Posts Tagged ‘BNSF’

Class 1s Pause Vaccine Rules, Amtrak Does Not

December 10, 2021

Three Class 1 railroads will delay implementation of COVID-19 vaccination rules but Amtrak said it plans to require the vaccinations.

The action follows a ruling by a federal judge in Georgia who issued a nationwide stay of an executive order from the Biden administration that federal contractors require their workers to be vaccinated by early January.

Judge R. Stan Baker issued the stay in response to a lawsuit filed by seven states.

The judge said the plaintiffs “are likely to succeed in their claim that Biden exceeded authorization from Congress when he issued the requirement in September.”

Baker’s ruling applies nationally because another plaintiff in the suit, the Associated Builders and Contractors, has members who do business nationwide.

The Biden executive order had required “federal contractors and subcontractors to comply with workplace safety guidelines developed by a federal task force.”

Those guidelines require employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 18 with limited exceptions being allowed for medical or religious reasons.”

Earlier, Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and BNSF cited the executive order in requiring employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

Unions representing workers at all of those carriers have sued in an effort to get the rules overturned. The unions have said they are not opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations but want the carriers to engage in collective bargaining over any rule requiring vaccinations.

Another federal judge in Kentucky had issued a similar stay of the Biden executive order but it only was effective in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

In statements following this week’s court actions, NS, UP and BNSF said they have halted enforcing their vaccine rules but Amtrak said it has not.

NS said in its statement that it has encouraged its workers from the start of the pandemic to follow the guidance of public health experts.

The statement said NS is pausing enforcement of its vaccine rule, which means it will not subject unvaccinated workers to disciplinary action.

The Atlanta-based carrier said it is still still encouraging employees to get vaccinated and will observe how the legal challenges play out.

In a memo sent to its workers on Dec. 9, Amtrak said 95 percent of its employees are fully vaccinated. That percentage increases to 97 percent when taking into account workers who have received the first of two immunizations.

However, it said that regardless of the court action, it will continue to require workers to be vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.

The memo noted that Amtrak announced its vaccination rule on Aug. 11, which was before the Biden executive order was issued.

In the meantime, Amtrak said it is sending “counseling letters” to employees who have failed to present proof of vaccination to advise them they are in noncompliance with company policy.

Those failing to provide proof of vaccination by Jan. 4 will be consider insubordinate and termination of their employment will be imposed.

Amtrak has said it expects to fall short of 100 percent compliance with the vaccination rule by Jan. 4 and expects to reduce service levels accordingly.

In testimony to Congress on Thursday, Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said long-distance trains will be subject to operating on less than daily schedules through March.

The passenger carrier has not said which trains would be affected but plans to do that next week.

The Associated Press has reported that all three of the Biden administration executive orders mandating workers receive COVID-19 vaccinations have been stayed by federal courts.

Court Consolidates Vaccine Rule Lawsuits

November 24, 2021

A federal court in Illinois has consolidated lawsuits involving Class 1 railroads and their unions over COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

The action was taken by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and involves Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, BNSF, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and two other unions.

The Class 1 railroads have cited a federal executive order in requiring their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

The unions argue that the vaccine edict by the carriers violates the collective bargaining process.

In a related development, unions representing Amtrak workers have filed suit over the passenger’s carrier’s vaccination requirement.

BLET and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) said they generally support vaccination but want Amtrak to engage in collective bargaining over the issue.

The unions claim Amtrak is negotiating directly with employees rather than talking with their unions.

The lawsuit against Amtrak raised many of the same issues as those in the litigation involving NS and UP.

Amtrak is requiring its workers to submit proof of vaccination before Dec. 8. Those workers who have received just dose of the vaccine have until Jan. 4, 2022, to show proof of being full vaccinated.

The carrier has threatened to fire workers who failed to comply with the rules.

3rd Quarter Offered Mixed Rail Traffic Picture

October 9, 2021

Half of North America’s Class 1 railroads posted traffic gains in the third quarter of 2021 but the other half saw their traffic volume fall.

