TwitterFacebookRSS Print Friendly and PDF

Rail News Leader - Progressive Railroading

become a membernewsletters signup


The after-effects of 'after train hits car'

As I was perusing the headlines on the news wires April 28 — something I do every morning to keep up with rail industry doings — I noticed this one from the AP: “Driver, 3 Children Unharmed After Train Hits Car in North Florida.”

The AP reported that a “train hit a car carrying three children” near Live Oak, Fla., on April 27. Thankfully, there were no injuries to the 27-year-old driver or her 6-, 3- and 1-year-old children.

The Florida Highway Patrol said the sport utility vehicle failed to stop at the crossing guard arms, the second paragraph states. A Union Pacific Railroad train then hit the front end of the vehicle on the tracks.

Obviously, the driver was at fault, as gathered in the second paragraph. But the AP chose to say “after train hits car” instead of “after car impedes train” in the headline and lead with “train hit a car carrying three children” rather than “sport utility vehicle failed to stop.” I’m sure (at least, I think I’m sure) the AP didn’t mean anything by phrasing the headline or structuring the news item that way. But I’ve seen many headlines and read many articles like this over the years that paint railroads as the accident causer — oftentimes, much more dramatically than this case.

Anyone in the rail industry will tell you railroads get a bum rap in the press, getting practically no coverage for local or national events that warrant it — such as a short line that upgraded its track or the Railroad Day on Capitol Hill — and a lot of coverage for events not of their doing, a la the Florida crossing accident. Most local and national media don’t have much, if any, knowledge about the rail industry, railroaders say.

The Association of American Railroads and grassroots organizations like GoRail try to get the word out that railroads have made and continue to make strides to improve safety, especially at crossings. But I expect the “after train hits car” headlines and articles to keep sprouting up in newspapers and on news wires unless more railroads can get their local media and other oulets to understand how and why they operate they way the do. And stress that they’ve taken great care to upgrade crossings to protect citizens, who are the ones putting locomotive engineers and conductors in danger if they violate crossing laws.

Posted by: Jeff Stagl | Date posted: 4/29/2008

Add a commentPost your comment now[24]



Posted by Kurt on 4/30/2008 10:19:43 AM

Here in Seattle we often see sympathy for the person on the tracks, rather than the 'big bad railroad.' It's certainly skewed, because it defends the illegal and unsafe acts of a public that crosses the right of way with little thought of what a multi-ton monster can do to them physically. I've had discussions with someone who adamantly defended a man who crossed the tracks in a small town north of Seattle, and got hit by an Amtrak train doing 77mph. In so many words he said, "well it's Amtrak's fault because they go fast and there are no other convenient crossings nearby." While I argued that the gates were down and there was a highway overpass a 1/4 mile south, he insisted that the pedestrian was within his right to cross with the horns and bells blaring. Will education fix this? Maybe only part of it. I think the importance of safety is lost on some people, when faced with waiting for a train to pass.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Emeril on 4/30/2008 11:29:41 AM

Not only did they treat the railroad unfairly, but it's the wrong railroad!! Union Pacific does not go to Lakeland, FL. Obviously, the train had a UP locomotive on it, and the reporter did not bother to find out who actually owned the railroad. I agree, it'a always "..train slams into car..." rather than "Idiot challenges 15,000 ton train with 2 ton automobile; kills sefl and family as a result."

Next CommentComments

Posted by Larry Kaufman on 4/30/2008 12:42:29 PM

If you were to study the highway-grade crossing accident statistics issued by the FRA, as I have, you would find also that in just about 15% of all train-motor vehicle encounters, the motor vehicle struck the side of the train. This results from the phenomenon of "over-driving the headlights," going so fast that by the time the headlights inform the driver there's a train in the crossing, it's too late for the brain to instruct the foot to hit the brake pedal and to have the car stop before ploughing into the train. In effect, by the time the driver sees the train, he/she is as good as dead.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Michael on 4/30/2008 1:33:22 PM

I don't disagree that there is repeated ignorance demonstrated by the public in terms of rail crossing safety, but to make an issue about the wording of the news headline is a bit silly, is it not? If a pedestrian was hit by a bicyclist, regardless of who is at fault, the headline will read exactly that - Bicyclist Hits Pedestrian. Airplane hits bird. Bus hits horse. Etc. So in the aftermath of a train-car collision feel confident that the headline will always be about the train hitting the car regardless of fault and stop being so sensitive.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Dave on 4/30/2008 8:00:34 PM

The fact is that the use of the locomotive horn to warn motorists of an approaching train is an anachronism in today's world. Who doesn't listen to the radio, CD player, or an MP3 player while driving? It's going to take either having flashing warning lights accross the board at all crossings, and/or a return to the good old "Stop, Look & Listen" requirement on all unsignalled crossings, complete with stop sign. It may also be that crossing arms are not sufficiently visible to distracted drivers, judging from the storyline. It is not clear from Jeff's blog if the driver crashed through the gates before entering the train path, or if the driver went around them. How about using strobe lights and scatter-sound alarms? And to top it off - automatic tire spikes!

Next CommentComments

Posted by Ted on 5/1/2008 10:26:53 AM

The unsaid and unthought of after effects are of the crew of the locomotive. Think of yourself in the locomotive cab unable to stop your train before you hit a car with people, especially children, in it. Think of the nightmares that the crew will continue to experience. There are a lot of victims when a train and a car come together.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Dave Bearse on 5/1/2008 11:29:05 AM

Education and enforcement are key given about half of all accidents happen at crossings equipped with active warning devices. As information, FHWA has proposed rules requiring either a stop or yield sign be installed at all non-signalized (Ffederal Register Jan 2, 2008), research having determined that the public does not understand the crossbuck sign to require yielding to trains.

