American Railroads

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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

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

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Rehabbed railroad get new life

Anyone who has watched the worn-out trains of the old Eastern Shore Railroad wobble and hobble along rundown tracks over the years will be surprised when a shiny new 1,500-horsepower Bay Coast Railroad locomotive begins hauling freight cars up and down the line.

Where once trains were screeching and teetering at a snail’s pace through intersections and towns along Cape Charles’ Route 13, now comes the reality of faster, safer trains and improved tracks, according to The Daily Times of Salisbury Md.

Much of the track has been upgraded to Class 2, allowing freight speeds up to 25 miles per hour and passenger speeds up to 30 mph. Passenger speeds were inconsequential for decades after train travel on the Shore diminished, with the track subsequently falling into such disrepair that passenger service was not a possibility.

A couple years ago the Accomack Northampton Transportation District Commission – owners of the cash-strapped railroad – voted to seek a new operator.

Dickie Foster, founder of the Bay Creek golf, marina and residential community, after a year of negotiations, agreed to operate the short line railroad in a 30-year lease deal.

Part of his vision is an excursion line that is expected to begin operating next spring.

“I’ve heard a lot of complaints, but in January, things changed,” said vice-president of operations Larry LeMond.

Two restored interurban cars are on order and could be in Cape Charles as early as February. Both date to 1912. One is a 50-foot passenger car with a 42-person capacity and will be handicapped-accessible. The other, the dining car, is a 53-foot car that will accommodate 30 diners per trip.

So far, in addition to the locomotive that arrived last week by car-float from Little Creek, a passenger car and several boxcars have been painted.

They will be used for ticketing and other retail operations associated with the planned excursion line.

Texas railway faces money woes

If money cannot be found to continue operating the Texas State Railroad after December 31, chances are it may never run again.

State Sen. Todd Staples told the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on Thursday in Austin that legal issues, such as rights-of-way contracts with private landowners ceasing if the train ever quits running, increase the urgency to find funding to keep the train on the tracks, whether it continues to be operated as a state park or is handed over to another organization.

“I assure you, the people in the legislature, like you, are concerned about the future of the state parks,” Staples said, after listening to the State Park Advisory Committee’s report to Parks and Wildlife commissioners, the Tyler, Texas Morning Telegraph reported on Thursday.

“Now that the other crises are dealt with, it will allow the legislature to confront this situation. The reality is that the ability to deliver dollars, in light of the budget situation, is going to be difficult. You need a specific plan.”

The railroad is a 25-mile long tourist railroad built in 1896 in East Texas and operating between Palestine and Rusk. It maintains and operates four steam engines, four antique diesel locomotives, and a complete steam engine restoration shop. Its track crew maintains over 25 miles of track and 24 bridges.

Staples noted that the advisory committee’s recommendations did not include the state railroad and the Battleship Texas. Because of their size, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has decided to deal with them separately, asking for a combined $11.8 million for the railroad for the 2006 and 2007 budget years and $16.1 million for Battleship Texas.

Staples pointed out, in a prepared statement, that while historic parks may be more expensive to operate, the capital-intensive demands of these assets make it even more important for these sites to maintain operations. Once a site is shut down or made static, it would be almost impossible to revive, he said.

“There is only one Battleship Texas, one Washington-on-the-Brazos and one Texas State Railroad,” Staples said in the statement.

“If we were to lose any of these important symbols of Texas history, the cost to restore them would be prohibitive if not downright impossible.”

Walt Dabney, TPWD Parks Division director, noted that the operation of the railroad runs about $3 million a year, but an additional $40 million in repairs will be needed during the next 10 years, such as track repairs and rolling stock maintenance.

Currently, TPWD has $692,000 budgeted for the railroad’s operation in the fiscal year that begins September 1, only enough to keep the trains running until the end of the year.

Trainman dies in Chicago

A train fatally struck a 43-year-old man working in a freight yard Friday afternoon on Chicago’s South Side. The unidentified man was hit around noon Friday off East 106th Street in the East Chicago neighborhood, according to police news affairs officer John Mirabelli.

The accident occurred at a Norfolk Southern yard, Mirabelli said. The victim, who was an employee there, fell off a moving train and under one of the cars, according to Mirabelli.

An autopsy Saturday concluded the man died from multiple injuries from the train striking him, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Two trainmen injured

Six engines derail, topple

Two separate freight trains derailed in the Inland, Cal. area Saturday, injuring two railroad workers and causing a small fire on a toppled locomotive south of Redlands.

Six locomotives fell on their sides in a derailment near San Timoteo Canyon and Live Oak Canyon roads at 9:36 p.m. Saturday, spilling diesel fuel that caused a blaze on one of six engines, according to California Highway Patrol dispatcher Mark Riconosciuto and Capt. Jim Fuller of the Riverside County Fire Department.

The derailment was on Union Pacific tracks, the CHP said.

Two UP trainmen were taken to area hospitals with minor to moderate injuries, Fuller said. The fire was out by 11:30 p.m., the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported.

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