Railroad Newsline for Saturday, 12/02/06
Author: Larry W. Grant
Date: 12-02-2006 - 04:03




Railroad Newsline for Saturday, December 02, 2006

Compiled by Larry W. Grant

In Memory of Rob Carlson, 1952 – 2006






RAIL NEWS

BNSF ISSUES WINTER WEATHER DELAY ADVISORY FOR ILLINOIS

Extreme winter weather conditions were experienced across the BNSF Railway Company tracks in the state of Illinois between Thursday, November 30, 2006 and Friday, December 1, 2006, and had a negative impact on the normal flow of traffic throughout the state. Ice, heavy snow and wind all contributed to delay of traffic over this territory, which affected train movement, track and signal conditions.

All rail terminals and Intermodal Hub facilities remain open and operational, and conditions continue to improve.

Customers may experience delays between 8-16 hours on traffic in this region. - BNSF Service Advisory




BNSF EMPLOYEE'S WIFE SAVES TRAIN FROM POTENTIAL DERAILMENT

After being married to railroader, you are bound to learn a thing or two about trains and safety. Recently, the wife of a third-generation railroader potentially prevented substantial damage to BNSF Railway Company property by spotting unusual conditions at a railroad crossing.

Carla Holtzman, who is married to BNSF locomotive engineer James Holtzman, was waiting for two trains at a Barry, Oklahoma, crossing next to her home Nov. 3, when she saw something strange: smoke.

The first train, which was northbound, had passed the crossing without incident.

But Carla knew something was amiss with the second train, which was pulling off a siding and headed southbound toward the mainline. What she didn't know at the time was that she hadn't seen smoke but rock dust, which can be a sign of a derailment.

She wasted no time grabbing her cell phone and calling James. Fortunately, he was at home and able to quickly alert the train crew using his BNSF radio.

He then got on an all-terrain vehicle and headed towards the crossing to investigate personally. James discovered a front axle that had come off of an empty tank car at the back of the engine. One wheel of the car was on the ground, and the other was between the rails ripping ties.

Thanks to the Holtzmans, the train was stopped prior to the car's reaching the switch leading to the mainline. This prevented a switch and other equipment from being damaged as well as a bridge that was a short distance away.

"Carla did good," explains James, who says he's proud of his wife. "She saw something she wasn't trained to see and acted fast."

Phillip Mullen, BNSF's superintendent of operations for the Texas Division, is elated with both Carla and James and what they did. "If the Holtzmans hadn't handled the situation the way they did, the accident might have been much worse," says Mullen, who was happy to take the couple to dinner as a gesture of thanks. - BNSF Today




RECORD YEAR DETAILED IN NEW EDITION OF RAILROAD FACTS

Last year was a record year for the U.S. railroad industry, with total volume, intermodal traffic and revenues all setting records. At the same time, accidents were down and employment levels were up as the industry embarked on its largest hiring effort in decades.

There are facts and statistics that highlight these and much more in the 2006 edition of Railroad Facts that has just been published by the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

This pocket-sized reference contains information on finance, operations, plant and equipment, employment and compensation, fuel consumption and cost, and loss and damage. Additional data for 2005 and for selected prior years are included.

It also contains a profile of each Class I railroad, Amtrak, the two major Canadian railroads and the two largest Mexican railways.

Copies of Railroad Facts are available for non-AAR members for $15 for one copy; $12 for two to 10 copies; and $10 for orders over 10. The cost for AAR members is $5 per copy.

To order, visit the AAR Web site at [www.aar.org] and go to AAR store/publications. - BNSF Today




CN BUYS NORTHWESTERN ALBERTA SHORTLINE

EDMONTON, AB -- The Canadian National Railway announced Friday the purchase of Savage Alberta Railway, Inc. (SAR), a 345-mile short-line railway, from Savage Companies of Salt Lake City, Utah, for C$25 million.

The acquisition represents an opportunity for CN to solidify its freight franchise in resource-rich northwestern Alberta.

The SAR transported about 35,000 carloads of freight last year. CN will upgrade the shortline's track to improve operations and customer service, and to maximize its potential for transporting greater volumes of coal, grain and forest products.

The SAR's primary connection with CN is at Swan Landing, AB, located approximately 38 miles northeast of Jasper. From there the SAR runs north to Grande Prairie, the current base of operations, where one branch runs west to a connection with CN at Hythe, AB, and another branch runs northeast to Wanham, AB.

CN began operating the line today, following the close of the transaction with Savage Companies.

CN is offering employment to SAR's approximately 75 employees and will honour the existing collective labour agreement at SAR. - Jim Feeny, CN News Release




'ALL ABOARD' THE 2006 CPR HOLIDAY TRAIN IN SUPPORT OF FOOD SHELVES

MINNEAPOLIS, MN -- After more than seven months of planning, the 2006 CPR Holiday Train is again ready to raise awareness, money and food for food hamper programs in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest. The magical 'train of lights' today begins its spirited journey from the Steamtown National Historic Site at Scranton Penn.

Including Scranton, North America's largest rolling fundraiser will visit 12 communities in the Northeast before heading over to the upper Midwest to continue its rolling support for local food pantry programs in another 28 towns, villages and cities in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota from December 9 to 16. Supporters of the CPR Holiday Train are encouraged to check out: [www.cpr.ca] for the list of stops.

