News Briefs - May, 2004

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UTU members ratify CN agreement on former GTW...

CN announced today the ratification of a new labor contract by 325 members of the United Transportation Union (UTU) who work on the company’s former Grand Trunk Western (GTW) territory.  In contrast with traditional mileage- and rule-based wage systems dating back to the steam locomotive era, the new labor agreement stipulates hourly wages, job security and more flexible work rules for the UTU- represented brakemen and conductors.  With this contract ratification, approximately 2,300 of CN’s train and engine employees in the United States are now covered by hourly-rated agreements.  The GTW’s main line between Chicago and Port Huron, Mich., is a key link in CN’s corridor between the U.S. Midwest, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces.

Hobbyist or Terrorist...

Every lunch hour, computer programmer John Almeida leaves his cubicle at an insurance company outside Philadelphia and chases trains. He sets up four video cameras on tripods beside the tracks and waits, listening to his scanner. "I come out every day because history happens every day," he says. Almeida, a father of three, is a railfan — a hobbyist who watches trains with the fastidiousness of a lab researcher. Over the past 15 years, he has shot hundreds of hours of video and tens of thousands of pictures. Call it what you will, it is hard to think of a more benign hobby.

So it is all the more jarring when Almeida gets mistaken for a terrorist — which happens about once a month, sometimes more. Since 9/11, he says, he has been followed by an Amtrak helicopter, questioned by police and rail workers and described to 911 dispatch as a "suspicious Middle Eastern male." Almeida is of Irish Catholic descent.

Many hobbies, when considered closely, make no sense (spoon collecting, anyone?). But then there is railfanning, which even its disciples are hard put to explain. There are about 175,000 U.S. railfans, almost all men, estimates Kevin Keefe of Trains magazine. They have clubs, websites and vacation excursions. They are, like all hobbyists, consumed by the cataloging of minutiae. "They're just attracted to trains," says John Bromley, spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad, who admits halfway through our conversation that he too is a railfan.

But the postindustrial age has been tough on railfans. First the majestic steam locomotives disappeared. Then juries started giving huge awards to people hurt on the tracks, and railroads grew hostile toward trespassers.  Now comes terrorism. Railroads upped security after 9/11, but since the March bombing of four trains in Madrid, commuters have been more worried. "Anyone seen taking photographs is going to be questioned," laments Richard Maloney, spokesman for SEPTA, Philadelphia's public-transit authority. "The wide-open spaces and the freedom we have enjoyed to meander almost anywhere is gone." Urban train buffs report being surrounded by police cars and customs agents. A Haverford College student of South Asian descent was detained last year by SEPTA police after he photographed a station — homework for an urban-history class, as it turned out.

Most railfans find ways to adapt. Some substitute business-casual attire for the usual Slayer T shirt to appear less threatening. Others carry the Diesel Spotters Guide — or their kids — to establish their innocence. As for Almeida, "I make a lot more eye contact," he says.  Then he offers his card, which lists his railfan-club affiliations. He estimates that he has given out 500 cards since 9/11. Usually, the matter is quickly resolved. "I have a little A.C.L.U. in me," he admits.  "So I say, 'Why can't I stay?' But the cop is the one with the gun."

Railfans have never been well understood. Rail employees call them trolley jollies, or foamers — for those who foam at the mouth at the sight of trains. Worst of all are FLMs: fans living with mothers.  Almeida is aware of the snickering. But the history of the trains — not to mention the sheer thrill of a massive contraption hurtling down the tracks — is stronger than peer pressure. Earlier this spring, Almeida, 42, spent five hours in the cold, hoping to videotape the Ringling Bros.  circus train, which never came. While waiting, he lovingly pointed out the faded markings of long-defunct railroads on passing trains. "Railroads built this country, and people seem to forget that," he said, raindrops coating his oversize glasses. Almeida tries to find humor in the new age of scrutiny. Says Bob Weiler, a fellow railfan: "John's got four cameras. No terrorist would do that." "Unless," says Almeida, "I was brilliant."

Hearing a horn in the distance, the men abandon their graham-cracker snacks and scurry off to man the cameras. A hush falls over the fans as a trash train, hauling a wall of Dumpsters to New York City, rumbles by.  Almeida smiles and afterward offers his best defense yet: "I could find better things to do. It's just that, uh, I'm doing this."  From Time Magazine.

Little River Railroad resumes operation this summer...

The Little River Railroad is active again in 2004.  Instead of the 110, they will run No. 1, a 0-4-0 tank engine acquired in 2000 and two years in restoration.  Runs will be made in White Pigeon on a industrial siding - less than a mile long - owned by Gordon Morris near Miller Dr. First run may be as early as May 30th.  They are also looking to do an Engineer For An Hour Program for $100.00.  From Dave Williamson.

Amtrak Pere Marquette delay...

Westbound Pere Marquette, Train 371(16MAY) with AMTK 102 was stopped at West Grandville on the CSX Grand Rapids Sub after bottoming out on a grade crossing, bending the engine's plow underneath.  CSX Mechanical had to respond to the scene and torch the plow.  Delay 1 hr 40 min.  From Mark Tomlonson.

Railroad History Conference set...

