Thursday, January 31, 2013

Today's Train of Thought- An Old Line in the Snow, January 21, 2013


Today's Train of Thought takes us to Maryland and CSX's Hanover Subdivision. The former Western Maryland line links the regional rail hub of Hagerstown with a number of on-line customers and the Maryland Midland railroad at Highfield, MD. Once upon a time, the former Western Maryland line continued all the west through the Alleghanies through to Pittsburgh, but was considered redundant upon the WM beign acquired by the Chessie System in the 1970s and much of the line was incrimentally abandoned or sold off.

Here, contributor Greg Dahbura caught CSX SD50 #8601 snaking around the curve at Smithsburg, MD with symbol freight B702. The train is climbing towards the Blue Ridge summit in the midst of a snowstorm on February 12, 2006.

New Regulations May Lead to Collapse of New England's Fishing Industry

Gretchen Ertl- New York Times
The New England Fishery Management Council this week approved drastic cuts in the catch limit of cod off the coast of New England, adding the the already beleagured industry's woes.
The New England Fishery Management Council on Wednesday approved a year-to-year cut of 77 percent on the Gulf of Maine cod limit and 61 percent for Georges Bank cod.

The cuts come on top of a slew of other reductions, ranging from 10 to 71 percent, on the catch of other bottom-dwelling groundfish species, such as haddock and flounder.

Fishermen say now they're staring at industry collapse because they've been left with far too few fish for most boats to make a living.

"We are headed down the wrong course here, of exterminating the inshore fleet, for no good reason," said David Goethel, a New Hampshire fisherman and council member.

The cuts, in effect May 1, are expected to be backed by federal managers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA's top federal fisheries regulator, John Bullard, acknowledged the reductions will be devastating. But he said the fish stocks are struggling and the industry's steady, excruciating decline must be reversed.

"The first thing we have to do is put denial behind us," he said.

The cuts hit an industry that was crucial to the nation's early economy and remains imbued with the risk and romance of man versus nature -- depicted in the famous "Man at the Wheel" statue in Gloucester of a fisherman facing the sea.

The new low limits reduce the cod catch to just a fraction of what it once was and prevent fishermen from landing more plentiful species, such as haddock and pollock. That's because fishermen can't pull up the healthier groundfish without catching too much of the cod that swim among them.

An economic analysis by the council projected that the cuts would reduce overall groundfish revenues by 33 percent, from about $90 million in 2011 to about $60 million in 2013. But fishermen said the projection is far too optimistic.

"It's fantasy. ... I mean, I'd rather go to Disney World. I've got a better chance of meeting Peter Pan," said Goethel, who predicted the entire New Hamsphire fleet would be eliminated.

Fishermen have consistently disputed the accuracy of the science that drives regulation and that indicates the stocks are in bad shape. And they noted the industry has generally fished at or below levels recommended by science in recent years, but the advice has proven wrong.

"I've done everything they told me to do, and all of the sudden I come up here to a meeting today, and they're going to send me in a coffin out of this place," said New Bedford fisherman Carlos Rafael, who said he may have to sideline half of his fleet of 20 groundfish boats.

Federal regulators have been contemplating deep cuts or a near-total prohibition on cod fishing by New England's fishing, despite some uncertainty over whether or not there's a sustained decline of the cod population offshore.
Fishermen insist that there are plenty of cod and that the real problem is fuzzy science. They say the data are grossly inconsistent, pointing to a 2008 federal report that concluded that Gulf of Maine cod, though historically overfished, were well on the way to recovery.

The news is causing high anxiety in Massachusetts, where a wooden “Sacred Cod” has hung in the State House for more than 200 years and the fishing industry, though struggling, still figures prominently in the state’s identity.

“I can’t think of another fishery shutdown that would have the economic consequences of this,” said Steven Cadrin, a scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, who helped with the assessment.

From May 2010 to April 2011, commercial fishermen caught about nine million pounds of Gulf of Maine cod, according to the New England Fishery Management Council, earning more than $2 per pound on average.
Last year NOAA officials put more than 2100 square miles of prime fishing ground off limits to New England fishermen in a move to protect an estimated 90,000 harbor porpises. Despite their relatively abundant numbers, the species is under the protection of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hot Dogging Sports Chowdah Update- Food Flight at the Garden as B's, Devils Head to Shootout; St Louis' Stan 'The Man' Musial Passes Awat at 92; Reports Link A-Rod to Miami Pharmacy Selling HGH

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

NHL- The Bruins continued their torrid start to the shortened 2013 season thanks to a 4-2 win over the Islanders on Friday night followed by a quick trip to the Tarheel state where they came away with a 5-3 win over the Hurricanes on Monday night [with Khudobin making his first start of the season- NANESB!].

On Tuesday night, the Bruins returned to the Garden for a tilt with the Atlantic conference-leading New Jersey Devils.

The Devils were off to a similarly impressive start to the season and got on the board about midway through the second after a shot from David Clarkson evaded Tukka Rask and found the back of the net on a New Jersey power play. Clarkson's tally was actually the first power play goal allowed by the Bruins this season and on the other end of the ice, Johan Hedberg was playing well enough for me to think the Bruins would be handed their first shutout and regulation loss this season.

Sometimes I don't mind being wrong, though. With a little over four minutes remaining in regulation, Nathan Horton beat Hedberg to tie things up at 1-1 and force overtime where the Bruins were looking at a worst-case scenario of garner one point. But after a scoreless overtime, the game headed to a shootout and that's where things started to get weird.

Jared Wickerham, Getty Images
You see, right when Tyler Seguin was getting ready to shoot for Boston's first shot, some fucking mouthbreathing idiot in the stands took it upon him (or her) self to chuck a friggin' hotdog onto the ice. Seguin's shot was good, but it was nullified due to the flying weenie. Hedberg reportedly didn't see it until after Seguin had scored, but the officials ruled it no good and Seguin had to try again. And it went in...again.

However, it was a short-lived lead in the shootout when Ilya Kovalchuk put one past Rask on the Devils' first attempt of the shootout. Honestly, it would be awhile before anybody else would score- four straight attempts by each team were turned aside or missed then net altogether- but Brad Marchand put the B's up in the shootout and Rask got his pads on a Marek Zidlicky shot to give the Bruins the win. The Bruins are now 5-0-1 on the season and all alone on top of the Eastern conference at 11 points. The next Bruins game will be their first Northeast conference matchup of the season as they host the 2-3-1 Buffalo Sabres at the Garden on Thursday night. The game will be televised on NESN and the puck drops at 7:00 ET.

ELSEWHERE IN THE NHL- The Montreal Canadiens have reached an agreement with defenseman and holdout P.K. Subban. The 23 year old defenseman and restricted free agent was in the final year of a $2M entry-level contract last season. The two year deal is reportedly worth $5.75 million and will have Subban playing for next to nothing during this abbreviated season while getting the majority of his money during the 2013-2014 season.

MLB- St Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan 'the man' Musial passed away on January 19th at the age of 92. Born in southwetern Pennsylvania, Musial actually broke into the Cardinals organization in the late 1930s as an outfielder but was eventually converted to an outfielder before his first full Major League season in 1942.

The Cardinals won two World Series titles between 1942 and 1945- including an unusual all-St Louis World Series against the AL's St Louis Browns in 1944. However, with World War II raging, Musial was drafted in 1944 and entered active duty service with the Navy at the beginning of 1945, assigned to ship repair duties out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. With the war over, Musial was honorably discharged in 1946 and batting .388 with the Cardinals by the time May 1946 rolled around. His first season back since being drafted in WWII, the Cardinals would go on to beat the Boston Red Sox 4 games to three in the 1946 World Series.

Over his 21 year career, Musial accumulated 475 home runs with a total of 1,951 RBI along with 3,630 hits and a batting average of .331. Musial was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, getting into Cooperstown in 1969. Between 1963 and 1966, Musial was a vice president of the Cardinals and was a general manager during their 1967 World Series championship season. However, Musial felt that life in the front office wasn't for him and went into the restaurant business.

Musial was also an avid harmonica player and released an album of tracks that came with an instructional booklet. Musial also has a number of plaques and statues in his honor both around the new Busch Stadium and the Missouri state capitol building in Jefferson City, MO. In February 2011, Musial was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedon by President Obama at a ceremony in the White House. Stan Musial is survived by his son and three daughters- his wife of 71 years Lilian passed away in May 2012.

