Archive for the ‘Railroad News’ Category

NS Painesville Bridge to Open late Summer 2018

November 17, 2017

The new Norfolk Southern bridge over the Grand River in Painesville is expected to open in late summer 2018.

An NS spokesman told the News-Herald of Willoughby that when completed the single-track bridge will be 1,318 feet in length and supported by seven concrete support structures.

The existing bridge, which was built in 1905 by the Nickel Plate Road, has 14 support structures. That bridge was strengthened in the 1940s, but NS has decided it needs to be replaced.

Designed by HDR Engineering of Cincinnati, the bridge is being constructed by Great Lakes Construction of Hinckley.

Work began last March and trains on the NS line between Cleveland and Buffalo, New York, have continued to use the existing bridge, which sees 10 to 15 trains a day.

“Work crews now are constructing the foundations and concrete towers that will support the bridge,” said NS spokesman Jon Glass. “The bridge foundations are being drilled down to bedrock, a distance that ranges from 30 to 100 feet below ground surface.”

The foundations will have steel-reinforced concrete and the steel bridge spans that carry the track will be outfitted with a precast concrete deck. Crossties, rail, and ballast will be laid atop the concrete deck.

Glass said the new bridge will be less costly to maintain and have less of a footprint in the Grand River, thereby improving the flow of the river in that location.

NS has not disclosed how much the bridge will cost.

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CSX Reportedly Lays Off Willard Workers

November 17, 2017

An online report this week said that CSX has furloughed all of the laborers at Willard Yard who put fuel, sand and water in locomotives and clean the cabs. There were also layoffs in the car shop.

The report said this leaves 20 employees in the car shop and that CSX management is seeking to have electricians and machinist do service on locomotives.

Amtrak Saw Ridership Increase 1.5% in FY2017, Posted Lowest Operating Loss in Decades

November 16, 2017

Amtrak recorded its lowest operating loss in decades this year the carrier said on Thursday. The national passenger carrier said it broke passenger and revenue records for the year ending Sept. 30, helping to narrow its operating loss to $194 million.

During the period Amtrak recorded 31.7 million passenger trips, a 1.5 percent increase over FY2016 and had total revenue of $3.2 billion, an increase of 1.1 percent over FY 2016.

In breaking out ridership by service type, Amtrak said it carried 12 million in the Northeast Corridor, up 1 percent, which set a record.

State-supported trains carried 15 million passengers, a 2.1 percent increase, while the long-distance routes carried 4.6 million riders, an increase of 0.9 percent

Amtrak also set a record for cost recovery, covering 94.7 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues.

“Over the next several years, we’re aiming to cover total operating costs from ticket and other revenues by strengthening our services and continuing to drive efficiency,” said Amtrak Board Chair Tony Coscia in a statement. “To do this, we are making investments in tracks and stations, on our trains, and in the delivery of customer service so that we can serve more customers with a better experience.”

Amtrak said it cuts its debt from $3.3 billion on Sept. 30, 2007, to $1.2 billion on Sept. 30, 2017, a reduction of 64 percent over the 10-year period.

Other notable milestones for Amtrak in FY2017 included a 19 percent increase in membership in its Amtrak Guest Rewards program and launching a national partnership with ride-sharing service Lyft.

Shippers Demand Congress Address CSX Service

November 16, 2017

Some CSX shippers are seeking more hearing about the railroad’s service issues.

The Rail Customer Coalition argues that CSX service has not improved and it wants federal officials to take action on complaints they expressed during an Oct. 11 hearing held by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

The coalition made its demand in letters dated Nov. 14 and addressed to the U.S. Senate’s Commerce Committee and the House of Representative’s Transportation Committee,

The letters assert that CSX customers continue to experience “service changes with little notice, missed switches, and poor communication on delivery status.”

The shippers group also wants Congress to “examine the CSX service breakdown, and potential means available to the STB to mitigate the adverse impacts to the rail network.”

