Archive for the ‘Railroad News’ Category

Truck was on Crossing at Time of Crash

February 23, 2018

An on-board camera has shown that the garbage truck that was struck by an Amtrak special on Jan. 31, had entered a grade crossing after the crossing gates had gone down.

The National Transportation Safety Board said this week that the forward-facing camera in the lead locomotive showed that as the crossing came into view, the gates were down and the garbage truck was on the tracks at the grade crossing.

The NTSB said that witnesses to the crash reported the truck had entered the crossing after the gates were down at the crossing near Crozet, Virginia.

The special was carrying Republican members of Congress to an annual political retreat at the Greenbrier resort hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

A passenger in the truck was killed and another suffered serious injuries. The truck driver came away with minor injuries.

Three Amtrak crew members and three passengers also suffered minor injuries.

The preliminary NTSB report said that the crossing has advance warning signs and pavement markings on its approach. It is equipped with crossbuck signs, warning lights, bells and gates.

The collision caused the front axle of the lead P42DC locomotive to derail, although it remained upright.

The NTSB will later release a finding of probable cause and issue safety recommendations.

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Class 1 Rail Employment Fell in January

February 22, 2018

Employment on U.S. Class 1 railroads in January fell 2.76 percent compared with January of 2017.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board said railroads employed 144,329 workers in mid January, which was a decline of 0.75 percent since mid-December.

Five of the six employment categories reflected workforce decreases in mid-January compared with mid-December.

That included executives, officials and staff assistants, down 3.62 percent to 7,830 employees; transportation (train and engine) down 1.29 percent to 59,684; maintenance of way and structures, down 0.99 percent to 32,132; transportation (other than train and engine) down 0.78 percent to 5,581; and maintenance of equipment and stores, down 0.12 percent to 26,564.

The professional and administrative category rose 3.18 percent to 12,538 in mid-January compared with mid-December, but was down 4.94 percent compared with January 2017.

Four other employment categories also reflected workforce decreases last month when compared with mid-January 2017.

Executives, officials and staff assistants category was down 13.73 percent; maintenance of way and structures, down 5.98 percent; transportation (other than train and engine), down 5.58 percent; and maintenance of equipment and stores, down 5.24 percent.

Year over year, transportation (train and engine) increased 2.83 percent.

Ohio Saddle Tanker Moving to Pennsylvania

February 20, 2018

A steam locomotive that sat for years on static display in Ohio at the Pickaway County Fairgrounds in Circleville is getting a new home.

The saddletank 0-6-0 built by Alco-Cooke in 1920 will be moved to the Allentown & Auburn Railroad in Pennsylvania.

The 1920 Alco-Cooke engine was offered “free to a good home last year,” when the fair board determined it was not part of its future plans.

Built as No. 106 for Sturm & Dillard, the steamer has been on display at the fairgrounds since 1962.

Sturm & Dillard was a railroad contractor and stone and sand quarry operator and other examples of its locomotives are preserved in Ohio.

No. 106 is expected to move to its new home by truck, albeit with a few features missing, including its headlight, bell and number plate.

The fair offered the locomotive for free to whoever would give it a good home.

A&A manager Mike Bast said the locomotive is in fairly good condition.

It will need to be rebuilt to become operational again. Also slated to join No. 106 in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, on the A&A are a former Washington Terminal Alco RS1 and a Grand Trunk Western baggage car.

Pa. Tourist RR Debuts PRR Lookalike FP7

February 20, 2018

A Pennsylvania tourist railroad has placed into revenue service a Pennsylvania Railroad look alike locomotive.

The Stourbridge Line debuted during President’s Day weekend a former Canadian Pacific GMD FP7 in a variation of the PRR’s FP7 livery.

The unit is painted Brunswick green with five yellow stripes and lettered “Pennsylvania.” Originally, the Pennsy’s FP7s featured a single solid stripe.

The Stourbridge Line provides service in the Pocono Mountains on a former 25-mile Erie Lackawanna branch.

Running along Lackawaxen Creek for most of its way, the tourist railroad is formally named the Delaware Lackawaxen & Stourbridge Railroad. Trains run on weekends and Wednesdays. ​

The PRR replica locomotive once carried CP roster number 1306 but is now No. 9880.

The owner of No. 9880, Tom Myles, said he has a second FP-7 and a B-unit that he plans to rebuild and repaint.

SMART Members OK Contract With Amtrak

February 19, 2018

Members of the SMART Transportation Division have ratified a contract agreement with Amtrak.

