Railroad Newsline for Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Compiled by Larry W. Grant
In Memory of Rob Carlson, 1952 – 2006
EXTRA FUNDS WILL LET TEXAS STATE RAILROAD RUN THROUGH AUGUST
RUSK, TX --
State leaders say there's enough money in the coffers to keep the Texas State Railroad running through at least August 2007, according to a Texas Parks & Wildlife commissioner.
John Parker of Lufkin, reading from a letter delivered Monday to TP&W Executive Director Robert Cook, said that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker of the House Tom Craddick indicated that the agency in fiscal 2007 will receive an additional $18 million, a portion of which could be used to keep the steam locomotive running between Palestine and Rusk.
"We look forward to working with you and your staff to meet the funding needs of this historic attraction," Dewhurst and Craddick wrote in the letter, according to Parker.
The railroad was in danger of shutting down at the end of this year without additional funding. Parker said he was excited about the possibility that it could keep running through August.
"The supporters of the Texas Parks & Wildlife and Texas State Railroad are elated with this news," he said Monday evening. "I want to commend Sen. Todd Staples, Rep. Chuck Hopson, senator-elect Robert Nichols, Rep. Byron Cook, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and Speaker Craddick for their genuine concern about this historical icon that everyone knows as the Texas State Railroad.
"But, especially, I want to let everyone know that it was the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry, when he stepped up when all others were silent and said, 'We're going to run the Texas State Railroad.' He said it in Palestine and he said it in other places. It just goes to show the genuine concern the governor has for this amazing attraction we have here in East Texas, in Rusk and Palestine."
Parker said the additional funds for the Parks & Wildlife Department are due to a rider in the budget that appropriates money in excess of the comptroller's biennial revenue estimate each year.
Without a significant amount of extra funding, the railroad will likely become a static display. Staples has said it will take $50 million for necessary repairs and continuing operations costs. As long as the railroad is running, his office has said, there's hope of finding a long-term solution to keeping the train in operation. - Andy Adams, Cox East Texas, The Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel
BNSF ISSUES WEEKLY PRB COAL UPDATE FOR NOVEMBER 28, 2006
BNSF Loads 250 Millionth Ton of Coal for 2006
BNSF loaded its 250 millionth ton of coal for 2006 on November 16, the earliest date on which BNSF has reached the 250-million-ton mark. BNSF loaded its 250 millionth ton of coal in 2005 on December 19 and in 2004 on December 23. BNSF did not reach the 250-million-ton mark prior to 2004. Systemwide, BNSF has loaded a total of 258.8 million tons through November 26, 2006, almost equaling the tonnage total for all of 2005 and up 10.4 percent from the 2005 year-to-date total of 234.5 million tons.
Average BNSF daily train loadings for the Powder River Basin (PRB), including Wyoming and Montana mines, totaled 53.9 trains per day the week ended November 26, 2006 - a record week for average daily PRB train loadings -- compared with an average of 46.4 trains per day for the week ended November 27, 2005. Mine issues reduced loadings by an average of 2.4 trains per day for the week ended November 26, 2006. Year-to-date through November 26, 2006, BNSF has loaded a total daily average of 49.5 trains in the PRB, up 10.0 percent from the 45.1 trains loaded through the same period in 2005.
Moorcroft-East Rozet Cutover Tuesday Completes Major 2006 Track Additions
About 90 BNSF track and signal employees are putting 7.6 miles of new second main track into service between Rozet and Moorcroft, Wyoming, Tuesday, Nov. 28. This trackage, which will improve the flow of empty and loaded coal trains to and from the northern Powder River Basin, completes major scheduled track additions for 2006. Construction work is continuing on additional trackage to be placed in service in 2007.
New trackage placed in service this year includes 18.4 miles of new third main track between Reno and Milepost 58 on the Joint Line and a new six-track yard at Donkey Creek, Wyo. As part of its improvements in the Donkey Creek/Rozet area, BNSF will place in service later this year additional trackage to provide better access to and from BNSF's Campbell Subdivision, which serves six mines at the northern end of the PRB.
NERC Removes PRB from Watch List
In its "2006/2007 Winter Assessment of the Reliability of the Bulk Power System in North America," the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) noted that "service into and out of the Powder River Basin has improved significantly and coal stocks are increasing." As a result, NERC has removed this issue from its reliability "Watch List." - BNSF Service Advisory
GOVERNORS HAVE PLAN TO HELP CUMBRES & TOLTEC SCENIC RAILROAD
CHAMA, NM --
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad officials say this season was successful, but New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Colorado Gov. Bill Owens have unveiled a plan they say will put the scenic railroad on a path to greater prosperity.
The narrow-gauge railroad, which celebrated its 125th anniversary this year, runs between Antonito, CO and Chama, NM, winding across the state line 11 times during the 64-mile trip. The train is owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico.
Under their plan, the governors said Monday that members of the four-person Cumbres & Toltec commission must have at least five years' experience in an oversight role in a major business enterprise.
"This railroad is a major part of the tourism economy of northern New Mexico, and restructuring the commission offers the best means for ensuring competent, professional train management for the future of Chama and Rio Arriba County," Richardson said.
He appointed Randy Randall of Santa Fe and J. Leonard Martinez of Albuquerque to serve as New Mexico's new commissioners.
