Archive for the ‘Railroad News’ Category

Manchin Pleads for Charleston Ticket Agent

May 22, 2018

A West Virginia senator is seeking to get Amtrak to delay plans to close a ticket offices his state.

Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) wrote to the passenger carrier to express “serious concerns” about the criteria Amtrak used to determine which ticket offices to close.

In a letter to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, Manchin said removing the ticket agent from Charleston on June 6 “will not only deprive the state of West Virginia of its last Amtrak ticket agent, but will also compromise safety and upkeep of the facility, and make access more difficult for potential customers.”

Manchin said that Charleston handled 9,749 passengers in federal fiscal year 2017, which works out to more than 62 passengers per day for each day that the tri-weekly Cardinal operates there.

He said Amtrak’s decision to calculate ridership on a weekly basis ignores the fact that the Cardinal does not operate daily. “The policy penalizes Charleston’s station for part-time service without allowing it to be a full-time station.”

Manchin also said 30 percent of West Virginia lacks Internet access and that mobile broadband access is limited in many parts of the state.

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Foote Says CSX to Emphasize Safety

May 22, 2018

CSX plans to put additional resources into safety, CEO James Foote said during the company’s annual meeting last week.

Foot said CSX will appoint a new chief safety officer and is hiring an outside consulting firm to help with safety issues.

“Because of the incidents earlier this year, I thought we needed additional help,” Foote said, in reference to a head-on collision between a CSX auto rack train and an Amtrak train in February in South Carolina.

A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report found that a CSX crew member failed to restore the switch to the normal position. Block signals in the area had been turned off as work progressed to install positive train control.

The crash left two Amtrak crew member dead and more than 100 passengers and crew injured.
CSX reported 1.11 personal injuries per 200,000 man-hours in first quarter of 2018, which put it in third place among other North American Class I railroads

Foote said that index rose from 0.97 in the first quarter of 2017. “That is unacceptable and we will get better,” he said.

Amtrak Expects Large Memorial Day Ridership

May 22, 2018

Amtrak is projecting that it will carry more than more than 320,000 passengers during the Memorial Day weekend, which is considered the traditional start of the summer travel season.

In a news release, the carrier said it expects heavy ridership during the summer months due to a spike in gasoline prices.

The news release touted Amtrak has a way to explore a new city, catch a baseball game, experience a summer musical festival or make your way to the beach.

Amtrak Committed to Long-Distance Trains for Now, But Not Necessarily Forever

May 22, 2018

Amtrak has indicated to lawmakers and the Rail Passengers Association that it is not planning additional actions that would have the effect of changing its long-distance routes in ways to favor shorter distance travel.

Writing on the RPA website, RPA President Jim Mathews said that “Amtrak is taking steps to commit publicly to a robust nationwide rail service with a national footprint.”

He said those assurances have been made by the passenger carrier in conversations with the RPA and congressional staff, and during congressional testimony.

Matthews cited the example of reports that the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder would be made into a tri-weekly train as part of a strategy to focus on short-haul corridors.

Many passenger advocates have been alarmed by some recent Amtrak changes, including removing full-service dining with fresh meals prepared on board from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited effective June 1.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during an April 19 California Rail Summit that the future of Amtrak lies with 300- to 400- or 500-mile corridors.

RPA has also learned that Amtrak management has begun discussing the long-term future of the carrier’s long-distance routes and that some Amtrak executives are discussing the possibility of allocating more resources to short-distance state corridors. It is not clear how far those discussions have advanced.

Matthews said Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) asked Amtrak Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner point-blank whether there were plans to reduce the Builder.

“We do not plan to institute tri-weekly service on the Empire Builder,” Gardner replied during a committee hearing on May 16. “Obviously we’re operating under the FAST Act authorization in which Congress authorized our network; any conversations about the broad future of our network is best placed in our authorization context as we approach our next authorization. Amtrak is operating all of our long distance routes, we intend to do that and we will consider any future changes collectively between the Congress, the Administration, and Amtrak as we look at the network ahead.”

Matthews noted that he visited with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia earlier this year and received similar assurances.

Coscia said during that meeting that Amtrak has a mission beyond the balance sheet and pledged that top management is “committed to the mission.”

He also said that Amtrak has a responsibility as a recipient of federal funds to make sure that its long-range plans serve the maximum number of Americans possible, especially those who need mobility and have fewer options, such as the elderly, the disabled and rural residents.

However, Coscia said that demographic shifts that are leading more people to live in dense mega-regions may result in a time when the “legacy national network routes no longer meet the mission; but looking at the map today I can’t identify any that don’t.”

Coscia said Amtrak sees “corridors hanging off the legacy national network routes like a necklace.”

