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Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service (2007)

Chapter: Chapter Four - Rail Corridor Success Stories

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Rail Corridor Success Stories." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2007. Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14115.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Rail Corridor Success Stories." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2007. Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14115.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Rail Corridor Success Stories." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2007. Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14115.
×
Page 20
Page 21
Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Rail Corridor Success Stories." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2007. Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14115.
×
Page 21
Page 22
Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Rail Corridor Success Stories." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2007. Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14115.
×
Page 22
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Rail Corridor Success Stories." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2007. Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/14115.
×
Page 23

Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Much remains to be done to fully exploit the value of aban- doned or lightly used rail corridors around the United States. Fortunately, there are good examples from those who had vision, perseverance, and an ability to reach out to multiple stakeholders in preserving and restoring active use to this sometimes fragile network of properties that tie communities and regions together. In some cases the vision has not been achieved, but the properties have been preserved. Here are some of the more interesting rail corridor success stories that we have found in this investigation. NASHVILLE AND EASTERN RAILROAD In 1986, CSX Transportation sought to spin off a light-density line and associated branch lines in north-central Tennessee, extending from Vine Hill (in the Nashville area) eastward to Monterrey; a distance of 110 miles. The only significant remaining rail freight shipper in the area was EL Dupont, served by the Hickory branch spur. Originally, CSX had sought to retain direct operating rights for the 10 miles of service to the Dupont plant, further imperiling the business viability of any operator seeking to preserve the balance of the line. The Tennessee DOT responded to the proposed aban- donment by creating a joint-powers rail authority in partner- ship with three of the four affected counties. The Nashville and Eastern Railroad Authority (NERA) began to work with a rail management group to develop a business plan to restore rail service and freight business volumes across the property. The lines in question were, as is typical in such cases, in very marginal operating condition. Each year approximately 2,000 carloads of traffic were moving, most of it from the Dupont facility that CSX had sought to hold out from the sale. In the fall of 1986, NERA purchased the lines from CSX, including the Hickory branch to the Dupont plant (see Figure 4). With the rail lines in public hands, a long-term operating agreement was struck with the startup private rail manage- ment group Nashville and Eastern. According to Bill Drunsic, Nashville and Eastern Railroad (NERR) President, the in- volvement of the future rail managers in the business planning for the property brought a measure of discipline to the entire assessment; shipper and carrier interests projecting new busi- ness for the line would live with the consequences if such predictions proved to be inflated. 18 Since 1986, NERR has worked collaboratively with the Tennessee DOT and the NERA to invest $43.5 million in essential rail infrastructure improvements across the property. One-hundred-ten miles of active track has been reconstructed and 77 bridges upgraded. Business volumes have grown from 2,000 carloads in the initial year of operations to approximately 9,000 annual carloads today. A mix of general merchandise commodities, including plastics, paper, beer, lumber, steel, propane, and fertilizer helps to even out the inevitable volume cycles for individual clients. A new use for the Nashville and Eastern right-of-way promises to further anchor the line’s place as part of central Tennessee’s long-term infrastructure. In September 2006, commuter rail operations commenced on the 32-mile, Nashville-to-Lebanon portion of the route, creating the first of five “spokes” on what is envisioned as a 142-mile network of commuter rail lines (see Figure 5). Unlike Class I operators, most short lines welcome the infrastructure investment that goes with commuter rail operations and are in a position to adapt freight service to accommodate rush hour passenger operations. Other envisioned corridors in the Nashville region support high-density Class I freight services and will be far more costly to convert to mixed use. NERR President Drunsic attributes the success of the Nashville and Eastern to a number of factors. • The railway enjoys sufficient freight volume to support the basic railway infrastructure. CSX’s original intent to sell only the moribund part of the property while keep- ing for itself the one remaining viable shipper would have led to full abandonment for most of the line. Another positive aspect of the traffic base is the wide diversity of commodities that tend to smooth the volume cycles that occur on an industry-specific basis. • Public financing was available to overcome much of the capital infrastructure deficit NERR faced at startup. Tennessee DOT funds were granted on an 80/20 match- ing basis, with the balance of monies from shipper and local agency interests. It is doubtful that operating revenue would have been sufficient to support debt financing of the needed capital improvements even if offered at discounted rates. • NERR recognizes the need for a robust maintenance regime on all of the operated lines, averaging around $10,000 per mile per year. A disciplined maintenance CHAPTER FOUR RAIL CORRIDOR SUCCESS STORIES

