Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thomas Night at the Somerset Patriots

Monday, 7/21/08, was Thomas the Tank Engine night at the Somerset Patriots baseball game. We were there with a Thomas layout along with Sir Topham Hatt and Mr. Conductor.

As part of this event we raffeled off a Thomas the Tank Engine set, and the lucky winner was Evelyn Reese, pictured here with her mother.

U.S. to announce fire settlement with Union Pacific

Received the following article via email. This article appeared in the Sacramento Bee newspaper on 7/22/08.

In a landmark case, the federal government will announce a $102 million settlement today with the Union Pacific Railroad Co. over a forest fire that devastated a massive national forest area near the Feather River Canyon eight years ago.

It is the largest settlement ever in a lawsuit over the origin of a forest fire case, thanks in no small part to a groundbreaking order by a federal judge. The judge ruled UP must pay for the loss of public scenery and recreation and habitat and wildlife, rather than merely the costs of the lost timber and firefighting resources used to douse the blaze.

Federal officials would not discuss details of the settlement, which is to be announced today in Sacramento. But U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said it is the largest civil settlement ever in the Eastern District of California, which is based in Sacramento and extends from the Oregon border to the Tehachapi Mountains.

"I consider this to be the most significant civil case in the history of the district," Scott said.

The largest previous settlement in a wildfire origin case was $14 million, and until today the biggest civil settlement in the district was $54 million paid by Tenant Healthcare Corp. in its role as owner of the Redding Medical Center.

Today's settlement stems from the Storrie fire, which broke out Aug. 17, 2000, while a UP section crew was repairing track in the Plumas National Forest.

The fire burned for three weeks and eventually required 2,600 firefighters to extinguish it.

More than 52,000 acres were burned in the Plumas and Lassen National forests – an area larger than San Francisco.

The fire burned so fiercely that vast stretches of the landscape have yet to begin recovering, and the settlement agreement calls for most of the money – $80 million – to go directly to foresters in the Plumas and Lassen forests to pay for rehabilitation of the area.

Federal officials also are expected to announce that the success in settling this case convinced authorities in Washington, D.C., to create three new "fire litigation teams" to pursue such cases throughout the West.

One will be based in Sacramento because the Eastern District includes 16 million acres of national forest system land, 8.3 percent of the country's total. The others will be in Los Angeles and Utah.

The federal government sued UP over the fire in 2006, claiming $200 million in damage had been done by the blaze.

Union Pacific is the largest railroad in North America, operating in the western two-thirds of the United States. Its 2007 operating income was $3.4 billion, and its net income was $1.86 billion.

The government's lawsuit over the fire's origin turned into a rout, and one of the reasons was the wildly divergent stories the five section crew members told in sworn pretrial testimony about how they put the fire out.

They were repairing track in a rugged area of the Feather River Canyon just north of Storrie, a Plumas County hamlet that is one of eight places in the nation with a population of 5. The repair work involved using a high-speed rail saw to cut the track, and then using a grinder to smooth the cut. The saw shoots out sparks – small, hot pieces of rail and saw blade – and tests show the sparks can travel as far as 39 feet.

While the cut was in progress, sparks started a fire in a bed of dry leaves. Two of the crew members testified they dumped water on it; two others testified they didn't dump water on it. Two of them testified they stomped on it; the three others testified they didn't stomp on it.

One testified they patted it with their hands; another said they did not pat it with their hands; yet another said they spread it around with their hands.

A train went through the area about 15 minutes after the crew departed, fanning the smoldering ash and embers.

"If the results were not so tragic, UP crew members' varying descriptions of their attempts to put out the fire would be somewhat comical," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kendall Newman, the government's lead lawyer in the case, observed in court papers.

At the end of January, the railroad conceded its liability and the reasonableness of the government's suppression tactics.

U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. ruled that "this court must consider, as many courts have, the unique character of the land at issue."

