Railroad Newsline for Thursday, January 11, 2007
Compiled by Larry W. Grant
In Memory of Rob Carlson, 1952 – 2006
FREE FLOW: THE FUTURE OF RAILROAD SAFETY
WASHINGTON, DC --
Throughout the world, the prevention of train collisions depends mostly on the train engineer. Some of the world's worst rail disasters have been the result of nothing more than exhausted train crews' going to sleep and running through stop signals.
For almost a century, electronic and mechanical methods have been available to automatically stop trains if an engineer fails to heed a signal telling him to slow or stop. High- speed trains like the French TGV and the German and Japanese systems have such protection. Yet the cost and complexity of these systems have left the vast majority of the world's trains dependent on the alertness of the engineer.
In the United States this week, the government approved use of a system by the freight railroad BNSF, formerly the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, that could turn out to be a simple and relatively cheap solution to the prevention of train collisions.
It is far too early to tell if this system or some version of it will be a worldwide solution to the collision problem. At a minimum, it is the forerunner of a new generation of rail safety equipment.
Using satellite systems, including the Global Positioning System, the new Electronic Train Management System will determine the exact location and speed of all trains. If the system detects a possible collision, it will first send the engineer an alert. If the engineer fails to acknowledge the alert and take action, the system will slow the train and stop it in time to prevent a collision.
The system goes beyond collisions, enforcing speed limits and stopping trains if a switch is improperly set. It is also capable of adding other safety overlays without the need for expensive wire lines or track equipment.
"This is a major achievement that marks the beginning of a new era of rail safety," said Joseph Boardman, head of the Federal Railroad Administration, which approved the system.
All the approving words, however, cannot make up for the fact that such modern systems were successfully tested over a quarter-century ago. A different era of railroad management, upset at the cost of the systems, ignored the tests. The major differences today are that railroads are far more profitable, a new generation of lower-cost equipment is available, and Boardman is dedicated to moving more rapidly on such major safety systems.
Steven Ditmeyer, now a professor at the National Defense University in Washington, spent almost two decades working for the railroads and the Federal Railroad Administration pushing such safety systems. He expressed pleasure, tinged with surprise, that a new era seemed to be coming so fast.
Ditmeyer gave a lot of credit to Boardman, an appointee of President George W. Bush. This one significant decision, Ditmeyer said, eliminated any uncertainty in the railroad industry over what type of safety system the government would accept.
Ditmeyer also credited a new generation of railroad officials who seem to realize that while safety is the driving force behind the creation of the new system, it also could make for financial savings and aid in government demands for increased rail security.
Already, the owners of freight cars that haul the most dangerous chemicals and explosives have moved ahead of the railroad in determining exactly where their equipment is situated. These private leasing companies, led by FMC and First Union Bank, have already imbedded small cellphones and other devices in their equipment that allow officials to determine almost instantly where their cars are and whether they are parked in yards or moving.
More than one railroad official has been embarrassed by a call from the leasing companies asking why some valuable property had been sitting in rail yards for long periods.
With BNSF, one of the four major U.S. railroad systems, having gained government approval to use the safety technology, there is little doubt that the others will not be far behind. Wick Moorman, the new chairman of Norfolk Southern Railway, told an audience in Washington in April that with freight crowding the railroads and earnings growing, such a system would make it possible to haul even more freight safely on current infrastructure.
Matthew Rose, chairman of BNSF, said a two-year test of the system on a stretch of railroad in Illinois had been "instrumental in proving the value and safety of this technology." - Don Phillips, The International Herald Tribune
UNION PACIFIC IMPROVES MORT THAN 36 MILES OF TRACK ON LOS ANGELES BASIN LINES
UP photo here:
OMAHA, NE --
Union Pacific Railroad is spending $38 million this year on track improvements to two of its main lines in the Los Angeles Basin. Traffic delays may result as crews move through and resurface crossings on Union Pacific lines between Mira Loma and Pedley, Hobart and Diamond Bar, and El Monte and Marne.
"We apologize in advance for traffic and Metrolink delays that may occur while these necessary track maintenance projects are under way," said Lupe Valdez, director - public policy. "This maintenance work ensures our track structure is sound and the long-term benefits outweigh any short-term delays."
A major portion of the project is the replacement of wooden ties with concrete ties. The concrete ties will enhance track strength to better handle the nation's growing demand for rail shipments. The concrete ties will last longer than traditional wooden ties - reducing the time needed for future track maintenance. Also part of this project is the replacement of the road surface at crossings which will provide motorists a smoother ride as they pass over the crossings.
When the projects are completed, crews will have installed 93,800 concrete ties; spread 110,000 tons of rock ballast to ensure a stable roadbed; replaced the surfaces at 18 road crossings; replaced 33 turnouts that guide a train from one track to another; replaced 36 miles of straight rail and replaced 1,800 ft. of rail in various curves on the lines. Work began on these projects January 2, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of March.
Most of these projects will be completed by Union Pacific's track renewal train, the TRT 909. The TRT 909 will install rail and concrete ties in one pass, and can install up to 5,000 ties in a twelve-hour day. About 30 cars - each carrying 168 concrete ties - are part of the TRT. Three sets of gantry cranes move the concrete ties forward for the TRT to drop into place and the machine then threads the new rail onto the ties. The worn ties are picked up and the discarded rail threaded out as the machine works its way down the track. A conveyor moves the removed ties into position for the gantry cranes to load them onto the cars for movement to a facility for sorting. The TRT 909 can install concrete, composite and wooden ties.
Last year, Union Pacific invested $21.3 million replacing 43.3 miles of rail and ties along its right of way between East Los Angeles and Riverside, and resurfacing many public crossings along the route.
These improvements are part of Union Pacific's annual program to maintain its track across its more than 32,400-mile system. - Mark Davis, UP News Release
BNSF ISSUES WEEKLY PRB COAL UPDATE FOR JANUARY 09, 2007
Train Flows Recover from Winter Weather Issues
For safety reasons, some coal trains were parked and others were rerouted during the worst of the blizzards in Colorado and Nebraska during the last two weeks. The BNSF Railway Company has worked those trains back into regular flow patterns; that process had largely been completed as of today. The process of recovery from winter weather affected train loadings and tonnage moved during the first week of this year.
