Archive for the ‘Railroad News’ Category

Hot Choice Added to ‘Fresh and Contemporary’

July 15, 2018

Amtrak has added a hot-meal choice to its lunch and dinner “menu” for sleeping car passengers aboard the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited.

New is a slow-braised beef short rib in a red wine and beer sauce that an attendant will warm for patrons.

It replaces the chilled grilled beef tenderloin salad. Other items will continue to be served cold including the vegan wrap, chicken Caesar salad, and antipasto plate.

There is still only one item available at breakfast and it includes fruit, a muffin, a Greek yogurt parfait, and breakfast bars.

Amtrak removed its full-serving dining service from both trains on June 1 in favor of what it euphemistically described as “fresh and contemporary” dining service.

Passengers can eat the boxed meals in their rooms or in a dining car that serves as a lounge for sleeping car passengers only.

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Railcar Survey Shows Mixed Picture

July 15, 2018

A recent survey of rail equipment needs produced a mixed picture that showed shippers are not ordering railcars due to uncertainty and their order sizes have gotten smaller.

But Cowen and Company said that the survey also found that the railcar demand in the next 12 months should be a “net neutral.”

Cowen analyst Matt Elkott said that the survey considered four metrics:  The percentage of shippers who will or may order railcars, the conviction level about ordering (the split between “yes” and “maybe”) among this group, the percentage of “same shippers” (which compares only the responses of shippers who participated in both first and second quarter surveys who will or may order railcars, the conviction level about ordering.

“Shippers expect to place smaller orders relative to our prior [survey],” Elkott said. “Among the shippers who said they don’t plan to order railcars in the next 12 months, the percentage who said it is because they don’t have incremental equipment needs increased.”

About 55 percent of the shippers “will” or “may” order railcars in the next 12 months.

Of these, 59 percent said they plan to place orders while 41 percent said “maybe” they will order.

About 45 percent say they do not plan to order railcars, a drop of 1 percent compared to the prior-quarter survey.

On a same-shipper basis, Elkott said the results look less encouraging.

About 47 percent said they will or may order railcars, compared to 68 percent in the previous survey.

Of these, 75 percent said they plan to place orders while 25 percent said “maybe.”

Buyers Wants More Time From STB to Complete Deal With CSX to Buy Northeast Ohio Branch Line

July 13, 2018

The would-be buyer of an idle CSX branch line in Northeast Ohio is seeking additional time from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to complete the transaction.

BDM Warren Steel Holdings is seeking to purchase the 13.9-mile Newton Falls Subdivision, which CSX wants to abandon.

In asking for additional time, Warren Steel said it received “confusing information” about the June 29 deadline that the STB set for offers of financial assistance.

Warren Steel had offered $742,000 for the branch, which it said will be used for future economic development of a 1,100 acre site of a former steel plant that has since been razed.

There are several brownfield and greenfield sites along the branch that could be re-purposed into distribution warehouses, food processing, manufacturing, and suppliers supporting gas production in nearby shale fields.

In its letter to the STB, Warren Steel said it has received 42 inquiries including 11 that would require rail access.

Warren Steel is expected to contract with a short-line railroad to operate the branch.

The branch would offer connections with CSX in Newton Falls and Norfolk Southern near Niles.

“Without dual service, we will lose some opportunities,” said Sarah Boyarko, senior vice president for economic development with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

CSX asked the STB in May for approval to abandon the line, which was once owned by the Baltimore & Ohio.

Class 1s to Report Stellar 2nd Quarter Results

July 13, 2018

Wall Street analysts are expecting North America’s Class 1 railroads to report sterling financial results for the second quarter of this year because traffic has continued to rise and the railroads have also imposed rate increases.

A review of analysts’ projections that was undertaken by Trains magazine found that the Wall Street mavens are expecting earnings per share to rise by an average of 23 percent for all roads except Canadian National.

The rate increases have been made possible in part because of limited capacity in the trucking industry.

However, some analysts believe that railroad service issues have prevented them from reaping traffic growth opportunities, particularly in intermodal traffic.

The railroads have seen their intermodal traffic grow by around 5 to 6 percent and reach record-setting levels, but it could have been higher.

The demand by online retailers, such as Amazon, for brown paper and cardboard boxes has pulp and paper mills operating at high capacity yet they are relying on trucks and not rail to ship that commodity.

Pulp and paper traffic by rail is flat compared to last year and well below the five-year average.

Analysts are likely to be asking questions in coming weeks about how a trade war that is underway with the imposition of tariffs in a tit for tat fashion will affect the financial performance of railroads down the line.

The Association of American Railroads has noted that 42 percent of rail traffic and 35 percent of railroad revenue is linked to trade.

With the trucking industry operating at 100 percent, there remain opportunities for railroads to gain market share in freight volume.

CSX will report its second quarter results on July 17 while Norfolk Southern will issue its report on July 25.

Joy Ride on CSX Ends in Arrests 60 Miles Later

July 12, 2018

CSX gave two Ohio men a 60-mile ride on Tuesday that ended with their arrest for trespassing.

