Saturday, October 3, 2009

Brownsville climbs aboard railroad plan - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Brownsville climbs aboard railroad plan - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Brownsville Borough may have boarded a train to nowhere.
Heeding the call of a veteran railroad conductor, borough council this week agreed to sponsor a high-speed railroad corridor that would connect Pittsburgh to Columbus, Ohio, at a cost of $18 million in federal stimulus money.
The Fayette County borough, however, would not be part of the corridor route.
Council unanimously approved a 17-page document that was submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation late Tuesday evening, just in time to meet a midnight deadline for funding under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, or TIGER.
The planning document envisions Brownsville housing a "library" for information about high-speed railroads nationwide, according to its author, Robert Terry of Waynesburg. A train conductor with 38 years' railroad experience, Terry called the library a "storage shed" of records for all high-speed rail projects in the nation, all stored electronically.
Borough officials admit that landing the $18 million grant is a shot in the dark, but Terry had a vision and needed a governmental body — either state or local — to sponsor the plan. And there was no cost to apply.
He looked to Brownsville.
"It was a personal feeling," he said. Brownsville needs jobs, he said, and the goal of the stimulus package is to create jobs.
"I'm excited we have this opportunity to sponsor the plan," said Councilman Jack Lawver. "Rather than a negative, we hope it's a positive."
Brownsville rode a wave of prosperity in the era of coal and coke in Fayette County. It was once a robust railroad town, Lawver said, with as many as 100 railroad jobs. That was before the Monongahela Railroad was folded into Conrail in the early 1980s and the jobs went elsewhere. The town's steep decline began in the 1960s. Today, most downtown businesses are boarded up.
Several plans have been hatched for Brownsville's revival, then scuttled, including riverboat gambling on the Monongahela River and a training center for cyclists in the downtown area.
Lawver said council was aware the proposed rail corridor would not come near Brownsville. But "maybe someday we could have a spur here, a line that would connect us to the main line."
Councilman James Lawver, Jack's brother, said the high-speed rail plan "sounds like a good shot in the arm" for the community.
Terry said he thought the library idea would be key to attracting the attention of federal transportation officials, as nothing like it exists. He said the library would create as many as 25 jobs over three years, including technical positions, such as software engineers and "information specialists."
California University of Pennsylvania also applied for a TIGER grant. The school has proposed a $229 million magnetic levitation system to connect its downtown campus with apartment buildings and college recreational facilities two miles away.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dust Off the Mills, Fire Up the Boilers, Mobilize the Workforce…the Jobs are Coming Home!!

Since the final hours of our region’s (Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania) industrial heyday some 25+ years ago, watched a steady stream of jobs slip overseas. More often than not, it has seemed as if we are helpless against the economics of globalization. Cheap labor in developing nations like China has been fed by the removal of international trade tariffs producing an explosion of industrial growth for those nations. Previously, the tariffs imposed on foreign importers (or, domestic companies manufacturing in foreign lands shipping to the U.S.) have held the disparity of labor costs as inconsequential.

But, there’s a far more power which has fed the expansion of our trade deficit…’cheap oil’. Until the recent run up of oil prices (more than 500% since 2002), we’ve experienced a great expansion of ‘wealth’ on the backs of cheap oil. While the perceived wealth of our nation has expanded along with this trend, it has been accompanied by the removal of the foundation our economy is built upon. We’ve steadily transformed our nation into a service based, Wall St. driven nation whereby we utilized the sweat, labor and skill of other nations to build the ‘American Way’.

Logic tells us the current flow of our industrial economies is unsustainable. The simple fact that we’re often shipping raw materials around the world, manufacturing them, then shipping them back around the world to be consumed (and, often shipped back at their end life) is illogical to the untainted eye (likely one of those questions where 99% of kindergarteners would answer correctly against the 1% of adults). Many factors have held their ground for the past few decades which have made this model ‘work’ financially. Oil has held at around $20/barrel, tariffs have steadily been removed, newly tapped labor came cheaply and environmental regulations were imposed on developed countries (but not in developing countries).

