Railroad Newsline for Thursday, 11/30/06
Author: Larry W. Grant
Date: 11-30-2006 - 03:43

Railroad Newsline for Thursday, November 30, 2006

Compiled by Larry W. Grant

In Memory of Rob Carlson, 1952 – 2006



RUSK, TX -- To the relief of many East Texans, the death knell for the Texas State Railroad was temporarily silenced Tuesday when state park officials announced additional funding will continue operations for a few more months.

"Everybody's tickled to death," said Newell Kane, a member of the Friends of the Texas State Railroad who was at the depot when the announcement was made. "It's the best Christmas present we could get."

But the long-term future of the popular tourist railroad is still precarious, depending on whether legislators decide to fund future operations, convert the engines and cars into a static display or arrange for private operations.

"We know we've just bought some time," Mr. Kane said, but at least the run scheduled for Dec. 30 will now be a farewell to 2006 and not to the familiar iron horse.

Still, the emergency funding identified by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and speaker of the House Tom Craddick in a letter to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is "wonderful news for the railroad and the state of Texas and our local community," said Steve Presley, a Palestine city councilman who chairs the Texas State Railroad Preservation Task Force of the emergency funding.

"Everyone will be extremely pleased that we've got it temporarily saved - that was our first big hurdle to jump. The next big hurdle is for us to get that legislative support to save it long term."

The railroad has trundled tourists between Rusk and Palestine since 1976 but was originally launched as an industrial line serving a state prison iron foundry in 1896. Residents of Cherokee and Anderson counties have grown accustomed to the sound of the steam whistle echoing through the countryside and the sight of smoke billowing through the forest. They're also appreciative of the economic benefits that come with some 65,000 riders a year.

So local residents protested loudly when state officials announced the train would stop operations at the end of the year because of dwindling dollars for state parks. They formed a task force, held fundraisers, commissioned an economic analysis and lobbied politicians.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission chairman Joseph Fitzsimmons acknowledged the impact of supporters in a statement Tuesday. "The level of community interest and support to keep the railroad going has been much appreciated," he said. "When push came to shove last year, the department had to make difficult choices for the good of the entire state park system, and the railroad is a big ticket expense."

The train loses about a million dollars a year and has a backlog of millions of dollars of maintenance. But Mr. Presley and others say the costs are offset by the millions of dollars of economic impact brought by the train. They doubt lawmakers will be willing to continue operating the railroad, but hope to persuade them to earmark approximately $12 million that would be spent on a static display for improvements, then turn operations over to a private company under a complex agreement. The private company expects to be able to increase ridership and revenues.

Mr. Dewhurst said Tuesday that he understands and appreciates "the passion local leaders have for the railroad and will continue to work with them to maintain this important historical treasure."

He said that hopefully an outside operator would be in place by next summer.

"The work begins in earnest now," Mr. Presley said, noting that the first meeting of the Texas State Railroad Operating Agency is scheduled next week. "We still have to have the support from people statewide to solve this long term." - Diane Jennings, The Dallas Morning News


At approximately 10:10 CT Wednesday, November 29, 2006 BNSF Railway Company train C BTMSFB0-44 derailed 40 cars blocking the single main track at Sadler, MO. This location is approximately 34 miles north of Kansas City, MO.

The current estimate for returning the main track back to service is 10:00 CT Thursday, November 30, 2006.

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


SAN ANTONIO, TX -- Union Pacific today announced a preliminary layout design of its new $90 million state-of-the-art intermodal terminal in Southwest Bexar County. The design will provide truck and auto access and egress points at Interstate 35, addressing traffic issues raised by officials of the Southwest Independent School District.

While Union Pacific has made the decision to place the access and egress points for trucks and automobiles at Interstate 35 at an additional investment of several million dollars, the company is currently working on land acquisitions to achieve the design needed to provide the additional convenience for residents and motorists in the Southwest Bexar County area.

"We are very pleased that our preliminary design was able to accommodate the needs of the Southwest Independent School District, the community and TxDot, while still addressing safety and efficiency," said Brian Gorton, General Superintendent of Union Pacific’s San Antonio Service Unit. "This is truly a win-win solution."

Southwest ISD Board President Mike Frazier and Superintendent Velma Villegas expressed satisfaction that Union Pacific has been willing to recognize the safety issues concerning the bussing of students on Pearsall Road.

"The efforts of the community to change the entrance from Pearsall Road to Hwy. 35 have resulted in a partnership between UP and Southwest ISD that is a positive step for all involved in a project that will impact the south west region of Bexar County for years to come," said Dr. Villegas.

As announced this past July, the new 300-acre rail port will potentially serve as an economic development and job growth catalyst for the area. The new terminal will ship and receive containers and trailers with household goods and other items supporting retailers and distribution centers, as well as auto parts for the new Toyota plant in San Antonio.