ELSEWHERE IN MLB- Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez name has come up in another PED investigation as a south Florida alternative newspaper published a report claiming MLB's highest-paid athlete shows up on a client list of a Miami-area pharmacy that sells steroids and Human Growth Hormone to a number of pro and college players.

The names are all included in an extraordinary batch of records from Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic tucked into a two-story office building just a hard line drive's distance from the UM campus. They were given to New Times by an employee who worked at Biogenesis before it closed last month and its owner abruptly disappeared. The records are clear in describing the firm's real business: selling performance-enhancing drugs, from human growth hormone (HGH) to testosterone to anabolic steroids. Interviews with six customers and two former employees corroborate the tale told by the patient files, the payment records, and the handwritten notebooks kept by the clinic's chief, 49-year-old Anthony Bosch.

Bosch's history with steroids also adds credence to the paperwork. The son of a prominent Coral Gables physician named Pedro Publio Bosch, he was connected with banned substances when slugger Manny Ramirez was suspended for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy in 2009. At the time, MLB confirmed the Drug Enforcement Administration was probing the father and son for allegedly providing Ramirez with HCG, a compound often used at the tail end of steroid cycles.

If the Miami New Times report can be confirmed, the Yankees could be able to invalidate the remainder of their contract with Rodriguez. There was a flurry of rumors that A-Rod might be dealt from the Yankees to the Marlins last season- in addition to all the speculation over whether or not Rodriguez plays for the Yankees again, I have to wonder if the Marlins were a potential destination because of the proximity of the clinic in Miami.

RED SOX- Outfielder Ryan Kalish underwent successful surgery on his right shoulder this week. Kalish missed 10 games with soreness and inflammation in September last year. There is no exact timetable for his return, but Kalish is expcted to miss all of spring training.

FBI Raids Florida Office of Democrat Donor Linked to Sen Menendez

Federal agents raided the West Palm Beach, FL office of an eye doctor and Democrat donor Wednesday morning who has been known to travel with New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez to the Dominican Republic for parties with prostitutes.

In addition to the fact that the arrest of one of Sen Menendez's unpaid interns was a country sex offender who was in the country illegally was delayed until after the 2012 elections, the New Jersey Democrat also allegedly didn't pay some of the prostitutes hired to entertain him and Dr. Solomon Melgen at Melgen's Dominican villa.

Now, allegations that Sen. Menendez and Dr Melgen used the services of underage prostitutes that federal agents have deemed credible have surfaced, reportedly prompting Wednesday's raid.
Stringing up crime scene tape and using a locksmith, the FBI on Tuesday and Wednesday raided the West Palm Beach business of an eye doctor suspected of providing free trips and even underage Dominican Republic prostitutes to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez — who has denied what he calls the “fallacious allegations.”

Agents hauled away boxes and bags of evidence from the medical-office complex of Dr. Salomon Melgen, a contributor to Menendez and other prominent politicians, to start hauling away potential evidence in several vans.

On Wednesday, the FBI agents were joined by an inspector from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, indicating the search-and-seizure raid has ties to a possible Medicare fraud inquiry. Melgen has also been the subject of a parallel federal investigation into his relationship with Menendez, D-N.J., who was first accused of improprieties in the conservative Daily Caller website.

Melgen also owns a private CL-600 Challenger plane through one of his West Palm Beach-based companies, records show, and frequently flies between South Florida and Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, where he is from.

Menendez has flown on the plane at least once, when he was chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2009 to 2011, when the Melgens contributed about $60,400 to the group.

Melgen was first linked to Menendez just before the November elections, when the Daily Caller website interviewed two alleged prostitutes who said they had relations with the New Jersey Democrat at Melgen’s Dominican Republic mansion in Casa de Campo.

After the election, the news died down.

But then, days before Menendez was about to start leading the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as chairman, reporters started receiving a 58-page dossier of emails between a Miami FBI agent and a tipster who claimed that some of the prostitutes had been underage.
Despite news of the prostitution scandal just days before the election, Sen. Menendez was re-elected by a substantial margin. For his part, Menendez denies any wrongdoing and fellow Democrats questioned the credibility of the Daily Caller.

The age of consent in the Dominican Republic, like most states in the USA, is eighteen.

One aspect of the story that's been overlooked in light of the underage prostitute allegations is that despite having an outstanding IRS lein of more than $11 million, Dr Melgen was able to donate more than $60,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee between 2009 and 2011 when menendez was chair and still has the private jet and Dominican villa.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Egyptian Army Commander Warns Latest Protests "Could Lead to a Collapse of the State"

In comments posted on the Egyptian Army's official Facebook page, Army Commander General Abdul Fatah al Sisi warned that the ongoing unrest and demonstrations against Muslim Brotherhood-backed president Mohammed Morsi could lead to a total collapse of the Egyptain state and "threaten future generations".
He made his statement following a large military deployment in three cities along the Suez Canal where a state of emergency has been declared.

More than 50 people have died in days of protests and violence.

In response, President Mohammed Morsi has cut short a planned European trip.

His spokesman said he would still visit Germany on Wednesday as planned, but the two-day trip has been cut to just a few hours and a visit to France has been cancelled.

On Monday night, thousands of people in Port Said, Ismailia and Suez - where some of the worst unrest has been - ignored a night-time curfew imposed by Mr Morsi to take to the streets.

Thousands were again on the streets of Port Said on Tuesday for the latest funerals of those killed, with mourners calling for the downfall of the president.

There were also was continuing sporadic clashes in the capital, Cairo.

Gen Sisi's lengthy statement appears to be a veiled threat to protesters and opposition forces as well as an appeal for calm and an attempt to reassure Egyptians about the role of the military, the BBC's Yolande Knell in Cairo says.
The latest unrest stems from an Egyptian court in Port Said sentencing 21 defendants to death for their part in a postgame soccer melee that killed more than 70 people last year.
Immediately after Saturday's verdict was read live on state TV, two policemen were shot dead outside Port Said's main prison when angry relatives tried to storm the facility to free the defendants. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, as well as live rounds, at the crowd outside the prison.

In other parts of the city, residents tried to storm the governor's office, police stations, the power station and the main court building. Residents occupied one police station in the east of Port Said.

The director of hospitals in Port Said, Abdel-Raham Farah, said two local soccer players were shot to death Saturday as they were apparently on their way to practice. He identified them as Mahmoud Abdel-Halim al-Dizawi, who played for the city's Al-Marikh club, and Tamer al-Fahla, who used to play for the city's main Al-Masry team. Al-Diwazi was shot three times, the doctor said.
The widespread unrest also coincides with the second anniversary of the Arab Spring uprising that eventually led to the ousting of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

After an interim military junta ruled Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi was elected to the office of president in the June 2012 presidential elections. However, he has been facing increasing opposition after granting himself and his cabinet sweeping new powers and immunity from Egypt's judicial branch in November.

Morsi insisted these new powers were temporary and would be relinquished once a new constitution was put in place for Egypt. A Muslim Brotherhood-backed draft was approved by voters in December, although critics said it provided no protection for minorities or women in Egypt.

However, by Monday, protesters in other Egyptian cities were clashing with riot police. Looters seized the opportunity to break into a luxury hotel along the Nile River in the capital city of Cairo on Tuesday. The death toll in Port Said alone is at least 39 people. Opposition demonstrators claim that gangs of sexual predators are roaming the area around Tahrir Square, harassing and assaulting female demonstrators with the tacit approval of the regime.

Meanwhile, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has proposed legislation that would halt the sale of arms to Egypt. Last year, Lockheed Martin [NYSE- LMT] delivered 20 F-16 fighter jets to Egypt as part of a 2010 agreement reached with the Mubarak regime. However, no less than a dozen additional F-16s and 200 Abrams tanks will reportedly be sent to Egypt by the end of 2013.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Horror In Brazil As Hundreds Perish in Nightclub Blaze

Reuters photo
More than 230 people are dead after a deadly fire swept through a packed nightclub in southern Brazil in the early morning hours of Sunday.

Witnesses at the Kiss nighclub in the southern college town of Santa Maria said the fire appeared to have been sparked by a the band setting off fireworks on stage and that there was only one exit. Firefighters responding to the blaze at first had trouble getting inside the Kiss nightclub because bodies partially blocked the club's entryway.

Officials at a news conference said the cause was still under investigation -- though police inspector Sandro Meinerz told the Agencia Estado news agency the band was to blame for a pyrotechnics show and that manslaughter charges could be filed.