Martinez is vice president of enterprise transformation for Sandia National Laboratories. Randall works with a firm with investments and management in hotels and hospitality enterprises around New Mexico.
Martinez and Randall replace board members Dave Cargo, a former New Mexico governor, and Carl Turner of Santa Fe. Turner will continue to serve the railroad as legislative lobbyist, according to Richardson.
Owens appointed Lon Carpenter of Grand Junction and Peter Foster of Durango to serve as Colorado's commissioners.
Carpenter is executive vice president of American National Bank and has served on numerous corporate and nonprofit boards. Foster, an engineer, serves as the governor's appointee on the Southern Ute Colorado Environmental Commission.
Richardson praised the work of the previous commission.
"Their efforts over the past year were a significant factor in the train's success," he said.
The train had nearly 40,000 passengers during its regular season from May to October.
The restructuring plan also specifies that the tourist and transportation agencies of both states must appoint a liaison to the commission and provide consultation and technical assistance.
The changes stems from discussions that Richardson and Owens began in 2005 in response to the dire financial situation that the railroad faced at that time. The talks also led to an additional $785,000 in funding from New Mexico and Colorado that helped keep the railroad operating last summer. - The Associated Press, The Santa Fe New Mexican
C&TS RAILROAD COMMISSIONERS REPLACED
In a joint announcement on Monday November 27, 2006 by Colorado Governor Bill Owens and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, the four Commissioners serving the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission have been asked to step down in a major restructuring of the Commission.
"A commission with a strong business background will help ensure that this railroad continues to run long into the future," said NM Governor Bill Richardson. "This railroad is a major part of the tourism economy of northern New Mexico, and restructuring the commission offers the best means for ensuring competent, professional train management for the future of Chama and Rio Arriba County."
Governor Richardson has appointed Randy Randall of Santa Fe and J. Leonard Martinez of Albuquerque to serve as New Mexico's members on the restructured board.
A native of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, Martinez is vice-president of enterprise transformation for Sandia National Laboratories. Prior to joining the lab in 1995, Martinez served Digital Equipment Corp. in Mexico City as general manager of Mexican operations and as director of manufacturing operations. A resident of Albuquerque, Martinez still has family roots in the Pagosa Springs area.
Randall served as general manager of the Eldorado Hotel in Santa Fe for 10 years. Prior to that, he was a senior vice-president of Aircoa Corp., a hotel management company based in Denver, in which post he oversaw Eldorado Hotel operations from the time it opened. He currently is affiliated with a firm with investments and management in hotels and hospitality enterprises around New Mexico. A resident of Santa Fe, he is building a home in the Chama area.
Governor Richardson also announced that Carl Turner will continue to serve as the railroad's legislative lobbyist in New Mexico.
Colorado Governor Owens appointed Lon Carpenter and Peter Foster, both with the requisite experience in a "substantial oversight role over a major business enterprise."
Lon Carpenter of Grand Junction is executive vice-president of American National Bank and has served on numerous corporate and non-profit boards.
Peter Foster of Durango is a professional engineer and manages the Durango office of Wright Water Engineers, Inc. He has served as project manager for major water rights projects for over a decade and also serves as a Governor's appointee on the Southern Ute Colorado Environmental Commission.
Both Governors acknowledged and thanked past Commissioners Cargo, Quinlan, Salisbury and Turner for their commitment to the C&TS.
The Friends organization supports the new initiative set forth by both Governors and want to welcome Commissioners Carpenter, Foster, Martinez and Randall. We look forward to working with them in the future. We also want to thank outgoing Commissioners Cargo, Quinlan, Salisbury and Turner for their efforts and dedication. - Tim Tennant, Friends of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, courtesy Dick Seelye
DOE SEEKS LAND FOR YUCCA MOUNTAIN RAILROAD STUDIES
LAS VEGAS, NV --
The Department of Energy wants access to 208,000 acres of public land for studies of two possible rail routes to the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain.
DOE officials have filed an application with the Bureau of Land Management to withdraw 139,391 acres of land in a mile-wide corridor running 130 miles from Hawthorne to Goldfield, the so-called Mina route.
It also has asked permission to withdraw an additional 68,646 acres of public land along portions of the Caliente route, BLM spokesman Doran Sanchez said Monday.
The land withdrawals would allow the department to move forward with environmental studies of the rail routes to the proposed nuclear repository 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The Mina corridor has gained favor among some government officials as possibly a less expensive and less complicated than a $2 billion rail line that would run from Caliente in eastern Nevada.
But critics say the Mina corridor could expose more communities, including downtown Reno, to nuclear waste shipments.
Sanchez said Interior Department officials in Washington were reviewing the DOE application for the two land transactions, which was filed on Oct. 17 and seeks reserved use status of the land until Dec. 27, 2015.
The withdrawals would prevent any new mining claims to be filed, and forbid the government from selling or trading any of the land, Sanchez said. Grazing and other public access would not be restricted, he said.
But one Yucca Mountain critic said the latest application coupled with earlier land withdrawals means DOE is reserving use of more than 500,000 acres of government-managed property in the state for railroad studies.
"You have guys tying up as much as half a million acres of public land in Nevada for them to make their minds up what they want to do," said Bob Loux, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.
