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DOTD safety move irks town officials

The Louisiana Department
of Transportation and Development wants to give the town a raised median and
safety gates at the Hwy. 22 railroad crossing, but some town officials don’t
want it, the Gonzales, La., Weekly Citizen reports. DOTD engineer Bill
Shrewsberry said construction would probably start late this year or early
next, in an effort to improve safety.


EJ&E merger foes prep for next battle

One appeal of a
controversial railway sale was denied this week, clearing the way for another
— this one in federal court, according to the Fox Valley Villages Sun. On
August 5, the federal Surface Transportation Board rejected an appeal by the
Illinois Commerce Commission. The ICC objected to Canadian National Railway
Company’s $300-million purchase of the suburban Elgin, Joliet and Eastern rail
line, which the STB approved in December.

Memphis logistics industry embraces NS expansion

Although Norfolk Southern Corp.’s planned $129-million intermodal yard won’t be built within the city limits but instead in neighboring Rossville, Memphis’ logistics and distribution industries stand to benefit from the railroad’s decision to expand its local presence, The Daily News in Memphis reports. Not only is the railroad’s sprawling facility dubbed the Memphis Regional Intermodal Terminal, but it will be close enough for Memphis-based companies to gain unprecedented logistical access to eastern cities.

Prince Rupert British Columbia’s ship finally comes in

Prince Rupert’s ship has finally come in, but it was expected 100 years ago, the Daily Commercial News reports. In 1909 this port in northern British Columbia was being groomed to become a major transportation hub and a large, vibrant city. Although it has the deepest, ice-free harbor in the world, it was a large iceberg that crushed that Prince Rupert dream.

New Jersey governor launches rail service to the Meadowlands

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine inaugurated new rail service to the Meadowlands Sports Complex, launching an era of travel convenience for the millions of New Jersey residents and visitors who attend year-round events at the Meadowlands. Dozens of officials and guests, including players from the New York Jets and New York Giants, joined the Governor for the train ride, which originated in Hoboken and finished with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Meadowlands Station.


CN grows jet-fuel traffic at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport

CN is developing a fast-growing business supplying jet fuel to airlines serving Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport. The effectiveness of CN’s rail pipeline for jet fuel to Pearson prompted the construction of a C$65-million new Jet Fuel Rail Offloading, Storage and Distribution Facility near the airport, adjacent to CN’s Malport rail yard in northwest Toronto. On July 21, CN and airline and supplier representatives celebrated the official opening of the terminal.

Wisconsin DOT secretary pushes passenger rail

(This article by Frank Busalacchi was published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is chair of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition and secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.)

Everyone who travels the nation’s roads, bridges and rails has a stake in a major project under way in Congress this year: the reauthorization of the country’s surface transportation law. This mammoth law, rewritten every six years, determines how much money will be available to maintain and expand the country’s transportation system. Moreover, the legislation determines how this huge pot of money — $286.5 billion in the last bill — will be spent.

As chair of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition and secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, I strongly urge Congress to revisit our transportation priorities, which for too many years have favored highways and airlines. It’s time to reinvest in a highly valuable and underused transportation mode: intercity passenger rail service.

The reasons for spending more on rail are many. Perhaps the most important reason is public demand. Travelers are voting for more intercity passenger rail service by boarding trains in record numbers. In 2008, Amtrak carried a record 28.7 million passengers — the highest number in the passenger railroad’s history. When gasoline prices broke the $4-a-gallon barrier last summer, increasing numbers of travelers changed their travel plans to rail, including nearly 900,000 travelers in Wisconsin.

Price alone is not the only reason many travelers are switching to rail. Growing congestion on our nation’s highways and increasing delays in the air are making rail an attractive option for millions.

Of course, as more people choose to travel by rail, the demand on the system rises. Amtrak is facing an unprecedented equipment shortage: 17 percent of Amtrak’s locomotives and 15 percent of its passenger fleet are out of service. Investment in track and signal infrastructure is needed now to deal with existing rail congestion and to add new passenger rail service for the future.

In the midst of an economic recession, investing in rail is a wise use of federal dollars. It is estimated that for every $1 billion invested in passenger rail projects, 30,000 new, good-paying jobs are created. In Wisconsin, Amtrak pays $4.3 million annually in wages.

Last year, I had the pleasure of serving on the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. The commission’s most significant finding illustrated the financial magnitude of the need: $357.2 billion in capital improvements required by the year 2050. Additionally, a commitment of $5 billion per year will be needed for the 80/20 federal rail grant program over the six-year reauthorizing period.

