Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

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.

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Trump Wants to Cut Amtrak Funding in Half

February 14, 2018

Here we go again. The proposed fiscal year 2019 federal budget released this week by the Trump administration proposes cutting in half the federal funding for Amtrak.

As the administration did a year ago, it is taking aim at long-distance trains, calling for funding of those to be slashed and for states served by the trains to pick up that funding.

But even the Northeast Corridor would face federal funding cuts, seeing its funding reduced from $328 million to $200 million.

Total Amtrak funding would be $538 million. Congress appropriated $1.2 million for Amtrak in the current fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30.

The Trump administration proposed a similar budget cut for Amtrak last year, but Congress ignored it.

Amtrak issued a statement saying the proposed cuts would negatively affect the more than 31 million people who ride Amtrak.

“As the budget process progresses, we look forward to working with the administration, Congress, state partners and other stakeholders to consider these proposals and the impacts they could have on this important part of the nation’s transportation system,” the passenger carrier said.

Amtrak said it remains focused on running efficiently, saying that it covered 94.7 percent of its total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in fiscal year 2017, but it must rely on some level of federal funding.

In a 160-page budget narrative submitted to Congress, the White House Office of Management & Budget said that having states share the burden of funding Amtrak would make “states more equal partners with the federal government, and would strengthen the responsiveness of Amtrak to the communities they serve.”

The narrative contends that along with cuts to Amtrak funding the administration “proposes reforms to Amtrak to improve efficiencies and effectiveness of long-distance routes.”

“State contributions to long distance routes is only one tool in the menu of options,” the administration said it will be exploring.

Man Killed in Amtrak Crash Identified

February 1, 2018

The person killed when a chartered Amtrak train carrying Republican congressmen on Wednesday struck a garbage truck in Virginia has been identified as a passenger in the truck.

Authorities said the victim was Christopher Foley, 28, of Louisa County, Virginia.

A second but unidentified passenger in the truck was airlifted to University of Virginia Medical Center with critical injuries, the Abermarle County Police Department said in a statement. The truck’s driver was listed in serious condition at the hospital.

The UVA Medical Center said it received six patients from the incident in Crozet, which is located about 13 miles west of Charlottesville. The train had Amfleet cars and P42DC locomotives on the front and rear.

The hospital said one of the patients it received was in critical condition, one was in good condition, three were still being evaluated and one had been discharged.

The National Transportation Safety Board had a team of investigators on the scene by Wednesday afternoon.

NTSB member Earl Weener said investigators wouldn’t speculate on any possible cause of the incident, which Amtrak said occurred at 11:10 a.m. on the Buckingham Branch Railroad. The line is used by Amtrak’s tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal.

Earlier reports said about 100 GOP lawmakers, their aides and families were aboard the train en route to a political retreat being held between Wednesday and Friday at the Greenbrier resort at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The retreat, which will continue in modified form, was to have a visits from President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Weener said the NTSB will work with representatives from the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

He said that Pete Kotowski, a senior highway safety investigator for the NTSB, will be in charge of conducting the investigation.

Weener said investigators initially will focus on the collision site.

“Over the next few days our investigators will work on the scene to document the crash site and gather factual information,” Weener said. “Our mission is to understand not only what happened, but why it happened and to make recommendations to prevent it from happening again.”

He said that investigators will not seek to determine the probable cause while on the scene of the crash.

Weener did say that NTSB investigators will use a number of “factor groups” to analyze the collision site, including human, highway, vehicle, motor carrier and survival factors.

The human factors group, he said, takes into account the potential responsibility of the train engineer, including the operator’s background, licensing, experience and level of training as well as the possible influence of alcohol or drugs.

NTSB officials will attempt to recover recording devices located in the lead and trailing P42DC locomotives.

Weener said there is no evidence that the collision was the result of an attack of some kind.

“The NTSB does safety investigations so the fact that we are here, the presumption is that it was an accident,” Weener said. “Should we find anything that indicates differently, we’ll immediately involve the proper authorities.”

Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said it was premature to offer specific comment about the incident, but did say that accidents at rail crossings are far too common.

In a news release, Amtrak said it will in the coming days continue to work with the NTSB, law enforcement, Operation Lifesaver and other stakeholders to reduce the frequency of these accidents.

“This is an opportunity to remind everyone about the importance of exercising caution around railroad rights-of-way,” Leeds said.

The passengers aboard the train were taken by bus to the Greenbrier and by early afternoon the train had been taken to Charlottesville.

Trump Talks Broadly About Infrastructure Plan

February 1, 2018

As expected President Donald Trump in his state of the union speech before Congress this week called for legislation to modernize the nation’s infrastructure.

Trump did not give any details about the proposal. Administration sources have said that those will come sometime after the speech.

“We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways across our land,” Trump said.

