomas have been a big boon for us." - Diane Reed, The Orange County Register


STATEN ISLAND, NY -- Freight trains will be rolling on the Staten Island Railroad next week for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Officials with the New York container terminal say one train will arrive from New Jersey next Monday, and then a train will leave Staten Island two days later. The eight mile railway connects to the national rail freight network.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg reactivated the railway in April, calling it a key component of the city's waste management plan.

Bloomberg says the railway takes about 100,000 trucks off the road each year and helps curb pollution.

Under the plan, trains will take the garbage from the city's container terminal down to South Carolina. - NY1 News, Time-Warner Cable


GREEN VALLEY, AZ -- Concerned that worn and rotting railroad ties pose a danger to parts of Green Valley, a local organization recently asked for an immediate federal inspection of the Union Pacific line and got a response, in record time.

Green Valley Community Coordinating Council President Russ Symes said Union Pacific Railroad, based in Omaha, Nebraska, plans to send a representative here to meet with GVCCC officials between July 9-13.

Union Pacific officials also plan to meet with La Posada residents who have expressed concerns about the deteriorating condition of the tracks, Symes said Wednesday.

Photo here:


Caption reads: This view of a crossing near La Posada shows some deteriorating construction materials found on Union Pacific railroads. The Green Valley Community Coordinating Council has called for some emergency repairs in the Green Valley area. (Mario Aguilar/The Green Valley News & Sun)

Also, GVCCC officials will be meeting June 25 with a federal railroad inspector and a state inspector to review the condition of the tracks and the speed at which the trains travel in this area, to make sure both comply with federal and state regulations.

Concerns for community

Symes said the GVCCC is concerned not only about the 700 feet of railroad tracks that pass by La Posada, but the condition of the tracks throughout “the whole corridor” and the railroad’s impact on traffic safety, emergency access and the quality of life.

One issue people here seriously want the GVCCC to address is possible blockage of exits and entrances to various roads and streets and the decibel levels of the warning whistles, Symes said.

A GVCCC resolution said the La Posada retirement community “is particularly vulnerable” to hazards from a dangerous track that passes nearby.

A Union Pacific spokesperson in Omaha said last Friday the railroad inspects the 66-mile route from Tucson to Nogales two to three times a week.

Spokesperson Mark Davis also said Union Pacific plans to spend about $7.6 million next year to replace the 72,500 ties on the line and for other repairs.

Action urged

In a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration office of Safety, Symes pointed out some of dangers and urged “that you take whatever action is necessary to insure that the Union Pacific Railroad Company promptly inspects this section of railroad track and makes the necessary repairs.”

Symes added, “This not a situation that can be handled by routine maintenance.

“This is a disaster waiting to happen.

“This situation needs action -- now.”

Railroad spokesperson Davis said train crew members inspect the line daily in addition to the checks by inspectors.

He also said, Union Pacific uses electronic equipment to inspect its lines once or twice a year, looking inside the rails for flaws and to check the level of the track.

Union Pacific spends $1.3 billion a year for track maintenance, Davis said.

Symes’ letter said the track is immediately adjacent to La Posada which has more than 700 residents.

By way of demonstration of the danger, he said a La Posada resident this month pulled out a railroad spike on the track near the retirement community by hand.

He said that while the immediate focus is on the threat to La Posada, “I would be remiss if I did not also raise our concerns about the condition of the Union Pacific railroad tracks along the entire 10 miles” of track through Green Valley.

Copies of the letter and resolution went also to Union Pacific’s director for government affairs, Arizona’s two senators and the congressional representative for this area, the governor and chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Railroad spokesperson Davis said there are many federal guidelines and regulations regarding track construction and maintenance.

He also said trains reduce their speed on tracks that are in poor condition.

Talking about the potential dollar loss, Davis said, “It’s in our best interest to maintain the line to its maximum speed and to keep that speed up.”

He also said Union Pacific spent $210,000 for track maintenance in the Amado area last year and plans to spend $600,000 replacing rail and ties in the Rio Rico area this year. - Jim Lamb and Kathy Engle, The Green Valley News & Sun


Photo here:


OCALA, FL -- Late Friday morning, Eann Novkov stood in her yard and looked out over the grassy field where her quarter horse, Dude, grazed in the shadow of the transmission towers along the power line easement next to her home.

