Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

NTSB Calls for Transit Railcar Wheel Inspections

December 3, 2021

The National Transportation Safety Board is calling on public transit agencies to inspect the wheels of their rail transit cars to ensure that they meet gauge specifications.

The advisory was sent in the wake of a derailment of a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority train in October that resulted in a passenger being taken to a hospital for treatment of injuries.

The federal safety agency said inspections have found wheels on some WMATA rail cars had moved outward from their mounted position on the axle.

“The safety alert identifies the issue of wheel set movement on transit rail cars and commuter railroads as a serious problem that has the potential to create a catastrophic event,” said Robert Hall, director of the NTSB Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Investigations.

NTSB officials said in a news release that an out-of-specification wheel set is not easily identifiable with a routine visual inspection. Consequently, the condition could exist on wheel and axle assemblies of other transit or commuter rail cars.

Wabtec Seeks Zero Emission Locomotive

November 30, 2021

Pittsburgh-based Wabtec is seeking to develop a locomotive that will not have greenhouse gas emissions.

As reported by Trains magazine on its website, company officials said at the RailTrends 2021 conference that such a product may be a “moonshot”  but they are still aiming toward it.

“The big question is what’s possible?” said Gina Trombley, Wabtec’s executive vice president of sales and marketing and chief commercial officer.

A zero emissions locomotives won’t be developed overnight.

Trombley said a first step is to rehabilitate existing locomotives to lower their emissions and reduce fuel consumption. Another key will be the development of better batteries that will be used to power locomotives.

The article can be read at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/wabtecs-moonshot-zero-emissions-locomotives/

Michigan Conference Seeking Presenters

November 29, 2021

The Michigan Railroad History Conference has issued a call for papers for its 2022 event to be held Sept. 17 in Ludington, Michigan.

Papers may focus on any aspect of Michigan railroad history with presenters giving a 30-to-50 minute presentation about their topic.

The presentation should be content oriented rather than photography oriented. Presentation proposals are being accepted through March 1, 2022.

Those interested in presenting should submit a suggested title, a brief description of the topic to be covered in the paper, and brief background information on the author(s) to MRHC16.2021@gmail.com or by mail to MRHC, PO Box 16325, Lansing MI 48901.

A selection committee will review all submissions and select presentations to provide a well-rounded quality program.

The conference will be held at the United Methodist Church of Ludington. Although the conference is usually held every other year, the 2021 conference was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This will be the 16th conference with the 15th conference in Ann Arbor drawing more than 100 attendees.

STB Asks NS to Address Service Issues

November 26, 2021

Norfolk Southern has been asked to address service issues that a key federal regulator described as a “poor performance.”

Martin Oberman, chairman of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, wrote to NS CEO James Squires to ask him to provide regulators with “a review of the current state of NSR’s network, and your assessment of what factors are affecting NSR’s ability to achieve past levels of fluidity and consistent service, and in particular the impact on customer service of previous headcount reductions for train, yard and maintenance employees.”

Oberman’s letter recounted how several key service metrics at NS have deteriorated and are hovering far below comparable numbers for 2019.

This has included a decline in average train speed of manifest freights, an increase in the average system dwell time and a rise in the number of manifest freight trains being held per day.

At the same time, the number of operating employees at NS has declined by about 8,200 each month during the past three months, suggesting the carrier lacks enough workers to avoid the service problems it has experienced.

The letter also cited an increase in complaints to the STB about NS service, including missed switches, cars stranded in yards, longer transit times, operating plan changes without notice, and a lack of communications from customer service.

Oberman wrote that this has increased costs for these shippers without any corresponding compensation from NS.

The letter can be read at https://www.stb.gov/wp-content/uploads/Letter-to-J.-Squires-re-Service-Issues.pdf

STB Moves Ahead on Private Car Proceeding

November 26, 2021

Federal regulators moving ahead with a rule making case that will consider a proposal by private rail car owners to update the demurrage and accessorial rules governing use by railroads of these cars.

The owners sought the rule making process in July. After a public comment period, the U.S. Surface Transportation board has decided to open such a proceeding because, “Petitioners’ proposal and the responses to date raise important issues of interest to the Board.”

The car owners want the STB to adopt regulations that would allow car owners to assess a “private rail car delay charge” when a private freight car does not move for more than 72 consecutive hours at any point between the time it is released for transportation and the time it is “constructively placed or actually placed” at the private rail car provider’s facility or designated location.

Since the car owners through their trade associations proposed the rule in July, the STB has received public comments from various shippers and railroads.

The latter oppose the rule with the Association of American Railroads arguing that the STB lacks legal authority under federal law to adopt the proposed rules.

AAR along with some of its members contend the proposed rule are unnecessary because carriers have sufficient incentives to move cars efficiently. Delayed cars hinder operations and reduce revenue.

The railroads have likewise argued that the proposed rules will result in inefficient operations as railroads are motivated to move private cars in order to avoid charges.