Next CommentComments

Posted by M.B. on 5/1/2008 11:41:04 AM

Crossing hazards are chronically well documented. The tragic loss of life and associated costs are huge. The FRA and countless other organizations have spent countless dollars/hours researching problems and solutions. What I find particularly offensive is that the team of engineers I work with were directed to design-build a hazard mitigation system by one of the largest RR in the US. Upon successful completion of project (cost effective, simple, reliable and autonomous system)Implementation at even a limited level is stalled in a "Bureaucratic Vacuum" How many more incidents are required before someone takes action?

Next CommentComments

Posted by Jack Fuller on 5/1/2008 12:09:22 PM

Seems that "overdriving the headlights" was hardly a factor in this incident ... "The Florida Highway Patrol said the sport utility vehicle failed to stop at the crossing guard arms, the second paragraph states." Maybe it's Darwin at work.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Joseph Hegwood Peagler on 5/1/2008 12:41:53 PM

$$$$$$$$$$$ and lots of it and enforcement talk (make safer crossings).

Next CommentComments

Posted by Peter Hine on 5/1/2008 1:00:51 PM

What I find even more baffling - as do I'm sure most industry insiders and many outside as well - are the significant number of grade crossing accidents in which the automobiles runs into the TRAIN.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Vince Burget on 5/1/2008 3:42:54 PM

When mentioning organizations that raise awareness of the need to obey the signs and signals at highway-rail grade crossings you failed to mention Operation Lifesaver. Active in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and several foreign countries, Operation Lifesaver has been in the forefront of promoting safety, not only at grade crossings, but also attempting to reduce trespasser incidents. Another small, but nonetheless important item. In almost every case, a collision at a crossing is not an accident. A driver makes a conscious (or maybe it's uncouncious) decision to ignore the signs and proceed through the crossing. Approximately one-quarter of all crashes occur when the motorist strikes the train when it is already occupying the crossing.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Joe Steele on 5/1/2008 9:37:53 PM

Are Union Pacific Trains running in Florida?

Next CommentComments

Posted by Mike on 5/1/2008 11:35:18 PM

We are surprise that the Headlines didn't read "Uncle Pete's Omaha locomotive stalks familys'SUV, all the way to Florida, sneaks up on its victims, and without warring, smashes the innocent SUV with its with "cow catcher and horns".

Next CommentComments

Posted by Bob Lane on 5/2/2008 8:56:09 AM

Right on Vince! I am reminded of the vehicle that once pinned the crossing gate to the side of the third train car behind the engine in broad daylight. In this case there was no decision made. What concerns me and will forever is that people's last, absolutely LAST reaction, is to stop and wait. Stop and respect your life. Take the 90 seconds to stop and talk with the 3 little ones in the SUV while the train passes.

Next CommentComments

Posted by kraig on 5/4/2008 8:51:13 PM

I always get a kick out of railroad crossings that get labeled dangerous crossings because of the disregard and illegal actions of drivers. One accident at a rural crossing and that crossing will get labeled as dangerous. If people would slow down for one minute we wouldnt have the problems of car v. train. I dont think there are dangerous crossings just dangerous bad drivers who need to pay attention and slow down!

Next CommentComments

Posted by gary l. knight on 5/5/2008 1:35:02 PM

"right on !" both Bob Lane and Vince have excellant points concerning rail/auto safety. Millions of taxpayers and RR money are spent each and every year for the latest, greatest and safest equipment available to man. Not counting the special class of RR employees who maintain this system and for what ??

Next CommentComments

Posted by E. Morgan on 5/5/2008 2:42:24 PM

This incident reminds me of one I was a part of in the early 80's when in the am hours two young adults traveling at highway speed, without braking hit the 4th car behind the engine at a crossing with lights and bells. DOA. What the heck were they doing? Today is not much different. If drivers are not going to pay close attention when driving and be safe, they will be killed. Trains are not at fault, drivers are. Let's see what do we have in the drivers compartment these days: MP3's, GPS, Laptops, Cell phones, Video players for the unruly children, and readings for work. I predict many more highway deaths. I actually witnessed a Kentucky State Trooper doing his paperwork while driving. Be accountable people! It's not the trains or overpasses or lack of guardrails. IT IS YOU!

Next CommentComments

Posted by Sankar Narayan on 5/6/2008 5:38:20 AM

On Indian Railways, the right of way at a road crossing is ensured for the Railway by a full length lifting barrier and a protecting railway signal behind. When the barrier is up and the roadway is open, the prtotecting signal for the rail is at 'stop' aspect. When the road barrier is lowered and blocked for the road traffic the railway signal turns green. This way, the interest of the railway is ensured. These are all 'manned' level crossings where a gateman operates the lifting barrier by a electric motor or a hand wheel,when a signal is received from the station master about an approaching train. Unless, the gate barrier is lowered for the road traffic, the station master also cannot give green signal to the railway train. These crossings are also known as interlocked crossings. This procedure may involve extra manpower. But avoids the mudslinging on the railway engineer for no fault of his.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Dave Bearse on 5/6/2008 10:42:13 AM

