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WHRC RAIL NEWS PAGES

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Welcome to the WHRC's Rail News Pages.

Here is a listing of current railroad related new events form Wisconsin and around the Midwest. These pages will be updated as stories come in. If you have any railroad related news items of interest, please e-mail the webmaster.

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January 11, 2000

Train Collides With Snow Plow

WC train T347-09 collided with a municipal snow plow about three miles west of Stone Lake, WI shortly before 0900 today.

The crew noticed a bright orange single-axle Ford dump truck with plow and wing working precariously close to the south rail at Lake Road, near MP 391.7. Attempting to alert the driver, a generous sounding of horn and bell ensued.

The truck continued to make short back-and-forth movements with the plow still fouling the track. It remains unknown whether the truck was stuck or having difficulty getting off the track. It is also not certain whether or not the driver ever saw the train as a result of the angle the truck was positioned on the roadway.

Upon impact, the dump body was torn from the chassis and tossed 70 to 80 feet from the roadway. The auger at the rear of the body was impaled above the drawbar on the lead unit, CN5454. The plow was ripped away and flipped 180-degrees. The cab and chassis ended up in the ditch.

The engine, still running, had been broken from the mounts and was sitting atop the front axle. The driver was tossed to the passenger side of the cab. He was conscious when the conductor arrived on the scene, and looked as though his forehead and windshield made contact. He was transported by ambulance to the hospital in Hayward and later flown to Duluth according to authorities at the site. No update on his condition was available at this writing.

The locomotive sustained frontal damage as a result of the near-50-mph impact. Right-hand m.u. air hoses and ditch light were broken off. Front grab rail was bent back to the nose. Pin lifter and uncoupling lever were also rendered out of commission.

In all, rather insignificant-looking compared to the totalled, 3000-mile old snow plow.


Thompson Bullish On Amtrak Here

By Steve Wideman Post-Crescent staff writer - MADISON

Amtrak passenger train service could return to the Fox Valley and Green Bay as early as 2004, three years before the state Department of Transportation estimates, according to Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Thompson, who also chairs the Amtrak board, said the dawn of a new millennium is bringing with it renewed interest in passenger rail service not only in Wisconsin, but also across the country. "There is a newfound fascination with passenger rail service. I've given speeches all over the country and found that people are really thirsty to get rail passenger service," Thompson said. "They are excited about it. They want it and believe in it."

Thompson said Amtrak is on the verge of kicking off high-speed rail service in the busy Northeast Corridor connecting New York, Washington and Boston. "That is going to be the catalyst for other parts of the country to say if New York can have it, why can't they," he said. Thompson said those desires will move timetables up to return passenger rail service to the Fox Valley and Madison.

Driving the enthusiasm in Wisconsin is the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, a nine-state collaboration with Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration exploring establishment of a 3,000-mile system of high-speed service connecting key cities, including Green Bay, the Fox Valley and Madison with Milwaukee, Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Thompson said he is in the right place at the right time to give the Midwest "a chance to accomplish something major." Preliminary recommendations for the Midwest Rail Initiative were released Dec. 24. A final report is due by Dec. 31, 2001.

DOT spokesman Randall Wade said the Governor's Blue Ribbon Commission unanimously endorsed the report and indicated the state should go ahead with implementing the process to establish service between Madison and Milwaukee. "The initial focus will be to obtain the appropriate state and federal funding," Wade said.

Wade said the plan adopted by the Blue Ribbon Commission still calls for passenger rail service to return to the Fox Valley and Green Bay in 2007. Thompson said he is optimistic passenger service between Green Bay and Milwaukee could return as early as 2004. Wade said a study is continuing on whether Green Bay to Milwaukee passenger service would allow trains speeds of 79 or 110 mph.

Thompson said California Sens. Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are ready to push for more Amtrak investment in that state. "I have the opportunity, as chairman of the Amtrak Board, to say that's fine, but we ought to stop in Chicago first," Thompson said. Chicago, historically a hub in the national network of passenger and freight railroads, will continue its role under the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative in Wisconsin.