The railroad’s intermodal volume has been experiencing substantial growth in recent years, which is a reflection of the many consumer goods, electronics, toys and clothing that are being shipped from Asia via intermodal services.

Intermodal trains are an environmentally friendly option for transporting consumer goods compared to long haul trucks. Trains are three times more fuel efficient and produce one-third less emissions than trucks without the wear and tear on taxpayer-financed roads and highways. This year, Union Pacific invested $2.7 billion that included track improvements across the railroad’s 38,000 miles of track. Last year, Union Pacific invested $56 million in track improvements in San Antonio alone.

Directly creating as many as 200 jobs, the new facility is expected to result in improved, more efficient freight movement and increased safety in the area. Some of the benefits will include the reduction of more than 80,000 trucks per year within the San Antonio city limits, and the reduction of truck traffic on I-10 between San Antonio and Houston. At the same time, train traffic will be more fluid as additional rail capacity is developed.

A combination of advanced computer systems and technology will coordinate all movement of railcars, trucks, trailers and containers at the facility. Because of this technology, a truck entering or leaving the facility will be stopped at the gate for only 30 to 60 seconds, compared to the national average of four minutes. - Joe Arbona, UP News Release


PALESTINE, TX -- Albert Holmes needed just one word to describe his reaction to news that the Texas State Railroad’s operations would be funded through August 2007.

“Whoopie!” Holmes, the president of the Friends of the Texas State Railroad, exclaimed Tuesday afternoon.

“That means so much to us,” Holmes said. “The employees that work for the railroad were going to have to go out and find more jobs. This really means something for Palestine.”

It means a brief respite in the ongoing fight to keep the trains running.

Monday afternoon, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker of the House Tom Craddick announced in a letter to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Robert Cook that enough money — $18.1 million — had been appropriated for the entire parks system through the use of a special legislative rider, Rider 27, that the Texas State Railroad would be able to operate through the end of August 2007, when the fiscal year ends.

Rider 27 was passed by the Texas Legislature during the last legislative session to allow TPWD to spend additional revenue it brings in beyond the estimates the state comptroller projects.

On Tuesday morning, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department confirmed the news in a press release, stating that the Legislative Budget Board had verified that $2.2 million in “new” state park revenue had become available for the state’s parks system. That amount included a one-time, non-recurring source — a $1.2 million oil and gas lease bonus payment.

Besides the $2.2 million, also included in the $18.1 million are $11 million from the sales of hunting and fishing licenses and boat registrations, and $4.9 million in state park revenue already budgeted and being used for park operations around the state.

While no specific amount was announced that would be set aside for railroad operations, estimates have been at $650,000 minimum to keep the trains running through the end of the fiscal year. For maintenance to the track and the antique trains, $12 million has been requested by a local task force entrusted with pushing the railroad’s plight into the public’s eye.

“We are pleased that we’re able to keep the Texas State Railroad running, and we’re grateful to state elected leaders for their guidance and to the community supporters who have rallied behind the railroad,” Cook said in Tuesday’s press release. “This is good news, and will provide adequate funding to operate the railroad through the spring and summer of 2007.”

Local and state lawmakers who have been involved in efforts to save the railroad since last spring expressed their gratitude for the work done by Dewhurst and Craddick.

State Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, and State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, worked with local groups and legislators to keep attention focused in Austin on the railroad’s importance to the area.

“Today’s announcement is a reprieve for this piece of living history,” Staples said Tuesday. “Due to its capital-intensive nature, if the train stops operations, it is impossible to restore them.

“I deeply appreciate the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and Speaker Craddick,” Staples said. “Citizens across the state rallied to save the train and the legislative leadership listened and responded.”

Cook echoed Staples’ sentiments.

“This is what we expected they’d do today,” Cook said. “Now we keep working hard on the next step (private ownership). I’m pleased we’ve gotten here.”

Cook said he thought the professional approach taken by Texas State Railroad Task Force members made a strong impression on lawmakers.

“It was obvious to the right people, whether they were elected officials or the Parks and Wildlife Commission, that there’s a group that’s articulate, that thinks things out well,” Cook said. “This happens when a lot of good people work very hard, very smart toward a common goal.”

Palestine city councilwoman Andrea Baird began a vigorous “Save the Railroad” petition drive when the 2006 TSRR season began to let legislators in Austin know the amount of public support for the Texas State Railroad. Monday night, Baird estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 signatures have been collected in person and on-line in support of the railroad.

Palestine Mayor Carolyn Salter, who has worked with the task force and lawmakers in their efforts, said Tuesday she’s thrilled with the news.

“I think Santa came early to Palestine in providing us the opportunity to keep the railroad going full steam ahead,” Salter said. “We could not have done this without everyone in the community working together and without Sen. Staples’ fund-raising (concert) event which provided the funds to do the legal work. He’s been working on it (the railroad) steadily since April.”