19 regime is essential to keeping jointed and lighter-weight rail in service, even for relatively modest local service operations. • Thorough and regular engagement with all local stake- holders began before startup and has continued to the present day. NERR also works on a regular and sys- tematic basis with clients, local municipalities, and eco- nomic development groups to attract new customers while preserving the existing base of commerce in the corridor. BURBANK BRANCH BUS RAPID TRANSIT In 1990, the cash-strapped Southern Pacific Railroad negoti- ated the sale of a number of freight rail rights-of-way in the LA Basin, including the 14-mile Burbank Branch line from North Hollywood to Burbank (see Figure 6). Rail service to the last remaining freight customers ended in the fall of 1992. The corridor was preserved and in 2004 became the align- ment for one of the nation’s most successful bus rapid transit (BRT) projects. The Metro Orange Line is operated by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, traveling 14 miles between the Warner Center and the North Hollywood Metro Red Line subway station in the San Fernando Valley. The Orange Line is designed with similar characteristics of an urban light-rail system such as a dedicated right-of-way, more broadly dispersed stations approximately one mile apart, platform ticket machines for faster boarding, public art, park-n-ride lots, and other amenities. Because of its many differences from a standard bus ser- vice, the authority has branded the transitway as part of the region’s network of light and heavy rail lines. It appears on the Metro Rail System map. Orange Line vehicles, Metrolin- ers, are painted in the silver and gray color scheme of Metro Rail vehicles. Likewise, it is the authority’s only bus line that has been marketed with a color designation rather than its line number (901) (see Figure 7). As of May 2006, the BRT route was carrying approxi- mately 22,000 daily riders, a level originally not foreseen to FIGURE 4 Nashville and Eastern Motive Power. (Source: Nashville and Eastern: http://www.nerr.com.) FIGURE 5 Music City Star demonstration run. (Source: www. musiccitystar.org.) FIGURE 6 Burbank Line local freight train in the early 1990s. (Source: Chris Bauman’s Burbank train page: http://home.att. net/~chrisbauman/burbank.htm.) FIGURE 7 Orange Line “Metroliner” BRT vehicle, San Fernando Valley. (Source: www.answers.com/topic/lacmta-orange-line.)

20 occur until 2020. Preservation of the Southern Pacific right- of-way allowed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to put in place the dedicated-alignment service without signifi- cant “not in my back yard” concerns. The original freight rail engineering specifications for the route also permit relatively straightforward conversion to higher-capacity light-rail ser- vice should ridership continue to climb. A 40,000 daily passenger volume is considered the practical limit of the BRT mode for this alignment. HIAWASSEE RIVER RAILROAD Copperhill, Tennessee, is located on a rail route that contains one of the most spectacular examples of 19th century railway engineering in North America. This route between Marietta, Georgia, and Etowah, Tennessee, was often called the “Hook and Eye Line,” because of a pair of unusual engineering fea- tures along the route. The “Hook” was a tight double reverse curve at Tate Mountain, Georgia, between Whitestone and Talking Rock. The “Eye” is an 8,000-ft loop that climbs Bald Mountain near Farner, Tennessee, encircling it almost twice before crossing back over itself and turning south toward Georgia. It was built in 1898 by the Atlanta, Knoxville and Northern Railway to replace a set of switchbacks on the orig- inal line (10) (see Figure 8). Between 1890 and 1908, the line was the only direct rail route between Atlanta and Knoxville. Louisville and Nashville purchased the Atlanta, Knoxville and Northern in 1902 and, in 1908, built a bypass over far less challenging terrain for service between the two cities. Much of the Hook and Eye Line remained in service, however, to serve local clients and the mine at Copperhill. The Ducktown ore body near Copperhill produced high-grade copper ore from the early 1830s to the late 1980s, almost 150 years. In 1987, the copper mine closed down, but service between Etowah and Copperhill remained owing to the continued operation of a sulfuric acid plant at the smelter facility. In 2001, the smelter also closed down and CSX abandoned the property. Track remained in place, how- ever, owing to the historic and scenic nature of the alignment. A number of local governments and civic groups from southeast Tennessee came together and formed the Old Line Railroad Coalition for the purpose of preserving the line and the corridor. The coalition, in turn, established a legal author- ity called the Southeast Local Development Corporation to negotiate purchase of the line from CSX. The Tennessee Valley Railroad, a rail excursion operator based in Chattanooga, was able to operate some special tourist trains in 2004 over portions of the route that had been put into service temporarily to support repairs to a Tennessee Valley Authority powerhouse on the Hiawassee River. A new lease on life for the property came from an unex- pected source: Chinese demand for iron ore. The original cop- per mining operation at Copperhill produced enormous piles of calcine waste containing rich amounts of iron. Representa- tives of the Chinese government examined the 10-million-ton waste deposit in 2004 and determined that a cost-effective recovery system could be put in place to move the waste by means of 75-car trains. Traffic would move over the Hiawassee line for interchange to CSX and Atlantic seaport delivery. The waste would then be moved to Chinese smelters where the iron would be extracted. The trains began running in 2005. As of this writing, the ore movements have been sus- pended as a result of source competition and an uptick in marine shipping costs. Continuing growth in demand and pricing of basic industrial resource products would appear to bode well for the resumption of the movement of the calcine waste sometime in the next few years. The calcine movement was made possible by a number of factors: • The rail alignment and trackage were still intact owing to the historic and scenic nature of the alignment. • CSX and the Southeast Local Development Corporation (SLDC) were able to affect a transfer of the line under the federal “rails to trails” exemption processes. The order from the STB of July 22, 2002, reads in part “SLDC will acquire CSX’s 43.47-mile line of railroad between Etowah and Copperhill, in Polk and McMinn Counties, Tennessee, for recreational trail use and ‘rail banking.’ Under the rail-to-trails process established in Federal law, rail lines approved for abandonment may be converted into trails, subject to possible reactivation for future rail use (rail banking).” • Essential raw material prices have risen to a threshold that made further mineral extraction from waste materi- als economically viable. (Some carriers, such as Norfolk Southern generally leave mining rail rights-of-way in place until and unless there is no further prospect for renewed extractive operations.) FIGURE 8 Atlanta, Knoxville and Northern Railway timetable page. (Source: Georgia’s Railroad History and Heritage: http://railga.com/.)