Television images showed black smoke billowing out of the Kiss nightclub as shirtless young men who had attended a university party joined firefighters using axes and sledgehammers to pound at windows and hot-pink exterior walls to free those trapped inside.

Bodies of the dead and injured were strewn in the street and panicked screams filled the air as medics tried to help. There was little to be done; officials said most of those who died were suffocated by smoke within minutes.

Within hours a community gym was a horror scene, with body after body lined up on the floor, partially covered with black plastic as family members identified kin.

Outside the gym police held up personal objects -- a black purse, a blue high-heeled shoe -- as people seeking information on loved ones looked crowded around, hoping not to recognize anything being shown them.

Guido Pedroso Melo, commander of the city's fire department, told the O Globo newspaper that firefighters had a hard time getting inside the club because "there was a barrier of bodies blocking the entrance."

Teenagers sprinted from the scene after the fire began, desperately seeking help. Others carried injured and burned friends away in their arms. Many of the victims were under 20 years old, including some minors.

"There was so much smoke and fire, it was complete panic, and it took a long time for people to get out, there were so many dead," survivor Luana Santos Silva told the Globo TV network.

The fire spread so fast inside the packed club that firefighters and ambulances could do little to stop it, Silva said.

Another survivor, Michele Pereira, told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper that she was near the stage when members of the band lit flares that started the conflagration.

"The band that was onstage began to use flares and, suddenly, they stopped the show and pointed them upward," she said. "At that point, the ceiling caught fire. It was really weak, but in a matter of seconds it spread."

Guitarist Rodrigo Martins told Radio Gaucha that the band, Gurizada Fandangueira, started playing at 2:15 a.m. "and we had played around five songs when I looked up and noticed the roof was burning."

"It might have happened because of the Sputnik, the machine we use to create a luminous effect with sparks. It's harmless, we never had any trouble with it.

"When the fire started, a guard passed us a fire extinguisher, the singer tried to use it but it wasn't working."

He confirmed that accordion player Danilo Jacques, 28, died, while the five other members made it out safely.

Police Maj. Cleberson Braida Bastianello said by telephone that the toll had risen to 233 with the death of a hospitalized victim. He said earlier that the death toll was likely made worse because the nightclub appeared to have just one exit through which patrons could exit.

Survivors said security guards briefly tried to block people from exiting the club. Brazilian bars routinely make patrons pay their entire tab at the end of the night before they are allowed to leave.
Authorities believe that most of the dead were killed by asphyxiation and stated that another 117 victims were being treated for burns and smoke inhalation in nearby hospitals. Brazilian media reports stated that there was as many as 2,000 people packed into the club at the time.

Santa Maria is a university and military town of about 250,000 in the fairly wealthy southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. Sunday morning's fire was the worst fire since a 1961 circus fire in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro that killed 500- most of them children.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Aussie! Aussie Aussie! Oil! Oil! Oil! Massive Outback Oil Find Could Make Australia Leading Energy Producer

Linc Energy Oil Rig in South Australia's Outback
With Australia Day right around the corner, Queensland-based Linc Energy announced a massive shale-oil find in the outback that could put Australia among the top energy producers in the world.
South Australia is sitting on oil potentially worth more than $20 trillion, independent reports claim - enough to turn Australia into a self-sufficient fuel producer.

Brisbane company Linc Energy yesterday released two reports, based on drilling and seismic exploration, estimating the amount of oil in the as yet untapped Arckaringa Basin surrounding Coober Pedy ranging from 3.5 billion to 233 billion barrels of oil.

At the higher end, this would be "several times bigger than all of the oil in Australia", Linc managing director Peter Bond said.

This has the potential to turn Australia from an oil importer to an oil exporter.

"If it comes in the way the reports are suggesting, it could well and truly bring Australia back to (oil) self-sufficiency," Mr Bond said.

State Mineral Resources Development Minister Tom Koutsantonis said there were exciting times ahead for SA's resources industry.

Mr Bond said there was the potential for a US-style "shale oil" boom in SA.

Shale oil extraction involves using new technologies to drill vertically and then horizontally for distances of more than one kilometre through shale rocks that contain oil.

The process was once prohibitively expensive but advances have created a new oil boom in the US.

Mr Koutsantonis said: "We have seen the hugely positive impact shale projects like Bakken and Eagle Ford have had on the US economy.

"There is still a long way to go, but investment in unconventional liquid projects in South Australia will accelerate as more and more companies such as Linc Energy and Altona prove up their resources."

Mr Bond said the potential in SA was "massive", but even at the lower end of estimates - about 3.5 billion barrels - it was still very large.
Shares of Linc Energy [ASX- LNC] soared by more than 30% in trading on the Australian Securities Exchange shortly after the find was announced on Thursday- an 18 month high for the company.

The find is centered around the South Australian outback town of Coober Pedy, which was founded as an opal mining town in 1915. Coober Pedy remains an active opal mining town to this day.

Presently, Australia has been drilling for oil onshore at the Cooper Basin- which straddles the South Australia/Queensland border- since oil and natural gas deposits were discovered in 1961. In addition to offshore projects off the northern coast of Western Australia, oil and natural gas production has taken place at the Amadeus Basin in the Northern Territory since the 1980s.

However, the find at Coober Pedy and South Australia's Arckaringa Basin could easily surpass the output from the oilfields located in the Cooper and Amadeus Basins. While some experts cautioned that the actual number of recoverable barrels of oil may be in the neighborhood of 3 or 4 billion barrels, the news was greeted with considerable fanfare in the Australian press- as even the more pessemistic estimates could still help the Australian economy considerably.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Half A Sports Chowdah Update- Nevermore, Ravens Second Half is Patriots' Undoing in AFC Title Game; Something Bruin in the Air- B's Begin Shortened Season

Usually in October, I enjoy a phenomenon that I like to refer to as the 'joyous overlap' where more than one of my favorite sports are playing concurrently- the end of the regular season for baseball as well as the start of the playoffs, about a month into the NFL and NCAA Football season and the very beginning of the NHL season.

Of course, this past October was a different and this less enjoyable for myself and many other New England sports fans. While the Patriots ended up winning the AFC East, the Red Sox were wrapping up their worst season in 50 years and the NHL was in the very beginnings of a prolonged labor dispute that cut the season in half and resulted in the cancellation of the New Year's Day Winter Classic and the All Star Game.

This year, the 'overlap' phenomoenon lasted barely 24 hours.

Steven Senne photo

NFL- There was no 'hand of Myra' this time around. After taking a 13-7 lead into halftime, the Patriots were shut out of the second half of the AFC Championship Game on Sunday by the Baltimore Ravens.

The Patriots got on the board first on a Gostkowski FG in the 1st before Baltimore countered with a Ray Rice TD run to put the Ravens up 7-3 in the 2nd quarter. On the next posession, the Pats started off on their own 21 and the 5 minute drive was capped by a short TD catch and run from Brady to Welker to put New England back on top. The Patriots ended the first half with another Gostkowski FG to make it 13-7.

But the second half belonged to Baltimore, taking the lead on a Joe Flacco TD pass to TE Dennis Pitta. The Ravens would add to that lead late in the 4th thanks to another TD pass from Flacco to open up the 4th as well as no less than three Patriots turnovers [this includes a Vereen funble recovered by Baltimore at the Patriots 39 and an incompletion from Brady on 4th and 4 at the Ravens 19- NANESB!].

Baltimore scores 21 unanswered points in the second half of the AFC Championship game to win it by a final of 28-13 and secure their first Super Bowl berth since 2001. Linebacker Ray Lewis, who announced his retirement after this season last month, is the only remaining link to the 2001 team.

Fellow Ravens LB Terrell Suggs [who I'm pretty sure will be begging the Patriots (or anybody else) for a shot at making the roster in a few short years- NANESB!] took the high road in victory, calling New England arrogant, accusing them of cheating and taunting opposing players by shouting 'Have fun at the pro-Bowl! at the end of the game.

Ravens QB Flacco was 21-36 with 240 yards and 3 touchdowns- all three of them coming in the 2nd half while Brady went 29-54 with 320 yards, a TD and two interceptions.

ELSEWHERE IN THE NFL- The NFC Championship Game, which took place at the Georgia Dome, was a much closer affair, but also didn't end well for the home team.