Newell Kane, a member of the Friends of the Texas State Railroad and a volunteer at the park, said Tuesday that the funding news was important, but that it was only a temporary fix until August.

“We have not won the war but we have won a major battle,” Kane said.

TPWD regional director Ellen Buchanan sees the funding news similarly to Kane.

As director of the East Texas region, Buchanan has had to deal with the railroad funding crisis by having contingency plans in place for the park in case the funding had not materialized.

Earlier in the fall, she and staff had met with TSRR employees to discuss how they would be affected if the park was forced to become a static display and campground.

Several employees transferred to other state agencies in an effort to keep their state retirement intact, while others continued to sweat it out, wondering if their jobs would exist as the holidays approached.

“Needless to say, we’re pleased,” Buchanan said. “This is peaks and valleys. At the end of August we’re in the same boat if the legislature doesn’t (find more funding).”

Kane and a number of others believe the best solution to keep the trains running may come from allowing a private company to take over operations, such as American Heritage Railways, which operates tourist trains in Durango, Colorado and North Carolina.

One benefit that proponents of private ownership see for the railroad is that a private company would advertise its trains, whereas the TPWD budget does not include advertising.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us and I think we can accomplish it if these people (American Heritage) can just do business with the State of Texas,” Kane said.

Holmes predicted efforts would not lessen just because of Monday’s news.

“I think we’re going to continue to work to make sure the railroad continues,” Holmes said. “I’m afraid the handwriting’s on the wall that we’d better have a private operator like the Durango people. It would be an economic boon for Palestine and Rusk.”

Possibly the most important message came from James Fitzsimons, chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission appointed by the governor to oversee the TPWD.

“The level of local community interest and support to keep the railroad going has been much appreciated,” Fitzsimons said. “When push came to shove last year, the department had to make difficult choices for the good of the entire state park system, and the railroad is a big ticket expense. We look forward to continuing to work with state and local leaders in implementing their plan to move the Texas State Railroad from state to local control.”

The promise of help in transferring control of the railroad from the state to a private operator struck a chord with local task force chairman Steve Presley, who also will serve on the newly-formed TSRR operating agency, a joint venture between the cities of Palestine and Rusk.

“It’s great news for the railroad,” Presley said. “The parks and wildlife now has the funds to operate through August of 2007. We’re extremely pleased they now have the funds to operate and work with us to continue to see that the Texas State Railroad is saved long-term.

“We’ve always been ‘The Little Engine That Could,’” Presley said. Now we’re ‘The Little Engine That Can.’” - Beth Foley, The Palestine Herald


The Canadian National Railway announced Wednesday plans to spend C$1.6 billion on capital programs in 2007, an increase of four per cent over the level of 2006.

E. Hunter Harrison, president and chief executive officer of CN, said: “In 2007 we will invest more than C$1 billion in track infrastructure to maintain a safe railway and to improve the productivity and fluidity of our network across Canada and mid-America. This reflects our key priorities - plant quality and safety, building capacity and speed, accelerating growth potential, and improving productivity across the board.”

CN will spend more than C$800 million in 2007 on basic capital, replacing rail, ties and other track materials and improving bridges. CN will also invest close to C$200 million in network and growth-related projects, including:

· Extended sidings and double-stack clearances on the railway’s BC North Line to accommodate container traffic from the Prince Rupert Intermodal Terminal, which is scheduled to open in the second half of 2007;

· New siding capacity between Winnipeg and Chicago, and

· Continued upgrading of its freight car classification yard in Memphis, TN.

In Western Canada alone, CN plans to invest nearly C$350 million in track infrastructure to enhance the plant and to take advantage of growth prospects in North American trade with Asia and the boom in the West.

CN’s equipment spending is targeted to reach approximately C$350 million in 2007 to tap growth opportunities and to improve the quality of the fleet. This will include about C$200 million for locomotives, covering the acquisition of 65 new units and continued spending on other improvements to the core fleet. Almost C$150 million will be spent on freight cars and intermodal equipment to meet customer requirements in the marketplace.

CN expects to spend more than C$200 million on facilities to grow the business, including transloads and distribution centres, on information technology to improve service and operating efficiency, as well as on other projects that will allow the railroad to increase productivity.

Harrison said: “CN’s 2007 capex program - equal to almost 20 per cent of our revenues - represents a major commitment to running a safe, efficient and productive railway for our customers and the communities in which we operate.” - Mark Hallman, CN News Release


GARYVILLE, LA -- St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's deputies are investigating a collision Tuesday between a Canadian National train and a vehicle near Louisiana 54 in Garyville.

The driver and her passenger were rushed to River Parishes Hospital shortly after the 13:00 accident, authorities said.

Sgt. Conrad Baker of the St. John Sheriff's Office Traffic Unit said the driver of the 1988 Buick, 20-year-old Christina Maguire of Garyville, was traveling north on Garyville Northern Street when she allegedly failed to yield to a railroad crossing sign and drove into the path of the eastbound train. The train struck the rear driver's side of Maguire's car, he said.

