Press Talk: Of railroads and …

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



The Tracks Of My Tears

“Hey, I like that idea. Let me double-check with the boss man right after this meeting, but I think we could get started pulling tracks up in a couple of days!”

OK, that would have been big! Really big! But it didn’t happen. Still, you have to ask right? Ya never know.

o o o

Earlier this week we had a few railroad executives in to speak to our editorial board. The railroad has been in the news lately because of its hauling of oil to our neck of the woods.

And although the percentages are very small, some oil railroad cars have sorta, kinda — you know — blown up. Then there’s that proposed oil terminal issue down at the Port of Vancouver. Lots more oil railroad cars are headed our way, and that oil terminal would almost make us kissin’ cousins with Houston.

So Matthew K. Rose, executive chairman of BNSF Railway, stopped by to talk to us about all of this.

We covered a lot of important stuff: safety, oil shipments and pipelines, to name a few.

But at some point during the meeting, I chimed in with another one of my off-the-wall questions.

I set my question up by talking about the Columbia River Gorge. It’s a world-renowned environmental tourist attraction, and its beauty — in my view — is really unmatched.

Now, beauty — way back in the day — wasn’t the top priority for us humans. Stuff like eating and surviving was. And it made perfect sense for the railroad to build its tracks abutting this wonder. It’s relatively flat land, it had the Columbia River for symbiotic transportation needs, and most folks — customers — lived and worked near a water source like the Columbia River.

But things change. So I asked.

Me: “What would it take to get the railroad to move their tracks away from the Columbia River?”

After I asked, I wondered if there would be any kind of “this guy is completely crazy” reaction. Honestly, I didn’t see one. But even I’d admit that question was out there.

Rose: “I can’t even imagine. I don’t even know if we could do it with all the permitting issues. You have to remember these railroads were built 120, 150 years ago back in the time where people thought there was a national need to have a railroad out here to provide commerce and … passengers.

And now to pick up a railroad … I’m not trying to beg off your question, but I’m not sure it’s possible.”

I noted again that times have changed and suggested wouldn’t it be nice, with magic wand in hand, to clean up the Gorge by removing the railroad.

Rose: “I hear your point. James J. Hill was the builder 120 years ago. … I don’t think he ever contemplated that there would be windsurfers on the Gorge.

Me: “He wasn’t thinking!

Rose: “Yeah, he wasn’t thinking big enough. Now these railroads are kinda set.”

OK, don’t look for the “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” song to jump back into the top 10. And don’t look for those tracks to disappear any time soon.

Moves Like Haggard

So you’re probably wondering about that photo, right? You know the photo with that young lady and me? Well, unless City Hall burns down next week, I plan to write about it then.

In the meantime, if you’d like a hint, please go to this link:

I will say this for now. Next Saturday, if you’d like a very nice dinner with a few hundred way-cool community members, if you’d like to see me make a fool of myself (I can hear my critics now: “Lou, you make a fool of yourself every time you write your column!“), or if you’d just like to say hi, follow that link I just mentioned.

Be there or be square.