Average BNSF daily train loadings for the Powder River Basin (PRB), including Wyoming and Montana mines, totaled 45.9 trains per day the week ended January 7, 2007, compared with an average of 47.7 trains per day for the week ended January 8, 2006. During the week ended January 7, 2007, weather-related rail issues resulted in the loss of an average 8.1 train loading opportunities per day, and mine issues resulted in the loss of 1.9 loading opportunities per day.
Systemwide, BNSF has loaded a total of 5.1 million tons through January 7, 2007, compared with the similar 2006 year-to-date total of 5.3 million tons.
Construction Projects Update
Construction of three additional yard tracks at the Donkey Creek Yard near Rozet, Wyoming, is under way. Delivery of rail for the project began last week, and track laying is scheduled to begin later this week. The three additional tracks are expected to go into service during the first quarter of this year. When this year's construction is completed, the yard will consist of nine tracks; the first six tracks were completed in 2006. The three new tracks will provide significant additional staging capacity to the Campbell Subdivision as well as backup for the north end of the Joint Line. -BNSF Service Advisory
BNSF EMPLOYEES WERE ON GUARD IN 2006
Throughout 2006, BNSF Railway Company employees continued to take their role in security awareness seriously. Through their dedication, many trespassers, thieves and citizens who endangered themselves or employees on BNSF property, were reported through the On Guard program.
Last year, 53 employees reported occurrences that ranged from wire thefts to graffiti to potential suicides.
"The positive benefits of employees reporting violations or suspicious activities help reinforce BNSF's overall security initiatives," says John Clark, assistant vice president, Resource Protection Solutions Team (RSPT), Fort Worth. "By simply reporting something odd or someone acting unusual, it may save valuable BNSF resources, namely our people."
Some of the employees who took the initiative to report occurrences include:
· Dennis Eide, carman, reported trespassers burning debris on an industry track in Pasco, Washington.
· Dwight Horne, conductor, and Jim Laird, engineer, Birmingham, Alabama, who reported shots fired at a locomotive.
· Jay Lewis, engineer, Pasco, Wash., who reported a graffiti artist on BNSF property.
· Bruce McElfresh, conductor, El Paso, Texas, reported a cement truck and vehicle stuck on track.
· Colleen Judge, ticket agent, Chicago, reported counterfeit money being passed.
· Joshua Heier, engineer, Houston, reported suspect taking scrap material from yard.
· Christopher Brumley, engineer, Madill, Oklahoma; Rose Clendennen, conductor, James Greene, engineer, Bobby Patrick, brakeman, Amarillo, Texas; Ronnie Dowell, conductor, Randal Hughes, signal technician, Temple, Texas; Mike Jauch, conductor trainee, Birmingham, Alabama; Adam Moe, roadmaster, Frank Van Nahmen, track supervisor, Dodge City, Kansas; and Jerry Taylor, Alvin, Texas, are some of the many who reported wire thefts.
Thanks to everyone who participated last year in the On Guard program by reporting what they observed. Remember, all employees can help protect BNSF's resources, people, facilities and corporate intelligence by:
· Reporting security violations
· Checking someone's identification
· Going beyond the job to check security of trains, loads or facilities
· Reporting trespassers
· Not sharing your computer logon ID and password
· Locking computer when away and changing passwords often
· Deleting e-mails and documents regularly, but always consistent with BNSF's document retention policy or a hold order directive.
· Not copying e-mails to a disk unless pursuant to a hold order directive or otherwise absolutely necessary.
If you see something suspicious or a security violation, please call 1-800-832-5452. To help the RPST, employees who witness trespassers or suspicious activities should report specifically:
· What was observed
· When it was observed
· Where it was seen, including a milepost, building or direction
· Who was involved, describing as many details as possible such as clothing, height and weight
However, employees should never take action on their own if they spot a possible problem, but should always call their local RPST special agents. - BNSF Today
RAIL CARS BROUGHT FOR V&T MAY ONLY BE WORTH THEIR STEEL, CONTRACTOR SAYS
CARSON CITY, NV --
Five historic rail cars purchased for use on the reconstructed Virginia & Truckee Railway may never make it to the rails, an official connected to the project said Monday.
If the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway wants to use them, it'll cost a lot, said Robert Pinoli, vice president of tourist operations for Sierra Railroad, the contractor chosen to operate the railway when it's completed in 2010.
"If we took the cars in the condition they're in today, we're looking at a $250,000 to $300,000 cost per car to get them ready," he said after the afternoon commission meeting.
Commissioners purchased the cars for $25,500 from the Golden Gate Railroad Museum at Hunters Point Naval Base in San Francisco. It cost another $29,000 to bring the cars up to Portola, California, for storage. With $54,500 total invested into the cars, commissioners were optimistic that they'd be able to use them on the rail line. Some still feel that way, even after hearing Pinoli's report.
"I don't want to disagree with Sierra Railroad, but I really believe, if nothing else, components of the cars can be used to build new cars," said Commissioner Ron Allen, who pushed for the commission to purchase the cars in late 2005.
Pinoli said there could be compatibility issues with fitting 1920s equipment with more modern steel. The cost goes up because workers would have to remove asbestos and repair almost every component of the 1923 Southern Pacific Harriman suburban coaches.
"From a distance, they look great," said Pinoli, who has restored rail cars in his 15 years in the business. "But up close, you start seeing visible signs of wear, decay and aging."
Commissioner John Tyson said he'd like to see investors come forward and fund the restoration.
The $40 million project will carry tourists 18 miles between Carson City and Virginia City on the historic Comstock-era right-of-way. The project is funded by state grants, private donations and revenue from room and sales taxes in Carson City and Storey County.
Pinoli said it would be cheaper to let Sierra Railroad construct rail cars for about $175,000 each. Pinoli said the cars would be financed by the company and used on the V&T line, but they would be the property of Sierra Railroad.
One of the goals of the commission was to build up its own rolling stock.
Pinoli said the commission could resell the cars to another tourist line or scrap them to make up the cost.
