Saturday, June 30, 2012

Long Overdue Iron Horse Update- Pan-Am, MM&A Look To Oil By Rail; Fatal Wreck in Oklahoma; Centennial Steam to the South Rim of Grand Canyon; Susquehanna Gets Oakway Rebuilds; Ambitous WV Tourist Train Project Proposed

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic SD40-2 #758 leads a motley assortment of EMD and GE diesels east through Frontenac, Quebec with unit crude oil train 606-245 on June 8, 2012. The train is bound for the New Brunswick Southern railroad interchange at Brownville Jct, ME. Frank Jolin photo via
NEW BRUNSWICK- Canada's largest oil refinery is looking to bring in shipments of oil from the Bakken shale and that could spell more traffic for some New England railroads depending on what route is selected.

A 104-car test train traversed the 2400 miles between the Dakotas and St John, NB using a BNSF-CSX-Pan Am- New Brunswick Southern route in late May and could provide Maine an economic boost.
The first big shipment was made over the weekend. Each of the 104 cars carried roughly 700 barrels of oil. The train traveled through Chicago to Rotterdam Junction, N.Y., where it moved over Pan Am Railways track through southern and eastern Maine and connected with the New Brunswick Southern Railway for the trip to Saint John.

Pan Am has been improving its tracks and adding locomotives and crews, making it a player in the growing crude-oil competition, according to Hall.

Pan Am operates one of three possible rail routes that can get crude to Saint John. Canadian National Railroad has another, which skirts Aroostook County and stays north of Maine. A third goes through Jackman, Greenville and Brownville Junction to reach New Brunswick via the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway.

"Irving's going to go with whoever does the best job at the best price," Hall said.

The prospect of steady oil shipments has led Montreal, Maine and Atlantic to announce that it will double the frequency of its service from three to six days a week between Montreal and Brownville Junction said Ed Burkhardt, the company's board chairman.

Price is driving Irving's thirst for Bakken oil, Burkhardt said. Irving's refinery, which has a capacity of 250,000 barrels a day, primarily receives its supply via tankers from Venezuela, the Persian Gulf and the North Sea. But overseas oil now is roughly $20 a barrel more expensive, so it's cost-effective to move some of the supply thousands of miles by rail.

"Rail can land oil at Saint John at a better price than by sea," Burkhardt said.

The most immediate factor that could limit business is the availability of tank cars, which are in great demand nationally, Burkhardt and others say. It takes roughly six days to go from North Dakota to New Brunswick, plus offloading time.

If rail delivery grows, it could help Maine's struggling freight railroads and the shippers that depend on them, said Chop Hardenbergh, editor of Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports. That could help improve service to Maine's paper mills and attract new shippers, he said.

"It certainly helps our railroads and our overall economy," Hardenbergh said.
Enviromental groups raised ocbjections over the 100+ car trains traversing enviromentally sensetive areas of Maine- these concerns were punctuated when a Pan-Am local freight derailed in Bucksport, ME in late May sending a pair of tank cars into the Penobscot River before rupturing and leaking a synthetic latex used in papermaking.

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic began running test trains to the St John's refinery shortly after striking Canadian Pacific employees were ordered back to work, thus enabling MM&A to interchange with railroads west of St Jean, Quebec.

Both the Pan-Am and MM&A hand off the unit oil trains to the New Brunswick Southern- either at Brownville Jct or Northern Maine Jct. Irving's St John's refinery is also reportedly eyeing an all-Canadian National route between the Saskatchewan portion of the Bakken and New Brunswick. The New Brunswick Southern and Irving oil refinery are both owned by J.D. Irving, LTD- a privately held company.

OKLAHOMA- Three crew members were killed in the Oklahoma panhandle last weekend when two Union Pacific freight trains collided with each other east of Goodwell, OK. Investigators from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and NTSB said they had pulled the badly burned bodies of John Hall, Dan Hall (no relation) and Brian Stone from the wreckage. A fourth crew member identified as Juan Zurita jumped from the locomotive prior to impact and escaped with minor injuries.

NTSB investigators are combing the scene and interviewing Zurita to attempt to piece together what had happened. The signals along the line and brakes on the locomotives involved were in working order and no cell phones were found at the crash site. Some experts have speculated that human error- not neccesarily on the part of the crew- could've played a part in the collision.

The NTSB will also be investigating the event recorders- basically a locomotive's black box- before issuing a preliminary report in two weeks.

Grand Canyon 2-8-2 #4960 leads Santa Fe 4-8-4 #3751 on a steam doubleheader to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon outside of Williams, AZ on May 15, 2012.

ARIZONA- The San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society's restored Santa Fe 4-8-8 Northern #3751 powered an excursion from Los Angeles to the South Rim of Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park in May to mark the centennial of statehood for Arizona.