Police said Christian Hale, 20, and Keven Slone, 24, both of Willard, got onto a moving CSX train in Willard at about 4 a.m. Tuesday and rode it for several miles before Hale called 911 for help.

The pair had thought the train would stop in Willard but it kept going. They clung to the outside of two rail cars as the eastbound train reached speeds of 45 to 50 miles per hour.

As the train neared Doylestown on the New Castle Subdivision, Hale called 911 and told a police dispatcher what was happening.

“I’m on a train!” he said.

“You’re on a train?” the dispatcher responded.

“Yeah, and it’s going really fast and I don’t know where it’s going. It’s scaring the s*** out of us.”

The police dispatcher notified CSX and the train stopped at Whitman Road in Chippewa Township.

Hale and Christian took off but were found a mile away. The pair were charged with trespassing and may face additional charges being lodged by CSX police.

When asked why he had gotten on the train, Hale replied, “It’s better than walking.”

Wayne County Captain Doug Hunter said getting a 911 call from someone hanging onto the side of train is very unusual

Hale told a deputy he only planed to ride the train through Willard.

“I thought it was going to stop in Willard and it didn’t, and I should have never got on the train,” Hale said. “I know it was a stupid idea and I never should have did it. I wasn’t going to and I never will again.”

Tariffs Not Hurting Railroads — Yet

July 12, 2018

Although the railroad industry has been warning about being adversely affected by the growing trade war being waged by the Trump administration, those effects have not yet shown up in the most recent freight traffic figures.

Nonetheless it may be too early for that evidence to be appearing.

Just this week Edward Hamberger, the CEO of the Association of American Railroads warned that recently announced tariffs on certain foreign goods will hinder global commerce and could reverse economic progress.

“The president’s more recent trade decisions could reverse that tremendous progress, adding hundreds of billions of dollars in potential costs for American businesses — costs that could ultimately be borne by consumers,” Hamberger and two other CEOs wrote in an op ed column that appeared in the Washington Examiner.

Also writing the column were American Chemistry Council head Cal Dooley and American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard.

The most recent figures issued by AAR showed that U.S. Class 1 railroads have posted a 9 percent traffic gain through the first six months of the year and a 5 percent gain during June.

“What these tariffs will mean for the overall economy is not clear — their impact will vary from firm to firm and industry to industry, with overall damage depending in part on how long the disputes last and how they escalate,” AAR said last week in its monthly Rail Time Indicators economic outlook.

After the U.S. imposed tariffs on goods coming from China, that country responded by placing tariffs on such American products as soybeans and automobiles.

The U.S. and several European and North American countries have also imposed tariffs on each other’s exports.

Soybean producers were already seeing declining sales to China even before the tariffs were imposed.

During the first four months of 2018, U.S. grain exports are down nearly 7 percent, with soybean exports down 10 percent and wheat off by 22 percent, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported.

Although intermodal growth this year has been strong, international intermodal container traffic rose just 1.4 percent in June, which might be an indication of slowing traffic.

International intermodal traffic had posted a 7.5 percent increase during the first three months of this year.

Nonetheless, the AAR expects intermodal to set records this year barring  a collapse of international trade.

Anthony B. Hatch, an independent rail analyst with ABH Consulting, told Trains magazine that the Chinese tariffs could have a 6 to 8 percent negative impact on imports of containerized cargo.

Hatch said a strong U.S. dollar has also made U.S. products more expensive aboard.

CSX Appoints 2 Top Managers

July 10, 2018

CSX has named two new executives whose appointments are effective immediately.

They include Mark Wallace, executive vice president sales and marketing, and Diana Sorfleet, executive vice president and chief administrative officer.

Wallace joined CSX in March 2017 as executive VP corporate affairs and chief of staff, and was named executive VP and CAO in January.

He previously worked with the late E. Hunter Harrison for 20 years and began his railroad career at Canadian National in 1995 as an analyst in the taxation and treasury function to assist on CN’s initial public offering.

Wallace also worked at Canadian Pacific between July 2012 and January 2017.

Currently serving as CSX’s chief human resources officer, Sorfleet will succeed Wallace. She will be responsible for information technology, human resources, labor relations, executive compensation and aviation.

She joined CSX in June 2011 after serving in human resources at Exelon, most recently as VP of diversity and development.

CSX also announced that Kevin Boone, who previously reported to Wallace, will continue as executive VP corporate affairs. He will become responsible for corporate communications and report to CEO James Foote.

SLSI Starts Website for Safety Information

July 10, 2018

The Short Line Safety Institute has launched a website to help short-line railroads withy safet issues.

The website, www.shortlinesafety.org, provides information on the programs and resources offered by SLSI to the short line industry and enables fast and easy access to programs and support materials.

“It provides a quick way for safety professionals to access materials that they can use right away or share with colleagues, sign up for webinars, training programs, and safety culture assessments, and know where our next training event will take place,” said Tom Murta, executive director of the  SLSI.