The commission will discuss the rail cars at its Feb. 5 meeting. - Becky Bosshart, The Nevada Appeal
CITIES HOPE TO CREATE QUIET ZONES AT 15 RAILROAD CROSSINGS
Caption reads: Fort Worth, Haltom City, Watauga and Keller are seeking to reduce the blaring of train horns near 15 railroad crossings because residents are tired of the noise. Star-Telegram/M.L. Gray
Caption reads: A train travels south Sunday through Keller after passing the intersection with Golden Triangle Boulevard, one of the proposed quiet zones. Star-Telegram/M.L. Gray
FORT WORTH, TX --
Area cities led by Fort Worth are working to stop trains from sounding their horns at Union Pacific rail crossings along U.S. 377 because of complaints from residents tired of the noise.
In exchange, the cities would have to install costly safety equipment, such as special gates and flashing lights, to prevent accidents. Local officials hope that by banding together they can get federal money to help cover the expense.
The regional plan calls for establishing "quiet zones" at 15 railroad crossings that run through Fort Worth, Haltom City, Watauga, Keller and unincorporated Tarrant County. About 26 Union Pacific trains pass through day and night every 24 hours, said Russ Wiles, railroad project manager for Fort Worth.
Wiles started presenting the plan in December and some cities are already on board. A regional approach would be a more effective way to reduce train noise, Keller Assistant City Manager Kevin Lahner said.
"If Keller did quiet zones and Fort Worth didn't, the residents would still have noise," Lahner said.
But the cost has prompted a hard look from some officials. Wiles estimated that equipping a crossing could cost $200,000, depending on what's needed.
Haltom City Manager Tom Muir said he would like to discuss a proposed quiet zone at the Union Pacific-White Creek Drive crossing. But Muir said he needs more information about how much of the cost his city would have to cover.
Quiet zones are nothing new. Fort Worth has quiet zones at six railroad crossings and plans to add more at 20 railroad crossings throughout the city, Wiles said. Watauga established a quiet zone at U.S. 377 and Watauga Road in August. Fort Worth's first quiet zone was set up in 2002.
The heightened interest in quiet zones results from a 2005 federal rule change that required locomotives to sound their horns as a warning at all public highways and railroad crossings, according to information posted on the Federal Railroad Administration's Web site. But the change also allowed communities to take steps to reduce horn noise, such as establishing quiet zones.
To prevent accidents, special gates must be installed at crossings to prevent cars from driving around them, according to the Web site.
A regional approach could improve the odds of getting federal money to help pay for the work, Wiles said. Federal officials encourage local governments to work together in seeking grants, he said.
One challenge is getting cooperation from railroad companies, officials said.
Haltom City Engineer Bennett Howell said Union Pacific has been slow to respond to the city's efforts to establish quiet zones on two railroad crossings just west of U.S. 377. The company is concerned about legal issues, he said.
In Arlington, city officials have been waiting since February to get approval from Union Pacific to establish quiet zones throughout the city, said Mike Blake, traffic signal analyst for Arlington's Public Works and Transportation Department. The city expects to break ground on the seven zones late this year, Blake said.
"Arlington currently has no quiet zones," he said. "Our citizens are demanding the quiet zones. ... We're 100 percent behind the quiet zone effort and doing all we can to get the ball rolling."
Union Pacific spokesman Joe Arbona said the railroad understands that quiet zones improve a community's quality of life.
Crossings are equipped with fail-safe devices that would warn a train to stop in the event that lights or gates do not work, Union Pacific officials said. That might prevent a collision with a vehicle.
But railroad officials worry that people walking near the tracks might get hurt if warning sounds are banned.
"Of course trains are allowed to blow their horns if they see a person on the tracks," Arbona said.
Some residents in Keller, Watauga and Fort Worth say they've grown accustomed to the train horns.
"I lived here long enough that it doesn't affect me anymore," said Kaylin Kelley of Fort Worth, whose town home is near a Union Pacific rail line.
"People always come by and ask, 'Doesn't that bother you?' when the trains sound their horns," Kelley said. "I say, 'No.' I probably wouldn't notice if they stopped blowing."
But some residents say they will never get used to the train horns.
Ellen Otto of Keller hopes the proposal goes through after hearing the blaring horns ever since she moved into her house off Bear Creek Parkway in 1985.
"I hate the horns at 5 in the morning," she said. "They start to blast and keep blasting through everyone's back yards around here.
"I would like to not have to go in the house to talk on my cellphone when I'm sitting in my back yard," she said. "If the windows are open in the house, you can't hear the TV. It would be nice to open my windows on a breezy day and hear the TV."
In Watauga, some residents said they are rejoicing because their city established a quiet zone.
"I do know we're glad that we don't hear them blow anymore," said Jose Bonilla, who lives on Park Vista Boulevard near the rail line.
QUIET ZONE COSTS
Cities must pay the costs associated with installing and maintaining the upgraded gate systems required for a quiet zone.
A quiet zone crossing must have either a four-gate system (estimated cost $300,000 to $500,000) or a basic active warning system with a two-gate system (estimated cost $185,000 to $400,000).
Other equipment can include flashing lights and a power-out indicator.
Annual maintenance can cost $4,000 to $10,000, Union Pacific estimates.
SOURCE: Union Pacific
- John Kirsch and Adrienne Nettles, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
HIGH COURT RULES ON RAILROAD NEGLIGENCE
WASHINGTON, DC --
The Supreme Court on Wednesday gave Norfolk Southern Railway Co. another opportunity in its effort to reduce a $1.5 million jury award to an injured worker.
In a 9-0 decision, the court agreed with the railroad that the same legal standard applies to railroad negligence as to contributory negligence by employees under the Federal Employers' Liability Act.
During a civil trial in Missouri, lawyers for the railroad objected to the jury instruction for employee contributory negligence, saying it provided a "different" and "much more exacting" standard for causation than the jury instruction for the railroad's negligence.
The Supreme Court returned the case to Missouri courts for further proceedings.
Timothy Sorrell had sued the railroad in Missouri state court after he suffered neck and back injuries. He said the dump truck he was driving tipped on its side on a gravel road next to the tracks.
Sorrell said the railroad failed to provide him a reasonably safe place to work. Norfolk Southern said Sorrell's own negligence caused the accident.