The train departed Los Angeles on May 14th and after making good time over Cajon Pass and to the massive former Santa Fe yard and depot in Barstow, CA proceeded east on the transcontinental mainline to the Arizona & California interchange at Cadiz, where it ran into some problems in the form of a 15 MPH slow order for the journey between Cadiz and the ARZC facilities in Parker. Continuing east to the junction with the BNSF 'Peavine' line at Wickenburg, AZ the following day, the #3751 and its Amtrak diesel helper trudged along under another slow order, eventually making its way onto the Peavine Line north of Wickenburg and stopping to take on water at the siding in Congress, AZ.

Santa Fe #3751 seen heading southbound across the Hell's Canyon Trestle on BNSF's Phoenix-Williams, AZ 'Peavine' line at Drake AZ on the return trip to Los Angeles on May 18, 2012
The special arrived in Williams, AZ well after dark on the second day, but the following morning it left Williams on time while paired up with Grand Canyon's waste vegetable oil-burning 2-8-2 Mikado #4960.

Although used sparingly by Grand Canyon Railway's parent company Xanterra, the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Mikado has already made a couple of trips this year including a Valentine's Day special where visitors could ride to the South Rim for 1912 prices to celebrate Arizona's Centennial.

After a day off, the #3751 began its return trip to Los Angeles with the Grand Canyon Limited on May 18, giving riders a rare mileage trip down the former Santa Fe freight line in daylight hours. Keeping close to its schedule, the #3751 took on water in Congress, AZ once again and made better time over the ARZC line between Wickenburg and Parker, AZ as the speed limit had been raised to 35 MPH for the return trip. The following day, the #3751 made much better time to the BNSF Transcon junction at Cadiz and had a relatively easy journey back to Los Angeles via Barstow and Cajon Pass.

Newly arrived Susquehanna SD60 #3810 seen leading westbound Little Ferry, NJ to Binghamton NY symbol freight SU-99 through Bogota, NJ on June 22nd, 2012. Brandon Kaback photo via rrpicturesarchives

NEW YORK, SUSQUEHANNA & WESTERN- The Susquehanna has recently taken delivery of six former Oakway SD60 that were extensively rebuilt by Paducah, KY-based VMV Paducahbuilt. In addition to major overhauls of the trucks, fans, wheels and prime movers, Eastern Railroad News is reporting that the units will be equipped with GPS tracking and a new AESS Fuel Management system. The units were built in the late 1980s for Oakway leasing and spent much of their service lives in freight service on the Burlington Northern and BNSF.

Although there were earlier reports circulating that one of the six EMDs would be adorned with a maroon and silver paint scheme reminiscent of the colors on Susquehanna's early ALCo diesels, it apprears as though all six will be delivered in the NYSW's contemporary 'Yellowjacket' scheme. Per Susquehanna tradition, the units will be assigned road numbers 3800 to 3810- even numbers only.

Previously, the Susquehanna had been utilizing older SD40T-2s and unrebuilt SD45s and a fleet of leased blue CEFX SD40M-2s to handle the heavier road freights between Little Ferry, NJ and Binghamton, NY. The NYSW is also reportedly evaluating four-axle gensets for local and yard service.

The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley's former Moore & Keppel 2-truck Climax is seen leading a mixed train at Durbin, WV in May 2010. The line is currently isolated from other railroads, but a plan is in place to reconnect both the Durbin & Greenbrier and Cass Scenic with the rest of the nation's rail network via the West Virginia Central. Kevin Madore photo via
WEST VIRGINIA- Randolph County could soon become the lynchpin of an ambitious 90-mile tourist and heritage railroad circuit in the eastern part of the Mountaineer State. The county seat of Elkins is already home to the West Virginia Central's New Tygart Flyer and Cheat Mountain Salamander excursion trains. In 1997, the WVCR was selected by the state of West Virginia to operate 140 miles of former Western Maryland lines that CSX was looking to abandon. Besides a number of excursion services, the WVCR also hauls scrap metal and lumber for shippers in some of the isolated communities along the line. Prior to 1985, the south end of the line connected with the Cass Scenic Railroad south of Durbin, WV but the line was washed out in a flood 27 years ago.

The WVCR is also afilliated with the Durbin Rocket in nearby Pocohontas County. The Rocket is on an isolated 5-mile stretch of former Cheseapeke & Ohio line and offers short excursions and weekend stays in the wilderness in a caboose.

However, according to recent reports in the Elkins Inter-Mountain a proposal is being put before local Chambers of Commerce to restore WVCR's connections with both the Durbin Rocket and the Cass Scenic by rebuilding bridges and re-laying rail that would be ripped up from the dormant southwesternmost portion of the WVCR line between Laurel Bank and Bergoo, WV.
The project would add 60 miles of new rail trail, creating the Highland Adventure of Mountain & Rail, a 90-mile loop connecting Canaan Valley in Tucker County with The Greenbrier Resort, and Belington with Cass Scenic Railroad in Pocohantas County, Bergoo in Webster County and Snowshoe Resort.

