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

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Some Florida railroads


go back to work

After inspections of its lines in its Miami and Homestead subdivisions in South Florida, CSXT said on Thursday it resumed freight service Wednesday afternoon. Freight service has also resumed south of Auburndale and continues as normal in central and northeast Florida, the carrier stated in a service bulletin to customers.

Meanwhile, Tri-Rail commuter service started up again on Thursday.

Amtrak noted that at 11:00 a.m. EDT yesterday, the National Hurricane Center issued an updated advisory announcing a Hurricane Watch for the Carolinas. Tropical Storm Ernesto was over the Atlantic, approaching the Carolinas and gaining strength.

Norfolk Southern noted it would conduct normal operations, subject to local customer demand and crew availability, throughout the 2006 Labor Day Holiday weekend, but no word about possible hurricane plans.

Amtrak canceled three trains originally scheduled to operate on Thursday.

“The decision was made in order to avoid placing our passengers in harm’s way as a result of this renewed Hurricane Watch and the potential for hurricane conditions along the route of Amtrak Florida service trains,” a press release posted to its web site stated.

Both Auto Trains, Nos. 52 and 53 were canceled Thursday.

The southbound Silver Meteor, train No. 97, was canceled, and no alternate transportation was provided.

Amtrak stated timing for resuming service “will depend on conditions following passage of the storm.”

No word yet from MARC, but Virginia Railway Express let its riders know on Thursday afternoon they could be in for a rough few days with Ernesto.

“Just when we thought that we were getting a break from Mother Nature, it appears as if she is poised to strike again. Predictions currently show significant rainfall beginning late tonight and continuing throughout the day tomorrow. As we learned all too well in late June and early July, heavy amounts of rainfall can be damaging to a railroad. We hope that this storm will not have as significant an effect as the ones that we had earlier this summer. However, if the current flash flood watch is escalated into a flash flood warning, we will see some significant delays, particularly on the Manassas line.”

The writer April Maguidad explained on the VRE website, “Flood restrictions, similar to heat restrictions, are applied differently by each railroad. CSX's policy (Fredericksburg line) is to reduce passenger train speeds to 40 mph.”

She added, “Cumulative delays into Union Station or Fredericksburg (depending on the direction) could be about 20-30 minutes.

“Norfolk Southern's policy (Manassas line south of Alexandria) is to reduce passenger train speeds to 20 mph. Cumulative delays into Union Station or Broad Run (depending on the direction) could be more than an hour.”

So, in light of that, the commuter railroad started to make preparations to make any problems that may occur less stressful for riders,” wrote Maguidad.

They were monitoring weather conditions and “maintaining open dialogues with our host railroads. An update will be posted to our website and to 800-RIDE-VRE and a ‘Train Talk’ sent by 4:30 a.m. today (Friday).”

VRE stated, “Updates will be broadcast at the station. (We recently visited every station to ensure that the PA and signs were operational. However, a power outage at a station will prevent us from making live announcements.)”

“The media will be alerted. We have heard that WTOP (103.5 FM) and WFLS (93.3 FM) tend to be most likely to issue VRE updates. Keep in mind that if there are significant road issues, the media may not be able to provide VRE updates regularly.”

The writer added, “There are also things you can do to ensure that your commute goes according to plan.

“Be sure to check our website or your e-mail before heading out the door. If you are one of our passengers who leaves the house earlier than 4:30a, listen to the traffic reports while you are on your way to the station.

“Leave ahead of schedule to give you plenty of time to get to the station, in case you need to take an alternate route.”

Broad Run passengers might be the most at risk with the probability that Piper Lane may be flooded. VRE recommended checking the website at http://www.vre.org/service/stations/brualternate.pdf for an alternate way in.”

At the time AR was being posted on Thursday evening, Ernesto was building again off the Carolinas, and forecasters said it might yet become a hurricane again.

Southwest of Mexico, dangerous category 4 hurricane John (Juan) was making lifer miserable for people living in Baja California with 125 mph winds and rain.

No word yet if any railroads have been affected, nor how much.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm was “just west-southwest of Cabo Corrientes” at 2:00 p.m. EDT, and added a hurricane warning remained in effect from Manzanillo to San Blas...including the Islas Marias.

The hurricane center was located near latitude 20.1 north, longitude 106.6 west, or about 60 miles west-southwest of Cabo Corrientes, Mexico.

John is moving northwest near 14 mph, and a northwest to west-northwestward motion is expected to continue for the next 24 hours. On this track, John is expected to remain just offshore the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico...and approach Cabo San Lucas today.

Amtrak is online at http://amtrak.com.

A new deck for Amtrak?

Amtrak may be building a new bridge on the Northeast corridor where Connecticut and Rhode Island meet, joining Stonington and Westerly, the Westerly Sun reported yesterday.