This important program provides 80 percent federal and 20 percent state funding for passenger rail projects, mirroring the funding split in highway projects. This funding split finally recognizes the importance of passenger rail in our national transportation system. The commission also identified a series of inherent advantages in passenger rail that further demonstrate the value in greater funding for this important transportation mode. Chief among them are:

Mobility: Intercity passenger rail offers an alternative to using the private automobile, bus or airplane for transportation. At the current average of 2.2 million monthly riders, this means that several million people every month are removed from the already overcrowded roadways and airports.

System redundancy: Intercity passenger rail creates system redundancy in the intercity corridors it serves. Redundancy helps to ensure that transportation is possible even when an event occurs that disrupts the primary transportation system.

Delay reductions: One of the potential benefits of intercity passenger rail service is reduced highway congestion. In congested corridors, intercity passenger rail would only have to capture a small share of the total traffic in order to generate a substantial public benefit for all corridor travelers.

Environmental: Intercity passenger rail may also generate potential health benefits by reducing vehicle emissions, lowering pollution, and indirectly mitigating health and environmental costs.

Safety: Passenger rail is one of the safest modes of travel — far safer than highway travel.

The reasons to invest more in passenger rail are compelling and in the national interest. The question is whether Congress has the will to take a fresh look at the nation’s surface transportation system and increase funding for rail — the transportation mode that moves people efficiently while reducing the burden on our congested highways and airlines.

Crossing work to slow Sprinter trains this weekend

Installation of a new pedestrian crossing at San Marcos Street will require a short detour on buses for some Sprinter train riders this weekend, the North County Times reports. The commuter trains will continue to operate west of the Palomar College Station and east of the San Marcos, Calif., Civic Center Station on Saturday and Sunday.

The North County Transit District, which owns and operates local public transportation, will operate special buses on a 1.6-mile route between the two stations to bridge the gap in service.

The reason for the changes is the installation of a pedestrian railroad crossing across the tracks at San Marcos Street in an area where people have been climbing the fence to cross the tracks illegally since the Sprinter began running in March, 2008. Many of the pedestrians seen jumping the fences are believed to be coming or going from San Marcos Middle school, which is south of the railway.

The crossing will give residents of the city’s Richmar neighborhood a sanctioned path to cross, protected by warning bells and by automatic metal gates that close when a train is coming. Sam Marcos councilman and transit district director Chris Orlando said that it took extra effort by city employees to get approval for the crossing, which is expected to cost nearly $800,000 to install.

"The city had to do a number of surveys to demonstrate that the safest way to handle the problem we have out there was installing the crossing," Orlando said. It took additional work, he said, to find the cash to pay for the crossing. The bulk of the cost will be paid with a $596,230 Safe Routes to School grant from the state Transportation Department.

Securing permission to add ground-level pedestrian crossings to active rail lines has been difficult in North County. Encinitas has been working for years to add four undercrossings in sections of coastal rail where pedestrians often illegally cross tracks. Because trains move at up to 80 mph in the area, federal regulators have resisted simple ground-level crossings like the one to be installed in San Marcos. Instead, vertically-separated crossings are under consideration. Those crossings, basically tunnels under the rails, were estimated at $5 million in 2008, more than five times more costly than the San Marcos solution.

Rail company wants Keokuk bridge as gift

Keokuk Junction Railway Co. doesn’t necessarily want to own the swing-span railroad bridge between Keokuk and Hamilton, Ill., but that may be the best solution for all parties involved, according to company President Mike Carr, the Burlington Hawkeye reports.

"We really aren’t too excited about owning it," Carr said. "I’m not even sure I want to own it. But I think in the long run, it’s going to be best for the city and us if we do. We don’t want to buy it for money. We want them just to give it to us."

A controlling majority of Keokuk Junction Railway stock is owned by Peoria, Ill.,-based Pioneer Railcorp.

The Keokuk City Council kicked around the idea of selling the bridge for years. But the idea began to get more attention last month after the council proposed raising the cost of using the bridge. The council proposed raising the fee for the next three years from $16.67 a car to $19.67 per car and charging a second fee of $50 an hour for the time a city employee operates the bridge.

Keokuk Junction Railway, the only rail company that uses the bridge, rejected the initial proposal. But the two parties have come to tentative agreement of a single fee of $20.76 per car for a year. The council is expected to vote on raising the rate raise, which must be done by ordinance, later this month.

As part of the agreement, city officials pledged to make a concerted effort to determine whether the council would agree to sell the bridge and to explore questions that need answering before the bridge can be sold, Mayor David Gudgel said. Gudgel, who didn’t rule out the possibility of simply giving the bridge to the railroad, said It could be years yet before the city gets all its questions answered and is ready to divest itself of the bridge.

Carr points out the rate increases are passed directly to the two customers it has in Keokuk — Roquette America Inc. and Griffin Wheel.