Let's not have one incident tarnish the enormous success of the federal Section 130 program that installs active warning devices at crossings. Fatalities and incidents are perhaps a third of what they were 30 years ago, while train and highway miles have doubled or more.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Michael on 5/6/2008 11:00:44 PM

Stop signs at all unsignaled crossings are a great idea, but only if they are enforced. Where I work in rural Illinois, there is a fairly busy private crossing that leads to a storage facility and a small industry. It is located on a busy mainline with a 45 MPH speed limit through the area. While working there five days a week, I can count on one hand how many vehicles (out of hundreds) actually stop at the stop signs. Most blow through it like it doesn't even exist. I think they take it that those signs don't really apply. After all, it is only a railroad crossing. When I spoke to a local police officer patrolling the area one day about the complete disregard people have for that crossing's stop signs and my concerns about hitting someone, it seemed as though there wasn't a lot of concern on their end about enforcement. A few days later, that same officer just cruised right through the crossing, without stopping, of course. You can put up all of the newest, fanciest signs and lights and bells and whistles you want, but if people don't abide by them and no one enforces the law, what can you do?

Next CommentComments

Posted by Stephen Montgomery on 5/12/2008 5:19:19 PM

A grade crossing incident here in Kern County California last year makes this point. Much noise was made in the press and by the public about the lack of gates on this particular crossing. Not much was said about the fact the driver of the pickup, a local businessman, ignored the BNSF train with its horn bell and lights and the flashing grade crossing lights and without any change in pattern drove in front of the train. The story discussed his business and how well liked he was in his home town of Delano Calif. My guess is he was on the phone taking care of business. Obviously not the business he should have been taking care of and that was of course operating his motor vehicle. Other cases have involved courts finding for the heirs of grade crossing victims because the locomotive event recorder indicated the engineer didn't blow the correct horn pattern on approaching the crossing. The carrier's reaction? Beat up on engineers who don't blow the correct pattern! As if anyone outside of rail operations even knows what the pattern is to say nothing of the clearly defective reasoning that concludes a motorist seeing grade crossing protection devices activated, seeing a train approaching with lights, bell and horn sounding and concluding it's OK to run the gates because some hot-shot attorney later determines the engineer wasn't blowing the correct horn pattern!

Next CommentComments

Posted by James Swidergal on 5/27/2008 2:38:53 PM

So why doesn't the reporting agency ever get it right, not only the headline but the story as well? And why can't the truth be spoken about deadly crossings and the lack of respect that the driving public has for the railroads. It seems that two flashing red lights mean hurry up and speed across the tracks, when one flashing red light means stop look both ways then proceed with caution. I'd like to recieve a grant from the gov't or one of it's agencies so I could place a human eye witness with a camera on every road grade crossing and not only capture the image of the violators, but give em a kick in the pants, and wake up their silly unattentive butt as a measure of assurance. But, it be simpler if only the press would factually report the story in the first place, put the blame on these stupid drivers who are constantly breaking the law anyway. Make it a matter of public service announcement at the least. Especially now for a particuliar cause and that is the ability for the CN to purchase the EJE here in Illinois. There is this uproar of tiny communities who are opposing this aquisition, when if one would see it for what it is. It's a good thing for this area (jobs,increased economy,etc.). And one of those areas that these bedroom comunities are raging about are the grade crossing issues. Let the railroads railroad,and the motorists need to take warning if only the press would tell the truth in their reporting style.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Larry Kaufman on 5/28/2008 10:00:30 AM

James Swidergal's latest post on this blog expresses great frustration and anger -- undoubtedly justified. Without putting myself in the position of defending incompetent and uninformed journalists, I will say he is blaming the wrong miscreant. The railroad industry does a lousy job of explaining the grade-crossing issue to the public at large. Most rails seem to feel that an annual contribution to Operation Lifesaver and an occasional Trooper on a Train Day is enough. It's not. Rail lobbyists might spend some of their time persuading state legislators to pass laws requiring that stop signs be posted at grade crossings, and then demanding that local police enforce the laws by ticketing motorists who fail to stop. As for the shoddy reporting, sadly, it exists, but the real problem is that there are very few news outlets that have the staff any longer to send anyone out to the scene. They rely on information provided over the phone by local police. So, if blame is to be assigned, local police who do a lousy job of reporting should get their share. But be of good cheer. At the risk of being overly snarky, I'd observe that the dumb, the drunk, and the truly careless only will get themselves killed once at grade crossings. They won't do it a second time. But, God will produce more dumb ones. As for the CN/EJE brouhaha, this is classic Nimbyism - not in my back yard. The grade crossings are a smokescreen for the fact that the upscale suburbs of Chicagoland don't think regionally. They have high property values and don't want anything that might affect those values. Let the trains run through neighborhoods that are more ethnic and lower income. That something is good for the region is of little or no concern to the good burghers of Barrington and similar communities. Sorry for this overlong response, but Mr. Swidergal is aiming his outrage at the wrong parties. His post is a classic case of "kill the messenger." I guess it's easier to do that than to really deal with the problem. Perhaps judges who do not consider driving drunk to be a real crime and never jail those who come before them should get some of the blame. This is a societal problem, not a journalistic problem.

Next Comment

Transit rail’s ‘green’ effect

The Cato Institute has released results from a recent study that says transit rail is “ineffective at reducing carbon dioxide emissions.”

Because “most” transit-rail agencies supplement their systems with feeder bus services that often have low ridership, the systems still have high energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile, according to the study.