The case is Norfolk Southern v. Sorrell, 05-746. - The Associated Press, The Seattle Post-Intelligencier
RAILROAD MUSEUM SEEKS $1M IN TRANSPORTATION FUNDING
CARSON CITY, NV --
The Nevada State Railroad Museum is seeking more than $1 million in grant money to protect and better display its collection of historic train equipment.
Members of the Carson Area Metropolitan Planning Organization will hear about the plan during their meeting at 5:30 p.m. today. Local officials only need to approve the museum's plan.
One of the grant requests would help pay for a storage facility to protect some of the 20 large museum pieces that must be left outdoors, such as locomotives and passenger cars, because of a lack of enclosed space.
The museum has 80,000 square feet of space to hold its inventory of 65 pieces of railroad equipment. This, however, "is still not enough to afford protection for the growing collection," said Peter Barton, museum director.
What won't fit indoors now is "subject to whatever the weather drops on it, and we need to protect the equipment entrusted to our care," he said.
The $382,000 would finance creation of a roofed storage site 40 feet wide and 125 feet long that could accommodate up to nine more pieces.
The other funding request for $681,338 would finance creation of 4,000 feet of track for trains that can't run on the current one-mile route now used for the Santa Train and Steam Up events, Barton said.
A significant number of the trains that ran through Nevada were used for timber or mining, and many of these trains ran on narrow tracks. The museum only has 300 feet of the narrow track now and can only run these types of trains "back and forth," he said.
Riding the trains is the way many people spend their first visits to the museum. Seeing the trains run provides visitors "a better overall interpretation" of the equipment, he said.
The money for the shelter is what the museum has identified as the most important request of the two, according to Barton.
The museum opened in 1980. Forty of the locomotives and train cars were built before 1900, and 31 of them were operated by the V&T Railroad.
Much of the rail equipment at the museum was featured in films and on television. Studios purchased the items to provide an authentic look to productions. In time, the museum has acquired some of these items. It also works with collectors and railroad companies to obtain pieces.
The goal of this Carson City-based museum is to preserve the state's railroad heritage, and the money would come from a federal transportation grant administered by the Nevada Department of Transportation for museums that highlight ground travel.
"These were the only valid applications submitted," said Patrick Pittenger, the city's transportation program manager, of the Carson City-based state museum's request. It will be measured against other similar requests from across the state by NDOT. - Terri Harber, The Nevada Appeal
FULL STEAM AHEAD
Caption reads: The Barron County Board of Supervisors took the first step in a complete renovation of the rail corridor between Chippewa Falls and Rice Lake Monday, Jan. 8, as the board approved a resolution to acquire and refurbish the rail line along the corridor.
CHETEK, WI --
In front of an auditorium filled with various business owners and employees whose livelihoods depend on rail service in Barron County-a majority of which were there on behalf of Automated Building Components of Chetek-the Barron County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support the future of rail service in Barron County during their regular monthly meeting Monday, Jan. 8.
After months of preparation, research and numerous meetings of the Barron County rail infrastructure subcommittee, Wisconsin West Rail Transit Authority and the Barron County Economic Development Board, Monday evening's vote was the moment of truth for an industry that has been in steady decline in the county for nearly 40 years. Supporters of rail service in the county have made it known over the past three months that if the county did not support a new plan to renovate the rail corridor from Chippewa Falls to Rice Lake, it would likely spell the end for all rail service in the county.
"The impact railroad has had on our county is well-documented," said Supervisor Lee Romsos of Cameron, who served as the chair for the rail subcommittee. Romsos recounted the history of the Village of Cameron, and how Cameron was forever changed by the invention and growth of rail. "For the next 120 years, railroads became institutions in this great nation."
They were institutions that were gradually neglected during the later half of the 20th century, and are now facing extinction in the 21st century, Romsos noted. With the continued rise in oil prices, and the subsequent rise in diesel and gasoline prices, rail has begun to look more attractive to businesses within the last five years, which has left Barron County with a difficult decision.
"With all of our memories aside, we are faced with making changes with that institution or allowing it to pass away," Romsos stated.
Romsos then summarized the plan for rail renovation within the county. The plan is broken into four phases, with the first phase being the acquisition and renovation of the Canadian National-owned section of track stretching from Cameron to Rice Lake, and from Cameron to Barron, which is 13.75 miles long. Under the Wisconsin Freight Railroad Service Preservation Program, a program administered by the Wisconsin DOT, the state can provide up to 100 percent of the funding for the acquisition of railroad corridor land and up to 80 percent funding for the acquisition of the improved property, such as rails, ties, ballast, bridges and buildings. The program also provides up to 80 percent funding for the rehabilitation of the track and bridges, with the local applicants-in this case Barron and Chippewa counties-providing at least a 20-percent match for the acquisition and rehabilitation improvements.
The net salvage value of the section of track located within the first phase of the plan has been estimated at $400,000-$600,000, which requires a 20-percent match by Barron and Chippewa counties of between $80,000 and $120,000. Without the $80,000-$120,000 initial investment, the WWRTA cannot enter into an agreement with the state for the state to purchase the rail, and cannot accept the grant offered for rail improvement by the state.
Romsos noted that the rail venture does not come without risks, but like any business decision, the real question is if the possible future benefits outweigh the risks involved.
"The project will be broken up into four phases over many years, with the total costs of the project being $1.9 million," Romsos said. "I believe the estimates show that it will cost the average taxpayer $5 a year over 20 years.
We accept that risk with the hope that our grandchildren and grandchildren's grandchildren may reap the benefits."
Romsos told the board that the rail subcommittee was recommending the approval of the initial resolution to get the rail renovation underway, based on the reputation of Progressive Rail, the recommendations of the WWRTA, and the economic impact that not having the rail would have on the county.
"Should any person, now or in the future, question the magnitude of the decision we are about to make, I ask them to take a look and see the turn-out we have tonight," Romsos stated.
Supervisor Pete Olson of Barron and Supervisor Ken Jost of Chetek, both members of the rail subcommittee, also spoke to the county board members about their recommendation.
"We must support the rail initiative before us," Olson stated. "We must ensure that rail service is available to the industries in Barron County."