Paramedics took Maguire and her passenger, Cortrell Williams of Garyville, to the hospital to be treated for minor injuries.

Baker said Maguire was cited for failure to yield at a railroad crossing, driving without a seat belt and driving while intoxicated. Baker said drug use was suspected.

Maguire and Williams remained in the hospital Tuesday evening. - The New Orleans Times-Picayune


CARSON CITY, NV -- A railroad company that operates three Northern California tourist trains was selected Tuesday to operate the Virginia & Truckee Railway, a project aimed at linking Carson City with Virginia City by rail.

The Nevada Commission for Reconstruction of the V&T Railway chose Oakdale, California-based Sierra Railroad Co. over two other applicants to run what is expected to be a major regional tourist attraction.

Proponents are hoping the train can be in operation in 2010.

After a daylong presentation from the three companies, the state panel unanimously picked Sierra as the company with the best combination of operating experience, marketing expertise and financial resources.

The company must make arrangements with the Virginia & Truckee Railroad Co., a family-owned business that has operated a tourist train on 1.8 miles of track between Virginia City and Gold Hill for the planned rail operation to reach into the heart of the Comstock the first two years of the new train's existence.

The Virginia & Truckee Railroad Co. also applied to the state commission to operate the train along with Durango, Colorado-based American Heritage Railways.

Plans to rebuild the historic Virginia & Truckee Railroad line between Carson City and Virginia City have been in the works for years. Major progress was made over the past few years, including finding local, state and federal money to finance the $40 million project.

Officials with Sierra still need to complete detailed negotiations with the state panel on a contract. Officials said the hope is that a final agreement can be reached over the next two months.

"This is a very exciting day for us. It's a huge opportunity to be part of this wonderful project," said Chris Hart, president of Sierra's tourism division said after the state commission unanimously selected his company.

The first 1.4 miles of track on a rebuilt V&T line, from Gold Hill to American Flat, have been completed. Another 16.5 miles of track will take the train to a planned depot at the east end of Carson City.

The Virginia & Truckee Railroad was built in 1869 and connected the silver mines of Virginia City to mills in Carson City. The line was later extended north to Reno, where it connected to the Central Pacific, and south to Minden. Operations between Carson City and Virginia City ended in 1938 and all railroad operations ceased in 1950. - Tim Anderson, The Reno Gazette-Journal


BNSF Railway Company employees pitched in to lend a hand to local Vancouver, British Columbia, citizens as they worked to enhance the beauty of their downtown area in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Approximately one mile east of downtown's Pacific Train Station, adjacent to BNSF's mainline operation (from Vancouver to the Canada/U.S. border), there is an area where many transients and graffiti "taggers" congregate and create unfavorable designs that are clearly recognizable by the motoring public, passengers riding Amtrak and Skytrain, as well as neighbors in the area.

The Vancouver Police Department’s Anti-Graffiti Unit approached BNSF for assistance in stopping graffiti activity after learning about BNSF's Anti-Trespass Initiative in British Columbia.

"We realized that this was an area where we could help make a difference," states Al Nelson, senior special agent, Vancouver. A BNSF committee was formed to partner with the city of Vancouver, SkyTrain and Collingwood Community Policing Group to attempt to clean the graffiti wall adjacent to BNSF's main line.

The result of this group's efforts was the elimination of vegetation, removal of graffiti and placement of a 10-by-20-foot mural featuring a Great Northern (GN) steam locomotive that includes the famous GN Goat logo. A sign with BNSF's logo will be placed on the wall.

Graffiti detectives said that reoccurrence of the vandalism is minimal when professional murals are placed in these types of areas. Special material that will withstand vandalism was also used as an extra safeguard.

"Neighbors have been favorably commenting on the new look in the neighborhood and that certainly doesn't hurt BNSF's image," says Nelson.

BNSF also contributed to the project by funding the artist's fees, mural sealant and provided maintenance flagman and assisted with the placement of the mural. - BNSF Today


This week the CPR Holiday Train program officially launches its eighth season and plans to enrich the experience of fans across Canada, the Northeastern and Midwestern United States with a few extra treats: a Holiday Train CD/DVD and an interactive website that will track the Train's journey through diary entries, pictures and video.

The Story of the Holiday Train is a two-disk set. Produced by Randall Prescott, one of Canada's most awarded producers, the DVD features footage from the trains as they traveled through cities, towns and communities. Get a behind the scenes look at what goes into getting these trains out on the tracks for North America's largest rolling food bank fundraiser. From the CPR employees who volunteer countless hours to decorate the trains, to those who make sure the shows run seamlessly, from poignant interviews with food banks, coordinators and entertainers, to touching stories and magical moments from communities across North America, the DVD is a documentary beautifully underscored by the songs of Holiday Train performers past and present.

