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Going ‘green’ in a big way

I’m just starting to compile information for a cover story article on freight railroads’ “green” efforts that I’m going to write for our August issue. The working title is “Sustainable Momentum — Railroads and the Green Movement.”

Along with other railroads, I contacted CSX Transportation to get an idea of what the Class I is doing to reduce its carbon footprint. Talk about sustainable momentum. Lauren Rueger in the Class I’s corporate communications department sent me a list entitled “CSX and the Environment” that describes no less than 21 ways the railroad is trying to be an environmental steward.

I knew CSXT was upgrading its locomotive fleet with environmentally friendly units, using Auxiliary Power Units to reduce locomotive idling and carbon dioxide emissions, and employing green practices — such as transitioning from diesel-powered to electric cranes — at intermodal facilities. But there are scores of things the railroad is doing that I hadn’t heard about before.

Here are a few examples. CSXT relies on an Environmental Management System to help define environmental management responsibilities throughout the organization; promotes a “Keep on Living” campaign through which employees work with children and adults to encourage environmental stewardship in communities; uses oil heaters that burn used locomotive oil to heat facilities; and acquires low-emission highway vehicles through a Clean Fuel Fleet program.

In addition, the railroad last year developed an environmental crimes unit within its police department that is charged with increasing employee and community awareness of environmental crimes, and fostering relationships with local law enforcement agencies.

In a section subtitled “People Make the Difference for the Environment,” the document provided by Rueger states, “The 34,000 people who work at CSX could all be considered ‘green collar’ as they provide the most environmentally friendly way to move goods on land.”

I’m interested to find out how the other Class Is, regionals and short lines are cultivating a green collar workforce and pursuing a green environment. From what I’ve read in press releases and heard from executives at various railroads over the past year or so, many of them are big on sustainability, too.

Stay tuned for my Green Movement article come mid-August. Our esteemed Associate Editor Angela Cotey will chronicle passenger railroads’ sustainability push in a companion piece to the August cover story.

Posted by: Jeff Stagl | Date posted: 6/25/2008

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Posted by Dave Smith on 6/25/2008 8:34:14 PM

What exactly, pray tell, is an "environmental crime"? I can see where dumping diesel fuel into an aquifer aka BNSF in Livingston Montana sure can qualify as an environmental crime. But emitting a benign gas known as carbon dioxide, no way. The sad irony of this latest "green" movement is that the focus of evil seems to be CO2, yet CO2 represents less than 0.04% of our atmosphere and is essential for the greening of the planet. With so much focus on CO2, we're losing sight of real problem emissions such as CO, SOX, NOX, et al. If CSX really wanted to go green, they'd replace their diesel fleet with modern coal fired steam locomotives. A modern coal-fired external combustion engine would have lower emissions than a diesel for all except CO2. The catalytic converters on our automobiles came about because they reduced toxins to "harmless" CO2. I guess if we really want to reduce our collective carbon footprint, we'll get rid of catalytic converters and go back to emitting more toxic elements from our tailpipes.

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Posted by Brian Jones on 6/26/2008 10:54:21 AM

"uses oil heaters that burn used locomotive oil to heat facilities;" Wouldn't it be much "Greener" to have the used oil refined back to a usable lube stock instead of burning it for heat. The used oil could be refined many, many times , but once burned it is gone.

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Posted by James Swidergal on 6/26/2008 7:10:02 PM

I'm with Dave on this one. Coal fired steam loco's just might be the way to go. Or at least until self contained hydrogen plants or maybe nucleur generation can be safely addressed.