A public hearing on the application will be held but has not yet been scheduled, Sanchez said. - The Associated Press, The Las Vegas Sun
RAILROADS HIT RECRUITING TRAIL
BOONE, IA --
The hours are irregular, and the work means long days away from home, but 22-year-old Brady Foster is following in his father's footsteps and signing on with the railroad.
The need for young workers like Foster is enormous, as thousands of baby boomers retire at a time when railroad companies are seeing a surge in business. The companies are stepping up recruitment, targeting Iraq war veterans and laid off factory workers.
"I saw one of my dad's paychecks and I decided that was for me," said Foster, who chose a career with Union Pacific Railroad Co. over teaching.
The pay is good - up to $40,000 at Union Pacific in the first year.
But workers also must endure never-ending traveling as well as night, weekend and on-call schedules.
Omaha-based Union Pacific, the nation's largest freight carrier, will hire about 6,000 new employees this year, said Roy Schroer, assistant vice president for human resources.
"Our hiring needs have grown dramatically," Schroer said. "I think, generally, forecasts would say assuming a level economy or a strong economy, we're going to have the need to hire at least 5,000 people a year for the next several years."
The hiring is a marked change from the 1980s, when the railroad industry was in a rapid consolidation, combining the work forces of many railroads and prompting layoffs of some employees, usually on the basis of seniority. Union Pacific, for example, is the product of seven mergers in the last 27 years.
As a result, many railroad companies haven't hired many people until the last few years as demand increased and workers neared retirement. They now find themselves with lots of employees in their 40s, 50s and 60s, said James Barnes, a Union Pacific spokesman.
BNSF Railway Co., the nation's second largest freight railroad based in Fort Worth, Texas, faces a similar problem.
"The whole rail industry is an early precursor of the retirement wave baby boomers will cause in many segments of the U.S. economy," said Steven Forsberg, a BNSF spokesman.
By the end of 2006, BNSF will have hired more than 14,000 people over the past four years, he said.
Overall employment has increased from about 36,500 in 2003 to a little over 40,000, he said in a statement.
Most of those hires replaced retiring workers, but some were needed due to record volume on the rail line, Forsberg said. Business has boomed for railroads as many companies shifted transportation from trucks to the more efficient rail, largely due to fuel price increases. In addition, an expanding economy always boosts the need for moving more goods, including coal, food and consumer goods, Schroer said.
The American Association of Railroads said freight demand is expected to drive the need for more than 80,000 new workers over the next six years.
The jobs typically pay well. At Union Pacific, an employee can become a train engineer within three to five years at a salary of $75,000. The unionized industry also offers good benefits, and workers with 30 years of service can retire at age 60.
Many rail workers are hired with little or no education beyond a high school diploma, so many start young and retire early.
Just a few months into his new job with Union Pacific, Foster was training at the company's rail yards in Boone, where 500 of the company's 49,500 employees work.
Training has included several weeks of classroom work and memorizing a 500-page book that includes federal regulations, company rules and safety standards.
To be a conductor, new employees must complete 14 weeks of classroom and on-the-job training. The conductor is the train supervisor, overseeing its crew and ensuring air hoses, braking systems and car couplings are properly attached. The engineer drives the locomotive.
Pat McGovern, a conductor and former manager in Chicago, moved to central Iowa to be an instructor. - David Pitt, The Associated Press, The Columbus (NE) Telegram
FANNIN COUNTY RESIDENTS SPEAK OUT ON COAL-FIRED POWER PLANT
BONHAM, TX --
News of TXU's building a coal-fired electrical power plant in Savoy continues to dominate the Fannin County Commissioner's Court meetings. And opponents presented information Monday stating Grayson County residents could be more at risk than those in Fannin. Katrina Baecht brought her opinion to the Court Monday regarding the Savoy Valley Plant, saying that TXU and the state agency charged with approving such plants are ignoring public health and safety factors.
"TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) has preliminarily approved it, but we are contesting the current situation," Baecht told commissioners. "Many, many people have filled out contested case hearing forms."
The forms are necessary for people who believe they are in danger from the plant's emissions and wish to be heard by those deciding whether to grant the permit.
There will be a hearing in Bonham Dec. 7 at L.H. Rather Middle School.
"Really, Grayson County is going to get the worst of it because the prevailing winds come from the Gulf of Mexico. There will be 120 railroad cars a day, a mile and a half long every day, of uncovered coal cars."
Baecht said that Grayson County "barely knows about this." She said the city of Savoy thinks it will get a lot of money from this in terms of tax dollars but there will be asthma attacks and average daily attendance at school will go down.
"Another concern - Texoma fishing ... forget it because mercury doesn't go away. It's a heavy metal and it stays wherever it lands."
Chairman Scott Lipsett of Citizens Organizing for Resources and Environment told the Court the group would like to have a re-evaluation of what TXU has proposed for the coal-fired plant in Savoy. He and Baecht will be on the Court's next agenda asking commissioners to pass a resolution against the coal-fired plant because it is going to put out a great deal of pollution.
They said what they would like TCEQ to do is to require TXU to install the cleanest existing technology, coal gasification.
A natural gas plant produces little pollution and that's what Savoy Valley Plant has right now, they said.