The pact covers conductors, assistant conductors and yardmasters represented by the union.

Effective April 1, the agreement provides a compounded 18.83 percent pay increase over the life of the contract plus retroactive pay.

The contract also caps monthly health care contributions, adds telemedicine services and establishes a lower-cost health plan available to employees on Jan. 1, 2019.

Amtrak and the union reached agreement on the contract last month and it will be in effect through 2021.

NTSB Wants Restricted Speed for Trains Passing Through Territory in Which Signal System Has Been Suspended

February 17, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board has asked the Federal Railroad Administration to issue an emergency order directing that trains or locomotives move at restricted speed when passing through territory on which the signal system has been suspended and a switch has been reported realigned for a main track.

The recommendation came following a Feb. 4 head-on collision between Amtrak’s Silver Star and a parked CSX auto rack train, resulting in two Amtrak crew members being killed.

Preliminary NTSB findings are that a misaligned switch routed the passenger train into the path of the freight train, near Cayce, South Carolina.

CSX personnel had turned off the signal system on the territory where the crash occurred in order to install updated traffic control system components for the implementation of positive train control.

That meant dispatchers were using track warrants to govern train movements through the work territory.

The accident was similar to one that occurred on March 14, 2016 in Granger, Wyoming.

The NTSB said safe movement of trains in the event of a signal system suspension hinges upon proper switch alignment.

In the case of the accidents that occurred in Wyoming and South Carolina, the switch alignment relied on error-free manual work, which was not safeguarded by either technology or supervision.

“The installation of the life-saving positive train control technology on the CSX tracks is not the cause of the Cayce, South Carolina, train collision,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt in a statement. “While the collision remains under investigation, we know that signal suspensions are an unusual operating condition, used for signal maintenance, repair and installation that have the potential to increase the risk of train collisions. That risk was not mitigated in the Cayce collision. Our recommendation, if implemented, works to mitigate that increased risk.”

Railroad Industry Has Its Wish List of Legislative, Policy and Regulatory Changes at the Ready

February 17, 2018

Christmas is 10 months away, but the railroad industry has a long wish list of what it wants from Santa Claus, who in this case is the federal government

The industry will send representatives to Washington on March 7 for its annual Railroad Day on Capitol Hill to push policy makers in Congress, the executive branch and federal regulatory agencies to grant those wishes.

In an analysis, Progressive Railroading magazine said some items on the list are perennial wishes, meaning the industry has still yet to see them granted.

These include a permanent extension of the Section 45G tax credit for short lines railroads; maintaining existing truck-size and weight restrictions; shoring up the federal Highway Trust Fund; and knocking out the U.S. Surface Transportation Board’s proposed “competitive switching” rules.

A recent wish that has been added to the list concerns the Trump administration infrastructure program proposal that Congress is now considering.

Railroad industry trade groups said they will push for rail projects to have priority in funding programs.

This will include increased federal funding for Amtrak and commuter-rail agencies to complete positive train control implementation.

They also want to argue that rails need to be on the same level as other modes of transportation.

“We are very concerned about modal parity,” said Nicole Brewin, vice president of government affairs for the Railway Supply Institute. “We are concerned that rail should have a bite of the apple, so to speak.”

NAFTA

Going back to the 2016 presidential election, railroads have expressed concern about the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which then-candidate Donald Trump used to decry at every opportunity.

Since being elected, Trump has pushed to renegotiate the treaty, but encountered resistance from Canada and Mexico.

The railroad industry has generally supported the talks to negotiate new terms to NAFTA, but doesn’t support Trump’s pledge to withdraw if he doesn’t get the terms he wants.

That’s because railroads benefit from moving goods between the United States and Canada and Mexico. This includes some goods that are manufactured elsewhere around the world, but routed through those countries.

“Economic growth tied to NAFTA has allowed railways to invest tens of billions of dollars into their infrastructure while improving productivity and customer service, and fostering innovation,” a coalition of railroad trade groups wrote in an open letter issued on Jan. 22. “Collectively, these improvements have enabled railways to maintain the low rates that are required to provide shippers with access to global supply chains to support their success.”

The letter said that NAFTA has since it went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994, helped develop an integrated economy in which a continental rail network is essential for the flow of goods across North America.

Trade between the U.S. and Canada between 1993 and 2016 increased by 157 percent to $544.6 billion. During the same period, U.S.-Mexico trade skyrocketed 543 percent to $523.8 billion and Canada-Mexico trade jumped 776 percent to $30.8 billion.

