American Railroads

News each weekday of American railroads. Our focus is on freight rail, but Amtrak and commuter rail are also essential ingredients. Nothing published on holidays.

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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

Published in Trains magazine, Railfan & Railroad, Passenger Train Journal

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Rail Runner
gets milestone rider

When the 8:45 Rail Runner train at the downtown Albuquerque Station on August 16, commuter Grace Quintero became the 100,000th passenger to ride the New Mexico Rail Runner Express.

Lawrence Rael, Executive Director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments said “She’s a great example of a commuter who knows how to make public transportation work for her.”

The Rail Runner, which has become the fastest start-up of a commuter rail train in the country in the past 20 years, currently carries commuters between Albuquerque and the Town of Bernalillo. In the next several weeks, service south to Los Lunas and Belen will be added.

For the distinction of 100,000th passenger, Grace was given a goody bag of Rail Runner memorabilia, including a Rail Runner mouse pad, mug, keychain, commemorative poster, and more.

The total cost for the project from Belen to Bernalillo was $135 million, which included $75 million in state money for coaches and locomotives, designing and building stations, and track and signal improvements. $50 million in state money was allocated to buy track and rights-of-way from Belen to Bernalillo. Sandoval County contributed $10 million for an additional trainset, and for station development in Sandoval County.

Bernalillo to Santa Fe costs are estimated between $240 and $255 million. This includes buying existing track and new track, design and stations construction, and acquiring more cars and locomotives.

Rail Runner owns five locomotives – diesel-electric MP36PH-3Cs built by Motive Power, Inc. in Boise, Idaho.

Rail Runner locomotives produce 3,600hp and are capable of running speeds in excess of 100 mph. Since they run on diesel fuel, the Mid-Region Council of Governments is investigating the potential use of biodiesel as a fuel source for the locomotives.

Bombardier bi-level cars are decorated with the New Mexico Rail Runner Express roadrunner design. The roadrunner head is on the locomotive and the cars display the tail feathers. The trains operate in “push-pull” mode.

The Rail Runner Express will be offering special weekend service to an annual wine festival Over the Labor Day weekend. People taking the train can catch a free shuttle bus from the U.S. 550/Sandoval County station to the New Mexico Wine Festival, or they can opt to take a short walk to the annual event.

Commuter rail, perhaps, in San Fran

North Bay voters will once again be able to vote for or reject a new commuter rail system, reports KGO San Francisco.

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta went to San Rafael, California’s transit hub on August 22 to stump for Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit, or “SMART Train,” or “Measure R” on the November ballot.

Mineta said, “Over the last few years there’s been an increase in productivity in the U.S., but what’s starting to leverage against that is congestion.”

Measure R calls for a quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for the SMART Train. The rails already exist beside Highway 101, though the defunct Northwestern Pacific Ry. hasn’t been used since 1958.

It would run between the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and Cloverdale with a bike and pedestrian path along the same right-of-way.

Supporters say it would remove 5,300 cars from congested Highway 101, improving quality of life and the air quality.

Mineta remarked, “I want to commend all of you for taking this approach and wish you well in the November election,” but the same idea has failed twice before and there is opposition again.

Timber Cavasian, a San Rafael resident, opined, “It’s just a commuter train, very limited ridership, costs are exorbitant and we can’t afford it.”

Sources said, “It will cost an estimated $387 million to get the train up and running; $80 million dollars for the bike/pedestrian path. A third of the money has already been secured from state and federal sources...

Estimated operating costs are more than $14 million dollars a year, or $8 dollars a month per North Bay family.

Former Novato mayor Susan Stompe remarked, “We don’t have the critical mass. We don’t have the numbers to justify a fixed rail system,” but a Petaluma city councilman hopes this third vote is the charm.

Craig Litwin, Sebastopol City Council said, “This time we have more support, more traffic problems, air quality’s even worse. Al Gore came out about global warming; gas prices are getting worse and worse and worse. So the only way to take care of it is SMART Train.”

If Measure R passes, the train could be running by 2009.