Over the railroad's objections, the judge found the government could seek damages for injuries other than to timber, including harm to the soil; destruction of trees too young for harvest; and destruction of wildlife, habitat and the area's grandeur, as well as denial of its use for recreation.

He also ruled the government could seek its reforestation costs, noting "much of the devastated areas involved old growth forests, designated wilderness and trees that were hundreds of years old."

Government experts estimate the Storrie fire burned more than 1,600 acres of spotted owl habitat, 12,000 acres of carnivore habitat, 9,000 acres of old growth forests – affecting bald eagles, goshawks and pine martens – and impacted amphibians and fish with silt runoffs into streams.

"We believe that when this fire occurred, our employees took reasonable precautions to put it out," UP spokeswoman Zoe Richmond said Monday. "Unfortunately, we had a situation that was pretty much extraordinary and unanticipated, and that caused the fire to flare up again."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

NJT's Raritan Valley Line scenes...

(train sightings 0n 7/19/08 and 7/20/08)

Saturday evening (7/19), a peculiar sound caught my attention coming from the Raritan Valley Line. It definitely was a train traveling very slowly but in what direction and why? After all, NJT passenger service terminates at Raritan on weekends. Curiousity got the best of me and I decided to brave the briars and poison ivy and see what a train was doing west of Raritan at 6:17 on a Saturday evening. Sliding down a dirt slope, my question was soon answered. It was a NJT ballast train. Evidently it was spreading ballast somewhere west of the Raritan station and was heading back on to the siding near CP BRAD.

On Sunday afternoon, driving over the Readington Road grade crossing in Branchburg (MP 40 on the RVL), I spotted a piece of NJT MOW equipment, or so I thought that is what it was. Turns out it is a jet engine snow blower. Perhaps NJT has read the Farmer's Almanac and thinks we will be in for a rough winter? That might account why they are getting the snow fighting equipment ready to do battle with the elements now? The thought of winter approaching sends a chill down my back! Brrrrr......

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reading & Northern Excursion 7/13/2008

Received the following email from Kermit Geary, Jr. Photos and captions are his.
After having to work as a Conductor on our railroad...the Stourbridge RR (Honesdale, PA) on Saturday, spent Sunday following the R&N's excursion from Tunkhannock to Jim Thorpe, PA. The weather was changeable, some sun, some clouds, and some rain. Signal trouble delayed the return trip which meant the shot at M&H was taken minutes before the skies opened up on us!! Otherwise, the trip seemed to run well and was very well patronized.

SE content: Loco is ex GM&N 425, GM&O 581, Louisiana Eastern 4

Kermit Geary, JR
Conductor, Stourbridge RR

R&N 425 at M&H Jct, Lehigh River Gorge, PA

Pittston (Coxton) Yard Office, Pittston, PA

Solomon's Gap

Lehigh River Bridge, White Haven, PA

Friday, July 18, 2008

US Freight Rail Congestion a Concern

Received the following news article via email. The article is from the Associated Press, dated 30 May 2008; and it appeared in several newspapers around the country. Here are some things to think about: Do the railroads want the taxpayers to subsidize their expansion of capacity? Why should we? Why can't the railroads raise the capital themselves?

(Also see our posting below titled Weekly Rail Carloading Report.)

US freight rail congestion a concern - Associated Press 30 May

CHICAGO — Railway executive Matthew Rose stood before fellow industry leaders, pointing to a map meant to tell the future of the U.S. rail freight network. It was drenched in red—east to west, north to south.

The blotches illustrated areas where, by 2035, traffic jams could be so severe trains would grind to a halt for days with nowhere to go.

"For those of you who've ever seen a good rail meltdown, this is what it looks like," Rose, CEO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., said as the crowded hall shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. "It's literally chaos in the supply chain."

While the nation's attention is focused on air travel congestion and the high cost of fuel for highway driving, a crisis is developing under the radar for another form of transportation—the freight trains used to deliver many of the goods that keep the U.S. economy humming.