BNSF posted 4.1 percent traffic growth in the quarter, which ended Sept. 30, led by 7.1 percent growth in its carload traffic thanks to strong gains in coal and chemicals.

Canadian National on the other hand saw its traffic fall 1.7 percent overall with intermodal volume declining by 7.1 percent.

Canadian Pacific’s traffic volume was up nearly 1 percent with intermodal volume growing by 8.5 percent.

CSX posted a traffic gain of 1.8 percent while Norfolk Southern had a 1 percent overall traffic loss. NS carload volume rose 5.2 percent but its intermodal traffic fell 4.9 percent.

Union Pacific’s carload volume was up 5 percent but experienced a 7 percent decline in intermodal. Overall, UP’s traffic was down 1 percent.

All railroads reported seeing gains in coal traffic spurred by rising natural gas prices. The Class 1s all had plunges in automotive traffic due to automakers reducing production due to computer chip shortages.

Third quarter financial reports are due to be released this month with CN releasing its report on Oct. 19, CSX releasing its report on Oct. 20 and NS releasing its report on Oct. 27.

Riding Amtrak Still an Enjoyable Experience

October 3, 2021

The southbound Saluki arrives in Effingham, Illinois, behind an SC-44 Charger locomotive.

Back in July Amtrak sent me an email warning that my Amtrak Guest Rewards account had been inactive for 24 months and my points would expire in mid September.

The email listed ways to keep my account active including buying an Amtrak ticket or redeeming points for travel or Amtrak-branded merchandise.

I filed all of this in my “to do” mental folder. As September dawned I needed to do something.

My account had 21,000 points, which isn’t enough for a spectacular trip, but I didn’t want to lose those points either.

I thought about using points for a day trip to Chicago on the Cardinal. I also considered making a short trip from Effingham to Mattoon, Illinois, on the Saluki, an Illinois Department of Transportation funded train between Chicago and Carbondale.

The distance between those two towns is 27 miles and the trip takes just 24 minutes. That wouldn’t be much of a train ride.

Instead I decided on something I hadn’t done since 1983.

The equipment for the southbound Saluki lays over in Carbondale for 2 hours, 20 minutes before returning to Chicago as the Illini.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s I had on occasion ridden Train 391 from Mattoon to Carbondale and returned that evening on Train 392. In those days they were named the Shawnee.

Since I was last in Carbondale, the Illinois Central passenger station has been renovated and received an IC equipment display of a GP11 and caboose. I could photograph that.

Amtrak opened a new Carbondale station three blocks south in October 1981. I have hundreds of photographs of Amtrak trains on the former Main Line of Mid-America but none in Carbondale.

However, instead of leaving from Mattoon, I would depart from Effingham.

I planned to use points for the trip but that changed when I discovered a one-way non-refundable fare of $8. Even if for some reason I couldn’t make the trip I would only be out $16.

I booked it for Sunday, Sept. 12, a mere three days before my points were to expire.

Booking travel on Amtrak is more involved than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

You must click a box agreeing to wear a mask in stations and aboard the train.

Amtrak also tried to get me to buy trip insurance. Did they really think I was going to do that for a $16 ticket?

The afternoon before my trip Amtrak sent me an email directing me to fill out a short form online. Aside from the standard COVID symptoms questions that I’ve become used to answering every time I visit a doctor I also had to agree – again – to wear a mask.

On the day of the trip I arrived at the Effingham station three hours before train time to get in some railfanning before No. 391 arrived.

Effingham back in the day had a station used by the IC and Pennsylvania Railroad. Flanking the passenger station were express depots for both railroads.

Today the passenger station is a cosmetology school and the ex-PRR express depot is used by a catering company as a kitchen.

Amtrak uses half of the ex-IC express depot with the other half used by a tattoo parlor.

I arrived to find work underway to rebuild the Amtrak boarding platform, which complicated my photography due to high construction zone fences and orange fabric barriers.

CSX sent one train through town, an eastbound grain train, while Canadian National sent two northbounds and a southbound past the station.