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Posted by Larry Kaufman on 6/27/2008 2:38:26 PM

Railroads may be "going green" as the blog says, and I'll look forward to reading Jeff's cover story in August, but a very strong case can be made that railroads already are "green" and have been for a long time. One doesn't have to argue with adherents of the Flat Earth Society who reject even the concept of global climate change to recognize that in the normal course of business railroads are among the better stewards of our environment. More to the point, they do good by being good -- simply by doing what they do in the normal course of business they contribute to improving our environment. Railroads can move a ton of freight 436 miles on a gallon of fuel, as much as four times the distance a truck can carry the same freight on a gallon of fuel. Less fuel per ton of freight = less greenhouse gas emissions, less Nox, less CO2, less climate change. But that's not all. Railroads don't do these things out of the goodness of their hearts. They do them because it is their business to use their technology in a benign manner. The steel wheel on steel rail has less friction than a rubber tire on concrete or asphalt pavement. Perhaps more important to this capitalist, railroads do what they do to earn a profit and provide a return to their investors. The good they do for the environment can be construed as the "icing on the cake." In so doing, they use their fuel efficiency to take freight that previously moved by truck off the highways. As intermodal continues to grow, rails will handle more of the long haul movements and trucks will handle the short haul movements to and from intermodal terminals to and from manufacturers and distribution centers, further reducing the amount of fuel consumed to move each ton of freight. Thus, railroads contribute to improving our environment by lessening the deleterious effects of moving more freight by less environmentally friendly means.

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Posted by Dave Smith on 6/27/2008 7:55:12 PM

One doesn't have to argue with adherents of the Flat Earth Society and it's collective belief in the Goebblesque concept of human-induced climate change to recognize that in the normal course of business railroads in theory should be among the better stewards of our environment. Of course, that ignores all those Superfund sites such as Livingston Montana, or the raping of the forest around Snoqualmie Pass by former BN subsidiary Plum Creek Timber. Or for that matter, the miles and miles of railroad abandonments throughout the nation that has forced shippers to switch to trucks, relocate overseas, or just plain go out of business. What railroads do well in theory environmentally speaking, namely get up to 10 times better ton/mile fuel economy than trucks, is lost in the larger scheme of things by their own self inflicted actions over the years.

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Posted by Larry Kaufman on 6/30/2008 10:36:20 AM

It didn't take Dave Smith long to convert the "green" discussion into his usual anti-railroad screed. So be it. I shall point out that the vast majority of rail abandonments over the past 27 years (since Staggers recognized that railroads have the right to end service where they cannot earn a return on investmen) have been driven by the need to oompete with motor carriers that are subsidized by taxpayers and other highway users (motorists in gas guzzlers and non-gas guzzlers, for example). With no capital cost beyond the tractor and trailer, truckers can operate profitably with a significantly higher operating ration than can railroads -- or any other business that has a high fixed capital cost structure. That's why a trucker with an operating ratio of 95 thinke he's died and gone to heaven, while a railroad with an operating ratio north of 80 is considered a shaky investment at best by those who provide capital funds to the industry. Right, Mr. Smith, keep on subsidizing truckers and then critiize railroads because they are forced to withdraw from some lines of business in reaction to their competitors living off the public. Logical? No, but that's never bothered those who work in the utility industry and would like to see their coal delivered at less than full costs.

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Posted by Terry Gibbons on 6/30/2008 11:31:57 AM

We manufacture a product called PRP, which is slowly making it's way through the railroad industry. The material is a matrix of beeswax that remediates oils and hydrocarbons from the ballast, streams and railyards. Go to; to learn more. Our biggest hurdle has been getting the Tier 1 railroads to listen to us! Norfolk & Southern has been using the material at various sites in Ohio with remarkable results. We were able to reduce the hydrocarbons by @ 93% without using track matting thus, eliminating the disposal of hazardous waste. You can't get any greener than that!

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Posted by Glen Fisher on 6/30/2008 11:36:12 AM

I wouls like to send you a copy of my paper POWERING FREIGHT RAILROADS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND PROFIT, Electrification---Why and How. It was presented to the Transport Canada "On Board for a Cleaner Environment" conference in Toronto, May 7, 2008.

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Posted by Dave Smith on 6/30/2008 7:38:51 PM

Glen, I hope we get a chance to analyze your numbers. Since your paper was dated recently just a few months ago, I assume you've adjusted the costs of string catenary to reflect rising commodity prices for things such as copper wire et al. Electrification (preferably powered by hydro or nuclear power) would be the "greenest", but not necessarily the cheapest way for railroads to break the shackles of expensive petroleum. With the price differential of coal vs oil at a factor of 13:1, modern reciprocating coal-fired steam would be the lowest cost option, but of course the spector of CO2 regulation effectively kills off that option. What I have pointed out is the irony that the lowest cost AND the most environmentally friendly method of locomotion - modern coal-fired reciprocating steam - would take a back seat to continuation of diesel electrics with their litany of toxic emissions, or to capital intensive electrification. And of course, if the electricity is provided by a coal-fired power plant, there goes the "green" award.....