The 8th Michigan Railroad History Conference is scheduled for Saturday, October 2, 2004, at the Quality Inn on US 2 west of St. Ignace, MI, with an afterglow at the former Michigan Central station at Mackinaw Crossing in Mackinaw City, MI. On Friday, October 1st and on Sunday, October 3rd, field trips to area railroad sites are scheduled. The Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Division of the Soo Line Historical and Technical Society will co-host and also provide activities to their members. The focus of the MRHC presentations is the railroads of the Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Northern Lower Peninsula.   Future conference updates will be posted in the Calendar of Events www.MichiganRailroads.com and on www.geocities.com/gjdegowski. Contact Chairperson Carl Bajema at bajemacarl@comcast.net or Co-Chairperson Gregory J. Degowski at gjdegowski@comcast.net for further information.

LSRC to purhcase new power...

The Lake State Railway Company of Tawas, MI, shortline operator of the former Detroit and Mackinac Railroad in northern Michigan is purchasing a total of 6 "new" locomotives. The locomotives are 4 MLW M420s from the Ohio Central railroad and 2 other Alco / MLWs that could be fixed up or used as parts. This was initiated by an already existing power shortage, increased buisiness, and the retirement of C420 #976 which unfortunately suffered a fire on February 21st 2004 rendering it scrap. It is good to see expansion on the LSRC and it will be interesting to see how the Lake State uses their new power.  From Michael Koprowicz.

NRHS Bluewater Chapter News...

The Bluewater business office is being moved from the current location in Royal Oak and will be established at a new location, to be announced soon.  The Royal Oak office was established in the early 1980's.  Blue water members who would like to help organize the move should contact Dave Williamson to offer your assistance.  From Bob Thatcher, President.

NS exhibit car to visit 18 communities...

NORFOLK, VA - The Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC) Exhibit Car will travel the company's rail network from Alabama to Ontario in 2004, making stops in 18 communities where it will be open to the public. The car will appear for community events in 11 states and the Canadian province. It also will be in a special five-city whistle-stop train operated by NS to promote safe transportation of hazardous materials.  The Exhibit Car is a rebuilt passenger rail car with displays depicting the history and modern operation of the Norfolk Southern transportation system. A locomotive simulator, the car's most popular display, puts guests in the engineer's seat in control of throttle, brake and horn. Some 1.5 million people in more than 350 communities have viewed the traveling showcase since 1971. The car began its 2004 tour with stops at Opelika, Ala., and Spencer, N.C. Here is the schedule through the end of the year.
- May 15, 16 - Strasburg, Va., Mayfest
- May 29 - Valdese, N.C., Centennial Celebration
- June 11-13 - Altoona, Pa., Railroaders Appreciation Days
- July 1-5 - Waverly, N.Y., 150th Anniversary
- July 16, 17 - Williamson, W.Va., Rail Fest
- July 31 - Frankfort, Ind., Hot Dog Festival
- Aug. 28, 29 - St. Thomas, Ontario, Railway Heritage Weekend
- Sept. 11, 12 - Hazleton, Pa., Funfest
- Sept. 18-26 - Strasburg, Pa., Thomas the Tank Engine at Strasburg Railroad
- Oct. 8-15 - TRANSCAER Whistle-Stop Tour: Decatur, Ill.; St. Louis, Mo.; Princeton, Ind.; Louisville and Danville, Ky.
- Nov. 13 - Charlotte, N.C., Boy Scout Railroad Day
- Dec. 5 - Millen, Ga., Christmas in Millen
Norfolk Southern provides the Exhibit Car at no cost for community events throughout its rail transportation network.  Requests for the car for 2005 can be made through the Norfolk Southern Web site at www.nscorp.com. Click on "About NS," then "Exhibit Car."

Up to 150 railroad jobs to be eliminated in Battle Creek...

KALAMAZOO (NEWS 3) - The Canadian National Railroad is shutting down most of it's Battle Creek operations. As many as 150 people will either be transferred or laid off.  Supervisors began telling Canadian National employees this afternoon that the exact number of layoffs isn't known but the railroad company is shutting down most of it's Battle Creek facility.  A company spokesperson said most operations would be shut down as quickly as possible.  Employees say they had no warning. Those with enough seniority may be able to transfer. Others will be out of a job within days.  City officials say the company did not warn them.  Mayor Godfrey said the wished the company "had the courtesy" to notify them before it became public. The union is in the midst of a contract vote.

Norfolk Southern CEO urges end to Conrail oversight...

NORFOLK, VA - Noting that "the Conrail transaction has been a success," Norfolk Southern CEO David R. Goode today urged the Surface Transportation Board not to extend its formal regulatory oversight period.  "The history of the past five years shows how the transaction has lived up to the board's expectations," Goode testified during a hearing in Washington. "Perhaps most importantly, the transaction resulted in two competitively balanced rail systems serving the eastern United States. In addition, of course, the transaction has created vigorous new rail-to-rail competition throughout the former Conrail territory," benefiting shippers and communities, he said.  "No party has demonstrated any transactional or other issues that warrant extending the formal oversight period beyond its five-year term," Goode said. "We therefore request that the board not extend its formal oversight and the periodic reporting requirements that go along with it."  Norfolk Southern and CSX began operating their respective portions of the former Conrail system on June 1, 1999. In approving the transaction, the STB mandated a five-year formal oversight period, which would make 2004 the final year.  From Norfolk Southern.

Steam Railroading Institute Visitor Center Grand Opening...

The Steam Railroading Institute's new Visitor's Center will open on June 12th and 13th, 2004 at 405 South Washington Street, Owosso.  Hours are Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sunday, Noon to 4:00 p.m.  For further information, click on http://www.mstrp.com/GrandOpening.pdf.

 

 

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