Members of the coalition include the American Chemistry Council, National Farmers Union, the Sulphur Institute and 30 other organizations.

Although CSX has presented figures showing that car dwell time in yards and average train speeds have improved since last summer, the coalition is questioning whether those service metrics matter because they continue to perceive freight delays.

2nd Penn Station Track Renewal Work Set

November 16, 2017

The project will extend through May 28 and involve work performed mostly on weekends.

In a news release, Amtrak said there will be a series of continuous single-track closures that will result in minor modifications to Amtrak and commuter train weekday operations.

“After a successful summer, it is essential that we continue to upgrade the infrastructure so that we can continue to improve the reliability of service for all the customers that use New York Penn Station,” said Amtrak co-CEO Charles “Wick” Moorman.

The following schedule changes will take place during the infrastructure renewal work:

  • Amtrak is cancelling Northeast Regional Trains 110 from Washington to New York and 127 from New York to Washington.
  • Northbound Keystone Train 640 will terminate at Newark Penn Station
  • Southbound Keystone Train 643 will originate at Newark Penn Station
  • Southbound Train 173 will stop at Newark Airport
  • Southbound Trains 129, 193 and 653 will all have earlier departure times.
  • Train 170 will also depart Washington early, stop at North Philadelphia and Cornwells Heights and resume its schedule from Trenton
  • Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit are also expected to announce service schedule adjustments

The projects will occur in the area of Track 15, which requires a section of concrete demolition and replacement that will be similar to the work done on Track 10 last summer and Track 18, which requires localized concrete demolition with complex steel hardware replacement and rail renewal.

Amtrak also will renew and replace three turnouts in “C” Interlocking, which is at the east end of the station and directs Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road trains to routes heading east and to Sunnyside Yard.

While Amtrak has maintained and repaired this aging infrastructure, some of which dates to the 1970s, full replacement is now required.

Additional information and updates will be posted on Amtrak.com and Amtrak.com/NYPrenewal

 

Locomotive Business Future Not Bright

November 15, 2017

Although General Electric has yet to discuss in detail why it is seeking to sell or spin off its transportation division, one factor is likely a weak market for new locomotives.

GE had cited that earlier this year in talking about its plans to end locomotive production at its Erie, Pennsylvania, assembly plant.

Now comes a report in Railway Age that states that the number of investors in locomotives is falling and the value of used locomotives is declining as well.

Historically, leasing companies and banks were major buyers of new locomotives.

But, Railway Age reported, “changes to the lease market, low interest rates, railroad profitability and bonus depreciation changed railroad investment in locomotives from lease to buy and have potentially changed the market forever.”

Declining freight traffic has also played a role in depressing locomotive demand.

There are few investment opportunities with long-term value in locomotives and the short-term lease market for locomotives has grown thin aside from short line and industrial railroads. In short, there is more supply than demand for locomotives.

Steven Beal, president of locomotive manufacturer, rebuilder and lessor NRE, told Railway Age that there might not be any significant orders for new locomotives until 2020.

Orders for new locomotives peaked in 2015 before EPA Tier IV emissions restrictions were implemented. Since then new locomotive orders have become almost non-existent.

Many carriers have found it cheaper to rebuild older units with modern affordable technology that meets emissions standards than to buy new Tier IV units.

However, time may be on the side of locomotive investors.

There are a lot of old locomotives still in service. One estimate is that 80 percent of locomotives built 50 years ago are still in service. Older locomotives someday will need to be replaced.

In the meantime, many class 1 railroads are paring down their diesel rosters. Railway Age quoted an unnamed source as saying that Class 1’s are returning every off-lease locomotive of less than 1,500 hp and ditching higher horsepower four-axle locomotives such as the GP38-2, a four-axle, 2,000 hp locomotive whose production ended in 1984.

Many of these surplus units have been sold at auction with short-line railroads being active buyers.

But not all of the locomotives being discarded by the Class 1 railroads are finding buyers due to height, weight and track restrictions on larger locomotives.