Olson apologized for the perception that he tried to "railroad" the board into voting on the proposal in November, and stated he was just "enthusiastic" about the rail and the economic development opportunities that could come from the renewed investment.
Olson also turned his comments toward those who have criticized the plan as being a government subsidy to Progressive Rail, a private company. Olson stated that with one rail car taking the place of three to four semi trucks, it is in the best interest of taxpayers in Barron County to spend the $5 a year in order to save money on roads.
"For those who feel this is a government hand-out to Progressive, think of the wear-and-tear on the roads due to increased truck traffic if we didn't have the rail service," Olson stated.
Jost recognized the large contingent from Automated Building Components, and also noted the presence of City of Chetek Director of Public Works Dan Knapp, who was at the meeting representing the Chetek city council and the Mayor of Chetek.
"Are they in favor of the rail?" Jost asked Knapp.
"Yes," Knapp replied.
Speakers support rail plan
A number of other speakers also addressed the board in support of the rail resolution, including Rep. Mary Hubler of Rice Lake, Tom Bell of Bell Lumber & Pole Company and Bell Timber, Inc., Randy Bina of United Ag Services of Almena, Terry Elwood of Automated Building Components of Chetek, Mark Ruppel of Ardisam, Inc., of Cumberland, Terry Schissel of Shadow Plastics of Rice Lake, and Fran Felber of Jennie-O Turkey Store.
Bell submitted his support in the form of a letter to county board members. In his letter, Bell stated that the business is located on 85 acres of property-property purchased with the idea of utilizing the rail service within the county.
"Rail freight is crucial for the business to expand its economic impact in Barron County," Bell stated in his letter. "An investment in the infrastructure is needed, not just for the health of my business, but for many of the industry owners in Barron County."
Ruppel echoed the comments by Bell, stating that in order for his business to continue to grow, rail service must exist in Barron County.
"There are people here whose livelihoods depend on the rail right now," Ruppel acknowledged. "I'm looking toward the future, and I hope you county commissioners will look toward the future as well."
Ruppel announced to the board that Ardisam, which specializes in ice augers and other outdoor products, will be expanding into biodiesel production in the future. Ruppel said that he is putting into motion plans for a one million gallon demonstration site-which was slated to be built in Barron County-but may have to change his plans if there is no rail service in the county. No rail would also put an end to Ruppel's plan of locating an even larger facility in Barron County at some point in the future.
"There will be a larger site then located on a rail-and I say will be-but maybe not in Barron County now, hopefully so," Ruppel stated.
Ruppel said that the rural people of Wisconsin are going to lead the energy renaissance that will be taking place in the near future.
"Watch me-I know how to make jobs, and I can take a cottage industry and turn it into an industry," Ruppel stated.
Rep. Hubler noted that while there were many representatives of business in attendance, she was going to talk about creating a partnership with the state.
"The state is making a commitment with local government here," Hubler said. "Roads are a part of the state program, but we've also done it with airports, harbors and rail. The state owns over 600 miles of rail. We do it because we understand the importance of rail.
"I don't come before this board very often," Hubler added. "But I'm doing it tonight because I think this is important."
Hubler ended her speech by saying that the degradation of rail in the area, and in the nation in general, was an "embarrassment"-and this was the county's chance to "go back to the future" and get it right.
Bina, who is the general manager of United Ag Services, was next in line to voice his support for rail. Bina said that he has been involved in ag-related business since 1974, and has also been involved with railroads over that entire time. United Ag Services has three locations in Barron, Almena and Cumberland, and has sales of over $13 million serving over 800 farmers in a six-county area.
"I am here this evening to communicate United Ag Services, LLCs', and my own belief of the importance of continued rail service in Northwest Wisconsin," said Bina. "I am also here to express United Ag Services' commitment to continue to utilize the rail service and explore new ways of utilizing the service when economics can be justified."
Bina gave one example of how a loss of rail service can affect the price of a commodity, and in the end, the consumers. Last year, Bina stated, one of the locations to which United Ag Services shipped soybeans closed down their truck receiving terminal and made it available for rail receiving only. Because they do not have full rail service, United Ag Services was forced to ship 100,000 bushels, or 114 truckloads, of soybeans to different terminals, which caused farmers in that market to pay a premium of 30 cents per bushel. All due to the fact that rail service is not readily available throughout the county, and indeed, throughout the state.
"[Having] no rail service will compromise our ability to timely inventory, and could increase our costs," Bina said. "We believe that the world markets are available to Barron County farmers, and those world markets are much easier to access if we have a transportation system that can handle our products."
Elwood noted that 90 percent of the lumber brought in by Automated Building Components comes on the rail. He then asked supervisors not to view his show of support as being in his own interest, but in the interest of economic growth in Barron County.
"We've heard talk of economic development; if we lose rail, we lose potential business," Elwood stated. "Ardisam and Bell Pole, that's potential business."
Elwood added that with rail service fueling 27 percent of jobs within the county, there's no way the county can be without rail. He said that not having rail service sets in motion an ugly chain of events that increases costs, lowers the ability to be competitive, and ends in lay-offs or business closure.
Schissel has been on record in the past to the fact that the reason Shadow Plastics rebuilt in their current location in Rice Lake-after a fire destroyed their previous building-was because of rail access.
"We absolutely have to have rail to be able to compete in a global economy," Schissel said. "We're fighting against overseas companies...and we need every advantage we can get."
Felber, who along with his duties at Jennie-O Turkey Store is also the president of the WWRTA, encouraged county board members to make a heart-felt decision, as this was the first chance anyone in the room had a chance to decide on the fate of rail in Barron County.
"In 2001, the WWRTA was formed with the knowledge that our counties can take control of the rail, refurbish it and support it," said Felber. "We have a chance to impact this [economic development] on a multi-generational level."
Felber stated that Jennie-O would not be leaving Barron County, whether there was rail service or not. But he acknowledged that Jennie-O provided the base for Progressive Rail's ability to provide service-service that is now in doubt unless the board supports the resolution.
"Time is running out," Felber stated. "We need a positive decision coming out of this board. We need a unanimous positive decision going out to Chippewa County."