This year's U.S. Holiday Train, decorated with its hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights, features musicians will be Milwaukee folk-rocker Willy Porter, Nashville singer-songwriter and former New Grass Revival guitarist Pat Flynn, country music hall of famer Tracey Brown and rising star Kelly Prescott. Visit the Holiday Train page for their bios and photos.

A second identically-decorated Holiday Train is making its away across Canada taking the same message of goodwill and food shelf support to communities in Canada until December 19. Headlining this train are Wide Mouth Mason and Lisa Brokop. In addition to the 40 U.S. stops, 71 Canadian communities will experience the spirit and energy of the 2006 Holiday Train.

Since launching in 1999, the Holiday Train magic continues to grow with crowds growing over the years to the point thousands greet the train at every stop to enjoy the festive show, but more importantly to support their local food hamper programs. In the first seven years about $2.4 million (Cdn) has been raised and close to 1.3 million pounds of food collected.

It's estimated each month across the U.S., hundreds of thousands of families have to turn to food shelves for help.

Some facts and stats about the CPR Holiday Train Program

· Each Holiday Train is about 1,000 feet in length with 14 decorated rail cars, including a modified box car that has been turned into a traveling stage for performers. The two trains are assembled and decorated by CPR employees in Montreal, Chicago and Calgary.

· The musicians live on the train for the entire time of the U.S. Holiday Train, which cross six States and a total of 40 communities.

· Each live performance takes place from a box car converted to a professional stage.

· Crowds donate money and nonperishable food, and the railroad presents a check at each stop to top off whatever is donated.

· Everything collected in a community stays in that community for local distribution.

- EdGreenberg, CPR News Release




RAILROAD REQUESTS A REVIEW

The BNSF Railway Company is officially asking Glacier National Park officials for "additional study" of a proposal to use explosives, including artillery, to curb avalanche dangers on the park's southern boundary.

The railroad initially proposed that the park pursue an environmental review for avalanche mitigation to protect rail operations in the Middle Fork Flathead River corridor. The railroad provided information and helped pay for a Draft Environmental Impact Statement that recently was released by the park.

The draft, however, came with a "preferred alternative" that rejected the use of explosives for avalanche control and instead called on the railroad to build more snowsheds to protect the tracks. A public comment period on the document is under way until the end of December, with open houses scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday in Kalispell and West Glacier.

Railroad officials met Wednesday with Glacier Superintendent Mick Holm, submitting a letter that says "several key areas of the DEIS require additional work."

According to the letter, the draft itself concedes that the park lacks "baseline data" to measure environmental impairment from "the implementation of an explosives program for avalanche hazard reduction of this magnitude."

The draft also does not include wildlife or habitat studies that would provide information about what species may frequent the areas where the use of explosives is proposed, says the letter, signed by Larry Woodley, maintenance engineer for the railroad's Montana Division.

Woodley also notes that the draft does not adequately examine the use of explosives in other national parks or national forests.

"Additional time and studies would enable the inclusion ... of a full exploration of appropriate baseline data and potential environmental impacts from avalanche mitigation techniques already used across the country," according to the letter. "To that end, BNSF supports a renewed effort by the agencies to carefully examine how an avalanche risk reduction plan could be implemented in Glacier National Park."

Contacted at his office Thursday, Holm said he "made no commitments" in meeting with railroad officials, other than that the letter would be included in the administrative record along with more than 60 comments that have been submitted.

"We told them we would take it under consideration, just like the other comments," Holm said.

The National Parks Conservation Association, among others, has objected to the use of explosives for avalanche control, arguing that snowsheds would provide better long-term protection for rail operations. BNSF officials have said that constructing roughly a mile of additional sheds in the corridor would be too expensive and would not effectively reduce the threat of avalanches hitting U.S. 2, which parallels the rail tracks.

Last year, the railroad spent $1.2 million in maintaining just one shed in the Essex area, said railroad spokesman Gus Melonas. He said the railroad plans to spend $5 million more in maintaining other sheds in the corridor during the next few years.

To solicit more public comment on the issue, park officials will host next week's gatherings, which will involve a first-hour open house followed by a second-hour comment period. The Tuesday open house will be from 18:00 to 20:00 at the Red Lion Hotel Kalispell, and the Wednesday open house is from 16:30 to 18:30 at the West Glacier Community Building. - Jim Mann, The Kalispell Daily Inter Lake




RAILROAD MAINTENANCE TRUCK STRUCK BY TRAIN

MEDICAL LAKE, WA -- A railroad maintenance truck became stuck on a crossing and was hit by a BNSF Railway Company train near Spokane, Washington Friday morning.

Spokane County Sheriff's spokesman Sergeant Dave Reagan says no one was hurt in the accident this morning just west of Medical Lake, about 20 miles west of Spokane.

Deputies at the scene say neither the 56-year-old driver of the truck nor his 39-year-old passenger was injured. No one aboard the train was injured either.

