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Old July 16th, 2006, 05:17 AM   #1
hkskyline
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US Infrastructure Expansion Faces Local Opposition

US infrastructure expansion faces local opposition
By Nick Carey

ROCHESTER, Minn., July 14 (Reuters) - Rochester doesn't mind railroads -- unless there's a possibility that they could disturb the southern Minnesota city's most important resident, the Mayo Clinic.

Both the city government and the world-famous medical center are fighting a $6 billion network expansion by Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad to bring coal to the Midwest from Wyoming's Powder River Basin. The project would include upgrading DM&E's line through Rochester to accommodate heavy coal trains.

"The clinic is the biggest private employer in Minnesota, and we can't have that put at risk," said Dennis Hanson, president of Rochester's city council.

The conflict is emblematic of tensions between U.S. communities and transport companies.

"People want easy access to goods and services; they want electricity," said Fitch Ratings analyst Stephen Brown. "But they don't want the risk of noise or pollution that may accompany that access."

Profits at transport companies have soared in recent years along with demand for their services. They are benefiting from two trends -- double-digit increases in U.S. imports as the nation outsources its manufacturing base to developing countries like China and soaring demand for coal as a cheap alternative to increasingly expensive natural gas.

Both trends have led to a need for more trains and trucks to haul goods.

But rail and trucking networks are strained as demand outstrips capacity, requiring additional infrastructure. This brings the companies up against people who live near the proposed new sites -- spawning the catchphrase "Not in my back yard."

Take Rochester. Continuing the work of their father, Dr. William Worrall Mayo, Drs. William and Charles Mayo opened their first hospital in Rochester in 1889 near the railroad tracks so patients from across the United States could get there.

Today the Mayo Clinic employs 28,000 people in a city of 85,000 and takes up the entire downtown.

"Mayo is Rochester, plain and simple," said Hanson, the city council president.

Although most of the sprawling clinic is a half-mile from the railroad tracks operated by privately held DM&E, locals have expressed concern about the proposed upgrade. The rumbling from heavy coal trains, they said, could scare patients away.

Instead, they want the Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based company to put a 6-mile (9.7 kilometer) tunnel under the city, a modification that transport analysts said could easily add more than $100 million to the project's cost.

Rochester has fought DM&E's plans in and out of court for eight years, and Hanson said the city would keep doing so unless the tunnel is built.

LESS POPULAR THAN LANDFILLS?

It's not just DM&E. Other railroads, trucking companies and even oil refineries face similar problems.

For instance, the California Department of Transport decided in April to scrap a project to expand existing lines in Fresno with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. railroad, citing the community's concerns that the upgrade would affect a residential area.

The Fresno City Council had opposed the project because it feared residents would be exposed to noise and pollution.

U.S. railroads have come under fire from utilities for not delivering enough coal to power plants, but efforts by Norfolk Southern Corp. to put in new track are frequently unpopular with nearby residents.

"Even when we have the land rights to new track it can take years to overcome local opposition," said Donald Seale, chief marketing officer of the Norfolk, Virginia-based railroad.

Trucking companies also face this problem.

"On the popularity scale, any trucking terminal is right behind a crack house or a landfill," said Bill Zollars, chief executive of YRC Worldwide Inc. , the largest U.S. less-than-truckload operator.

Less-than-truckload operators consolidate small loads into a single truck and require multiple facilities across the country.

"Part of our challenge is to improve our image," Zollars said. Overland Park, Kansas-based YRC has an outreach program through which it tries to cooperate with local communities on the best solution for a new facility.

Since the approval process for a new truck terminal can take years, fellow less-than-truckload operator Con-way Inc. factors in additional capacity beforehand to avoid opposition further down the line, said Rick Trott, vice president for operations.

"If we need to expand, we can do so without restarting the whole process," he said.

The resistance to new infrastructure, however, is good for some shippers, such as Aries Maritime Transport Ltd. and Teekay Shipping Corp.

These companies, which transport refined oil products, have benefited as opposition to new oil refineries in the United States has driven up demand for imports from places like Russia and Europe.

"If the refined product has to come from further away," said Aries CEO Mons Bolin, "this means more business for our product tankers."
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Old July 16th, 2006, 10:23 PM   #2
matthewcs
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I don't understand the cities concern about enraging the Hospital. What are they going to do, go to India?
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Old July 17th, 2006, 02:03 AM   #3
invincible
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It's not that hard to get used to the noise of train movements. Although I'm 2km from the railway line, I can still hear the horns and even the motors of electric trains on a calm day, and you still don't hear anyone who lives near the railway complain.