"We can maintain the bridge cheaper and more effectively, more efficiently than the city can. And that is the bottom line. … Those bridge fees get passed on directly to those customers that use rail. We’ll be able to keep the costs down for them, our customers. Which in turn helps them, which in turn helps the city of Keokuk," Carr said.

The current rate simply isn’t enough to pay for bridge maintenance and employees who have to operate it, Gudgel said. Officials hope with the rate increase, the bridge will be able to pay for itself. The city spends at least $500,000 annually on maintaining the bridge. Although in 2008, costs were closer to $1.2 million, partially due to damage done during flooding last summer, said Keokuk Public Works Director Gerald Moughler.

Giving up the bridge would mean no more maintenance costs, which should be payment enough for the city, Carr said.

Before the council is willing to part with the bridge, officials first plan to shop it around to see if any other companies would be interested in the structure, such as BNSF, the Southeast Iowa Regional Economic and Port Authority or Roquette.

Carr was less than enthusiastic about the idea of another company owning the bridge and pointed out no other company could use it because Keokuk Junction Railway owns the tracks on either side of the bridge.

There are at least two other issues needing resolved before the city sells the bridge:
• Determining what the city would do with the $3.7 million fund it has in case the bridge ever needs to be demolished.
• Forging a legally binding agreement to guarantee the new owner does not abandon the bridge.

Gudgel added that if bridge were no longer maintained, the new owner would be required to remove it.

"I’m telling them (the city council members) if you give us the bridge, transfer it to us, you guys can keep that money for demolishing the bridge and use it for whatever you want in the city. We’ll take care of that (bridge). Because the last thing we want to see is that bridge demolished," Carr said.

Alaska Railroad tries again on herbicide

The Alaska Railroad is revisiting the longest-running controversy in its 20-plus years as a state-owned carrier with a new application to use weed-killing herbicides on some sections of its track, the Anchorage Daily News reports. This time, railroad officials say they want to use a chemical that targets only plants and doesn’t affect animals or fish. They say it will be heavily diluted, and would be used next year only along sections of track between Seward and Indian that are at least 100 feet from water bodies.

Critics are standing ready with counterarguments: They say the railroad’s weed-killer of choice is dangerous to people and animals, and that there’s hardly anyplace along the railroad’s line where water is far away.

A decision on whether the railroad, which argues that weed removal is a safety issue, can go ahead is expected sometime next spring from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The agency rejected the last request to use herbicides two years ago.

Anticipating another heavy response, Kristin Ryan, director of the agency’s environmental health division, has doubled the normal 30-day public comment period to 60 days. It starts today.

Public hearings are scheduled for Aug. 10 in Whittier, Aug. 11 in Seward, and Aug. 12 in Anchorage.

The railroad has been fighting weeds since the state acquired it from the federal government in 1985. With rare and isolated exceptions, it’s been required to do so with non-chemical means that have ranged from mowers, steam and hot water to one 1992 phase in which prison inmates were paid $1 an hour to hack the vegetation down. Railroad vice president and chief operating officer Ernie Piper said this week that weeds and brush in and near the tracks have gotten out of hand, especially on the southern 90 miles of line between Indian and Seward.

The Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates the Alaska Railroad, has promised hefty fines and expensive operational restrictions — cutting the speed at which trains can move or emergency closures of some sections of track — if the tracks aren’t cleaned up. In some places, plants and brush push roots into the gravel bed, or ballast, the track rests on, Piper said. That undermines the stability of the rail line. In other places, weeds and grass grow so thick through ties and rails that safety inspectors might not be able to spot flaws in welds or connections.

"They say, ‘we can’t see the ties and the fasteners and the plates,’" Piper said. "Particularly in the welded rail we’ve been putting in, you get expansion in the summer with the heat. They’re constantly under stress, and you’ve got to be able to look for the telltale clues."

Piper and railroad spokesman Tim Thompson said the track maintenance workers have done their best over the years with non-chemical controls.

"In the ’90s we tried the steam and the infrared and hot water, burning (vegetation)," Piper said. "None of it worked very well."

To their knowledge, they said, Alaska is the only state where railroads aren’t allowed to use herbicides in at least some places.

Last time around, the railroad’s application was turned down in part because the chemical wasn’t approved for use in water and might hurt fish, Ryan said. This time, the railroad is proposing using a weed-killer called "glyphosate," which Piper said is "the most benign of them all" and targets only plant growth.

"If you don’t photosynthesize, you have nothing to fear from it," he said. "If you ingested berries that had been sprayed with glyphosate, you’d just excrete it in your urine. Same thing with other animals and fish and so on."

But Pam Miller, director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, said "a wealth of new scientific research" indicates that glyphosate "can harm animals and human health." Miller also argues that the railroad hasn’t done enough to try out non-chemical means of weed control, regardless of what the agency’s executives say.

