Archive for November, 2013

Cincinnati Streetcar Still Has Fighting Chance

November 30, 2013

Despite facing hostility from a newly-elected mayor, the Cincinnati streetcar project may continue because it if doesn’t the city stands to lose millions in federal grants.

Mayor elect John Cranley will take office on Dec. 1 and he vowed during his campaign to kill the streetcar project, which he described as fiscally irresponsible.

However, last Monday Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter said that if Cincinnati ends the the project it would lose $40.9 million in federal grants with an additional $4 million in federal funds possibly being transferred to the state government for other purposes. Carter said even a delay of the project for re-evalution could jeopardize the federal funds

Cranley has said that he wants to redirect the funds being used for the streetcar project to other purposes.

Construction of the 3.6-mile streetcar line began in August. Cincinnati has spent an estimated $33 million on the project thus far.

The streetcar project has survived numerous attacks from state officials, suburban opponents and other critics. It has been the subject of ballot issues in which Cincinnati voters favored continuing the project.

Proponents of the streetcar project say that one city council member-elect who also ran against the streetcar line has indicated that he will vote to allow the project to continue, citing financial realities and the ongoing construction.

Streetcar advocates say one more such vote would result in a 5-to-4 outcome that would enable the streetcar project to continue to implementation.

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Some Willard Residents Return to Their Homes

November 29, 2013

Some Willard residents are still displaced, but most of those forced from their homes after a CSX tank car leaked a hazardous substance were able to return home Thursday afternoon.

The residents of about 400 houses were vacated early Wednesday morning after a derailment resulted in the spilling of 13,000 gallons of styrene monomer, a flammable chemical used to make plastic.

Most residents returned home around 3 p.m. on Thursday after air testing showed it was safe. However, the 10 percent of residences closest to the spill site remained away from their homes as the cleanup efforts continued late Thursday.

Willard city manager Brian Humphress said officials hope that those still displaced could return no later than Saturday.

Those forced from their homes were treated to a thanksgiving meal in the in the Willard High School cafeteria. Ohio Gov. John Kasich came to the dinner to mingle with the residents of the southern Huron County city.

The menu included ham with pineapple slices, stuffing, corn, potatoes, rolls, cranberry sauce, and desserts.

Paper turkeys decorated the tables and a television set was tuned to an NFL football game featuring the Detroit Lions hosting the Green Bay Packers.

About 250 Willard residents attended the meal.

Rusty Orben, CSX director of public affairs, said air-quality testing continues and that the railroad is will investigate the accident’s cause after the cleanup is completed in a few days.

Four tank cars that derailed late Tuesday night were back on the tracks Thursday morning, which allowed workers to begin digging out ballast and soil beneath the tracks that was soaked with the spilled styrene. Two of the derailed cars also contained flammable chemicals.

The accident brought train traffic on CSX’s busy main line across Ohio to a halt, with some trains diverted to other routes.

Gary Ousley, Huron County’s chief dog warden, said his office is housing 20 to 25 dogs at the dog warden’s office and the Huron County Humane Society until their owners can retrieve them.

He said all the animals the agency had assisted seem to be in good condition.

NTSB Cites Jumper Wire Use in 2012 Derailment

November 29, 2013

The use of a jumper wire that resulted in a false proceed signal is being blamed as the likely cause of the derailment of an Amtrak train last year near Niles, Mich.

The National Transportation Safety Board has ruled that the use of the jumper wire violated Amtrak procedures for overriding signal and train control safety. The NTSB also cited inadequate oversight by Amtrak management to ensure that proper jumper wire safeguards were used.

The accident occurred on Oct. 21, 2012, when Wolverine Service No. 350 en route to Detroit (Pontiac) diverged from the mainline at 61 mph at CP 190 and into the Niles Yard.

The train derailed about 291 feet after leaving the main track and traveled 1,148 additional feet before coming to a stop. The two locomotives, one on each end, and four passenger cars all derailed but remained upright.

The NTSB report said that a track maintenance crew had been operating a tamping machine at the site and after completing its work had contacted the Amtrak train director to seek permission to move the tamper into Niles Yard.

The train director was unable to align switch No. 2 into the yard and sought to contact a signal supervisor about the problem. However, no signal maintainers were available so a signal supervisor traveled to the site.