A CN train working the yard came north of the diamonds for headroom and to clear the block before going back into the yard.

Three of the four CN trains had IC SD70 locomotives wearing the pre-merger IC black “death star” livery.

One of the southbounds had a motive power consist of two IC “death stars” and a Grand Trunk Western geep in its original livery. Talk about a heritage consist.

I also observed the coming and going of the northbound Saluki.

For nearly a year Amtrak has assigned Superliner equipment to its Chicago-Carbondale trains. The Saluki and Illini are pulled by SC-44 Charger locomotives owned by IDOT and leased by Amtrak.

My foray to Carbondale would be my first trip behind a Charger locomotive. Interestingly, my first trip aboard a Superliner coach was a day trip to Carbondale in June 1979 when the then-new cars were in break-service on Midwest corridor trains before being assigned to the Empire Builder that October.

No. 391 was about 15 minutes late. I stood alone on the platform, mask firmly in place, the only passenger to board on this day.

I wasn’t surprised. When I had bought my ticket Train 391 was shown as at 13 percent of capacity.

I presented my ticket to the conductor but he said he had already checked me off. About 10 passengers disembarked.

I was one of just two passengers in my coach. The conductor came to my seat and asked if I had ridden with Amtrak before.

Yes, I have – many times actually – but not since before the pandemic. The conductor noted there was a café car up ahead. I didn’t plan to patronize it but thanked the conductor for that information anyway.

I settled back in my seat and enjoyed watching the countryside pass by. It had been more than three decades since I had seen Southern Illinois in daylight from the vantage point of an Amtrak coach window.

As we slowed for the Centralia station, a northbound BNSF coal train passed on an adjacent track. It had a distributed power unit on the rear.

Centralia was once the home of a large IC car shop. As best I could determine, most of that complex is gone.

It used to be that southbound passenger trains went around the Centralia yard complex on the west side. That wasn’t the case today although I could see that track still goes over that way.

We passed the yard on the east side.

The yard had a moderate number of freight cars and some motive power, including the two “death stars” and GTW geep I had seen earlier. A massive coaling tower still stands in the yard.

Our next stop was Du Quoin where Amtrak shares a small modern depot with the local chamber of commerce. It opened in August 1989.

Carbondale used to have a large yard, too, but most of it is gone. The former St. Louis division offices were razed years ago.

All that’s left are a few tracks and the twin coaling towers that stand near where the roundhouse used to be.

Due to schedule padding we arrived at the Carbondale station 15 minutes early and slightly less than two hours after leaving Effingham

It turns out most of the Carbondale passengers had been in other coaches.

Shortly after No. 391 arrived, the crew backed the equipment north to the yard and turned it on a wye track.

I made photographs of the ferry move in both directions passing the former IC station.

It was a warm day and I walked to a Circle K to get a large bottle of Gatorade. I walked around a bit, photographing the old IC station, which houses a small railroad museum that wasn’t open on this day, as well as offices of the chamber of commerce and a non-profit organization that promotes downtown Carbondale.

A statue of an IC conductor pays tribute to the railroad’s long history in Carbondale, which used to be where St. Louis cars were added or removed from trains bound to and from New Orleans and Florida.

A northbound CN tank car train came through during my layover.

I was dismayed to find the Carbondale Amtrak station is only open during the day on Wednesdays. But it’s open seven days a week at night to accommodate passengers for the City of New Orleans, which arrives in both directions in the dead of night.

There were around 50 of us waiting outside the station.

There would be just one conductor on tonight’s Train 392. He opened two doors of the train and stood on the platform.

I was expecting him to come up to the crowd and announce that boarding was ready to begin.

Instead he raised an arm and waved it a bit, which I interpreted as a signal to come out and get on board.

I started walking toward the train and the crowd followed me. Everyone was put in the same car.

We left on time and made the same stops as we had earlier. In Centralia I spotted a young man running from the parking lot toward the train, which was about done boarding.

If the conductor saw him, he ignored him because the train began moving. I expected the conductor to see the guy and order the engineer to stop. But we kept going.