“Only a handful of rail systems are more environmentally friendly than a Toyota Pruis, and most use more energy per passenger mile than the average automobile,” according to Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the public policy research foundation.

His recommendations? Instead of pursuing rail projects, cities should power buses with alternative fuels, increase the concentration of buses on heavily used routes, build new roads, implement tolls and encourage drivers to purchase more fuel-efficient cars.

(Since this blog is intended to focus on transit rail’s role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, I will refrain from commenting that building new roads seems to only attract even more people to those roads, not to mention there’s no way we can build highways fast enough to accommodate growing traffic. And, having driven on Illinois’ tollway just last weekend, I feel pretty confident in saying the tolls don’t appear to be reducing highway congestion. But that’s just my unasked opinion.)

I’m sure Mr. O’Toole has plenty of research and statistics to back his claims. But while we’re on the subject, I’ll relay some information that the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) released last month about transit’s ability to reduce greenhouse gases and conserve energy:

• Communities that invest in public transportation reduce the nation’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons annually — equivalent to the electricity used by 4.9 million households.

• A single person commuting alone by car who switches a 20-mile round trip commute to existing public transportation can reduce their annual CO2 emissions by 4,800 pounds per year, equal to a 10 percent reduction in all greenhouse gases produced by a two-adult, two-car household.

• By eliminating one car and taking public transportation instead of driving, a savings of up to 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions can be realized.

• Public transit encourages efficient land use. Creating higher-density development allows for closer proximity to housing, employment and retail, thus reducing driving distances. With its over-arching effects on land use, public transportation is estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by 37 million metric tons annually.

Hey, how’s this for irony: APTA just emailed me a press release about Earth Day, which falls on April 22. Celebrate the day by taking the train or bus to work, or buy a Toyota Prius.

Posted by: Angela Cotey | Date posted: 4/16/2008

Add a commentPost your comment now[14]



Posted by Dave Smith on 4/16/2008 7:43:18 PM

What Angela has overlooked is that the Cato study took into effect the fact that commuters still have to use personal transportation to go from home to railhead and back, while the APTA study omits this important variable. The length of the commute from home to office and back increases when commuters utilize transit vs the solo drive, unless one is lucky enough to live and/or work in close proximity to a transit station. Transit also requires a rigid schedule that may not conform to one's work schedule, or the need to run unscheduled errands. Commuters can multitask variations to their schedules much more efficiently with their own personal vehicles, while transit users must often backtrack after being dumped off at their station. Much like the now discredited ethanol mandate, these so-called "green" initiatives always produce unintended consequences which more often than not result in less "greenism" than the status quo. The bottom line is that transit works well for communal living environments (think Soviet Union), but is counterintuitive to a nation such as the USA predicated on individualism.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Chuck Welsh on 4/17/2008 10:29:28 AM

Commuter and light rail expansion reduces sprawl. Those who cannot see that are either inept or attempting to live on another planet. These people have the same mindset as those who deny that a Holocaust took place in Nazi Germany. #30

Next CommentComments

Posted by Larry Kaufman on 4/17/2008 11:08:59 AM

The Cato Institute is known for its Libertarian approach to public policy, and Dave Smith has jumped to be a cheerleader for its latest screed. A well-managed transit system does not run empty buses to/from rail transit points just for the fun of burning diesel fuel. They change bus routes to maximize ridership to/from the transfer points. The measure is total fuel consumed by bus and rail per rider. If more people are attracted to public transit then the carbon footprint will be reduced from what it otherwise would have been. Even GWB finally has acknowledged that carbon emissions should be reduced. Of course, he has offered no program to do so, choosing instead to call for voluntary action. For this, we don't need a President at all. Pardon the political screed, but those who oppose public transit will do so out of the same mindlessness that Bush approaches carbon emission reduction.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Dave Smith on 4/17/2008 7:22:10 PM

Chuck, do you have any facts to support any of your allegations? It seems to me that all the cities with such transit options continue to sprawl unabated. Can you point out a single transit city that has reduced de facto sprawl?

Next CommentComments

Posted by Dave Smith on 4/17/2008 7:38:45 PM

Larry, I am not the least bit suprised that you worship at the cult of man-made global warming. That certainly explains alot! For the record though (1)since 1998 the globe has cooled 0.1 degree C, and solar scientists to a man are predicting continued cooling due to a cyclical reduction in solar activity, (2) concurrent to Earth's warmup during the 1900's other planets in our solar system also experienced warming, indicating natural not man made causes, (3) CO2 is a small part of the greenhouse effect, and man's CO2 contributions amount to less than 1/11 of 1 percent of that effect, and (4) according to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, it is impossible for increased atmospheric CO2 to induce any exponentially increased warming - the effect, such as it is, can only be logarithmic, not exponential. So the real question is this: Why are we continuing down this economically destructive path of CO2 regulation when the REAL science says such actions will have no effect on global warming, or global cooling, or global anything? However, if Larry can articulate a scientific response which can prove that man's carbon footprint is causing unnatural variations in earth's climate, I'd be more than happy to listen with an open mind!