The odd freight train is a whole lot better than trucks constantly driving by. The other argument is that you can always say that the railway came first, so it's your own fault if you decide to build a house next to the line and can't put up with the noise.
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Old July 17th, 2006, 03:47 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by invincible
It's not that hard to get used to the noise of train movements. Although I'm 2km from the railway line, I can still hear the horns and even the motors of electric trains on a calm day, and you still don't hear anyone who lives near the railway complain.

The odd freight train is a whole lot better than trucks constantly driving by. The other argument is that you can always say that the railway came first, so it's your own fault if you decide to build a house next to the line and can't put up with the noise.
Well, I'd have to disagree about getting used to the noise. If the horn is on the train and it's being blown for an at-grade crossing, it has to be audible from a mile away. There's nothing you can do to insulate your house against a horn loud enough to wake the dead. The only real solution is to build an overpass and eliminate the grade crossing unless the crossing is a half mile or so away, in which case a waypoint horn might be good enough.

The argument about the "train being there first" isn't quite that black and white. Remember, most railroads in America fall into three categories: active, with nonstop trains (that everyone notices), barely-used, with maybe 1 or 2 trains per day, and abandoned (or nearly so). NOBODY who bought a house 15 years ago with nearly-abandoned tracks nearby would have EVER thought that someday they'd be hosting nonstop rail traffic blaring horns 24/7. It was perfectly reasonable, given historical experience, to suppose that they'd have been torn up and completely gone by now. Now, for someone who bought the house in the past 5 or fewer years, it's a little easier to be harsh. But really, you can't hold it against someone who came to that conclusion during the 80s or 90s, because back then, the tracks' inevitable removal was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
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Old July 17th, 2006, 06:30 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by matthewcs
I don't understand the cities concern about enraging the Hospital. What are they going to do, go to India?
The clinic can make sure none of the elected officials involved hold office again. Ever.

In my opinion, that's democracy's greatest weakness: nothing gets done when somebody is unhappy.
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Old July 17th, 2006, 07:43 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by miamicanes
Well, I'd have to disagree about getting used to the noise. If the horn is on the train and it's being blown for an at-grade crossing, it has to be audible from a mile away.
That's just the result of a ridiculous regulation then. The only time the horn is ever blasted in urban areas here is on a passing train which needs to warn people to stay away from the edges of the platform. Level crossings here normally only get a very short blast of the horn from my observations. Besides, there's gates, lights and bells at all urban level crossings - the horn is more of an issue at rural crossings.

All accidents at urban level crossings have been the result of people who thought it was a good idea to drive around or walk under a lowered boom gate.
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Old July 17th, 2006, 08:18 AM   #7
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There are several ways around this--the railroad could be rerouted around the city, or, better yet, could be elevated, which would be quite a bit cheaper than a tunnel. Either way, there is no need for an at-grade expansion--all new railroads in the US should be grade separated, like interstates, to eliminate dangerous crossings and horn-blowin'.
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Old July 17th, 2006, 10:04 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by miamicanes
Well, I'd have to disagree about getting used to the noise. If the horn is on the train and it's being blown for an at-grade crossing, it has to be audible from a mile away. There's nothing you can do to insulate your house against a horn loud enough to wake the dead. The only real solution is to build an overpass and eliminate the grade crossing unless the crossing is a half mile or so away, in which case a waypoint horn might be good enough.

The argument about the "train being there first" isn't quite that black and white. Remember, most railroads in America fall into three categories: active, with nonstop trains (that everyone notices), barely-used, with maybe 1 or 2 trains per day, and abandoned (or nearly so). NOBODY who bought a house 15 years ago with nearly-abandoned tracks nearby would have EVER thought that someday they'd be hosting nonstop rail traffic blaring horns 24/7. It was perfectly reasonable, given historical experience, to suppose that they'd have been torn up and completely gone by now. Now, for someone who bought the house in the past 5 or fewer years, it's a little easier to be harsh. But really, you can't hold it against someone who came to that conclusion during the 80s or 90s, because back then, the tracks' inevitable removal was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
Do you think that this kind of opposition to new or upgraded infrastructure could scuttle the proposed Florida intercity train service? After all it involves improving existing railroad lines, which I assume pass through many cities and towns enroute, so Rochester's problem could be encountered there.

As for Rochester, seeing that the railroad already has the right of way through the city, why not put the line in a trench below ground level, and where it passes near sensitive areas e.g. near the Mayo Clinic, a roof could be put over it to form a cut-and-cover tunnel, eliminating the noise problem in these areas. As the line would be below groung level, all level crossings could simply be eliminated by building overpasses, doing away with the need for trains to sound their horn in a built-up area. This is what was done in Los Angeles with the Alameda Corridor between the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and a spot near downtown. Check out http://www.acta.org.

