News of the Delmarva Model Railroad Club
Matt Schramm, Editor
Next MeetingThe next meeting will be held on Wednesday, January 6, 2009 in the Club meeting room.
Well, the first two weekends of Open House are behind us and a huge THANK YOU goes out to all those who helped make it a success. John Steplowski called today to tell me that the grand total received was $ 2871.95. That will be a real help towards our mounting expenses to keep the Club functional.. It would be difficult to thank everyone personally who helped make this program go over so well but I do think an extra thanks should go to Matt Schramm and Tim Burlingame for all their work around the building. Also to Greg Coughlin and family, Ed ( the Conductor ) Stogran, Pete Genero for the white elephant table and Mary Deeter for her help at the door.
Thanks also to all of our Engineers, while it starts out being a lot of fun, it can also wear you down after 3000 trips around the layout. I know I was running my train Westbound all day Saturday and Jeff told me I would have to go Eastbound on Sunday just to unwind. We have two more weekends to go and if anyone has any suggestions for changes or improvements, don’t hesitate to bring them up. Again, thanks for everyone’s help and I think I’m looking forward to the next two events.
Mail vs E-mailWith the cost of postage going up 2 cents on the 11th of May, I would like to make a plea to all the snail-mailers that if you can get an e-mail account, it would definitely help the club. Right now it costs roughly $250.00 per year for postage, ink, and paper to get the snail mail editions out. If any of you can get the newsletter emailed to you, it would cut down on these costs.Jeff
Timetable Special EditionMatt Schramm, EditorWith 2009 being the 25th anniversary of the club, we are planning on a special edition of the newsletter for March. It will contain ONLY club history items. If anyone has any pictures or stories of the last 25 years, please send them to me at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.Layout NewsAll groups report things are progressing smoothly on all the layouts.
License Plate FramesThese fit over an automobile license plate. Available in Black or Chrome. The top has “Delmar,Delaware” engraved on it, the bottom has“Delmarva Model Railroad Club”. Price for members $15.00, non-members $20.00. Custom orders are accepted.Club ShirtsBill Shehan is accepting orders for club shirts. Two styles are available and come in sizes Small to 4XL.Styles, Sizes and Prices are:Golf Shirts (Short Sleeve Only)S, M, L, XL $22.752XL $26.253XL $28.754XL $31.25Broad Cloth (Long and Short Sleeve)S, M, L, XL $25.002XL $27.503XL $30.004XL $32.50
News From the Rails
Ethanol Terminal Opens on Union Pacific Line
Facility to meet demand as California hikes fuel blend to 10 percent
Ethanol terminal operator U.S. Development Group said its West Colton Rail Terminal at Rialto, Calif., has started handling ethanol railcars from Union Pacific Railroad.
The facility is near gasoline blending terminals that supply California’s San Bernardino and Riverside County-Inland Empire region, plus San Diego and Bakersfield.
USDG Vice President Larry Padfield said the terminal “represents a key addition to the nationwide network of logistics terminals” the company has developed, which include major ethanol hub facilities in Linden, N.J., Baltimore, Dallas and Houston.
West Colton can receive volumes from single railcars to full unit trains, and can offload 15,000 barrels of ethanol a day. USDG said it completed the facility “in time to meet the increase in ethanol demand in California resulting from the January 2010 increase to a 10 percent ethanol blend across the state.”
Future development plans there include putting in a 100-railcar unit train receiving and offloading terminal to be completed by this time next year. The company also said it will eliminate much of its current need for secondary, onsite trucking operations by building a pipeline to a nearby dedicated ethanol storage and gasoline operation.
Fast Trains Lead Amtrak List of Needs
Amtrak has been working hard to lure more business travelers to its trains, with advertisements highlighting its advantages over air travel — roomier seats, power outlets on its Acela trains and fewer annoyances.
And its efforts have borne some fruit: the number of riders on its Northeast corridor trains has been rising.
But faster trains are critical to its future. So while Amtrak got some desperately needed financing from the federal government this year, its forecasts suggest that speedier rail travel in the United States remains a daunting challenge.
For the Northeast corridor alone, Amtrak estimates that it will need almost $700 million annually for the next 15 years to maintain the system and to tackle a backlog of maintenance projects and upgrades. Reducing travel times between New York and Washington to two-and-a-half hours and times between New York and Boston to three hours — goals that were established in the 1970s — will require straighter track, improvements to bridges and tunnels, increased capacity through Manhattan and newer trains, among other investments.
Almost all of Amtrak’s lines fail to make money, with a total loss of $1.1 billion in 2008. Even technology enhancements seem to move at a slow pace: developing a new electronic reservation system is expected to take until 2015.
Still, Amtrak officials are more optimistic now than they have been in a long time. “We’re probably in the best position to move forward to get the things done we want to get done and that the government wants us to get done,” said David Lim, Amtrak’s chief marketing officer. “We have an administration that is supportive of rail.”
One of the biggest changes for Amtrak is that after years of bare-bones annual financing that limited the railroad’s ability to make significant upgrades, Congress approved a five-year authorization in 2008 that allocates the system nearly $2 billion a year.