During his address, Trump called for a bill that will result in “at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need.”

He acknowledged as has been reported by multiple sources that his plan will call for using federal funding to match money put up by state and local governments, as well as the private sector.

Some reports citing a leaked document said the federal match will be no more than 20 percent per project.

Trump described this as a way “to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.”

He also said the bill also should shorten time needed to issue permits and grant approvals for projects to no more than two years.

Crystal Ball Look at 2018 and Railroads

January 3, 2018

With a new year upon us, it’s time to look ahead to what 2018 might bring in the railroad industry. Such predictions are fraught with peril given that unexpected developments can occur at any time that dramatically changes the trajectory of the industry or its individual components.

A year ago at this time we thought E. Hunter Harrison was living out his days as CEO of Canadian Pacific. Few knew that he was plotting with a hedge fund to take over CSX.

Even fewer knew that Harrison was in his final days of overseeing any railroad and would die before the year ended.

With that in mind I press ahead in reviewing four stories to watch in 2018.

What now for CSX? The patriarch of precision scheduled railroading left before his model could be fully implemented.

Look for CSX to continue the PSR model under new CEO James M. Foote, although with some modifications.

Much of the early months of 2018 will see Foote finding his way at CSX while assuring investors that he was a wise choice to replace Harrison.

Industry analysts have pointed out that Foote is thin in operating experience. Much of his industry time has been spent in marketing and sales.

That could turn out to be a good thing for CSX because customer relations was not Harrison’s strong suit. He was an old school operating man who wanted to dictate terms to shippers not the other way around.

Look for CSX to appoint an operations vice president so that Foote can focus on what he knows best.

Both Canadian National and CP have done quite well post-Harrison. Will the same be true for CSX? Perhaps, but if that is the case it will be due to Harrison having laid the foundation not from having built the house as was the case at CN and CP.

What now for Amtrak? Richard Anderson is firmly in control of the nation’s rail passenger carrier with Charles “Wick” Moorman having retired.

Anderson, the former CEO at Delta Air Lines, has hired a supporting team that includes former airline executives. It remains to be seen what that means.

These airline executives cut their teeth during the airline deregulation era when airlines learned ways to squeeze every last dollar out of passengers through such things as baggage fees and seat assignment fees, among others.

Remember the last time that an airline served you a not meal in coach as part of your fare? Yeah, it’s been a while.

Anderson won’t necessarily remake Amtrak in that model but look for him to move in that direction.

The name of the game will be maximizing revenue yield – something Amtrak has already been doing – as the carrier seeks to recover even more of its expenses from the fare box.

Anderson will have his hands full this year attending to matters that grabbed a disproportionate number of headlines in 2017. This includes the rebuilding of New York’s Penn Station and dealing with the aftermath of the derailment of a Cascades Service train in Washington State.

Much of the latter has focused on the fact that positive train control was not yet in operation on the route. Questions are being raised about the adequacy of training of Amtrak operating employees and the railroad’s safety culture.

These matters will continue to attract attention in 2018 and take up much of Anderson’s time.

Rail passenger advocates in places such as Ohio will continue to be disappointed in Amtrak in 2018. But that is nothing new.

Little, if any, progress will be made in terms of route expansion, new equipment for long-distance trains or expanding the frequency of such tri-weekly services as the Chicago-Washington Cardinal.

Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that the aging Superliners will get a new interior look starting later in the year.

Will Railroads Make the PTC Deadline? The last day of 2018 is the deadline for the railroad industry to implement positive train control systems on routes that handle passengers and/or carry hazardous cargo. The deadline has been moved once already.

The Federal Railroad Administration has warned that waivers won’t be issued again, but that was during a different administration.

The Trump administration might be far more sympathetic to railroad industry pleas for a little more time due to the expense and complexity of PTC systems.

Some railroads will make the deadline, but others are going to be cutting it close.

Will the Trump Infrastructure Plan See the Light of Day? Candidate Donald Trump liked to talk about his big plans to revamp the nation’s infrastructure. President Donald Trump has barely mentioned it other than to pay it lip service on occasion.

The administration has been tight lipped about the scope of the plan other than a few broad details, such as $200 billion in federal funds will be used to leverage $1 trillion worth of infrastructure improvements.

Supposedly, the infrastructure plan was being held in abeyance until Congress passed a tax bill, which it did in late December.

In theory, an infrastructure improvement plan should have bi-partisan support. But in a hyper partisan environment during a midterm election year bi-partisan support might be hard to come by. Political hardball will be the rule.

There remains the question of how much the railroad industry would benefit from an infrastructure plan once or even if it is implemented. Few rail infrastructure plans come with a private developer other than than the railroad itself to provide matching funds.

Passenger rail should be a prime beneficiary of an infrastructure plan, but given the current political climate it might find little to feed on except for a few token crumbs that will be eaten by Northeast Corridor infrastructure needs, of which there are many.

