Friday, May 30, 2014

Phoenix Rising! Central Maine & Quebec Railway

The Phoenix was a mythical bird, a fire spirit with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet. The sacred firebird can be found in the mythologies of the Persians, Greeks, and others.

As the myth goes, the Phoenix had a 500 to 1000 year life cycle, depending on story version, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites.

Both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes. From the ashes, a reborn Phoenix rises to live again. And like the fabled Phoenix, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic rises from the ashes as the Central Maine & Québec Railway (CMQR.)

CMQR is a subsidiary of Rail Acquisition Holdings LLC (RAH). RAH is, in turn, indirectly owned and controlled by Fortress Worldwide Transportation and Infrastructure General Partnership (Fortress Worldwide), an investment fund managed by an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group LLC (Fortress Investment).[1]

On May 16th, the new management team of CM&QR began the difficult task of putting the horror of the Lac Mégantic disaster to rest, and regain trust of the residents.

Like many of our rocking chair CEO's, we raised an eyebrow when Railroad Acquisition Holdings, an affiliate of New York-based Fortress Investment Group, paid a reported $16.85million USD for the entire network.
Why would anyone purchase such a messed up plan like this, with rotten ties, screwed up rails, and declining car loads?

In an article "Journey to the end of the MM&A Railway line," the author records his observation about a section of the MM&A.

"The little bridge on the edge of Cowansville is not the rustiest on the MM&A network, and it's certainly not busy. But a photograph of the bridge, its decrepit wooden pillars sinking into the Yamaska River, has become a widely publicized symbol of how little Quebecers trust the railway.

"A hike along the muddy, sewage-contaminated river allows a layman to confirm what the image shows. Some of the wooden support beams on the bridge are so rotten saplings have sprouted from them. Two of four support structures have sunk so far they no longer touch the bridge deck. The impression from on top is hardly more reassuring. The bridge's 10-metre span creaks and shifts under the feet of a 200-pound man.

"On the tracks leading to it, about every third tie is so rotten it no longer holds a spike. In several instances, only dust remains. Not every railway tie has to be in good shape, according to Transport Canada regulations. A formula of speed, grade and curve dictates how many are required.

"A train limited to 10 miles per hour on a straight, flat track only requires five solid ties over 39 feet. If the 14 others normally found on such a stretch are falling apart, the track is still up to code. Mr. Burkhart, the MM&A head, says there's nothing to worry about - the bridge is on a branch line and "is safe for the handful of cars being handled each day."[2]

But as I studied the route map, it became clear to me .

There is great potential:

•  The MM&A upgraded its bridges to a maximum allowable carload of 286,000 lbs.
•  MM&A upgraded its track structure to Federal Railroad Administration Class 3 standards.[3]
•  There is no obstruction from Montreal to Searsport Maine, to hinder double stack container cars.
•  Most important, planning is moving forward to improve port facilities at Mack Point.

"The marine terminal at Mack Point in Searsport currently handles dry and liquid bulk, break bulk, project, and petroleum cargoes. The terminal has recently undergone a major reconstruction effort positioning it to effectively serve the needs of shippers moving product both into and out of Maine, and through the onsite rail yard of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, to provide service to the heartlands of both the US and Canada.

"In addition to Mack Point, the port of Searsport includes Sears Island. Sears Island is the largest undeveloped, uninhabited, causeway accessible, island on the eastern coast of the United States and has a parcel of land of approximately 330 acres available for development as a marine terminal.

"The Sears Island property is owned by the State of Maine, with the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) the agency responsible for the property. The Port Authority is making this offering on behalf of MaineDOT and will act as the intermediary between developers and the State of Maine. These agencies request that respondents look at the potential for development at Mack Point as a part of this process."[4]

While the plant can accommodate double stack container cars, "If a two or more berth container terminal is proposed, it would not likely be able to be accommodated at Mack Point without significant disruption and/or relocation of existing activities at the terminal.

Summary Report: Evaluation of the Build-out of Mack Point as a Container Terminal, Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, LLC and DMJM Harris, November 2008."[4]

However, there is potential for such development on undeveloped 330-acre Sears Island.[5]

Phoenix Rising. Auspicious beginning for the CM&QR. Exciting potential for growth.