The letter was signed by the heads of the Association of American Railroads, the Railway Association of Canada, and the Asociacion Mexicana de Ferrocarriles.

The AAR said about 42 percent of rail carloads and 35 percent of rail revenue are directly associated with international trade.

“We’re not saying NAFTA can’t be updated,” said AAR CEO Edward Hamberger. “There will be changes in it. But you can’t just withdraw from it.”

Worrying the railroad industry is a Trump administration proposal to dramatically increase the amount of content from NAFTA nations in automobiles to 85 percent from 62.5 percent.

The administration wants to see 50 percent of the content of vehicles come from companies in the United States.

Much of the auto traffic in North America, including parts, moves by rail and the industry fears that the administration’s proposed formula could interrupt the supply chain and make it more difficult for vehicles and parts to move within the United States or between Mexico and Canada duty-free.

Short Line Tax Credit

The short-line railroad tax credit has long been on the wish list of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

The credit, which expired on Dec. 31, 2016, allowed regional and short-lines railroads to claim a 50-cent tax credit for each dollar they spend on track rehabilitation and maintenance projects. That credit is capped at $3,500 per mile of owned or leased track.

Although Congress is considering extending the credit until the end of this year, ASLRRA President Linda Bauer Darr said her group’s members want a 10-year deal.

Class I railroads recently benefited from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which cut their corporate taxes. Now short-line railroads want relief of their own.

Truck Size

The trucking industry, of course, has its own wish list that it circulates in Washington and that includes loosening federal restrictions on the size and weight of trucks allowed on interstate highways.

Truckers would like to see the allowable length restriction on double trailers extended from 28 feet to 33 feet.

“Our biggest concern [with the truck-size and weight issue] is the size and shape of the opposition,” says ASLRRA’s Darr. “As we see companies like Amazon coming on board and aligning themselves with FedEx, UPS and others, it becomes an even larger challenge to hold our ground on what is an existential threat to our industry.”

Darr said twin 33-foot trailers would hurt the carload market of railroads by causing a significant amount of freight diversion from rails to trucks.

Railroads and a lobbying group fighting longer trucks beat back the trucking industry’s proposals last year, but the truckers are back.

Railroad lobbyists say the congressional appropriations process is always a battleground because appropriations bills are the primary vehicles for bigger-truck proponents to advance their proposals.

Highway Trust Fund

The solvency of the Highway Trust Fund has been an issue in recent years because of falling revenue from federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel.

The trust fund is used for surface transportation improvements, including at transit-rail agencies.  Congress last increased fuel taxes in 1993 and many in the transportation sector have long argued that the trust fund isn’t keeping pace with the cost to maintain and repair infrastructure. Since 2008 Congress has bolstered the highway trust fund with $143 billion a year from general revenue.

The railroad industry argues that this has represented a subsidy to the trucking industry, which doesn’t cover the cost of infrastructure damage caused by heavy trucks.

The AAR said that freight railroads have invested $25 billion a year in their own infrastructure networks.

“We think our competition should have to pay their way as well,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Ian Jefferies.

The AAR has proposed finding new ways to shore up the highway trust fund, including raising the gas tax or instituting tolls or new fees based on vehicle miles traveled.

Railroad Regulation

So long as railroads and their customers continue to have disputes there will continue to be calls by shippers to impose new regulations on railroads.

The railroad industry is heartened by the Trump administration’s approach to federal regulation, including the U.S. Department of Transportation’s repeal late last year of a Federal Railroad Administration rulemaking proceeding pertaining to the installation of electronically controlled pneumatic brakes on certain tank cars.

The railroad industry has called Trump’s efforts to streamline the infrastructure project approval process a welcome sign.

Still, railroad industry executives worry that some proposed regulations being considered by the STB might discourage railroad investments.

This includes competitive access, also known as reciprocal switching, which is being pushed by some shippers.

The railroad industry view is that competitive switching would force them to surrender their privately-owned property for use by competing railroads, said Sean Winkler, director of advocacy at the Railway Engineering-Maintenance Supplier Association.

For their part, shippers counter that reciprocal switching would increase price competition.

The railroad industry is also eyeing how the STB defines “revenue adequacy” for Class I railroads, a concept that describes whether a railroad is earning enough revenue to cover its costs and earn a return that’s sufficient to attract capital.

The STB is currently awaiting the seating of three more members before moving forward on some rulemaking decisions.

The Board has two members, Acting Chair Ann Begeman and Vice Chair Deb Miller, since a third member, Daniel R. Elliott III, resigned last September.

The railroad industry wants to see those open seats filled by members with direct rail industry experience.