After jumping out to an early 17-0 lead against the San Francisco 49ers in the first half, Atlanta Falcons fans watched nervously as their one-time NFC West opponents whittled away the lead, making it a 14-17 game with just under two minutes to go in the first half. However, with less than 30 seconds to go in the half, Boston College alum Matt Ryan gave the Falcons some breathing room after competing a 10 yard TD pass to TE Tony Gonzalez to give Atlana a 10-point lead at the half.

Like the game that would kick off after it, the home team was shut out in the second half, with San Francisco once again closing it to within 3 points on a Frank Gore rushing TD in the 3rd before San Francisco took their first lead of the day on a another Gore TD run to make it 28-24 49ers.

The Falcons would get the ball back with 8:23 left in the 4th quarter and advance as far as the San Francisco 10 with just over a minute remaining, but Ryan threw an incomplete pass on 4th and 4, giving the 49ers the ball back.

The 49ers would go on to win by a 28-24 final, earning them their first Super Bowl appearence since the Steve Young era.

NHL- The NHL season is pretty young, but so far the Boston Bruins are off to a good start.

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
After winning their home opener against New York Rangers, the Bruins last two games went to OT, with the black and gold beating the Winnipeg Jets at the Garden in a shootout on Monday and then falling to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

Their 2-0-1 record currently has them in 2nd place in the Northeastern Conference, one point behind undefeated Ottawa. The B's will return to the Garden to face the New York Islanders on Friday evening at 7PM ET.

Interesting side note- usually at the start of the MLB, NBA or NHL season, their respective league provides a free preview of the out-of-market games avaialble if you sign up for some sort of season-long package. I was on the phone with my sattelite provider (DirecTV) for an unrelated matter on Wednesday and I asked how long the free trail/preview of the NHL season would go on. After the woman on the other end checked around, she told me that it was good for the rest of the month.

Given the damage done to the NHL brand after the lockout, I would be very surprised if DirecTV was the only cable or sattelite provider that was doing so this season- it might be worth a call to check and see about your provider.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Democrats Behaving Badly- Nevada State Lawmaker Arrested After Threatening Colleague With Gun

A Nevada state assemblyman has been jailed after allegedly threatening to shoot the speaker-elect over his committee assignments.
Assemblyman Steven Brooks, 40, of North Las Vegas made threats to harm a public official Saturday afternoon, police said in a news release Sunday morning. A source said he was arrested with a loaded gun after threatening to shoot Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick and witnesses who corroborated the allegation prompted police to begin searching for Brooks. About 5:30 p.m., Brooks was seen driving in the area of Carey Avenue and Mt. Hood Street, where he was taken into custody without incident during a traffic stop.

Another Democratic source with knowledge of the situation said Brooks publicly threatened to harm Kirkpatrick because he was unhappy with the committee assignments given to him by Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick was selected to lead the Assembly by the Democratic caucus, but she was expected to face divisions. Her caucus was split between her and Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, after the presumed incoming speaker, Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, lost his re-election bid. That threw the caucus into turmoil.

Brooks had told lobbyists and other lawmakers that he had expected to become chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, a powerful committee that oversees changes to the governor’s proposed budget. Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, was selected for the position.

Brooks was booked into Las Vegas City Jail on one count of intimidating a public officer by threat of physical violence.

North Las Vegas Police, citing the ongoing investigation, would not release further details.
Brooks was released on $100,000 bail on Monday and said he fully expected to return to the state capitol in Carson City this week when reached for comment by the Las Vegas Sun

Brooks, a Democrat, represents the 17th Assembly District in North Las Vegas. Speaker-elect Kirkpatrick- also a Democrat- represents the neighboring 1st Assembly district.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Today's Train of Thought- An Original Green Mountain Boy, Jan 20, 2013

Today's Train of Thought takes us to Vermont and features a denizen of the Green Mountain State that may very well have never left Vermont [aside from the occasional sojuorn to Chatham, NY or N. Walpole, NH- NANESB!].

Over the last 50 years, Vermont has seen a number of railroads come and go- the Rutland, Delaware & Hudson, Hoosac Tunnel & Wilmington, Boston & Maine, Maine Central, Lamoille Valley and even the Central Vermont.

The original Rutland Railway operated out of its namesake town in western Vermont with a line that went north to Burlington, VT before crossing the northern end of Lake Champain on a series of causeways and continuing west to Lake Ontario at Orangeburg, NY. To the South, the Rutland interchanged with the New York Central at Chatham, NY via Bennington, VT on what was dubbed the 'Corkscrew Line'. And to the east, the Rutland connected with the Boston & Maine and Central Vermont at bellows Falls with a line that slashed a southeasterly course through the Green Mountains.

By the early 1950s, the Rutland had full dieselized, utilizing ALCo roadswitchers manufactured in nearby Schenectady, NY. However, a nearly month-long strike in 1953 caused the cessation of passenger service and also resulted in the loss of a number of shippers. A more prolonged labor dispute that began in 1961 triggered the permanent shutdown of the Rutland two years later.

Much of the Rutland's motive power was dispersed- the ALCo RS3s were sold off to the Louisville and Nashville in 1963, only to be used as trade-ins for new EMDs a few years later. While some of the RS1s ended up going as far afield as Arkansas, a few ended up staying close to home, pressed into service on the Vermont Railway or Green Mountain startups that were operating on the former Rutland Railway. While the lines to Orangeburg, NY and Chatham, NY were quickly abandoned the Vermont Railway took over operations on the line between Essex Jct and North Bennington while the Green Mountain operated out of the Rutland's old hub and over the mountains to Bellows Falls.

This included the 1951-built #405 which entered service on the Green Mountain under the same number. The Green Mountain also operated a pair of former Illinois Terminal RS1s and Delaware & Hudson ALCo S-series switchers- but the #405 was the only unit on the roster with the Rutland pedigree.

Despite the advent of EMD's on the Green Mountain roster in the late 1980s, the GMRC continued using the #405 in excusrion and switcher service. The other ALCos departed the roster, but may of them didn't go too far [the former Illinois Terminals RS1s ended up on the Catskill Mountain Railroad in New York and Danbury, CT Railway Museum while one of the ex D&H ALCos is still working for the nearby Claremont & Concord Railroad- NANESB!]. Even when the Vermont Railway acquired the Green Mountain Railroad outright in 1997 (reconstituting much of the old Rutland Railway in the process) the new Vermont Railway System- mindful of its heritage- continued operating the green and yellow 1000 HP relic alongside much newer and burlier locomotives.

In fact, with the recent uptick of traffic on the former Green Mountain Railway, the 62 year old ALCo RS-1 can be seen earning her keep switching VRS yards, powering extra freights or even occasionally doing duty as a helper unit. This is in addition to the #405's usual role as power for the White River Flyer or seasonal excursions for the Vermont Rail System.

Now granted words like 'timeless scene' get thrown about a little too often, but that's exactly what conributor Shaun McGinnis has managed in the above image. Was the picture taken shortly after the Rutland took delivery of the 1951-build diesel or last week?

Here, the #405 (actually heading away from the photographer) is seen shoving a Russel snowplow through Gassets, VT after a fresh snowfall on Valentine's Day 2008. The little loco is cresting the Green Mountains and is about halfway through its trek of clearing the line between Bellows Falls and Rutland. According to McGinnis, the #405 got caught up in some accumulated ice at a crossing a few miles up the road and it required another hour or two for the Rutland diesel and Russel plow to get un-stuck.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Standoff Between Algerian Army and Al Qaeda Terrorists At Natural Gas Facility Comes to Bloody Conclusion

Algerian Military truck seen on the road to Ain Aminas. Anis Belghoul- AP Photo

A standoff between the Algerian Army and Al Qaeda terrorists who took foreign hostages at a natural gas field in eastern Algeria came to a violent end when Algerian Special Operations Forces stormed the facility on Saturday.
Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the Sahara desert on Saturday to end a standoff with an Al Qaeda-linked terror group that left at least 23 hostages dead and killed all 32 militants involved, the Algerian government said.

The siege at Ain Amenas transfixed the world after radical Islamists stormed the complex, which contained hundreds of plant workers from all over the world, then held them hostage surrounded by the Algerian military and its attack helicopters for four tense days that were punctuated with gun battles and dramatic tales of escape.

Algeria's response to the crisis was typical of its history in confronting terrorists, favoring military action over negotiation, which caused an international outcry from countries worried about their citizens. Algerian military forces twice assaulted the two areas where the hostages were being held with minimal apparent mediation -- first on Thursday, then on Saturday.