It will be interesting to see how CM&QR plays the hand.

[1]  Federal Register, A Notice by the Transportation Safety Board on 02/28/2014.
[2]  The Globe & Mail, "Journey to the end of the MM&A Railway line," January 16, 2014.
[3]  49 CFR Ch. 11 (10-1-11 Edition) Part 213 - Track Safety Standards.
[4]  Request for Expressions of Interest, Port of Searsport, Access to Global Opportunity.
[5]  Searsport Harbor Improvement, US Corps of Arny Engineers.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

Memorial Day is the day we remember, we reflect, upon a loved one, friend, or acquaintance, who was killed for some obfuscated principle.  A somber day, as compared to Armed Forces Day, when we puff up our pride and display our military hardware with festive "open houses."

The acrimonious rancor running rampant in Congress and the Senate besmirch the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in the name of what was once a Grand Nation.

Shame on John Boehner and his republican cohorts. They have a shameful track record of  denying veterans everything, from new hospitals to relieve the backlog of treating damaged bodies and souls, to increasing Job Training benefits.

Remember in February, the War Mongers defeated a comprehensive Veterans Health Care & Education Program - as being too expensive!   They have no compulsion about sending our youth into harms way, and ignore the human cost of war.

On Memorial Day,  I recall a buddy, A1C (Airman First Class) William H. Pitsenbarger, known to us as "Pits." Pits was a rescue-paramedic. He was killed in Viet Nam on April 11, 1966.

Fresh out of boot camp, I was sent to my permanent duty station at Hamilton AFB in California as a 732X0, Personnel Specialist, assigned to Western Air Rescue Center (WARC).

WARC was a rescue coordination center covering the 8 western states plus Alaska.  Any incident, civilian or military, involving a missing aircraft, was coordinated through our rescue coordination center.

The rescue center ran 24/7.  It featured a massive mapping table (12'12') with topo maps covering every square inch of our coverage area,  and a telephone banks plugged into every single rescue group, bloodhound owners, and search volunteers in the eight western states!

My responsibility was to maintain personnel records of our officers and airmen in all aspects of their careers, from training, to shots, to weapons qualification, not only for the Center, but every officer and airmen stationed at our local base rescue units.

We had 14 Detachments covering the 8 western states. Each Detachment had two Kaman Huskie HH-43B rescue helicopters, standing by to support local training flights.  And in those days, activity was high.  Things were heating up in Southeast Asia.

It was a total rush watching the "Pedro" launch. The aircraft crew - pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and two aluminum suited firefighters - could be air borne in 90 seconds, poised to pick up a fire suppression kit.

We were considered a Tenant Group, on an Air Defense Command base. There was a group of Phantom F4C's, poised in alert hangers, to protecting San Francisco and environs.

And they were awesome to watch, especially when they took off in pairs, hitting afterburners right across from our office, located next to the runway! Roaring blow torches!

When we were fully staffed, there were less than three dozen of us in the building, and only a handful of us living on base. Six of us shared billet with the 41st Air Rescue Squadron. 

The field of blue represents the Sky from which our mission is accomplished, with a star for each of the Air Rescue Detachments, plus Alaska, within Western Air Rescue Center. The thunder bolt and olive branch symbolize our mission in time of war or peace, and the Airman and Space capsule; those who depend on us.

After reporting to the barracks chief for my assigned "living" space, I am struggling with my duffel bag containing my worldly possessions, when this fellow comes over to help me.

"Hi! I'm Pits!"

Turned out my bunk area was next to his. Open bay barracks were sparse; a bunk, a locker, a dresser  and a lot of roommates! Worse, I was the only one from WARC amongst the 41st Air Rescue dudes.  They were 24/7, so it took a while to learn how to sleep with mechanics coming an going all night long!  There were 4 WARC guys who had a room to themselves!

I realized Pits had been leaving the barracks when I stumbled in, but he was extremely helpful getting me established.  Then he offered to take me over to the Airman's Club for a cool one, and introduce me around.

William Pitsenbarger - "Pits" - was assigned to the 41st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron on Hamilton AFB, as an  Paramedic - Jumper (PJ) - jump and combat qualified - to be dropped in to rescue people in distress and administer top of the line first aid.

