Archive for July, 2021

Steam Saturday: Disguised as the Southern

July 31, 2021

If this Southern Railway steam locomotive doesn’t look quite American, it is because it is not. No. 2839 was built in Montreal in 1937 and retired by Canadian Pacific in 1959.

Then it took on an American journey, being purchased by a group in Pennsylvania that restored it to operating condition with a CP identity.

The 4-6-4 was leased to the Southern in 1979 and 1980 for its steam program. There is was dubbed the “beer can” because of its cylindrical streamlined design.

It is shown above at St. Anthony, Indiana, on June 9, 1979, on the Louisville-St. Louis line.

This particular trip was operating as a roundtrip between Huntingburg and New Albany, Indiana.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

Senate Begins Debating Infrastructure Bill

July 31, 2021

The Senate this week voted to begin debate on a $550 billion bi-partisan infrastructure bill that includes $39 billion for public transit and $66 billion for passenger and freight rail.

The bill would provide $550 billion over five years for new federal investment in infrastructure, Biden administration officials said.

The bill would authorize $110 billion for roads, bridges and other major projects.

The public transit funds are focused on modernizing  transit and improving accessibility for the elderly and those with disabilities.

The rail funding would provide $22 billion to Amtrak. That would be broken down to $24 billion in federal-state partnership grants for Northeast Corridor modernization; $12 billion for partnership grants for intercity rail service, including high speed rail; $5 billion for rail improvement and safety grants; and $3 billion for grade crossing safety improvements.

Port infrastructure would receive $17 billion while airports would receive $25 billion.

The White House fact sheet said the money for the bill is expected to come through a combination of redirecting unspent emergency relief funds, targeted corporate user fees, strengthening tax enforcement when it comes to crypto currencies, and other bipartisan measures, in addition to the revenue generated from higher economic growth as a result of the investments.

Moving to debate does not guarantee passage of the bill or even that it will receive support from Republican senators even if several of them were part of the talks that led to the legislation.

The complete text of the bill has yet to be finished.

If the bill is approved by the Senate, it would go to the House where its fate is uncertain.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to held the bill until her chamber until Congress approves a $3.5 trillion budget plan being pushed by Democrats that includes spending on programs devoted to climate change, health care, education and child care.

Some moderate House Democrats, though, are pushing for an immediate vote on the infrastructure package once it comes over from the Senate.

Shipper Coalition Seeks Reciprocal Switching

July 31, 2021

A coalition of railroad shippers is seeking new federal rules that would allow reciprocal switching.

The group, known as the Rail Consumer Coalition, made their plea in a letter to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

Shippers n the coalition account for more than half of U.S. freight traffic and claim to generate three-quarters of the revenue earned by Class 1 railroads.

They include firms in the manufacturing, agricultural, and energy sectors and include trade associations for the automakers, chemical producers, forest product and paper manufacturers, as well as rail shipper groups such as the National Industrial Transportation League.

In their letter to the STB, the coalition said rail freight rates adjusted for inflation have risen 43 percent since 2004 because of railroad industry consolidation.

“Given the dramatic concentration of market power in the railroad industry, rethinking policies designed for a different era is both timely and smart,” the coalition wrote to federal regulators.

“Reciprocal switching would help empower rail customers such as farmers, manufacturers and energy providers to choose a carrier that provides the best combination of rates and service.”

The letter went on to say greater market choice would change shipper-railroad relationships and lead to resolutions of rate and service issues.

Reciprocal switching would allow a facility served by one railroad to seek service from a second railroad via interchange.

It has long been a goal of carload rail shippers. The STB launched a reciprocal switching investigation in 2016, but it has yet to lead to any action by regulators.

The Association of American Railroads opposes reciprocal switching, which it has labeled forced access.

“Any STB action mandating forced switching would put railroads at a severe disadvantage to freight transportation providers that depend upon tax-payer funded infrastructure,” AAR CEO Ian Jefferies said. “Such a rule would degrade rail’s significant benefits to both customers and the public by throttling network fluidity, disincentivizing investment, increasing costs to shippers and consumers, and ultimately diverting traffic onto trucks and the nation’s already troubled highways.”

AAR officials have described freight rates as fair market rates.

STB Chairman Martin J. Oberman in recently remarks has expressed an interest in taking up reciprocal switching and others measures that might increase competition among railroads.

Panel Rules Unions Must Bargain Over Crew Size

July 31, 2021

Railroad labor unions suffered a setback this week when an arbitration panel ruled that crew size is an issue that is subject to collective bargaining.

Unions have long resisted bargaining over crew size on the national level, saying it should be a local issue.

But a federal arbitration panel decided this week that crew size is a national issue.

The decision found that standard moratorium language in decades-old labor agreements do not prohibit negotiations over crew size on freight trains.

Railroad management wants to change train crew staffing practices so that there would be one locomotive engineer per train but the job of the conductor would become more of a ground-based position with conductors having responsibility for multiple trains.

The 2-1 arbitration decision is binding and grew out of a lawsuit launched by the National Railway Labor Conference, which represents Class 1 railroads, to force unions to bargain over crew size in the current negotiations for a new contract.

The arbitration panel was made up of one member approved by labor, one approved by management and a neutral member who in this case is a California law professor and veteran arbitrator.

Contract talks have been ongoing for more than a year and in the meantime federal law requires the previous contract remain in effect until a new pact is reached and ratified by union members.