Although the money still needs to be appropriated every year, Mr. Lim said, “the fact that there’s a five-year plan makes a tremendous difference. Asking the government for your annual subsidy obviously makes it difficult to plan and execute capital projects.”
In addition, the economic stimulus package approved by Congress early this year provided $1.3 billion to supplement Amtrak’s capital budget and $8 billion in grants for intercity service and high-speed passenger rail. While those amounts will not go far in developing the bullet trains that operate in Europe and Asia and will probably be distributed among projects throughout the country, Amtrak officials say they view the investment as an important policy shift.
There are also signs that passengers are increasingly embracing trains. The number of Amtrak riders has increased steadily since 2001, surpassing 28 million in 2008, though a dip is expected this year because of the recession.
Amtrak estimates it carried 63 percent of travelers flying or taking the train between New York and Washington in 2008 — an increase from 37 percent before the Acela service began in 2000. Amtrak’s market share between New York and Boston was 49 percent last year, compared with 20 percent before Acela.
Amtrak hopes to push those numbers even higher, Mr. Lim said. The railroad plans to introduce free Wi-Fi service on all Acela trains in the second quarter of 2010, then add Northeast regional trains later in the year.
The ability to work on the train is one of the reasons Brian Silengo says he rides Amtrak for his weekly trips to New York from Washington. He uses a cellular wireless card to get Internet access, but as a sales executive for an interactive marketing agency, he mostly values the Acela trains’ reliability.
“They’re very good at getting you where you need to be on time,” he said.
Although he said he would like to see the trains travel at faster speeds, a more important item on his Amtrak wish list is making the process for ticket changes and refunds easier.
With future improvements to the reservation system, Amtrak plans to allow customers to make ticket changes online, and possibly allow passengers to print boarding passes at home. Mr. Lim said the latter option is more challenging because conductors would have to carry ticket scanners.
Another challenge for Amtrak is to price its fares competitively, yet find a way to improve its financial performance. An analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ project Subsidyscope calculated that 41 of Amtrak’s 44 routes lost money last year. The average loss was $32 a passenger, though the Acela Express line earned $41 a passenger, suggesting that faster trains are crucial to profitability, according to the data.
“The Acela, of course, is the moneymaker,” said Marcus Peacock, project director for Subsidyscope. “And that’s the closest thing we have to high-speed rail right now.”
Amtrak’s Acela fares between New York and Washington range from $133 to $221 one-way, compared with $49 to $139 for the slower Northeast regional train. Advance-purchase airfares for the same route can be $150 roundtrip, an important consideration for travelers.
“Our clients look at the price,” said Dave Kilduff, senior director of ground transportation for Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a travel management company, though he added that service and travel time are important, too, and that many travelers are surprised by their experience with the train.
“Once they try it, they see it’s much more pleasant than they expected,” he said. “The faster they go, the more people will get on them.”
But to achieve those speeds, and turn Amtrak’s blueprints into reality, some industry experts say what is needed is a broader transportation strategy rather than separate approaches to air, highway and rail travel.
“The United States doesn’t really have an integrated transportation plan,” said Robert L. Crandall, the former chairman of the AMR Corporation, the parent of American Airlines. He recently participated in a Transportation Department forum on the aviation industry.
“What is needed is some kind of overall plan, and it has to be done by the government,” he said
BNSF wants monopoly suit heard in federal court
BNSF Railway and state officials are engaged in a legal skirmish over whether a shipping monopoly lawsuit should be heard in federal or state court — a disagreement that could have far-reaching consequences for grain farmers in central Montana's Golden Triangle.
The dispute centers on the 87-mile Geraldine Line near Lewistown. For years, Central Montana Railroad has battled in federal court to force Texas-based BNSF to make payments for the line under a 1984 agreement.
After Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock last month stepped in and tried to move the matter to state District Court in Fergus County, BNSF balked.
BNSF — the country's second-largest railroad — accuses the state of "shopping" for a favorable venue.
A decision over which court has jurisdiction is pending before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong in Great Falls.
State attorneys say that if BNSF wins, Central Montana could go out of business and farmers in Cascade, Chouteau, Fergus and Judith Basin counties would have to drive long distances to unload their grain.
That would put new pressures on Montana's agriculture industry at a time when high fuel costs and widely fluctuating grain prices already are causing a strain.
In court documents filed Dec. 21, attorneys for the state asked Strong to remand the case to the state court.
But after consistently getting its way in federal court, BNSF is eager to block the move.
BNSF says the state is engaged in a transparent ploy to subvert federal authority. They point out that the grievances filed by the state are largely the same as complaints Central Montana Railroad unsuccessfully pursued in federal court.
"The new lawsuit is merely a tactic by (Central Montana) and the state to elude the federal forum and undermine rulings by this (federal) court," BNSF attorney Matthew Hayhurst wrote.
BNSF's payments to Central Montana under the 1984 agreement at one point were worth about $1 million annually. After an arbitration panel ruled that BNSF could back out of the agreement, the payments ceased this fall.
The state also claims BNSF has unfairly subsidized construction of a rail loop in Moccasin to give preference to a private unloading facility that competed with Central Montana.
In recent months, traffic along the Geraldine Line has dropped sharply — from about 1,150 carloads a year on average to just over 500 in 2009.