After arriving at CP 190, the supervisor attempted to correct the problem at the power-operated switch but was unsuccessful. He then entered the signal bungalow and removed two cartridge fuses, opened two terminal nuts on the terminal board, and applied local battery power using two jumper wires.

When the battery power was applied, the local control panel indication lights showed that the switch was aligned and locked normal, but he did not verify the physical position of the switch before applying the jumper wire.

The train director contacted the supervisor and informed him that the switch was now indicating normal on the dispatcher’s display and asked if it was safe for No. 350 to proceed eastward. The supervisor answered in the affirmative.

When the supervisor observed No. 350 approaching entering the yard tracks, he realized what had occurred, removed the jumper wires and reinstalled the cartridge fuses.

He did not notify anyone hat he had used jumper wires just before the derailment and he did not leave the signal bungalow to aid the passengers and crew on the derailed train.

On Oct. 26, 2012, Amtrak issued a safety notice and conducted a system wide safety stand down for signal maintenance personnel. Amtrak managers discussed the circumstances of the Niles derailment and reviewed proper jumper wire procedures at safety meetings throughout the system.

Amtrak also issued a safety bulletin that stated in part that that jumper wires should only be used as a last resort to restore train operations. The procedure requires the train director or operator to be notified in all cases in which any signal system is inoperative and how protection is provided until repairs are made and the jumper wires removed.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Erie Lackawanna

November 27, 2013

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Happy Thanksgiving from the Erie Lackawanna. It’s a cloudy afternoon in September 1968 and the EL has run a true mixed lash up into Akron. EL 2454, 7393, 6322, 862, 809, 811, and one unidentified E8 peek from below the East Thornton Street bridge.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Willard Residents Evacuated After Tank Car Leak

November 27, 2013

A hazardous chemical spill on CSX in Willard late Tuesday night forced the evacuation of 400 households in that north central Ohio city.

Willard Police Chief Mark Holden told the Toledo Blade that the displaced residents may be able to return to their homes late Wednesday or they may be kept away until sometime Thursday. 

Police began evacuating the residents between midnight and 3 a.m. after a tank car spilled about 26,000 gallons of styrene monomer, a flammable substance.

CSX Spokesman Gary Sease said the spill occurred because four rail cars derailed during a switching maneuver.

No CSX employees or residents were injured. Sease said CSX officials built earthen dams to stop the product from spreading beyond CSX property.

Those evacuated lived in a half-mile radius of the spill in an area bounded by Tiffin, Dogtown, Second, and Myrtle streets.

Most evacuees were taken to Willard High School with others being lodges at motels as far away as Tiffin and Sandusky. CSX is paying for the lodging.

Police officers, firefighters and state highway patrol troopers went door-to-door after an initial telephone alert.

The rail car leak was discovered shortly before midnight near where the CSX tracks cross West Main Street.

Representatives of the U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA were on the scene along as cleanup crews hired by CSX. Cleanup started about 4:30 a.m. with crews vacuuming the liquid into a tanker.

News reports indicated that the cleanup process was going slower than hoped because the substance vaporizes quickly and is highly flammable.

Locomotive Whistles to Sound in Youngstown

November 27, 2013

The sound of various locomotive whistles will fill the air in Youngstown on Saturday, Nov. 30 during the annual whist blow event sponsored by the  Mahoning Valley Heritage Association.

The event will be held from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the former Baltimore & Ohio Railroad passenger station at 530 Mahoning Ave.

Steam will be supplied by Youngstown Thermal while the whistle manifold will be supplied by: Eagle Mechanical LLC.

There is a $20 donation for the whistle hookup fee if bringing a whistle. Those just listening to the whistles are asked to make a $1 donation.
For information call: 330-550-8165 or 330-559-3659 or visit: www.MVRHA.org

Another Part of the Erie is Dying

November 26, 2013
Looking north on the Youngstown Line at Latimer. The Erie crossed the New York Central between the signal and the control box.

Looking north on the Youngstown Line at Latimer. The Erie crossed the New York Central between the signal and the control box.

In one of my usual quests to catch Norfolk Southern heritage units, I ventured to the area north of Youngstown on Nov. 16.