Reagan says the maintenance workers told deputies they were making a U-turn on the railroad crossing when their utility truck became stuck in ice. They say they radioed the railroad and then ran from the vehicle as the train bore down on it. - The Associated Press, KNDU-TV, Yakima, WA




KCSR CREW ILLUSTRATES IMPORTANCE OF CHECKING TRAINS IN A CURVE

On November 26, Kansas City Southern Railway engineer Lanie Keith and conductor Stanley Brown of the MSHNS were in a curve at milepost 73 at Pelahatchie, Mississippi on the Meridian Subdivision when they noticed sparks flying. The crew stopped the train and found that one car had derailed.

"This is a great example of why it is important to check your train in a curve," said Bryan Boaz Meridian Subdivision trainmaster. "Since the conductor was watching, the derailment was caught early, preventing a much worse derailment." Special thanks to this crew for being on top of their game. - KCS News




KCS HOSTS CHINESE MINISTRY OF RAILROADS DELEGATION

On November 30, Kansas City Southern president and chief operating officer Art Shoener and vice president sales and marketing intermodal and international Ted Prince hosted a delegation of 10 from the Chinese Ministry of Railroads (MOR) for breakfast on board the Truman Car at corporate headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. Following the private meeting, Prince directed the group on a tour of Bartlett Grain and the Kansas City intermodal ramp.

The MOR, with over two million employees, is an operation whose economic influence and involvement extends well beyond traditional railroad operations. Since they are embarking on a massive upgrading of China's rail infrastructure, the MOR periodically sends delegations abroad to learn best practices from other railroads. This is the first time that such a delegation has visited KCS. - KCS News




LOUISIANA PROVIDES WARM WELCOME TO KCSR'S HOLIDAY EXPRESS

The sixth annual Kansas City Southern Railway Holiday Express opened on November 25 in Shreveport to a crowd of 2,052 visitors at the annual Rockets over the Red event. The following nights saw 1,342 in Coushatta, 3,021 in Pineville, 2,958 in LaPlace, 3,233 in Gonzales and 1,536 in Leesville. Tonight (Friday, 12/01/06), another large crowd is expected in DeQuincy.

The elves on board are reporting that the general public is in awe by the train and that the new "blue room" makes spectacular Santa pictures. The transformation of the inside of Santa's caboose into a winter wonderland, frosted in cool tones of blue, sparkling white lights and encrusted with ornaments is part of the tradition of annual enhancements to the train. More subtle changes, such as the addition of a miniature roller coaster and additions to the O-scale models and new murals are also worth seeing. A Pineville visitor, who waited in line for hours said, "It was worth the wait!" - KCS News




CURTIS PARK RAILYARD PLANS BACK ON TRACK

SACRAMENTO, CA -- Plans to redevelop the Curtis Park railyard in Sacramento are back on track, says the developer who owns the land.

Paul Petrovich said the cleanup of the state Superfund site was stalled for 18 months while he negotiated a new agreement with Union Pacific Railroad to haul out toxic dirt.

A new agreement became necessary after Petrovich bought an additional 7-acres from the railroad, bringing his total holdings to 72 acres. UP still runs a main freight line and switching operation adjacent to the shuttered railyard, which it sold to Petrovich in 2003.

Outside of the downtown railyard, the Curtis Park railyard is considered the most significant development site near Sacramento's downtown core. It stretches from Fourth Avenue to Sutterville Road, separating the Curtis Park and Land Park neighborhoods.

In the past, Curtis Park residents have raised concerns about traffic and weighed in on architectural design in the neighborhood association newspaper. - Mary Lynne Vellinga, The Sacramento Bee




LAWMAKER WANTS CROSSING GATES AT EVERY RAILROAD CROSSING

BAKERSFIELD, CA -- A series of deaths at railroad crossings has prompted a state legislator to introduce a bill to require crossing arms at train track intersections throughout California.

Sixteen people died on train tracks in Kern County in November alone, state Sen. Dean Florez said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Rafael Marin Carrillo's car was hit by an Amtrak train at a crossing with flashing lights but no arms, sheriff's officials said.

"There's nothing better than a gate that's down to warn that a train is coming," Florez said.
The death was the sixth at that Bakersfield crossing since 2002, he said.

The California Public Utilities Commission currently determines when a railroad crossing needs warning arms and picks up 90 percent of the cost, said Kern County Road Director Craig Pope.

Each set of mechanical arms costs between $200,000 and $300,000 to install, Florez said.

The senator said he plans to present the bill in the state legislative session that begins Monday. - The Associated Press, The San Jose Mercury News




SCORCHED BOXCARS GONE, BUT FIRE DEBRIS REMAINS

LODI, CA -- A set of boxcars near Beechnut Avenue and Tracy Boulevard was removed this week after sitting dormant for the past three months, becoming the subject of vandalism and two acts of arson.

Union Pacific, owner of both tracks and the cars, moved the cars Wednesday, but not without leaving an obvious trail behind.

Debris from two arson-related fires — one in October and a more severe fire in August — were left on the side of the tracks untouched.

"If it's debris from the incident, we would be (responsible)," Union Pacific spokesperson Mark Davis said.

He added that he planned to notify Union Pacific employees Thursday to clean up the tracks.