Since 1979, Novkov has lived and boarded horses here, just past Ocala's city limits. She says the home mixes close proximity to town with quiet country living.

But neighbors are now concerned their peace and quiet could be undone by the rumble of at least 30 freight trains a day.


As CSX and the Florida Department of Transportation near the end of negotiations to route more freight train traffic through Ocala, the Ocala/ Marion County Transportation Planning Organization has asked the federal government for $2 million to fund a feasibility study on the possibility of moving the main rail line out of downtown.

Two possible alternatives are properties along Baseline Road and the power line easement, which cuts through a slew of neighborhoods along Northeast/Southeast 44th Avenue.

Novkov, her husband Tim Novkov, and neighbors James and Carol McNeill have started a petition drive opposing those potential routes before discussion of them proceeds any further. Besides the noise, they feel it would hurt property values and home sales. They collected more than 100 signatures in one day, they said.

"We love our in-town, city-farm way of life and, of course, we don't want it interrupted by the railroad tracks," Eann Novkov said. "However, the tracks would not affect just us. They'd extend for nine miles along the East 44th Avenue corridor and many, many residents would be affected. It would devastate many neighborhoods, churches and schools."


James McNeill has started a "Stop The Trains" campaign and a letter-writing campaign to state and congressional elected officials.

"It's a startling reality, when you drive up and down the easement, how many homes there are here," he said.

Ocala/Marion County Transportation Planning Organization, or TPO, Executive Director Greg Slay said that, if the federal government agrees to fund the feasibility study, it would be a comprehensive look at potential routes east and west of the city.

"These were just conceptual alignments," Slay said of the power line easement and Baseline Road. "They probably will still be included but we're going to look at other alignments as well."

Costs to relocate the CSX tracks out of downtown are likely to be in the range of $300 million to $350 million. Ocala City Councilman Kyle Kay, who is a member of the TPO board, believes the feasibility study may not be a good investment. He doubts CSX would agree to relocate the rail, even if the federal government stepped in to fund the massive project.

"I don't believe that, within my lifetime or my children's lifetime, the prospect of it being moved is likely," Kay said. "If I lived along the power line, with that in mind, I'd be considerably less concerned."

Still, the routing of more freight train traffic through town is almost a done deal, FDOT District 5 spokesman Steve Homan said. Homan said by the end of June FDOT and CSX are expected to finalize an agreement to route about nine more trains each day, and around 30 total, through Ocala. The freight traffic would be routed here to make way for a commuter rail in the Orlando metro area.

Homan said the Orlando City Council and the county commissions in Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties are each expected to vote on the commuter rail in July. Homan said the project could be delayed by CSX plans to build a massive freight train processing facility in Polk County.

He said that, because of its size, that project may have to go through the more lengthy application process as a Development of Regional Impact. - Christopher Curry, The Ocala Star-Banner



DENVER, CO -- Privatizing construction and operation of new rail transit lines, a strategy RTD is considering as it wrestles with a $670 million FasTracks shortfall, has been little used in the United States.

One of the more recent projects to employ the public- private partnership method called DBOM - for design, build, operate and maintain - is New Jersey Transit's 20-mile Hudson-Bergen light rail line from Bayonne through Jersey City, the Hudson waterfront and on to North Bergen.

The $2.2 billion project opened in phases from 2000 through last year. A consortium of private companies now led by Washington Group International took over the project in 1996, designed it, built it and will operate it at least through 2020.

But it's difficult to say whether New Jersey Transit saved money compared with doing the Hudson-Bergen project the traditional way of in-house designing and managing low-bid contractors. The agency has no figures it would release to compare original estimates with the final cost.

That model is among the possibilities for RTD.

The agency board Tuesday night will consider hiring a financial adviser team of JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs to study FasTracks' entire financial structure with an eye toward finding as much construction funding as it can. DBOM will be in the mix.

"The financial adviser will be looking at our whole model and our traditional approach, re- evaluating that and coming up with alternatives," said Liz Rao, RTD's FasTracks manager.

FasTracks is now priced at nearly $6.2 billion, largely because of the rising cost of construction materials and additions to the project. RTD anticipates collecting $5.5 billion from the FasTracks sales tax, grants, loans and other sources. Managers say the best way to reduce the $670 million gap is to seek out private firms to take over some or all of the work on at least four of the rail corridors.

