A comeback for rail?

"From Roundhouse"
Yaletown, Vancouver 4/29/12 (PH)

We’re told that Canada is “cloaked in abandoned rail.”
Reports indicate “almost every Canadian community is home to at least a few kilometers of abandoned or neglected rail line — that is, if it has not already been ripped up to make way for cycling trails” (or townhomes, as in the photo at right).
This story in the weekend National Post tells of many of these neglected rail lines suddenly attracting new interest.  “Austere government, coupled with high fuel prices, are the windfall they have been waiting for.  ‘The times are not so bullish anymore,’ said Bruce Burroughs, a vice president with the Railway Association of Canada.  ‘Government are not so flush with money that they can afford to slap down asphalt and suck traffic off the rail system.'”
Is it possible that railways could once again be the ties that bind?

“New Territory”

“Sawmill explosions in the B.C. Interior have thrown the province’s forest industry into turmoil, raising concerns the mountain pine beetle’s damage to the sector may be entering a new and more deadly phase.  The potential for dry beetle-killed wood to pose a safety hazard comes at a time when the industry is struggling to cope with the pine beetle impact.”

Explosions ‘new territory’ for beetle-ravaged lumber industryVancouver Sun

Worker killed warned othersNational Post

Mill was considering safety upgradesGlobe and Mail

“Money, Power, and Wall Street”

When their two biggest rivals in Chicago and Boston followed the Vancouver Canucks to an early exit in round one of this year’s NHL playoffs, the remote turned to a much more riveting series for this blogger; Frontlines’s four-part investigation of the global financial crisis.  The first hour corroborated evidence related to 2011 Academy Award winner Inside Job while offering a far more detailed account of the lead-up to the 2008 economic meltdown from primary sources.  The second hour examined a series of secret meetings and decisions which ultimately led to the largest government bailout in US history.  The PVR is already set for parts three and four airing May 1st, “an inside look at how the Obama administration, including a divided economic team, has handled the crisis and how the financial world has returned to many of the practices that created the meltdown in the first place.”  Money, Power, and Wall Street review here.  More from Frontline here.

“Sawmill dust levels under scrutiny”

That’s the headline on the front page of this morning’s newspaper, in a report suggesting the fine dust produced when milling aging, dry, pine beetle wood may have contributed to the sawmill explosions in Prince George and Burns Lake.  Links to several stories in The Vancouver Sun below:

Sawmill dust levels under scrutiny

Fort St. James sawmill shuts down as a precaution

Prince George sawmill victims speak of the explosion, survival

Forest Rehab? – Updated 4/23

Further to a December post regarding the mountain pine beetle epidemic here, a confidential new report warns of “economic and social havoc on communities in British Columbia’s Interior (could) cost the region thousands of jobs in the coming years.  The report says the Prince George, Quesnel, Williams Lake and Lakes timber-supply areas in north-central BC are all expected to have sufficient quantities of timber until 2020.  But without a mitigation plan, timber supplies could drop between 32 per cent and 67 per cent in those areas from their pre-beetle levels.”
Full Story
Timber Supply Shortages RevealedQuesnel Cariboo Observer
Copy of Mid-Term-Timber-Supply-Report

Price-to-Rent

On the heels of Paul Jannke’s presentation (Forest Economic Advisors) at the NAWLA meeting last week, some interesting US home price-to-rent examples from this article.

In Philadelphia, rents have increased nearly 15 percent over the past year through February, while home values have dropped 5.4 percent.

Minneapolis rents are up nearly 10 percent; home prices are down nearly 7 percent.  Baltimore has seen rents rise 8.6 percent and home values drop 4 percent.

In Chicago, median rents in the past 12 months have risen 8.6 percent, or more than $100 a month. In the same period, the median home price has fallen 11 percent, to just $154,600.

Ike Barber

News of Ike Barber’s passing Friday afternoon spread quickly throughout the lumber industry.  He is described as a giant of the industry — “but his greatest legacy was to contribute tens of millions to promote education and research in BC” (see ‘Great Canadian’ Vancouver Sun 4/17).  He worked as a forester for most of his career, founding one of the province’s legacy forest companies, Slocan Forest Products in 1978.
I talked with Doug Butterworth this afternoon, retired VP of Taiga Building Products, who was a close personal friend.  Doug recalled Ike’s significant role in shaping especially the Interior lumber industry.  “He was down to earth,  genuine – a friendlier person you would never meet” said Doug.
While there will be a family private service , a “Celebration of Life” is being planned for early June.

Bubbling Over?

Canada’s mainstream media continue reporting inherent dangers of Canada’s overheated real estate markets, spurred on by combination of low interest rates and speculative purchases by Asian buyers in major centers such as Toronto and Vancouver.  At the same time, daily news in these parts carry reports of Canadians shifting focus to perceived value and risk in real estate investment south of the border.  Some commentators are sounding alarm bells:

“Do you think the Canadians are coming down here because they really like Arizona?  Some of them do, but they’re not buying thousands of houses because they feel sorry for us or want to support our market.  They’re doing it to make money.  There’s nothing wrong with that – I’m a capitalist – but you have to own up to the risks that you’re taking.  If you own a second home, you’re speculating.  It’s a lot cheaper to come to Arizona and stay in a resort or a short-term rental than to own the property and come down here one or two months out of the year.  It will be interesting to see if we start to hear sob stories about poor Canadians saying they were cheated by the banks and lost their investment properties and their Canadian properties.”
Ben Jones, Globe and Mail 4/12

Wood to the rescue

Some might think it would be a case of adding fuel to the fire, but San Francisco firefighters see it differently.  The department is one of “only two dozen or so in the US” who “still swears by wooden ladders for their strength, safety, and durability… made of old-growth Douglas Fir, harvested from eastern slopes in the Pacific Northwest.”

San Francisco firefighters cling to wooden ladders