Division Fire Chief David Bramell, who responded to the October fire, asked a Union Pacific officer on the scene to have the cars removed more than a month ago.

"We want to establish an open line of communication so we can ensure that we don't have any railcars that sit there that long," Bramell said after the fire. "Cars that sit dormant with the doors open always invite this sort of vandalism."

Union Pacific workers also left behind piles of ties, rails and two pallets of welding mold, which is used to secure rails. The materials have already been vandalized and smashed.
The materials won't be there long, Davis said. "It's staging materials for work they're doing."

Union Pacific does its best to discourage vandalism, he added. "The safest thing to do is stay away from railroad property. If you're caught, you'll be asked to leave." - Danielle MacMurchy, San Joaquine News Service, The Lodi New-Sentinel




TRANSIT NEWS

GETTING A JUMP ON THE TRACKS: DEVELOPERS DRAWN TO DART AREN'T JUST WAITING FOR A TRAIN

DALLAS, TX -- A vacant block in Las Colinas will soon be sprouting a $215 million mixed-use complex.

Gables Residential Trust plans to build apartments, a shopping center, office space, a hotel and condos for its huge Water Street development on O'Connor Road in Irving.

The high-rise project is in Las Colinas Urban Center and a couple of blocks away from DART's planned light rail station.

Developers aren't waiting for Dallas Area Rapid Transit to finish the light rail system expansion - they are already at the planned stations, building apartments and retail space.

Gables plans to have at least the first phase of its project open by the time the commuter train stops there in 2011.

"In our project, we are planning to do about 300,000 square feet of retail," said Gables' senior vice president Doug Chesnut. "Since our draw is going to have to be for more people than in the neighborhood, we are counting on the DART line for access to our site."

South of Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, construction is under way on the rail line and a station on Malcolm X Boulevard at Junius Street in Deep Ellum.

Next door, Phoenix-based developer Alliance Residential has already broken ground for an apartment and shopping complex.

Brian Tusa, Alliance partner and development director, said the project should be finished in about two years.

By 2009, DART trains will connect his project to work centers in nearby downtown Dallas and farther away in the Telecom Corridor.

"The DART line is really going to enhance our project when it's complete," Mr. Tusa said. "But it's not just the train - we are attracted to the Baylor Medical Center and its employment as well."

Alliance's Ambrose project will contain 315 rental units and 13,000 square feet of retail in a five-story building.

"From our project, you are only a few steps from the train - that's pretty unique," Mr. Tusa said.

Indeed, in a business where competing projects can pop up on almost every corner, developers who are flocking to DART's rail construction hope to have an edge.

"It's not something we are used to seeing a lot in Texas, but if you look across the country it's the norm," said Greg Willett, head of research for Dallas-based apartment analyst M/PF YieldStar Inc. "As these light rail projects get announced, developers jump in right away and try to get their projects open as soon as possible.

"The rail line doesn't even have to be there and operating when the project first opens."

And while studies show that the majority of residents in the first North Texas transit-oriented developments don't use the rail system to commute, they want the option.

"They want something that offers the lifestyle and character of a more dense and interesting development," Mr. Willett said.

On Motor Street just east of Parkland Memorial Hospital, the construction of a block of bright-colored buildings has shaken up an old industrial district.

FirstWorthing and Greenway Investment Co. are building a 16-acre mixed-use development designed to serve nearby UT Southwestern Medical Center.

The first $30 million phase of their Cityville project will start leasing in January with 275 apartments and 43,000 square feet of retail space.

Just across the street from the urban living complex, DART will construct its medical center light rail station, which should open in 2010.

"DART is a big bonus for us," said FirstWorthing executive vice president John Allums. "What's driving our development is the large employment base in the medical district."

FirstWorthing is a proponent of transit-oriented developments. The developer has reached a preliminary agreement to build more apartments and shops over the parking lots at DART's 10-year-old Mockingbird rail station.

"DART is a big amenity for developments," said Gables' Mr. Chesnut, whose project may be the most elaborate so far planned for construction near a transit stop.

More than 780 apartments are to be built in the Water Street complex, which fronts on Las Colinas' Lake Carolyn.

Other plans for the development include about 50,000 square feet of office space, a 92-unit condo tower and a boutique hotel.

"We are way down the road in our planning," Mr. Chesnut said. "We hope to start construction next year on the first phase." - Steve Brown, The Dallas Morning News




LIGHT RAIL ADDING 30 JOBS BEGINNING IN JANUARY

PHOENIX, AZ -- METRO Light Rail will add 30 new jobs in the Phoenix area, beginning in 2007, Chief Executive Rick Simonetta told board members Thursday.

In addition, Kinkisharyo, the Japanese firm that is manufacturing the light rail vehicles, has decided to locate its assembly operation at METRO's maintenance and storage facility near Washington and 48th streets in Phoenix.

"It's good for the Valley, it saves us money and it gives METRO great oversight of the assembly process," Simonetta told board members. "It's also a big value for the light rail partners. In exchange for hosting the operation, METRO is saving taxpayers more than $1 million through credits and through savings on travel and other expenses associated with vehicle inspections, testing and commissioning."

Kinkisharyo had been scouting assembly locations throughout Arizona after winning the contract for vehicle manufacturing.

