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    Posted Friday, November 20 2015 at 1506 h MST
    Word has it that BNSF was supposed to deliver another cut of cars for storage out on the ex-MP Towner Line this afternoon. That brings us up to five trains of stored intermodal equipment out there. - NDHolmes

    Posted Sunday, November 1 2015 at 2122 h MST
    BNSF has delivered and stored at least three trains worth of 40-ft DTTX well car sets on the Towner Line over the last two weeks. In addition, the rail loading cars have been removed and the M420W run all the way to the end of usable track at Ordway.

    Given the weather today, I decided to take a quick trip out to see what was stored and where. Photos and more details can be found [here]. -

    Posted Friday, June 12 2015 at 1359 h MDT
    V&S/A&K is back, and this time look like they might actually file the correct paperwork to actually abandon the entirety of the Towner Line.

    First, we have a rather angry response from V&S where they adamantly deny having done any removal of rail materials from the western segment of the line. I've read it, and you should, too. It's an interesting case of them being technically correct in legalese while, in my opinion, acting in bad faith to the intent of the law.

    My favourite quote from the response is: In fact, no rail or track materials have been removed from the Western Segment. Attached as Exhibit 1 is the Verified Statement of Mr. Rocky Smith, Vice President of Field Operations for A&K Railroad Materials, Inc., of which V &S is an affiliate. He states unequivocally, "No rail, spikes or tie plates were removed from the right-of-way of the Western Segment."

    This is - in fact - technically correct. However, when you remove 80% of the spikes and rail anchors from the track - even if they're still technically on the right of way - you've effectively damaged the track structure to the point it's no longer a railway. It's just a collection of track materials sitting on the right of way. It completely voids the spirit and intent of the OFA (offer of financial assistance) part of the formal abandonment process, which is intended to preserve the rail network by first offering an abandonment candidate to anyone who may wish to actually operate it.

    The STB itself keys in on this point in their May 7, 2015 decision to stop V&S/A&K's dismantling procedures: "We acknowledge there is agency precedent that indicates that, under some circumstances, a party can remove track and track materials once discontinuance has been granted (as it has been here).[13] But there is also agency precedent that holds that parties should not be permitted to remove track until they have received abandonment authority,[14] or where there is a valid OFA request to preserve rail service.[15] The Complaint thus raises novel, important, and serious questions about the requirements of 10903 and 10904, and about whether V&S has attempted to evade the requirements."

    All said and done, however, V&S/A&K appear intent to get their scrap. At least now, however, they're going through the correct procedures. They've filed notices with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and a number of federal agencies (because the line contains federal land grants) that they intend to file for abandonment of the entire route around July 1, 2015. -

    Posted Sunday, August 24 2014 at 1056 h MDT
    I'd heard a few reports circulating lately that A&K had actually started in on the Towner Line, so I went out late yesterday afternoon to try to verify those and collect proof. I'm sad to say that the news is bad. They indeed have everything in place they need to scrap out the line - except STB permission for abandonment. In fact, there's at least one OFA on the table (Offer of Financial Assistance - basically a request to buy the line intact), and I've heard there may be a second.

    No need to let pesky legalities get in the way, however. (In fact, I'm sure V&S/A&K will argue they're not abandoning it, they're just borrowing the rail for an indefinite period and betting they don't have to put it back.) V&S brought in a string of empty rail carriers and SMNR 3518 - an M420 from a Canadian branch they ripped out in 2007. Those are sitting at NA Junction. The washouts near the Highway 96 crossing have been fixed. A&K crews have pulled most of the spikes and rail anchors starting at Arlington, CO, and working west as far as halfway between Sugar City and Ordway. There's a line of heavy machinery at Arlington, including a speed swing, backhoe with a magnet attached to the arm, a grader, and a front end loader.

    With the track structure is now unsuitable for anything except one last train to pull up the rails and all the machinery you'd need to scrap out the track in place, it's pretty much a done deal. The west end of the Towner Line is toast, due process be damned.

    Photos substantiating its current status have been posted [here]. -

    Posted Sunday, July 20 2014 at 1724 h MDT
    The V&S Railway has been thwarted in their efforts to expediently scrap the east end of the Towner Line. In mid-May, V&S applied to abandon the east end, from Towner at 787.5 to near Eads at 808.3. A comment from the Public Land Surveyors of Colorado pointed out significant issues with their filings, most significantly that about half of the proposed abandonment sits on Federal land grants, whereas V&S claimed there were none. As a result of the PSLC comment and other question-raising issues, the Surface Transportation Board has categorically denied their exemption request. I wouldn't call it a long term win, but at least the STB is not just rubber stamping this one.