"To avoid a bloody turn of events in response to the extreme danger of the situation, the army's special forces launched an intervention with efficiency and professionalism to neutralize the terrorist groups that were first trying to flee with the hostages and then blow up the gas facilities," Algeria's Interior Ministry said in a statement about the standoff.

In the final assault, the remaining band of militants killed the hostages before 11 of them were in turn cut down by the special forces, Algeria's state news agency said. The military launched its Saturday assault to prevent a fire started by the extremists from engulfing the complex and blowing it up, the report added.

A total of 685 Algerian and 107 foreigner workers were freed over the course of the four-day standoff, the ministry statement said, adding that the group of militants that attacked the remote Saharan natural gas complex consisted of 32 men of various nationalities, including three Algerians and explosives experts.

The military also said it confiscated heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, missiles and grenades attached to suicide belts.

The facility at Ain Aminas is run by Sonatrach, the Algerian state oil company- along with BP [NYSE: BP] and Norway's Statoil [NYSE: STO]. Sonatrach officials said the entire refinery had been mined with explosives, and that the process of clearing it out is currently under way.

Algerian officials believe the raid on the Ain Amenas facility and subsequent seige was done with inside help.
At least some of up to 70 Islamist guerrillas who stormed in before dawn on Wednesday launched their operation hours earlier, barreling over smugglers tracks across the Libyan border just after midnight, an Algerian security official told Reuters, citing evidence from mobile phones traced to the militants.

The ease with which they entered the fortified housing compound and nearby natural gas plant also left Algerians in little doubt the gunmen had allies among people at the site.

"They had local cooperation, I'm sure, maybe from drivers or security guards, who helped the terrorists get into the base," said Anis Rahmani, editor of Algeria's Ennahar newspaper and a writer on security issues who said he was briefed by officials.
Officials from Algeria's Interior Ministry said troops had moved in to prevent the terrorists from moving the captured hostages across the border to more lawless areas of Libya or Mali. An Algerian hostage said that some of the foreign hostages were forced to wear explosive vests or belts and that the Algerian hostages were more loosely guarded by the attackers. At least one American and one Briton were confirmed killed in the seige while another American and five Norweigans are unaccounted for.

Algeria has taken a hard line against terrorists and Islamic militants since a prolonged civil war in the 1990s between the military and jihadists killed an estimated 100,000 people.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Somewhat Overdue Sports Chowdah Update for Jan 18th, 2012- Houston, You Have A Problem; Ravens Double Down on OT; Tall Te'o- Notre Dame Star Involved In Elaborate Online Hoax; Vicious Cycle- Armstrong Admits Doping

NFL- No matter how you slice it, last weekend was a pretty good one for the NFL.

REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi photo
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS- Well, it wasn't quite as lopsided as last month's regular season matchup on Monday Night, but the end result was the same.

After besting the Cincinnati Bengals in a lethargic affair at Relialnt Stadium in Houston on Wild Card Weekend, the Texans advanced to play New England for the second round of the playoffs. A well-rested New England was coming off of their first-round bye with Rob Gronkowski coming off the DL.

The first half of Sunday's playoff game went a little differently than December's Monday Night blowout, with the Texans drawing first blood thanks to a 27 yard Shayne Graham FG on the Texans' opening possession. The Texans would maintain their 3 point lead throughout most of the first quarter as both offenses seemed to sputter but with just under four and a half minutes to go The Patriots got good field position and put together a 3 minute drive, hitting paydirt on a 1 yard TD run from RB Shane Vereen putting New England on top 7-3.

Thanks to a Gostkowski FG and another Vereen TD, the Patriots took a 17-3 lead with just under 4 minutes to go before halftime. The Texans were able to return the kickoff to midfield, giving Houston great field position for RB Arian Fosterto singlehandedly run the ball down the field for a Houston TD....which is exactly what happened with 1:15 to go in the first half to make it 17-10 New England.

After the Patriots went 3 and out on their own 30, they punted with 24 seconds left in the half- time enough, it turned out, for Texans QB Matt Schaub to make 3 quick completions for a total of 30 yards- good enough to move the ball down the field for a 55 yard FG attempt from Shayne Graham. And of course, I wouldn't be bringing this up if Graham's field goal attempt was no good- but it went through as time expired, and a much more game Houston trailed the Patriots by 17-13 at the half. It should also be worth noting that Graham's FG attempt was the longest successful FG in the playoffs at Gilette Stadium.

The second half, however, was another story as the Patriots began to pull away thanks to a Stevan Ridley rushing TD and a TD pass from Brady to Brandon Lloyd to make it 31-13 New England in the 3rd quarter. And while the Patriots would get another TD thanks to a 33 yard reception and run by Vereen to make it 38-13, the Texans would score twice in the 4th quarter to make it a 10 point game before Gostkowski kicked a FG with a little over a minute to go to make it a 41-28 win for New England.

ELSEWHERE IN THE AFC- The good news is that the Road to the Superbowl once again goes through New England. The bad news is that the Patriots will have to deal with the pesky Baltimore Ravens to get to the Super Bowl.

The Ravens advanced to the AFC Championship after a wild affair in Denver on Sunday evening that required double OT after an improbable pass from Baltimore's Joe Flacco was snagged by WR Jacoby Jones to tie the game at 35-35 with 31 seconds left in regulation. After a scoreless OT, the game at Denver headed into a second OT where the Ravens broke the deadlock thanks to a 47 yard FG by Justin Tucker.

Since Denver had clinched a first round bye and home field advantage, their elimination by Baltimore means that the Patriots now have the best record of the remaining teams and will host the AFC title game on Sunday.

The AFC Championsip Game between New England and Baltimore is set for Sunday evening at 6:30 ET and will be televised on CBS.

MEANWHILE IN THE NFC- Although we were about 30 seconds away from an all NFC West Championship game, there was no overtime on the NFC side of things. However, there was still one hell of a finish for one of the games.

Atlanta looked as though it wasn't getting off their playoff schnide after blowing a late lead against the visiting Seahawks on Sunday. After taking a 20-0 lead in the first half, Atlanta saw Seattle steadily chip away at their lead, finally going ahead thanks to a TD run from Marshawn Lynch with 31 seconds remaining in regulation toput Seattle up 28-27 and quieting down the home crowd at the Georgia Dome.

After getting the ball back on their own 28 with 19 seconds remaining, Matt Ryan managed two completions- a 22 yard completion to Harry Douglas and another completion to Tony Gonzalez good for 19 yards. Matt Bryant then kicked a 49 yard FG attempt to put Atlanta up 30-28 with 8 seconds remaining.

The Falcons escape by the skin of their teeth to win by a final of 30-28 and host this weekend's NFC championship game which is set to take place at 3:00 ET on Sunday and will be televised on FOX. The Falcons will be hosting the San Francisco 49ers who beat the Green Bay Packers pretty handily by a 45-31 final.

NCAA FOOTBALL- In what has to be one of the most bizarre off-the-field events in college football in recent years, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was caught up in an elaborate online hoax after admitting that his girlfriend, 22 year old Lennay Kekua, had never existed.

Kekua had supposedly passed away from complications due to leukemia within hours of Manti's grandmother passing away on September 12th, 2012.
In a shocking announcement, Notre Dame said Te'o was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose "death" from leukemia was faked by perpetrators of an elaborate hoax. The goal of the scam wasn't clear, though Notre Dame said it used an investigative firm to dig into the details after Te'o disclosed them three weeks ago.

The hoax was disclosed hours after posted a lengthy story, saying it could find no record that Kekua ever existed. The story suggests a friend of Te'o may have carried out the hoax and that the football player may have been in on it — a stunning claim against a widely admired All-American who led the most famed program in college football back to the championship game for the first time since 1988.
Te'o had reportedly known about the hoax prior to the report, but was reluctant to go public with it out of embarassment or being accused of manipulating sentiment prior to the Heisman voting.

CYCLING- Cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to doping during all 7 Tour De France bids in an interview with Oprah Winfrey this week.

During part 1 of the two-part interview, Armstrong seemed devoid of any emotion of remorse, but teared up during part two when mentioning how his son defended him at the time, unaware the doping allegations were true.

The admission may have sponsors such as the US Postal Service wanting some or all of their money back. In 2006, Armstrong sued Britain's Sunday Times for libel after their head sports writer accused him of doping- Armstrong and the paper settled out od court for more than $500,000. Now the paper may be suing Armstrong to recoup some of their money.