While the precise number of assembly workers is not known at this time, a conservative estimate is that 25 to 35 jobs will be created. Some of those workers will be Kinkisharyo experts who relocate to the Valley, but most will be hired locally. After the assembly process is completed in two years, many of the assembly workers are expected to find permanent jobs with METRO contractors as maintenance technicians and supervisors.

Simonetta also told the board that Vehicle 101 -- the first rail car off the production line -- is expected to arrive in the Phoenix area the week of Dec. 4.

"We haven't pinpointed the day or hour yet," said Simonetta, "but it's only days away."

Final assembly of one METRO light rail vehicle takes two to three months, including testing.
All of the 50 vehicles comprising METRO's fleet are expected to be assembled and ready for revenue service by December 2008. - The Business Journal of Phoenix




LEADER QUESTIONS BART EXTENISON; ASSEMBLYMAN SAYS LIGHT RAIL MAY BE BETTER

UNION CITY, CA -- With major gaps in funding for extending BART to Warm Springs and San Jose, Assemblyman Alberto Torrico says it soon could be time to consider scrapping the project altogether.

"What's the love affair with BART?" asked Torrico, D-Newark, this week at a meeting with Union City leaders. "Light rail is a lot cheaper."

However, BART and Fremont officials beg to differ.

"You're not going to save that much on light rail, and it doesn't have the size or appeal of BART," said Tom Blalock, who represents the Tri-City area on the BART Board of Directors.

BART's 5.4-mile, $678 million extension to Warm Springs faces a $145 million shortfall.

Extending the commuter rail to San Jose would cost an estimated $4.7 billion, and Santa Clara voters rejected a sales tax hike in June that would have helped pay for the project.

"Every day, we get closer and closer to the reality that (the BART extension) is not affordable," Torrico said. "Some people think we're already there."

Still, Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman said consideration of a light-rail system would divert funds needed for the BART extension. "To all of a sudden abandon that, I think, is irresponsible," he said.

Meanwhile, officials in Union City are pushing the planned Dumbarton Rail line linking the city's BART station with Redwood City and Caltrain. The service would solidify Union City's BART station as a regional transit hub and make it a major point of departure for commuters heading to San Jose.

But with the service now estimated to cost $595 million -- double the initial estimates -- officials fear that there won't be enough money to pay for it and the BART extension.

During Torrico's meeting with Union City officials, Mayor Mark Green charged that Wasserman and other Fremont leaders supported "siphoning dollars from going west (Dumbarton Rail) to going south to Warm Springs and San Jose."

Wasserman called the Dumbarton project "a joke" in terms of easing traffic congestion. "We should take that money and put it into Warm Springs," he said.

Torrico said that light rail is cheaper to build because, unlike BART, it runs on regular rail track and doesn't require land purchases.

Blalock countered that a light-rail service to Warm Springs would require a new environmental study — delaying the project by at least two years, while construction costs would continue to rise.

The Warm Springs extension recently won federal approval for its environmental report, making it eligible to receive federal funds.

Torrico said he still supports the BART extension.

However, if the voter-approved transportation bonds passed last month don't include enough money for BART and the Bay Area -- a likely outcome, he said -- he will consider making the case for light rail.

"I think we all have to be open-minded to other alternatives," he said. - Matthew Artz, The Argus, InsideBayArea.com




LAGNIAPPE (Something extra, not always railroad related, for Saturdays only)

HOW NATURE MADE ITS MASTERPIECE

Since Grand Canyon National Park opened in 1919, 154 million people have visited. Numbers fell in the aftermath of 9/11 but have climbed back to 4.5 million each year, a million more than visit either Yellowstone or Yosemite.

Army Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives would have been dismayed. In the winter of 1857-58, he sailed up the Colorado River in search of a route for the transcontinental railroad. Unfortunately, his craft struck a rock at the site of present-day Hoover Dam, ending the maritime phase of the expedition and forcing the party to ascend the Grand Wash Cliffs onto the Colorado Plateau.

When the time came to descend at Diamond Creek, his regular Indian guides balked. But the Hualapai of the South Rim, "perfectly at home" in the Big Cañon, guided the party safely to river's edge. On his return, Ives made one of the least accurate predictions in history:

"The region ... is, of course, altogether valueless. Ours has been the first, and will undoubtedly be the last, party of Whites to visit the locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed."

The expedition's scientist, John Strong Newberry, drew the opposite lesson. "The Colorado Plateau is to the geologist a paradise," he wrote. "Nowhere on the Earth's surface, so far as we know, are the secrets of its structure so fully revealed as here."

At the time, one of the Earth's secrets had to do with the origin of rivers and their valleys. Like the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum: Which came first, the river or the valley? European geologists, believing the Earth to be only a few thousand years old, tended to think that earthquakes or other violent forces had ripped apart the surface, after which water naturally flowed down the resulting channels. Valleys first, rivers second.

They had never been in canyon country, where one can see bare rock for 100 miles in every direction, and, at the Grand Canyon, down a mile into the earth. Newberry used this unique vantage to observe that the rock formations are undisturbed and match up across the canyon, revealing no evidence of violence. He concluded that running water created nearly every feature of the Colorado Plateau, including the Grand Canyon. Rivers first, valleys second.

