Archive for August, 2020

Smokin’ it up for EL Monday

August 31, 2020

Cough! Cough! A quartet of Erie Lackawanna locomotives are putting out the smoke as they accelerate with a westbound in Akron on Sept. 4, 1972. The image was scanned from an Agfachrome slide.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Appeals Court Rules in Favor of Rail Unions

August 31, 2020

A federal appeals court last week rule in favor railroad labor unions in a dispute over crew size.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that disputes over crew size are subject to collective bargaining and not arbitration as the carriers had asserted.

A Texas district court had earlier ruled in BNSF et. al. vs. SMART-TD in favor of the railroads and issued a permanent injunction enjoining the union from refusing to bargain over crew size.

The appeals court action vacated the injunction and returned the case to the trial court for further consideration.

In doing so, the appeals court rules that the railroads were not entitled to an injunction because they had now shown that it was the only way to uphold the salient portion of the Rail Labor Act.

The court said the carriers had not shown there was a threat of interruption to commerce and that the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act limits the use of injunctions in labor disputes.

Some Favorites From the 1992 NRHS Convention

August 29, 2020

Espee 2472 at Santa Clara, California.

The 1992 National Railway Historical Society Convention was held in San Jose, California, and featured steam trains and commuter trains. One of the stars of the convention was Southern Pacific 4-6-2 No. 2472, which pulled excursions trains on the Peninsula. All of the images shown here were captured on July 23, 1992, between San Jose and San Francisco.

Photographs by Edward Ribinskas

Caltrain commuter train at Burlingame, California.

At the Paul Avenue Caltrain station at Bayview outside San Francisco. What was unique was the station was in between two tunnels. The station has since closed on Aug. 1, 2005.

The steam excursion heads toward San Francisco while the commuter train heads to San Jose.

When Big Blue Used Cabooses

August 29, 2020

The way back machine has transported us to a time when railroads still used cabooses. We’ve landed in Berea on April 20, 1985, in time to see a passing train with a caboose.

It may not be obvious but Conrail No. 21237 is special. It was one of 113 N-21 cabooses that the railroad ordered.

It would be the only order of cabooses that Conrail would place.

The N-21 class were built by Fruit Growers Express and had additional seating to accommodate deadheading crews.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

FRA Changing Track Inspection Rules

August 29, 2020

The Federal Railroad Administration this week released its final rule on track safety standards that the agency said “focuses more on providing performance-based outcomes, rather than prescribing exactly how companies conduct effective tests.”

The agency said the rule will enable railroads to use  established methods to inspect their track while also granting them “the flexibility to utilize new technologies and methods as they are proven safe and effective.”

The rule is intended to allow railroads to use ultrasonic inspection technology augmented with global positioning system for continuous rail flaw testing.

Such inspections can be conducted by moving track inspection vehicles, which can potentially decrease passenger and freight train delays.

Current FRA regulations require ultrasonic rail test vehicles to repeatedly stop and conduct a manual inspection to verify indication of defects, within four hours.

In a statement, the FRA said such frequent starting and stopping can require slow orders for trains operating in the vicinity.

This effectively limits testing to about 20 miles of track per day.

The FRA statements aid continuous rail testing typically enables evaluation of 80 to 160 miles per day.

The rule will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. View the final rule here:

2 Pa. Short Lines Get Safety Awards

August 29, 2020

Two Pennsylvania short line railroads have received President’s Safety Awards from the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

Honored in the eastern region were the Buffalo & Pittsburgh,  and the York Railway Company.

The awards recognize railroads that achieved the lowest accident frequency rate based on 2019 Federal Railroad Administration data that is categorized based on the number of injury-free man hours worked.

Winners of the award will be recognized during the ASLRRA’s virtual Connections convention to be held Oct. 5-9.

Study Finds Most Public Transit Agencies Unprepared for Cyberattacks

August 29, 2020

Most transit agencies are unprepared for a major cyberattack because they lack a cybersecurity preparedness program.

The Mineta Transportation Institute said it found three in five agencies have a cybersecurity preparedness program, but 42 percent do not have an incident response plan and 36 percent lack a disaster recovery plan.

The institute said it reached those findings by conducting a survey of transit operators that serving more than a third of the U.S. population.

“From our perspective, the transit industry is ill prepared for malicious cyberattacks and other types of cyber-related threats,” said Scott Belcher, one of the study’s authors.