There are four primary segments of the initiative located in the state. Milwaukee to Madison service is projected to start in 2003 with up to 10 round trips daily. Trains will travel 110 mph and take 67 minutes to complete a one-way trip, which will cost from $19 to $33. Service between Madison and Minneapolis-St. Paul is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2005 with six daily round trips at a cost of $21 to $35.

DOT projections currently have Amtrak extending service to Green Bay and the Fox Valley in 2007 with five daily round trips. Trains will initially travel at 79 mph on the 2-hour journey. One-way fare is projected at $21 to $35. An upgrade in service between Milwaukee and Chicago will be completed by 2009, allowing trains to travel 110 mph. The 65-minute trip will cost between $21 and $35. That means train travelers making the round trip from Green Bay to Chicago would pay $84 to $140. Wade said that travel times compare favorably with downtown to downtown automobile travel times. He said the proposed system represents the best opportunity to compete with automobile and air travel in the region.

In addition, Thompson said expanding passenger rail service will help the environment, provide mobility to elderly and students who cannot or choose not to drive and provide high speed transportation to communities underserved by air, including Fond du Lac, Portage, Wisconsin Dells and Tomah.

On Nov. 18, Thompson announced the signing of a $2.5 million contract for the study of high-speed rail between Madison and Milwaukee. Thompson said the preliminary engineering study will determine improvements required for 110 mph, high- speed passenger rail service from Madison to Milwaukee in the Canadian Pacific Railway corridor. The corridor is part of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative covering Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin. Amtrak will pick up 80 percent of the project's $3.5 billion cost.

Amtrak is under a congressional mandate to become self-sufficient by fiscal year 2003. Amtrak lost $970 million in it most recent fiscal year, although ridership grew by 2 percent. Thompson said expanded Amtrak service is also likely to provide economic boosts to dozen of communities via the construction of stations that can play a key role in local development.

Growth is also anticipated to increase in intermodal access to train travel, including taxis, buses, commuter rail, pedestrian and bike access. Maximizing ridership will include establishment of feeder bus routes.

Current plans call for five routes:

* Manitowoc to Sheboygan to Milwaukee.
* Door County to Green Bay.
* Marinette to Green Bay.
* Rhinelander, Wausau, Stevens Point to Oshkosh.
* Eau Claire to Tomah.

Expanded passenger service will not come cheaply. Infrastructure costs within Wisconsin alone are estimated to top $495 million.

In addition, the state is looking at purchasing 14 train sets for upwards of $131 million, making the total price tag for expanded service in Wisconsin at least $626 million. State officials hope the federal government picks up 80 percent of the capital costs, which would leave Wisconsin with a $125 million bill for expanded service.

Federal Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead has cautioned Amtrak not to rush into new routes until it is certain they will operate successfully. Amtrak is under a congressional mandate to operate self-sufficiently by 2001.

The annual ridership estimate for the Wisconsin system in 2004 is 750,000. That number is anticipated to increase to 3.19 million by 2010. Ridership is projected to jump by only 97,000 riders when the Milwaukee to Green Bay route kicks in. That is under 2,000 riders on a weekly basis. At a cost of $70 per round trip that means just $140,000 in revenues for an operation expected to cost millions of dollars.

Thompson said Amtrak has no illusion about passengers paying the entire bill for operations. "Passengers will never be able to do it. Passengers never did. Even in the 1940s and '50s it was always freight that helped subsidize passenger travel," he said. Thompson said Amtrak will have to depend on overnight mail and parcel service along with a new venture into hauling refrigerated commodities to make the ends meet for expanded rail service.

Nationwide in 1998, Amtrak brought in more than $100 million associated with overnight express, Thompson said. "And shipping refrigerated goods is an $8 billion business. Most of the truckers are trying to get out of it and so are the railroads," he said. "Amtrak trains are on such a tight schedule we may be just the right thing to haul refrigerated produce." But despite hauling the mail and a portion of the nation's food supply, the state will be expected to provide funding for future Amtrak operations.