21 • Community support was easy to obtain for renewal of service given that the calcine moves would remove a waste material from the area, provide employment, and preserve an historic transportation alignment that could have future use as a tourism draw. GREENBUSH LINE RESTORATION Boston’s Greenbush Corridor enjoyed regular commuter rail service from the mid-19th century through the first half of the 20th century through private operators, including the New Haven Railroad, until the demise of service altogether in 1959 (see Figure 9). State and local agencies stepped in to preserve this and two other “Old Colony” lines for long-term use as revitalized transit corridors. The Boston-area Greenbush Project will restore commuter rail service on the 18-mile-long Greenbush line through the towns of Braintree, Weymouth, Hingham, Cohasset, and Scituate, Massachusetts. Restoration of passenger service begins at the connection with the existing Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Old Colony Main Line at the Brain- tree Wye in East Braintree, and extends easterly along the former New Haven Railroad alignment to the terminus in the Greenbush section of Scituate. The line will provide needed additional transportation capacity and an attractive new commuting option between Boston and the South Shore. The project will help to allevi- ate the severe highway and rapid transit congestion in this area, as well as address the currently inequitable distribution of commuter rail service. The project involves the reconstruction of existing, largely out-of-service railroad right-of-way as a single-track railroad with four controlled passing sidings, each approximately 1 mile in length. Once completed, the facility will be equipped with a new signal and communications system and end-of-the-line train layover facility. In addition, certain freight facilities in Braintree will be relocated off-line. The right-of-way is currently active for local freight ser- vice on the first 1.5 miles in East Braintree. The remainder of the right-of-way is either out of service or abandoned. The proposed commuter rail service will provide 12 round trips between Boston–South Station and Greenbush each weekday and 8 round trips on weekends. BUILDING A REGIONAL RAIL NETWORK IN OHIO Lengthy intercity or regional rail corridors are sometimes threatened with dismemberment as owning carriers seek to dis- card, at the margin, all track that is strictly not required to serve local clients and have alternative alignments for long-distance traffic movement. Such was the 1991 threat to Conrail’s 160- mile “Panhandle” line in central Ohio, because the carrier applied to an abandoned 24-mile section near the center of the corridor (see Figure 10). The Ohio DOT and local leaders fought the bifurcation, leading finally to a $7.3 million purchase of the entire 160- mile corridor by the state in 1992. Under public ownership, the Columbus and Ohio River Railroad was created with rail operations provided under lease by the adjoining Ohio Central Rail System. Together, these lines have evolved into a thriving regional operation. Payments to the state by the service lessee will have fully amortized Ohio’s original investment in the Columbus and Ohio River Railroad line by 2012. Discussions are underway to sell the relevant trackage to Ohio Central, completing the investment and marketing integration of all branch line rail operations in this part of the state. WILLAMETTE SHORE TROLLEY A nearly abandoned 5.6-mile Southern Pacific branch line linking the downtown core with suburban Lake Oswego is likely to become a vital transportation link in the Portland, Oregon, metro area. The right-of-way was first established in 1885–1887 as the Portland and Willamette Valley Railroad, which began operation in July 1887. It was purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad in the 1890s for further develop- ment as a freight and passenger service corridor. The railroad had a major impact on the development of southwest Portland and “Oswego” (as it was then known) and became the main transportation link for developing residen- tial communities along the route. The line was electrified in 1914 and passenger traffic hit its peak in 1920 with Southern Pacific running 64 “Red Electrics” to and from Portland and Oswego daily (see Figure 11). Passenger service ended on October 5, 1929, although freight service continued until 1983. In August 1984, the Interstate Commerce Commission granted Southern Pacific permission to abandon the line. In November of that year, the Portland Friends of the Willamette FIGURE 9 Greenbush route map. (Source: http://www. cbbgreenbush.com/routemap.html.)