CN and Amtrak have been at loggerheads for years over a number of operating issues including CN’s edict that Amtrak operate with a minimum number of axles to ensure that grade crossing signals are activated.

That is in part why I was riding a train with seven Superliner cars with far fewer passengers than the train’s capacity.

Amtrak and CN also have sparred over dispatching with Amtrak accusing CN of needlessly delaying Amtrak’s trains.

I know from years of experience in riding Amtrak between Mattoon and Chicago that delays due to freight train interference are not uncommon, particularly around Champaign.

But on this day we didn’t meet a single CN freight during on my trip.

I was the only passenger getting off at Effingham. Seven people were waiting on the platform to board.

A woman at the back of the line was not wearing a facial mask and the conductor refused to let her board.

I don’t know why she was maskless, but as I walked to my car I noticed the conductor had placed the step box aboard the train and stood in the doorway as the woman gestured while making her case – whatever that was – for not wearing a mask.

The conductor was having none of it and No. 392 left with the woman standing on the platform.

It had been an enjoyable outing and not all that much different from other trips I’ve made on Amtrak. The number of passengers aboard was less than I expected given that it was a Sunday, which normally is a heavy travel day on this route.

Sometime within the next year new Siemens Venture cars are expected to be assigned to Midwest corridor trains and maybe I’ll do another Carbondale roundtrip to experience them.

A pair of IC SD70s and a Grand Trunk geep pass the under construction Effingham Amtrak boarding area.
The DPU on a northbound BNSF coal train in Centralia.
Disembarking at the Carbondale Amtrak station.
The equipment for Amtrak’s northbound Illini passes the former IC passenger station at it backs down to the Amtrak depot in Carbondale.
A northbound CN tank train passes the Carbondale Amtrak station where the Illini awaits its 4:05 p.m. departure.

Supply Chain Congestion Seen as Lasting 6 Months

September 17, 2021

Industry observers expect that the tangled global supply chain will take at least six months to untangle, reported Trains magazine this week on  its website.

The magazine quoted intermodal consultant Larry Gross as saying the strain on the intermodal operations is unprecedented, the worst he has seen in his 41 years in the business.

Gross spoke during a panel discussion at the Intermodal Association of North America’s annual Intermodal Expo event.

Analysts say that a flood of imports driven by an explosion in consumer spending has hindered the supply chain between Asian ports, to U.S. ports to railroad networks and their intermodal terminals.

Also driving the congestion has been the fact that retailers are struggling to keep up with consumer demand because their product inventories dipped during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A record 59 container ships recently were reported to be anchored off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach awaiting berth space.

Lars Jensen of Copenhagen-based Vespucci Maritime told the panel that some of those vessels have been in San Pedro Bay for more than two weeks, delaying the unloading of more than 400,000 twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, the standard measure of international containers.

Much of that cargo will eventually travel to the Midwest and Texas via BNSF or Union Pacific intermodal trains.

Rail intermodal volume has fallen by 10 percent from its May levels and is down 7 percent compared to where it was a year ago at this time.

 “What we really have here is a system starting to bog down from all the operational constraints, congestion, and lower velocity, shortage of equipment, you name it,” Gross said.

He said all links in the supply chain share some of the blame for that congestion.

One panelist, Evan Armstrong of Armstrong & Associates, said railroads are missing an opportunity to pick up business that is instead going to trucking companies.

Yet railroads say shippers have been slow to pick up their containers at intermodal terminals, particularly in Chicago, and that has had a cascading effect.

 Shippers also have been holding containers at their warehouses, which has created a shortage of chassis used to tote containers.

Tim Denoyer, vice president and senior analyst at ACT Research, said the chassis shortage is unlikely to be resolved for another six to 12 months.

Officials at Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, and Canadian Pacific all said during the panel discussion that intermodal systems were in “disarray” around the globe.

They said their intermodal networks have capacity to handle current volumes, but only if all links in the supply chain are working relatively smoothly.