NHL- Just a quick reminder, the NHL season begins on Saturday- the Bruins will be hosting the NY Rangers at the TD Garden at 7PM ET on the NHL Network.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Blue State Graft Watch- Feds Ordered to Delay Arrest of New Jersey Senator's Staffer Until After Election

Recently released documents obtained by the Associated Press show that federal agents investigating an unpaid intern working for Sen Robert Menendez (D-NJ) for being in the country illegally and aggravated sexual assault were under pressure to postpone any arrest until after the November 2012 elections.
[A]ccording to the internal agency documents, the agents were ordered by Washington to hold off after officials warned of "significant interest" from Congress and news organizations since the suspect was a volunteer intern for New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez.

Luis Abrahan Sánchez Zavaleta was an immigrant from Peru who had overstayed a visitor visa that allowed him to enter the United States. He eventually was arrested at his home in New Jersey on Dec. 6. He has since been released from an immigration jail and is facing deportation.

When The Associated Press first disclosed the delayed arrest of last month, Sanchez, 18, the Homeland Security Department said AP's report was "categorically false."

According to those documents, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Newark had arranged to arrest Sanchez at the local prosecutor's office on Oct. 25. That was fewer than two weeks before the election.

Noting that Sanchez was a volunteer in Menendez's Senate office, ICE officials in New Jersey advised that the arrest "had the possibility of garnering significant congressional and media interest" and were "advised to postpone the arrest" until officials in Washington gave approval. The documents describe a conference call between officials Washington and New Jersey to "determine a way forward, given the potential sensitivities surrounding the case."

In a letter Monday, Assistant DHS Secretary Nelson Peacock said an allegation that the government delayed Sanchez's arrest "for political purposes" was categorically false. Neither the unnamed U.S. official cited in AP's original story or the senators in their letters to the department had specifically alleged that the arrest had been delayed for political purposes. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss details of Sanchez's immigration case, told AP last month that the department had instructed federal agents not to arrest Sanchez until after Election Day.

The documents provided to Congress do not indicate why the arrest should have been delayed or whether anyone outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement — such as in the headquarters offices of the Homeland Security Department — was consulted.

According to police records, Sanchez was 15 when he was arrested on a charge of aggravated sexual assault in 2009. The records show he was accused of sexually assaulting an 8-year-old boy at least eight times and sentenced to two years' probation and required to register as a sex offender. The AP is not reporting the boy's relationship to Sanchez to avoid identifying the victim.

The agency documents show that Sanchez failed to update his sex offender registration, and local prosecutors considered arresting him for that. During the same time, immigration officials learned that Sanchez had applied for the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which would have allowed him to stay in the country and legally work for two years. He did not disclose his arrest or status as a sex offender on the application and was eventually denied, according to the documents.
Prior to the 2012 election, Sen Menendez was enmeshed in a sex scandal when two women from the Dominican Republic said that the Senator paid to have sex with them, reportedly short-changing one of the women.

A high-ranking Dominican official confirmed that both Sen Menendez and a donor identified as Dr Salomon Melgen were frequent visitors to the island nation and attended parties at Megen's villa where orgies were said to hake place.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Iron Horse Roundup For December 2012

A Canadian Pacific and DM&E SD40-2 lead a Rapid City to Huron, SD freight past an abandoned farmhouse in Wasta, SD in March 2010. Jeff Robertson photo

CANADIAN PACIFIC-Canadian Pacific has announced their intention to sell approximately 660 miles of former Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern trackage between Tracy, MN and Rapid City, SD along with branches from Rapid City to Colony, WY and Dakota Jct, NE.

Canadian Pacific acquired the DM&E as well as sister railroad Iowa, Chicago & Eastern in 2008. Even before it's acquisition by CP Rail, the DM&E had made plans to build new trackage west of South Dakota's Black Hills to tap coal traffic from Wyoming's Powder River Basin. Although CP Rail planned on following through with construction of the new line, declining coal prices and a hostile takeover of the company from Pershing Square Capital Management in 2012 have caused those plans to be shelved.

While the western end of the DM&E still generates considerable freight traffic in the form of grain, ethanol, aggregate and clay, much of the right of way through South Dakota is in need of an upgrade, with speed restrictions between 10 and 25 MPH commonplace. With no new line into the Powder River Basin and coal traffic, Canadian Pacific CEO Hunter Harrison has decided the railroad should divest themselves of the entire western end of the DM&E.

The DM&E itself started up in 1986 after taking over operations from former Chicago & North Western trackage in Minnesota and South Dakota that was spun off. In 2002, the DM&E purchased the assets of the Washington Company's I&M Rail Link, renaming it the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern. This encompassed the former Milwaukee Road/Soo Line route between the Twin Cities and Kansas City (via the Quad Cities) as well as the east west line between Sheldon, IA and Chicago, IL. It's believed that Canadian Pacific will likely retain most of the former IC&E.
With the shutdown of the Catalyst Paper mill in Snowflake, AZ looming Apache C420 #91 hauls a string of boxcars to the BNSF interchange at Holbrook, AZ in September 2012. Ted Ellis photo
APACHE RAILWAY- The facilities for Catalyst Paper's mill in Snowflake, AZ- including the Apache Railway- has been sold to Los Angeles-based Hackman Capital for a reported $13,460,000 and other non-cash considerations.

The massive paper mill at Snowflake, AZ permanently shut down in October- both the railroad and mill were owned by Canadian paper company Catalyst. While the long-term future of the Apache is up in the air, the railway has been kept busy with removing stored cars from the line and hauling feed to a sizable pig farm north of Snowflake. Meanwhile the town of Snowflake is looking into potential tenants for the former Catalyst mill just west of Snowflake. In November, the Snowflake town council had threatened to seize the Apache right-of-way via condemnation when it learned potential buyers for the railroad were appraising it for scrap value.

Although the Catalyst shutdown this fall resulted in nearly 300 layoffs, geologists and mining concerns have discovered significant quantities of Potash nearby in the Holbrook Basin worth more than $300 billion.

Ann Arbor GP38 #7791 switches autoracks in Toledo, OH in March 2011. Michael Harding photo
ANN ARBOR- Kansas-based shortline operator WATCO has announced their acquisition of the Ann Arbor Railroad at the end of December. In its most recent incarnation, the Ann Arbor's fortunes have been tied to the auto industry.
The Ann Arbor Railroad serves southeastern Michigan and the Toledo, Ohio, areas, mainly shipping auto and other manufacturing goods. It operates 50 miles of track between Ann Arbor and Toledo and has Toledo-area terminals serving General Motors Co., Chrysler and Ford Motor Co.
The original Ann Arbor operated line out of Toledo, OH as well as a number of train ferries on Lake Michigan until its 1973 bankruptcy and 1976 acquisition by Conrail. Eventually, a truncated version of the original Ann Arbor started up operations between its namesake city and Toledo, OH in 1988. This latest acquisition, along with the 2011 purchase of the Wisconsin Southern represents a trend where shortline operators such as Rail America or WATCO buy up independent shortlines or regionals rather than purchase lines divested by Class 1 carriers.
Hampton & Branchville GP9# 667 leads a unit coal train of former Chessie and Norfolk & Western GP9s at  Hampton, SC. Adam Finger photo
SOUTH CAROLINA- The 40 mile Hampton and Branchville made what may be their final revenue run at the end of December. The H&B's only customer is the South Carolina Electric and Gas power plant in Canadays, SC. The line, which started out as a lumber carrier in 1901, had the SCE&G plant as its only remaining customer before the plant switched from coal to natural gas.

The line uses a mix of former Chessie and Norfolk & Western GP9s for motive power- all of them still in the colors of their previous owner.

Amtrak Baggae/cab control car #90213 is seen departing Brunswick, ME with a southbound Downeaster on November 3rd, 2012. Michael White photo.
AMTRAK- Some changes are afoot for the national passenger carrier in New England. At the beginning of November, Amtrak launched an extended service on their popular Downeaster route. The daily Boston, MA-Portland, ME train has been extended east to Brunswick and Freeport, ME via Pan Am's former Maine Central Rockland Branch.