The performers singing on the DVD, the likes of Duane Steele and Tracey Brown, are also found on the 12 song CD, which makes up The Story of the Holiday Train. Other artists contributing to this compilation of original music and holiday classics from the Holiday Train include performers from this year's entertainment line-up; singer/songwriter Pat Flynn, folk-rocker Willy Porter, Lisa Brokop and rock group Wide Mouth Mason. The Story of the Holiday Train CD and DVD set will be for sale at all Holiday Train events and online through the CPR store.

When heading online to [www.cpr.ca] to check out The Story of the Holiday Train CD, be sure to explore all the exciting new features on the Holiday Train website which had more than 120,000 visits in 2005. This year, follow both the Canadian and the U.S Holiday Train through an on-line diary and share your own comments. Updated regularly, the Holiday Train diary will include pictures and short stories as it attempts to capture a handful out of the thousands of magical moments from both trains on their two-week journey.

Use the website to get up-to-date Holiday Train event schedules, see clips from the new DVD, hear some tunes from the new CD, download posters, try the train simulator, track how much money has been raised for the food banks and even view video of some of the performances. - Ed Greenberg, CPR News Release


McCOOK, NE -- Nebraska's name is derived from an Otoe word meaning "flat water, but perhaps we should look for a word meaning "straight rails."

That's because the life of our state has been intertwined with the fortune of its railroads since the earliest days.

McCook's prosperity can be traced in large part to its role as a division point for the Burlington and Missouri Railroad, and towns were established along the line so that settlers could reach one in a day's travel by horse-drawn wagon.

Railroad employment continues to be a key component of McCook's economy today, but it has ebbed and flowed over the years, notably the loss of dispatchers when those operations were consolidated.

That same consolidation affected the entire railroad industry in the 1980s, with layoffs, combined work forces and slimming down -- several smaller railroads were formed to keep ag products flowing to market when larger railroads dropped branch lines.

As a result, railroads are finding most of their employees in their 40s or older, many of them nearly ready for retirement.

But the business is booming, thanks to shippers shifting from trucks to more efficient rail because of fuel prices, and increased demand for shipments of coal, food and consumer goods.

To meet the demand, according to a story by The Associated Press, the Union Pacific Railroad will hire about 6,000 new employees this year, and probably will need at least 5,000 new people a year for the next several years.

By the end of this year, the BNSF Railway Company will have hired more than 14,000 more people in the past four years, and despite retirements, overall employment has increased from about 36,500 in 2003 to a little more than 40,000, according to Steven Forsberg, a BNSF spokesman.

And it's easy to see how the railroads are able to attract employees. Hired with little or no education beyond high school, railroaders can make up to $40,000 the first year, and if they become an engineer, for example, might be making $75,000 within five years. Plus, there are union benefits, and workers with 30 years of service can retire at age 60.

Not everyone is cut out for the railroading life, which requires never-ending traveling, night, weekend, holiday and on-call schedules. The stress is tough on marriages, and parents often miss school activities and athletic events.

Plus, it's a dangerous occupation. There were 5,635 deaths or injuries among railroad workers on duty in 2005, which was down 6.3 percent from the previous year.

But many are willing to make the sacrifice, and reap financial rewards for that sacrifice.

First it was fur traders, then the wagon trains wending their way across the state. Later it was the railroads, then Interstate 80 positioning the state as an important pipeline for national and international commerce.

Judging from the latest economic developments, railroading will continue to play just as important a part in Nebraska's second century as it did in its first. - Editorial Opinion, The McCook Daily Gazette


Photo here:


KINGMAN, AZ -- Train watchers and fans from near and far are eagerly awaiting the start of renovations on the old Santa Fe Depot in downtown Kingman.

"There's so many people interested in trains it's incredible! I've got tons of people with railroad artifacts interested in the project," said Shannon Rossiter of the Mohave Museum of History and Arts.

Plans for the renovation of the old train depot are about 95 percent complete, said Rob Owen, special projects coordinator for the city of Kingman. All that needs to be done is to have BNSF Railway Company and Amtrak give their final approval for the project.

Owen hopes to have that approval by January so the project can go out for bid at the end of February. The restoration work can then start in March.

The city will be reimbursed for 94.3 percent of the restoration work by a Federal Transportation Enhancement Grant. The city applied for the $500,000 grant in 2001 and received approval in 2002.

The grant is administered by the Arizona Department of Transportation. Kingman will have to match 5.7 percent of the cost of the project.

Despite its age, the depot is still structurally sound, Owen said. The old station will be receiving new doors, windows, paint, plumbing and electrical work, heating and air conditioning, stucco and new landscaping as part of the renovation work.

Ever since 2002, Kingman residents have been asking when work was going to begin.

A lot of people don't understand the grant process, said Bill Shilling, a city grant administrator. It can take many years to apply, receive approval and get funds from a grant for a project.

