… or loco-motives?

1. Last month Omaha-based United Pacific reported that a massive 60-acre landslide occurred on January 19th and wiped out 1,500 feet of its main UP north-south track in Western Oregon’s Coyote Mountain region. According to an official report issued at the time, repairing those damaged tracks will cost millions of dollars and require more than six weeks to complete.

According to UP, more accurate estimates couldn’t be provided because conditions in the area were so unstable. The slide was described as one of the worst natural disasters to hit the railroad’s Oregon operations in the past 40 years, and some 150 workers have been attempting to stabilize the base of the slope since the slide occurred.

More than 15 freight trains are being rerouted daily around the damaged tracks, with some trains incurring detours as far distant as Salt Lake City and delays as great as 48 hours. The disaster has forced cancellation of Amtrak’s Seattle to Los Angeles Coast Starlight service and the consequent loss of about 1,400 riders every day. Amtrak officials have expressed concern that the track closure will extend into the spring rail season when patronage typically increases.

2. A little more than a month later, Union Pacific was faced with another disaster. A 29-car derailment occurred in the desert city of Mecca about 130 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, spilling phosphoric and hydrochloric acids. The toxic chemicals turned into a toxic vapor and may have put nearby crops at risk, government officials told farmers whose crops have not been watered or tended since the derailment. A nine-square-mile area surrounding the site was evacuated, and officials said it could be several days before residents and workers could be allowed to return.

Rail traffic through the derailment site, where 2,000 feet of tracks were damaged, was being rerouted around the spill to BNSF tracks.

3. As though the U.S. doesn’t have enough problems with railroads, California’s Congressman Rohrabacher now proposes the construction of a maglev (magnetic levitation) system to carry containers from the LA/Long Beach port complex to distribution centers in the Inland Empire.

Comparing rail transport to trucking, Cong. Rohrabacher said, “The ECCO system has the potential to be less costly, with less pollution, less congestion and the system would pay for itself.” Rohrabacher did not offer financial details of the plan, however … or who would be paying for it.

[Try telling the folks in Oregon’s Coyote Mountain region, or the folks who used to commute on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, that railroads produce “less congestion”. Or try telling the folks who were evacuated from their homes in Mecca two weeks ago, or the nearby farmers whose crops were at risk and unattended, that railroads bring “less pollution”.

And “less costly”? They’ve estimated that this pipedream will cost at least $ 60 million per mile! … but in the three-year’s time it would take to get the project underway, that estimate could double.]