The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Union’s Transportation Division (SMART-TD) saw a silver lining in the ruling that the arbitration panel did not mandate any particular outcome in negotiations.

The arbitration ruling also did not mandate that bargaining over crew size be done globally, meaning crew size talks with be done on a railroad-by-railroad basis.

The railroad industry and its unions began contract talks in November 2019 on wages, benefits and work rules.

Unions can be expected to continue seeking to get state legislatures to approve laws mandating two-per crews. Some Democrat members of Congress have introduced similar legislation that would apply nationwide.

The arbitration panel’s ruling requires SMART-TD to bargain with Class 1 railroads and some smaller carriers over crew size matters.

Railway Age reported the arbitration ruling affects more than 60 percent of the conductors at Class 1 railroads, including all conductors employed by BNSF and Norfolk Southern and half the conductors at Union Pacific.

Conductors employed by Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and CSX are not unaffected by the arbitration ruling because their unions were not parties to legal action resulting in the arbitration.

Kansas City Southern recently voluntarily withdrew its arbitration demand and was dismissed from the award by the arbitration panel majority. 

The Railway Age report indicated that railroads was pushing for more efficient operations because of an increasing reliance by carriers on intermodal traffic that is subject to diversion to trucking company, many of which have non-union operators who work for lower wages and benefits than those paid to unionized railroaders.

Intermodal traffic provides lower profit margins that some carload traffic – coal being a notable example – that railroad once relied upon for their financial well being.

Industry observers have noted that the development of positive train control has given railroads an opening to seek to reduce crew sizes by arguing that it will provide for safer operations and thus a second set of eyes in the cab are not needed.

Frank Wilner, who writes for Railway Age, has long argued that “no labor union ever has done better than slow the introduction of new technology.”

STB Accepts CSX-Pan Am Merger Application

July 31, 2021

In its third effort to submit a merger application to federal regulators to gain permission to acquire Pan Am Railways CSX has found success.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board accepted the application after rejecting two earlier applications as incomplete.

If regulators follow the review schedule outlined this week and approve the transaction, the New England regional carrier could become a fallen flag on May 1, 2022.

Comments on the proposed merger are due by Aug. 27 with final briefs due by Jan. 2, 2022.

If approved, the acquisition would greatly expand CSX’s presence in New England.

The merger was initially announced in November 2020. At the time, CSX was seeking to have it reviewed as a minor transaction that would require less scrutiny.

But STB members disagreed and said the acquisition is a significant transaction.

CSX executives say they are confident regulators will approve the transaction.

INRD Completes Solar Project

July 31, 2021

The Indiana Rail Road said it has completed the installation of a rooftop solar project at its Indianapolis headquarters.

In a news release, INRD said the solar panels provide renewable, clean energy and will help lower costs.

INRD said it has several other sustainability initiatives in place, including a LED lighting retrofitting program, investments in technological advances in fuel efficiency and a commitment to reducing the environmental footprint of operations.

FRA Revises Rules on PTC Reporting

July 31, 2021

The Federal Railroad Administration has revised its rules governing changes to positive train control systems and railroad reporting on PTC system performance.

In a notice published July 27 in the Federal Register, the FRA said it recognizes the railroad industry intends to enhance FRA-certified PTC systems to continue improving rail safety and PTC technology’s reliability and operability.

The agency said it is changing the process by which a host railroad must submit a request for amendment to the FRA before the railroad makes changes to its PTC safety plan and FRA-certified PTC system.

The rule also expands an existing reporting requirement by increasing the frequency from annual to biannual.

The change also broadens the reporting requirement to encompass positive performance-related information, including about the technology’s positive impact on rail safety, not just failure-related information.

The new rules will go into effect on Aug. 26.

Intermodal Traffic Up 20.4% in 2nd Quarter

July 31, 2021

The Intermodal Association of North American said this week that during the second quarter of 2021 intermodal volumes rose 20.4 percent year the same period in 2020.

International containers gained 24.8 percent from 2020; domestic shipments,15.7 percent; and trailers,18.5 percent.

“Intermodal volumes have now grown for the fourth consecutive quarter. What is noteworthy is the breadth of the gains,” said IANA President Joni Casey in a statement. “With one or two exceptions, the three market segments showed positive performance in all of IANA’s 10 regions.”

The seven highest-density trade corridors, which collectively handled more than 60 percent of total volume, were all up double digits in the second quarter.

Trans-Canada led with 29.6 percent, followed by the Southeast-Southwest at 28.9 percent and the Midwest-Northwest at 26.6 percent.

The Intra-Southeast likewise posted a 25.9 percent increase; the South Central-Southwest, 24.5 percent; and the Midwest-Southwest, 21.8 percent. The Northeast-Midwest came in at 20.9 percent.

Working for Conrail at the Time

July 30, 2021

At the time this image was made, this Canadian National unit was leased to Conrail. It is working in Stanley Yard in Toledo on Oct. 14, 1977.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

F Units in Alliance

July 29, 2021

PC F7A No. 1703 leads a train bound for Conway Yard near Pittsburgh down the Bayard Branch in Alliance in July 1972. The 1703 was built for the New York Central in May 1951. Although the scene depicts former Pennsylvania Railroad territory, the NYC had a line that passed through Alliance.

Photograph by Robert Farkas