Newberry's insight has deeper implications. The Colorado River has incised through thousands of feet of sedimentary rock and even into the hard rock at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. In the one-handed game, paper covers rock, scissors cut paper, and rock smashes scissors. But running water destroys even the most adamantine rock. Not only did streams carve the Grand Canyon, they excavated an entire landscape, removing billions of tons of solid rock and transporting them hundreds of miles downstream to the Colorado Delta. Yet when we return to the Grand Canyon, we see almost no evidence of the erosion that carved it. The Colorado is no longer even muddy, the slit it once carried now trapped behind Glen Canyon Dam. Erosion on such an immense scale, yet which to us is imperceptible, must have taken eons.

The idea that random earthquakes or giant floods created the Grand Canyon leads to no further theories; it is a scientific dead end. But recognizing that rivers are cause and valleys effect allows one to reason backward and work out Earth history. That is how the second geologist to see the Grand Canyon, Maj. John Wesley Powell, developed his theory that the plateau rose under the river like a log lifted into a saw. He used the right method, but modern geologists, having vastly more evidence, have come up with a better answer.

Clarence Dutton, whose magnificent Tertiary Geology of the Grand Canyon District the University of Arizona Press reprinted in 2001, took the next logical step. If streams have been carving up the land for all of geologic time with the power that the Grand Canyon reveals, why are any high places left? Dutton realized that some mysterious force must lift the Earth's surface, starting the process of erosion anew.

Today, we know that force to be plate tectonics, the heat-driven movement of giant, thin slabs of the Earth's surface that collide, split apart, or slide past each other. Plate collision left the mile-high Colorado Plateau with the snow-capped Rockies on one side and the low-lying Mojave Desert on the other. That arrangement afforded the Colorado River both a permanent supply of water and the steepest gradient of any major river on the continent, turning it into a buzz saw of erosion.

What caused the Grand Canyon? Geologists continue to work out the details, but the ultimate answer is plate tectonics. From the Grand Canyon-inspired discoveries of Newberry, Powell and Dutton, a genealogy leads directly to the modern theories of geology.

During your next Grand Canyon visit, as you enjoy the sublime vistas, also ponder the rocks exposed in the canyon walls. From the Kaibab limestone at the Rim to the granite of the abyss represents over a billion years of Earth history. Water was essential to the formation of each of the canyon's sedimentary rocks.

Take the Redwall limestone, made up of microscopic organisms that lived in a warm, shallow sea 335 million years ago. When the tiny creatures died, their shells slowly settled to the bottom and gradually converted into rock. Think about how long it must have taken to build a 500-foot-thick layer of solid rock from particles so small we cannot even see them.

Each planet and moon in our solar system has had the same deep time at its disposal, but only one has had for most of its existence the liquid water necessary to build and then destroy sedimentary rock. Astronomers are finding planets around other suns, but whether another Grand Canyon exists, we are unlikely ever to know. I prefer to think there is only one. - Jim Powell, The Arizona Republic (Jim Powell is former president of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and a former member of the National Science Board. He is the author of "Night Comes to the Cretaceous" and other books, most recently: "Grand Canyon: Solving Earth's Grandest Puzzle," now out in softcover from Plume Books. He lives in Buellton, California, and is at work on a book about the future of the dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River.)




STILL LIVING THE SWEET LIFE?

PAINCOURTVILLE, LA -- Donaldsonville, Louisiana historian Gus Guinchard Jr. watched as trucks carrying loads of sugar cane rolled into the Westfield Sugar Factory.

“Way back before trucks, you had a railroad system,” Guinchard said. “The railroad system got the cane to the mill.”

Inside the small office near the sugar mill, which manufactures raw sugar and molasses, old photographs of the trains line the walls.

Times have changed.

“Times changed with the cane trucks,” said Guinchard, who owns stock in the Assumption Parish company. “Before that, they used the tracks to build cane trailers that hauled the cane to the mill. Loading the wagons with cane was tough. When a man used to tell you he would climb the wheel (to load the wagon), you knew he was a tough man.”

Although sugar comes from sugar cane and sugar beet plants, in Louisiana, the sugar comes exclusively from the cane plant, a perennial that is believed to have originated in the South Pacific and is cultivated in countries with tropical climates. Sugar cane must undergo processing before the sugar can be extracted from the plant.

As the sun came out and dried the sugar-cane fields less than a mile from the Westfield Sugar Factory, Joel Landry raced against Mother Nature on Halloween day to cut several acres of cane before another downpour.

“If it gets too wet, the tractor will sink,” Landry said.

A producer of sugar cane, Landry is one of several Paincourtville families that have seen their share of changes in the sugar-cane industry. Many of those who work on the farms and in the mill today are simply carrying on the tradition of their fathers.

“It’s something you grow in to,” said Landry, whose father, Philip Landry Jr., was also was a sugar-cane farmer.

Joel Landry still remembers when he and his older brother would watch their father plant and harvest sugar cane.

Unlike their forefathers; however, sugar-cane farmers like Joel Landry, 39, worry about the future of the industry.