A stone train bound for Lordstown was making its way from the quarry to the “45” stone yard in Lordstown.

The routing of these trains has been to use the former Nickel Plate Road to Ashtabula, then the former New York Central Youngstown Line to the ex-Erie Lackawanna Niles Secondary to the Lordstown Secondary.

This routing came about several years ago when NS took over the Lordstown Secondary from just east of Alliance to just west of Lordstown is out of service.

The train I was looking for had the NKP Heritage unit as third of three units. I thought I might be able to catch it on the Youngstown Line as it took the connection to the former EL at Latimer. Prior routing of these trains as well as the Warren ore trains from Ashtabula, had seen them take a section of the ex-EL Youngstown bypass into Warren and exit the EL for ex-Pennsylvania Railroad rails to  Warren and onto the Lordstown Secondary.

This is one of the few sections of the EL in the eastern part of Ohio that still saw daily movements of heavy trains.

My goal was to catch this stone train taking the connection at Latimer, which was where the EL bypass crossed the NYC on a diamond.

Conrail lived up to its “consolidated” name and put a connection in the northwest quadrant from the ex-NYC to the ex-EL and ripped out the bypass from Latimer to Transfer (Pa).

Once the tracks of hotshots like first NY 100 and ACX 99, the EL right of way today is a barely recognizable path east of Latimer.

I walked around the interlocking taking several different views, including some that show what appear to be ex-NYC and Erie signals still in use.

I noticed that the connection and the former EL to the west had not been used in a very long time.

The steel mill in Warren slowly shut down its operations in 2012, resulting in no more ore trains from Ashtabula.

This leads me to believe that these stone trains didn’t run on the ex-EL after all. Even though I didn’t see the stone train, I later found out that was the case.

It passed right through Latimer on the Youngstown Line, ran around its train near Center Street in Youngstown, then headed out the Lordstown Secondary, using the Crab Creek connection near downtown. This is an all ex-NYC and PRR routing.

So like many other miles of ex-EL track in the state, this section now waits out its days quiet and rusting, waiting for trains that may never come. On my way to Latimer, I stopped in an area west of Leavittsburg – a former busy EL junction near Warren – to photograph some remains of the former EL mainline to Kent.

Whistle posts and crossing flashers still stand, but have not seen a train in probably 10 or more years.

A rusting but sturdy truss bridge over the Mahoning River reminded me that even though the Erie was built to last it couldn’t survive the economic and political climate that brought down so many railroads in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Article and Photographs by Roger Durfee

Looking west on the ex-EL toward Cortland. The connection is off to the right.

Looking west on the ex-EL toward Cortland. The connection is off to the right.

Wider view looking west standing on what was the EL main.

Wider view looking west standing on what was the EL main.

Looking east on the ex EL, connection to the left, Youngstown Line up ahead.

Looking east on the ex EL, connection to the left, Youngstown Line up ahead.

A lonely whistle post in Braceville, looking toward Kent.

A lonely whistle post in Braceville, looking toward Kent.

Silent relics in Braceville stand and wait....and wait....and wait.

Silent relics in Braceville stand and wait….and wait….and wait.

A rusty lock and peeling silver paint indicate years of no attention from the signal maintainers at Braceville.

A rusty lock and peeling silver paint indicate years of no attention from the signal maintainers at Braceville.

Looking east toward Leavittsburg.

Looking east toward Leavittsburg.

Closer view of the bridge over the Mahoning River. Ghosts of the Lake Cities and time freights must live here.

Closer view of the bridge over the Mahoning River. Ghosts of the Lake Cities and time freights must live here.

David Rohal New President of Califronia Railroad

November 26, 2013

David Rohal has been named president of the San Diego-based Pacific Imperial Railroad. Rohal, who is the son of Akron Railroad Club member and past president Bob Rohal, will begin his new post on Dec. 1

David Rohal has 30 years of railroad experience in management roles with various class 1 and short line railroads.

He most recently held senior positions with Patriot Rail and RailAmerica. He also previously worked for CSX.