The new website provides access to hazardous materials and safety culture resources, the ability to download materials from the Safety Tips program, a calendar of upcoming events, and a way to request an onsite safety culture Assessment or HMIT program training for one, or several railroads.

WATCO Buying CSX Lines in Indiana, Illinois

July 9, 2018

Two CSX secondary routes in Indiana and Illinois are being acquired by Watco Companies.

The 126.7 miles of track involved in the transaction includes the Decatur and Danville Secondary subdivisions.

The routes are former Baltimore & Ohio and New York Central respectively.

Watco plans to name the property the Decatur & Eastern Illinois Railroad will be the new name for the 126.7 miles of track that Watco will acquire from CSX as the Class I railroad seeks to prune its network of lower-density, non-core routes.

The Decatur Subdivision extends from its namesake city in Illinois to Montezuma, Indiana. It once extended between Indianapolis and Springfield, Illinois.

The Danville Secondary runs from Terre Haute, Indiana, and Olivet, Illinois, and also includes the Paris Industrial Track in Paris, Illinois.

The track between Terre Haute and Paris once was part of the NYC’s Indianapolis-St. Louis mainline and hosted such crack passenger trains as the Southwestern Limited, Knickerbocker and Missourian.

The track north of Paris was a Central route that linked Northwest Indiana and Cairo, Illinois.

Watco has told the CSX union members who work on the affected lines that it will have employment opportunities in Decatur and Paris.

The Pittsburg, Kansas-based short line company is looking to hire four conductors, five engineers, a locomotive laborer, a track inspector, two track laborers and two track foremen.

CSX, which put the lines up for sale last January, expects the sale to close in early August.

Affected CSX employees who choose not to go to work for Watco, retire or resign, will be given the option of remaining with CSX.

Neither CSX or Watco disclosed the terms of the proposed sale.

Watco operates 38 short-line railroads in the United States with 5,100 miles of track. It also holds 31 industrial contract switching contracts.

All Class 1s Join Long Train Parade

July 9, 2018

CSX is not the only railroad that is running very long trains.

All of North America’s Class 1 railroads are dispatching trains ranging between 10,000 to 15,000 feet in an effort to boost productivity, become more efficient and slash operating costs.

The railroads also contend that longer trains maximize locomotives, crews and fuel while presenting dispatchers with fewer trains to handle.

These long trains are double the typical train size of between 5,000 and 6,000 feet.

However, not all Class 1 routinely operate such monster trains.

BNSF, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern and, yes, CSX, operate 10,000 plus foot trains on a case-by-case basis although any trackside observer of CSX and, increasingly, NS might swear that nearly all of their trains are monster length.

At Canadian Pacific, Canadian National and Union Pacific long trains are routine.

The Association of American Railroads said that 95 percent of trains in the U.S. are less than 10,000 feet in length, but that Class 1s have been seeking to lengthen train length for several years.

A CSX spokesman told Progressive Railroading magazine that longer trains did not begin with E. Hunter Harrison and his precision scheduled railroading operating model.

“CSX data shows that over time, train length has evolved as business demands have warranted,” said CSX spokesman Christopher Smith.

He said that the demands of shippers and supply chains have led Class 1 railroads to lengthen average train length.

Nonetheless, during the first quarter of 2018 the average train length for all CSX road trains was 6,890 feet, or 5 percent longer than the same period in 2017.

Smith said that the scheduled railroading model that the late Harrison implemented has increased train lengths by consolidating train profiles to achieve efficiencies.

“Increased train length contributed to a significant reduction in the number of trains operated on a daily basis,” Smith said. “Year over year, [we] reduced the total number of active road trains per day by approximately 26 percent, or about 222 trains per day.”

Another benefit has been a decrease in grade crossing accidents because there are fewer opportunities for trains and motor vehicles to collide at crossings.

The result of longer trains has been that Class 1 railroads are lengthening sidings to at least 10,000 feet and laying more double track.

Positive Train Control is also expected to enable railroads to lengthen trains.

Longer trains have not always been well received by railroad workers. The SMART Transportation Division unsuccessfully asked the Federal Railroad Administration to issue an emergency order limiting train length.

But the FRA declined, saying there is no evidence to justify such an order.

SMART argued that a traint that is 2 or more miles in length can interrupt crew radio communications, block grade crossings for long periods and increase the probability of a mechanical failure.

“In mountain territory, a conductor can walk quite a ways from the locomotive, making communication with the cab difficult. That puts workers in dangerous situations,” said SMART National Legislative Director John Risch, who was a locomotive engineer for more than 30 years.

He also said that additional in-train forces can make it more difficult to keep a long train intact.

“When you double a train from 100 cars to 200 cars and then the train breaks up, the efficiencies the railroads talk about go out the window,” he said.

In the meantime, the Government Accountability Office is conducting a study on the effects of long trains and their potential safety hazards.

Railroad managers have countered that there is no evidence to support the arguments of the unions that operating employees lack sufficient training in handling long trains and say their companies are doing all they can to improve safety.