He cited as examples Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Minneapolis as having strong growth potential.

During his April appearance in California, Anderson said “there is a place for the long-distance, ‘experiential’ train.”

Anderson said Amtrak has “a responsibility to figure out how to keep that experiential piece of the pie in place” while simultaneously “figuring out how we discharge our mission under PRIIA”—the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008—“to serve the short-haul markets.

South Shore Uses to Video to Attract Customers

May 21, 2018

The Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad is using a video made from a drone to spotlight more than 1,600 acres of prime business development locations along its 182 miles of track between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana.

The video depicts such locations as the Illinois International Port District in Chicago, properties adjacent to CSS tracks at Burnham rail yard in Hammond and Gary, Indiana; available space near South Shore’s headquarters and shops in Michigan City, Indiana; sites in La Porte, Indiana, including the La Porte Space Center; and 1,000 acres at the Kingsbury Industrial Park, and locations on the east end of the railroad at New Carlisle, Indiana.

“The spectacular views of these properties really drive home South Shore’s advantage in offering great connections across all modes,” said CSS President Todd Bjornstad. “Our goal with the video is to show industrial developers and plant site locators the great advantages we offer in this region.”

The video also provide facts about the properties including property dimensions, rail-yard capacity, highway access, and trans-loading opportunities.

Anacostia Rail Holdings said it plans to offer similar videos for its other railroads including Louisville & Indiana Railroad.

CSX Cuts 100 Jobs at Cumberland Loco Shop

May 18, 2018

More CSX job cutbacks have hit Cumberland, Maryland.

The carrier recently laid off about 100 workers at its locomotive shop, which will now operates with one daily shift. The shop had been on a 24-hour schedule.

The layoffs included 96 hourly employees and four supervisors. CSX said some of the affected workers will be eligible to transfer to other positions in the CSX network.

In a statement, CSX described the job cuts at the former Baltimore & Ohio facility as part of an ongoing company-wide review of operations.

CSX in the past year has furloughed 3,300 employees and mothballed or retired more than 800 locomotives as it implemented a scheduled railroading operating model that relies heavily on fewer trains and crews.

During 2018 CSX expects to eliminate 2,200 positions to bring it payroll down to 25,000.

Another factor that adversely affected Cumberland is that it is located near coal mining territory. CSX coal volume has been up this year but it is still 47 percent below what it was in 2011.

The car shop in Cumberland is not affected by the layoffs. Last year CSX closed the yard hump in Cumberland in favor of flat switching.

Squires Extols Benefits of PTC

May 18, 2018

Positive train control is the backbone of technological advances that are coming to the railroad industry said Norfolk Southern CEO James A. Squires this week at a shippers’ conference.

James Squires

Speaking to the American Rail Shippers’ 2018 meeting in Chicago, Squires said technology and free trade will bring major changes to the rail industry.

“We are on the verge of an exciting new era of innovation,” Squires said. “PTC is a big new communications network we can use for a variety of purposes. We are only just beginning to discover the many uses of data collected through the PTC network.”

Squires also said that a big data wave is already rolling across the industry and it will result in automation that will evolve to reduce human error.“

Automation in transportation is perceived as controversial, yet it happened long ago in aviation. He said a railroad in Australia has already demonstrated the benefits of automation.

Facing a Dec. 31 deadline under federal law to install PTC and its components, Squires said NS has completed 78 percent of locomotive installations, 93 percent of wayside unit installations, 97 percent of radio tower installations, and 87 percent of employee training.

“We’re gonna get it done,” he said.

As for free trade, Squires said the United States must not turn away from the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said creates jobs for American workers.

“NAFTA remains one of the most successful free trade agreements ever brokered by U.S. lawmakers,” Squires said, adding that international markets “must remain open for business.”

FRA Sees Progress in PTC Installation, but Not Interoperability

May 18, 2018

America’s Class 1 railroads and Amtrak continue to make good progress in installing and implementing positive train control, but the railroad industry as a whole has made very little progress in PTC interoperability.

The Federal Railroad Administration recently released a progress summary for the first quarter of 2018 that showed many commuter rail lines face a tall order in meeting a Dec. 31 PTC installation deadline.

Testifying before a Senate appropriations subcommittee, FRA Administrator Ronald Batory said 12 of the 41 railroads that are required implement PTC may miss the deadline for equipment installation, or apply for an alternative schedule.

Interoperability refers to the ability of one railroad’s PTC system to communicate with other systems when more than one railroad operates on the same track.

The FRA has indicated that it will be closely watching interoperability progress during the remainder of the year.

BNSF leads Class I railroads in PTC installation with all locomotives and wayside hardware installed and all employees trained.

It also has 17 percent of its interoperability completed whereas no other major railroad has begun to implement interoperability capability.

