Monthly Archives: May 2009

Rail car bid in doubt, firm makes new offer

On the eve of a key vote on whether to grant a $300-million rail car contract to an Italian company offering to build its manufacturing plant in Los Angeles, the new chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority appeared Wednesday to dim the company’s chances.

In a memo that might weigh heavily on some MTA board members as they make their decision today, he recommended seeking bids from other firms because of concerns about the company’s past performance.

But the company, AnsaldoBreda, moved quickly to salvage the potential deal to build 100 cars for the agency’s light rail lines. Late Wednesday, AnsaldoBreda Inc. President Giancarlo Fantappie said in a letter to MTA chief Art Leahy that the company would provide a $300-million “financial guarantee,” ensuring the fulfillment of the new contract.

The potential rail plant — offered by AnsaldoBreda as leverage to get the contract — has been a central component of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan to jump-start a clean technology corridor downtown and bring “green jobs” to Los Angeles at a time when unemployment is topping 12%.

(Read article here)

Retired Pullman porter looks back on career

His office was a fast-moving train on the Santa Fe Railway. And while some people complain about being on-call 24/7, Belton Calmes’ reality was a lot harder — working 17 hours a day, cooking food in the kitchens for affluent guests on board the sleeper cars built by George Pullman.

For 30 years, Calmes worked for the Pullman Co.

Amtrak recently honored Pullman porters as part of National Train Day activities. “On meager salaries and tips, they raised families and sent children to college,” an Amtrak release states. “They worked hard under extreme conditions but always treated customers like royalty. They were goodwill ambassadors for the railroads. They were proud men. They were Pullman porters.”

The numbers of living Pullman porters are diminishing. But at age 92, Calmes who lives in the Chicago area with his wife, Cleo, is spry with a good sense of humor.

Asked about his three decades on the train, he says “I liked the job, I stayed until I retired. At times, it would be harder than others.”

(Read article here)

L.A. officials weigh exclusive deal with Italian rail firm

Los Angeles redevelopment officials are drawing closer to an agreement with an Italian rail car company that hopes to build a manufacturing plant on a prized city site east of downtown.

The company, AnsaldoBreda, is angling for a $300-million contract with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to build 100 light-rail cars, some of which would be used for the expansion of Metro’s Gold and Expo lines.

The company proposed the Los Angeles-based plant and a corporate headquarters earlier this year, when it learned that MTA staff had criticized the firm’s performance on a previous 50-car contract. By creating up to 650 full-time jobs in Los Angeles, AnsaldoBreda hopes to improve its odds of securing the new contract.

The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency board, whose members are appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, is slated to vote today to authorize an exclusive agreement that would set the stage for AnsaldoBreda to build on a parcel near 15th Street and Santa Fe Avenue in the city’s industrial core.

(Read article here)

Pullman’s historical signature up for sale

The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, often called Chicago World’s Fair, was an international venue that showcased the best in arts and culture, shining examples of architecture of the past, present and future, and America’s new push for industrialism.

One of the most touted gems of innovation of this event came from railroad magnate George M. Pullman.

Pullman, one of the kings of the industrial revolution who ushered in the turn of the century, was famous for his Pullman’s Palace Car Company and the luxury train cars manufactured at his factory on Chicago’s South Side.

But it was Pullman’s vision for developing a “planned community” that fascinated business leaders to officials around the country who toured the neighborhood he created for faithful employees who manufactured his train cars. That neighborhood still exists, 12 miles south of downtown Chicago.

I love to collect historical autographs.

And every once in a while, gallery dealers will contact me with a rare find. Even if the item’s priced sky-high, it’s fun to see what surfaces.

In this case, the folks at History for Sale have found a handwritten letter from Pullman to the owner of a confectioner shop that dates back to the late 1800s.

(Read article here)

Next stop: Forever After

They’re calling it The Love Train. Lauren Richey and Scott Miller will get married today at the spot where they met – in a car on the Framingham/Worcester Line of the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad.

Richey, 36, and Miller, 40, will exchange vows on the inbound P556 between Southborough and Wellesley Farms as the train rolls along on its normal schedule. That gives the couple half an hour to get hitched. In Wellesley, the 100 guests will alight – quickly, so as not to hold up the train – and bagpipers and drummers will lead them to the reception nearby at the home of the groom’s parents.

Five years ago, Richey noticed “Bike Man,” as she called him, because he always had a fold-up bicycle on the train. He was mysterious: Sometimes he would already be on the train when Richey boarded in Ashland. Sometimes he would get on at a later stop. Did he have a girlfriend who lived in a different town? Was he a bike messenger?

Then there was The Blonde. “I’d also see a very pretty blonde getting on every morning, nicely dressed,” says Richey, who is a veterinary pathologist. Richey, a brunette, loves short stories, so she wrote one about Bike Man and The Blonde.

Then, one day in May 2005, Bike Man, in his typical jeans and T-shirt, sat down right in front of her. Richey, dressed in business casual, tapped him on the shoulder. “Can I ask you a question? Why do you get on at different stops?”

(Read article here)

Inland Empire used to run on rails

There were no swaying palm trees, well-manicured parks, or stately columns greeting the new arrivals at San Bernardino’s first downtown train station. In fact, the unattractive station provided a fitting end to the dingy “back door” corridor that brought passengers into the city’s business district of the day.

In spite of the unimpressive entrance, downtown merchants celebrated the arrival of the San Bernardino and Redlands Railroad (SB&RR) in 1888. The narrow-gauge (36 inches between the inside edge of the rails) steam line ran on established roads between San Bernardino and Redlands.

When the line began regular service on June 4, 1888, the ride between the two cities took about 40 minutes, and the fare was 30 cents one way and 50 cents for a round trip. The train ran every two hours since the new company only had one locomotive.

The little locomotives of the SB&RR (also known as the Redlands Motor Road) had to carefully negotiate the sharp turns of the city streets. The low-speed turns often created a shrill squeal as the train’s steel wheels ground their way around the sharply curved tracks.

The sights and sounds of steam locomotives (that were about the size of a UPS delivery truck) smoking and clanging their way down the middle of city streets became more common as new tracks were laid around the city.

(Read article here)

What about freight service?

As the debate over the prospect of creating two pairs of electrified train tracks on the Peninsula heats up, little has been heard from a key entity in the discussion.

The Union Pacific Railroad has a vital interest in what happens along the San Francisco-to-Gilroy corridor.

Union Pacific uses Caltrain tracks to ferry freight through San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties and beyond. As a U.S. common carrier, the railroad has a firm legal and federal mandate to do so.

Electrifying the Caltrain line, along with the creation of an adjacent electrified high-speed rail system, could be problematic for Union Pacific.

According to Union Pacific spokeswoman Zoe Richmond, it would be technically possible for freight trains to operate on an electrified Caltrain setup, as currently envisioned by planners.

This assumes, however, that Caltrain would utilize the same track gauge, along with an overhead electrical system and that Union Pacific freight trains would not include double-decked freight cars, she noted. As far as the latter are concerned, the railroad does not use such cars on the Caltrain route now.

(Read article here)