So why should we dust off our mills which have slowed to a snail’s pace and often laid dormant for many years? Logic is taking hold and the many factors which have ‘globalized’ our economy are about to reverse course.

Oil - We’ve caught a few glimpses of this in the past year where triple-digit oil prices brought our economy to a halt (despite the focus on sub-prime lending, oil is the driver in our recession but that’s another discussion). We’ve felt some brief reprieve on oil prices however they remain well above the rates which fueled the trade deficit. And, we are naïve to believe oil will not return to last year’s levels and higher in the coming years. Suddenly, shipping materials around the world for low value:weight products (i.e. steel) doesn’t make financial sense…logic takes hold.
Labor - Meanwhile, the labor disparity is closing quickly. Wage gaps between the developed and developing world remain however they’re nowhere near the rates which took so many jobs overseas.
Global Environmental Concerns - Additionally, the combination of increased environmental awareness on a global scale (global warming via greenhouse gases has no borders) is forcing the developed world to consider means of putting a price on CO2 emissions. The U.S. is likely to join the EU in hosting a ‘cap and trade’ program which will reward those who determine means of producing in more efficient (carbon output wise) manners, and punish those who don’t. Yes, this by itself would only push the ball further into the developing world (where they don’t have environmental costs imposed on their products) however the U.S. (as the EU is currently considering) should also consider a carbon tariff on imported goods. Since the U.S. is more than 50% more efficient than countries like China, this would flip the jobs back to the U.S. in an immediate fashion. Many would oppose the addition of trade tariffs as unfair practices however the omission of a carbon tariff in theory is the unfair practice imposed on our own labor force (further, without it would only shift CO2 emissions to other lands which would end up in the same sky although via less efficient processes thus greater output).

Pull these factors together and we’ll end up with far more of barrier than the tariffs of a decade ago which blocked imports. Oil prices will rise again, labor gaps will continue to close and global environmental concerns will peak in the coming years. Are we ready to mobilize our industry? Is our region ready to take the lead again, and inspire our nation’s next great movement?

Our belief is that our tri-state region (Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania) needs to grease up our old factories and (re)train our blue-collar workforce for the next phase of development. A new economy where globalization comes via technology but industry is held at home. Developing a high-speed rail system is a necessary step towards our nation’s infrastructure. Using our region’s assets to produce its supplies and host its early lines is a necessary step towards securing our nation’s economy for generations to come.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

POWV: A Multi-state Multi-jurisdiction Partnership

In a recent film about this part of country’s economic problems one speaker was quoted as saying that it’s about time the rest of country caught up to our slump. As is well documented this area’s economic problems are directly attributed to the collapse our steel industry. A case where cheaper imports, outdated technologies, and environmental issues have been said to cause dozens of our area’s highest volume plants to shut down. But one other major factor that has not been raised since it we raised our battle over it in the 1980’s was the removal of the area’s major rail corridor. That removal occurred when federal legislation gave Conrail an open window to abandon rail lines in order to take bankrupt carriers off the federal dole. One doesn’t need extensive study to verify how that removal helped to contribute to the area’s economic ruin. Just the example of what happened in the city of Weirton WV illustrates the point all too clearly.

National Steel owned some six steel plants in the country in the 1980’s. Within months after Conrail started the degrading process for the abandonment of its Mainline Pittsburgh to St. Louis, National Steel chose to shut the doors on its Weirton Steel plant. That resulted in a mixed set of owners and partners that today leave the plant and the city in a shell of what it once was. While that was going on back then we, as offshoot of our of railroad union’s committee, organized a community based organization called POW V. We saw firsthand what was occurring and tried to prevent the dismantling of our railroad infrastructure. The most striking accomplishment we made was our application to Conrail for high-speed trains over the Mainline Pittsburgh to St. Louis that they slated to degrade and then abandon. Under the federal statues we used for our application the degrading was slowed to the point that almost all the corridor still has some rail traffic over it.