"A coal gasification plant does put out more (pollution) than a natural gas plant but the amount that a coal-fired plant is far, far greater and the question is, 'Why should we allow TXU to put a power plant in our backyard that's going to put out that much pollution when cleaner technology is available?'" Baecht said.
She said it's because the older style plants are cheaper and save TXU money in building, "but ultimately, we're the ones who are going to pay for that in terms of increased medical costs, children missing school because of asthma attacks and those sorts of things." she said.
Tom Kleckner with TXU gave news reporters a printed handout which names of local officials who have written letters supporting the TXU plan. Those officials include State Rep. Mark Homer, County Judge Derrell Hall, County Commissioner Stan Barker, Count Commissioner Pat Hilliard, County Commissioner Ronnie Rhudy, Savoy Mayor Clete Stogsdill, Bonham Area Chamber of Commerce, Bonham City Council, Bonham Industrial Foundation and Honey Grove City Council.
Resident Gregory Hall said he has worked for 50 years at his home in Mulberry, planting trees with his own hands. "I consider what TXU is proposing to be a direct threat to everything I've worked for my whole life," he said. - Vicki Graves, The Sherman-Denison Herald Democrat
DERAILMENT CLEAN-UP OPTIONS STILL BEING DEBATED
CAMBRIA, MN --
A plan for cleaning up the site of a train derailment that spilled about 30,000 gallons of ethanol won't be settled upon until later this week as officials from government agencies and the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad continue to examine options.
"I expect probably by the end of the week, they'll have a pretty good idea of what to do moving forward," said Nancy Miller, an information officer for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in southeastern Minnesota.
Crews continued Monday to empty derailed tanker cars of ethanol and remove the cars from the site of the incident near the Little Cottonwood River. Agencies have reported differing numbers of derailed cars, ranging from six to eight, but agreed that just one ruptured, emptying its load of ethanol into the dry creek bed.
The size of the spill was significant, but the location and conditions limited the potential pollution, Miller said.
"They classify it as a fairly large spill but in almost ideal circumstances," she said, referring to the creek banks that kept the fuel from spreading widely over the landscape and the dry soil that soaked up the liquid rather than allowing it to flow to the Minnesota River.
The contents of the tanker could also have been much more harmful, Miller said. Pure ethanol, which isn't particularly toxic and is biodegradable, made up 98 percent of the fuel. The other 2 percent was gasoline, which is added to ethanol to make it undrinkable for potential thieves during transportation, and that component is the more serious concern.
A small amount of the fuel pooled up at the site and was removed by a vacuum truck Monday.
Cleaning up the soil where the gasoline soaked into the ground will be the challenge now.
Options could include digging up and removing the soil or repeatedly aerating it to speed up the natural break-down of the chemicals into less toxic substances. The first option, which is typical for dealing with heavily contaminated soils, is complicated by concerns that moving earth could undermine the integrity of the railroad bridge, Miller said.
"It just has to do with the location," she said. "They want to make sure everything stays stable."
Although there are residential wells in the area, Miller said there's no immediate threat to groundwater and probably only a slim long-term threat.
The investigation into the cause of the derailment is continuing. An incident report from the Blue Earth County Sheriff's Department obtained Monday included a few facts on the accident but no speculation about why it occurred.
Engineer Norman Davis, 51, of Waseca told deputies that the train, made up of 66 cars, was traveling 24 mph when the brakes activated, indicating that cars had become detached. Davis said he found seven derailed cars and that four of them were leaking, although officials later said that the leaks in all but the one car were quickly stopped. - Mark Fischenich, The Mankato Free Press
MICHAEL DOYLE: RAILROADS PUT PROFITS OVER PASSENGERS
I felt Aaron Crandall's pain in his letter, "Why has rail system been allowed to deteriorate?" But Crandall should know that it's not all Amtrak's fault. Much of the blame is due to the success of the freight railroads Amtrak must pay to operate their trains over.
Amtrak pays "incentive" money to the host freight railroads. The railroads charge user fees to Amtrak, and under this arrangement, the railroad "tries" to give priority to Amtrak trains so that it can maintain on-time performance. However, today's railroads are victims of their own success when Amtrak is concerned. Crandall found this out the hard way.
The fact is, the railroads are not deteriorating at all, they are enjoying unprecedented success and profits these days. The railroads are running longer trains, carrying more freight and hazardous commodities and doing it with fewer employees on their trains.
The railroads have scaled down their train crews from five in 1990 to only two now: the engineer and the conductor, who doesn't even ride the caboose anymore because they're gone, too!
My guess is that it was more economically feasible for the firm to forgo that $2,000 it would've earned from Crandall's Amtrak train by putting him in the siding and letting its $100,000 hot shot freight go ahead of him.
It's always a win-win situation for the railroads, not so for Amtrak passengers. That's the only deterioration that's taken place. Profits over passengers is a big part of the answer to Crandall's question. - Michael Doyle, Amtrak Conductor, Milwaukee, WI, The Madison (WI) Capital Times
PASSENGER TRAIN PROPONENTS WANT AMTRAK LINE BACK
MOBILE, AL --
Despite pleas from at least two rail passenger advocacy groups, Amtrak has made no move to reinstate some form of the Sunset Limited service east of New Orleans, though the company said Monday that it had not ruled out the possibility of bringing passenger train service back to Mobile, Alabama.