Infrastructure Plan

The railroad industry is pleased with the Trump administration’s focus on rebuilding infrastructure but fears that partisan fighting will result in little or nothing getting done.

The administration has proposed spending $200 billion over the next decade as matching grants for projects that would be primarily financed by state and local governments, or the private sector.

Trump has claimed that the plan will lead to $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending.

“Picking a number to spend on infrastructure is the easy part; the hard part is figuring out how to pay for it,” said Chuck Baker, president of the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association.

Baker said he is “hopeful but not optimistic” about whether Congress will be able to agree on a program that “spends real money and in any way moves the dial on infrastructure.”

Instead, he believes what is more likely is a smaller bill that calls for regulatory reforms, shortens the environmental permitting process and fixes financing programs for infrastructure projects.

The railroad industry hopes that any infrastructure program included grants for freight-rail projects.

It could also be used to extend longer term the short-line railroad tax credit, freeze current truck size and weight restrictions, and provide grants for transit and intercity passenger rail.

2 NS Crew Members Hurt in Derailment

February 16, 2018

Two Norfolk Southern crew members were injured Thursday afternoon after an eastbound auto rack train derailed in a remote location near Attica, New York, on the Southern Tier line.

The injured workers were the conductor and engineer, both of whom were taken to Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, New York.

The train had two locomotives and 43 loaded auto rack cars. Both locomotives derailed along with nine cars.

NS spokesman Jonathan Glass said the injuries were not life-threatening.

Online reports indicated that the train was symbol freight 28N and Glass said it was en route to Mechanicville, New York.

After the derailment, fire broke out on the lead locomotives and authorities decided to let the fire burn itself out, in part because the derailment site is difficult for fire fighters to reach.

However, several fire departments and hazmat units were at the scene.

The derailment was reported at 4:03 p.m. on a stretch of track with a top speed of 35 miles per hour. The cause of the derailment has not yet been disclosed.

NS said that although the train was not carrying hazardous materials it was sending its environmental specialists to clean up spilled diesel fuel, a process expected to take several days.

Authorities said both locomotives and some rail cars of the train went over an embankment and landed in a ravine.

The track in that vicinity is about 50 to 75 feet above a nearby farm field.

NS is reportedly detouring trains that normally use the Southern Tier route west of Binghamton, New York, via Sunbury and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and then westward.

CSX Shipper Complaints to STB Dropping

February 16, 2018

Even as some CSX shippers continue to be disgruntled with the service they are receiving, other railroad customers are either finding their service satisfactory or have given up complaining about it.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board said that shipper complaints about CSX service have dropped and an STB member attributes that to improved service.

Acting STB Chairman Ann Begeman made that observation in a letter sent to the American Chemistry Council, saying the Board has received “very few calls” regarding CSX service in the past few weeks

The Chemistry Council had earlier this week released findings of a survey of its members that many of them still are receiving inconsistent service, forcing some to curtail production and/or rely more on truck transportation.

CSX CEO James M. Foote met with Begeman on Feb. 1 to discuss CSX service matters and the Board has indicated it will continue to review weekly reports the carriers has been filing since last August.

However, the STB may modify its oversight as soon as April. The STB ramped up its oversight of CSX after service issues became rampant last summer after the railroad moved to the precision scheduled railroading operating model.

The STB might be willing to roll back some of the reporting on performance metrics that it has required of CSX since last summer.

In her letter to the Chemical trade group, Begeman urged shippers who have experienced problems to contact the STB so the problems can be addressed.

NTSB Wants Screening for Sleep Disorders

February 16, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board wants the Federal Railroad Administration to require railroads to medically screen “safety-sensitive” employees for sleep disorders.

The recommendation came in a special investigation report about two end-of-track collisions at commuter train stations in New Jersey and New York.

In a separate report, the NTSB said last week that both accidents, which involved commuter railroads in the New York City area, were caused by engineer fatigue resulting from undiagnosed and untreated obstructive sleep apnea.

In both accidents trains struck end-of-track bumping posts and continued into the waiting rooms of the stations.

In a news release, the MTSB said both incidents had “almost identical” probable causes and safety issues.

The NTSB also called for the use of technology such as positive train control in terminal stations and improving the effectiveness of system safety program plans to improve terminal operations.

The New Jersey accident, which occurred on Sept. 29, 2016, and involved a New Jersey Transit train in Hoboken, killed one person and injured 110.

The other accident involved the Long Island Rail Road and occurred on Jan. 4, 2017, at the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, New York. That incident injured 108.