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Posted by Terry Bell on 7/1/2008 10:15:13 AM

Jeff, I'll be interested to see if you were able to get the Class 1's to divulge what their plans are for alternate fuels. It's fine to get switchers on a green path but burning 4 billion gallons plus of diesel, @ current prices, would seem to be a driver for alternate fuels. Maybe the Class 1's should look to Boeing/Virgin Air and Delta. They are joining in an effort to jump ahead of the current biofuels technology and move to the ultimate source of triglycerides, algae. Clearly, sustainable algae strains need to be developed but when the capability exists to combine existing technologies where hydrogen and biodiesel are produced, consuming CO2 in the process, the Class 1's need to be looking this way. Just the ensuing positive PR, trying to solve the challenge rather than just issuing fuel surcharges, would seem to me to be in their interesxt. I look forward to you article.

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Posted by Larry Kaufman on 7/1/2008 10:16:07 AM

It's time for a fundamental revisit of certain facts. First, an electric locomotive doesn't know nor care whether the electricity is receives is generated by coal, nuclear, hydro, natgas, wind or solar energy. Trying to argue who or what is "greener" in this kind of discussion is a bit like trying to determine the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. Second, there were and still are good and valid reasons why railroads opted for diesel-electric power over steam. The technology that existed at the time made the decision quite simple. Steam locomotives required much more labor to maintain them than did diesels. Steam locomotives ran more or less constantly, making today's diesel idling appear quite friendly to the environment. Diesels not only required less labor to maintain them, they were a more reliable unit. As in most non-governmental endeavors, economics ruled. The people who were responsible for running the enterprise made the best capital spending decision based on the information at hand and the technology as it existed at the time -- they chose diesel-electric power. No small consideration, but diesels could be combined in multiple units more easily than steam could, enabling greater tonnage to be moved. Ever since the conversion from steam to diesel, which began in the 1930s and was completed in the early 1960s, there have been efforts to recreate steam. Those efforts properly have focused on developing a new generation of locomotives that would be cleaner burning, more efficient, more reliable, etc. As one who believes that technology can always be improved, I do not reject the efforts to develop a new, improved steam locomotive. Perhaps one will be developed that will meet the operational and capital requirements of moving commerce throughout the U.S. To date, though, that has not happened. Remember, please, that a locomotive purchased today, whether diesel or steam (if one existed), will be in the inventory for the next 20 years -- even longer with rebuilding. This is true of most railroad capital expenditures; they are very long lived. It is easy to sit back in 2008 and tell boards of directors and senior executives what they should be doing and why. Those who do, however, rarely reflect the non-technical factors that go into such decisions: capital cost, debt structure, parts inventories, training labor, and a few I'm sure I've forgotten. The people who actually make the decisions to spend millions do not have the luxury of contemplating their navels and thinking that something that isn't even being offered in the market would be nice to have. It might, but so what?

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Posted by Dave Smith on 7/1/2008 9:05:49 PM

I tell you what, Larry. You seem adament that anthropogenic global warming is irrefutable fact, and that man's carbon emissions are to blame. And of course you speak for the railroad industry, right? Fine, let's put our money where our mouth is and convince the railroads to just stop hauling coal altogether. Oh, not today, but say maybe in 10 years or so we'll stop hauling this toxic coal that is killing the planet, giving utilities a window to convert to nuclear, solar, or wind. What do you think would happen to the stock value of Class I's if this scenario happened? Well, this steel rail version of the Malthusian spector may come to pass if you and the folks at PR keep on pushing this global warming hoax. It is not inconceivable that the entire coal-fired generation sector could be converted to nuclear within a decade or so, in order that we may collectively reduce our "carbon footprint" while maintaining current rates of electricty consumption. RAILROAD EXECS TAKE NOTE! This aquiescence to the green movement will result in the rail industry cutting it's own collective jugular.