Beal said NRE has fielded an increase in inquiries from the industrial market for medium horsepower four- and six-axle power because their business has picked up, particularly in the steel and petrochemical sectors.

He said the number of locomotives in storage has declined by half to roughly 2,500.

NS to Serve Indiana Coal Loading Facility

November 11, 2017

Norfolk Southern will serve an Indiana coal loading facility in southwestern Indiana.

NS will build a spur to the truck-to-rail coal loading facility of Sunrise Coal, a subsidiary of Hallador Energy.

The terminal is located 6 miles west of Princeton  and when completed next spring will primarily serve utility coal plants that NS serves.

The Princeton Loop will be capable of unloading trucks, blending coal, loading 135-car unit trains in four hours and storing more than 4 million tons of coal.

The coal comes from the Illinois Basin and is used by the electric power generation industry.

Short Lines Mark Fatality Free Year

November 10, 2017

Last year was a fatality-free one for members of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

The trade group represents 603 railroads that operate 47,500 miles in 49 states.

“Our short line members focus every day on ‘making it a safe one.’ Safe operations are good for our customers, good for the public interest, good for our employees, and good for business,” said Linda Bauer Darr, president of ASLRRA, in a statement.

Darr said SLRRA supports a safety focus through compliance audits, training opportunities, the Jake Award program, and committees that advance safety initiatives and technology that drives safety.

CSX Acknowledges Taking New Approach to Intermodal

November 9, 2017

Intermodal business is not the only thing that CSX is looking to downsize. Appearing at two investor conferences this week, CSX Chief Financial Officer Frank Lonegro said the railroad is also looking at shedding some lines and curtailing capital expenditures and expansion projects.

“We are in the evaluation phase,” Lonegro said, noting that CEO E. Hunter Harrison has said everything is for sale at the right price.

“Things that are non-core to the long-term business that we have and the long-term success of CSX, those things will ultimately be for sale,” Lonegro told the Stephens Fall Investor Conference.

Lonegro stopped short of acknowledging that CSX is ending the hub and spoke model on which intermodal operations at its Northwest Ohio Intermodal Terminal near North Baltimore are based.

Lonegro said Harrison wants to emphasize intermodal service to higher-volume, point-to-point markets.

As for reports that CSX has canceled plans to build a similar intermodal terminal in North Carolina, he would only say that plans for that terminal are under review.

However, speaking to the Baird Global Industrial Conference this week, Lonegro did say that CSX plans to reduce its capital spending next year and beyond.

This includes storing locomotives and freight cars and putting on hold expansion projects as the railroad transitions into a precision scheduled railroading operating model.

Lonegro said CSX  is likely to hold off on intermodal terminal investments in favor of leveraging the investments the railroad has made over the past decade.

Lonegro’s comments were the first made by a high-ranking CSX executive since a management shakeup in late October that will send three top executives out the door on Nov. 15.

The management changes also led to the cancellation of an investor’s conference that was to have been hosted by CSX in Florida on Oct. 30.

Instead, Lonegro said, Harrison gathered about 30 high-level managers in the Sunshine State and spoke for about six hours during what was billed as a “restart meeting.”

Some railroad industry analysts believe the investor conference that was canceled will be held during the first quarter of 2018.

During his remarks this past week, Lonegro said the North Baltimore terminal was being used by CSX to funnel traffic to and from smaller intermodal markets.

However, CSX has now decided to shut it down because its handling cost reduce profit in a line of business with razor-thin profit margins.

Lonegro said intermodal is all about creating traffic density. “If it costs you more to create the density, then you shouldn’t artificially create the density,” he said.

CSX plans to adopt a different approach to what Lonegro described as “ultra-low density lanes” but did not elaborate on what that will be.

“Hunter’s driving force around the intermodal strategy is to improve the profitability of that segment of the business,” Lonegro said.

Thus far CSX had ended intermodal service in scores of low-volume origins-destination pairs and moved light intermodal traffic in other lanes into its merchandise network.