CSX has 66 track segments operating with PTC and has finished PTC training for employees.

Amtrak has put PTC in operation on two-thirds of the route miles it owns on the Northeast Corridor and in Michigan. It has interoperability with two of 20 railroads.

“The majority of issues are among commuter railroads,” Batory told the Senate committee.

He explained that commuter railroads have lagged because of a demand crunch.

Although legislation requiring PTC was adopted in 2008, development of PTC systems came slowly and by 2014 16 railroads had never contacted PTC vendors.

Batory said turnover in leadership at commuter rail agencies also slowed progress toward meeting the PTC deadline.

“Sustained leadership committed to the 2008 and 2015 statutes is paramount, and that’s what we’ve seen among the Class I railroad community, as well as unique commuter agencies such as [Los Angeles-based] Metrolink and [Philadelphia-based] SEPTA.”

Both the Southern California Regional Rail Authority and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority reported full PTC compliance as of March 31.

CN Says it is Recovering From Service Issues

May 17, 2018

Canadian National said this week that its service continues to recover from various operational problems and that traffic is up 14 percent so far this month.

CN Chief Financial Officer Ghislain Houle told an investors conference this week that the carrier has been performing better than it thought it would, which has made management optimistic about the second half of this year and 2019.

Houle said average train velocity, terminal dwell, and car-miles per day are all moving in the right direction after several months of deterioration due to the effects of severe winter weather and an unexpected volume surge.

However, CN’s service metrics continue to trail where they were a year ago. Terminal dwell time is still 10 percent above last year and average train speeds are 15 percent lower. Car-order fulfillment is 70 percent, about 20 points below where it was a year ago.

To bolster its service, CN hired and qualified 400 conductors in the first quarter and expects to have another 400 qualified by the end of June.

It is leasing 130 locomotives and next month will receive the first 10 of 200 new locomotives it has ordered from General Electric Transportation.

The new units are expected to be delivered at a pace of 10 each month for the rest of the year.

Based on revenue ton miles, CN traffic volumes were up 5 percent in April and 14 percent in May after declining 4 percent in the first three months of the year.

Senators Back Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

May 17, 2018

Some senators went to bat this week for Amtrak’s long-distance trains during a hearing on the nomination of Joe Gruters to the carrier’s board of directors.

During the hearing before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi ) invited Gruters to join him on a trip aboard the City of New Orleans between McComb, Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee, so he could see the number of people who depend on the train.”

Gruters said he would “welcome the opportunity to ride a train with you for a couple hours.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) used the hearings to express their concerns that Amtrak will seek to discontinue the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

They criticized Amtrak’s decision to withhold a $3 million match from a recently-approved $16 million TIGER grant won by Colfax County, New Mexico, that is to be used to repair the tracks used by the Chief in Northern New Mexico.

“In my view, Amtrak has reneged on what it committed to do … and I believe federal agencies have an obligation to behave with integrity; I don’t see that at the moment,” Moran said.

He read excerpts from an email written by former Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman that charged that Amtrak is seeking to end the train and submitted the entire email for the record.

“This suggests to me that there may be a change of attitude and approach at the Amtrak board and its senior leadership that would be contrary to the congressional mandate about national rail passenger service,” Moran said.

Gardner asked Gruther if, as an Amtrak board member, he would make sure Amtrak followed through on its commitments while accusing Amtrak of not doing so.

He based those accusations on a letter of support for the TIGER grant that Amtrak submitted in October 2017.

Gardner also submitted a Rail Passengers Association statement pointing out that the Southwest Chief’s ridership is up 14 percent from eight years ago.

Wicker also joined ranking minority committee member Bill Nelson (D-Florida) in expressing their desire to see Amtrak return to the Gulf Coast.

Gruters, who owns a public accounting firm in Sarasota, Florida, acknowledged having heard from officials and residents of many Florida communities in support of such service.

[Amtrak board members] “have a fiduciary responsibility to the company but we have our mission set forth by Congress, so I will look forward to working with your team to make sure agreements are upheld and we do the right thing at the end of the day.” Gruters said.

Moran also was critical of Amtrak’s decision to close its ticket office in Topeka, Kansas.

“You cannot reduce service and expect customers to arrive at your doors, and Amtrak is demonstrating that in my view in both instances,” he said.

Some senators, including Maria Cantwell, (D-Washington), used the hearing to trumpet support for positive train control.

Gruters said PTC “is the baseline standard we need to work up to.”

All but one member of the current Amtrak board lacks railroad experience. Member Jeffrey Moreland led the public affairs and legal departments at BNSF.

Like most Amtrak board members, Gruters is a political appointee who helped lead the presidential election campaign for Donald Trump in 2016.