On February 17, 2009, when the President of the United States signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to, among other purposes, (1) preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery, (2) invest in transportation infrastructure that will provide long term economic benefits, and (3) assist those most affected by the current economic downturn, we collectively released a long overdo sigh of joyous relief. Because we had been asking for such a mechanism for some time in order to have what happened here be known and how we think we could make it better. That’s why we have organized a multi-State and multi-jurisdictional partnership. That’s why we are applying as such for a TIGER Discretionary Grants (‘‘Grant Funds’’). We believe that when all the facts are in and there is a transparent viewing of that data that our POW V Corridor will be seen to have the needed significant impact that’s being asked for on the Nation, our metropolitan areas, and our region.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Words as a form of Action

It is often said "Actions speak louder than words". But, what if those words serve as the action? Can words serve as the primary source of bringing solutions to life? This question was never more a reality than the past year’s presidential elections as President Obama circled the nation amidst the ‘rock star-esque’ crowds to his “words”. Many of his doubters and opponents attacked him, urging the people not to be blinded by his polished speeches of hope and promise. They often agreed he was a powerful presenter, however they claimed they were ‘only words’ and lacked tangible action. To this day, many criticize his resume for a lack of results against the backdrop of his rich, bold promises of a better tomorrow. Which brings us back to the question, “can words be a form of action?”. Are the words Pres. Obama has made a part of history serve as the building blocks of progress? Close to home, are the words of POWV shaping the policy of tomorrow's transportation infrastracture?

Visionary movements are born out of the seeds of ingenuity of individuals. They feed of the hope and dreams of the founding few. They spread to reality via the persistence of those willing to defy the odds and deafen the naysayers. A bit naïve, the movement moves forward, nimbly morphing as necessary while maintaining the core vision. With small wins along the way, people start to take notice and the early adopters jump on board. All the while, there’s a pack of people who’ve heard the message yet it sits dormant in their brain’s corner. Then, with an exhilarating transformation, the movement reaches a key hurdle and the pace moves into overdrive. At the crest of this energy, the force takes on a new life. Those who casually joined early on, deepen their roots and dedicate their being to the cause. The words once locked away emerge into the conversations of the majority, and key players emerge to see it forward. Yet, to this point, it is often only “words” which brought us to this point. Many great ideas fail to reach this stage simply because they couldn’t get the message across. At times, it was a lack of persistence, poor choice of recipients, and/or the lack of charisma, credibility and trust from the presenter.

It is my belief; POWV High Speed Rail now sits within the early adoption stage however the foundation is starting to rumble with encouraging signs of progress towards the next steps. Repeatedly, we’ve seen our requests take hold and the policy continues to shift towards our cause. And, now those around us are starting to take notice with a bit more than the original blank stares…the “words” are creeping form the back of their brains, as they consider their part in this historic movement. But to this point, it has been ‘just words’ brought to the attention of whoever will listen via a consistent, persistent message. Now putting words into action, we at POWV continue with a purpose to bring high speed rail to the Pittsburgh-Columbus corridor…any successful national high-speed rail plans will have to include this corridor. It has served as a primary component of all major transportation developments throughout our country’s history via the Ohio River, the original rail system and I-70 as part of the interstate highway system…we are now on the cusp of including it within our country’s interstate high-speed rail system, and we’re playing a critical role in sharing the message across the 3 involved states (Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia) and beyond.

Please join our movement and become one of our early adopters, mark your place in history…it’s happening before our eyes and the pieces are about to pick up steam…

POWV High Speed Rail Mgmt

Saturday, May 9, 2009

"Who knows? We can dream."

POW V continues to talk, people continue to listen, now it seems some are beginning to take notice, and take action...