Freight railroads might fare a little better in getting funds for some projects, e.g., enlarging tunnels or replacing bridges that they agree to help fund.

But don’t be surprised if the infrastructure plan winds up benefiting highways and even some areas that only a strained definition of infrastructure would incorporate, e.g., a veteran’s hospital. It will hinge on how the terms of the plan are written.

A lot of hungry government agencies and private companies are going to be looking for a slice of the infrastructure pie and might provide tortuous explanations as to how their project constitutes infrastructure.

I’m reminded of that famous response from bank robber Willie Sutton in the Saturday Evening Post as to why he robbed banks: “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.”

The infrastructure plan might make available money not available otherwise so there are going to be a lot of hand out seeking a part of it.

Conservatives in Congress will not necessarily offer automatic support for an infrastructure plan, which they might fame as a stimulus plan. That would remind them too much of something they despised during the early years of the Obama administration.

And conservatives absolutely, positively dislike spending federal money on passenger rail. They are not all that more supportive of public transportation even when it uses rubber tires on asphalt and concrete surfaces.

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.

Trump Moving Slowly to Fill Regulatory Agencies

November 9, 2017

An analysis by Railway Age magazine found that the Trump administration’s efforts to reshape the three regularly agencies of greatest importance to the railroad industry is far from complete.

The agencies involved are the National Mediation Board, Federal Railroad Administration and Surface Transportation Board.

Most changes at the National Mediation Board have been completed with two new Republican members and a renominated Democratic member set to take office.

Nominations at the other two agencies are moving far more slowly.

President Trump named Ronald L. Batory on July 11 to head the FRA and he received a unanimous endorsement from the Senate Commerce Committee on Aug. 2.

However, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has placed a hold on the nomination as leverage on Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to release up to $15 billion in matching federal grants and loans for the Gateway Project, including new rail tunnels under the Hudson River linking New Jersey with Manhattan, and renovation of the Farley Post Office building into a new Penn Station.

Trump has shown no interest thus far in releasing those funds.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-South Dakota) is reported to want to broker a deal to break the political standoff over the FRA head.

The Commerce Committee has primary oversight of the DOT and its agencies, including the FRA.

At the STB, the Trump administration has yet to name two appointees to two new seats or to fill a vacancy created by the Sept. 30 resignation of STB member Dan Elliott.

The STB is authorized to have five members and the administration has not explained why it has delayed filling the seats.

The STB has just two members, Republican Acting Chairman Ann Begeman and Democrat Deb Miller.

Miller’s term expires on Dec. 31, but federal law allows a one-year holdover absent confirmation of a successor or her renomination and reconfirmation to a second term.

Miller told Railway Age Nov. 2 that she has not made a decision whether to seek renomination. Begeman is serving a second term that expires Dec. 31, 2020.

Railway Age said it has learned that the administration has interviewed two finalists for vacant Republican seats on the STB, including Senate Commerce Committee legislative aide Patrick Fuchs and career railroad consultant and lobbyist Keith Hartwell.

Although Elliot’s is a Democratic seat, the administration could by law leave it open and fill the other two seats with Republicans to give the STB a 3-1 Republican majority. Or Trump could fill Elliott’s seat with a Republican, which would give the STB a 2-1 GOP majority.

However, Railway Age suggested that Senate Democrats might seek to block any Republican nominees unless a nominee is named for the vacant Democratic seat.

House Rejects Bid to End Amtrak Funding

September 8, 2017

A bid to end Amtrak funding was rejected by the House this week.

Alabama Republican Mo Brooks offered an amendment to a spending bill that would have ended $1.1 billion in federal funding of the national passenger carrier in fiscal year 2018.

The amendment failed on a 128-293 bi-partisan vote. Brooks had sought to portray Amtrak funding as unnecessary.

“[W]hat policy justification is there for forcing Americans who don’t use Amtrak to subsidize the travel of Americans who do use Amtrak? I know of none,” he said during the debate.

The chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee, Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), shot back that the end Amtrak funding amendment would be “counterproductive,” because eliminating Amtrak’s federal subsidies would result in higher costs.

“This bill is not just arbitrary decisions,” he said. “You see, we held hearings. And we carefully scrubbed each account to make sure that the reductions that we made were responsible and that were actually going to result in reductions. This is not the right way to do it. It is not prudent to eliminate an entire transportation option, by the way.”

Brooks attempted to argue that Amtrak passengers do not but should be forced to pay the full costs of operating the trains. But that argument failed to gain traction.

The House is expected to approve a three-month funding bill for FY 2018 this week and seek to adopt a long-term budget plan by the end of the year.

Failure to approve the budget bill could result in a federal government shutdown on Oct. 1.