More than half the agencies fail to keep their computer system’s log data for more than year, and 12 percent don’t retain their logs at all.

Belcher said the logs are essential because in the event of a cyberattack log data is needed to be able to rebuild what has been lost and get operations back to normal as soon as possible.

Agencies said they lack the funding, staff, and training needed to protect their systems.

“They are overextended, and they have many unfunded mandates and many competing priorities, and cybersecurity is just one of them,” Belcher said.

Belcher said larger and newer transit agencies are most at risk because they have partnered with outside vendors to enable cashless payments or real-time data for service alerts and delays.

“Ironically, the older and less sophisticated transit organizations are less vulnerable from a cyber perspective because they’re really not taking advantage of technology in the way that a more sophisticated transit organization is,” Belcher said.

Although the American Public Transportation Association and federal agencies have sought to provide guidance on cybersecurity risks, the Mineta Institute study found there are many conflicting and inconsistent guidelines.

The study recommends that the Federal Transit Administration set minimum cybersecurity standards and require transit agencies to meet these standards before receiving federal grants.

The institute also said Congress need to increase funding to help agencies comply with these criteria.

Resolution Supports Commuter Rail Expansion

August 29, 2020

A Pennsylvania township governing board has approved a resolution calling for rail commuter service between Reading, Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia.

The Board of Commissioners of Lower Pottsgrove adopted the resolution, which directs township manager Ed Wagner write a letter in support of the effort by Berks Alliance.

The community development organization is pushing for revival of the long-abandoned rail service, saying it could have an economic development value of more than $1 billion.

Lower Pottsgrove is located on the proposed route at about the halfway point.

RTA Delays Cutting All-Day Pass Price

August 29, 2020

An expected fare increase policy surfaced this week during a meeting of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority trustees.

The trustees delayed taking action on a proposal to reduce the cost of cost of all-day pass after learning that the proposal also contains a policy change that could lead to a fare increase in October 2021.

RTA Deputy General Manager of Operations Floun’say Caver said the agency’s staff is recommending against the 2021 fare increase.

The fare increase is part of the proposal to reduce the price of an all-day pass from $5.50 to $5.

That proposal contains language calling for the all-day passes to return to their current price in October 2021 and for most other fares to rise from $2.50 to $2.75 for a single trip.

During their meeting, the trustees indicated they expect to amend the proposal to remove the fare increase language as well as implement the price cut for all-day passes.

Trustee Justin Bibb said he was “concerned that from a public perception perspective, it seems as if we’re also going to approve a potential increase in 2021.”

He said the trustees will consider any fare increases based on future ridership and economic data.

“We don’t want any misconception that in this vote today we’re going to be approving any potential future fare increase without that information,” he said.

Some trustee also expressed concern that they had not been told earlier about the possible fare increases.

“We have not had any discussion whatsoever that even gave the indication that this is even just, like, a placeholder,” said trustee Valerie McCall.

RTA General Manager India Birdsong said she supports delaying the vote until the fare proposal can be revised.

Birdsong called for RTA to issue a public statement “in the event this is misinterpreted by the public.

Caver had said it will take about a month to implement the fare changes once they are approved by the trustees.

He said the board of trustees will therefore need to act soon if the changes are to take effect on on Oct. 4 as planned.

Air Travel at Hopkins Up in July

August 29, 2020

Airline travel was up 53 percent in July at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport over what it was in June but still well below 2019 levels.

During July 320,800 used Hopkins, many of them leisure travelers. A year ago that figure was 971,000.

This past June Hopkins saw 209,000 travelers. Airport director Robert Kennedy now expects Hopkins to handle 4.1 million passengers for 2020.

That’s well below his predictions early this year that the airport would break last year’s mark of 10.04 million.

Of course Kennedy made that prediction before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely depressed airline travel around the world.

In an unrelated development, a Cleveland-based airline said this week it will stop flying on Sept. 30 after its agreement with United Airlines expires.

ExpressJet said the move will affect the jobs of 75 mechanics working at Hopkins. The carrier had earlier this year relocated out of Cleveland hundreds of pilots and flight attendants.

Flying under the United Express banner, ExpressJet got its start as a contract carrier for Continental Airlines, which had a hub in Cleveland.

United has decided to shift its United Express brand flights from ExpressJet to CommutAir, a carrier based in North Olmsted. Both carriers fly 50-seat Embraer 145 regional jets.