Making a living

“Labor is an issue,” Landry said blatantly. “Not many people want to come to work in the field. It’s not the highest-paying job.”

In recent years, Landry has had to employ migrant workers and is depending more and more on the foreign help for the survival of his business.

To make a profit, Landry must secure more land and plant more cane than he did 15 years ago.

“Fifteen years ago, a farmer could make more money with 1,000 acres than I can today with 2,900 acres,” he said.

Now 83, Philip Landry Jr., who rode in the tractor as the cane was harvested, once raised a family of seven on 65 acres.

“You really have to have volume to justify the cost,” Joel Landry said. “At this stage, you have to make money.”

Joel Landry said it’s impossible to make a living planting and harvesting crops with less than 1,000 acres of cane.

The culprit, Joel Landry said, is low sugar prices. Unlike most commodities, the price of sugar hasn’t changed much over the years. Today, one pound of sugar fetches about 20 cents. In 1974, when the price of sugar reached its peak, farmers earned almost 60 cents a pound.
“That’s the highest it’s ever been,” Philip Landry Jr. recalled.

Joel Landry said the government keeps a hands-on approach, “keeping supply where it needs to be.”

“When the price goes up, they import,” Joel Landry said. “They never let the supply go down.”
That, Joel Landry said, really hurts small farmers.

Decline in number of mills

Operations Officer and Agricultural Operations Manager Chris Mattingly has also witnessed a decline in the industry. When he first joined the sugar manufacturing industry in 1977, about 30 sugar mills operated in the area. Today, a dozen are left.

Some, Mattingly said, just weren’t profitable while others merged with a neighboring mill. Still others folded when the owners sold their land to developers; and some lacked the land to expand.

The two Assumption Parish mills process cane from farms in Assumption, St. James, Iberville and Ascension parishes. While sugar cane is still grown in Ascension Parish, the number of families involved has dwindled over the years. Only 13 percent of cane processed at the two mills comes from Ascension Parish farmers.

Just like the farms that supply the cane, the mills, many of which began as small, family- or plantation-owned mills, grew into larger facilities owned by several families.

Ascension Parish’s last sugar-cane mill, Evan Hall, closed five years ago, so cane grown by an estimated 20 parish farmers must travel to mills outside the parish.

Charles Thibaut said his family closed Evan Hall, once the largest mill in the state, because of “the economies of scale.”

Thibaut, whose family has been in the sugar-cane business for three generations, said as the price of sugar dropped, it became harder for mills to see a profit. Consolidations resulted in few mills being left.

In 1997, the Lula Sugar Factory, operated by Savoie Industries and the Westfield Sugar, operated by Dugas and LeBlanc, merged to become the Lula-Westfield, L.L.C. The company not only operates two sugar manufacturing factories but leases land to more than 55 farmers.

The Thibaut family stays in the business by leasing its land to other farmers.

“It’s a dying business,” Joel Landry said. “You have to produce because the price stays down.”

“The biggest thing I hope to see in this industry is the price can be decent so that future generations will be interested in farming,” Joel Landry said. “I hope farming in general can stay healthy.”

The father of two daughters, Joel Landry knows that his family legacy of farming ends when he retires.

Charles “Chip” Savoie Jr. of Klotzville sees the industry through the eyes of a factory worker. The Lula-Westfield, L.L.C. operations officer and company chief engineer is the fourth generation to work at the Westfield Sugar Factory.

His nephew Stephen Savoie also works at the mill.

Like Joel Landry, Charles Savoie Jr. grew up around sugar.

“Growing up in the industry, my brother and I used to play cowboys and Indians in that,” said Charles Savoie Jr. as he pointed to a mountain of raw sugar held in a warehouse.

Changes in the mills

His father, Charles Savoie Sr., was the first to pioneer and place a steam turbine in a sugar mill to drive rollers to crush the cane. The invention revolutionized the industry, Savoie said.

In the 1930s and 1940s, his dad also converted the old wood buildings into steel and color-coded various lines such the high pressure, exhaust steam, cold water and low pressure steam.

“He helped modernize this facility,” Savoie said.

“Some of the things he did made my life easier,” he added.

Today, employees at the Westfield Sugar Factory, which dates back to the 1800s and was incorporated in 1904, continue to modernize the facility, expanding it to grind more cane per day and make the manufacturing process more efficient.

“The only way we’re going to improve is by increasing our capacity to grind more cane,” Savoie said. “We know we have to grow to stay alive.”

As he spoke of the improvements to the sugar factory, Savoie pointed to a set of boilers that dates back to 1951 and the steam turbine, first placed at the Westfield Sugar Factory in 1948. Both still work efficiently and won’t need to be replaced anytime soon.

People make difference

Despite so many changes, Savoie said, one thing remains constant, and that’s his employees, generations of workers who are now taking the place of their fathers.

“We’ve been blessed with good people,” Savoie said.

A sense of pride, he added, is what entices them to stay.

“It’s that sense that I want to make it better than my daddy,” Savoie said.

As the company improves the facility, Savoie said, the company keeps these employees in mind.
“Every time we do something we try to make it easier on the workers,” he said.

In addition to newer, bigger equipment, automation has helped employees keep constant watch over the manufacturing process.

