Friday, March 16, 2007 at 9:52 am

Rural Commuter Rail in Ottawa?

A study proposes a commuter rail service for the rural areas east of Ottawa. Unfortunately for me, I live west of Ottawa. But while this may go some ways to addressing freeway congestion, and the tracks are owned by VIA Rail so there won’t be the capacity or track speed limit issues you’d find on freight rail lines (which would be a problem for commuter service to the upper Ottawa valley along OVR or Ottawa Central tracks), are there enough people out there to make this work? I mean, Barrie and Peterborough — medium-sized cities — don’t have rail service to Toronto. I just can’t see this getting off the ground.

Thursday, March 15, 2007 at 8:08 am

Mudslides Knock Out CPR Main Line

The problem is, once you start covering minor rail accidents in Canada (and in British Columbia in particular), you’re kind of obligated to continue. Still, this story about mudslides in the Fraser Canyon — not far from the site of CN’s spectacular Lytton derailment — that have closed the Trans-Canada Highway for up to a week, knocked out the CPR main line (note the picture in that link!) and even put B.C.’s main Internet backbone at risk, is worth at least a brief mention.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007 at 9:50 am

How to Get Cheaper UK Rail Fares

I can’t help thinking that this is somehow a way to keep British anoraks busy and blissfully geeked out: BBC News’s Magazine has a feature on how to get cheaper rail fares, with 10 examples. In a nutshell: buying a through ticket from point A to point B is not necessarily the cheapest fare; it’s possible to save by buying tickets for each leg of the journey. The reasons include time of day, the fact that some rail carriers charge more than others for the same trip (e.g. Virgin vs. GNER), and, in one case, the fact that fares into London carry a premium (so keeping the London leg shorter saves money overall). Utterly, utterly baffling.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 3:10 pm

VIA Update: No Pelletier Appeal, Tracks Reopened

VIA Rail logo The government of Canada will not appeal a federal court ruling ordering it to reinstate Jean Pelletier as chairman of VIA Rail. Back in March 2004, Pelletier was fired by then-Prime Minister Paul Martin over comments he made about former VIA employee (and Olympic gold medallist) Myriam Bédard. (I blogged about it at the time: here and here.)

Things got weird after that: in November 2005 a federal court ruled that Pelletier was, essentially, wrongfully fired in that he was fired for cause without being able to present a defence. The Martin government responded by firing him again, this time with notice. (It could be argued that Pelletier was a casualty in the internecine Liberal party feud between the camps of Martin and his predecessor, Jean Chrétien, whom Pelletier served as chief of staff.)

Meanwhile, as Pelletier’s several court cases wound their way through the system, Bédard’s credibility evaporated due to her bizarre allegations in front of a parliamentary committee and her subsequent disappearance and arrest, by U.S. marshals, for violating a child custody arrangement (see this Washington Post story).

And, of course, the government changed parties about a year ago, after the January 2006 federal election. It’s unclear what’s going to happen next.

In other VIA Rail news, service resumed this morning on its Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal trains after yesterday’s derailment: CBC News, Toronto Star. It was a 32-car derailment of a 142-car CN freight train; spilled materials included “plywood, recycled wastepaper and molasses, as well as a light petroleum product used for cutting metal, which threatened to leak into nearby Cataraqui Creek,” according to the Star.

And CTV News has more on the accident near Guelph on Sunday.

Previously: VIA Rail Accident Roundup.

Monday, March 12, 2007 at 4:09 pm

Grain Shippers File Major Complaint Against CN

CN logo A change in the way CN allows grain shippers to book a guaranteed supply of grain hoppers has led an Alberta grain company, Great Northern Grain, to file a complaint against CN with the Canadian Transportation Agency (press release here and as a PDF). The complaint, which is backed by ten other grain companies including the Canadian Wheat Board, charges that CN’s new rule that cars must be booked in blocks of 100 will be devastating to small grain terminals — only 22 per cent of the grain terminals in western Canada have tracks long enough to hold 100 cars (GNG, for example, only has a 73-car track). The previous rule allowed booking in blocks of 50; the upshot, GNG complains, is that grain shippers will have to compete — and pay more — for hoppers in the general car supply.

Monday, March 12, 2007 at 3:45 pm

CSX Accidents

A CSX derailment this morning in Oneida, New York caused a propane explosion that closed a highway and suspended Amtrak service in the area.

Meanwhile, on Saturday night two men were struck and killed by a CSX train in Smithfield, North Carolina.

And on Sunday morning, two people were killed when the car they were riding in hit two trains: while trying to beat a CSX train to the crossing, the driver apparently missed the oncoming Amtrak Silver Star.

Monday, March 12, 2007 at 9:51 am

VIA Rail Accident Roundup

VIA Rail logo VIA Rail trains in the Corridor have had a spate of bad luck in the last 24 hours. Yesterday, train no. 85 from Toronto to Sarnia clipped a car at a level crossing west of Guelph: a child in the car was killed, and two women were hospitalized with life-threatening injuries; no one on the train was hurt, but they were put on buses for the remainder of their trip. The OPP said that the car did not stop at the crossing. (I’ve taken that train; that’s a fast run of track.)

This morning, a single-car freight derailment in Kingston is blocking VIA’s trains in both directions and is even forcing cars to detour around a level crossing. There may be a diesel fuel leak, but no other reports that it’s anything serious, only disruptive. (One guess as to who owns the track in Kingston.)

Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 10:21 pm

Two More Model Railroad Blogs

OWNR Two more model railroad blogs for future reference. The Oregon, Washington, Navigation and Railway is Kent Williams’s N-scale protolanced Pacific Northwest layout. Confessions of a Model Train Geek is another of Steve Boyko’s projects (his railfanning blog was covered here previously) and another blog that chronicles a layout’s construction.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007 at 9:05 pm

FRA Denies DM&E’s Powder River Loan Guarantee

The April 2007 issue of Trains, which arrived in my mailbox last week, had a short article about the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern winning its case before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: it’s trying to secure $2.5 billion in federal loans to upgrade its line and expand westward to tap into the Powder River Basin and its lucrative coal traffic. All that remained at press time, the article said, was word from the FRA.

Word has indeed come from the FRA: it came last week, and the word is “no.” Controversial columnist Robert Novak has the goods on the politics behind the DM&E’s proposal, including its past ties to Sen. John Thune (R—SD). Via Ticket Punch.

Monday, March 5, 2007 at 8:14 pm

CN Daily Accident Report

CN logo This is getting ridiculous. CN had another derailment in B.C. on Saturday — about one-third of the cars of a 90-car grain train left the tracks on the CN mainline near Blue River. Fortunately, grain is hardly a hazardous material, and it was cleaned up; there were no injuries. And, half a continent away, they had just gotten their line east of Toronto reopened the day before.

Neither accident was major as such things go, but this just goes to show how closely scrutinized CN’s safety record is of late. Coverage was probably not helped by last week’s release of Transport Canada’s safety audit.