    That said, Mother Nature didn't do the west end any favors this week. Last Tuesday (July 15, 2014), a strong thunderstorm dumped sufficient rain north of NA Junction (where the Towner Line and BNSF's Pueblo Subdivision join) to cause flash flooding. Those floods overtopped the sides of the Colorado Canal, an irrigation ditch that runs along the north side of the railway and Colorado Hwy 96. The resulting torrent of water submerged both the road and railway where 96 crosses over the line between NA Junction and Olney Springs. The road survived fairly well, but the railway suffered a few washouts. Pictures from my drive through the area today are posted [here]. -

    Posted Wednesday, May 28 2014 at 1700 h MDT
    As expected, V&S applied to abandon the east end of the Towner Line in mid-May. That's no surprise - V&S has a history of buying up rail lines to scrap them out, and is strongly affiliated with A&K Railroad Materials.

    Probably what they didn't expect (nor did I) is [this very detailed comment] from the Professional Land Surveyors of Colorado, Inc, filed today (Wednesday, 28 May 2014). Basically PLSC points out four serious deficiencies in V&S's abandonment application:

    • Evidence that over half the line is on federal land grants for the RoW, contrary to V&S's filing that claims none is on federal grants
    • Evidence that there are 10+ state land grants tied to the federal grants
    • The omission of Otero County from any notifications, despite the fact the line passes through the county for roughly 1/5 of a mile
    • A&K/V&S's poor track record of legal compliance in other abandonments - the Trinidad Railway, the Aspen Branch, and something in Prowers County from 1993.

    The document is an absolutely fascinating read. I strongly suggest reading it yourself, and passing it along to anyone may be interested in what's in store for the Towner Line. -

    Posted Friday, November 16 2012 at 1036 h MST
    A few interesting things about the Towner Line came to light yesterday with a decision from the Surface Transportation Board. Apparently when they bought the line from CDOT, they filed with the STB to operate the line but inadvertently forgot to request the required permission to actually acquire it. (Required under 49 U.S.C. 10902) The V&S's lawyers recently noticed this, and asked the STB for the appropriate permission and and that it be granted retroactively to the December 29, 2005 purchase date.

    The importance of this is that the STB typically requires a carrier to own a line for two years before filing for abandonment. The board granted V&S permission to own the line yesterday (15 Nov 2012), but did not make it retroactive.

    Before anybody gets excited that this may extend the life of the line for another two years, it won't. The STB also waived this requirement, indicating that it would accept a petition to abandon the western end of the line at any time. I would expect to see a V&S petition for abandonment very soon.

    The STB decision (docket FD_35664_0) can be found on their website [here]. -

    Posted Saturday, June 16 2012 at 2134 h MDT
    On 8 Jun 2012, the V&S Railway officially applied to abandon the ex-Missouri Pacific Towner Line from NA Junction (where it joins with the BNSF and UP) to Haswell, CO. Officially the ends are mileposts 868.5 and 808.3. Here's a link to the official Surface Transportation Board filing.

    Consummation of the proceedings is expected in the last week of July, and I would expect removal of materials to begin immediately after that. Get those pictures now! -

    Posted Thursday, February 9 2012 at 2318 h MST
    A recently published memo from Mark Imhoff, Director of CDOT's Division of Transit & Rail, suggests that the state currently has no intention of preserving the Towner Line and gives more details on the timetables for abandonment.

    According to his statements, V&S is currently only proposing to abandon the 80 miles between NA Junction and Eads. The state has first right of reacquisition, and has 120 days from the start of the 2012 legislative session. That started on 11 Jan 2012, and puts the deadline for state action at 11 May 2012. CDOT has also notified all of the counties and cities that the line passes through and they have ninety days to express an interest in acquiring the route, in case CDOT refuses to acquire it.

    Given that it's a virtual certainty that the state will not repurchase the route given our budget condition, it's going to be up to local entities if it survives. I just can't see it - there's little to no online traffic along that section, and agricultural products from the Ordway area could just as easily go south to the BNSF line.

    [Here's] a copy of the memo, for those interested. -

    Posted Sunday, December 11 2011 at 2337 h MST
    Since it was such a nice day out there, I decided to go run the Towner Line this afternoon just to check on the status of the line. The short version is that the whole route is still intact, but V&S has already moved empty rail carriers into the siding at Stuart (just west of Towner) in preparation for scrapping. They've been there at least a week or two (possibly longer) - there's no wheel marks in the snowdrifts to the east, and there's a mighty collection of tumbleweeds underneath. I'll be curious what they use for scrapping power, since V&S's only motive power left the line in August 2009.

    I'll post a bunch more photos tomorrow when I'm slightly more awake, but for now I give you a couple pictures of the rail carriers [here].

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