Sandra Beaupre of the DOT's Office of Policy and Budget said the state must find hundreds of millions of dollars to make expanded passenger service a reality. She said the DOT operates with a "structural imbalance" in which the state is not collecting enough money to pay for existing DOT programs. Beaupre said that several years ago the DOT had a fund balance of $10 million to take care of annual funding shortfalls.

By the end of fiscal year 2001 that fund is projected to stand at $322,200 without any pressure to provide funding for expanded Amtrak service. Thompson said Wisconsin is working with Minnesota and Illinois on a cost-sharing agreement regarding the purchase of train engines and passenger cars. "We are trying to put together specifications to we can seek bids and then see whether or not we can afford it," he said. "I hope we can do it. It would be the first time ever that three states got together to buy rolling stock. If we can do that I and fairly confident the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative can become a reality.

" Local government will also play a critical role in seeing the successful expansion of Amtrak Service Thompson said. But local politicians will likely be under pressure from constituents because of the need to close or improve 308 public and 132 private crossing in the state to make safe, high-speed rail possible. Installation of crossing gates carries a minimum price tag of $100,000. The Midwest Rail Initiative's stated goal is to close 3 to 5 percent of the affected crossings each year through the implementation period.

But closing a crossing is typically a politically-charged decision that can be drawn out over months. "You can't do anything without local cooperation," Thompson said. "If the locals don't want passenger rail service and are not willing to make the crossing closures, you will not have an efficient rail passenger system. It all goes hand-in-hand."

Thompson said people can play the devil's advocate and line up problems that could derail plan to expand Amtrak service in the state. "What I feel is that with some enthusiasm for passenger rail service we can overcome the difficulties. But if, in fact, local communities will not cooperate as far as upgrading stations or subsidizing passenger service this is all a non-starter. But from all our studies there are pretty good indications people want it."


Saturday, January 8th, 2000

Propane Truck Driver Killed When Struck By WC Train

The driver of a propane tanker was killed when the truck he was driving crossed the path of a train. The man who died Saturday afternoon when the truck he was driving struck a train in the Town of Kaukauna has been identified as Robert Bruce Bergner. Outagamie County officials said Bergner was driving a propane truck south on County U near Wrightstown about 2:20 p.m. when he pulled in front of an eastbound Wisconsin Central train that was being operated by David Snyder, 47 of Van Dyne. This happened in Wisconsin Central's Fox Valley ( ex C&NW to Green Bay, WI ) The impact tore the Cenex Land O' Lakes truck in half and threw Bergner from the vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The area was evacuated, due to the fact the tank was severed. Fortunately the tank was nearly empty. The Appleton Hasmat team was however called in to access the situation.

The crossing is well marked and is protected by stop signs. The Engineer stated the truck just came onto the crossing, without warning. The Engineer put train into emergency braking. Crew was shaken up, but not injured.

This is the same section of track that has had collisions near Kaukauna, and Appleton within the past several weeks. Track speed is 45 mph, recently upgraded and in process of having CTC installed. This is the much favored route to Green Bay and UP than Soo Line Ex Shawno Sub, which was recently severed.


Thursday January 6 1:23 PM ET

Amtrak Train Derails in Montana ESSEX, Mont.

(AP) - A locomotive and three cars of a Chicago-to-Seattle Amtrak train derailed Thursday as the train prepared to stop at this northwestern Montana settlement. No one was injured. Amtrak spokesman Kevin Johnson described the derailment of the Empire Builder train as minor. The locomotive and the derailed cars remained upright, and use of the tracks was likely to resume by midday, said Gus Melonas, a spokesman for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. The derailed cars included the diner and baggage cars and an auxiliary unit that carried no passengers. Johnson said passengers would resume the trip in the cars that did not derail, but there would be a delay of at least a couple of hours.


Wednesday January 5th, 2000

Future of the Sauk City Bridge

The story about the Sauk City Bridge continues. Because the future of the Badger Army Ammunition Plant is in question and the debate over other local issues, it will be interesting to see what will happen to the rail line in Sauk and Northwestern Dane Counties in Wisconsin. Below are some updates on the situation.