Board chair James Miller then asked if there was anyone in the audience who wanted to speak against the rail resolution. Hearing no opposition, Miller allowed board members the chance to voice their views or ask questions.
After a brief period of questions and answers, the matter came to a vote.
Felber then got his wish, as the Barron County Board of Supervisors passed the resolution supporting the rail renovation via a unanimous decision, 28-0, with Pamela Fall absent. The decision was met with loud applause by the members of the audience.
"I think for economic development in Barron County, it's a must," Miller concluded. - Jeremy A. Jensen, The Chetek Alert
RAILROAD PROJECT TWO YEARS AWAY
TAFT, CA --
Despite some protests from businesses that will have to relocate, the city of Taft is moving ahead with plans to purchase nearly 50 acres of land currently owned by Union Pacific Railroad for future development.
City Manager Bob Gorson said the city's current timeline calls for reaching an agreement with a developer by January of 2009.
The city is currently negotiating to buy the land from UP.
The railroad is planning to sell land the city doesn't want to its current of occupants for $2.50 to $3.50 per square foot depending on its location.
The city won't be developing the land itself, Gorson said, but will instead choose a developer whose vision for the land matches the cities.
"We're not going to be in the business of being a developer, we really don't want not assume that risk," Gorson said last week. ".
The process of choosing a developer - the right developer for the city - would start in August of this year and could take until the start of 2009.
Gorson said the city's choice of a developer would be based on a common vision for the best way to develop the land. Despite some controversy over how the sale of the land, in an area bordered by Tenth Street on the west, Second Street on the east, Main Street to the north and Front Street to the west, the Taft City Council is planning to go ahead with the purchase.
This development is planned as a major statement by the city on its future growth and development and brings new life to the city's downtown area.
"It's not just looking at revenue streams," Gorson said. "The council wants to do something to revitalize the downtown core."
Gorson said the city hopes to close escrow on the deal in June of this year.
Just exactly what kind of development - how much commercial and how much residential - will be determined by the interest in the site.
" It really hasn't been determined. It's going to be market driven," Gorson said.
Discussions -- and some disagreements over the best way to develop the land have already started.
Most ideas involved a mixed-use zone that includes both residential and retail commercial, but in different ratios.
The new development will be built around the existing rails to trails path. While the city only plans to purchase about 46 or so of the 80 acres, the developer could purchase more land from the property owners to add to the project. - Doug Keeler, The Midway Driller
TRUCKS AND TRAINS, SUPPLY CHAIN PAINS
Despite some recent leveling off of energy costs, manufacturers are still seeking new ways to offset last year's impact. And they're looking to transportation. For manufacturers, the cost of shipping goods by truck will grow only slightly, while the cost to ship by rail remains on the rise.
Although energy costs have even subsided in some regions over the last year, an increasing number of top manufacturing executives (79 percent) are focused on supply chain issues to energy costs. In fact, according to findings of Industry Directions' second annual survey "The Energy Cost Factor: Transforming the Supply Chain to Offset Margin Squeeze," executives indicated that increased energy costs have seriously impacted virtually every aspect of the supply chain - topped by logistics and transportation.
As of late last month, the truck tonnage index was down 2.8 percent year-to-date, compared with the same period in 2005, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA)'s statistics. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the tonnage index fell to 106.8 (2000=100) from 110.8 in October, the lowest level since late 2003. The index decreased 8.8 percent compared with a year earlier, marking the largest year-over-year decrease since December 2000. Manufacturing.Net reported that trucks hauled 10.7 billion tons of freight in 2005. Motor carriers collected $623 billion dollars, or 84.3 percent of total revenue earned by all transport modes.
Trucking serves as a barometer of the U.S. economy because it represents nearly 70 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods.
For manufacturers, the cost of shipping goods by truck will grow only slightly, and at a much slower pace than in recent years. The latest Freight Pulse survey from equity research firm Morgan Stanley, based on feedback from companies using various modes of transportation to move their freight - truckload, less-than-truckload (LTL) and rail - indicates softer demand in the marketplace for motor carriers.
However, the cost to ship by rail remains on the rise, IndustryWeek reported earlier this month.
William Greene, an analyst with Morgan Stanley, said that "actual pricing will likely come in stronger than our survey results," which suggests rail rates will rise by 6.4 percent. In the previous Freight Pulse study, conducted in spring 2006, survey respondents predicted a rail rate increase of 5.9 percent.
A railroad customer survey from UBS in fall 2006 showed the rails continuing to capture a larger share of industrial shippers' transportation budgets versus trucks. About 75 percent of respondents to the survey expected to do more business with railroads over the next 12 months.
United States railroads saw record freight totals in 2006, according to data released by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) last week. In 2006, U.S. freight railroads originated 17,380,102 carloads, which was up 1.2 percent - or 213,751 carloads - from 2005.
There is a feeling, at least, that railroad service is improving somewhat, as respondents gave the railroads an overall score of 6.1 (out of a possible 10) for "delivery when expected." As Greene points out, though, that score is "well below the 7s or 8s that are common among other top-tier transportation companies, [such as] parcel and trucking."
And intermodal loadings at 12,282,221 units saw an increase of 5.0 percent - or 588,709 trailers and containers - compared to 2005, which the AAR noted was its previous highest annual total.
Intermodal loadings have set records in 18 of the last 20 years, according to the AAR. The AAR also reported that total freight volume at 1.74 trillion ton-miles broke the previous record set in 2005 by 2.5 percent.
For the time being, railroads still appear to be holding onto their ability to raise prices, aided in part by the higher cost of fuel, as well as by the shortage of truck drivers, to the point where the lack of drivers has become a limiting factor in some companies' operations.
In 2005, U.S. transportation costs for businesses rose by 14.1 percent and, as of August 2006, accounted for a whopping 6 percent of U.S. nominal gross domestic product. Domestic freight transportation, measured in tons of fright transported, has jumped by more than 20 percent in the last decade.
It is expected to rise another 65 to 70 percent by 2020.