“Everything depends on speed,” said Leggett Kitchin, NS vice president of domestic intermodal. “At the current speeds, the box supply is probably tight.To the extent that we can speed up, and the street can speed up, then we’ll have capacity to grow into.”

STB Finds 5 Class 1s were Revenue Adequate in 2020

September 10, 2021

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has determined that five Class 1 railroads had adequate revenue during 2020.

The carriers were BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Soo Line (Canadian Pacific) and Union Pacific.

A railroad is considered to be revenue adequate if it achieves a rate of return on net investment equal to at least the current cost of capital for the railroad industry.

During 2020 the STB determined that to be 7.89 percent.

The five carriers cited by regulators achieved a rate of return on net investment equal to or greater than the agency’s calculation of the cost of capital for the railroad industry.

J.B. Hunt Can’t Meet Customer Demand for Intermodal Service Due to Congestion

July 21, 2021

Intermodal shipper J.B. Hunt said this week that it cannot meet the demand for its service because of reduced velocity in the North American railroad network.

During a quarterly earnings call on Monday, Hunt managers said the demand for its services exceeds its capacity.

Managers said another factor behind that was slow customer turn times.

In recent weeks some Class 1 railroads have begun limiting acceptance of intermodal shipments because of congested terminals.

BNSF, for example, is limiting the flow of international containers from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to its Logistics Park Chicago intermodal terminal for two weeks to work off a backlog of containers in Chicago.

Union Pacific has temporarily suspended inbound moves of international containers from West Coast ports to its Global IV terminal in Chicago.

Chicago is the largest single destination for cargo arriving at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two busiest ports in North America.

Los Angeles handled record container volume in June, while Long Beach saw record volumes in May.

CSX has been restricting the flow of containers from the Port of New York and New Jersey to terminals in Chicago, Cleveland and Indianapolis.

In Canada, backlogs have been reported at the Port of Vancouver due to fire-related line closures and operational restrictions affecting Canadian Pacific and Canadian National.

Darren Field, president of Hunt’s intermodal division, said labor shortages at intermodal terminals and at customer warehouses is the major reason behind slow turnaround times for Hunt’s containers.

Hunt has imposed accessorial charges and in some cases is restricting capacity to some customer locations in an effort to encourage shippers to increase their turnaround times.

 “We are working very closely with our rail providers and customers to improve our capacity across the network by focusing on reducing the detention of equipment and helping our rail providers reduce congestion across their terminal infrastructure,” Field said.

J.B. Hunt primarily uses Norfolk Southern also routes some containers via CSX.

Field said he does not expect railroads to melt down despite reduced velocity and capacity limits at some intermodal terminals.

He said at some locations employment levels are 5 percent below where they need to be to handle current volume.

“All of the railroads are very focused on these challenges and they are out addressing them,” Field said.

Creel Warns CP Could be Merger Target

May 21, 2021

Canadian Pacific CEO Keith Creel repeated this week his assertion that if his company fails to buy Kansas City Southern that will make CP a target for acquisition by another North American Class I railroad.

Speaking on Thursday to investors on a webcast, Creel said the bid by Canadian National to buy KCS “is a direct threat to the North American rail network. And, more specifically, the U.S. rail network.”

Creel said U.S. regulators will take note of that.

CN has proposed to buy KCS in a $33.6 billion stock and cash transaction. It has asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to allow it to place KCS into a voting trust while the review process of the merger plays out.

CP earlier sought to buy KCS for $29 billion, an offer the KCS board had accepted at one point. Then CN made a counteroffer and last week the KCS board deemed the CN bid to be “superior” to the CP offer.

Creel has expressed concern that if KCS and CN merge that would leave CP as the smallest Class 1 system in North America and it would lack the scale and reach of the other systems.

 “CP is a strong franchise, with or without the KCS transaction. Our story of lowest cost, safest, best service, best volume growth in the industry in three years . . . to me truly defines what best is,” Creel said.

Creel contended CP would be an attractive merger partner because of its size and performance record.

 “If you’re looking for a partner, what would you want to partner with? And we will explore our strategic opportunities.”