Florida DOT holding hearings

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will be holding its second set of five hearings, billed as public workshops, for the South Florida East Coast Transit Study.

The workshops will be held on August 21 at Hollywood Performing Arts Center, Hollywood; August 22 at E. Pat Larkins Community Center, Pompano Beach; August 24 at Palm Beach Gardens Municipal Complex, Palm Beach Gardens; August 28 at Delray Beach Community Center, Delray Beach; and August 29 at Gwen Margolis Community Center, North Miami.

The workshops will all be held from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. beginning with review of study materials, followed by a short presentation of study results, forming work groups to address specific issues, and ending with presenting results from the work groups to the FDOT.

The study is determining how to best develop rail transit services in a corridor extending from downtown Miami to Jupiter in or adjacent to the Florida East Coast Ry. in eastern Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. The public, in a workshop format, will provide feedback on the alternatives recommended to be further analyzed in following phases of the study, including station areas, types of transit vehicles, and route locations.

Wisconsin freight train derails

Half a dozen boxcars and two locomotives derailed in downtown Waukesha, Wis. Tuesday evening, causing nearby homes to be evacuated and leaving intersections blocked by the rest of the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad.

The train was on a twice-a-day route between Janesville and Horicon, railroad spokesman Ken Lucht said. He said no one was injured.

The accident just before 7 p.m. The Daily News of Waukesha reported the train left a section of rail bowed out from beneath one of the derailed cars. Battalion fire chief Joe Vitale said the bowed track was one of the hazards that caused the evacuation of those living in the nearby homes. If the rail were to break, it could go flying in the air, endangering those homes, he said.

The derailed cars carried paper products, not hazardous materials, Vitale said, but about 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel from one of the engines spilled and soaked into the ground.

Lucht said early indications were that the accident was “track related... just because of the looks of the derailment.”

He said Canadian National Ry. owns the track.

Surplus cars for sale

The North Carolina DOT said recently “Four surplus standard gauge railroad passenger cars will be offered for sale on eBay Motors beginning October 2, 2006.”

Details for the bid procedures, terms and sale conditions will be posted on the ebay web site at that time. The surplus cars will be sold on a competitive bid basis to the highest bidder. A press release stated, “The cars will be offered ‘as-is, where-is’ with no warranties expressed or implied.”

They include an open platform business car with a minimum bid of $115,000. Other cars include an eight-bedroom sleeping Car, and an F-3B power car.

All four cars are located at the NCDOT Rail Division’s Locomotive and Railcar Maintenance Facility in Raleigh, N.C.

To inspect the cars, e-mail Paulette Barnes at, or call 919-733-7245, ext. 290 between 10am–4pm, Monday–Friday to set up an inspection appointment. Visitors must bring their own hardhat, safety glasses and safety shoes, “which must be worn during car inspections.”

All cars have current COT&S and lubrication dates, NCDOT said, and are good for interchange movement in freight service. The successful bidder(s) will be responsible for making all transportation arrangements and paying any charges related to the movement of the surplus railcars away from the NCDOT rail facility. All equipment must be removed from the NCDOT rail facility within 45 days of notice of bid award. CSX Transportation interchanges directly with the NCDOT rail facility. An interchange with Norfolk Southern is one mile away from the NCDOT rail facility via CSXT.

The four cars have been deemed surplus North Carolina state property. As such, no donations or trades of this equipment are allowed under North Carolina state law.

The State of North Carolina has the right to accept and/or reject any bid.

Bombardier makes a proposal

Bombardier, of Quebec, which recently lost a bid to design a new New Haven Line fleet, has returned to Connecticut with a proposal to build double-decker rail cars for a new express service between Connecticut and Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.

Officials from Bombardier Connecticut DOT (ConnDOT) the double-decker cars could carry more passengers than a standard coach, be delivered within two years and complement Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line service, according to a letter obtained by The Advocate.

The company confirmed the information on Tuesday.

“We feel the state could benefit from a new express service” to Penn Station, said Robert Furniss, vice president of business development and sales for Bombardier North America.