Meanwhile, Amtrak has implemented indirect service from Mobile via its Thruway Motor Coach Connection, where passengers take a Greyhound bus leaving Mobile at 07:00 bound for Jackson, Mississippi, where they may board an Amtrak train and arrive in Memphis that night or in Chicago the next morning. Tickets must be purchased separately through Greyhound and Amtrak.
"We continue to discuss restoration of a direct rail connection," said Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman in Chicago.
Besides destroying miles of rail along the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina disabled train stations such as those in Mobile and Gulfport. The rails, which belong to CSX Corp., have since been repaired at a cost of about $250 million,
CSX has sold the Mobile property that housed Amtrak's station, and a developer plans a condominium and retail complex on the site. Plans for the complex include a new Amtrak station.
Mortimore Kelly, president of the Louisiana Association of Railroad Passengers, one of the groups pushing for the return of the passenger service linking New Orleans to Mobile, said he believes the devastating storm was an excuse for Amtrak to discontinue an unprofitable line.
Amtrak actually discontinued the service a few days before Katrina hit.
"None of our lines fit the definition of 'profitable' in accounting terms," said Magliari.
According to Press-Register reports, the Sunset Limited was both unprofitable and unpopular, with about 1,600 passengers traveling to or from Mobile on it in 2004, its last full year of operation.
In contrast, the Birmingham station sees more than 30,000 passengers each year.
But Amtrak maintains it hasn't ruled out the return of passenger service for Mobile, noting that an Amtrak station is still part of the condo-retail plan. Magliari said it would be possible for Amtrak to use a temporary facility if it opts to bring the service back before the waterfront development is ready.
Magliari said Amtrak is in talks with the Southern Rapid Rail Transit Commission about implementing various passenger services, including the Sunset Limited. The transit commission, which has members from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, promotes and finds funding for passenger rail service.
The Sunset line once ran from Orlando to Los Angeles, making stops in Mobile, Gulfport and New Orleans. In 1993, a derailment occurred near Mobile in which 47 people died. It was Amtrak's worst disaster.
Both Kelly's group and the transit commission have penned resolutions, the Louisiana group in conjunction with the New Orleans City Council, beseeching Amtrak to bring passenger service back.
The City Council resolution focuses on the economic boost the Sunset, specifically, would give to the hurricane-ravaged coast.
"That's not something Amtrak would necessarily recognize," said Kelly. "The primary ridership was, and would be, between New Orleans and Gulfport and Mobile, not all the way from New Orleans to Orlando."
"We're talking about working with (Mississippi Coast) casinos to do promotions," said Kelly.
The transit commission resolution, meanwhile, urges Amtrak to develop "a detailed corridor investment and implementation plan," and vows to work with Amtrak to pursue federal, state and local funding for operational and infrastructure costs.
To improve the tri-state rail system, the group is asking for just under $22 million in federal funding, which would have to be matched by the three states, said Elizabeth Sanders, the commission's newest board member, who was appointed earlier this year. Sanders is also executive director of the Downtown Mobile Alliance.
Getting states to match the funds is usually the hard part, she said. There are other potential impediments as well.
A controversial $700 million plan backed by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and the state's powerful Senate delegation to pay CSX to abandon its rail line along the coast is not dead, said a spokesman in U.S. Sen. Trent Lott's office. Lott's office said that there have been no new developments since Congress failed to fund the proposal earlier this year. The plan would have created a highway along the rail corridor. Mobile business leaders had feared the impact on the local economy if the rail link to the west disappeared.
The transit commission's Sanders said "America in general needs to be serious about providing the opportunity to travel by rail." As a major city in the region, Mobile should have direct service, she said.
Sanders said even if improvements that would enhance the train's appeal to business travelers are not made, the line could still serve leisure travelers. - Kaija Wilkinson, The Mobile Register
PINAL COUNTY OFFICIALS TO CONSIDER CLEARING WAY FOR RAIL YARD
TUCSON, AZ --
Pinal County officials will vote Wednesday on whether to clear the way for a Union Pacific rail yard to be built on state-owned land three miles east of Picacho Peak.
Supporters said the yard would serve a rapidly growing state that authorities say needs more rail facilities and would provide 290 jobs, including about 90 new jobs and 200 relocated from the railroad's Tucson operations.
Park advocates and neighbors worry that Picacho Peak State Park's value to wildlife and tourists will disappear behind the rail yard's noise, fumes, lights and potential water pollution.
If Pima County officials change the county's land use plan to clear the way for the yard, the State Land Department would take about a year to decide whether to sell more than 1,500 acres to the railroad for the 585-acre switching yard and extra land for future expansion and a buffer for neighbors.
Currently, the state has a capacity crisis - not enough switching facilities to accommodate all the railroad traffic needed to ship goods bound for Arizona, said state Land Commissioner Mark Winkleman.
The site would be two miles long and shift rail cars from one train to another, to send them to the city or town for which the trains are bound. Operating with 36 main tracks and a handful of support tracks, the yard would handle rail traffic from within the Southwest and across the nation.
In 35 years, planners expect the area between Tucson and Phoenix to be urbanized.