Some railroad industry analysts have speculated that if CN and KCS merge as proposed, that could set off the long expected final round of Class 1 railroad mergers in North America.

Other analysts, though, have said the CN-KCS merger would not necessarily upset the balance of Class 1 systems in North America of two systems in Canada, two in the U.S. West and two in the U.S. East.

CP is seen as unlikely to seek to buy another Class 1 system and is more likely to become the target of an acquisition.

When the late E. Hunter Harrison was CEO of CP, he unsuccessfully sought to merge with Norfolk Southern in 2015 and had talks about merging with CSX.

Creel said this week a merger involving CP and another Class I would have to be based on growth.

“The CSX and the NS, they’re doing a great job creating efficiencies and service offerings and capacity with their networks,” Creel said. “So it’s not an operating play. It would have to be a revenue, pro-service, pro-competition play.”

Industry analyst Anthony B. Hatch told Trains magazine it is unlikely CSX, NS, Union Pacific or BNSF would initiate merger talks with CP or any other Class I because they are more interested in stability than growing in size.

However, Hatch says, one of the U.S. Class 1 systems might be interested in having Creel as a potential successor to one of its chief executives.

Hatch sees Creel’s merger talk as a political game designed to scare shippers, members of Congress, and federal regulators into fearing a final round of rail mergers.

Wabtec Shares Data From Battery Locomotive Testing

May 18, 2021

Pittsburgh-based Wabtec released findings on Monday showing that its battery-powered locomotive cut fuel consumption and carbon emissions by 11 percent during testing.

Wabtec’s FLXdrive locomotive tested over 13,000 miles on BNSF in California earlier this year.

The next step in the development of a battery-electric locomotive, Wabtec said, will be creating battery capacity of more than 6 megawatt hours, which could reduce the fuel consumption and carbon emissions of a locomotive consist by up to 30 percent.

Such a locomotive could begin revenue service “in the next few years,” Wabtec said in a news release.

Wabtec said its efforts to develop zero-emission locomotives using batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, and hydrogen internal combustion engines has “a clear path” to power new locomotives and re-power existing engines — with those forms of power.

The locomotives used in the BNSF test had 18,000 lithium-ion battery cells with 2.4 megawatts of power that were charged at rail yards and through regenerative braking.

A grant of $22.6 million from the California Air Resources Board to Wabtec, BNSF, and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District paid for the testing.

CP Wants CN-KCS Reviewed Under Stricter Rules

May 4, 2021

It’s another week and another round of dueling statements from Canadian Pacific and Canadian National as they vye to buy Kansas City Southern.

In the latest development, CP has told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that a CN-KCS combination should be reviewed under the board’s current merger rules pertaining to Class 1 railroad mergers.

However, CP had earlier urged regulators to consider its bid to buy KCS under the less stringent pre-2001 rules.

CP justified the contradiction by saying its acquisition of CP would be a true end-to-end merger whereas CN taking over KCS would have significant overlap that could led to less competition in certain areas.

For its part, CN wrote an open letter to “Kansas City Southern community” that explained while its offer is superior to that of CP.

In turn CP cited what it termed “mounting opposition” to the CN-KCS combination, saying the STB has received more than 110 letters in opposition to a CN takeover of KCS.

Also weighing in on the fight for KCS was Warren Buffett chairman of Berkshire-Hathaway, which owns BNSF.

Buffett suggested CP and CN may be overpaying to control KCS and that the merger would not gain either system much traffic growth.

“There’s no magic to the Kansas City Southern,” he said.

However, Buffet said he understood why the Canadian Class 1 systems are dueling for KCS. “I’m sure from the standpoint of both CP and CN, there’s only one K.C. Southern,” he said.

“They’re not going to get a chance to expand. They’re not going to buy us. They’re not going to buy the UP (Union Pacific). The juices flow, and the prices go up.”

“People are not going to remember what you paid, but they’re going to remember whether you built a larger system,” Buffett said.

BNSF will watch closely how the fight over KCS plays out, Buffet said.