Next CommentComments

Posted by j nielsen on 4/18/2008 7:23:23 AM

The Cato Institue should investgate,realy investigate, the high cost of gasoline and oil. Your solution requires too much political effort and waste of money and eminent domain issues that the passengers would be the big losers. actually, we need to know what is really pushing the gasoline price up. Not the stuff that is in the daily mass media just to divert serious reporting and fact finding and keeping J. Q. Public in the dark or worse. Or is jusst plain greed and avarice.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Larry Kaufman on 4/18/2008 10:47:10 AM

Smith, you haven't the foggiest notion where or what I worship. Instead, you offer an ad hominem attack, followed by an incomprehensible locution designed to persuade us (GWB would really be proud of you -- probably would confer the Flat Earth Society award on you) that there is no global warming. At least I think that's what you were trying to do. I don't happen to live near a rail transit line, although one now is being built that I have every intention of using. (When I resided in the East, I did use rail commuter service daily; it was quite relaxing to arrive WTC relaxed and having read the WSJ and NYT.) I do see, when goving to hockey games, however, that the formerly full parking lots near the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver are half empty, while the RTD light rail has standing room only. And before you get off on public subidies and such, you're right, the service is subsidized. It is subsidized by the residents of six counties who voted to tax themselves for public transit, both bus and rail. That's called "democracy", I think. Replacing auto trips with one or two persons per car with more densely loaded public transit is good from a variety of perspectives, fuel consumption, traffic congestion, and carbon emissions being just three of them. Oh, by the way, with just two lines open, the Denver light rail system is exceeding all ridership projections. I'm sure that doesn't impress you a bit, as it conflicts with your dogma and other preconceived notions.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Robert Fryml on 4/19/2008 4:49:41 PM

A few years ago I remember reading an interesting story about electric cars. The item appeared in either the "Omaha World-Herald" or "The Wall Street Journal." This gist of the story was this. A vice president of the Ford Motor Company commuted to work each day - between his home in Ann Arbor, Mich. and his office in Dearborn -in a late model Ford F150 pickup truck. His vehicle was unique because it was powered entirely by electric batteries. This executive thought he was being virtuous by driving a "non-polluting" means of transportation; and had he been living in Seattle (where the bulk of the electric power used to charge those batteries comes from nuclear or hydroelectric sources) that would have been true. But don't you know that some educated wag in the scientific community saw the issue differently. After factoring in the coal used by Detroit Edison to charge those batteries, he actually would have pumped less CO2 into the atmosphere by commuting in a 4-cylinder Ford Contour -sized automobile instead. Yes, the Denver Light Rail is a wonderful conveyance; but for non-rush-hour times I've ridden it - and face it, that's the bulk of its schedules - the system generates a high number of empty seat miles. Is its existence really improving the air and the quality of life in Denver, or does it represent just a bigger pipe in the Denver RTD ("Rmidegional Tax Drain") budget?

Next CommentComments

Posted by Dave Smith on 4/21/2008 7:27:34 PM

Well, no one on my side of the issue is going to engage in ad hominem attacks. I'll just state a few of the more obvious observations: (1)Mr. Kaufman brought up the "carbon footprint" argument, not me. (2)Frankly, I think GWB is a fool for capitulating to climate fraud instead of fighting this nonsense. (3)One should note that one of the characteristics of a cult is an intolerance toward contrarian views, aka "the science is settled, global warming is really happening and is caused by man, and anyone who disagrees is paid off by Big Oil or is a denier, etc ad nauseum", (4)according to NASA et al, there has been no global warming since 1998, rather there has been a slight cooling trend, and solar scientists are predicting a continued cooling of average global temperatures. So yes, right now THERE IS NO GLOBAL WARMING! Whether this cooling continues or we have a reversal and start warming again I cannot say nor would I try to predict. Finally, (5)just once I'd like a transit promoter to admit that proposals for transit are simply a case of "keeping up with the Jones's". This notion that transit will aid in stopping global climate change (it won't) or will stop urban sprawl (it doesn't) or whatever lame excuse is used to force free people onto a "Metropolis"-style life style is anethema to folks like me who prefer personal liberties over communistic nurturing.

Next CommentComments

Posted by mike peters on 4/23/2008 11:20:00 PM

Build new roads? That would encourage people to drive and to forget about mass transit.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Brian Urlacher on 4/24/2008 1:03:23 PM

I want to echo the comment about the Cato Institute itself. To say that it's a Libertarian organization ranks right up there with asserting the Pope's Catholicism. As with many "think tanks," Cato has a huge axe to grind and masks it by the alleged impartiality conferred through being an Institute. Just like the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover and the Heritage Foundation, right wing "academic" centers' main mission is to craft the language for the latest assault on civil society. In this case it's "Hey, those train thingys (which I guarantee you none of the Cato folks have ever been on) really aren't as green as you think!" Gosh, how convenient that this dovetails with a general desire not to gather and spend tax dollars to promote the general welfare. Promote the general welfare...didn't I read that phrasse somewhere? Probably in the Communist Manifesto.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Adron on 4/24/2008 2:46:42 PM

tsk tsk. There are yeahs and neahs on both sides of this argument. As for city that has reduced sprawl, just come to Portland, Oregon. We've reduced sprawl in almost every direction except in Vancouver, WA where all the fussy NIMBYs and such go running off to and then mooch off of Portland. But otherwise we have very high ridership of transit for our size. We've reduced carbon emmissions (but yeah, we still have problems with it) and for the most part Portland kicks every other city's tale in this way. Besides that it's a wonderfully beautiful city to live in. Don't believe me, come visit. I could go on for days, we have better beer, food, coffee... etc. Because of our general attitude here. But I digress. Want to know more check out the ole' blog at Transit

Next CommentComments

Posted by Jim Loomis on 4/27/2008 12:53:48 AM

The Cato Institute is a Libertarian backed organization. They will say anything and do anything to reduce the role of government, even when there is a demonstrable urgency for government intervention. These people will sacrifice any move toward a coordinated national rail system on the alter of ideology in a heartbeat.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Rashid Shaik on 4/28/2008 2:49:00 PM

Let's all get real. Where is the real estate to build roads. The only way is to double deck all freeways and that will hold up for a few years especially in California and other big cities. Then what ?

