Posts Tagged ‘autonomous vehicles’

Rail Executives See Intermodal Boom Lasting Into Next Spring

November 13, 2020

Executives of CSX and Canadian National told a conference this week they are optimistic that the robust intermodal volumes that railroads have seen in recent weeks will continue through early next spring.

Speaking to the Baird Industrials Conference, the executives said this was due to North American retailers continuing to rebuild inventories depleted during the COVID-19 pandemic-induced economic slowdown.

For the past few months intermodal growth has outpaced that of other rail freight commodities, which have continued to lag behind 2019 levels although intermodal traffic fell sharply in the early months of the pandemic.

Mark Wallace, the CSX executive vice president of sales and marketing, told conference attendees that intermodal growth is expected to continue deep into the first quarter of 2021.

“This e-commerce phenomenon is continuing, and we’re seeing some great volumes in this replenishment of inventories, and restocking is going extremely well,” he said.

CSX’s intermodal volumes has been up 10 percent since Oct. 1, with trailer volume increased by 26 percent compared with a year ago.

The growth in trailers is significant because those often carry parcels and less than truckload shipments related to e-commerce.

Keith Reardon, CN’s senior vice president of consumer product supply chain, said his company’s sales personnel based in Asia are predicting international trade coming from that continent will continuing deep into February and maybe into March as North American inventories are rebuilt.

Although CN-served ports in Western Canada will be a primary beneficiary of this trade, the Danish shipping line Maersk recently made its first call at the CN-served Port of Mobile, Alabama, with Asian cargo routed through the Panama Canal.

In a related matter, CN Chief Financial Officer Ghislain Houle told the same conference that if trucks evolve to become autonomous, that could hurt railroad intermodal business that travels in the 500- 700-mile radius.

However, he said autonomous trucks would pose less of a threat to long-haul intermodal volume, at least in the short term.

Although autonomous trucks are still in the testing stage, Houle expects them to become reality eventually.

When that happens, railroads will need to respond by shifting to one-person locomotive crews and eventually autonomous operation in which there is no one in the locomotive cab.

“Now obviously the driverless truck will get there,” Houle said. “And obviously that may represent a threat to railroads.”

Positive train control will enable railroads to respond by operating one-person crews and, within a couple of years, driverless trains.

“If you believe that a truck can be driverless on publicly-funded roads, you will believe that at one point trains could be driverless on a privately-funded network,” Houle said. “So the technology will advance on trains as well.”

Driverless trains are already operating on the Rio Tinto railroad in Australia.

Houle acknowledged that it will take more than technological advances to make driverless trains a reality.

Government regulators in the United States and Canada will need to be persuaded to allow them and the arguments in favor of autonomous trains will need to be rooted in safety and not economics.

“You will make the case that having a driverless truck or you will make the case that having a driverless train is safer than having people in the cab,” Houle said.

CSX Executive Sees 1-Person Crews Coming

September 7, 2018

One person train crews and trains with no crews might be inevitable a CSX executive said this week and will be made possible by the development of positive train control.

Speaking to the Cowen & Company Global Transportation Conference, CSX Chief Financial Officer Frank Lonegro said changes in crew assignments will be driven by the benefits of technology combined with competition from the trucking industry.

Lonegro said technological developments in the trucking industry are expected to enable platooning and driverless operation, which will lower the cost of moving freight by truck divert some business from the rails.

CSX expects by the end of 2020 to have invested $2.4 billion in PTC and expects something in return for that.

“One of the clear ways to do that is through one-person crews and ultimately, way down the road, perhaps autonomous trains,” Lonegro said.

He said PTC will enable railroads to operate a closed network where they control all of the traffic, which differs from a highway with its multiple users and the lack of a fixed guideway.

Lonegro’s viewpoint is in contrast to that of his former boss, the late E. Hunter Harrison, who said he was not an advocate of one-person crews.

Harrison said a one-person crew might make sense in some situations, such as as switching at mines.

“But today to take a 20,000-ton train on line of road, with one person, I don’t think it’s good business,” Harrison said, citing safety concerns, the value of an extra set of eyes and ears in the cab and delays caused by a lone crew member having to fix a broken air hose or knuckle failure.

However, previous CSX CEO Michael Ward once said that one-person crews are inevitable, citing the benefits of PTC.

Lonegro noted that autonomous train operations are already underway in Australia.

But before that happens in the United States, Lonegro said various labor, regulatory, and public policy issues will need to be resolved.

He predicted that full implementation of PTC by the end of 2020 will bring those issues to the forefront.

CSX CEO Ward Says 1-Person Crews Inevitable

January 19, 2017

One-person operating crews are inevitable CSX CEO Michael Ward said this week during a conference call with financial analysts and investors.

Michael Ward

Michael Ward

Ward told his audience, “It’s just a question of when.” Driving the move toward one-person crews will be autonomous trucks and delivery vehicles.

“There’s going to be autonomous vehicles out there. There’s no question,” Ward said. “The only question is when and how much they will be deployed.”

The CSX head also said the completion of positive train control by 2020 will also pave the way toward one-person crews.

Getting labor unions to agree to one-person crews will be a challenge, Ward noted.

Will Driver-less Cars Hurt Passenger Rail?

October 26, 2016

A study projects that self-driving cars could have an adverse effect on rail passenger ridership, reducing it by 40 percent.

Amtrak 4The study by the Boston Consulting Group, titled “Will Autonomous Vehicles Derail Trains?” suggests that in some communities trains could be replaced by self-driving motor vehicles.

“The advent of autonomous vehicles could well affect passenger rail travel as profoundly as did the automobile 125 years ago,” the report states.

It remains to be seen when self-driving vehicles will appear on roads and streets on a large scale.

A number of pilot programs are underway by such companies as Tesla, Uber and Google.

Uber recently began a test program of driverless cars in Pittsburgh and the U.S. Department of Department of Transportation has written new regulations for the cars.

The Boston group report cited a survey of 5,500 people in 10 countries that found that 50 percent of them would ride in a driverless-car.

The Boston group said an advantage of self-driving vehicles is that they can deliver passengers right to the doorstep of where they want to do.

The study also said that the technology to regulate autonomous vehicles would cost less than a passenger rail system.

Passenger rail carriers could take advantage of self-driving vehicles, the study said, by having a fleet of such vehicles at the ready to take passenger the last few miles of their journey once they step off a train.

Not all rail passenger advocates agree with the conclusions of the study.

Andy Kunz, president and CEO of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, told Trains magazine that the idea driverless cars would replace passenger trains is “absurd.”

“They want to spend a trillion dollars to try to make cars operate closely spaced as a ‘platoon’ with no proof whatsoever it will ever work, when we already have trains that rapidly move people closely spaced together, and have been proven and successful for 150 years,” Kunz said. “There is no way this driverless car system will ever come close to moving the high numbers of people across a region that high speed rail can do now.”

Kunz cautioned that driverless cars could become the target of hackers, citing how Chinese security researchers figured out how to control a Tesla car remotely.

“They think people are going to get into their driverless car, program in a destination, and then sit back and read the newspaper while the vehicle does the navigating, when we already have taxis, Uber and trains that do this now without having to invent anything new,” Kunz said.

Also critical of the report was the National Association of Railroad Passengers, which said the report ignores new trends in resettlement patterns that have seen young and educated professionals moving to cities and walkable communities.

“That has led to steady growth in passenger rail service, with cities and states looking to develop new rail lines and multi-modal stations,” NARP said. “In addition, rail transit is technology that that readily available for the development of passenger rail networks, and it is a mode of transportation that people are familiar with, and can rely on.”