One extra step that has slowed the process is that the city has to seek approval of the plans from not only ADOT but also Amtrak and BNSF. Amtrak owns the building and BNSF owns the railroad tracks and the right of way next to the depot. Plans for the project have been shuttled back and forth between all three organizations.

The only major request has come from BNSF Railway. The railway has requested a wrought iron fence to be put up between the building and the BNSF railroad tracks.

The fence is designed to keep visitors away from the tracks, which are in constant use.

Once the work is complete, the station will once again see customers lining up for train tickets. Amtrak will be moving its current ticket office from its tiny space on Fourth Street back into the western half of the depot. The eastern half of the building will become a railroad museum with exhibits and artifacts from railroad enthusiasts and the Mohave Museum of History and Arts.

The building is nearly 100 years old. It was built in the early 1900s by the Santa Fe Railway of reinforced concrete and may be one of the oldest concrete buildings in the state.

It's also one of many historic buildings in downtown Kingman on the National Registry of Historic Places. - Suzanne Adams, The Kingman Daily Miner


TUCSON, AZ -- The Pinal County Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 Wednesday in Florence in favor of clearing the way for Union Pacific Railroad to build a switching yard three miles from Picacho Peak, by amending the county's land use plan.

Now, the State Land Department is expected to decide in about a year whether to sell more than 1,500 acres to the railroad for the 585-acre switching yard, with the extra land earmarked for future expansion and a buffer for neighbors, many of whom oppose the construction. - The Arizona Daily Star


BELLEVUE, WA -- It's illegal, dangerous and ill-advised, but that hasn't stopped generations of thrill-seekers from crossing the 102-foot Wilburton trestle, a century-old wooden structure over Southeast Eighth Street in Bellevue, Washington.

The reward for getting to the top of the local landmark is not so much what you see, but how you see it. From creosote-soaked timbers logged from long-gone local forests, evergreens and osprey appear roughly equal with the city's shiny skyscrapers, putting Bellevue's industrial past on the level with its high-tech present.

"It's quite impressive," said one Bellevue resident who crossed it with his high-school-age son in what could be described as a "Stand By Me" moment.

The man, who asked that his name not be used, said the view was difficult to enjoy, given the precariousness of the crossing.

"It was scary enough that we chose not to do it again," he said.

Its role as a railway is now on the wane, but to many the future of the iconic Wilburton trestle has never looked better.

BNSF Railway Co. is working with King County, the Washington State Department of Transportation, and the Puget Sound Regional Council on a plan to transform the 42-mile rail corridor, which runs from Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park in Renton to Snohomish, into a trail for bikes and pedestrians.

The unique view from the Wilburton trestle would be its centerpiece.

Bellevue Parks Director Patrick Foran calls it "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a real, effective transportation bike corridor, as opposed to having to share space with cars on streets."

He believes having to share the road with vehicles keeps many from commuting by bike. A dedicated trail, particularly one that runs north-south parallel to Interstate 405 — recently named the state's worst rush-hour commute— would draw "traffic jams of bicycles," Foran said.

There are about 2,500 bike commuters now living within two miles of the Wilburton trestle, according to the Cascade Bicycle Club. Within five years, Cascade predicts that number to be 5,000, and to grow to 10,000 within 20 years.

"That's a lot of cars stacked end to end," said Carry Porter, Cascade's marketing director, and a Kirkland bike commuter. "As a public asset, that is absolutely invaluable."

King County's proposed land swap with the Port of Seattle is the linchpin in plans for the multiuse trail.

Through a process called railbanking, the Port would acquire the right-of-way from BNSF and then transfer ownership and funds for development to the county for a recreational trail.

Puget Sound Regional Council, the lead agency studying the plan, put together an advisory committee, chaired by King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson. Members include city council members from Bellevue, Kirkland, Renton, Snohomish, as well as representatives from Woodinville and King County, transportation agency officials, future user groups, and other stakeholders.

The committee will hold its fifth public meeting from 09:30 to noon Friday at Bellevue City Hall.

King Cushman, the regional council's project manager, said it could be five to eight years before the plan gets off the ground, given the necessary planning, design and permitting.

The regional council hopes to reach an agreement in 2007, he said.

Cushman said most jurisdictions have already voiced their desire to move forward with the trail. In July the city of Bellevue issued a statement supporting the project, which would not preclude a future passenger rail corridor.

"With 100 feet of right-of-way, the trail takes 25 feet and then you've got 75 feet to figure out where you put the 8-foot pylon," Cushman said. "If we need (passenger rail) in the future, I think everybody agrees we want to preserve that opportunity."

Built in 1903-1904 on the Renton-to-Woodinville Lake Washington Belt Line, the Wilburton trestle overlooked a busy millpond where daring workers, called "pond monkeys," used pike poles and caulked boots to sort logs, which were milled there and shipped across Lake Washington.