Next Comment

No more state funds for crossing repairs means Michigan short line adopts surcharge

Railroads long have been passing on higher diesel costs to shippers through fuel surcharges, but how about the cost to maintain grade crossings?

Saginaw Bay Southern Railway (SBS) has instituted a surcharge of $20 per car to cover a portion of expenses incurred to maintain crossings to Michigan Department of Transportation standards. The DOT recently decided to no longer fund repairs to state highway crossings.

The kicker to SBS officials is trucks are the primary cause of crossing damage. Michigan has high truck-weight limits, which cause crossings to take a pounding — along with the short line’s operating costs.

“The failure of the state to fund crossing repairs as they have done in the past means that the railroads are in the position of supporting our truck competitors by repairing damage that the trucks have caused,” SBS officials said on their Web site. “This direct subsidy to truckers places an unfair burden on SBS and our customers.”

This year, the 67-mile short line and its parent Lake State Railway Co., which formed SBS in 2005, have budgeted more than $500,000 for crossing work — enough money to replace 17,000 ties if the funds were invested in the railroad’s own infrastructure, SBS officials said. The short line plans to drop the surcharge if the state changes its policy.

What small railroads really need is more states to adopt programs that provide funds for infrastructure and operational improvements rather than eliminate the few short-line funding mechanisms already in place.

Posted by: Jeff Stagl | Date posted: 4/8/2008

Add a commentPost your comment now[15]



Posted by Larry Kaufman on 4/9/2008 10:19:46 AM

Good for the Michigan short line! Too bad its own customers now will be paying for the state's effective subsidy of the railroad's truck competitors. Having once dealt with these issues in my Washington days, I would remind all that the legal basis for public maintenance of grade crossings stems from the fact that in virtually every case the railroad was there first and it is the public roadway that is crossing private property, not the railroad that is crossing a public highway. Perhaps the short line should seek support from the ASLRRA for legislation mandating that Sec. 130 funds be used by the State of Michigan for the purpose they were authorized.

Next CommentComments

Posted by BE Johnson on 4/9/2008 2:19:44 PM

If I was the shortline's management I would only repair the crossings to the extent that it facilitated my train traffic and let the highway traffic suffer through rough to impassable crossings. If the state complained about the crossing conditions I would then close the crossings and let the state be damned.

Next CommentComments

Posted by JJ O'Donnell on 4/11/2008 12:41:26 PM

Having been in the shortline business in my past, I would suggest, from a lesson that I learned, that SBS review the easement agreements that Michigan DOT has with them; they could suddenly get very expensive or cancelled out-right. It is important to remember here who has the privilege of crossing over whom.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Michigan Department of Transportation on 4/14/2008 1:59:20 PM

The Michigan Department of Transportation is continuing to fund repairs and reconstruction for crossings on state trunklines, contrary to SBS' statements. As a result of declining revenues and a statewide focus on other important safety initiatives, available federal funding has been reduced and will be limited to $2 million each year, beginning in 2009 for three years. In addition to federal funding, state railroad funds add $900,000 annually to the trunkline railroad program (this amount remains the same).

The selection of crossing repairs will be made according to a safety prioritization of projects, and will involve more maintenance fixes rather than full replacements. This approach will mean more crossings can be improved because the "fix" will be less expensive. Now, in order for a project to move forward through the trunkline railroad program, the railroad will fully self fund all railroad work (for which it is legally responsible by state law), and MDOT will assist with the design, pavement and traffic impacts.

State law makes railroads fully responsible for that portion of the crossing between the rails, over the ties, and for a distance of one foot beyond the ends of the ties. It is also the responsibility of the railroad to make the crossing surface as smooth as the adjacent roadway. The appropriate road authority is fully responsible for the roadway approaches to the crossing. These provisions are contained in the Railroad Code of 1993, which came about as a result of a massive joint effort of railroads, road authorities, and other stakeholders.

For several years, MDOT has voluntarily assisted railroads with their crossing work at state trunkline crossings throughout the state. However, the intent was never to relieve railroads of the responsibility of these repairs, but rather to assist with some of the work in an effort to leverage improvements at as many projects as possible.

There are additional resources available to railroads, specifically MDOT's Michigan Rail Loan Assistance Program (MiRLAP). This program offer interest-free loans on a competitive basis to railroad companies or others who wish to preserve or improve the state's rail infrastructure. The loan could spread out the cost of an improvement over 10 years.

For all these reasons, the sources of revenue for railroad crossing improvements is expected to be a subject of discussion for the newly formed Transportation Funding Task Force, which is charged with reviewing the adequacy of surface transportation financing in Michigan.

For further details on MDOT's trunkline railroad program, contact Brett Kach, Trunkline Crossing Engineer, Design, 517-335-2272.

