Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Madness in Mosier

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Madness in Mosier

You want to double or triple your train throughput? Just build a nice long siding. At least that’s what Friends of the Columbia Gorge would like the Wasco County (Wash.) Board of County Commissioners to believe.

The Commissioners voted on Nov. 2 to reverse a decision by their planning commission and deny Union Pacific’s plan to construct a four-mile-long siding in Mosier, Ore., a fairly constipated piece of main line track.

Excuse me, did I say “constipated”? I meant “bottle-necked.” That’s the proper railroad term for physical track characteristics that make it extremely difficult to squeeze more trains through a very narrow (single-track) right-of-way. Building or extending sidings or double-tracking is often the best way to accomplish this.

Why so much opposition? Mosier was the site of a June oil train derailment, so any plans to expand capacity would be, at least in the eyes of those opposed to crude by rail, a bad thing. But things have gotten entirely out of hand, as Railway Age Contributing Editor Bruce Kelly points out: “The county denied UP’s request to lengthen its siding in Mosier by a few miles, influenced in whole or in part by a claim that having four miles of expanded capacity at Mosier would somehow allow UP to increase its traffic through the entire Columbia River Gorge from the current 35 or so trains per day to 100 trains per day. The line could not accommodate anything close to that just because of new track being laid at Mosier. This is one more example of ludicrous misinformation steering public policy into the ditch—and trade and jobs and the economy along with it.”

Granted, there is more to this story than the ludicrous notion of four miles of track accommodating 65-70 additional trains. The Yakama Nation, a local Native American tribe, opposes the project based on what it claims are violations of tribal treaty rights and the National Scenic Area Act. This argument helped convince the commissioners to deny UP’s plans.

“We applaud this decision by the Board of County Commissioners,” said Kevin Gorman, Executive Director of Friends of the Columbia Gorge. “[Our] Planning Commission ignored tribal treaty concerns, environmental and scenic impacts on the Gorge, objections from the City of Mosier, and even the concerns raised by their own staff when they granted the permit last month. There were many reasons to deny this project, and the violation of tribal treaty rights is the most salient. The City of Mosier is still recovering from the Union Pacific oil train derailment, spill and fire on June 3 that leaked 40,000 gallons of crude oil and contaminated groundwater in the small town.”

Too add to these objections, Friends of the Columbia Gorge released what is says is “a rail traffic report that found that increases in rail capacity from this expansion could be far greater than Union Pacific has claimed, potentially increasing rail capacity from about 35 trains a day to as much as 100 trains a day.”

Huh? Who performed this so-called “study”? Obviously someone who is clueless about railroad operations.

UP thus far has been quite diplomatic, as it should be, releasing this statement:

“The Mosier Siding Extension Project will allow Union Pacific to increase fluidity and efficiency where train traffic is severely bottlenecked. Our project aims to reduce the number of idling trains in Mosier, The Dalles, Hood River, and other Gorge communities while mitigating train traffic delays to more efficiently transport the goods American families and businesses use daily. Our goal remains being transparent and providing information to Gorge communities. For many years we have consistently and proactively communicated about the siding project to Mosier residents, as well as to state, local and tribal entities. We plan to continue working with the community to understand its concerns and address them moving forward.”

OK, Union Pacific, very well said. Now, here’s my take:

Anybody who says that one siding extension will triple train throughput is either lying through their teeth or has smoked a reefer’s worth of reefer. Anybody who believes this nonsense probably and perhaps innocently knows little or nothing about railroads, and therefore can be used by those who are lying or smoking funny cigarettes to advance their own agenda.

You can’t make this stuff up.

UP is trying to be a good corporate citizen, and really can’t say what needs to be said to the author of the Friends of the Columbia Gorge study. So I’ll say it:

Wrong, dummy! Would you rather see more trucks out on the highway?














William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

With Railway Age since 1992, William C. Vantuono has broadened and deepened the magazine's coverage of the technological revolution that is so swiftly changing the industry. He has also strengthened Railway Age’s leadership position in industry affairs with the conferences he conducts, among them Next-Generation Train Control, Light Rail, and Rail Insights. He is the author or co-author or editor of several books, among them All About Railroading; John Armstrong’s The Railroad: What It Is, What It Does; Railway Age’s Comprehensive Railroad Dictionary; and Planning, Engineering, and Operating Light Rail, With Applications in New Jersey.

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