Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

FRA Seeks Comments on Automation

March 23, 2018

The Federal Railroad Administration is seeking comment from railroad industry stakeholders, governments, and the public on “the extent to which they believe railroad operations can (and should) be automated, and the potential benefits, costs, risks, and challenges to achieving such automation.”

The request for comments was published in the Federal Register on Thursday.

The notice says that although railroads don’t operate autonomous trains, automation already is being used in everything from dispatching to in-cab information systems to remote control yard switching.

“These various systems of automation and technologies have transformed rail operations in recent years, improving railroad operational safety and efficiency,” the notice said.

Comments are being taken through May 7.

Using technology in rail operations is a priority of new FRA head Ron Batory.

“There is so much opportunity we have before us in embracing technology that helps us reduce risk and enhance safety. We have a great opportunity to become a safer mode of surface transportation,” he said in an interview with Trains magazine.


SW9 Donated to Pa. Tourist Railroad

March 22, 2018

A former Maryland & Pennsylvania SW9 has been donated to the Pennsylvania-based Stewartstown Railroad.

Friends of the Stewartstown Railroad, which arranged the donation, is seeking to start tourist train operations on the short line in south-central Pennsylvania.

The locomotive was donated by the York Railway Company, which operates over portions of the original “Ma & Pa.”

The diesel will be placed in storage for evaluation and repairs before being transferred to the Stewartstown.

No. 84 is a 1,200 horsepower unit built in September 1952 for the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie. It also worked on the Montour Railroad before being acquired by the Maryland & Pennsylvania.

The original Stewartstown Railroad ended operations in April 2004.

Begeman Named Permanent STB Chair

March 21, 2018

Ann Begeman has been named the permanent chairman of the Surface Transportation Board by President Donald Trump. Begeman, 53, has been acting chairman since January 2017.

She is serving her second and final term on the STB, having been initially named as a Republican representative by President Barack Obama in 2011. Federal law allows STB members to serve in a 12-month holdover period after their initial appointment expires.

By law an STB member cannot serve more than two five-year terms. Begeman will leave the STB on Dec. 31, 2020.

Begeman is the fourth woman to serve as permanent STB chair since it became a post appointed by the president.

Before being named to the STB, Begeman spent most of her career as a legislative aide to Senate Commerce Committee Republican members, including Larry Pressler of South Dakota, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and John McCain of Arizona

A South Dakota native, Begeman was raised on a farm and has shown an understanding of how railroad mergers and line abandonments have contributed to rural America losing 70 percent of its rail competition since the 1970s.

Humboldt, South Dakota, where Begeman once lived, has lost its rail service to abandonment, leaving the three local grain elevators less competitive with those enjoying direct rail service in a state where half the grain and oil seeds move by rail, and 45 percent of the state’s 2,000 rail miles are owned and operated by BNSF.

Railway Age magazine has described Begeman as an “analytic owl, a fiercely independent thinker and certainly no milquetoast.”

The magazine said she has displayed “a prickly attitude toward an agency culture that seeks to preserve the status quo to maximize chances of prevailing when its decisions are challenged before appellate courts.

Yet her background in rural America has also played a role in her thinking. “Ann becomes most interesting when her heart and head go in different directions,” said an attorney for captive shippers to Railway Age.

The chair of the STB controls the agency’s docket, deciding when to move cases forward, which staff to assign to which aspects of cases, and the timing of draft decisions that will be circulated to other STB members for a vote.

Since last September Begemen and Deb Miller, a Democrat, have been the only members of the STB. The agency is authorized to have five members.

Trump has nominated two Republicans to the Board, including Patrick J. Fuchs, currently a senior staff member of the Commerce Committee; and Michelle A. Schultz, associate general counsel for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. They are awaiting Senate confirmation.

By law no more than three STB members can be from the same political party.

Another Democrat or political independent is expected to be named, although no timeline for that has been set.

The second Democratic seat, last held by former Chairman Dan Elliott, who resigned 15 months before the expiration of his second term, might be filled by a new member.

However, there has been speculation in Washington that a Democrat will be nominated to succeed Miller, serving the statutory holdover year of her first term that expired Dec. 31, 2017.

Two Democrats could be nominated at the same time, one to succeed Miller and the second to fill Elliott’s vacant seat. Miller also could be renominated or the second Democratic seat might be left vacant into 2019.