This is the Pits I remember.  Ready smile. His bunk was next to mine.

Think of PJ's as jump qualified paramedic;  medically trained, jump qualified first responders. A select group if ever there was one, rivaling the US Army Green Berets.

Our commonality was we were both under ARS - Air Rescue Service - headquartered in Orlando, Florida.

For the most part we didn't see that much of each other. The 41st running at full speed three shifts, with a full complement of mechanics and support personnel, caring for a couple of  Grumman Geese!

Pits and his fellow Pararescuemen were constantly flying training missions, preparing to send Paramedics to Viet Nam. Following a six week survival school in Panama, Pits went with one of the groups.

We had a hell of a send off party for him, and decorated his bunk area with memorabilia. It was generally speculated that Pits probably didn't sober up until he got to the Philippines!

We were a tight group. Our aircraft and pilots were constantly running rescue missions in Viet Nam, with Paramedics assigned to each mission. One day just after lunch, our Commanding Officer called us into a conference room.

In a barely audible voice he read aloud a classified message, that I had just picked up from the Western Union Message Center, notifying all Air Rescue Service Personnel that "Pits" wasn't coming home.

The message went on to explain that Pits had been killed during Operation Abilene, in Xa Cam My. Pits had been lowered on a jungle perpetrator to render medical aid to army troops.

A Capt Hal Salem was the Rescue Crew Commander of the HH-43F, (armor plated, modified jet turbine upgrade of the 43B) who placed Pits down in the midst of a fierce fire fight.

Well, there wasn't a dry eye in the building. It was painfully incomprehensible. Lives were being lost In Country daily. We saw it on the evening news with Walter Cronkite.  You got numb to it. Until you recognize a name and match it to a face, a real personality.

A1C (Airman First Class) William H. Pitsenbarger received the Air Force Cross posthumously on June 30, 1966.

Upon his return from Viet Nam, the very same Capt. Salem was assigned to us at Western Air Rescue Center as our Flying Safety Officer, responsible for training and check riding pilots and crews at our Local Base Rescue (LBR's)  in the eight western states.

We never talked about that day.

But "Pits" story didn't end there.

Some 34 years later, through the persistence of many, his award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.  It is a fascinating epoch, told in Air Force Magazine, 2001.  Ironically John Boehner, who is now screwing our troops, was instrumental in the upgrade.

On Dec. 8, 2000, the Medal of Honor was presented posthumously to A1C William H. Pitsenbarger in a ceremony at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, not far from his hometown of Piqua.

Secretary of the Air Force F. Whitten Peters presented the award, which was accepted by William F. Pitsenbarger senior and his wife Alice, on their son's behalf.

Citation to Accompany Medal of Honor

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Airman First Class Pitsenbarger distinguished himself by extreme valor on 11 April 1966 near Cam My, Republic of Vietnam, while assigned as a Pararescue Crew Member, Detachment 6, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. 

On that date, Airman Pitsenbarger was aboard a rescue helicopter responding to a call for evacuation of casualties incurred in an ongoing firefight between elements of the United States Army's 1st Infantry Division and a sizeable enemy force approximately 35 miles east of Saigon. With complete disregard for personal safety, Airman Pitsenbarger volunteered to ride a hoist more than one hundred feet through the jungle, to the ground.

On the ground, he organized and coordinated rescue efforts, cared for the wounded, prepared casualties for evacuation, and insured that the recovery operation continued in a smooth and orderly fashion. Through his personal efforts, the evacuation of the wounded was greatly expedited. As each of the nine casualties evacuated that day was recovered, Airman Pitsenbarger refused evacuation in order to get more wounded soldiers to safety. 

After several pick-ups, one of the two rescue helicopters involved in the evacuation was struck by heavy enemy ground fire and was forced to leave the scene for an emergency landing. Airman Pitsenbarger stayed behind on the ground to perform medical duties. Shortly thereafter, the area came under sniper and mortar fire. During a subsequent attempt to evacuate the site, American forces came under heavy assault by a large Viet Cong force. When the enemy launched the assault, the evacuation was called off and Airman Pitsenbarger took up arms with the besieged infantrymen. 