The nation's 140,000-mile network of rails devoted to carrying everything from cars to grain by freight is already groaning under the strain of congestion, with trains forced to stand aside for hours because of one-track rail lines.

And it's probably going to get worse over the next two decades, according to an analysis of government and industry projections by The Associated Press and interviews with experts on rail freight.

The damage to the U.S. economy could climb into the billions of dollars. Higher shipping costs would raise prices for everything from lumber to grain. One analyst said the rail crunch could add thousands of dollars to the price of a car.

"It's not rocket science to see we have a calamity coming down the road," said Paul Bingham, a transportation analyst at research firm Global Insight.

Congestion around the country has remained chronic, even as the ailing economy has led to a 3 percent dip in freight train traffic in the first few months of this year compared with last year. And a new U.S. Chamber of Commerce report warns demand for freight trains is expected to double over the next 25 years.

The problem is that there's no room.

"Even if the estimates are half wrong, we can't put even 25 percent more freight in the system right now without serious implications," said Randy Mullett, an analyst for the nonprofit Transportation Research Board.

Already, delays hamper the existing rail freight network. A lone train stopped in Chicago can force other trains to stop or slow as far away as Los Angeles or Baltimore.

"It's a ripple effect," said Scott Haas, a vice president for United Parcel Service, which uses 3,000 freight cars every day, more than any other U.S. business. "Everything in my system backs up."

Atlanta-based UPS hasn't determined the total cost of freight route congestion, but says that just five minutes of daily delays for each of its drivers amounts to $100 million in company losses a year.

Other modes of transport can't take up the slack: Trucking faces its own congestion problems, a shortage of drivers and high fuel prices. Ships and barges can't reach large parts of the country. Airplanes couldn't begin to carry the millions of tons of coal, waste, chemicals, grain and cars hauled by trains. And hauling freight by rail remains far more fuel-efficient than trucking.

Many politicians are joining rail executives in sounding the alarm.

"The amount of money we're investing nationally is pathetic," Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said during a recent congressional hearing on congested freight routes. "We're heading toward fourth-world infrastructure."

Others suggest the railroads are being alarmist.

Kenneth Kremar, another Global Insight analyst, said talk of a looming crisis serves industry interests as rail companies jockey for more money from Congress. He said investment in larger, high-tech train cars and computer systems that better pace trains should help avert logjams.

"It's illogical to assume nothing will be done," he said. "Railroads have an inherent interest in doing something. The market will respond. There's no reason think they're headed for the abyss."

Amtrak, which shares the rails with freight trains, is also feeling the pinch. Its long-distance trains were on time just 42 percent of the time last year, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general.

The problem on the shared tracks has worsened in recent years as freight traffic has soared. Passenger trains move much faster than most freight trains, and in many areas there is only a single track, forcing trains to pull over onto side tracks and wait while trains coming in the other direction pass.

A solution won't come cheap.

The Chamber says expanding capacity on the more than 150-year-old U.S. rail system would cost $148 billion over 30 years. Private rail companies would have to pay most of it, with federal and state tax dollars covering much of the rest.

Any solution will have to include Chicago, which handles about 40 percent of all U.S. rail freight on 180,000 trains a year.

Expanding capacity here will cost $1.5 billion over six years, a coalition of officials and rail executives estimates. David Burns, an independent railroad engineering consultant based in the Chicago area, put the cost closer to $4 billion.

Bottlenecks crop up in other parts of the country, too.

Long stretches of busy Union Pacific Corp. lines in Southern California and the Southwest, vital routes for agricultural goods and Asian trading, have just a single track.

And Baltimore's long but low Howard Street rail tunnel, connecting mid-Atlantic states to the Midwest, has just one track and can't accommodate freight-train cars used elsewhere that carry twice the load, with one container stacked on top of another.