Trump Infrastructure Plan Already Flagging in Congress

March 13, 2018

President Trump has had his say and now Congress is responding to his infrastructure plan. The early returns do not look promising.

Last week, Senate Democrats put forth a $1-trillion infrastructure plan that would, among other things, allocate $180 billion over the next decade to expand and rehabilitate rail and bus systems.

That might sound like music to the ears of rail passenger and public transportation proponents, but the Democrats are the minority party in the Senate and face an uphill battle to take control of that chamber in the November elections.

Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, has his own idea of how Congress should deal with the Trump infrastructure proposal.

He expects Congress to pass several piecemeal bills that will address infrastructure.

Committees dealing with aviation, water and energy are likely to begin drafting their own infrastructure proposals this spring with votes not likely before the summer.

Ryan’s comments are being interpreted by some political observers as a setback for the Trump plan.

The speaker also doused the idea of increasing the federal gasoline tax, a move that had been supported by Republican and Democratic members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The 18.4 cent a gallon tax goes into the Highway Trust Fund and was last increased in 1993. In recent years the revenue flowing from the tax has considerably eroded.

Ryan said raising the gas tax would undo the benefit of the tax cuts that he helped shepherd through Congress late last year.

The Trump administration infrastructure plan does not call for a gas tax increase, but some lawmakers say Trump suggested in a meeting at the White House last month raising the tax to 25 cents per gallon.

The Hill, a website that covers the federal government, reported recently that enthusiasm among Republicans for Trump’s infrastructure program has been lackluster.

Ryan suggested that infrastructure could be addressed in a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, in a must pass omnibus budget bill that has a March 23 deadline, and in the Water Resources Development Act, which Congress must renew every two years.

The omnibus budget bill would represent what Ryan termed a “down payment” on an infrastructure plan.

Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who heads the House Transportation Committee, continues to push for a larger infrastructure bill and has spoken about working with Democrats on the committee to win approval of a package to fund roads, bridges, transit systems, airports and other public works.

Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, acknowledged that opposition to an increase in the gasoline tax presents a challenge to those who want an infrastructure plan.

“Well, it probably means that a big robust infrastructure plan is going to be hard to do if there’s not the money to do it. But I think there are things we can do in the context of an infrastructure bill with some amount of funding,” Thune said.

WMSR Wants 43% Hike in Funding

March 12, 2018

The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad raised a few eyebrows recently when it asked the Allegany County Board of Commissioners for a 43 percent increase in its budget.

“I have serious concerns about how this is being funded and operated, from top to bottom,” said board president Jake Shade. “At some point, I don’t know what to tell people when they ask us, ‘What’s going on at the railroad? How are the taxpayers getting the best deal they can?’”

WMSR is seeking $200,000 from the county, which has historically granted the tourist railroad $140,000 of the railroad’s budget.

The railroad’s general superintendent, John Garner, said the additional money is needed for tie replacement.

WMSR earned $3.2 million in revenue last year, which included $1 million from the state to restore former Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309.

The railroad reported $1.3 million in liabilities against $1.2 million in assets.

Restoration of the 1309 has proven to be more expensive than anticipated and the work halted late last year when the WMSR ran out of money to continue the work.

That prompted the railroad to launch a fund-raising campaign. The 1309 was supposed to have entered revenue service last year, but additional issues have delayed that. No date has been announced for when it will go into service.

Schneider 2017 CVSR Volunteer of Year

March 10, 2018

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad has named Craig Schneider as its 2017 Volunteer of the Year.

A volunteer since October 2010, he has surpassed 8,000 hours of volunteer service of which 1,303 were recorded in 2017.

He was chosen for the award by a committee of his peers, who each year select a volunteer who has gone above and beyond in service to the railroad.

Schneider volunteers every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Fitzwater Maintenance Yard, working an eight hour shift.

He also has served as a mentor to fellow volunteers by managing projects and showing them how to work safely.

A CVSR news release said that Schneider has been integral in the preparation of the fleet for the upcoming season.

At Fitzwater he has done everything from locomotive repair to passenger car interior work. Among his recent work has been building cabinets in the concession cars to better display merchandise, reupholstering the seats in car No. 164 and configuring car No. 169 to be used as a Bike Aboard! car.

Burns Harbor Port Had Banner Year

March 9, 2018

The Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor said this week that it posted an 8 percent increase in cargo shipments in 2017, making for the fourth highest four-year total in its history.