Next CommentComments

Posted by James Swidergal on 4/15/2008 11:20:31 AM

After reading the latest insert to this blog by the Michigan people I must assume that the short lines in Michigan are responcible for the crossings, yet isn't it the state that actually monitors and approves installation and enacted legislation for said crossings and that the railroads are only inpart responsible for the maintenance of said crossings. If that is the case then the state needs to reimburse the railroads no matter what the states economic climate is. More and more crossings are being installed and then left to the railroads to maintain,maybe a reduction in crossings would mean the fewer would be better maintained, too much is being taken granted for by the states and as well as the public at large.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Pat Latz on 4/15/2008 1:34:55 PM

Jyst a "NEW YORK MINUTE". The grade-crossing maintenance and up keep is funded 90% by the Feds and 10% by the state. Is the State of Michigan disregard- ing its minor 10% payment? Furth- er, what is happening with the Feds 90% grants to the State of Mich- igan? The legsilation for this progfram was enacted in 1976, which I had a hand in its writting. Do not believe any change has occurred.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Larry Kaufman on 4/16/2008 1:00:18 PM

Pat Latz is right about the federal funding of grade crossings. The program is known in verbal short-hand as Sec. 130 funding, as that was the section of the original act that dealt with grade crossing maintenance. More to the point, the Michigan DOT response posted above is about as bureaucratic as one could stand. You can change the name, but when push comes to shove, the various state DOTs mostly still are Highway Departments.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Dave Smith on 4/16/2008 8:00:21 PM

I'm curious about one thing. The Michigan DOT responder stated that the railroads are responsible for maintaining the crossing up to one foot beyond tie width on either side of the rail path. Yet I have seen many rail crossings here in the Pacific Northwest where the roadway is paved right up to the outside of the rail. How can a railroad be responsible for maintaining roughly 4 feet of pavement when said pavement is contiguous on both sides of the approaches?

Next CommentComments

Posted by Dave Smith on 4/16/2008 8:09:50 PM

I also want to take aim at SBS's claim that the trucks that use their crossings are also their "competitors". It is more likely that those trucks are the last mile connection between the railroad and the consumer, making them teammates in the larger scale of things. What is it that SBS hauls that is proven to be a commodity also being hauled to the Class I connection(s) by trucks? If an SBS representative can show us proof of such truck competition, I'll accede. Otherwise, it just seems to be more of the rail vs truck mythology, a destructive attitude in this day of multimodal cooperation.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Larry Kaufman on 4/17/2008 11:25:52 AM

Dave Smith may "take aim" at the claim that trucks that use SBS's crossings are also their competitors, but his aim is really off, which will come as no surprise to those who are used to Mr. Smith's antipathy to railroads and rail. He tries to argue that it is more likely that those trucks are the last mile connection between the railroad and the consumer, making them teammates in the larger scale of things. Some may be. That's more likely to be true of a Class 1 network railroad, but probably is not so in the case of a short line like SBS. Short lines and trucks are vigorous competitors. Freight in a truck is not going to be the last mile between the short line and a shipper or consignee, except for some commodities, so much as it is likely to be freight moving between a shipper or consignee and the nearest Class 1, if it even moves part of the way by rail at all. Whether Mr. Smith "accedes" or not certainly is of no concern to SBS of Michigan, and yes, it is more of rail vs. truck competition, which he invariably rejects or sides with the truckers. Mythology? Hardly.A destructive attitude? Hardly. Competitors compete. That's normal. And where it is in the interest of the carriers and the customers, they work cooperatively, which just might be why intermodal is the fastest growing segment of the rail business, the present freight recession notwithstanding. Mr. Smith, admittedly an employee of a company in the utility business, appears to have a different definition of competition than do those who actually compete in the market place. Cooperation between rails and truckers occurs when it is in the economic interest of customers by providing them with better service, lower price, or both.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Dave Smith on 4/17/2008 7:15:07 PM

If SBS claims that the trucks crossing their lines are "competitors" and not "deliverers", then let them prove it with some real-time data. Making stereotypical generalizations proves nothing except an air of unprofessionalism. Indeed, if they can prove in a court of law that the Michigan statute forces them to subsidize their business competitors, they could probably get the statute thrown out by a reasonable judge. Otherwise, it sounds like more of the same - an excuse to raise rates on shippers ala the now infamous fuel surcharges used by the Class I's to supplement revenue rather than an actual attempt at cost recovery. Thank heavens my employer is 100 percent removed from a dependence on railroads, otherwise I'd have to cop an attitude toward railroads!

Next CommentComments

Posted by Larry Kaufman on 4/18/2008 10:57:24 AM

Dave Smith, you have an annoying habit of asking rhetorical questions, then assuming an answer, and assuming that to be gospel. What part of "a railroad is private property" don't you understand? The SBS is required by law to maintain public crossings of its property. The public (government) is required to pay for a portion of the cost of that maintenance. The public does not contribute to the maintenance of the signalling and warning devices that its use requires. SBS does not have to satisfy your or me that a truck is either a "deliverer" as you so snarkily put it, or a "competitor." It bears financil burden no matter what the truck is doing. You then jump into a locution on fuel surcharges, assuming the earth to be flat! Fuel costs money. If the cost is not recovered, service will deteriorate and eventually will vanish. Perhaps that is what you really seek? Other than the cockamamie "study" by the ACC, there is no evidence that any fuel surcharges are excessive. The STB did find that they must be more transparent and involve no double-dipping on rates that reflect fuel cost under RCAF. It did not find any fuel surcharges to be higher than justified. You don't like that decision? Take it up with the STB. As for your employer being 100% free of reliance on rail service, I'm sure any potential railroad service provider is equally happy as you say your are. You'd make a lousy customer, undoubtedly demanding more service and lower cost than your business would be worth. I am curious about one thing: If you are not in the railroad business, and you don't use rail in your business, why are you reading a railroad trade publication and its blogs so avidly? Inquiring minds want to know, as the old advertising slogan goes.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Dave Smith on 4/21/2008 7:42:43 PM