In 2010, Amtrak and the Maine Department of Transportation announced their plans to extend the Downeaster route another 30 miles to serve Freeport and Brunswick. Freeport, ME is perhaps best known for being home to LL Bean's flagship store while Brunswick is home to the small Bowdoin College. During warmer weather, the Downeaster  will also reportedly connect with Maine Eastern's seasonal excursions between Brunswick and Rockland, ME.

Meanwhile, in western Massachusetts, work is proceeding on rerouting the Vermonter to PanAm's former Boston & Maine line between Springfield and Greenfield, MA. The move would eliminate a 20-mile dogleg over the CSX's former Boston & Albany mainline between Palmer and Springfield, MA before travelling north on the New England Central to St Albans, VT. The Vermonter's predecessor, Amtrak's Montrealer, ran this route until deteriorating track conditions forced its suspension in 1987.

There has also been talk of restoring Amtrak service all the way to Montreal via White River Jct and St Albans, VT. In June, Vermont's Agency of Transportation was awarded a $7.9 million TIGER grant to upgrade some 20 miles of New England Central line used by the Vermonter. At the time, Rail America was reportedly contributing $3 million to the effort.
"The award shows the confidence in the state of Vermont and the railroad by the Federal Department of Transportation," said Christopher Parker, executive director of the Vermont Rail Action Network, an advocacy group. Parker noted Vermont's TIGER IV grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation was given to primarily to improve freight train speeds and raise weight limits for freight, but passenger trains also eventually would benefit. The federal funds will help pay for 19 miles of new welded rail, ties, ballast, and bridge upgrades that will raise speeds to 40 mph for freight (and 59 mph for passenger trains). The weight limit will rise from 263,000 pounds per car to 286,000 pounds. resulting in a competitive benefit for Vermont. Vermont is providing $7 million and the NECR, owned by RailAmerica, Inc., is contributing $3 million. Said Parker, "This award checks off one of four steps needed to extend Amtrak's Vermonter to Montreal," said Parker. "Progress is happening on the other three items as well, thanks to Vermont House and Senate member] efforts and the work of the Agency of Transportation and Amtrak." St. Albans, Vt., has been Amtrak's northern terminus for the Vermonter since 1995, when the Montrealer's route was cut back.
Meanwhile, the western Massachusetts reroute of the Vermonter through the rather presumptively named 'Knowledge Corridor' will eliminate Amherst, MA as a stop while adding Greenfield and Northampton, MA. Currently, the line sees freight service from Pan Am Rail serving the coal-fired power plant at Mt Tom as well as the CSX interchange in Springfield and Pioneer Valley Railroad interchange in Holyoke, MA.

MBTA- Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority has announced the resumption of service to Cape Cod beginning this summer.
The service, dubbed the CapeFLyer, will run through Labor Day. Trains will depart South Station Friday evening , and also on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Trains depart from Hyannis Saturday and Sunday evenings, with a possible Monday morning departure still being discussed. Round-trip tickets will cost $30, and bicycles will be allowed on board. The two-hour trip time is considered time-competitive, given the near-legendary, decades-old seasonal road gridlock that occurs on approaches to both the Bourne Bridge and Sagamore Bridge, each of which spans the Cape Cod Canal. Cape Cod is a major summer destination not just for Massachusetts residents, but for many in the New York metropolitan area as well.
Between 1988 and 1996, Amtrak handled trains to Cape Cod with their New York to Hyannis, MA Cape Codder service- at the time running over trackage belonging to the Bay Colony Railroad and being one of the few Amtrak trains to regularly operate over a shortline.

You can't tell through those weeds, but apparently this train HASN'T derailed yet. Still lettered for Santa Fe, Maumee & Western GP7u #5 trundles over the former Wabash right of way in Okolona, OH. WM Heilman photo

OHIO- A shortline that has gained infamy in some circles for its deferred maintainance has found a new owner.

Pioneer Railcorp completed their purchase of the 51-mile Maumee & Western at the end of December, renaming the line the Napoleon, Defiance & Western. Although the line runs from the Norfolk Southern interchange at Woodburn, IN to Cecil, OH, the line between Defiance and Cecil is currently used for car storage. Trains typically operate at what could be describes as walking speed over the rest of the right-of-way due to deferred maintenance.
The line was spun off as a result of Indiana Hi-Rail's bankruptcy in the 1990s and in apparent defiance of both gravity and at least a few FRA regulations, hauled aggregates, manufactured goods and feed with an array of secondhand Geeps from the Santa Fe and Illinois Central.

Saratoga & North Creek B39-8 #8524 is seen with BL2 #52 with the Snow Train to Gore Mtn in March 2012. John Sesonske photo
NEW YORK- Saratoga & North Creek's aspirations to be a freight carrier may be realized sooner than expected thanks to Superstorm Sandy. Over the summer, Saratoga & North Creek's parent company, Iowa Pacific holdings, outlined plans to rehab more than 30 miles of  abandoned former Delaware & Hudson line to Tawahus, NY to remove tailings and waste rock from abandoned mines there.

The tailings were to be used in making cement and concrete- something needed along the northeastern corridor as parts of New York City and elsewhere are still cleaning up after the damage from Superstorm Sandy.

Although the S&NC started out as an excursion line, Iowa Pacific began actively courting potential shippers along the route despite opposition from the Sierra Club.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

No Longer Locked Out Sports Chowdah Update- Game On: NHL Set to Resume Play This Month; Tide Sweeps Away Irish; Bloody Monday- 7 NFL Coaches Get the Axe on New Year's Eve; Red Sox Get Relief From Pirates

NHL- After a protracted disupte with the NHL and the players' union which forced the cancellation of the Winter Classic and NHL All Star Game, it appears as though there will be an abbreviated hockey season in 2013.

The 113-day lockout was the third such labor stoppage under NHL Comissioner Gary Bettman. The previous labor agreement had expired on September 15th, 2012 and the lockout led to the cancellation of more than 480 games throughout the league. Some of the idle NHL players stayed in shape by playing in the American Hockey League [All AHL teams are affiliated with NHL parent clubs- NANESB!] as well as over in Europe.

This year's NHL All Star Game and the New Year's Day Winter Classis were cancelled as a result of the work stoppage. Although the complete schedule for the abbreviated season hasn't been released yet, the season begins on January 19th. Barring any changes on the NHL's part, the Bruins are slated to start the season at the TD Garden on the 19th against the New York Rangers. The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings are scheduled to raise their champioship banner in the Staples Center the same day.

NCAA FOOTBALL- Man- do I have a shitload of games to catch up on. Is it just me, or aside from the Rose Bowl, did all the top tier BCS games turn out to be snooze-fests while the 'lesser' games turned out to be fairly close and much more interesting contests.

I've already posted the final scores for the New Mexico Bowl, the Idaho Potatoes Bowl and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl before going on my Christmastime hiatus. Here are the finals from the remaining bowl games.

Beef O'Brady Bowl
Ball State- 17
UCF- 38

R+L Carriers Bowl
East Carolina- 34
Louisiana-Lafeyette- 43

Maaco Las Vegas Bowl
Washington- 26
Boise State- 28

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Fresno State- 10
Southern Methodist- 43

Little Caesars Bowl
Western Kentucky- 21
Central Michigan- 24

Military Bowl
San Jose State- 29
Bowling Green- 20

Belk Bowl
Cincinnati- 48
Duke- 34

Bridgepoint Holiday Bowl
Baylor- 49
UCLA- 26

Independence Bowl
Ohio- 45
Louisiana-Monroe- 14

Russel Athletic Bowl
Rutgers- 10
Virginia Tech- 13

Meineke Bowl
Minnesota- 31
Texas Tech- 34

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Rice- 33
Air Force- 14

New Era Pinstripe Bowl
West Virginia- 14
Syracuse- 38

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Navy- 28
Arizona State- 62

Valero Alamo Bowl
Texas- 31
Oregon State- 27

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Texas Christian- 16
Michigan State- 17

Music City Bowl
North Carolina State- 24
Vanderbilt- 38

Sun Bowl
USC- 7
Georgia Tech- 21

Liberty Bowl
Iowa State- 17
Tulsa- 31

ChickFilA Bowl
LSU- 24
Clemson- 25

Gator Bowl
Mississippi State- 20
Northwestern- 34

Heart of Dallas Bowl
Purdue- 14
Oklahoma State- 58

Capital One Bowl
Georgia- 45
Nebraska- 31

Outback Bowl
South Carolina- 33
Michigan- 28

Rose Bowl
Wisconsin- 14
Stamford- 20

Orange Bowl
Northern Illinois- 10
Florida State- 31

Sugar Bowl
Louisville- 33
Florida- 23

Fiesta Bowl
Oregon- 35
Kansas State- 17

Cotton Bowl
Texas A&M- 41
Oklahoma- 13

BBVA Compass Bowl
Pittsburgh- 17
Ole Miss- 38 Bowl
Kent State- 13
Arkansas State- 17

BCS Title Game
Notre Dame- 14
Alabama- 42

To hardly anybody's surprise, the title game ended up being a fairly lopsided affair, with Brent Musburger's on-air comments about Crimson Tide QB AJ McCarron's girlfriend- Katherine Webb- generating more attention than Alabama's convincing victory over the Irish [For the record, the 73 year old Musburger basically pointed out how attractive Webb is and encouraged kids in Alabama to start throwing the pigskin around if they wanted to land a future Miss Alabama- NANESB!].