Rohal has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and an MBA from The Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

“I’m excited to bring this rail line back to life,” Rohal said in a news release. “Pacific Imperial Railroad has a significant opportunity to service the maquiladoras, a dense cluster of manufacturing facilities in northwest Mexico. My goal is to lead PIR to achieve its goal to provide the fastest, most cost efficient, and safest opportunity for these companies to move freight by rail.”

PIR signed a 99-year lease with San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway Company and San Diego Metropolitan Transit System in December 2012.

Upon completion of a planned rebuilding of its 70-mile Desert Line , PIR will be the only company providing railroad freight services in the Tijuana-Tecate region of Baja California, Mexico and eastern San Diego County. In total, PIR operates 130 miles of track.

The rail line joins BNSF and the San Diego and Imperial Valley railroads at the southwestern tip of San Diego County with the UP Line from El Centro, Calif. It is the only rail line that runs directly adjacent to approximately 755 manufacturing facilities (known as maquiladoras), located approximately 14 miles south of the U.S.- Mexico border.

Its website is: www.pacificimperialrailroad.com

Amtrak Eyes New Homes in Detroit Suburbs

November 26, 2013

Amtrak may be moving to the new Troy Transit Center late this year while across town the current Amtrak station in Dearborn may be going to the dogs (and cats).

Troy officials want Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains to use the transit center, which is under construction but nearly finished. But Amtrak won’t commit to that until the city can show that it can buy the land on which the transit center is situated.

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said the transit center can’t be used until Amtrak signs a lease with the city,

The center, located behind a shopping center on the southwest corner of Coolidge and Maple, has been in the works for more than a dozen years.

On Monday night, the Troy City Council approved resolutions to move toward buying the transit center property, including agreeing to use $1.8 million in federal funds to purchase the land.

The city thought it owned the 2.7 acres used by the facility when construction began in late 2012, but an appeals court ruled in May that the developer of the shopping center, Grand/Sakwa Properties, owns the land.

The city is still seeking to appeal that decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The city recently had the transit center land parcel assessed at $550,000, but it may have to pay more than that to acquire the property.

The city’s action is expected to enable Amtrak to sign a lease as the city begins negotiating to buy the transit center property.

Troy has already rejected an unspecified offer from Grand/Sakwa Properties for the property. No city funds would be used to buy the land.

Across Metro Detroit, the Friends For the Dearborn Animal Shelter is looking to use the existing Amtrak station as a new animal shelter.

Dearborn City Council President Tom Tafelski recently asked Mayor Jack O’Reilly to draft a memorandum of understanding that will allow the city-own land on which the Amtrak station sits to be used by the animal shelter. It is located behind the Police Department/19th District Court building on Michigan Avenue.

Amtrak will be moving to an under-construction intermodal facility on Michigan Avenue, west of Evergreen Road, in 2014. That move could come as early as April. Amtrak’s six daily Wolverine Service trains serve Dearborn.

The current shelter, located on Greenfield Road, was built in 1978. The shelter’s 4,000 square feet are too small to accommodate the 2,800 animals that are cared for annually, and it’s difficult for staff and volunteers to operate its small work and storage areas. The building also needs major repairs.

Use of the Amtrak station site as an animal shelter would include “incremental costs” with the existing building and potential environmental costs.

The Friends is hoping to begin construction next June on a 22,000-square-foot facility. It is not clear yet if the existing Amtrak station, which was built in 1978, would become part of the new shelter or razed.

 

Pennsylvania Approves Transportation Plan

November 26, 2013

Pennsylvania will increase its state gasoline tax and use the additional revenue to pay for a $2.3 billion transportation program that includes funding of rail passenger operations

The bulk of the program will go toward highway construction, but some funds will be used directed to the Port Authority of Allegheny County to stave off threatened rail and bus service cutbacks.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia will receive $340 million per year, which will prevent severe service cuts that agency projected for Philadelphia rail, light rail and bus services.

SEPTA General Manager Joseph M. Casey identified one of SEPTA’s top capital funding needs was the rehabilitation of rail bridges on the Media/Elwyn Regional Rail line.

Funding also will be directed toward Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa.

A revamped formula will result in increase in the state gasoline tax of 9.5 cents per gallon on Jan. 1, 2014. Another 9.7 cents will be added in 2015 and at least 8 cents more is expected in 2017.