"For them to say they’ve tried these methods is misrepresenting what they’ve done, which is just giving them sort of a (cursory) try without actually rigorously applying them to see if they can be effective," she said. "The railroad proposing the use of herbicides again really flies in the face of years of citizen opposition.

NS preps new Memphis yard site

The land where Norfolk Southern wants to build an intermodal yard was annexed July 13 by the town of Rossville, Tenn., paving the way for the railroad’s proposed multimillion-dollar, multi-acre facility, the Memphis Daily News reports. Only one hurdle remains—getting the land rezoned industrial—before the Norfolk, Va.-based company receives the official green light to begin one of the largest economic investments in Fayette County’s history.

Although that final step won’t be resolved until next week, Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman is expected to confirm that the company has selected a site in South Fayette County for the new yard, dubbed the Memphis Regional Intermodal Terminal. At 2 p.m. July 16, at the Bank of Fayette County in Piperton, Moorman and other railroad representatives will be joined by a host of state officials, including Gov. Phil Bredesen, to announce the terminal will be built on about 500 acres in the newly annexed land in southwestern Rossville. Done deal

The city this week annexed nearly 1,600 acres in Rossville’s urban growth zone, stretching from just south of Tenn. 57 down to the state line. Much of the land is owned by former Direct General Insurance Co. owner William Adair, who sold that company and subsequently paid $28 million for 3,200 acres in Fayette County and Marshall County, Miss.

Adair bought the land with plans to develop it into a mixed-use subdivision called Piperton Hills. That project is still on the table, but Adair decided to sell a portion of his acreage to the railroad for the intermodal terminal in response to Norfolk Southern’s original site location, which county residents opposed.

The initial site was north of Tenn. 57 between Rossville and Moscow near the Wolf River. Locals reacted negatively to that site because of increased truck traffic along 57 and potential damage to the Wolf River.
Meanwhile, Norfolk Southern began looking at alternative sites.

State Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, said Norfolk Southern easily could have started building at that location (dubbed the Windyke site) because of the eminent domain that railroads possess.

“Instead, Norfolk Southern, when contacted by the South Fayette Alliance and the people in Fayette County, did what they could to be a good neighbor, come into our good graces and look for other property,” Rich said. “They knew (Windyke) was going to put an extraordinary amount of distress on Rossville and that the state would have to four-lane 57 highway. They listened to the concerns and they went out looking for another property.”

Norfolk Southern will now allow its option on the Windyke property to expire and will move forward with the land owned by Adair, who declined to disclose the terms of the deal.

Also, railroad officials declined comment prior to the event, but the intermodal yard is a key component of Norfolk Southern’s Crescent Corridor, a 2,500-mile rail network linking the southeastern and northeastern U.S. The Memphis yard, using a combination of trucks and trains to move goods into and out of the area, will serve as a critical western gateway for the corridor, whose $2.5 billion price tag is being funded by the railroad and the government.

The overall economic impact of the yard on Fayette County and the surrounding area, including Memphis, won’t be known for some time. First, the completion of the facility will take years. Second, the true benefit of the yard might come from ancillary businesses such as warehouses and distribution centers that tend to sprout near intermodal yards, and the development of those could be slow because of the sagging economy.

Rossville Mayor James Gaither said the development of the yard will provide some property tax base for the city and county, but beyond that he wasn’t sure of the direct impact for the economy or for jobs. All he knows is the annexation issue cleared the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Also, the first reading of the land’s rezoning is complete with the second scheduled for Monday. Once that is finished, the next step is for the railroad to submit a site plan before the lengthy construction process can begin.

He also knows that the Adair site is a much better choice than Windyke, which might have resulted in a groundswell of protests like the railroad is seeing with intermodal site selections in Alabama and East Tennessee.

ACC defends railroad crossing stop order in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Getting the go-ahead from the state utility regulators for a railroad safety project is a fairly straightforward process: Submit plans and then wait for their approval before starting work, according to the Arizona Daily Sun. But that is not what the city of Flagstaff, Ariz., did as it began construction work in Flagstaff related to the silencing of passing train horns, says Arizona Corporation Commission Chairwoman Kris Mayes.

Visiting motor cars mark Fairmont’s 100th anniversary

More than 40 railroad motor cars from all over the United States will be stopping in Albert Lea, Minn., during part of a 100th anniversary celebration of Fairmont Railway Motors Inc., now Harsco Track Technologies, the Albert Lea Tribune reports.

The celebration will include a display of about 45 North American Rail Car Operators Association motorcars during an open house at the Harsco facility in Fairmont. The 45 restored cars were originally built at the Fairmont plant and shipped to railroads around the United States and Canada.