The future

While the future of the sugar-cane industry is anyone’s guess, Savoie said he sees the industry moving forward, expanding to meet demand with fewer, yet bigger mills.

Savoie said research and development are also helping farmers yield better crops.

“More expansion, growth and diversification, looking for other uses of our products,” he said when asked what he sees for the future of the industry.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen all in my lifetime, but I think it’s going to happen,” Savoie said.

Thibaut called the future of sugar cane in Louisiana “very healthy right now.”

The increased use of ethanol in the production of gasoline could result in a need for more sugar cane grown in the state, Thibaut said. - Christine M. Arceneaux, The Baton Rouge Advocate




NICHE ORANGE INDUSTRY STILL REELING FROM KATRINA, RITA

JESUIT BEND, LA -- Last year's hurricanes flooded Ben Becnel Sr.'s citrus groves with saltwater, thrashed three of his greenhouses and workers' quarters and destroyed or otherwise damaged hundreds of orange trees.

And he was one of the lucky ones.

Further south in Plaquemines Parish, Katrina and Rita laid waste to entire communities, destroying houses and livelihoods and threatening the future of the state's prized, niche citrus industry.

"We've lost a lot before," with hurricanes and freezing temperatures killing trees, if not groves, agricultural agent Alan Vaughn said. But this is different, he said: "With freezes, you could go back and plant trees. Now, the grove is the low man on the list, when you have to rebuild your house."

With harvest under way and the parish's weekend-long orange festival set to begin Friday, farmers like Becnel, with navel oranges and satsuma mandarins to sell, are trying to fill strong demand, while older producers such as 73-year-old Gerald Ragas are struggling to start over.

It will be at least four years until the small trees he replanted to replace some of the 450 trees he lost will begin bearing fruit.

"I've had people say, Are you out of your mind, Jerry?" said Ragas, who lives near Buras. " ... What am I going to do, sit in a recliner chair and go away?"

Louisiana's citrus industry has a cult-like, regional following and is known especially for its navel oranges. The first trees were planted during French colonial times, in the 1700s, but serious farming didn't begin until the 1850s. Only about 1,330 citrus acres were planted statewide in 2004, tiny when compared to the hundreds of thousands of acres in industry leaders Florida, California and Texas. It's such a niche market that the U.S. Department of Agriculture only reports on Louisiana's industry every five years.

Many of Louisiana's citrus farms are in Plaquemines Parish, where a long finger of Mississippi River delta extends into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, creating an excellent climate for citrus growing. In 2004, parish farmers produced 405,000 bushels of navels and satsumas, the vast majority of the statewide total, according to the LSU Agricultural Center. Some of the fruit was shipped out of state and to major cities such as Chicago. But most of it was sold closer to home, through word of mouth and from places like roadside stands or regional grocers.

In 2005, the year of the storms, parish production fell to 120,000 bushels - and the market became more localized.

The hurricanes wiped out about half the acreage in Plaquemines, Vaughn said, leaving behind limited oranges and questions about whether the industry, comprised of family farms, can rebound.

"Until insurance issues and levee issues are cleared up, that's a question in people's minds," parish President Benny Rousselle said. "How many will replant?"

Vaughn isn't convinced everyone will; the work is hard, and farmers are getting older. "I don't know we can (fully) recover," he said.

Ask folks what makes Plaquemines oranges so great, and they'll know instantly that you're not from here. This is, after all, a fruit that's celebrated each year.

"If you taste our fruit, I've never had anyone say, Eh, that's OK," Vaughn said. "The navels will drip (juice) down your arm." Vaughn believes the climate and rich delta soil give Plaquemines oranges an edge in taste.

J.B. Falgoust, who has bought Plaquemines oranges for years, recently traveled about 110 miles, from his home near Vacherie, upriver from New Orleans, to Buras, to find Ragas and the oranges he's traditionally given as Christmas presents.

"You'd think he'd say 'I quit.' But no, he's coming back," Falgoust said.

The Becnels, who also sell citrus at a roadside stand, have been supplying loyal customers with limited amounts of fruit but turning down some orders, Becnel Jr. said. In years past, fruit would be shipped to customers and chain stores in markets such as Atlanta, Indianapolis and St. Louis. But this year, with a supply pinched by last year's hurricanes and poorer growing conditions, the farthest its being trucked is Baton Rouge, Becnel Sr. said.

Prices are up from 2004, from about $14 for a 40-pound box to $22.50 a box. But with costs such as spraying and fertilizing, and the total loss of about 350 trees to the storms, it still won't be enough to break even, Becnel Sr. said.

He figures they'll produce just 10,000 boxes of fruit this year; in a good year, they'd produce three to four times that. Their financial saving grace will be their vegetables, which did well, he said.

While it's been a difficult year, the Becnels, fifth and sixth generations in this business, can't see getting out of the industry now; it's what they know.

Becnel Jr. said he'd keep on "until God moves me."

"He was close," he said, "but we're still here." - Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press, The Baton Rouge Advocate




THE END



Subject Written By Date/Time (PST)
  Railroad Newsline for Saturday, 12/02/06 Larry W. Grant 12-02-2006 - 04:03


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