“There is increasing ridership and this is an opportunity for a new market,” he added.

Because the company is under contract to build the cars for New Jersey Transit’s commuter line, it could manufacture additional cars and deliver them to Connecticut by 2008, Furniss said.

The service would travel Amtrak’s “Hell Gate” route from Connecticut to Penn Station. The route starts in New Rochelle, N.Y., runs through the Bronx and Queens parallel to the Triborough Bridge, and ends at Penn Station.

The DOT will “carefully review the proposal,” agency spokesman Chris Cooper said, but the state legislature may have to act for it to happen.

Critics said many factors work against the plan, including cost and space at Penn Station, which is looking to move some Long Island Rail Road trains to Grand Central Terminal because of overcrowding.

“This plan has as much chance of happening as a monorail being built down the center of (Interstate) 95,” said Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council.

“The legislature just went out and spent $1 billion on rail cars” and will be reluctant to spend that much again,” he opined.

The state recently awarded an $881 million contract to Kawasaki Rail Cars Inc. of Yonkers, N.Y., to manufacture nearly 400 rail cars for the New Haven Line and Shore Line East commuter rail. Those cars will be delivered by 2009.

Bombardier’s bid was nearly $125 million more than Kawasaki’s, leaving some rail advocates to question the company’s motivation for coming up with a new proposal.

“They just lost a bid and now they’re saying they want take to us into Penn Station,” said Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County. “There are no slots available at Penn Station. Even if they could deliver these cars in two years, there’s no place to put them.”

Kawasaki’s cars will be able to travel the Hell Gate route, so there may not be a need for Bombardier’s double-decker cars, McGee said.

Already there is demand for service into Grand Central, so the New Haven Line may not be able to spare additional cars to go into Penn Station, Furniss said.

He could not speculate how much the new cars would cost Connecticut, Furniss said, but Bombardier’s 100-car base order with NJ Transit cost $243 million.

A bad day at Amtrak

Amtrak’s Acela Express train No. 2150 of August 21, with trainset No. 5, was traveling toward Boston on No. 1 Track east of New Haven, Conn., on single-track – in effect because No. 2 track was out of service – and was about a mile west of Guilford, Conn. when it had a broken pantograph alarm on its rear power car, 2020.

The crew inspected the pantograph and confirmed it had a broken head. The train operated at restricted speed – 15 mph – into Guilford and terminated there.

Trains 170, 171 and 2159 were all delayed by up to three hours while Train 2150 blocked No. 1 track, and until it could be cleared into a siding.

No. 170 was the first to operate past the area and reported broken catenary hangars at three different locations – at Branford Interlocking, Branford and MP 81.9. After inspecting the catenary, Train 170 stopped at Guilford to accommodate Train 2150’s passengers.

Due to excess delays, Trains 2170 and 2171 were canceled and their passengers handled on Regional trains.

Twenty other trains were delayed by from ten minutes to two hours and 35 minutes, Amtrak stated.

Train 19 of August 21 was held at Washington for connections off delayed Trains 2159 and 2163.

In the western states, Cascades No. 513 (221) with Amtrak engine 469, an F59PH-I, was delayed at Centralia when the locomotive quit. Its crew reported it had run out of fuel.

The engine was reported to have had 730 gallons of fuel on its electronic fuel gauge on departing Bellingham, Wash., and 720 gallons on departing Seattle. The reading was 570 gallons at Centralia but the outside sight gauges showed empty.

At 3:18p.m., BNSF freight engine 2798 – an ex-Santa Fe GP39-2 – was added. The train held for 90 minutes further because the crew outlawed. A recrew engineer came from Portland, and a recrew conductor from train 516.

At Portland, the 469 was refueled with 1,325 gallons and electronic fuel gauge then said it had 1,965 gallons. After that, the 469 would not restart, so the BNSF freight unit was left on the equipment, operating back to Seattle on Train 508.

The total delay was three hours, 27 minutes, and 1 hour, 15 minutes to No. 508.


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