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.

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!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Canada Moves to Delete DOT-111 Tankers

Finally, progress is made to delete the controversial DOT-111 tank cars, which have wreaked so much havoc and destruction, transporting crude oil.

Was this the result of the National Transportation Safety Board taking action? No.

Was this a recommendation by the American Association of Railroads - nah - they represent the railroads, not the rest of us.

Was it promulgated by our "do nothing Congress." Nope.

The action was taken by our neighbors to the north!

Transport Canada.

The Honorable Minister Lisa Raitt announced last week, that by May 2017, some 78,000 DOT-111 tankers will be banned from Canada's rail network.  See Protective Direction no. 34, dated 23 April 2014.

In addition, Minister Raitt announced that within 30 days, Canada will prohibit some 5,000 older DOT-111 tank cars from transporting crude oil or ethanol in Canada.  Cars must be unloaded after that date.

These actions are a direct response to the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic Ontario, of which I wrote extensively last year.

"We understand the necessity of harmonizing with the United States on these matters," Transport Minister Lisa Raitt told reporters. "But on this one, we can move faster and we will move faster, and we want to ensure that since we're seeing this increase in crude on the rail, we want to ensure that we have the safest system in place."

The U.S. and Canadian railway associations applauded Ottawa's move, conscious of the fact that they can be liable for accidents involving unsafe cars that they haul but do not own.Since October 2011, new oil tank cars have been built to a higher standard, known as Casualty Prevention Circular 1232. The CPC 1232 standard will be the minimum requirement in Canada three years from now.

It is a criminal shame, that Regulators have known since 1991 that the DOT-111  rail car has a high propensity to rupture in derailment scenarios, comparing it to Ford's Pinto, which in the 1970s was recalled amid questions that a flawed fuel tank would catch fire in a rear-end collision.

Of the 20 cars in last Decembers Casselton South Dakota wreck, 18 cars were breached. Of 63 tank cars wrecked in Lac-Mégantic Ontario, 60 were breached.

The number of crude shipments by rail has increased by 443 percent since 2005. North Dakota accounts for much of the increase. About 75 percent of its oil heads to refineries by rail, with pipelines covering the remainder.

On April 23, Lisa Raitt announced Canada's response to the DOT-111 bomb threat. One week later, April 30th, 13 cars of a 105 car CFX freight train derailed, three cars dropping into the James River at downtown Lynchburg Virginia, dumping Bakken Crude into the water supply for 77,000 souls.

A report this weekend indicates there is a nine mile long sheen on the James River.  And there is reason to believe that heavier material contained in the crude oil, is smothering life at the accident scene. Authorities are monitoring river intakes, that supply potable water for residents.

So what regulatory action is taking place south of the border?


As usual, profit and politics trump public safety. So what's holding up action in the USA?

Judy Woodruff of the PBS NewsHour asked that of National Transportation Safety Board chairman Deborah Hersman on the Wednesday show. The NTSB, "an independent Federal agency charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident in the U.S. and significant accidents in other modes of transportation-railroad, highway, marine and pipeline" can only make recommendations to the regulators who make them.

The DOT-111 Design Problem
"Hersman attributes the problem to the "different interests" involved. We heard from the petroleum industry. We also heard from the rail industry, and we heard from the people who manufacture and own the tank cars. Everybody has got to work together to try to solve this problem."

They don't.

That means your ass is on the line if you have oil trains passing through your venue.

This is MY reality in the Pacific Northwest, as Burlington Northern Santa Fe increases Unit Oil Trains.  I do not want them in my world.  Neither BNSF, oil shippers, nor anyone in the supply chain give a flying duck as to what transpires if a derailment happens.

If it fowls the environment, like BP did in the Gulf, they simply throw money on the problem, and it "goes away."


And finally, no sympathy from Big Business should a pipe line rupture in your neighborhood.  Last week the Huffingotn Post revealed the mindset at Kinder Morgan, a pipleline company, similar to Trans Canada (re: Keystone XL).

There is at least something of a bright side to oil spills, pipeline company Kinder Morgan says. In a recent submission to the National Energy Board, the company says marine oil spills “can have both positive and negative effects on local and regional economies” thanks to the economic activity generated by cleanup operations.

“Spill response and clean-up creates business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and clean-up service providers,” the company says. The comments appear in a 15,000-page application to the NEB to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain Pipeline, which carries oil from Alberta to Port Metro Vancouver.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Oil-Electric goes Hybrid

Photo by Author
We took the plunge off the deep end of the pool, and moved to go hybrid with our computer. Here's how:

•  "C" drive, home of the Windows 7 Operating System and application programs, has been switched from a Western Digital platter drive, to a Crucial Solid State Drive, or SSD.