Supporters said the yard would lie in a perfect place to serve the new rail traffic needed to satisfy such a large area's desires for autos, refrigerators and other shipped goods.
Opponents said the railroad should pick a less sensitive area than right next to a natural landmark.
"Take just a second to look at this view, because it won't be around much longer," said Ann Hoffman, pointing to a saguaro-covered hillside in the state park that lies next to the RV park where she lives. "The saguaros aren't going to last. The diesel fumes will kill them off. It's either going to run the wildlife out of the area or it will kill them."
Critics also said they were concerned that leaks from the rail yard will contaminate the area's aquifer.
But Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said that with increasingly strict state and federal rules protecting groundwater, contamination isn't going to happen.
To show what he says is the railroad's commitment to environmental compliance, Winkleman pointed out that the company has agreed to meet Pima County's strict light pollution law even though the yard would lie in another county.
"People are using scare tactics like it's going to ruin the water.' Well, that's why we have agencies to regulate this sort of thing," Winkleman said.
The State Parks Board voted last month to oppose the rail yard plan for now because no studies have been done on its effects, though it didn't flatly oppose the project. - The Associated Press, The Arizona Republic
LIFE FOR CHINESE IN TRUCKEE NOT EASY IN 1870
TRUCKEE, CA --
As the transcontinental railroad was built over the Sierra in 1866 through 1868, as many as 10,000 Chinese laborers passed through Truckee as they constructed the Central Pacific east to Utah. Many stayed in Truckee for a time and then moved on, but hundreds remained here to settle down.
After the completion of the railroad, the West saw a great scattering of people, including many Chinese, who had been employed by the railroads. All populations, but especially the Chinese, moved frequently following the latest need for their labor. These evolving communities were almost all men, with only a few prostitutes and female servants.
By 1870, Truckee's Chinatown had stabilized and organized. The organizations that ran Truckee were two of the tongs of the Six Companies. This group of mutual community associations was formed to bring laborers from China and send their wages back. The headquarters were in San Francisco, and they had a large presence in Truckee.
Truckee's first Chinatown was located just west of Commercial Row, from the railroad tracks extending up the hill. Chinatown was a densely packed scene of shanties and hovels. Scraps of lumber were used to construct warm shelters to survive the brutal winters.
Flames from wood stoves and fireplaces presented a constant fire threat, and on two occasions a major portion of Chinatown burned. Collections were taken up in 1869 and 1870, realizing more than $400 that was donated to the Truckee Hose Company.
Not all Truckee Chinese lived in Chinatown. Some lived near the Truckee River, as domestic help in family homes, and many lived in scattered locations at lumber mills, logging camps, charcoal camps, and section camps along the railroad and throughout the hills.
Boca had a sizeable population, as did Donner Summit. But on their days off from back-breaking work, they came to Truckee to socialize, buy supplies, and enjoy other diversions.
The 1870 federal census listed about 400 Chinese in Truckee and Boca Post Office. Most were men, with the majority working as railroad workers, woodchoppers, and laborers. Many more were working nearby, but were unavailable when the census taker was making his rounds. A few dozen were laundry men, a handful were cooks.
Only a couple married women were registered, but there were 23 prostitutes. There were four doctors, the same number of grocers, six gamblers, and an opium den owner. Throw in a half dozen gardeners and a scavenger and you have the basic Chinese population.
Tahoe City had a handful of Chinese in 1870, working as cooks and domestic help in Walter Lyon's Tahoe House Hotel. A few others worked for Rueben Saxon at his sawmill on Ward Creek.
Bridging the cultural gap
Fong Lee, the leading Truckee merchant, was a red-headed English-speaking man. His English wasn't great, but he could communicate fairly well and was referred to as "Old Slobbermouth" or "the Red Headed Chinaman." He built one of the first brick fireproof buildings in town and had both American and Chinese customers. He tried to make the best of the racial and cultural differences.
Several times in 1870 he hosted banquets for the town's leading citizens and merchants. He was frequently rewarded by derision, hate, and racial intolerance, but on at least one occasion the Truckee Republican reported favorably on the feast.
Both American and Chinese fare were served. Snail, rice and fish soups started the banquet, boiled pig's head, beef tongue, pork and fish were the next course. Roasted dog, pork and beef were the main course, exotic rats a la Hong Kong, chow chow, and lizards with kidneys made up the entree and the whole meal was served with rice wine and American beer.
After the feast, brandy was served and toasts and speeches were made. After long-winded promises of friendship, the candles in the Joss House were burning low and the crowd dispersed.
A month later the Truckee merchants invited the leaders of the Chinese community to an American banquet. But these were rare occasions. Mostly the two races avoided personal interaction.
A hostile environment
These overtures of peace occurred at a time when The Workingmen's League was active in Truckee. In mid-1869, Truckee laborers held a mass meeting that attracted a standing-room-only crowd. Jobs and low wages for Americans in the fuelwood business were the primary concern, largely due to the fact that most Chinese laborers were little more than indentured servants.
Truckee was not unique in this attitude, as all over the West thousands of Chinese who had worked so hard on the Central Pacific railroad were now roaming the west looking for any economic niche available to them. Truckee's businessmen and the Central Pacific still hired the Chinese for cheap labor, even as their fellow citizens rallied against the practice.
