Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 In Reflection, Amtrak & Flip

My heartfelt apologies for the dearth of recent posts but, as with most good things in Life, work just seems to get interminably in the path of greatness. On the other hand, there is the positive aspect of that bi-weekly check and the fact that I am still reasonably employed, though we lost 132 people last year and are operating at 32 less on just my shift presently.

Resolvedly, I will make the attempt to provide more 2011 Train Porn for myself and whatever band of shaggy readers I may have adopted from the nearby tracks. Of course, train buffs of all stripes are welcome here at Milepost 154 and, with that being said, perhaps this is the appropriate moment for a bit of reflection.

2010 is about to conclude and, with it, one of the worst economic times in my recent memory -- save that of the late 70s and very early 80s. James Earl Carter (if not the worst then perhaps in the running for second-worst president in American history) had been recently defeated and left behind, as his wondrous legacy, the importation of criminal Marielitos from Cuba into Florida, the giveaway of the Panama Canal, double-digit inflation, unemployment and the 14% rate that I was paying on my home loan -- you know, the one with the five year call. Some people were paying 25% to 30% on car loans. If they could get them. That was back when you actually had to possess a modicum of credit reputability coupled with a considered down payment. Up until the past few years all that was required for home loan acquisition was to be a vertically-bipedal meatsack. But that's a story for my other blog.

Luckily, the nation is not at that point. Unemployment, it can be argued, is actually worse in some targeted locations -- agricultural towns and cities in Fornicalia, for example, where unemployment ranks at 20% or worse -- but the overall economy hasn't transitioned from inflation and thence into hyperinflation; this may be coming, however.

The largest problem is this: no one knows. This government isn't helping when it continues to spend beyond-prodigious amounts of money as though there is no valve whatsoever on the taxpayer spigot. There isn't necessarily a revenue problem; there is clearly a spending problem.

Further, not just individuals but businesses are left hanging. Small businesses, the bread and butter of the nation and responsible for the bulk of hiring (not "Big Business"), can't get loans. Money has not loosened because banks are anally holding their capital -- again, unsure about the economy and the forecast of health, energy, tax rates and regulations.

This is not surprising when the political pastures change almost weekly and the forecast is "rain, with an actual chance of socialism."

As I am wont to say, the parasites are on the cusp of outnumbering the hosts. When the lever fully tilts in that opposite direction, the nation will be grievously wounded. No one yet knows if the wound will be mortal or reversible. One can only hope.

What, for God's sake, does this have to do with trains and a trainblog? Quite a massive bit, as it turns out.

You have to ask yourself: what's the purpose of railroads? Answer: they transport commodities. They are "common carriers" but with this caveat: they transport in bulk. LTL (less than truckload) business isn't their specialty. That's for trucks. Specific point-to-point door deliveries.

Trains can compete with trucks, to a degree. Some bright young lad one day thought: hey, who says we can't put truck trailers on flatcars and move a bunch of them? This arrangement is called TOFC or -- oddly enough -- Trailer On FlatCar.

Further, an entirely different bright young lad thought: hey, who says we can't create this thingy whereby we attach truck trailers to railcar trucksets and leave out the whole flatcar? This arrangement is called a "roadrailer."

Still and all, trucks are really good at what they do, and railroads are really good at what they do. They don't mesh well otherwise, particularly at rail crossings.

Overall, therefore, railroads were impacted by the economy in 2010. Locally for me (and by that, I mean Union Pacific's Roseville Subdivision over Donner Pass on the #1 and #2 tracks), traffic has not necessarily decreased substantially. This is because UP discontinued running most intermodal or stacktrain freight through the Feather River Canyon area (former Western Pacific digs) and, instead, diverted it up and over Donner. See my posts here and here and here and here for the reasons.

But this is the exception and not the rule. Unit trains (a train carrying one specific commodity, such as grain, chemicals, petroleum, coal*) are down as are mixed manifest trains (trains of a lesser priority which can carry anything from flatcars to gondolas to boxcars to bulkhead cars to autoracks). [*It is no secret that the current US administration wants to eliminate the use of coal entirely for any purpose whatsoever.]

This is clearly because the economy does not demand those bulk movements be made as frequently. The demand for the product(s) is down.

Subsequently, train crew calls are down, employees aren't needed as much and profits are down.

Further, the demand for new railcars is down as is the demand for locomotives. America's heavy rail industries are impacted.

I wish I could forecast a blooming economy for 2011; unfortunately (though I am no remote resemblance or kin to Carnak The Magnificent) I see the economy continuing on a poor path; perhaps even worse. Again, those aren't detailed topics for this blog but more pointedly for my other.

Bottom line: I'll try to blog with greater frequency which, admittedly, I very much enjoy.

Assisting me in this endeavor will be my trusty Nikon Coolpix 100, Sony A300 DSLR and my Flip video cameras in HD. I have become slightly more facile with my Flip HD videocams, and I have sworn to become even more familiar with them in 2011.

First, an admission: I am not a shill for the Flip video or for Cisco Systems. I receive no goods or services from them nor do I know anyone who works for them. That said, I find the Flip videocams in HD to be absolutely astounding little devices. Above, I have posed the Flip Slide videocam on the left, and the newest Flip Ultra HD on the right. I placed a pen below them in order to better indicate their relative sizes. These cameras are not appreciably larger than a pack of cigarettes. More on the Flip videocams in a later post, with comparisons and reviews.

But first, an Amtrak video captured with the Flip Slide:

If you happen to listen to the video with headphones, you can hear the detector at milepost 148.8 activate in the background. And I must admit: it was an amazing thing to be hit right in the snoot with two four-stroke diesel exhaust bursts from the glorious GE units as they passed underneath.

And there you have it. Time to wrap up so that I can sojourn back up to my cabin in the mountains. I'm making a stop at Costco on the way, for hardtack, wagon axle grease, a new Henry rifle, jerky, flour, pickaxes and goldpans. You know, the stuff you need in the mountains.

God bless you, my dearest readers, thank you so kindly for visiting, perusing and commenting. Good luck to you in 2011 -- we're all going to need busloads of it, I fear.