Some CSX Customers Still Unhappy With Service

November 9, 2017

The degree to which CSX has overcome its service problems of recent months depends on who is doing the talking.

In an analysis published on its website, Trains magazine noted that although CSX contends that although it is moving past its service problems, many shippers counter that the railroad’s service is still plagued by erratic transit times, lost carloads, and misrouted shipments.

The National Grain and Feed Association said its members cannot get accurate information from the CSX customer service department.

“In some cases, our members have said they simply have given up, alleging that answers provided by CSXT personnel — if and when they can access them — often are opaque and vague,” said Randall Gordon, president of the association, in a letter to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board last week.

Trains said it heard similar complaints from large merchandise shippers, chemical shippers, and short-line and regional railroads.

“It is still a big mess for us,” an unnamed merchandise shipper told Trains. “I am talking with the STB almost daily.”

Another merchandise shipper studied round-trip transit times on eight of the origin-destination pairs that it uses on CSX, comparing September and October of this year to the eight-month period before CEO E. Hunter Harrison took over the railroad .

It found slower service on five of the eight lanes and improved transit times on two lanes, including one in which the transit time was six days faster.

“It does not look like the CSX troubles are behind us,” said Scott Jensen, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council. “Things have not returned to normal.”

The agricultural shipper group said some of its members reported improving service in early October while others are reporting that cars are arriving four to seven days behind schedule after bouncing around the CSX system.

Some of these misroutings have been due to billing instruction errors that have sent cars to the wrong destination. But at other times yard congestion is to blame. Loaded cars have waited five to seven days to be picked up.

However, CSX did seek to expedite delivery of an overdue train from Georgia to Okeechobee County, Florida, after several mills in the area had run out of corn and other ingredients to manufacture feed for dairy cattle.

CSX executives have been pointing to improvements in terminal dwell and average train speed in recent weeks.

A CSX spokesperson said the railroad has worked to meet the demands of the harvest season to be at the same or better levels than they were in 2016.

The spokesman said CSX has expanded its Grain Express program, which aims to ensure that unit trains are loaded and unloaded within 15 hours of arrival.

Speaking this week to an investor’s conference in New York, CSX Chief Financial Officer Frank Lonegro said average transit times have improved.

He presented figures showing the average transit time was around 6.5 days in early March and declined to around 5.9 days in May before nearing 8 days amid the height of the service problems in August.

The average transit time since then has been on a steady decline and is now back to six days.

Lonegro boasted that CSX is the only Class I railroad that can claim year-over-year improvements in train speeds, terminal dwell, and the number of cars on line.

He also emphasized that during the third quarter of 2017 CSX set a new operating ratio record, while operating income was up 20 percent.

CSX expects to reach an operating ratio of around 66 or 67 percent this year, along with earnings per share growth of between 20 and 25 percent.

In his telling, Lonegro attributed the service problems to the rapid pace of changes that CSX made to implement the precision scheduled railroading model.

These changes included converting eight of the railroad’s dozen humps to flat-switching terminals, placing what had been metals and rock unit trains into manifest freight trains, restructuring local service plans, introducing seven-day-a-week intermodal service, consolidating Florida intermodal trains, and implementing a “full balanced network plan” over the Fourth of July holiday.

CSX also consolidated its operating regions to five and replaced field leadership with new managers who had worked with the precision scheduled railroading model at Canadian National or were existing CSX managers who had completed a “Hunter Camps,” which was intensive training in the operating model.

Lonegro said about 85 percent of the merchandise network changes have been implemented and CSX is now working to execute its operating plan and make refinements.

This includes continuing to evaluate hump yard operations. He said CSX convert another hump to flat switching or reopen another hump as traffic volume dictates.

Earlier this summer, CSX converted Avon Yard near Indianapolis to flat switching, but reversed course as the western end of its network became congested.

It also scrapped plans for now to convert Selkirk Yard near Albany, New York, to flat switching only.