The name Wilburton comes from the Wilbur and England logging camp, which became a boomtown at the head of Mercer Slough.

The rough-and-ready image of the city's early industry still captures the imagination of many residents.

For Barb Williams, the sound of the train is history distilled.

"We listen for the train. You can hear it from our house, that sort of clickety-clack as it goes across that trestle," she said.

"I always think to myself, that's probably the way it was in the old days when the trains came through with the logs to the mills."

Williams, the education coordinator for the Eastside Heritage Center, said the trestle originally spanned an area that was largely underwater. A mill pond was located west of the trestle in the area where the former Bellevue City Hall used to be, and workers would simply roll logs off the train and down the slope into the pond.

Local lore has it that once, the engine of a train fell off the trestle and sunk into the muck below, never to be recovered.

Williams said she believes it could have happened if logs were being tipped off the train, given how quickly the murky ground sucked up poles for interpretative signs the Bellevue Parks Department planted in the slough.

She's not opposed to a trail, but she said she'd miss the rumbles and whistles that connect her to yesteryear.

"I think part of the romance of the trestle is that the train is still using it, and that you do get these wonderful whistle blows that you can set your clock by."

Proximity to history has worn a little thin for Lesley Stuart, who bought her Wilburton Hill house, which faces the trestle, nearly seven years ago. The train tracks cross the southwest corner of her yard.

"If you're in our yard and sitting under the grape arbor, (the train) comes around the curve and it looks like it's coming right for you for a couple minutes," she said. "It's kind of cool."

A nearby crossing draws visitors who come to show their kids the train up close, she said. Some of them put pennies on the track to be smashed flat by the train, as souvenirs.

Stuart has seen the fuselages of Boeing planes whiz by on the rails en route to the Everett plant and, every once in a while, midnight trains carry equipment bound for Canadian wind farms, she said.

But the dinner train, which runs twice daily on weekdays and four times a day on weekends, is less pleasant for those not riding it because its whistle is especially shrill, she said.

The locomotive exhausts diesel fumes that cover her patio furniture with thick, black soot.

"It's a little ambiance I could do without," Stuart said.

Her mother likes the train because it reminds her of the old days.

"If you have to live right next to it, it's a different story," Stuart said. "A hiking trail would be fine with me." - Amy Roe, The King County Journal



KANSAS CITY, MO -- Clay Chastain has offered city officials some answers to an abundance of questions about building light rail in Kansas City.

On Monday, Chastain submitted a proposal to local government officials outlining his plans for implementing a light-rail ordinance that voters approved earlier this month. Chastain, the chief proponent of the ordinance, now resides in Virginia but temporarily returned to Kansas City this week to help "make Kansas City's light-rail system a resounding success." He said he would offer his assistance to the city and meet with a representative from the Federal Transit Administration while he was in town.

Kansas City voters already have approved a 25-year extension to the city's three-eighths-cent transportation sales tax. Revenue from the tax would account for about half of the estimated $1 billion cost of light rail.

Chastain's proposal includes a two-year timeline for financing and constructing parts of the rail line. It includes the following recommendations:

By Jan. 1, 2007:

• Apply for a $1 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration for planning and engineering.

• Divide the 30-mile light-rail plan into two segments. The first stage would include 14 miles from Troost Avenue and Rockhill Road in the south to North Oak Trafficway and Vivion Road in the north. The second stage would extend the rail line north to Kansas City International Airport and south to Swope Park.

• Update studies from the city's 2001 proposed light-rail plan and use them to expedite the application process for federal financing.

• Apply for state financing in conjunction with St. Louis.

• Issue $50 million in city-backed revenue bonds to plan and construct an aerial gondola system, prepare Penn Valley Park for light rail and secure right of way for the light-rail line from KCI to Swope Park.

By Jan. 1, 2008:

• Complete construction of the aerial gondola system and any changes to Penn Valley Park. By Jan. 7, 2008:

• Issue $600 million in city-backed revenue bonds for the first stage of light-rail construction.

• Apply for $600 million in federal money through the Federal Transit Administration's Small Rail Starts and Rail Starts programs.

• Incorporate wireless light-rail technology into the downtown corridor of the rail line.

By Jan. 1, 2009:

• Complete construction of 30-mile right-of-way corridor for light rail.

• Support a regional transit tax in Missouri and amend the current regional transit plan to include a commuter rail line from Blue Springs to Union Station, a 10-mile light-rail extension from Swope Park to Lee's Summit and additional financing for Kansas City's bus system.

• Begin planning and engineering for the second stage of the light rail line.

• If a Missouri regional transit tax is approved, begin planning for a third stage of light rail that would extend to Lee's Summit, and a commuter rail line along Interstate 70.

• Buy and operate a fleet of 20 hybrid electric buses along the 30-mile light-rail route.