For their part, the rail car owners and their trade associations argue that the proposed rules will provide incentives for Class I railroads to make “efficient use of private rail cars without unduly infringing upon the railroads’ freight operations over their respective systems, recognizing that some level of service variability is inherent in any railroad’s operations.”

In seeking the rule changes, the rail car owners said approximately 73 percent of the rail cars in service – about 1.2 million cars – are no longer owned by railroads.

These cars are used by railroads at little or no cost to them, the car owners contend.

U.S. Coal Benefits from China-Australia Rift

November 26, 2021

A rift between Australia and China has benefited U.S. coal companies, Trains magazine recently reported on its website.

China stopped buying coal from Australia after top government officials there were critical of China’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Trains article noted China is heavily dependent on imported coal for steel making and power generation.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration found the United States has exported 5.4 million tons of coal to China in the first six months of this year, a 920 percent increase over exports in the same period in 2020.

The article can be read at https://www.trains.com/trn/news-reviews/news-wire/analysis-chinas-ban-on-australian-coal-is-benefiting-u-s-railroads/

STB Accepts CP-KCS Merger Application

November 24, 2021

The merger application filed by Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern has been accepted by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

Regulators are expected to take up to a year to review the merger bid, which the carriers formally sought in October.

The STB thus turned aside objections by Union Pacific and Canadian National that the CP-KCS merger application was incomplete (UP) or filed too soon (CN)

 “The Board finds that the Application is complete as it contains all information required by the Board’s regulations. Accordingly, the Application is accepted,” the board wrote in accepting the CP-KCS application.

Court Consolidates Vaccine Rule Lawsuits

November 24, 2021

A federal court in Illinois has consolidated lawsuits involving Class 1 railroads and their unions over COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

The action was taken by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and involves Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, BNSF, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and two other unions.

The Class 1 railroads have cited a federal executive order in requiring their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

The unions argue that the vaccine edict by the carriers violates the collective bargaining process.

In a related development, unions representing Amtrak workers have filed suit over the passenger’s carrier’s vaccination requirement.

BLET and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) said they generally support vaccination but want Amtrak to engage in collective bargaining over the issue.

The unions claim Amtrak is negotiating directly with employees rather than talking with their unions.

The lawsuit against Amtrak raised many of the same issues as those in the litigation involving NS and UP.

Amtrak is requiring its workers to submit proof of vaccination before Dec. 8. Those workers who have received just dose of the vaccine have until Jan. 4, 2022, to show proof of being full vaccinated.

The carrier has threatened to fire workers who failed to comply with the rules.

RAISE Grants to Benefit Regional Rail Projects

November 23, 2021

Projects in Ohio, Detroit and Philadelphia will receive a share of nearly $1 billion in U.S. Department of Transportation Rebuilding American Infrastructure With Sustainability and Equity grants.

The Michigan Department of Transportation will receive $10 million to be used for the New Center Intermodal Facility Project.

Project plans include a new station to serve Amtrak trains and local and intercity buses that will replace an existing depot in the New Center neighborhood of Detroit.

The new facility will comply with Americans with Disabilities standards and have a multi-level parking garage.

It will be located on the south side of the Canadian National tracks used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) Wolverine Service trains.

The existing boarding platform at the site will be lengthened and rehabilitated. The boarding platform will be connected to the new station by a tunnel.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority will receive $15 million to improve the 19th Street and 37th Street trolley subway stations.

That work is part of a larger trolley modernization program. The RAISE Grant will be used to bring both stations into compliance with ADA standards, rehabilitate boarding areas and conduct other renovations to station facilities.

The Maumee Watershed Conservancy District of Findlay will receive $7.1 million for replacement of a bridge carrying Norfolk Southern tracks over the Blanchard River.

The new bridge will be a three-span, through plate girder structure with a ballast deck.

RAISE grants are one of the few USDOT discretionary programs that allow regional and local governments to directly compete for multimodal transportation funding.

The funding provide are to be used for “planning and capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure and were awarded on a competitive basis for projects that will have a significant local or regional impact,” USDOT said in a news release.

The maximum grant award is $25 million with no more than $100 million being awarded to a single state.

C&O 1309 to Debut on WMSR on Dec. 17

November 23, 2021

The debut public runs of Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 have been set for Dec. 17, 18 and 19 when the Mallet-type locomotive will pull a series of Polar Express trips on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.

The locomotive recently received Federal Railroad Administration approval to operate in revenue service and crews took it out on the WMSR mainline last weekend with three-car and eight-car trains.

WMSR officials told Railfan and Railroad magazine that crews are now making adjustments to the engine, including fine-tuning the system that enables it to alternate between simple and compound operations.

Plans are to run the 1309 for 100 miles of test runs before using it to pull passengers.

In a related development, Trains magazine said it will sponsor a three-day event featuring the 1309 on Feb, 25-27.

The event will be limited to 100 attendees and include 1309 pulling various excursions, a freight photo train, a night run, and a night photo shoot.