Stimulus Money To Improve Rails In Jefferson County
Posted: 5:37 pm EDT April 14, 2009Updated: 7:04 pm EDT April 14, 2009

Ohio Transportation Stimulus funds will be used to improve the Gould Tunnel outside Mingo Junction in Jefferson County.

Mike Paprocki with The Brooke Hancock Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission said, "It's an important link from the rail yard. It connects Norfolk Southern Railroad and Ohio Central Railroad. That services a lot of coal mines and trains that go to the Apex mine."
The $5 million in stimulus will be used to improve the tunnel because it leaks and has drainage problems.

"This ought to put about 40 people to work," said Paprocki. "It's a big help to the railroads in our area. They're making resurgence." The exact solution isn't clear yet because Paprocki said there are several different options state crews could take. "They could lower the bed and raise the clearance because it has clearance issues. The tunnel will not take double-stacked cars. Or, they could line it and keep it as is," said Paprocki.

With improvements on the way, leaders have high hopes for the future including the possibility that one day the tracks could carry passenger trains. "This could be used as a critical link between Pittsburgh and Columbus for high-speed rail through our area," said Paprocki. "Who knows? We can dream."

There is no timeline in place as to when work on the Gould Tunnel could start.
Officials with the Ohio Railroad development Commission said improvements will be on the existing structure. Jefferson County isn't the only area that will get rail improvements.
More than $1 million in stimulus funds is expected for rail work in Harrison County at Miller Station.

Copyright 2009 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

All Aboard...

All Aboard…

The trainmaster calls out “All Aboard” and the people shuffle themselves and their belongings towards the gate like a content herd of cattle. After boarding the train at the King Street Station (Seattle), we find ourselves gliding along smooth tracks to Portland. The leather seats are inviting and apparently (if the gal snoring across from us is any indicator) comfortable enough for the 4 hour ride aboard Amtrak’s Cascader (wouldn’t an under 2 hour high speed line we wonderful?). After pulling through the industrial landscape from Seattle to Tacoma, the rail line takes a scenic burst along the Puget Sound. The clouds clear, the mountains appear and I begin to wonder what the phrase “All Aboard” means for our nation. Are we all on board? Has the POW V corridor been left behind?

For the past 25 years, our country has experienced great strides in ‘so-called’ economic expansion. Despite the recent recessions, our GDP and other economic indicators illustrate a nation living the good life. However, as we ‘peel the onion back’, we realize not everyone is ‘All Aboard’. Despite the harsh warning signs of the prior generation, we continued to build an economy driven by the oil of other nations and (increasingly) the muscle of other nation’s labor. With cheap oil/gas in our nation’s engine, we plowed forward building corporate profits by selling the goods ‘Made in China’. In turn, we now face immensely divided economic classes, a fragile economy (one spike in oil prices away from collapse) and an environment in peril. On both sides of the political aisle, we’ve built policy on the ‘sink or swim’ ideas. These flawed concepts have left the communities which once built our nation’s infrastructure as people/regions which ‘couldn’t make it’. Our heartland became more of a liability as we moved into the global ‘free-market’ economies. Areas throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia became second-thought on the political landscape as the unemployment rose, the ‘strong’ escaped, and the proud people suffered.

Economic booms and busts come in cycles, and there’s always going to be areas/people which benefit more/less from those movements. Our region has always played a key role in providing the foundation for our nation’s prosperity. We built (and served as the primary corridors of) the transportation lines of the 1800’s (original rail lines) and the 1900’s (interstate highways). We furnished the coal to burn and the steel to build the bones of a country. For the most part, we missed the call to transform our economy into the Information-Age and continued to grasp onto the jobs (which put food on our tables for the generations) like a fading dream. But, the next ‘age’ is upon us and has our names (all of our names) written all over it. The ‘green economy’ is plowing ahead with an agenda which will transform the jobs of the industrial age into those which will provide the same benefits (and more) but in a more responsible manner. This is why it’s so important we embrace a concept of ‘All Aboard’ rather than outsource the next cycle of development. The new leaders must boldly step forward and provide a platform for the U.S. to take a front role in this inevitable movement. We must innovate in ways which not only provide profits for the corporation’s short-term agendas but capture our communities’ welfare for generations to come. If not, not only will the poor and middle-class suffer, those at the top of the pyramid will continue to prosper on false realities.

