Just a wee post – “Are rail passengers ALSO getting fracked by BIG OIL?” By Diane Walsh

Posted: November 4, 2014 in US

Amtrak is doing its best in the face of challenges presented by fracking boom in North Dakota and beyond.

In Wisconsin, there have been previous reports of freight train crews coming to the end of their shift and simply abandoning a train on the rail line when done their shift with – no one scheduled to take over from them.

A parked train! All rather frustrating to Amtrak. The effect of this kind of brazen blockage is that Amtrak’s passenger train (honourably trying its best to keep to schedule) is simply unable to pass, left hostage to the theatrics of industry giants.

One wouldn’t think that freight-train shortage-of-staff would be Amtrak’s problem but there have been instances of Amtrak actually having to call someone and plead to get a parked freight train moved so its passengers can get by.

Further reports, only very recently, are that more freight staff have since been hired.

On Saturday, Nov 1st, 2014, just before midnight, there was another rather odd incident. 10-15 minutes out of Spokane going east, en route to Idaho, Amtrak’s Empire Builder was delayed behind a freight train which had collided with an unoccupied SUV. The freight train was going about 60 miles an hour needless to say demolishing the vehicle right its track. It is unclear why it the vehicle was on the track and what the circumstances were around the incident.

The Amtrak passenger train, the Empire Builder, was behind the freight train and therefore was halted for three hours while emergency services, the Sheriff and 20 BNSF staff swarmed the area. Cleaning up a big mess of debris enabled both the freight train and the Empire Builder to then continue.

Incidents off this nature are apparently not that uncommon.

Even more troubling however is the impact of – 3x more freight trains running on the tracks in the last two years on – Amtrak’s ability to gauge how long any particular journey is going to take. Amtrak is beholden to, freight priority traffic.

The boom is North Dakota is creating enormous freight traffic. Doubtless Warren Buffet who owns BNSF is delighted; mounds of money are pouring in – with a cool $1000/a car to move oil and up to 100 oil cars per train.

Capitalism steals the day as wheat farmers – are taken – second priority. It’s $200/ a car to move wheat. So it seems right at the moment it’s tough times for the wheat farmer.

The bottom line means that ‘choice’: oil brings in more money.

Amtrak passengers are delayed by the increased freights traffic be it CSX, BNSF or whatever, industry freight has the right of way. Amtrak is paid a fee for any delay; which is part of the contract.

No incentive on the part of Warren Buffet to support alternate routes for moving the oil because the numbers *are working* in the current situation.

Some Williston North Dakota landlords who see dollar signs bouncing everywhere have reportedly racked up rents and are housing fracking boom-business workers whilst uprooting long term residents in favour of those whom can pay exorbitant rents.

Still 300+ men to one woman, isn’t much fun for barmaids!

The damage that can be measured is the boom’s impact on Amtrak schedules. Amtrak trains have for years and years been able to say that they’ve had a 90% record of being on-time. But now through no fault of their own, they are late more often than not as a direct result of the freight cars moving oil tripling in the last two years.

Thousands of black stealth oil cars are dominating the railway line. Amtrak merely gets to ‘use the railway line’ and be at the behest of industry’s priority needs. And there is nothing customers of Amtrak can do about it. The oil boom may actually be said to be culpable in the unintended consequence of virtually ending on-time-commitment passenger rail travel. Amtrak has to tell its passengers it has to play it by ear. Literally.

How slick is the oil boom after all?

Maybe Warren Buffet should be made to be stuck behind a freight train and told “too bad sir, sit and wait.”

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