U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons from Connecticut, Amtrak civil engineer Jim Richter and First Selectman William S. Brown outlined plans Tuesday to replace the two existing bridges, just beyond Don’s Dock, with two new bridges that will provide additional clearance. The East Harbor Bridge would gain 23 inches of clearance, while the West Harbor Bridge would increase in height slightly more than 18 inches.

“So many in this community love boats - and, yes, we love trains, too,” Simmons said.

The small increase will make a big difference, Simmons said.

Amtrak has worked with a steering committee in Stonington to listen to community desires about additional clearance in preparing to replace the more than 100-year-old bridges.

“This is a good example of Amtrak listening to local concerns,” Richter said.

Amtrak would like construction of the new bridge to begin in 2008, Richter said. The estimated cost of the project is between $8 to 10 million, and the project would be federally funded. Amtrak receives its cash annually, so though the deal is not set in stone, Richter and Simmons said they were hopeful.

The project is expected to take about 18 months to finish, though it would likely disrupt rail travel for one night, Richter said. The bridges would be built outside of those currently in place, and then slid in overnight, he said.

Don Hetherington, the owner of Don’s Dock before he passed the business on to his son Ian, first approached Simmons when the congressman was a state representative. He sees the additional clearance height as a way to keep many blue-collar boaters in the water.

“This helps everyone who lives nearby,” Hetherington said. “It’ll help the blue collar boater who can very easily be priced out of the business.”

Don’s Dock appeals to smaller boats, and with the additional clearance those with upright steering wheels will be able to make it under.

“This can be the first marina to charge by height not length,” Brown said.

Amtrak gets cleanup bill

Amtrak is being required to pay about $1 million to help in a Superfund cleanup site in Hamilton, N.J., but the railroad is also taking W.R. Grace, Inc. to court to recoup its financial loss.

From 1948 until 1991 the plant processed vermiculite shipped from a mine in Libby, Mont. Testing of the ore revealed that it was tainted with Tremolite, a particularly deadly form of asbestos.

More than 15 years after W.R. Grace quit processing asbestos-tainted ore at its factory in this New Jersey community, federal environmental officials will supervise the final removal of the contaminated soil from the former plant’s grounds, the New Jersey Times reported on Thursday.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered Amtrak and American Premier Underwriters, the successor to the Penn Central Railroad – the owners of the property – to pay for the cleanup under Superfund law.

Amtrak officials have estimated the cost of the second phase of cleanup at about $1 million. The first round of cleanup cost the two companies about $1.4 million.

Railroad officials have said they will file a claim against Grace to recover the cost of the cleanup during the company’s bankruptcy proceedings. The federal Justice department is supporting Amtrak’s claim, an Amtrak official said last year.

The EPA reported earlier this week that contractors for the owners of the land would begin moving equipment to the former factory site preparing to remove some 6,500 tons of tainted soil.

In 2004, the agency began the cleanup of the site, which for more than 40 years processed asbestos-laden vermiculite ore for use in fireproofing, insulation and garden products. About 9,000 tons of soil was removed at that time after testing by the EPA revealed asbestos in concentrations as high as 40 percent in some samples.

The Libby asbestos has been linked to illnesses in some 1,200 residents of the Montana mining town and as many as 200 deaths.

Federal officials have said the ore, which was used in thousands of New Jersey homes and businesses, likely endangered former plant workers and their families.

Due to a slew of asbestos-related lawsuits, W.R. Grace declared bankruptcy in 2001. Since then, officials have sought to hold the company accountable for its actions regarding the Libby asbestos. In 2005 the company, along with seven current and former executives, was indicted for allegedly concealing the dangers of the vermiculite.

Last year, former state Attorney General Peter Harvey filed a $1.6-billion lawsuit against the company for allegedly providing false information to state regulators when the Hamilton plant was closed in 1994.



'Duos' gets Amtrak contract

Amtrak has awarded a contract to Duos Technologies, Inc. to design, manufacture, and install a cutting-edge security system to secure a segment of the rail system in Washington, D.C. The total contract is valued at $4.7 million.

The Jacksonville, Fla. firm stated in a press release the pilot project will include a virtual security fence that will detect moving objects, perimeter breaches, left objects, removed objects, and loitering activity. Data from the fence and the gates will be encrypted and transmitted simultaneously to multiple locations, such as U.S. Capitol Police, Secret Service, CSX Railroad and other federal and local agencies.

Duos said the contract is separate but closely associated with the larger National Capital Region Rail Pilot Project (NCRRPP), intended to meet the needs of local law enforcement, first responders, and the federal government while supplementing the existing security measures of freight rail operations in the Washington, D.C. area.

Epsilon Systems Solutions, Inc. is the prime contractor and program manager for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The new Amtrak security pilot project is the result of vulnerability studies conducted over several months by the DHS, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Capitol Police, and the Amtrak and CSX public safety teams, whose track connects to Amtrak.

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