ELSEWHERE IN NCAA FOOTBALL- Boise State has announced the cancellation of their geographically improbable move to the Big East conference and will remain in the Mountain West conference. The university weighed the costs of playing in-conference games on the east coast and decided it would be more cost-effective to pay the Big East the one-time $10 million exit fee.

San Diego State, which was supposed to make the move to the Big East along with the Broncos, is now reconsidering their participation. With Boise State already gone from the Big East before even playing a game, the Aztecs can remain in the Mountain West without paying an exit fee due to a clause reportedly included in the agreement between the Big East and SDSU.

NCAA FCS FOOTBALL- For the second consecutive season, the North Dakota State Bisons are the FCS Champions, beating the Sam Houston State Bearkats by a final of 39-13 in a rematch of last year's FCS title game.

The UNH Wildcats did make the cut for the FCS bracket, but were eliminated in their first game after losing to Wofford by a 23-7 final on December 1st. This season, New Hampshire holds the distinction of being the only New England team- FBS or FCS- to qualify for a postseason game.

NFL- OK, so Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger walk into a watch the playoffs on TV.

The NFL regular season wrapped up with the defending Super Bowl Champion NY Giants failing to make the playoffs along with New Orleans, Pittsburgh or Chicago.

New England finished the regular season with wins against Jacksonville and the Dolphins. Interestingly, the last place Jaguars gave the Patriots more of a challenge than Miami- Jacksonville's final drive started around midfield and got as far as the Patriots 12 yard line before QB Chad Henne was picked off in the end zone by safety Patrick Chung to hang on for the 23-16 win.

To wrap up the regular season, the Patriots shut out the Dolphins at Foxborough by a 28-0 final to finish the regular season with a 12-4 record- good enough for a 1st round bye, but not quite enough to clinch home field advantage. Instead, that honor goes to the 13-3 Denver Broncos who will host the Baltimore Ravens this weekend while New England hosts the Houston Texans for the second time in a month. Kickoff is set for 4:30 ET at Gilette Stadium and the game will be televised on CBS.

ELSEWHERE IN THE NFL- No less than 7 NFL  head coaches were handed their walking papers on December 31st. This includes Norv Turner of the San Diego Chargers, Romeo Crennel of the Kansas City Chiefs, Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles, Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears, Pat Shurmur of the Cleveland Browns, Ken Wisenhunt of the Arizona Cardinals and Chan Gailey of the Buffalo Bills.

After about a week, the Chiefs made the decision to hire Reid as the head coach while Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly interviewed with the Bills, Eagles and Browns. However, unnamed sources have indicated that Kelly is interested in staying on at Oregon.

Jamie Rhodes- USA Today photo
NCAA VOLLEYBALL- For the first time since 1988, the Texas Longhorns have won the NCAA Women's volleyball title. The lady Longhorns swept the Oregon Ducks 25-11, 26-24 and 25-19 in the title game at Louisville, KY on December 15th. Longhorns Junior Bailey Webster led the way with five kills and a .714 hitting percentage in the first match alone.

This was Oregon's first appearence in the NCAA Volleyball title game and Texas' second appearence in the championship game since 2009, when the Penn State Nittany Lions swept the Longhorns in the title match.

ELSEWHERE IN NCAA VOLLEYBALL- The university of Nebraska has announced that they will be adding women's sand volleyball as an intercollegiate sport beginning this year. This will be the 24th intercollegiate sport in the Cornhusker athletic program.

Sand/Beach volleyball was recognized as an 'emerging sport' by the NCAA in 2009 and in 2012, sixteen schools began fielding teams. However, most of these programs were for colleges located in California, Florida or Hawaii. The announcement by Nebraska signifies a significant move inland for the sport, which the NCAA decided to refer to as 'sand volleyball' to invite the participation of teams from colder and more landlocked venues.

It remains to be seen whether or not additional midwestern schools will follow the Cornhuskers lead into the burgeoning sport.

RED SOX- The Red Sox have signed former A's and Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew to a 1 year $9.5 million contract. Drew is the younger brother of former Red Sox outfielder JD Drew and has a .265 batting average with 77 HR and 349 RBIs over seven seasons. Although the youngest Drew brother got off to a lackluster start with Arizona in the 2012 season, he hit .250 with 5 HR and 16 RBI after being acquired by the Oakland A's on August 20. Drew also would reportedly recieve a $500,000 bonus if he had 500 plate appearences in a season.

OTHER RED SOX NEWS- In a 6-player trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Red Sox have acquired Joel Hanrahan along with infielder Brock Holt. Boston sends outfielders Mark Melancon and Stolmy Pimentel as well as infielders Ivan DeJesus and Jerry Sands to the Steel City.

The Red Sox have been searching for a closer since the 2011 departure of Jonathan Papelbon who left as a free agent and signed with the Phillies.

Hanrahan had 36 saves in the 2012 seasons with a 2.72 ERA. Holt spent most of 2011 in AA Altoona before breaking through and getting called up by the Pirates late in 2012. In 24 games with the Pirates, Holt batted .292 with 3 RBI.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New York State Report Deems Hydrofracking Safe, Matt Damon Hardest Hit

Natural gas well in Wilcox, PA

An unreleased document from New York State's Department of Enviromental Conservation leaked to the press indicates that the state has reached the conclusion that hydrofracking can be done safely.
The document, first reported by the New York Times and Gannett News Service and published online Thursday by New York State public radio, references sections of DEC's draft environmental review that deal with health impacts from shale gas drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The report concludes that adverse health impacts will be prevented if DEC's guidelines are followed.

The eight-page document references sections of DEC's 1,500-page environmental impact study of shale gas development. A final version of that study, which is expected to be released in February, will include revisions based on public comment and a health impact review now under way by the state Health Department and three outside experts, DEC has said.

Cuomo has said he'll lift the state's ban on fracking if it's shown to be safe. The state has had a moratorium in effect since July 2008, when DEC began its review of the impacts of fracking.

The document appears to have been written for inclusion in the larger environmental impact study. It describes potential health risks associated with fracking and shale gas development such as exposure to chemicals, contamination of drinking water sources, air pollution, and contact with radioactive elements brought up from deep underground.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens in September rejected calls for a separate health study by outside experts. Instead, he said the Health Department and a panel of outside experts would review what DEC had already done.
The Marcellus shale formation extends from the southern tier region of New York State to southwestern Virginia and contains trillions of cubic feet in natural gas. Using a method known as hydraulic fracturing or simply fracking, drilling began five years ago in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Hydrofracking uses pressurized water, sand and a number of chemicals injected to the ground to drill through the shale and reach the natural gas trapped underground.

Some activists have expressed concern that fracking will contaminate drinking water or even cause earthquakes around the drilling areas. The Department of Environmental Conservation's report reportedly hasn't discouraged activists from protesting fracking from gathering in Albany this week.

Meanwhile, Matt Damon's United Arab Emirates-backed anti-fracking movie Promised Land fared poorly at the box office in its opening weekend nationwide.
The film, which Matt Damon co-wrote and stars in, took just 10th place at the weekend box office, with $4.3 million in ticket sales, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The top weekend spot, with $23 million, went to the slasher flick “Texas Chainsaw 3D.”

“Promised Land,” which cost $15 million to make and was directed by indie pioneer Gus Van Sant, delves into fears about water pollution from fracking
Damon denied the film had an anti-fracking message and that the writers and cast simply wanted to 'start a discussion' on the subject of fracking [which in liberal-speak usually means you're supposed to sit and not question anything they say- NANESB]