He courageously resisted the enemy, braving intense gunfire to gather and distribute vital ammunition to American defenders. As the battle raged on, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to care for the wounded, pull them out of the line of fire, and return fire whenever he could, during which time he was wounded three times.

Despite his wounds, he valiantly fought on, simultaneously treating as many wounded as possible. In the vicious fighting that followed, the American forces suffered 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached, and Airman Pitsenbarger was fatally wounded. Airman Pitsenbarger exposed himself to almost certain death by staying on the ground, and perished while saving the lives of wounded infantrymen. 

His bravery and determination exemplify the highest professional standards and traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Air Force.

During the same ceremony Pits was also posthumously promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant. The audience included battle survivors, hundreds of pararescue airmen, a congressional representative and the Air Force chief of staff. He is buried in Miami Memorial Park Cemetery Covington, Ohio.

His grave can be found in plot 43-D, grave #2.

"Pits" was further honored by the M/V A1C William H. Pitsenbarger, a civilian-crewed container ship operated by Red River Shipping Corporation of Rockville, Maryland, under charter to Military Sealift Command from 2001-2008.

The vessel was launched in 1983 as the Therese Delmas.

She was acquired by US Navy, 1 March 2001 from Red River Shipping Corp. of Rockville, Maryland, and placed under long term contract to the Military Sealift Command (MSC).

M/V Therese Delmas was renamed MV A1C William H. Pitsenbarger (T-AK-4638).

A pair  of F-15E Strike Eagles from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., flew over the ship on November 28, 2001,  when the ceremonial bottle of champagne was broken, officially renaming the ship.

The Pitsenbarger carried containerized ammunition for the US  Air Force.  About 720 containers fit under the deck and 135 in compartments above deck. Both cargo areas were air-conditioned and dehumidified in peculiar deck structures, to protect the ammunition.

The Pitesenbarger was returned to her owner on August 29, 2008.

Not only on Memorial Day, but whenever I recall my grand experience in the USAF, I always remember, ""Hi! I'm Pits!"

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Portland Tosses WalMart Under the Bus!

In a startling move to recognize that some businesses are not the right mix for the American Way of Life, Steve Novick, a Portland Oregon City Council member, announced last week (May 15th), the city of Portland will dump $9 million, or 25 percent, of its investments in Walmart.

This marks the beginning of a divestment program that will purge Portland's investment portfolio of $36 million in Walmart bonds by 2016.

The divestment plan is part of the city's responsible investment initiative, introduced by City Commissioner Steve Novik, and adopted in October 2013.

The initiative also prohibits the city from purchasing Walmart bonds in the future.

In his announcement, the all too familiar dirty laundry about the Wal-Mart business model, that exploits employees, while the Walton Family have more money than the average American can wrap their heads around.

Even as this news was surging through the Portland-Vancouver Metro Area, a buddy I worked with for several years at SEH  in Vancouver emailed me that his wife Tess, who has been hard core unemployed for some time, just landed a job at a newly erected Wal-Mart in Battle Ground Washington. Jim wrote:

"Next I have to confess the shame I feel as, because of our financial situation Tess is now working for Walmart. A new Walmart store has been built in Battle Ground and is set to open May 21.

" Tess said that Walmart gives a ten percent discount for employees. Sound good right? But that is only for the perishable items.

"Tess has worked for about four weeks now, 8 hrs days, to set up the store.

"This week she goes to her shift Saturday and Sunday and that is it! ALL employees are reduced to part-time, two days a week. No one except the Stupidvisor get benefits!

"Tess tell me that all the Filipinos she works with wants to quit, Tess wants to quit. One Filipino who  was a teacher in the Philippines for 20 years said, that she has never been so humiliated in her life, as to working at Walmart.

"When I read the article in the Reflector, the part were the manager said, "It so nice to be able to save the people in Battle Ground some money, so they can live a better life" just about made me gag."

I've railed for years about the inequality of the Wal-Mart business model, as their profits sky rocket year by year. In one discussion program I viewed today, the point was made that because Wal-Mart pays crumbs for pay and "games" their employees, like Tess, putting them on reduced hours, their employees actually have to supplement their lives with food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized rent.

Who picks up the tag for all those supplements?