22 River Greenway, a nonprofit corporation, was asked to assist seven governmental entities in their effort to acquire the line, to guarantee the preservation of the right-of-way for future mass transit (11). From September through December 1987, the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society operated a trolley on the line to determine the feasibility of such a service there. Negotiations between Southern Pacific and the governmen- tal entities continued until the six-mile line was purchased in the fall of 1988. Weekend excursion trolley service began on a long-term basis in July 1990 and has continued to the pres- ent day. Tri-County Metropolitan District of Oregon (TriMet), operator of Portland’s light-rail system, is now looking to use of the line for more intense, regular transit service. A study done by the agency indicates that a new streetcar line built along the current alignment would be more practical than a “heavier” light-rail system. Under TriMet’s plan, the new streetcar line would run 5.6 miles from a connection with the Portland Streetcar in the North Macadam Urban Renewal Area to a park-n-ride facility in Lake Oswego. Streetcars would operate on a 12-min headway during rush periods, with a run time of 15 min between Southwest Ban- croft Street (Portland) and Lake Oswego, or 25 min all the way from downtown Portland. Costs to build the line are expected to be relatively low, because so much can be reused, including a 1,300-ft tunnel and two trestles. The line is expected to cost approximately $81 million, serve 10 sta- tions, and carry approximately 600 people per hour during peak periods. In 2005, the Metro Council of Portland approved $688,000 in funding to complete the Alternatives Analysis and begin environmental impact studies in the corridor. Although these activities will continue into calendar year 2008, a preferred modal alternative may be selected by the end of 2007 (12). Although the Willamette Shore corridor project cannot yet be described as a complete success, it appears likely that the FIGURE 10 Regional rail lines in central Ohio; the Panhandle and Ohio Central Railroad System. (Source: Ohio Rail Development Commission.) FIGURE 11 Willamette Shore Trolley emerges from tunnel. (Source: Railway Preservation: http://www.railwaypreservation. com/vintagetrolley/lakeoswego.htm.)

23 alignment will, in time, be used as a significant transit corri- dor for the following reasons: • Traffic and congestion in the Portland region are increas- ing; • Long-range transportation improvement plans for Metro rule out “broad scale expansion in highway capacity” in the subject alignment; and • Portland’s first streetcar line in the northwest section of the downtown area has been far more successful than ex- pected, and public understanding of the relatively “low impact” nature of streetcar operations has somewhat eased the concerns of homeowners adjacent to the Willamette Shore route. Success of the restoration, should it occur, may be cred- ited to: • Early involvement by a wide range of local public stake- holders to negotiate retention of the alignment and purchase from the Southern Pacific Railroad. • Ongoing efforts to maintain the visibility and integrity of the alignment through special excursion operations and community involvement. These have been under- way for 16 years. • A planning context where there is general public under- standing that current highway corridor capacity is fixed and unlikely to change as population grows.

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TRB's National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Synthesis 374: Preserving Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors and Service explores issues associated with the retention of railroad rights-of-way or restoration of rail services.

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