Thursday, March 31, 2011

Always Expect A Train!

Port Townsend, today. We recently experienced a bad accident down in the southern part of Washington State, in which a van was struck by a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train, killing three people outright and severely injuring a fourth.

When we hear news reports about people being clipped at a crossing, particularly a crossing without warning lights or barriers, we shake our heads and say, "Geeze! People have got to be more careful when crossing tracks!"

This accident is particularly egregious because a train crew was riding in the van.

Coach America operates a shuttle van service that specializes in the transportation of train crews all over this region. More than one factor may be at play, which is creating more grief for all involved.

I almost went to work for that company several years ago. It was called Crew Shuttle Services at that time. The fates intervened and I ended up on a different career path.

But I will never forget the impressive
big sign on the back door of their vans which read, "Always Expect a Train!"

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Drill Baby Drill: We're Baaack!

Port Townsend, today. While Oil-Electric is a railroad blog, from time to time the author is compelled to insure our readers are knowledgeable about certain matters obscured, poorly reported, or flat out ignored by our impotent mainstream media. Such is the case with the resumption of deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico by BP.

In the past several days, I asked friends and acquaintances how they felt about deep water drilling resuming in the Gulf of Mexico, with BP digging the hole. Nobody knew.

Not only has deep-water drilling resumed, but also the major player once again is BP. How brazen of BP. Less than a year after the Deepwater Horizon blowout snuffed 11 lives.

Noble Energy Corporation (stock ticker NBL) received approval on February 28th, to resume drilling at their Santiago Prospect. Santiago is located less than 25 miles south-southeast of the ill fated Macondo Prospect - Deepwater Horizon - site.

The Santiago Prospect is located in Mississippi Canyon Block 519. The Macondo Prospect is located in Mississippi Canyon Block 252. Each block on the map encompasses approximately 9 square miles.

The Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU) Ensco 8501 is a self-propelled semi submersible design similar to the Deepwater Horizon. She also uses dynamic positioning technology to maintain her drilling station, located in 6,500 feet of water. The Deepwater Horizon was working in 5,000 feet of water.

One of seven 8500 Series semi-submersible MODU's designed by Ensco International in Dallas Texas and fabricated by Keppel FELS Limited in Singapore, 8501 was launched in 2009 and carries a nominal crew of 150.

Ensco 8501 began drilling at Santiago four days before the Deepwater exploded on April 20 - a few weeks shy of a year ago. She had reached 13,585 feet when the Drilling Moratorium suspended all deep-water operations in June 2010.

Having resumed drilling operations weeks ago, Ensco 8501 has a target depth of 19,000 feet, expected by the end of May.

Aboard the Ensco 8501, Cameron International Blowout Preventers (BOP). Cameron International. You remember - the manufacturer of the allegedly flawed Deepwater Horizon Blow Out Preventer.

In their recent forensic analysis of the Deepwater BOP, the prestigious Norwegian Risk Analysis Company Det Norske Veritas (DNV), concluded:

"The blind shear rams failed to fully shut in the Macondo oil well because a portion of the drill pipe buckled and bowed from the force of the blowout and became lodged inside the blowout preventer."

[Click to read report]

The report concludes that the Cameron Blowout Preventer has an inherent design flaw, which could result in a duplication of last year's deaths and destruction. A comprehensive time line is contained in Appendix F, with the first explosion registered on page F 101.

Finally, the cast of characters. The Santiago Prospect project is composed of:
  • British Petroleum - 46.5%
  • Noble Energy - 23.25%
  • Red Willow Production Company - 20.25%
  • Houston Energy - 10%
Noble Energy, so they say, will run the day-to-day drilling operations. With the largest investment in the venture, it would be a stretch of the imagination to think that BP is not in the decision making loop!

Indeed, David L. Stover, President and CEO of Noble Energy, is a former BP vice president from September 2000 to August 2002.

Well, all we can do is pray that there is not a repeat of the deadly, financially driven, bad managerial decisions that wreaked havoc on the Gulf of Mexico.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Great Northern's ALCo/GE's

Great Northern 279A, Interbay Yard, Seattle, December 27, 1964. Home on leave from my first year in the US Air Force! And my buddy Elwin Purington, hitting the usual hot spots – Great Northern Interbay, Northern Pacific Stacey, Union Pacific Argo, Milwaukee Van Asselt, and Northern Pacific Auburn. Railroading in Seattle in those days was a cornucopia of sights, sounds, and equipment!