How have transportation and shipping costs affected your business? - David R. Butcher, Industrial Market Trends, ThomasNet.com
RETAIL CONTAINER TRAFFIC SEEN GROWING MORE SLOWLY IN 2007
WASHINGTON, DC --
Traffic at the nation's major retail container ports should continue to grow in 2007 as retailers import more merchandise from abroad, but won't grow as fast as it did during 2006, according to the monthly Port Tracker report released today by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Global Insight.
Port Tracker, which is produced by the economic research, forecasting and analysis firm Global Insight for NRF, looks at inbound container volume, the availability of trucks and railroad cars to move cargo out of the ports, labor conditions and other factors that affect cargo movement and congestion.
"Overall trade growth is expected to be positive but slower compared with the monthly rates we saw in the first half of 2006," Global Insight Economist Paul Bingham said. "Nonetheless, each month is still expected to see a new record volume for that month."
Container traffic is expected to grow at rates ranging from 4.6 percent to 7.3 percent once the winter slow season ends this spring (March through May 2007, measured against the same months in 2006). That compares with increases ranging from 7 percent to 17.9 percent during the same months last year.
"Port Tracker is giving us the ability to track and predict volume and growth at the ports with a level of precision we never had in the past," NRF Vice President and International Trade Counsel Erik Autor said. "This data is vitally important for retailers trying to keep their supply chains running smoothly."
Congestion Seen Low
All ports covered by Port Tracker -- Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Tacoma and Seattle on the West Coast, and New York/New Jersey, Hampton Roads, Charleston and Savannah on the East Coast -- are currently rated "low" for congestion, the same as last month.
Nationwide, the ports surveyed handled 1.36 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of container traffic in November, the most recent month for which actual numbers are available. The figure was down 6.6 percent from October but up 7.1 percent from November 2005.
Volume is expected to follow its usual pattern of declining over the winter months, although numbers are expected to continue to show growth above one year ago. December is forecast at 1.32 million TEU (up 10.1 percent from December 2005), January at 1.27 million (up 4.2 percent from January 2006), and February at 1.2 million TEU (up 13.4 percent from February 2006).
Volume is expected to begin to move upward again in March, forecast at 1.3 million TEU (up 4.8 percent from March 2006). April is forecast at 1.38 million TEU (up 4.6 percent from April 2006), and May at 1.41 million TEU (up 7.3 percent from May 2006). One TEU is a 20-foot cargo container or its equivalent. - Editorial Staff, Supply Demand-Chain Executive
TRAIN DISPATCHER PUT OF ADMINISTRATIVE LEAVE AFTER COMMUTER TRAIN HITS TRACK CREW KILLING TWO
WOBURN, MA --
A train dispatcher has been put on administrative leave and routine maintenance work on MBTA commuter rail tracks has been suspended following yesterday's deadly accident in Woburn, MA.
Investigators are trying to determine why a Boston-bound train was not switched to an alternate track, as several others had been earlier in the day. The train plowed into a maintenance crew, killing two workers and seriously injuring two others.
The afternoon train was headed from Lowell to Boston with 43 passengers about 14:00 when it struck a piece of track repair equipment head-on near the Anderson station in Woburn.
One worker was on the equipment and five others were nearby, said Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
The workers killed were identified as Christopher Macaulay, 30 of Brentwood, NH, and James Zipps, 54, of Lowell, according to their employer, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., a transportation consortium hired by the MBTA in 2003 to manage and operate the commuter rail system. John Hickey, 50, and Edwin Olson, 55, both of Lowell, were hospitalized with serious injuries, the company said.
Two other workers and about 10 passengers were treated for minor injuries, officials said.
Scott Farmelant, a spokesman for the MBCR, said the workers were using a piece of equipment called a "speed swing," which uses a hook to lift heavy rail ties. He said the crew had been replacing ties since about 9:45 a.m. as part of scheduled maintenance work. He said other trains had passed through the area earlier in the day but had been switched to parallel tracks.
He said the dispatcher responsible for setting the switch and monitoring the track has been placed on administrative leave.
MBTA Transit Police and the National Transportation Safety Board are focusing on the mechanics of a switch and the actions of a dispatcher, transportation officials said.
A flagman working with the crew waved at the train, but the engineer was unable to stop, authorities said.
"A train cannot stop on a dime; there's a certain amount of space a train needs," MBTA Transit Police Lt. Sal Veturelli told The Boston Globe. He said the train's driver and crew were being tested for drugs and alcohol and questioned about the accident.
MBCR General Manager James F. OLeary announced a five-day moratorium on all nonessential track work Tuesday night.
"MBCR is stunned and deeply saddened by today's horrific tragedy. Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of these workers," MBCR General Counsel Richard A. Davey Jr. said.
Two other MBCR workers have been killed since it took over the rail service from Amtrak in 2003, one struck by a freight train as he cleared snow near a platform in Wellesley in 2003, and one crushed by track maintenance equipment last June in Gloucester.
Commuter trains are running on a normal schedule Wednesday. - The Associated Press, WHDH-TV7, Boston, MA
LIGHT RAIL PROPOSAL ON TRACK: LOCAL OFFICIALS MAKE PUSH FOR EXTENDED TRANSIT SERVICE
FOREST GROVE, OR --
It's a bit premature to buy a ticket, but during Monday night's city council meeting in Forest Grove, the extension of the west-side light rail line moved from an idea to a plan.
Transit consultant Gerald Fox, a retired TriMet engineer who two decades ago helped design the route from Portland to Hillsboro, briefed council members on what he felt was the best way to continue light rail service through Cornelius and into Forest Grove.
Fox, who the city hired as a consultant in December 2005, first briefed councilors on why other transit options wouldn't work:
. Enhanced bus service is vulnerable to increased congestion on Highway 8, the only major east-west street in the area.
. Streetcars, while less expensive than light rail, are slower and can't run on light rail tracks, meaning passengers would need to change at the Hatfield Government Center, the end of the light rail line operated by TriMet, the regional transit agency.
. Commuter rail, which can share the tracks with freight trains, require high-level platforms, again making them incompatible with the light rail system.
Therefore, Fox concluded, extending the MAX line is the best bet for handling west-side residents' increased need to access the region's growing light rail system, which could, within the decade, extend from Vancouver, Washington, to Milwaukie, Oregon.
The only question (aside from who would pay the $175 million price tag) is where, exactly, the tracks would go.