Larry, all I'm asking for is SBS to provide some evidence that most of the trucks that cross their line are also SBS's competitors. If and when that is provided, I will concede the argument. Until then, I am dismissive of such statements, as I find them to be counterproductive to multimodal cooperation. To answer your question as to why I have an interest in the rail industry, hey, I'm a fan! I would like nothing more than for this nation to be saturated with rail lines, preferably intramodally competitive rail companies, and thus better able to optimize multimodal synchronicity. The fact is, the US rail industry under the antiquated closed access integrated model is but a fraction of what it could be. Having only two Class I rail service providers to choose from out West is a travesty.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Larry Kaufman on 4/22/2008 2:18:10 PM

Davey (you call me by my first name although we never have met, so I shall do the same), you no doubt will be delighted as may others to know that this is my last response to you on this blog or any other published by PR. That is because you choose to ignore comments by others as thought they never had been made, then proceed as though your statements were unchallenged. This is not discussion, Davey, it is political humbuggery. I won't waste any more time trying to engage you in discourse. You prefer to have a monologue and you just go right ahead and talk to yourself from now on. You see, it doesn't matter whether the trucker in question is SBS's most vigorous competitor or the brother-in-law of the CEO of SBS. It still is crossing the railroad's private property. It already has an effective subsidy because the user fees/taxes paid by 18-wheelers do not cover their aloquot share of the highways they consume. That's really quite simple. Perhaps you even understand it. Whether you "concede" the argument is of no concern to SBS or anyone else, as you have set up a straw man. I don't know nor care whether you are just being perverse, but it makes no difference. Most likely, there are numerous trucks crossing the SBS right of way, some may be competitors, some may be "deliverers" as you call them, and others may just be joy-riding. It makes no difference. They cross private property whose owner is required by law to maintain the crossing for which they do not pay. Davey, you are "dismissive" of any statement or argument that does not comport with your preconceived prejudices. So be it. You claim to be a rail fan and that you wish to see this country "saturated" with rail lines. Davey, that kind of saturation brought the industry to the point of financial collapse once before. Spare us your fandom; we probably could not afford to have you as a fan. Your track record at this blog suggests you dissemble in your zeal for competitive railcompanies. They are highly competitive now, and where they are not, the STB has the legal authority to determine maximum rates for captive traffic. That it finds in favor of the railroads most of the time just might be evidence -- which I'm sure you reject -- that the system really does work. Finally, in the category of you don't know what the hell you are talking about, the rest of the world has the multi-access regimes you would visit on this country. Their freight service is lousy. Our is light years better, although you seem to be in a minority that doesn't accept that reality. There are thousands of trackage rights agreements throughout the U.S., all entered into by private corporations that find it in their mutual interest to do so. What you call an "antiquated closed access integrated model" is not a model. It is what works best by providing a market rate of return on investment and thereby the ability to reinvest in better and more service. Oops, I forgot; you work for a utility holding company and you get to bake the cost of your expansion into your rates that your customers must pay by order of the state PUCs, whether they wish to or not. The travesty is that you abuse this blog to prattle and spew your ignorance and antipathy toward the railroads. Don't try to tell us what a fan you are, because if anyone did what you call for, the industry would disappear. Perhaps that is what you really seek.

Next CommentComments

Posted by Dave Smith on 4/23/2008 6:52:49 PM

Again, it is a simple request for SBS to stand by their statement regarding truckers being their competitors, preferably with some actual data. I'm certain the MSDOT has some kind of database regarding commodity flows that would aid in making such a determination. As to whether it is "fair" that railroads be required to maintain roadway on either side of the tracks, I agree that such is unwarranted given that in most cases the railroad preceded the establishment of the roadway. However, it is facile to suggest that SBS or any other rail company is being forced to subsidize it's competition via crossing maintenance requirements. First of all, most railroads are natural monopolies as defined by most economists, ergo a "monopoly" exists because it has no effective competition. Secondly, a railroad isn't "subsidizing" those who use a crossing via such mandates, it is "subsidizing" MSDOT. Study up on the legal definition of easements and ROW's - just because one "owns" an easement/ROW doesn't allow him to block those who wish to cross from one side to the other, yet that person is still liable for eliminating hazards to the crossers. I suspect there may be liability questions involved as well in MSDOT's overreaching maintenance requirement. I guess it would have been simpler to just impose a de facto tax increase on railroads and use these funds to maintain the crossings. The fact that railroads don't pay fuel taxes like truckers would suggest that SBS's/Mr. Kaufman's subsidy argument is exactly backwards. In economics, it is axiomatic that those who pay taxes are subsidizing those who don't. (Larry, the very fact that you are using the tag "Larry Kaufman" in your responses would suggest that you are okay with folks addressing you as such. If you don't want folks to call you "Larry", I would suggest that you provide the name by which you would like to be addressed. PS - you'll notice I use the name "Dave", not "Davey". Again, the tone of your responses speaks volumes about your character.)

Next Comment

 Archive »