We do!  It translates into more than $5,000 per year per TAX PAYER.

Would Wal-Mart’s prices spike if the paid their employees more?    

Watch this video to find out.

The time to "level wealth with honesty" is upon us.

Actually, leveling wealth with honesty is upon us.  The Costco Business Model has been with us for many years.  The plan places workers ahead of profits, whilst achieveing profit.

I urge you to read the Costco business model, and draw your attention to page 9 "Compensation & Workforce Practices."

It clearly demonstrates that paying folk a living wage, employees take pride in work, have less stress in dealing with health care and benefits, and high moral results in minimum turnover.  Treat people like human beings; not machines.

Look at the difference in CEO benefits. Benefits paid to Wal-Mart CEO is morally obscene when you consider the part-timer employees struggling to exist. Costco's Craig Jelinek makes a low salary by Fortune 500 CEO standard, about $650,000. While that compensation is hefty, Walmart CEO Mike Duke earned $18.1 million last year.

Who the frick is worth USD$8,653/hour?  That is the very definition of obscenity.

I am hoping that other municipalities who have investments in the repressive Wal-Mart business model, take notice of what Portland is doing and follow their lead.

Bring Goliath down!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Heading South!

Great Northern Railroad 205-206-207, Seattle, August 19, 1962. Deepening evening shadows enshroud this trio of Alco’s that have been going nowhere fast!

Originating at Interbay Yard, threading south along the Seattle waterfront, through the Duwamish Interchange, stopping for alignment through the Argo Interlocking Plant, and now finally able to pick up a little speed as they pass under the Airport Way Overpass heading south toward Tacoma.

Caternary in background supports Milwaukee's electric trains to Union Station in the far background.

Railroad stuff: GN 205, ALCo RS-2, 1,500 hp, built August 1947, sn: 75626. Full Empire Builder scheme; never subjected to the “Big Sky Blues!” Traded in 1963 for a GE U25B.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Central Maine & Quebec Plans to Resume Unit Oil Trains!

Less than a year following the rail disaster in Lac Mégantic, Quebec, yesterdays headline on the Concord Monitor sends a chilling message, "CEO hopes town where 47 died will okay oil trains."

"John Giles, president and CEO of Central Maine and Quebec Railway, said he hopes to have an agreement with Lac-Mégantic officials within 10 days that would allow the railroad to ship nonhazardous goods, restoring the vital link between the railroad's operations to the east and west of the community.

"The company plans to spend $10 million on rail improvements in Canada over the next two years with a goal of resuming oil shipments in 18 months.

"In the interest of safety, and I think being sensitive toward a social contract with Lac Mégantic, we have chosen not to handle crude oil and dangerous goods through the city until we've got the railroad infrastructure improved, and made more reliable."

And how do the residents of Lac Mégantic react to this stunning revelation? 

"People are still in distress, in pain, facing financial problems and we're talking about the train company starting up," the owner of the Musi-Cafe told The Canadian Press on Friday.

Musi-Cafe was adjacent to the explosion, resulting in the deaths of several patrons.

The devastated section of the town still smells of Bakken Crude.

"We're still in survival mode, we have no revenue." Gagne said he and others in  continue to struggle to survive. "I find it deplorable that we're surviving with the help of the Red Cross, with small amounts every week."

Gagne also said residents will be very angry when they find out the new railway is already talking about moving tankers through the town again.

Thursday afternoon (May 15) paperwork was completed for the new Central Maine & Québec Railway (CMQ) to take over the U.S. operations of the bankrupt Montréal, Maine & Atlantic.

The new railroad says that it will use two-person crews on all trains. Montreal Maine & Atlantic (MM&A) operated with just an engineer, who conducted switch moves with a remote control package.

A fleet second-hand leased EMD SD40-2s and GP20s will replace MMAs second-hand General Electric power.

Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, who recently signed the death warrant for DOT-111 tank cars, pointed out that her department was not involved in the agreement between Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway and Lac Mégantic.

"I continue to follow this matter very closely," she wrote in an email. "As this is a matter between a private company and the municipality, it would be inappropriate to comment further."

By the way, has anyone seen Ed Burkhardt around lately?


Today marks the 34th anniversary of the day 1 square mile of BNSF property went up - in ash!