As Fox mapped it out, the 6.25-mile line would run from downtown Hillsboro to downtown Forest Grove with eight new stations and two parking lots for commuters.
Fox estimates that the trip from downtown Forest Grove to downtown Hillsboro will be 14 minutes. "That same trip," he noted, "takes 22 minutes on the bus, except when the highways are congested. Then it's a lot longer."
The consultant, who was paid $7,700 for his year-long study, recommended that the Hillsboro-Forest Grove line operate separately from the existing "blue" line to Gresham, with riders transferring at the downtown Hillsboro Central Transit Center on Third Avenue.
Starting the new service at the stop, he said, would allow east-bound passengers to get to Hillsboro's retail center, county offices and Pacific University's new health professions campus without having to change trains.
Upon leaving Hillsboro the west-bound line would run parallel to Highway 8, roughly half a mile to the north along the former Oregon Electric railroad line that leads all the way to downtown Forest Grove.
The tracks currently carry some infrequent freight service, but Fox said it would be possible for those trains to share the tracks.
Fox said that because most businesses between Hillsboro and Forest Grove are clustered along Highway 8, a single light rail line with eight stations might be extremely effective in getting people to where they want to go.
"The interesting thing about this long, narrow corridor is that almost all the destinations are within a 10-minute walk of a station," he said.
An additional benefit to this alignment is that the state of Oregon owns the right-of-way, meaning property purchases would be minimal.
Fox said that until the actual alignment is settled, it is impossible to know how much the project would cost. Assuming the tracks largely follow the publicly owned right of way (which he figures is worth at least $25 million), he estimated that the project would cost between $165 million and $185 million if built today.
Because that price tag will rise as construction costs and property values go up, Fox urged the councilors to move quickly.
The elected officials agreed, authorizing Rob Foster, the city's public works director, to draft a proposal based on Fox's study.
Mayor Richard Kidd stressed that for the proposal to move forward, it will need support at the local, regional and federal level.
"This cannot be a Forest Grove project," Kidd said, noting that city officials in both Cornelius and Hillsboro are supportive of the effort. "This will escalate through Metro and TriMet."
Kidd has been pushing for the extension of the light rail line for more than two years. In April 2005, he convened a meeting of local and regional officials to discuss the idea, a step that led to the city's decision to hire Fox to conduct the study he presented Monday night.
"Forest Grove has a tremendous labor force that needs to go places," Kidd said. "People chose to live here for the quality of life we have here but work in Hillsboro, Beaverton and Gresham."
Once the city staff finishes the official proposal, it will be up to Kidd and others to win support for the idea not only at TriMet, but also at Metro, the regional planning agency.
Kathryn Harrington, who last week was sworn in as the new elected Metro councilor from this area, was at the council meeting Monday.
While she had not read the details of Fox's study, she said she likes the idea.
"I said during the campaign that I support the extension of light rail west of Hillsboro and into Forest Grove," she said. "As a councilor, I will now do what I can to help."
Down with the stations
The proposals for a light rail line from Hillsboro to Forest Grove will include eight new stations. Consultant Gerald Fox suggested the following sites:
Hillsboro: The line's first new station is proposed at Washington Street (the road on which the current light rail line runs) just west of the Hatfield Government Center parking garage on Adams Avenue. Another Hillsboro stop is envisioned at the west end of the city where retail development and public services have already begun to cluster in recent years.
Cornelius: One station would be built in Cornelius at 26th Avenue (Webb Road). A second station, at 10th Avenue would be a likely spot for a parking lot to serve commuters needing to drive to the line.
Forest Grove: Four stations would be built in Forest Grove. The first, at Quince Street (Highway 47) would include a parking lot for commuters coming from the north and south.
Continuing west, Fox recommended that the line follow the former railroad right of way, toward Pacific University, with a station on the southeast corner of the campus at Birch Street and Pacific Avenue at the site of a current parking lot.
From there, things get a bit trickier. Depending on the alignment, Fox figures that one more station could be added before the end of the line, which he envisions near A Street and 19th Avenue. - John Schrag, The Forest Grove News-Times
PHOENIX, ARIZONA LIGHT RAIL IS NOTHING BUT STREETCARS
The light rail being installed in the Phoenix area is nothing more than a streetcar line. Streetcars went out of business back in the 1940s and '50s.
This light-rail system will block all of the major street crossings it intersects, as well as limit traffic on the streets where the light rail is being run. Timing traffic lights to make the vehicle traffic compatible with light rail will further delay traffic.
Other major cities have installed rapid-transit systems that either have their rails elevated or underground. These rapid-transit lines do not impede the traffic.
The Valley would have been better served with a rapid-transit system instead of the cheaper light-rail system. This light-rail system will be a waste of money. - Letter to the Editor, Tony Horacek, Phoenix, AZ, The Arizona Republic
MORE BAY AREA RESIDENTS RIDE MASS TRANSIT
SAN JOSE, CA --
Across the board, more people ride trains, subways, and buses in the Bay Area according to figures compiled by the American Public Transportation Association.
Overall transit use in rose three percent in the first three quarters of 2006, with the biggest surge in Santa Clara County. The light rail system carries 24 percent more passengers this year than in 2006, the association found.
"The gas price is up. We're seeing the employment up, which is a major contributor to mass transportation," said Ron Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose.
Those employment numbers mean more cars on the road, Diridon explained. "Of course, when congestion occurs, people are encouraged more substantially to use mass transportation," he said.
Diridon also cited concern about global warming as a possible factor in commuters' decisions to avoid getting in cars.
But not all transit agencies saw record growth. County bus service in Contra Costa saw a 3.7 percent decline, attributed in part to fare increases and service cuts.
In San Francisco, a projected $57 million budget deficit may turn out to be much smaller, according to Nathaniel Ford, executive director of the agency that oversees Muni.
Ford said he expects to shave several million dollars off that figure when he presents a revised spending and revenue plan to the Metropolitan Transportation Agency's board of directors next week.
Aggressive ticketing of fare evaders and parking fines should do much to bridge the budget gap, Ford told the Associated Press. - Matt Bigler, KCBS-740AM, San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, CA