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Posted by Larry Kaufman on 7/2/2008 12:59:51 PM

Well, Mr. Smith, you insist on using my first name although to my knowledge we've never met and you certainly are not a friend of mine. That leaves solicitors who always like to use first names, so what are you selling? I tried to make my blog response as non-political and impersonal as possible, and after rereading it, believe I was quite successful. That didn't satisfy you, though, so you come back with more of your political agenda. Let's start with one error in your post: I do not speak for the railroads. I speak for myself, based on some 40 years of experience in government, journalism, association, carrier, and consulting. I am paid for my writings. Enough on that. I confess to not knowing the word anthropogenic, but I'm sure you do. So, how about communicating in English? I do believe that man (now some 6 billion of us) does have an effect on the environment. You obviously do not. So be it. Funny, but I didn't say a word about the environment in my blogpost about why diesel electric power has triumphed over steam in the railroad business. I guess when it comes to debate, you must always come back to the points you wish to make and ignore those of others. And why would I or anyone want to convince the railroads to stop hauling coal - now or in the next 10 years. What a silly proposition! Railroads have a common carrier obligation to provide service on reasonable request, remember? They dont make the environmental laws; they just serve customers. You've switched into Goebbellian (your term) "logic" with this latest silliness. I'm not aware that any reputable expert has said anything about killing the planet. Affecting the environment, yep, but killing the planet? Try again, Mr. Smith. Utilities will convert to nuclear, solar, or wind when other fuels and generating methods make economic sense. They don't have any more love for coal than they do for paying railroads to get it delivered. You posit the question of what cessation of use of coal would do to the railroads. You seem to forget we already know the answer. The utilities pretty much abandoned coal some years ago and they didn't give a rat's a** what it meant to the railroads. They came back to coal for one reason and one reason only: western low sulfur coal is cheaper on a delivered basis than any fuel they could get other than renewable things like wind, hydro and solar. In your Goebbelian effort, you try to tie me to PR's editors (flattered, but sorry, I have no relationship with PR other than to participate in its blogs) and deny again that there is any such thing as global warming, including calling it a "hoax." Dick Cheney would be proud of you, Mr. Smith. You then raise the spectre of total conversion to nuclear within 10 years or so, as though it were a threat. Ten years? Surely you jest. If and when it makes sense, and the United States has a coherent comprehensive energy policy, it will happen, not before, and certainly not within 10 years. I have promised the editor of PR that I would cease personal attacks on you, Mr. Smith, but you make it impossible to keep the pledge when you engage in the kind of invective of your latest blogpost. It's downright silly and I'm sure you will be given all the attention you deserve - NONE.

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Posted by Robert E. Munn on 7/2/2008 3:38:49 PM

Why has industry so completely bought into this "green" meme? It actually is disheartening to see us buy whole hog into an ideology largely based on wildly erratic models and supported by a legion of loopy-loons. Is it simply to join the mindless money-grab? To become a part of resource sapping group of scare mongers who contribute nothing, zero, zilch, bupkis to our existence? It is time to choose sides. You can be with the side of rational thought, or the loopy greenies.

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Posted by R.J.Tarasi on 7/3/2008 2:13:32 PM

One of the biggest pollutions problems in the railroad industry is from diesel engines idling outside a repair facility, or in a holding area, waiting for a train make up. The engines usually sit over a very out dated, inefficient absorbent track mat. The oil/diesel runs through the ballast and sometimes all the way to the sub-surface ground water. THAT IS A MAJOR PROBLEM. There is a GREEN product called Oil Buster/PRP which absorbs this oil/diesel mixture and prevents if from ever penetrating the ballast and it biodegrades, insitu, the hydrocarbon contamination. See for tests and testimonials.

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A fitting farewell for the boy who loved ‘choo-choo trains’

Flooding in many parts of the Great Plains and Midwest continues to affect workers at more than a dozen railroads as they toil to repair washed out track and damaged bridges. But a family’s tragic loss caused by severe weather in Minnesota last month affected several Canadian Pacific Railway employees a different way. As in pulling at their heartstrings.