Last edited by Jean Luc; July 19th, 2006 at 09:54 AM.
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Old July 17th, 2006, 11:02 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by invincible
It's not that hard to get used to the noise of train movements. Although I'm 2km from the railway line, I can still hear the horns and even the motors of electric trains on a calm day, and you still don't hear anyone who lives near the railway complain.

The odd freight train is a whole lot better than trucks constantly driving by. The other argument is that you can always say that the railway came first, so it's your own fault if you decide to build a house next to the line and can't put up with the noise.

I live about a mile away from a fairly busy railroad and it doesn't seem to bother anyone here. Even the people that literally have it in their back yards about 100 feet away.
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Old July 17th, 2006, 05:04 PM   #10
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It's not just the horns. It's the engines, the rumbling, the screeching wheels. Coal Trains are particularly notrious, since they run incredibly long trains with many locos and heavy cars. Yeah it is more costly - if they are making that kind of profit, then let them build a trench and tunnel. That would likely fix the problem. There's no reason the rail companies should get away without having to address community issues when other businesses do.

I think the freight rail industry has become a little too cocky. They have an attitude that they are a great national service, so they should get all the exemptions, yet have the right to own their own tracks and abandon whatever they want. They have no problem standing in the way of passenger rail, refuse to upgrade their lines to provide better and quieter service, insted hjust want the cheapest route out. I would love to see the whole rail network - not the companies, but the infrastructure - nationalized. See what would happen then.
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Old July 18th, 2006, 05:27 AM   #11
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Quote:
Do you think that this kind of opposition to new or upgraded infrastructure could scuttle the proposed Florida intercity train service? After all it involves improving existing railroad lines, which I assume pass through many cities and towns enroute, so Rochester's problem could be encountered there.
Scuttle? probably not... but it'll probably jack up the cost a bit. The biggest likely battle will be against the local NIMBYs in fly-by country, who'll probably throw a huge fit about having to suffer from noise so people from Miami, Tampa, and Orlando can blast by. For towns like Sebring, Lake Wales, and Okeechobee, a few well-placed overpasses near residential areas and waypoint horns, combined with a "local" train running between Auburndale and WPB with stops in Sebring and Okeechobee would probably pacify the majority of opposition (especially once little old ladies realized they could take the train to the ungodly huge outlet mall that would eventually spring up across the street from the new station in Auburndale).

The corridor from Tampa to Orlando apparently has pretty heavy freight traffic to begin with. There are actually quite a few grade-separated crossings along that corridor already. I suspect that the biggest problem along that route will be the tiny handfull of areas where CSX ALREADY is using the entire width of their ROW, and more ROW will have to be bought by the state. There aren't many of them, but the ones that do exist will probably be a bit problematic. The other main problem is that 111+mph will never be possible along the Tampa-Orlando CSX corridor unless it's depressed (like the Alameda Corridor). In fact, 80+mph might not even be possible along most of it, because there are a LOT of private driveways that cross the tracks, and more than a few commercial streets with tracks running down the middle. But for now, depression is too expensive to even fantasize about, so 79mph through that area will just have to do. The only way the FRA allows 80-110mph with grade crossings is if they have really, REALLY aggressive gates that literally box you in and make it nearly impossible to get anywhere near the track when a train is coming. The thing that sucks about those gates, though, is that if you get stuck at one, you can't even make a U-turn and escape by driving away.

Last edited by miamicanes; July 18th, 2006 at 05:51 AM.
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Old July 18th, 2006, 08:58 PM   #12
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Elevate 'em. Plain and simple. Rochester is the medical equivalent of a mining town. Except a mining town's objections wouldn't be heard nearly as loud, since they need a literal tragedy to make the papers. Enough with the special priviledges.
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Old July 21st, 2006, 10:36 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AndySocks
Elevate 'em. Plain and simple. Rochester is the medical equivalent of a mining town. Except a mining town's objections wouldn't be heard nearly as loud, since they need a literal tragedy to make the papers. Enough with the special priviledges.
An elevated line would have a greater negative impact on the surrounding area than a depressed line would, and so would probably antagonise the locals, e.g. the Mayo Clinic, even more. An elevated line would be more visible, being raised above ground level, and it would be more difficult to contain noise, as sound from a source above the ground can travel further. A depressed line would not be visible unless you were near it, and the sides of the cutting or trench would to some degree contain the noise. Of course a tunnel would not be visible at all, except at the portals, and there would be little or no noise either.
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Old July 26th, 2006, 11:08 AM   #14
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No more infrastructure is required. Preservation is the order of the day.
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