In the News

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North Bay Freights One Step Closer

North Bay cargo trains may be closer to returning to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad now that a major obstacle has been removed.

U.S. transportation regulators have ruled that the North Coast Railroad Authority doesn’t need commuter rail’s okay to reopen the freight line.

That means the Federal Railroad Administration can now inspect repairs on a 62-mile stretch of track between Napa County and Windsor. “It’s a significant step,” NCRA director Mitch Stogner said Monday.

But NCRA still needs a joint operating agreement with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, the commuter rail agency that owns the tracks.

NCRA hopes to begin freight service on the segment early next year, Stogner said, which will provide a lower-cost alternative for shippers and take truck traffic off Highway 101.

(Read article here)

Union Pacific Wins Environmental Award

Union Pacific Railroad said it has won the 2010 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA), “California’s highest environmental honor.”

In a release, the company said the award recognizes individuals, organizations and businesses that have demonstrated exceptional leadership for voluntary achievements in conserving California’s resources, protecting and enhancing the environment and building public-private partnerships. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recognized Union Pacific and other GEELA recipients at a reception at the Governors’ Global Climate Summit in Davis November 15.

“This honor recognizes Union Pacific’s ongoing commitment to developing new technologies that bolster our environmentally friendly transportation of freight,” said Mike Iden, Union Pacific general director, car and locomotive engineering. “American businesses and consumers depend on Union Pacific to safely and reliably deliver the products they need and use every day. We are proud of our leadership role in developing and implementing new technologies and practices that further our ability to keep America moving with greater environmental efficiency.”

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High Speed Rail’s Impact on Freight

Union Station in Los Angeles has been restored as a fine example of the Art Deco architecture that typified California in the 1930s. It has served as a backdrop for many Hollywood films, from “Union Station” (naturally) to “Blade Runner” and “Star Trek: First Contact”. It was the last grand station to be built before America’s passenger railways went into what you might call terminal decline.

Today it is a hub for Metrolink commuter trains and Amtrak services to faraway cities such as Chicago and Seattle. These trains have to pull in and then back out in a clumsy manoeuvre. But there are plans for through tracks in time to carry the high-speed services that California is desperate to have by 2020 under an ambitious $42 billion plan to connect San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.

California’s plans were given a boost by Barack Obama’s stimulus package last year. This earmarks a lump sum of $8 billion, plus $1 billion a year, to help construct fast rail corridors around America (see map). Such lines are common in Europe, Japan and, increasingly, China, yet the only thing at all like them in America is Amtrak’s Acela service from Boston via New York to Washington, DC. It rarely reaches its top speed of 150mph (240kph) and for much of the way manages little more than half that, because the track is not equipped for higher speeds. Acela, like virtually all trains run by publicly owned Amtrak, has to use tracks belonging to freight railways, whose trains trundle along at 50mph; passenger trains must stick below 80mph. Despite the excitement of railway buffs and the enthusiasm of environmentalists, high-speed rail in America is likely to mean a few more diesel-electric intercity trains at 110mph, not swish electric expresses going nearly twice as fast.

But the problem with America’s plans for high-speed rail is not their modesty. It is that even this limited ambition risks messing up the successful freight railways.

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U.S. Development Group to Begin Construction of Southern California Ethanol Handling and Distribution Terminal

U.S. Development Group LLC (USDG), an industry leader in ethanol handling and distribution terminals, announced today that it will begin construction on the West Colton Rail Terminal, a new ethanol hub located in the Inland Empire area of southern California.

Construction of the facility will occur in two phases. The first phase, located in Rialto, Calif., will consist of a manifold transfer system that will begin receiving and offloading ethanol railcars in the fall of 2009. The second phase includes full unit train capability and ethanol storage. It will be located on an adjacent site in Colton, Calif., and is scheduled for completion in mid 2010. The Phase 1 facility will have the capacity to handle current Colton area demand for ethanol, plus that required to meet the mandated increase to a 10 percent blend in gasoline in 2010.

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CSX Transportation Urges Awareness and Caution Near Rails and Tracks Over July 4th Weekend

With the July 4th holiday weekend and summer recreation approaching, CSX Transportation (CSXT) is urging people to play it safe around railroad tracks and property by using common sense safety to avoid injuries and fatalities.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), injuries and fatalities associated with trespassing on railroad property are a significant and growing problem. More than 870 people died or were injured in railroad-related trespassing incidents in 2008 and the total number of accidents and fatalities has surpassed 9,000 in the last ten years. As people turn to traditional summer and holiday activities such as fishing and swimming, fireworks and increased all-terrain vehicle (ATV) usage, accidents can happen.