These two units were originally built as ALCo/GE demonstrator’s 1602A (model DL-212) and 1602B (model DL-213) and sold to the Great Northern. These units are sporting the so-called “simplified” Empire Builder paint scheme. At least a day or two was shaved off the down time for each unit by dropping some detail. Compare to GN 279A, wearing the full-blown Empire Builder paint scheme, used on the varnish – in this case, the “International” service running between Seattle and Vancouver (BC).

Fortunately, she and her sister were both spared the indignity of the “Big Sky Blue” paint job.

This freighter is now completing the final leg down the magnificent Puget Sound, entering Interbay yard. As these tired units and crew pass me, I tolerate the discordant firing order of the 4-cycle V-12 motors, giving them credit for completing their assignment westbound over the Cascades, finally reaching tidewater at Everett Washington. A pair of EMD’s is trailing, patiently calling out their orderly 2-cycle chant. Soon they will be in the hands of the fastidious hostlers who will administer some tender loving care, and tie them up for the evening.

You know what? I really really miss the Great Northern, and am truly blessed to have been able to see and hear these units at work. As I’ve mentioned before, GN dispatch had no problemento in mixing and matching models from different manufacturers to create power packs!

Railroad Stuff: Great Northern 279A, 4-cycle V-12 Model 244 motor, 1, 600hp class FA2, originally built as ALCo/GE demonstrator 1602A, model number DL-212, November 1950, serial number 78271. Traded to General Electric for a U33C in March 1968.

Great Northern 279B, 1,600 originally built as ALCo/GE demonstrator 1602B, model number DL-213, November 1950.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

GM Open House: CN 5535

September 17, 1989. General Motors Open House, McCook, Illinois. My late wife and I found ourselves at McCook, Illinois, attending the Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of FT 103's epoch voyage across America, demonstrating the superiority of diesel over steam power.

As part of the festivities, Electro Motive Division generously rounded up for display a group of locomotives, each representing specific milestones in the development of GM diesel electric motive power. Among the group, CN 5535, noteworthy for two reasons:

First, Canadian National 5535 represented diesel electric locomotive productivity from GM's Canadian subsidiary in London, Ontario. For reasons better left to accountants and financial types to explain, General Motors Diesel Limited (GMD) went on line in London on August 11, 1950, to fill orders not only for the Canadian market, but also for overseas markets.

Second, Canadian National 5535 was the 5,000th unit to roll off the erection floor in London Ontario. The first diesel locomotive built was Toronto, Hamilton, and Buffalo Railway (TH&B) number 71, a GP7 road switcher, followed by Canadian Pacific 4028 and 4029 out shopped in September and November 1950.

General Motors Diesel (GMD) Limited became the Diesel Division of General Motors of Canada (GMDDL) Limited on February 1, 1969.

Sign of Change
About the welcome sign. In the top photo, I am standing near the GM Welcome sign on the day of the Open House, September 17, 1989. How big is the sign? Big enough to be seen and measured (60 feet wide) from the "Google" satellite 2008 view:

General Motors moved locomotive construction moved "off shore" to Canada and Mexico. The field of grass that once hosted the massive welcome sign is gone in the "Google" 2010 satellite view, replaced with a warehouse complex:

Railroad Stuff: Canadian National 5535, built as an SD60F, with a 16V-710-G3A engine, developing 3,800 horsepower. Commissioned in September 1989, serial number A-4722.

Friday, March 18, 2011

FT 103 "The Diesel That Did It!"

September 17, 1989. General Motors, Electro Motive Division, McCook, Illinois. My late wife Patti and I flew out from Portland Oregon to attend the General Motors open house at McCook, Illinois. The occasion was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the nationwide tour of Electro Motive Corporations FT 103, the fifty-four-hundred horsepower diesel electric freight locomotive, responsible for retiring steam locomotion once and for all.

There was a certain incongruity as to what transpired in those days. Both the American Locomotive Company (ALCo) and Baldwin had been experimenting with diesels. But their long-standing culture of steam and lack of foresight resulted in EMC, soon to become Electro Motive Division, grabbing the lead in the diesel market, never to be challenged.

