Sunday, December 2, 2012

Quickie Iron Horse Roundup- Conrail Freight Derails, Spills Chemicals in New Jersey; Canadian National Begins Testing LNG-Fueled Locomotives

AP Photo

CONRAIL- Officials from the NTSB are investigating the Friday morning derailment of a Conrail Shared Assets freight train in Paulsboro, NJ that sent several tank cars tumbling into Mantua Creek [a video of the bridge in action before the derailment can be viewed here- NANESB!].

The Conrail freight was pulling 84 cars and heading southbound along a branchline when the derailment occurred Friday morning. At least one of the cars ruptured, sending a cloud of vinyl chloride into the air and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents nearby- 70 people were also hospitalized with respiratory problems.

Conrail and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are focusing on the 139 year old bridge- a movable 'A Frame' type span. The bridge was manually operated and had a bridge tender on site until the last decade or so. There was reportedly a minor derailment along the same bridge in 2009 and Conrail was investigating problems with trackside signals near the bridge in the week or so before Friday's derailment.

The swing bridge opens and shuts to accommodate boat traffic along the river and crews were reporting that the signals leading up to the bridge would remain yellow instead of turning green.
The veteran two-person crew operating the CSX train Friday was familiar with the route and had run it the three previous nights. They had started their shift at 3 a.m. in Camden and were surprised to get a yellow signal when they approached the bridge at about 7 a.m. They used a keypad device, similar to a garage door opener, to try to get a green light, to no avail. The pair then stopped the train for several minutes, examined the tracks, and got permission from a dispatcher to proceed, Hersman said.

The two locomotives and five tanker cars made it across before the crew looked back to see the bridge “collapse” and a pileup of cars in the creek. The one that ruptured had been struck by another tanker, she said.

Recordings of various data so far support the crew’s account, investigators said. However, authorities are not yet sure whether the bridge deck actually collapsed or shifted.
Officials are also considering tidal surges from the passing of Super storm Sandy may have factored into the derailment, undermining the 1873-built bridge. However, NTSB investigators can't do a thorough on site examination until the remaining chemicals are cleaned up.

Bracketing a Liquified Natural Gas tank car, rebuilt SD40-2s #5262 and #5258 are seen in handout photo from Canadian National Railways. CN is experimenting with rebuilding locomotives to run on LNG

CANADIAN NATIONAL- Canadian National Railways [NYSE- CNI; TSX- CNR] has begun testing a pair or LNG-powered locomotives to determine the feasibility of using natural gas instead of diesel fuel.

The conversion kits was supplied by Energy Conversions, Inc of Tacoma, WA and Calgary-based natural gas producer Encana [NYSE- ECA; TSX- ECA] will be providing the fuelling and the maintenance. Officials with Canadian National and Energy Conversions say that the move could cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30%. While Alberta is a leading energy producer thanks to crude oil and the oil sands, the province also sits on top of considerable natural gas deposits. However, the current glut has driven natural gas prices down- although this would put CN at an advantage should the prices persist as it expands the LNG-powered locomotive program.

Canadian National's LNG project is similar to an earlier natural-gas powered locomotive project from Energy Conversions. Between 1991 and 1996, the Burlington Northern Railroad ran coal trains between Wyoming's Powder River Basin and the midwest with a duo of SD40-2s bracketing an LNG tanker/tender modified by Energy conversions. Although the Burlington Northern program stopped around the same time as the merger with Santa Fe to form BNSF, Energy Conversions would do similar work for the Napa Valley Wine Train, the state railways of Thailand and Brazil's Companhia Vale do Rio Doce's [NYSE- VALE, BOVESPA- VALE3 & VALE5] rail operations.

The locomotives used for CN's LNG pilot program are a pair of 1975-built SD40-2Ws that are now sporting flared radiators- like the SD40-2s Burlington Northern used 20 years ago. Both locomotives and the LNG tanker/tender will be assigned to the 480km Canadian National line between Edmonton and the Athabasca oil sands hub of Ft McMurray, AB. Built in the 1920s, the line was originally part of the Northen Alberta Railway until NAR was taken over by CN in 1981. By 1994, CN ceased operations and the line was acquired by Rail Link's Lakeland & Waterways- who were brought into the Rail America fold by 1999. In the summer of 2000, Rail America halted operations on the Ft. McMurray line and within a few months, Canadian shortline operator CANDO contracting acquired the line outright from CN, only to have CN repurchase the line at the end of 2007.

Presently, the Canadian National hauls construction materiel, pipe and heavy machinery up to Ft McMurray and brings oil sands extraction byproducts like petroleum coke and sulphur south.

Wisconsin Southern E9A #101 seen hauling the Toys for Tots train cross the Rock River east of Edgerton, WI on November 3rd, 2012. photo- Brian Allen
WISCONSIN- Just a quick update out of the Badger State. I had earlier reported that Soo Line 2-8-2 Mikado #1003 was scheduled to haul a Toys for Tots holiday train over the Wisconsin & Southern last month.

However, shortly before the scheduled November 3rd departure, the #1003 was sidelined with an unspecified mechanical problem. Wisconsin & Southern E9A #101 handled the Toys for Tots train between Milton and Middletown, WI.

The #1003 was pulled from service two years ago in order to under to undergo her FRA-mandated 15 year boiler inspection. Due to rising costs, there were some concerns from the preservation community that the #1003 would never return to service again.

OHIO- Two Ohio-based preservation groups have announced plans to begin restoration of a 100 year old ALCo steam engine to service.

Colombus-based American Steam Railroad Preservation Association has reached an agreement with the Cleveland-based Midwest Railway Preservation Society to house the restoration of former St Louis-San Francisco 2-8-2 Mikado #1352 at the MRPS' former Baltimore & Ohio roundhouse in Cleveland.

The #1352 was built by ALCo in 1912 and operated on the Frisco for nearly 45 years before her 1956 retirement. The Frisco donated the #1352 to Kansas City where she was on display at Swoop Park, but soon fell victim to neglect and vandalism. A group of concerned preservationists eventually purchased the 1352 and moved her into storage in rural Illinois.

The MRPS is also home to another, slightly newer ALCo 2-8-2 Mikado- former Grand Trunk Western #4070. The #4070 was built in 1918 and most recently operated in 1990 on the nearby Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

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