Currently, we’re ‘only’ one voice in this movement however POW V High Speed Rail holds this concept as a driving principle. We believe without all of our neighbors “All Aboard”, any short-term gains will be fragile for all. We’re not advocates of hand-outs nor are the people of our region. We don’t need the flashy bling of Hollywood, the pressed suits of Wall St, but rather we want to build something. We want to be at ground zero of a strong and vibrant nation. You see, instead of needing our names in lights, we put our names on lunch pails. We’re people who want to provide for others and provide for our families in return, and hope it extends to our grandchildren. POW V believes bringing high speed rail to this region will facilitate our involvement in the ‘green economy’ and fuel the fires of innovation towards jobs within our borders.

All Aboard?!?

Place your name on the POW V lunch pail by joining our team at

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Community Action & High Speed Rail

The recent presidential election brought the concept of "Community Action Groups" to the forefront of driving democracy and providing solutions for the next generation. Although some ignorantly ridiculed the leadership and stature of a community organizer, the American people have awoken to the call to get involved and to take responsibility for the direction of our nation and the communities which comprise it. This is not a new concept however one which has been buried amongst the belief that government and corporations are the primary avenue to provide the infrastructure we depend on. But, there's a noticeable change in the air. One which has the youth ready to dedicate their time and energy to make things happen. And, while the shifting tides resides within the younger generation, it is carrying to all generations as contagious inspiration.

So, what does this mean for high speed rail? After all, trains are the product of large amounts of capital and resources requiring engineering expertise and government approval. Please welcome POWV High Speed Rail. In the mid-80's, POWV was born via the desire of a group of railroaders who fought for what they felt was right for their community and the nation their line was supporting. Other local parties joined the cause and together they found an avenue to protect the Panhandle line from removal. Although the plot details play out like a riveting novel, the basic story of this line being saved revolves around the group pledging to bring high speed rail to the line. Although there were hopes of actually bringing high speed rail to the tri-state (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia) region, the primary intent of the pledge was capitalizing on the right of way's protection if such a pledge was made. Although they weren't able to save the freight running over these tracks, they had displayed an act of courage and won the battle. The following 20 years weren't so favorable for the region as they saw countless jobs shipped overseas and the people who served as the backbone of our nation's infrastructure soon felt the pain, and still do to this day.

Fast forward to today, POWV High Speed Rail is reemerging and embracing its position as a well-purposed community action group. An organization moving with direction to provide solutions for the people, and our collective nation. POWV is moving with a passionate pace to bring place the POWV Corridor into the current discussions for high speed rail. Anyone viewing the current FRA HSR Corridor Map can see the obvious disconnect in the proposed network. POWV's current mandate is to ensure those in the decision making positions see it, understand it, and connect it. Amidst the HSR discussions taking place across the country, POWV sees the monumental challenges in front of it. The other proposals come via State Transit Authorities, Multi-national corporations, and other large scale entities which are expected to be here and have the resources to move decisions. While this is reality, POWV has pledged to do what they feel is right for the broader community and are gaining steam with each person they bring on board. It will be, and has been, a trial by fire approach which is building momentum (along with setbacks) forward. It involves the courage of the people behind it who know what hard work is all about.

It's been nearly 25 years in the making however the time has come for POWV vision to come to fruition. Their intentions revolve around building the next generation economy for a region sitting at the heart of our nation. Their embracing their role as a community action group and energized by the resurgence of community involvement witnessed in recent times. It's time to make Ohio high speed rail, West Virginia high speed rail, and Pennsylvania high speed rail all a reality on a connected network via the POWV Corridor. It's time to put the people back in democracy, and drive a nation forward.