Other DBOM uses

Turning to private partnerships isn't only for rail projects.

North of Toronto, the York Regional Council hired a private group to handle development and operation of a system called Bus Rapid Transit. In Seattle, expansion of the city's monorail is being pursued through a DBOM process.

And Miami is planning a tunnel from the mainland to its port facilities for increasing truck traffic.

Use of varying extents of privatization in public works projects isn't new to Denver. In fact, DBOM isn't even new to Denver.

The city in 1990 hired AEG Westinghouse for $84 million to design, build, operate and maintain the underground train connecting the terminal and concourses at Denver International Airport.

The same contract is still in effect 17 years later, although the original company has since been bought out by current operator Bombardier.

T-REX used private companies to design and build the $1.75 billion highway and transit project for a guaranteed price. When it was ready to open, the keys were turned back to RTD and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

But with FasTracks, companies could bid not only on designing and building the rail lines, but on a package that includes helping with finances and running the service for up to 50 years.

Potential bidder

The process would help save RTD money upfront because the private group obtains its financing in exchange for annual subsidy payments from RTD.

One potential bidder for this work already is at the table.

Veolia, a worldwide French company that operates some of RTD's bus routes under contract since 2005, has built and operated rail systems around the world.

It is currently partnering with other firms to build and run a light rail system in Jerusalem.
Typically, such partnerships consist of big civil construction companies, rail car makers, engineering firms and others. In assuming the risks in design and construction, they work to reduce costs with an eye toward having to run the systems when complete.

"Our schedule was compressed because they were able to do design and construction in parallel," Dan Stessel, New Jersey Transit spokesman, said of the Hudson-Bergen contractor. "The fact that the contractor knew that they would have future operating and maintenance responsibility provided a strong incentive for good design and construction work. It reduced the possibility of defects and omissions." - Kevin Flynn, The Rocky Mountain News


COVINA, CA -- A man and his 10-year-old niece were killed and his 12-year-old daughter was seriously injured Sunday when a commuter train hit their car as they tried to cross its tracks, authorities said.

The double-decker Metrolink train with 161 people aboard was traveling about 40 miles per hour when it hit the midsize Mitsubishi Galant just before 14:00 hours in the San Gabriel Valley city of Covina, 25 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, said Covina police Sgt. John Curley.

The man, 53-year-old Earl Brown, and the 10-year-old were declared dead at the scene. The 12-year-old was airlifted to Chidren's Hospital of Los Angeles where she was in critical condition with head injuries late Sunday, said Sgt. Dave Foster.

No one was seriously injured on the train, which was headed from downtown Los Angeles to Riverside, authorities said.

There was no damage to the railroad crossing arm, authorities said. They did not know whether the man attempted to drive around the arm or whether the arm or other guard equipment was malfunctioning.

Metrolink officials said computers record all rail crossings, and data were being examined to see how and when the car was hit.

"We're very sorry about the tragedy that occurred here today, but the dropping of the crossing arms is completely unambiguous," Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell told KTLA-TV. "If the bells are ringing and the crossing arm is dropping, you must stop."

Passengers remained on the train for about two hours while investigators examined the wreckage and interviewed witnesses.

The names of the two younger victims were not immediately released. - The Associated Press, The Sacramento Bee


NEW YORK CITY, NY -- Helena Williams took the helm of the Long Island Rail Road Monday and launched a three-month assessment of the nation's largest commuter railroad.

The review will include a broad spectrum of elements that affect LIRR operations, including software, signal systems, and customer accident analysis, she said.

"We have to talk about on-time performance," Williams added. "Customers want to get from Point A to Point B in the fastest way possible."

After riding the train to work from Stewart Manor, she met with employees at LIRR headquarters in Jamaica and attended a preliminary briefing on the issue of gaps between platforms and trains. Then she headed to Manhattan for a meet-and-greet at Penn Station and a meeting with leaders of the LIRR's parent agency, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, at MTA headquarters. - Jennifer Maloney, Newsday


Subject Written By Date/Time (PST)
  Railroad Newsline for Tuesday, 06/19/07 Larry W. Grant 06-19-2007 - 00:01
  Re: Railroad Newsline for Tuesday, 06/19/07 Tony Burzio 06-19-2007 - 06:34

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