Two-year-old Nathaniel Prindle died and three members of his family were injured May 25 by a tornado that struck Hugo, Minn. Nate, as his family called him, drowned after the tornado lifted him and dropped him into a pond near the Prindle’s home. His parents, Gerard and Christina, and four-year-old sister Annika were trapped in the rubble of their home, according to a news item in the Pioneer Press.

Nate loved “choo-choo trains,” as he called them. So much so, his parents chose a country gravesite in Washington County just east of their hometown as Nate’s resting place. Freight trains regularly pass the cemetery.

After hearing about the tragedy, a CPR employee in the St. Paul service area thought of a way to honor Nate’s passion and offer a modicum of comfort to his grieving family. The employee and several co-workers arranged to have two locomotives and a caboose waiting on the tracks near the cemetery during his funeral on June 2.

When the service concluded, the engines and caboose slowly rumbled past the grave. The engineer sounded a long whistle salute as the train headed away from the cemetery.

The compassionate act by the CPR employee — who is “treating the matter as a private initiative and has asked not to be publicly identified,” says CPR spokesman Mike LoVecchio — and his co-workers did not go unnoticed by the Class I’s top executive.

"Please express my admiration for their thoughtful farewell gesture,” said President and Chief Executive Officer Fred Green in an email to the St. Paul service area staff. “It makes me proud to work with them."

And, to the rest of us in the rail industry, proud to count them among our own.

Posted by: Jeff Stagl | Date posted: 6/17/2008

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Posted by DAVID GOLICK on 6/18/2008 10:01:02 AM

I would like to commend everyone involved with such a thoughtful and heart felt heart goes out to the family.

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Posted by Laird A. Bradley on 6/18/2008 10:25:57 AM

I worked for Conrail for 28 years and love choo choo trains myself. I would like to thank those who cared so much about that little boy by giving him a great train ride to heaven.

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Posted by O'Coimon on 6/18/2008 11:27:28 AM

What a very affecting story of real caring and respect for a young fan of trains by railroaders of the old school. Beautifully written up with restraint - May he hear his beloved trains as he speaks with the angels.

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Posted by Larry Kaufman on 6/18/2008 12:46:15 PM

Well done, Jeff Stagl. For as long as I have been around railroads in one form or another (40 years), stories such as this have occurred. I can think of no industry whose employees are as devoted to their work as the railroads. They may not always get along with their employers, but when you are dealing with floods, landslides, blizzards, washouts, etc., the railroad workers can be counted upon to do their utmost. They went above and beyond for the little tornado victim.

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Posted by C. Furmanek on 6/18/2008 1:33:50 PM

As a new parent of a beautiful 14 month old boy, I cannot nearly begin to imagine the heartbreak and pain this family is suffering now. I am proud to be in the transportation business when I know throughout this country and Canada there are people out there like these wonderful folks with the railroad. We are all proud of you. Thanks

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Posted by Joseph Hegwood Peagler on 6/18/2008 2:02:31 PM

Class Act, CPR Employees--Total Class...Nate's High-Railin' Heaven just now... Semper Fidelis, Joseph Rail-Highway Safety Coordinator State of Idaho

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Posted by Vince Burget on 6/18/2008 3:52:14 PM

Such a tragic end to a short life. My thoughts and prayers go out to Nate's family and my heartfelt thanks to the CPR folks who thought up and carried out such a touching tribute. It would be a privilege and an honor to know them. This is the true embodiment of compassion.

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Posted by Bob on 6/19/2008 9:44:02 AM

In a day where Locomotive Engineers aren't heros anymore and simply the idiot blocking the crossing for "hours on end" it is enlightning not only to see the compassion of all involved but also to the railroad which allowed this to take place. Cheers to all involved!

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Posted by Erwin P. van Beveren on 6/19/2008 9:58:46 AM

Reading this story brought tears in my eyes. Thanks to the crew for doing this wanderfull act. Erwin, carman at CSX

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Posted by Thomas Thalheim on 6/19/2008 1:17:01 PM

My prayers for Nate's family in their time of grief. My thanks and compliments to the CPR railroaders for a most fitting tribute.