But the big choke point is Chicago, where it can take up to two days for trains to wind through the city.

Nearly all the major routes of the weblike rail freight system comes through one or more of the nearly 80 rail yards here. It's why a single delayed train here can force those thousands of miles away to stop or slow down.

The problem is that the Chicago hub was designed in the mid-1800s, when the area was a comparative backwater of 30,000 people. Now, 10 million residents sprawl into formerly rural areas where trains once rolled along unencumbered.

The 500 freight trains moving through Chicago each day also have to share tracks with—and yield to, according to protocol—700 daily commuter trains. In contrast, commuter trains in New York City don't share lines with freight.

Proposed solutions include building new overpasses to keep trains moving at track intersections. Elsewhere, single-line tracks could be expanded to double or triple. And some advocates want to restore tracks that fell out of use in the 20th century.

Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX announced plans this month to spend $300 million on upgrades to allow trains with double-stacked freight cars to run from the East Coast to the Midwest.

That would mean raising clearance on bridges and tunnels on lines through the Appalachian Mountains. CSX would like the federal and state governments to kick in $400 million more.

While the move would help congestion, it's not a cure-all. Double-stacked cars can't carry heavy, densely packed commodities, like coal, wheat and liquid chemicals, because of weight limits on tracks and because the heavy loads would make the trains dangerously unstable.

Expanding capacity to route trains around clogged cities may not sit well with suburban and exurban towns.

And then there's Amtrak. It already operates on tracks owned by the big railroads, which will be increasingly reluctant to make concessions to passenger trains.

But Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said it was only right that Amtrak also benefit from capacity upgrades. The service was formed in 1970 when Congress agreed to let railroads unload passenger service they said was dragging them down. In exchange, the railroads were required to give Amtrak priority on their tracks.

It may be impossible to keep both sides happy.

"There are areas, especially where there's just a single track, where Amtrak takes as much as 30 percent out of the capacity of freight rail. That's huge when you're in a capacity crunch," said Mullett, the analyst. "There will be hard public policy decisions, and that would include Amtrak."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Some CSX yellow and NS black...

(train sightings on 7-12-08)

on this Saturday (7/12) morning would find a good mix of NS and CSX passing by my vantage point in Manville. By time sequence, the trains spotted were as follows:

CSX @ 7:40- unknown symbol on this eastbound intermodal. This was a pleasant surprise since I can't recall the last time I saw a CSX intermodal this early on a Saturday morning. Motive power was CSX 5393 and CSX 7735.

CSX @ 8:02- unknown symbol once again on this empty garbage container train. Power would be CSX 5482, CSX 8199 and CSX 8208.

CSX @ 8:20- unknown symbol for the 111 cars of mixed freight that was taken east by CSX 5009 and CSX 248. About eighty cars back was a white Dupont caboose, a white Dupont boxcar and a white Dupont tank car with the marking "CAER". had no idea as to what the purpose of these three cars is.

CSX 301 @ 8:31- would have CEFX 3105 (SD40-2, ex-CN 5160) and CSX 7548 bringing 84 cars of mixed freight south over the Trenton Line. A photo of CEFX 3105 is included for the modeler's reference.

CSX @ 8:51- CSX 5309 and CSX 7871 bringing 42 cars south with loaded fifty-nine cubic yards containers of garbage-PU!

NS 21M @ 9:02- would have NS 9724, NS 2667 and UP 4244 for power.

NS 11J @ 9:15- seventy-two autoracks, measuring in at an estimated 6,800 feet, were taken west by NS 9340 and NS 9703.

NS 24V @ 10:00- had NS 7537 as its leader followed by NS 6708.

NS 214 @ 10:35- went the back way via the Port Reading Secondary. Motive power consisted of NS 9357, NS 9871 and NS 9462.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Weekly Rail Carloading Report - Week 27, 2008

There is an interesting report available on the web that is "A Weekly Report of North American Rail Freight Traffic by Major Railroad and Commodity." It is currently showing data for week 27 of 2008. Take a look.