Building on the highly successful "E" six-axle twin-engined passenger locomotive; Dick Dilworth's entrée into the freight market was the FT 103. Built as a four unit "A-B" + "B-A" configuration, there was a drawbar joining the "A" and "B" (booster) units, with a standard coupling joining the "B's together. The letter "F" denoting "freight," and the letter "T" meaning "twenty-seven hundred horsepower." The sleek angle of the "E shovel nose" reduced to the classic "bulldog" nose.

While General Motors gathered many oldies but goodies to display at the single day event, the show was all about FT 103. What a thrill to put my hand on her bow, and recall her extraordinary demonstration 11 month run on 20 railroads, logging 83,764 miles covering 35 states!

When the idea for a 50th celebration came up, the trick was to find surviving units of the original quartet. Affectionately referred to as "The Diesel That Did It," FT 103 had long ago tied up and found a retirement home at the National Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, Missouri. While she still contained her prime mover and generator, she was not in running condition.

The booster ("B" unit) is not part of the original quartet, but from the same vintage. Southern 4103C, (built in December 1944, sn 2675,) was located awaiting restoration at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia. She was in bad shape. Her side panels had to be completely replaced, having acquired a fifth porthole along the way. Her prime mover had been replaced with a steam generator and water tanks, converting her a heater car, providing heat and electricity for passenger cars, as Southern Railroad 960601.

This photo of sister, Southern Heater Car 960602, taken by Kevin Hunt, reflects the similar rusted condition 969601 was found in!

Hundreds of volunteer man-hours and loving hands restored both units for the Open House. Fortunately, there is a video record of the restoration. The DVD, produced by Mark I video, entitled "The Diesel That Revolutionized Railroading in America" is available on the Internet. I highly recommend it. In addition to a thumbnail history of First Generation diesel power, there is a very detailed section on the repainting of the units. Working from photographs, creating computer generated stencils, they managed to fit the paint pattern to within ¼" of their original placement!

Our host, Chief of Security, was stunned at the number of rail fans and others, who crowded the grounds and overwhelmed the plant tours. He said there were dozens of cars parked in the employee parking lots overnight, filled with rail fans, anxious to be the first in the gates. Estimates of about 1,000 visitors topped off at the end of at the end of the day at 30,000!

Railroad Stuff: General Motors Demonstrator FT 103, built as a two locomotive four unit A-B+B-A combined 5,400 horsepower. Following run as General Motor's demonstration tour, became Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific (CNO&TP) as follows; EMC Road Number, Serial Number, Date Built, subsequent CNO&TP number:

EMC 103, SN 1030A, 3/39, CNO&TP 6100A

EMC 103B, SN 1030B, 3/39, CNO&TP 6100B

EMC 103A, SN 1031A, 3/39, CNO&TP 6100D

EMC 103A(B), SN 1031B, 3/39, CNO&TP 6100C

Discovering conflicting information on the disposition of "103A" and "103B" following the 1989 celebration, I picked up the phone today and verified that indeed, following the Open House, both units were returned to their respective museums where they can be found today!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

High Speed Rail Moves Forward!

Port Townsend, today. Wow! What a day in the evolution of High Speed Rail! The Lake Stevens Journal announced hours ago the release of $590M (USD) to Washington State for HSR, which officially arrived today.

In a separate, but related initiative, Amtrak, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and the Washington State Department of Transportation signed an agreement that establishes performance improvements for the Amtrak "Cascades" service.

These include how rail investments will be made based on service outcomes and passenger rail performance improvements on rail shared by freight and passenger, including on-time performance, faster travel times, and frequency of service.

And, if today's news was not exciting enough - an unexpected windfall! The State of Washington will receive an additional $161.5M (USD) in high-speed rail funds. These are the monies rejected by Republican Gov. Scott "Union Buster" Walker of Wisconsin and Republican Gov. John "Union Buster" Kasich of Ohio, who are gloating over their decision to reject the Obama Administration's offer for High Speed Rail (HSR) development.

(I must say, I have a real problem when one person can make a decision like that, which has such far reaching effects on millions of people.)

Furthermore, Washington also will make a bid for some of the $2.4 billion in high-speed rail funds that Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida turned down.

Amtrak's "Cascades" rail ridership along the I-5 corridor has been steadily increasing over the past few years, and will probably continue as the State inexorably inches toward the $5 (USD) gallon gasoline.