WRR – 03-18-2011

WEEKLY RAIL REVIEW

FOR THE WEEK ENDING FRIDAY, MARCH 18, 2011

BY DAVE MEARS

THE WEEK’S TOP RAIL AND TRANSIT NEWS (in chronological order):

(MON) In response to congressional urgings, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood designated Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Line as a U.S. high-speed rail corridor, bringing the total number of such corridors to 11. The decision allows Amtrak to apply for federal high-speed rail funds to make capital improvements to the NEC, including the $2.4 billion recently renounced by Florida Governor Rick Scott that Mr. LaHood said he would now work to reallocate. (ffd: NARP, Railway Age)

(MON) Sounder and Cascades passenger rail services in Washington State were suspended for approximately 48 hours due to mud slides. In the last three months, 20 mudslides have temporarily halted these services, with most of them occurring on the BNSF line between Seattle and Everett. State officials said that they would seek $10 million for initial work on ways to permanently prevent the mud slides. (ffd: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle Times)

(MON) The American Public Transportation Association released a study that said that, if gas prices average $4 per gallon, 670 million more passenger trips on public transportation could be expected, bringing the annual total to 10.8 billion trips. The study added that, if gas prices average $5 per gallon, an additional 1.5 billion passenger trips could be expected, bringing the annual total to 11.6 billion trips. (ffd: APTA)

(MON) Metrolinx, the parent agency of GO commuter rail serving Greater Toronto, ON, ordered 50 new bi-level commuter cars from Bombardier Transportation. Production on the C$125 million order is scheduled to start in June, 2011 with the first deliveries in November, 2011. (ffd: Bombardier, Railway Age)

(MON) Southern California commuter rail operator Metrolink said that it had entered into a partnership with the University of Southern California’s engineering school to create an advance rail safety certification program. A Metrolink spokesman said that, whereas individual railroads have individual safety programs “that focus on rules and procedures, there is no consistent system safety certification program in the railroad industry. Technological advances over the next years…will create even high levels of human technology interface, which is why it is critical that a standardized system safety curriculum be created.” It noted that USC’s engineering school has provided aviation safety education for more than a half-century. (ffd: RT&S)

(MON) Chicago commuter rail operator Metra said that it would open a new station at 35th Street in Chicago on its Rock Island District line. The new station will serve nearby U.S. Cellular Field, where the Chicago White Sox play. Trains will begin stopping at the station on April 3 in advance of the White Sox home opener on April 7. (ffd: Trains)

(TUE) Congressional leaders announced the formation of the “Bi-Cameral High-Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus.” The caucus is comprised of principally Democratic members from both the Senate and the House. The caucus said in a statement that its goals include “explaining the clear economic benefits of high-speed rail and the value of investments to America’s well-being.” (ffd: NARP, The Hill)

(TUE) A U.S. appeals court upheld an earlier ruling by the Surface Transportation Board requiring Canadian National Railway to pay the majority of the costs for building two key railroad overpasses in the Chicago suburbs. The overpasses root in conditions stipulated by the STB in their oversight of the acquisition by CN of the former Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway. (ffd: Chicago Tribune, Progressive Railroading)

(TUE) The Surface Transportation Board granted a coal-fired utility plant owned by Entergy and Arkansas Electric Cooperative additional rail access so that it may obtain alternatives rates and service. The plant is served by the Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad with traffic moving via Union Pacific. The STB’s order allows the utility cooperative to also seek rates and service with the MNA via BNSF. (ffd: Railway Age, STB)

(TUE) Southern California commuter rail operator Metrolink said that it would begin a pilot program of operating express trains on two of its busiest lines. Starting May 9, the San Bernardino Line, which has 13 stops, will have certain trains making only four stops: San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Covina, and Los Angeles. Also starting that date, the Antelope Line, which has 11 stops, will have certain trains also making only four stops: Palmdale, Santa Clarita, downtown Burbank, and Los Angeles. (ffd: Metrolink, Progressive Railroading)

(WED) Three U.S. senators introduced legislation to establish a national infrastructure bank. The bill, entitled the Building and Upgrading Infrastructure for Long-Term Development (BUILD) Act, would create the American Infrastructure Financing Authority to complement existing infrastructure funding. The AIFA would provide loans and loan guarantees for infrastructure projects and fund “the most important and economical viable” infrastructure projects in the country. (ffd: Progressive Railroading, Railway Age)

(WED) The Next Generation Corridor Equipment Pool Committee approved standard specifications for new diesel-electric locomotives intended for passenger rail service. The committee is a collaboration of 11 states, the Federal Railroad Administration, Amtrak, rail equipment manufacturers, and suppliers. It was created by the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 to develop specifications and procurement strategies for new domestic passenger locomotives, rolling stock and related equipment. (ffd: AASHTO, NARP, Railway Age)

(WED) Related to coal being the commodity most carried by U.S. railroads after intermodal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed new emission regulations for coal-burning power plants. In making their announcement, the EPA noted that roughly half of the nation’s more than 400 coal-burning plants have some form of emission control technology installed and about a third of the states have set their own standards for emissions. They added that the proposed regulations would be the first national standard and will require all plants to come up to the standard of the cleanest of current plants. EPA said that the collective cost of compliance with the proposed regulations would be approximately $10 billion. (ffd: Progressive Railroading, USEPA)