Every month, hundreds more men arrived in San Francisco on ships coming directly from China. Part of the battle centered on the 15th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that, when passed by Congress in 1870, restricted immigration, voting rights and property ownership by Chinese immigrants. After the passage, tempers calmed down and the Chinese were grudgingly allowed to remain in Truckee, though not in peace. The Workingmen's League faded from the scene for a time.
Violence on and among the Chinese population was common, as it was in the white population. Stabbings, shootings, and beatings occurred occasionally. Crime was frequent in the general sense, and the Chinese had their share of criminals. They also had their own legal system to deal with disputes and crime within the Chinese community.
A different culture
While alcohol was not in their culture, gambling contributed heavily to keeping the Chinese laborers in debt and servitude. Gambling had been a part of Chinese culture for many centuries. The two main gambling dens, with their chimes, gongs and other musical attractions, were a place of joy for the Chinese, but a source of irritation for the rest of town. The local constable was called upon by Truckee to close gambling dens several times around 1870. The operators paid bribes and fines and went back into operation.
Opium was the drug of choice for Chinese men. Living thousands of miles from home in a foreign, sometimes hostile country, Chinese men escaped reality by smoking opium. This habit was controlled by the Companies, and it served to keep them dependent on the Companies.
The Chinese were very adept at coaxing various vegetables from the mountain soils. In 1870 they had the only gardens. Others thought it impossible to grow anything where frosts occur all summer long. The main Chinese gardens were next to the railroad tracks where Donner Pass Road is now, west of Spring Street and further up the hill where the freeway is now.
They raised cabbage, turnips, carrots, parsnips, beets, onions, lettuce and peas. This supplemented the food they bought from Chinese farmers in the Sacramento Valley, and purchased in San Francisco. They also made a good income selling the produce to Truckee restaurants and families. Seeing the Chinese success, Truckee families planted their own vegetable gardens.
The Chinese also kept their own animals, adding to unsanitary conditions. They kept pigs, chickens and other fowl, dogs, and an occasional cow. They had horses - used to haul wagon loads of firewood or charcoal - but were noted as being poor teamsters and riders.
The Chinese New Year usually occurred in late January. They set off firecrackers, beat on gongs, hammered on anvils, and used anything that could make noise. They attributed their prosperity each year to this demonstration that was meant to keep the @#$%& or @#$%& at a respectable distance.
In addition to firecrackers, they burned incense in copious amounts, scattered scraps of paper in the wind (that way the @#$%& and his imps would give the Truckee Chinatown a wide berth). They even offered to protect the white inhabitants from the @#$%& for a small sum of $1,000. The Truckee Republican thought it was a great bargain and urged townspeople to cough up the money.
In the early 1870s, the Chinese buried their dead in shallow temporary graves, and rather than try to preserve the corpses, they wanted the flesh to decay rapidly. After the bodies decomposed, the bones were dug up, cleaned, boxed and sent back to China for burial.
Through the 1870s and '80s, until they were boycotted out of Truckee in 1886, the Chinese lived here as a race apart. They suffered greatly from prejudice and racial intolerance, but they found work and community here, and thrived despite the challenge. -
Gordon Richards, The Truckee Sierra Sun
LIGHT-RAIL TUNNEL GETS KEY SUPPORT
SEATTLE, WA --
The nation's top transportation official said Monday that she'll recommend Congress give Sound Transit $750 million to help pay for a light-rail tunnel from Westlake Center to Husky Stadium.
"This federal commitment will help give the region's commuters a choice in travel that is fast and frequent, and it will help get them where they need to go without worrying about being stuck in traffic," U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said. "It is a great example of what we can do together to reduce congestion."
The grant would cover less than half the $1.7 billion price for the three-mile tunnel; construction would begin in late 2008 or early 2009. Only two stations would be added, one atop Capitol Hill and one at the stadium, to open in 2016.
Peters made her announcement inside the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, which is being resurfaced to take the city's first modern light-rail trains, three years from now. After the news conference, she said that despite the expense of tunneling here, there would be plenty of riders in the state's most densely populated corridor. Federal figures predict 40,200 people would board trains per weekday at the two stops, 17,400 of them new to public transit, by 2030. Peters said tunneling preserves cultural and retail buildings, while a cheaper layout on the surface might not.
Her decision was no surprise - a year ago, the Federal Transit Administration gave the "University Link" line its highest possible rating among national projects competing for money.
Still, the announcement is meaningful because it allows Sound Transit to spend $39 million to fully design the corridor in the next two years.
The line can be constructed without a public vote because the agency can build a tunnel that would reach the stadium by prolonging its existing sales tax, combined with federal dollars. But extensions to Northgate and Lynnwood, to the Eastside and to Federal Way would require a multi-billion-dollar tax increase, which will be on the November 2007 ballot.
Three years ago, a similar $500 million grant squeaked through Congress for Sound Transit's "initial segment" from downtown to Tukwila. A key House member, Ernest Istook, R-Okla., resisted the project. Two Washington state Republicans, Jennifer Dunn and George Nethercutt, criticized it before Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., and other supporters lobbied to allow the grant.
There should be less drama this time. Dunn's successor, Rep. Dave Reichert, supports University Link, a spokeswoman said. Sound Transit's leading advocate, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is poised to chair a Senate subcommittee in charge of transportation spending.