The Port said that represented a 27 percent increase over the previous four year period.

Among the commodities handled by the Port were limestone, steel-related products and heavy lift/project cargoes, such as refinery tanks, laboratory equipment and windmill components.

Port officials said the most valuable shipment handled was ICARUS, the world’s largest liquid argon particle hunter. It was unloaded from an ocean vessel last July.

In a news release, the Port described 2017 as a landmark year that also included doubling the size of its bulk terminal, attracting a nationally-known stevedore, and announcing a $20 million expansion.

Norfolk Southern and the Indiana Harbor Belt provide rail service to the port.

Delta to Serve Salt Lake City From Cleveland

March 9, 2018

Delta Air Lines plans to launch non-stop service on July 9 between Cleveland and Salt Lake City.

The flight will depart Hopkins Airport at 8:30 a.m. and arrive in Salt Lake City at 10:25 a.m. The return flight will depart Salt Lake City at 5 p.m. and land in Cleveland at 10:50 p.m.

The airline will use Airbus 319 aircraft on the route, which Cleveland airport officials have long sought.

Salt Lake City is among the largest markets lacking non-stop service from Cleveland. Others include San Diego and Kansas City.

A poll of Cleveland travelers last year also listed West Palm Beach, Florida, as another desired destination that is not currently being served.

Delta has flown between Cleveland and Salt Lake City in the past, but ended that service in August 2009.

The airport agreed to waive Delta’s landing fees for one year for its Salt Lake City flights and pay the carrier $50,000 in marketing support to help establish the service.

Todd Payne, Hopkins’ chief of marketing and air service, said that is the same incentive that the airport offers all carriers to entice them to launch service to new markets.

Salt Lake City is one of eight U.S. hubs for Delta, and focuses on connecting flights to dozens of cities in the western United States, Mexico and Canada.

In an unrelated development, Hopkins has been named the “most improved” airport in North America in the 2017 Airport Service Quality Survey.

Airport officials said the airport “posted its best customer service scores last year since the airport began participation in the global service quality program in 2006.”

Posner Testing Rail Transit Concept

March 8, 2018

A Pittsburgh-based railroad investor wants to bring surplus English subway cars to the United States for possible use as low-cost public transit on low-density freight routes.

Henry Posner III, who heads Railroad Development Corporation, acquired 150 former London Underground D78-series surface cars and plans to convert them to diesel or battery power.

Posner told Trains magazine that he plans to start a demonstrate project on the East Coast in what he called a “pop-up” rail transit option.

He envisions it serving smaller urban areas, cities, or areas of cities cannot afford or have not considered rail transit.

To make such service work it would need to operate at times of day when freight trains were not using the rails.

Some cities have expressed interest in the concept, but none have committed to it yet, Posner said.

Posner believes his concept will “change that perception of cost” of rail transit because trains can be tried out on a route for far less than the cost of a consultant’s study of proposed rail service.

Although his concept may not be a long-term solution in every trial, he said the service can help rail transit service get started. If the market is there, the route might grow into more conventional rail transit service.

Indy Light Rail Ban Repeal Appears to be Dead

March 7, 2018

The effort in the Indiana General Assembly to repeal a law that prohibits development of a light rail system in Greater Indianapolis has a hit a chuckhole.

A suburban senator who opposes light rail in the region has introduced an amendment to the legislation that would repeal the 2014 light rail ban to water it down.

Mike Delph of Carmel wants to require Indianapolis officials to prove that public transit money isn’t needed to fill potholes.

Specifically, his amendment would prohibit spending money on a light rail project until officials have “substantially remedied the pothole problem” and developed and implemented an “acceptable written plan” to remedy potholes during future winter seasons.

Some news media reports have said the amendment has been the bill’s death knell.

The Senate sponsor of the light rail repeal bill declined to bring the legislation to the Senate floor on Monday, the deadline for the chamber to consider legislation.

The bill’s House sponsor said he might seek to revive the bill later in the session, but the prospects for that are uncertain.

The bill had passed the House 95-0. Backers have said repealing the light rail ban is necessarily to try to entice Amazon to locate its second headquarters in Indianapolis.

The city is on a list of 20 finalists for the second headquarters. Amazon has said that public transit will be a factor in its decision as to where to locate the headquarters.