Here is an example of the information available on this web site. This graph shows Total Traffic for 2007-2008 vs. 2006-2007. There are more graphs and tables on the web site showing data by railroad and by commodity.

Note: This web site has new tables and graphs every Thursday. So, if I am late or miss a week with this blog posting, you can check for new data on Thursdays.

In the chart above you will note that Total Rail Traffic for 2008 (blue line) is running behind that for 2007 (green line). There is a table on the web site referenced above that breaks down the total traffic by commodity groups, and this table shows that some groups are up this year and some groups are down. Here is that breakdown.

Major Commodity Groups – 2008 YTD vs. 2007 YTD

  • Total (1.1%)
  • Grain 15.5%
  • Chemicals 2.3%
  • Food 1.6%
  • Forest (11.3%)
  • Metals (2.3%)
  • Coal 3.0%
  • Autos (14.6%)
  • Intermodal (3.1%)
There is much more data on the Railfax web site. Take a look.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

It was a morning...

(train sightings on 7/3/08)

full of nice trackside surprises, some catching me off guard, on this Thursday morning along the Lehigh Line in Manville (NJ). The trains passing by my vantage point were as follows:

NS 18G @ 7:49- had in its power consist NS 9493, NS 8329, NS 3850 and NS 100. Those last two units caught me off guard as I wasn’t able to get any shots of either one (DARN!). NS 3850 was the six axle genset locomotive (model: 3GS21CDB) that has been making its way slowly east. NS 100 was a model RP20BD.

CP 38T @ 8:10- another nice surprise was the appearance of CP 38T. Motive power would be CP 8854 and CP 8774.

NS 212 @ 8:26- would have PRR 8441 (ex-CR 6268) as its leader followed by NS 2641 and NS 9578.

NS 214 @ 8:40- had UP 4417, NS 9312 and NS 2698 for power.

NS 21M @ 8:42- after holding for NS 212 and 214, 21M was on its way west behind NS 9431, NS 8955 and NS 9743.

NS 11J @ 9:07- fifty-eight empty autoracks would be headed west behind NS 9794 and NS 8888.

Not a bad way to start this July 4th holiday weekend off with a bang! Hope your holiday is both relaxing and safe.

Weekly Rail Carloading Report - Week 26, 2008

There is an interesting report available on the web that is "A Weekly Report of North American Rail Freight Traffic by Major Railroad and Commodity." It is currently showing data for week 24 of 2008. Take a look.

Here is an example of the information available on this web site. This graph shows Total Traffic for 2007-2008 vs. 2006-2007. There are more graphs and tables on the web site showing data by railroad and by commodity.

Note: This web site has new tables and graphs every Thursday. So, if I am late or miss a week with this blog posting, you can check for new data on Thursdays.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Beneath a shady train...

(Train sightings on 6-28-08.)

on this hot and humid Saturday morning, this is what passed by my vantage point in Manville.

7:23-CSX 703 Thirty-nine cars of NY trash was being taken to southern landfills by CSX 5392 and CSX 8094.

7:37-NS 18N NS 9210 and NS 9271 were in charge of sixty-five loaded autoracks coming east.

7:45-NS 21M would have NS 9250, the "Operation Lifesaver" unit, as its leader along with NS 2669 and PRR 8441 (ex-CR 6268, renumbered April 26, 1999).

9:00-NS 212 would have an "open door policy" on its leader, NS 9461, perhaps to get a flow of some cooler air circulating through the cab. NS 7555 and NS 9359 would be the other two units in this trio of power.

9:05-NS 11J NS 2514 and NS 9484 were in charge of fifty-two autoracks, measuring in around 5,000 feet long.

Falling into the heard about but eventually coming down the tracks were NS 24V and NS 214.

Have to say that for the hour and a half I was there, the Lehigh Line was buzzing with activity.