Voters in 1996 approved a regional transit plan featuring 21 miles of light rail, from just south of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to the University District, for $1.7 billion.
But elected officials and an expert panel had grossly underestimated the challenge, especially for digging through Seattle's soggy glacial till. Estimates have soared to roughly $6 billion from the city of SeaTac to Northgate - and that's without a stop at First Hill, dropped because of the costs and difficulty of mining a deep underground station.
Light rail is expected to reduce traffic congestion less than 2 percent. Peters replied people will be glad to get a transit option. "The road system, already congested, can only take so much," she said. "Even a 1 or 2 percent diversion from traffic can make a great difference."
Richard Harkness, a member of the opposition group Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives, said the University Link corridor is relatively good for rail ridership and there won't be much of a fight against it because of Murray's likely clout.
"I think she's going to bring back the pork. It's that simple," he said.
However, he said he still believes the regional light-rail project is a huge mistake because bus rapid-transit could reach more people and save billions of dollars. The group is shifting its attention to the 2007 campaign. - Mike Lindblom, The Seattle Times
LIGHT RAIL USER SURVEY SHOWS PREFERENCE OVER CAR USE
PASADENA, CA --
A recent survey of Gold Line riders should help bolster efforts to secure federal funding for the line's Pasadena-to-Montclair extension, according to the head of the agency that built the train.
The survey, released earlier this month, showed Gold Line riders are more likely to have cars and tend to have higher incomes than passengers on other MTA rail lines, said Habib Balian, CEO of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.
A 2004 Metropolitan Transportation Authority study showed the Gold Line did have more high-income riders than the Red, Blue or Green lines. However, no data were immediately available on the number of riders with cars available to them, said an MTA spokeswoman.
As the construction authority develops an estimate of how many people would ride the proposed 25-mile, $1.2 billion extension, it is vital to prove that those San Gabriel Valley riders are bucking trends seen elsewhere in the county, Balian said.
"The model needs to be able to recognize that ridership is very different in the San Gabriel Valley," Balian said.
People with cars available to them and with incomes over $50,000 are riding the three-year-old Gold Line in larger numbers than on other MTA rail lines, he explained. He wants the Federal Transit Authority to let the construction authority add those people to its count when it predicts how many riders the Gold Line extension will attract.
The survey of the Gold Line's existing Pasadena-to-Los Angeles stretch was designed in part to convince the FTA to include those people in the count.
The construction authority is developing a ridership prediction that it hopes to have ready by spring, Balian said. If the predicted ridership isn't high enough, the extension might not qualify for federal funding.
"There was this presumption that because the San Gabriel Valley is not as dense as other parts of the county, that you wouldn't get the ridership," Balian said. "The survey shows that even though it's not as dense, there is ridership ... and using demographic information from other lines might penalize us."
But the Gold Line faces some local opposition. In Los Angeles, county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has said that the Gold Line extension is redundant because Metrolink already serves that corridor. The Gold Line also has to compete for funding against other local projects, such as the proposed Wilshire Line in Los Angeles or a Culver City-to-Santa Monica addition to the Expo Line, said construction authority member and Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard.
"Southern California is transit-deprived," Bogaard said. "The FTA has fiscal limitations, so there is something of a competition and the need to make the strongest case possible."
"The number of people who could use a car and drive to work -- that's dramatic," said La Verne Mayor Jon Blickenstaff, chairman of the construction authority. "That gives us reason to believe that the Gold Line will continue to be very popular." - Allison Hewitt, The Pasadena Star-News
ACTIVISTS SEEK REFERENDUM ON LIGHT-RAIL ROUTE
DRAPER, UT --
Some Draper residents plan to spend the next few weeks collecting signatures to support putting Utah Transit Authority's proposed light-rail route along the east side of their city to a vote of the people.
Such a referendum would give residents more of a voice in the route-selection process, says Summer Pugh, a community activist who helped organize Citizens for Responsible Transportation (CRT).
On Nov. 14, the City Council agreed to support UTA's decision to use the transit authority's eight-mile route, which it purchased in 1993. Nearly half the route is next to the widely used Porter Rockwell Trail, and some portions wend through newer subdivisions in this fast-growing city of 35,000 people.
"We support light rail, but in the most appropriate and effective place" - not through low-density Draper neighborhoods, Pugh says. Her group prefers a route along Draper's portion of State Street, which boasts more retail than residents.
Referendum proponents, to meet requirements set forth in state law, have until Dec. 29 to gather about 1,600 signatures.
Pugh says they aim to double that number -- in case some of the names do not qualify as valid registered voters.
However, their effort still could be for naught.
"The council's position was solely advisory and not binding in any shape or form. UTA can do whatever they want," says Todd Godfrey, acting city attorney.
"But only after they collect and turn in the signatures can the city weigh in on whether the question is even subject to referendum."
CRT members also sought a legal opinion before commencing the process.
"If a city passes a series of resolutions that end up in a legislative act" -- referring to three resolutions passed by Draper's council since 2003 pertaining to the light-rail route -- "you have the right at some point to disagree by referendum," Pugh says.
"That's our attorney's opinion." - Cathy McKitrick, The Salt Lake Tribune