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Posted by Curt Warfel on 6/20/2008 10:40:50 AM

This story brought tears to my eyes too! God bless the CPR employees who were thoughtful enough to do this.

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Posted by John Spahn on 6/20/2008 2:02:36 PM

It is this that will be remembered. Thanks to the CP Crew and Ops. Dept. that did this for the greving family. When my uncle returned by train from WWII he talked the SLSF Conductor to stop the "Firefly" at the crossing closest to his home in Weir Ks. A year or so later my uncle died in a car accident at the age of 19. The SLSF Conductor attended the funeral and on the card he wrote "You are on a train that I cannot stop now". That was 60 years ago and that is still remembered. Thanks again CP J Spahn CS Rep SKOL & SLWC RR

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Posted by Ross on 6/20/2008 5:35:04 PM

As a former employee with B&O, Chessie Systems, CSX (retired), tears were brought to my eyes by the initiative and imagination of the (anonymous) railroader whose "last train for Nate" was approved by CPR Execs! I suspect in Heaven, Nate has met railroaders from ALL different lines, ranging from the extinct Rutland Railroad to the still-alive Union Pacific! God bless Nate's family and ease their grief somewhat. Yer NEW Hillbilly friend in TN... Ross PROUD father of an American Soldier

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Posted by Samantha Kennedy on 6/21/2008 1:22:01 PM

This act of compassion is what makes the rail industry stand out above and beyond other business sectors. Thanks to those who showed such self-less compassion and genuine concern.

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Posted by Mary Norman on 6/21/2008 8:59:00 PM

What a beautiful testimony! I admire each one who was there and I believe God led the way. May God Bless each one of you.It was heart felt when I read the artical. Love and Prayers, Mary

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Posted by Frank Mondello, MTA-New York City Transit on 6/23/2008 11:18:12 AM

I'm having a hard time typing and wiping away the tears. God welcome Nate, and bless the CPR employees for their heartfelt caring.

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Posted by Michael D. Sternfeld on 6/23/2008 3:09:10 PM

As a life long lover of railroads who worked briefly for the old EL in the summer of 69 and then came back to full time railroading in 94 the story brought a tear to my eyes. The love shown by these CP railroaders for the family of that little child shows the wonderfull depth of humanity that exists not only in rhe rank and file but all the way up the corporate chain of command at that carrier. I am proud of all at CP who made this wonderfull event happen.

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Posted by James Mancuso on 6/23/2008 5:50:21 PM

It is nice to know that some railroads still know how to do things with a touch of class, and the send off the CP employees gave little Nate was about as classy as you can get. Being a lover of trains myself, I would love for railroaders to give me a similar sendoff. I salute CEO Fred Green and his employees for this wonderful act of compassion. I would be honored to count them as friends.

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Posted by Chris Tirone on 6/23/2008 8:30:53 PM

Hats off to the CP Rail Employee's for their thoughtfulness in the tribute to the little boy and his family in their time of troubles. You and your family are in my prayers. Rest assured that your son is in heaven learning how to run a locomotive and handle a train with god teaching him. I only hope that if something like this happened around here that somebody on the Railroad here would do what the CP people have done for that family and that poor little boy. Godspeed. Chris on the old B&M.

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Posted by J.B. Rich on 6/23/2008 10:13:10 PM

That's class boys , pure class. I've been a railroad professional for 21 years and just about the time I lose the faith ,something happens that makes me proud to be a railroader. As a father , I feel the loss of those good people and they are in our prayers.

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Posted by Lou Highsmith on 6/24/2008 9:58:03 AM

This story makes me so proud to be a railfan just like Nate. I am also proud of the great employees of Canadian Pacific and their CEO Fred Green. Jeff Stagl did an excellent job in bringing this to us. Best wishes from Raleigh, North Carolina to the Prindle family and all that helped to honor this member of our ever growing group.

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Posted by Linda Weaver on 6/24/2008 12:22:11 PM

I pray that God blesses all those involved in this beautiful tribute and especially the family of the child. My husband worked for Amtrak and went to heaven Sept. 1999. He will be happy to help show Nate around. May God ease your pain and heal your broken hearts.