From the August 6, 1999 minutes of the Wisconsin River Transit Commission

Item # 6

The commission reviewed the study completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers entitled, "Railroad Bridge Across the Wisconsin River At Sauk City, Wisconsin." Information regarding the Corp's recommended option regarding improvements to the general area of the river around the bridge was provided to the commission and discussed.

T. Wildenborg stated that the Corps would likely be willing to meet with the commission and the WDOT to review the study so that we have a better understanding of how the study was conducted and how the recommended option was developed. It was discussed that the next step in the process would be to have cost estimates and specification developed for both the repairs to the bridge and the Corps of Engineers recommended work.

T. Wildenborg stated that an engineering study to do this would cost approximately $75,000. The local 20% match would be $15,000.

V. Kasper, Chair of the Pink Lady Rail Transit Commission supports repair of the Sauk City bridge. They feel it's important to preserve the alternative bridge crossing for shippers in the Reedsburg/Baraboo area, and for service to the Badger Army Ammunitions Plant.

B. Meighan noted that the WSOR has insurance on the Sauk City Bridge, which may cover much of the cost of repair. He added that the insurance would only cover the cost of repairing the bridge. It would not cover any improvements to the bridge, or any of the work the Corps of Engineers is recommending.

Meighan noted that the WSOR would like to see the engineering study completed so that they would have a cost estimate to submit to the insurance company. He added, however, that he was not authorized to commit to participating in the local match for the study.


January 5th, 2000

Editorial By: Robert C. Weike (WSOR)

Yes, the State has approved a study of repairs for the Sauk City bridge and it may get rebuilt. And yes, the Pink Lady people want a "secure" route for the future to Baraboo.

There has been stories circulating for years about the condition of the Merrimac River bridge. I personally was told when I lived in Baraboo in the late 80's by a former C&NW bridge & building foreman that he was on the last major work train on the bridge just after WWII and the repairs they were making would secure the bridge for 40 years. BUT a study hasn't been done so nobody knows for sure...

The C&NW did embargo the bridge at one time as "unsafe" but quickly reversed themselves when they realized what that did to getting rock out of the quarry.

Stories have been told, but the bottom line is nobody knows for sure. The only thing I can tell you is that outside of getting a new deck put on in the 70's. I have not heard or seen any work being done on the bridge in the almost 30 years I've been in the area. In my mind, it will need repairs soon, but how many remains the question.

We know the history of the Sauk bridge. It has always been a problem and this is the third time the pier has shifted since the Milwaukee left and their records show this was a problems when they owned it. The center pier is on unstable ground and keeps getting undercut by the strong current.

What really needs to be done is to put in a new pier that sits on bedrock, but you're talking big dollars and there are a number of other improvements that should be done if you're going to spend that kind of money.

Traffic on the line is down to the 12-14 carloads that Tri-City Co-op (Now Coop Country Partners) gets every year and this can be done via Badger. The Pink Lady people don't want to see the line abandoned (as do the local politicians) but as I learned a long time ago, you can't save everything.

In my opinion, the only saving of the line would be if the Badger moves come about. Then it would be economically feasible to rebuild the bridge. If it doesn't, then someone should study the Merrimac bridge to decide when and how much repairs will cost to it. It might be less than the Sauk City bridge.

The other problems with the Sauk branch "access" is that depending on the outcome at Badger, you might have to built 4 miles of track around the plant to connect with the Baraboo side.

Stay tuned....

RCW


Railroad Bridge at Sauk City, WI May Be Repaired This Spring

I have heard that the repairs for the ex Milwaukee Road bridge at Sauk City may be taking place this coming spring. The Badger Army Ammunition Plant may plan to haul contaminated soil from that area by rail. From what I have heard, the state is going to pay for the repairs.

The COOP north of Prairie du Sac has been served off of the CNW line by the local freight that goes to Reedsburg. This has been happening since the bridge at Sauk was taken out of service.

Ed Ripp Mazomanie

Web Masters Note: There has been much talk about repairing the bridge at Sauk City. There have been no definitive decisions made concerning this project yet. The bridge is unusable because a pier shifted a few years ago mis-aligning the rails and making the bridge unstable. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.


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Changes Last Made: January 11th, 2000 (Updates)