•  "D" drive, home of all files and documents, remains under the control of a Western Digital Caviar Black 500 GB platter drive.

Photo by Author
Solid State Drives (SSD) have been around since 2008, when Intel released its US$600, 80 GB X25-M SSD. While several manufacturers offer SSD's, I opted to go with Crucial. Crucial's parent, Micron Technology offers not only access to engineers who have been a leader in solid-state memory for many years, but also the pick of the crop when selecting NAND's for solid-state memory storage.

(NAND - Negated And or NOT AND gates. Google the term; I'm not going there!) They are the black cubes on the top and bottom of the circuit board. (I did not open the case to see what's under the hood. Several seals warn that opening the drive voids the warranty.)

And, if you really want to look deeper under the hood, this document describes the self-monitoring, analysis, and reporting technology (SMART) feature set available for the Micron M500 SSD. This is why I installed the Crucial M-500 240MB Solid State Drive.

Photo by Author
The second reason I selected Crucial is because they offer an installation kit that includes Acronis software, required for migrating data from the platen drive to the Solid State Drive. It's an migration system optimized to the Crucial SSD.

This was important for me, following a disaster several years ago when I updated my "factory" hard drives to Western Digital. In the process, I misunderstood terminology; 11 hours later, I lost all my files and documentation for the first three years of Oil-Electric, not to mention all my personal data, including photos and videos.

Acronis was the software involved in that disaster. And so it was with a great deal of fear and trembling, that I approached this chore. I must say, I am pleased to report Acronis has done a remarkable task of redesigning the migration software, in plain English, great graphics, and fail-safe warning, that I was completely successful!

Photo by Author
The next step was installing the SSD. Obviously it requires an adapter to fit the 3½" form factor.

Mounting the drive turned into an interesting adventure; the plate included with the drive was totally incompatible with my drive bay. I was directed by Crucial tekkies to this adapter made by Icy Dock. Installation was literally a snap.

Photo by Author
Photo by Author

The second part of the upgrade was replacing the operating system from Windows XP Pro to Windows 7 Home Operating System (OS).

Years ago, I went kicking and screaming from Windows NT to XP Pro, with brief encounters with  Windows Millennium and Windows Vista. I considered NT to be the best and most stable OS Microsoft had published since Windows 3 point nothing!

I spent hours reading the pros and cons about switching from XP Pro to Windows 8, rather than 7. Windows 7 is a permutation of the bloated and confused Windows Vista. Windows 8 is all about touch screen technology and new computers. I have no reason to purchase a new computer. I have no interest in gimmicky "touch screen" technology. And have no interest in computing in a cloud. I've spent just about enough making Bill Gates and Paul Allen who they are today.

I did recall the boated software code of XP Pro when it was installing ancient protocols for ASPI 1345, SCSI, and dozens of other dinosaur protocols and programs that don't even exist! (Are you still using a ZIP Drive?)

So I chose Windows 7 Home Premium. This OS is an extension of Windows Vista, which was an overbearing bloated system, staking out vast territory on the hard drive and devouring system resources to present transparent buttons and other jejune special effects.

I am about efficiency and production; graphics, photo manipulation and wordsmithing.

The next step in my system upgrade was to replace mismatched memory modules. As I look back, cost was the overwhelming factor in not correctly matching my 4GB memory. But as with the Solid State Drives, memory is much cheaper than 4 or 5 years ago.

Photo by Author

Finally, and almost fatally, I decided to spring clean my IBM Model M keyboard. I described my IBM Model M some years ago.

Accessing the innards of the keyboard revealed a disgusting accumulation of dandruff, eyelashes, hair, crumbs, and other ethereal material!

With this keyboard, the first step is the removal of key caps. But sometimes the cap and the key come off, revealing the ingenious spring technology, which made the IBM "clicky-key" keyboard revered by typists and data entry personnel for many years.

Photo by Author
They key caps were soaked in a solution of dish washing soap, whilst the plastic body and shell were scrubbed down. Without elaborating; make sure you have a diagram of key placement BEFORE you begin this adventure!

So completes the upgrade of Oil-Electrics Dell Inspiron 531S:

•  Replacement of "C" Drive platter drive with a Solid State Drive.
•  Upgrading OS from Windows XP to Windows 7.0 Home.
•  Upgrading memory modules.
•  Dismantling and cleaning of IBM Model M keyboard.

Net-net-net bottom line. Startling speed with which computer boots and Windows installs. Lightning response when working with PhotoShop Elements 10. And enhanced response of my "clicky-key" keyboard, which remains the benchmark for keyboard input technology.

I figure if this septuagenarian can handle this upgrade, anyone can!