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Posted by J W Lemon on 6/25/2008 8:21:08 AM

That was so touching, the men responsible should be applauded for their efforts. Seems like they don't want to be identified because they don't want other employees to know they have hearts. But it's no disgrace to let people know you care abt. someone you never knew. I was a little boy and head dreams of railroading, so much so I'm retired L&N 1969/CSXT 2005 Switchman/ Engr. Atl., Ga.

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Railroads can’t be wild about ‘Into the Wild’s’ trespassing scenes

A few days ago, I watched the DVD version of the film “Into the Wild.” The 2007 movie is about a 23-year-old college graduate who secretly leaves his dysfunctional parents behind in Virginia to hitchhike and hoof his way to Alaska’s wilds. While living alone for more than 100 days in the wilderness, he comes to an unexpected but satisfactory conclusion: “Happiness is best when shared.”

However, the film has several scenes that aren’t amenable to railroads’ trespass prevention and law enforcement efforts. In one, the main character played by Emile Hirsch jumps into a box car on a moving train to hitch a ride from the U.S./Mexican border in California to Los Angeles. When the train arrives, he jumps out of the box car while the train is still moving, runs across several tracks and crawls under a stationary train’s car to make his way out of the yard.

Railroads and Operation Lifesaver Inc. are spending millions of dollars on advertisements and outreach programs to inform the public about the dangers of trespassing and approaching a moving train. Hollywood isn’t helping their cause by not only romanticizing a “free” train trip, but depicting a successful trespassing escapade in great detail.

A short time later in the film, the character hops onto another train to make his way north from L.A. After the train makes an unexpected stop — at least to the stowaway — what happens next is a literal black eye to the character and a figurative one to the rail industry. A railroad policeman pulls him off the train and beats him senseless with a nightstick. The officer warns the stowaway that he never forgets a face and will use more excessive force in the future.

I’m not saying railroad police officers don’t ever use force to get their “don’t trespass” message across to offenders — and that a polite officer would be a more dramatic plot element — but railroad safety managers can’t be too happy about a stereotypical nightstick-wielding officer portrayed in a major Hollywood film. Although the “scared straight” implication of the scene might discourage viewers from attempting to trespass, I’m sure execs don’t want railroad police officers depicted as thugs. That’s hardly a positive representation of law enforcement and public outreach.

At least “Into the Wild” got it half right. There are consequences for trespassing as far as the law and personal safety are concerned. Getting it all right rail safety-wise means Hollywood shouldn’t fall back on railroad stereotypes and romanticism to tell a story.

Posted by: Jeff Stagl | Date posted: 6/11/2008

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Posted by Dave Smith on 6/11/2008 7:57:32 PM

"Emperor of the North" set the standard, at least in the public's mind, of what a railroad police officer will personify. As great of the movie as that was, it is unfortunate that such a stereotype exists for railroad police forces. I have found most rail cops to be pleasant, up front, people just doing their jobs while exemplifying the professionalism one would expect.

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Posted by AJ on 6/12/2008 9:42:14 AM

I work for a railroad, and I can tell you with or without the movie or the existance of operation lifesaver, people will continue to trespass and continue to get killed by trains. I remember in 1993, a movie "The Program" came out and in it was a scene with the football players lying on the center line of a road to prove their bravery. Shortly thereafter, and after several people with questionable intellegence tried to immitate the scene from the movie became dead, the scene was deleted from the movie. It's unfortunate that society has deteriorated to the point that people are compelled to immitate what they see in the movies. Many years ago, the film makers took risks to produce a film depicting a risky activity. Now, risks are minimized with all the special effects, and yet the general population will mimic the movie and risk death or serious bodily injury? I'm glad that when I was growing up in the 1960's, people didn't try to immitate Elmer J. Fudd or Buggs Bunny! I guess nobody's there anymore to tell the kids not to kill eachother. Just in case somebody reads this, IF YOU AREN'T AN EMPLOYEE OF THE RAILROAD, PLEASE STAY OFF THE TRACKS. DON'T IMITATE THE MOVIES. THANK YOU.

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Posted by Ralph Eisenbrandt on 6/12/2008 9:46:52 AM

Just what railroad allowed the movie company to film those questionable scenes on their property?