• Encourage legislation in Kansas to create a bistate regional transit authority to oversee a regional transit system.

By Jan. 1, 2010:

• Complete and open the first stage of light rail service.

• Buy 40 hybrid electric buses and incorporate them into the light rail service.

• Apply to the Federal Transit Administration for an 80 percent match for financing for the second stage of light rail construction.

• If a Smart Moves regional transit plan is approved, apply for federal financing for a light rail extension to Lee's Summit and a commuter rail line.

• Buy and develop an exclusive right-of-way for light rail line from Swope Park to Lee's Summit.

By Jan. 1, 2011:

• Begin construction on the third stage of light rail from Swope Park to Lee's Summit, as well as a commuter rail line.

By Jan. 1, 2014:

• Complete and open the second stage of light rail service.

By Jan. 1, 2015:

• Complete and open the third stage of light rail service.

- Kansas City Business Journal


DENVER, CO -- RTD is tackling two of the biggest complaints about its new Southeast Corridor light rail, but only one has a solution in sight.

Riders who can't get to the Park Meadows mall from the County Line Station because there's no staircase down to the shopping center may soon have free shuttle service.

But commuters whose nonstop buses to downtown were eliminated in favor of shuttles to light-rail stations will have to bear longer commutes a bit longer before RTD decides whether it will make substantive changes to bus routes.

County Line Station has no direct access to Park Meadows because during initial planning for the transit line, the mall wasn't part of the Regional Transportation District. Moreover, the mall's former owner didn't want the access, and RTD's attempts to negotiate construction of a pedestrian walkway were unsuccessful.

Now that Park Meadows is in the district, it has agreed to allow RTD to build a bridge and walkway that would be completed around March 2008.

Meanwhile, RTD may start shuttle service to the mall every 15 minutes from the Park-N-Ride on the east side of Interstate 25. RTD and the mall would split the $80,000 cost for running the shuttle for six weeks through the Christmas shopping season.

The service could start as soon as Friday if the mall signs an agreement for the new bridge by then.

RTD also plans to tweak bus and train schedules to try to fix the long commutes some riders have faced since their bus service was replaced by light rail.

"If we're going to cause our loyal riders to spend another 20 to 40 minutes a day commuting, that's a policy decision that's just not right," said RTD board member O'Neill Quinlan. - Kevin Flynn, Rocky Mountain News


PASADENA, CA -- It comes as no surprise - and for advocates of a new paradigm in Southern California mass transit, it comes as good news - that Gold Line riders are more likely to own cars and have higher incomes than bus riders.

Nothing against non-drivers and less-affluent light-rail riders. You don't have to show your advanced diploma or country-club membership card at the ticket machine. But the fact is that one large advantage touted by light-rail proponents is the possibility of alleviating, to some small degree, freeway gridlock by gaining riders who otherwise would be in their cars.

There's no real point in plumbing the psychology of why the middle classes are reluctant to board buses here.

In Manhattan, for instance, all but the limousined classes ride the bus - and the subway - all the time. Perhaps that's because both means of transit take you where you want to go on the compact island and come along every few minutes.

Here, it seems only a DUI conviction and loss of driving privileges can pry anyone who has a car out of it.

That insurance, gasoline, the price of the vehicles themselves and their costly upkeep amount to tens of thousands of dollars a year for a family of motorists - that fiscal insanity has never succeeded in convincing us to leave the driving to the MTA.

But there's something about a train -- the sense of urbanity, of mild adventure -- that clicks with the middle-class mindset. So be it. And the Gold Line, which so far just extends from East Pasadena to downtown's Union Station, has slowly developed a cadre of dedicated riders.

To truly reach its potential, as we have long advocated, the Gold Line needs to be extended through the East San Gabriel Valley and beyond.

The survey released this week showing a fairly affluent ridership should be fuel for the federal funding fight that is key to building mass-transit lines. That funding comes from a limited pot, and the Gold Line will always have its enemies. Mostly it's a turf battle, and politicians in a position to influence that funding will obviously advocate for building transit in their own back yards.

But Gold Line opponent county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's argument that the light rail is redundant here because our Valley is also served by Metrolink could be bought only by someone with a very dim grasp of local geography.

The heavy-rail Metrolink, with its few stops, runs parallel with the Gold Line, sure - a dozen miles south of the foothills communities along which the extension will run. There is essentially zero redundancy between the two.

Gold Line proponents can and should take this new survey of ridership demographics to the bank that is Washington, DC.

Build this line out to Montclair and there is no question that we will see real impact in ridding the now jam-packed Foothill (210) Freeway of thousands of cars at peak commute hours. It will be a service to the quality of our air and the quality of our lives, and it's worth fighting for. - Editorial Opinion, The Pasadena Star-News


Subject Written By Date/Time (PST)
  Railroad Newsline for Thursday, 11/30/06 Larry W. Grant 11-30-2006 - 03:43

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