CSXT developed “F.A.S.T.” as part of its ongoing safety commitments, urging public awareness of basic guidelines when it comes to Fishing, Fireworks, ATV, Safety and Trespassing near rails and tracks

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L.A. harbor line acquires low-emission engines

The heavy-metal clash as rail cars slam together is like a symphony to Andrew Fox, and he can hear just how well each note is played as trains assemble on the railroad he runs.

On a recent morning, Fox winced only once.

“It can be too hard or too soft. You can just tell when it isn’t quite right,” said Fox, president of Pacific Harbor Line Inc., which operates inside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Even during a global recession that has slowed cargo traffic at the local ports to its lowest level in at least five years, there have been very few sour notes for Pacific Harbor Line. With routes that, end to end, measure only 18 miles combined, it is one of the nation’s smallest short line railroads. But it is also one of the most important.

The railroad’s job is to break down trains as they arrive and send their cargo containers to the ports’ nine terminals. It also assembles trains that haul freight to much of the nation, connecting to the Union Pacific and BNSF transcontinental rail lines.

“We’re like the valet parking for the harbor,” Fox quips.

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Old locomotive returns to Santa Maria

A 125-year-old steam locomotive, once used to haul sugar beets in the Santa Maria Valley, has found its way back to the Central Coast.

Once known as Union Sugar No. 1, the tank engine returned to Santa Maria Thursday, just miles away from the former site of the Union Sugar plant in Betteravia where it hauled beet gondolas for four years.

Now owned by the Santa Maria Valley Railway Historical Museum, the 35-ton piece of machinery was delivered by truck to Steve Soares Trucking, the company that brought the locomotive down from Northern California, on Betteravia Road.

It will be kept next to a restored caboose at an Engel & Gray facility, also on Betteravia Road.

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New rail corridor between L.A. and Las Vegas could doom maglev project

Reporting from Los Angeles and Las Vegas — A potential corridor for passenger trains between Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area has become part of a federal initiative to modernize the nation’s rail networks and develop high-speed service between cities.

Thursday’s announcement, however, might doom a 30-year-old proposal to build a high-tech magnetic levitation, or “maglev,” train from Anaheim to Las Vegas if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gets his way.

Reid, who no longer supports the maglev project, said during an event to publicize the rail corridor that he would try to scuttle $45 million in federal funds earmarked for the proposal. The maglev project and a conventional rail line proposed by a private venture are trying to develop separate high speed passenger trains that would parallel oft-congested Interstate 15. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced Thursday that a swath of land along much of I-15 has been declared a federal high-speed rail corridor — one of 11 such zones in the U.S. Projects proposed in those corridors are eligible for federal assistance, grants and loans.

Federal officials say the development of a successful high speed rail system between Southern California and Nevada would dramatically reduce delays and traffic accidents on I-15.

(Read article here)

Making the Eastside safe for Gold Line light rail extension

Compelled by their hankering for a breakfast of pozole, Ricardo and Rosa Solis casually strolled across the railroad tracks on First Street to a Mexican restaurant.

They didn’t know that around the corner, MTA and law enforcement officials had just concluded a news conference Monday exhorting people not to do exactly that.

Later this summer, light rail trains will return to Boyle Heights and East L.A. for the first time in half a century. But officials say that just months before the Gold Line Eastside Extension begins running, they are seeing a lot of bad habits that could lead to serious injuries or deaths. If it is not jaywalkers, it is cars zipping across intersections when they’re supposed to be stopped.

Since May, law enforcement has issued more than 400 traffic citations to heedless drivers and pedestrians.

(Read article here)

UP to add sixth unit to California yard’s Genset fleet

Next month, Union Pacific Railroad plans to begin using a sixth ultra-low-emission Genset switcher at its Roseville, Calif., yard.

The locomotive, which is being field tested at UP’s Fort Worth, Texas, yard, will increase the Class I’s Genset fleet to 165 units. Gensets are designed to reduce oxides of nitrogen emissions up to 80 percent and particulate matter emission up to 90 percent compared with a conventional switcher.

“A lot of work is ongoing in terms of developing new and better locomotives and other vehicles,” said Mike Iden, UP’s general director of car and locomotive engineering, in a prepared statement. “When calculating true fuel savings or greenhouse-gas emission reductions, it is important to include every step in the process as we do with the Genset.”

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