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Posted by Ian Temple on 6/12/2008 1:55:05 PM

Lighten up Jeff - nobody believes what comes out of Hollywood bears any relation to reality or use it as role models (except when I fantasize I'm another Rambo or Conan). Seriously- you are much too smart to draw parallels between real life & studio productions. Do you remeber when all the sixty year old heroes in films had beautiful wives in their early twenties & everbody lived in a 12 room mamsion with servants & a chauffeur? That's Hollywood.

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Posted by Erik on 6/12/2008 2:36:59 PM

At least the L.A. shot in "In to the Wild" was filmed alongside the Metro Red Line yard and the L.A. River so either Metrolink or BNSF gave permission (I forget who owns the track south of Mission Tower and north of the old Roundhouse. As for the film, remember that this movie is based on a true story. So you have to present what really happened. The young man really did hop trains to get around and apparently he really was savagely attacked by a Railroad employee.

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Posted by Doris Kerns on 6/13/2008 12:43:43 PM

I understand what the article is trying to say, and I work in the rail business. But people need to realize you don't take what you see in the movies as concrete. Movies are for entertainment and are an artform. Common sense says, if you crawl under a train and run across several tracks and you get hit, you deserve what you get. We need to be accountable for our actions, which in this society, I don't feel we always are. We are eager to put the blame on someone else.

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Posted by Skip on 6/13/2008 12:44:34 PM

It a waste of time to even bother to draw attention to what comes out of Hollywood. It's not reality based. As for setting bad examples for what people could possibly do, no one needs a Hollywood production to set out what is right or wrong. People just do it on their own without regards to the safety of their actions.

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Posted by Dan Tanger on 6/15/2008 6:58:12 PM

What I want to know who were the idiots on the railroad(s) on which this was filmed. One can only guess the dollars must have been good enough to black out their comment sense.

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Posted by Larry Kaufman on 6/16/2008 10:33:24 AM

Railroads always have been asked to grant use of their facilities to movie makers. The old Southern Pacific actually had a nice bit of cash flow from use of its yards and lines, most notably the Steven Segal flick "Dark Territory" filmed in Colorado. SP required that a trainmaster be present at all times and that he had the authority to order film people off the tracks when a train was due. It charged overtime rates for the trainmaster. Schwarzenegger's "Eraser" was filmed at an SP yard in the LA area. Those who have responded that no one takes movies seriously are quite right. But, most railroads always have tried to get the most egregious unsafe practices out of films just because it isn't a good idea to give stupid people more ideas.

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Posted by Dr M Seshagiri Rao on 6/16/2008 11:42:51 AM

I am happy that such scenes are so rare in American movies that it makes news. In the World's largest movie Industry, that is India, scenes glorifying ticketless travel, footboard riding, trespassing Railway lands and such other activities are so common that they are never mentioned in the Press. Many a youngster has died a violent death while trying to renact Railway stunt actions in real life.

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Posted by A.J. Smith on 6/16/2008 5:26:56 PM

Good thought piece, Jeff. I was dismayed last night to see, in the final scene of the opening episode of "In Plain Sight," the heroine drove around a lowered crossing gate to get to the airport on time. I think Hollywood producers can help shape the way people think about certain behaviors, and this scene certainly was not helpful.

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Posted by Larry Kaufman on 6/17/2008 10:19:26 AM

A. J. Smith and I may have been the only two people to watch In Plain Sight Monday evening. I didn' think the producers in any way glorified running around traffic and gates, and as the train bore down on the twit who at least got out of her car, the real lesson was "if you do this, you could get yourself killed." Not to worry, though, as I figure this program won't get past its initial order of episodes. It just wasn't very good. By the way, the train in the picture was a CSX locomotive -- supposedly in Albuquerque? Clearly, no rail fan producer there.

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Posted by Paul Huff on 6/17/2008 10:34:05 AM

Frankly, I have no problem with the kid getting his head handed to him by the railroad police. Perhaps if his "dysfunctional" parents had instilled a more healthy respect for rules, he wouldn not have been in a position to be in trouble in the first place. Who knows, the policeman might just have saved his miserable life.

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