"The goal is to have the trains load and unload in Belington," said Smith.

There could be economic benefits to all counties involved, combining recreation with transportation. Those with canoes, for instance, could go canoeing at one location, board a train, and canoe at another location in the same day.

"We think (the rail project) will open many new opportunities because of this plan," said Byrne.

The Highland Adventure of Mountain & Rail could result in the expansion of existing recreational opportunities in the area as well as provide an opportunity for others.

The project would cost about $20 million and is expected to attract 150,000 tourists in its first year, bringing a $50 million economic impact. In 2011, Smith's railroad had 35,998 passengers.

"With the new rail system, even West Virginia residents will have more places to go," said Byrne.

Many of the trains will travel through scenic areas of the state and provide the opportunity for many to merge their train rides with other recreational activities such as rafting, camping, hiking and more.
The plan coincides with the announcement of the West Virginia Railroad Museum selecting the nearby town of Beverly, WV for its new permanent home. The WVRM had originally planned to set up shop in Elkins, but was unable to meet planning requirements because the town's former Western Maryland depot wasn't big enough and the yard facilities couldn't accomodate the Museum's 90ft turntable. The Beverly site also features a historic former WM depot and is less than 10 miles away from Elkins.

Once moved into their permanent home, the West Virginia Railroad Museum plans on restoring some of their rolling stock to working order, including a pair of former West Virginia Northern 2-8-0 Consolidations, a 1943-built former US Army Baldwin diesel and a 1941-built Heisler geared steam locomotive- similar to the Durbin & Greenbrier's geared climax steam locomotive. This could provide an opportunity for the Museum's motive power to haul excursions on any of the three railways.

Coos Bay Rail Link leads a Eugene-bound train across a trestle at Hauser, OR on 2/23/12. The recently-reopened rail line has been mentioned as hosting unit coal trains bound for export from a facility to be built at the port of Coos Bay. Shane Gill photo via
OREGON- In remarks at a 'green' energy conference at Portland, Oregon's Democrat governor has called for a 'sweeping review' by state and federal agencies of a number or proposed coal export terminals located throughout the Pacific northwest.
Kitzhaber, a Democrat with strong ties to environmental groups that oppose coal export, requested the comprehensive review in a letter Wednesday to the Bureau of Land Management and the Army Corps of Engineers today. He also called for the review in a broader speech on "clean energy" today before the Future Energy Conference in Portland.

“We’re rushing to this huge infrastructure investment without a full national discussion,” Kitzhaber said after the speech. “I think we deserve to have a full debate on this.”

Kitzhaber didn't take a stand for or against exporting coal, which supporters say would increase rural jobs and tax revenues.
The proposed coal terminals and upgrading the rail lines that would serve them would create much-needed jobs for rural Oregon- the statewide unemployment rate currently is 8.4%. Kitzhaber likely ordered the review to make certain the coal terminal proposals would die a slow death via red tape and regulations rather go on the record as nixing the projects outright. Rural Oregon's economy has been struggling decades before the 2008 subprime lending meltdown triggered a global recession- with their timber industry coming under increasingly strict regulations due to pressure from environmentalists.

The coal would come from the Powder River basin and be shipped via Union Pacific or BNSF to one of the proposed terminals. With half the sites under consideration, the coal trains would have to be handed off to another railway to reach the port. Among the possible terminal locations are Bellingham, Longview and Grays Harbor in Washington state and Coos Bay, Port Westward and Morrow in Oregon. Located much further inland along the Columbia river, Morrow is a realtively short distance away from Union Pacific's yard in Hinkle, OR while any trains using Coos Bay would utilize the newly re-opened rail line between Coos Bay and Eugene. Just west of Portland, Port Westward would utilize Genesee & Wyoming's Wilamette & Pacific railroad while the Grays Harbor proposal would utilize Rail America's Puget Sound & Pacific.

The proposals have met with fierce opposition from environmentalists who are now claiming that coal trains can cause cancer or something. I shit you not- the very same environmentalists who hadn't said a word about train loads of trash being taken from metropolitan areas in the Pacific northwest and being dumped in eastern Oregon and Washington for the last 25 years are now warning the public on the health risks of dust blowing off from passing coal trains.

Meanwhile, Coos Bay Rail Link has obtained two GP38 locomotives to handle an expected increase in traffic as track rehabilitation slated for this summer will lead to increased train speeds between Coquille, OR and Eugene. A number of local companies were awarded contracts for weed abatement, bridge repair and tie replacement along the 134-mile route.

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