(THU) The House Railroad Subcommittee held a hearing on the impact of the Rail Safety Improvement Act, with special attention to the status of Positive Train Control, which the Act requires by 2015 for passenger railroads and for Class I rail lines over which TIH traffic is transported. At the hearing, the head of South Florida’s Tri-Rail commuter rail system, who testified on behalf of members of the American Public Transportation Association, asked Congress to legislate a three-year extension of the compliance deadline, until 2018. He also asked that the federal government provide sufficient funding to assist in meeting the approximately $2 billion cost of implementation for commuter railroads. (ffd: AAR, Los Angeles Times, NARP, wire services)

(THU) Congress approved and sent to the president a three-week appropriations continuing resolution that will keep federal agencies operating until April 8. The “CR” includes $4 billion in budget cuts, including deleting seed funding for the development of positive train control technology – much of that development already being independently underway – and also $24 million from the program to assist in planning the relocation of rail lines from congested areas. (ffd: AASHTO)

(THU) Greenbrier announced that it had received orders for 4,200 new rail cars. It said that the majority of orders are for double-stack intermodal platforms, with the balance consisting of boxcars, covered hoppers, and “various car types for European markets.” It said that delivery of these cars would occur principally in 2011. (ffd: Greenbrier Corp.)

(THU) Amtrak announced that it would hold its fourth annual National Train Day Celebration on Saturday, May 7. It said that it would hold major celebratory events at its stations in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, and said that individuals may also “attend an event near you, host one of your own, or participate online.” (ffd: Amtrak)

(FRI) The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority dedicated and formally launched two tunnel boring machines to tunnel underneath Sunnyside Yards in Queens Borough in New York City. The tunnels are part of the East Side Access project which will allow Long Island Rail Road trains to access the East Side of Manhattan and eventually reach a new station located near and connected with Grand Central Terminal. A spokesman said that the project is still scheduled to be completed by 2016, but noted that the startup date had slipped in recent years due to funding issues. (ffd: NYMTA, Railway Age)

(FRI) The Canadian government announced a series of steps it said would improve rail service in the country. The government’s proposal stems from a study of rail service in which rail customers, particularly grain shippers, said that service had been inadequate. The steps include a six-month facilitation process in which the government hopes to establish a dispute resolution process, as well as a bill which if passed would give rail shippers the right to a service agreement with railroads. The head of Canadian National Railway said that it had “serious concerns” with the proposal and the head of Canadian Pacific Railway warned against it “isolating the rail sector.” (ffd: MSN, Trains)

(FRI) The National Transportation Safety Board said that it would revamp its annual Most Wanted List Safety Recommendations Program. A NTSB spokesman said that it would work on a new process such that “future lists would be limited to a maximum of 10 issue areas, each supported by recommendations, and that the formerly separate state and federal Most Wanted Lists by combined into a single, comprehensive list.” (ffd: NTSB)

(FRI) The online travel site Orbitz For Business announced a partnership this week with SilverRail Technologies that it said “will allow customers to seamlessly plan and book rail travel through the Orbitz For Business tool – the first major online travel company to announce integrated, online rail capabilities for U.S. business travel.” An Orbitz spokesman said that customers will be able to use the service to make Amtrak reservations for all Amtrak trains. (ffd: NARP)

STATS – CLASS 1 RAIL TRAFFIC:

(THU) The Association of American Railroads reported that, for the week ending March 12, 2011 and ranked with the comparable week last year:

- U.S. carload rail traffic totaled 292,164 units, up 1.3 percent

- Notable U.S. carload rail traffic increases included metallic ores up 105.3 percent, pulp and paper products up 17.9 percent, and motor vehicle and equipment up 17.7 percent; notable decreases included waste and nonferrous scrap down 13.7 percent and primary forest products down 12.6 percent.

- U.S. intermodal rail traffic totaled 216,828 units, up 6.5 percent

- Canadian carload rail traffic totaled 71,533 units, down 3.9 percent

- Canadian intermodal rail traffic totaled 42,009 units, down 2.7 percent

- Mexican carload rail traffic totaled 15,545 units, up 14.1 percent

- Mexican intermodal rail traffic totaled 6,488 units, down 15.1 percent

For the period January 1 through March 12, 2011:

-U.S. carload rail traffic totaled 2,870,806 units, up 5.5 percent

-U.S. intermodal rail traffic totaled 2,176,100 units, up 7.8 percent

-Canadian carload rail traffic totaled 701,633 units, down 1.6 percent

-Canadian intermodal rail totaled 449,059 units, up 3.2 percent

-Mexican carload rail traffic totaled 143,963 units, up 6.4 percent

-Mexican intermodal rail traffic totaled 71,530 units, up 8.5 percent

NOTE: Canadian counts include traffic from the U.S. operations of the two Canadian-based Class I railroads, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway.

EXPANSIONS, CONTRACTIONS AND ALIKE:

None of note this week.

 

APPOINTMENTS, ACHIEVEMENTS AND MILESTONES:

(THU) Short line holding company Watco announced the following appointments: Rob Thrall as regional vice-president of operations-West Region; Brian Boutwell as regional vice-president of operations-Gulf Region; Alex King as director of operations-Gulf Region; and Jerry Carter as director of operations-West Region. (ffd: Progressive Railroading, Watco Companies)

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