Political observers expect Amtrak’s long-distance trains to survive the budget process, but how much money the carrier will receive still must be worked out.

The House has proposed spending $1.1 billion for the national network while the Senate favor  $1.24 billion. Amtrak is likely to receive an amount somewhere between the two.

Amtrak is funded through the Department of Transportation budget, which has been rolled into the omnibus spending bill that the House is considering this week

The Senate has not approved any appropriations bills, but is expected to use the House bill as a basis for negotiating in a conference committee.

The House also has approved $500 million for a federal-state partnership to bring passenger rail infrastructure into a state of good repair. Amtrak could apply for grants under that program.

DOT Taking TIGER Grant Applications

September 8, 2017

The U.S. Department of Transportation is taking applications for its TIGER grant program.

The program has $500 million set aside that will be awarded on a competitive basis for projects that have a significant impact on the United States, a metropolitan area or a region.

Federal legislation recently approved by Congress mandates that TIGER grants must be between $5 million and $25 million with the minimum for rural areas set at $1 million.

The selection criteria remain about the same as in previous years, DOT officials said.

However, the 2017 TIGER program will afford special consideration to projects that emphasize improved access to transportation for rural communities.

TIGER applications are due Oct. 16. DOT will hold webinars on Sept. 13 and Sept. 19 to provide technical assistance for grant applicants.

Since the TIGER program was established in 2009, DOT has awarded $5.1 billion for capital investments in surface transportation programs.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration proposed ending the TIGER program in the fiscal year 2018 budget.

Harrison, Shippers Continue Sniping Over Service Issues

August 21, 2017

CSX and its shippers continued their war of words last week with the shippers seeking an investigation of service and CSX head E. Hunter Harrison accusing the shippers of trying to use service issues as a platform on which to promote a political agenda that has little to nothing to do with current conditions.

The Rail Customer Coalition, an umbrella group for nearly four dozen trade associations representing manufacturing, agricultural, energy and retail industries, wants the U.S. Surface Transportation Board and Congress to intervene.

“With service disruptions continuing to mount and no solution in sight, our members need decisive action from Congress and the STB,” the Rail Customer Coalition wrote to the leaders of the Senate commerce committee and House transportation committee.

Contained within the letter, though was a plea for the STB to write and implement new rules to enable certain captive shippers to obtain reciprocal switching.

That demand did not go unnoticed at CSX headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida. Noting that the shipper group did not come to CSX before going to federal officials in Washington, Harrison countered in a letter to the shippers that that was because “most likely  . . . your statements were made to advance your longstanding attack on the balanced approaches of the Staggers Act.”

As he has in the past, Harrison continued to insist that shippers will benefit from the precision scheduled railroading operating plan that he has been implementing at CSX.

Harrison also described the coalition’s assertions about poor CSX service as “many unfounded and grossly exaggerated statements . . . related to the service experienced by some customers.”

Harrison acknowledged that CSX has experienced what he termed “some unfortunate disruptions to our service, which we are addressing aggressively.”

He contended that CSX is addressing customers’ concerns while it works to improve communication with shippers.

“The changes we are implementing today will deliver measurable improvements in key service metrics, resulting in our customers’ freight moving more consistently, reliably, and cost efficiently across the CSX network,” Harrison said.

But Harrison said he won’t talk with the Rail Customer Coalition. “Since coalitions do not have service issues, we do not intend to continue a discussion with you about the service we provide to our customers,” he said.

However, he added that CSX would discuss “other completely unrelated topics like reciprocal switching, which are more central to your agenda.”

Scott Jensen, a spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, said the Rail Customer Coalition’s letter was the result of broad agreement from the group’s members and that shippers have communicated with CSX about service issues.

“Furthermore, these service issues have not gone away, which is evident by the fact that the Surface Transportation Board was compelled to send a second letter to CSX earlier this week expressing concerns with the ‘widespread degradation of rail service’ across its network,” Jensen says. “This is yet another example of how important it is for Congress to fill the vacancies at the STB with members that understand that business as usual is no longer working.”

In its letter to Congress, the shipper organization said that problems at CSX are beginning to ripple across the North American rail network.

“This has put rail-dependent business operations throughout the U.S. at risk of shutting down, caused severe bottlenecks in the delivery of key goods and services, and has put the health of our nation’s economy in jeopardy,” the coalition said.

However, Trains magazine reported that neither Union Pacific nor BNSF Railway have posted customer advisories regarding interchange with CSX. Neither railroad would comment on the matter.

Trains quoted railroad industry analyst Anthony B. Hatch of ABH Consulting as saying that the CSX service problems are not yet on the scale of what happened in the 1990s after Union Pacific acquired Southern Pacific.

Many of the problems at CSX are related to increasing dwell times in yards, particularly those at which hump operations have been halted in favor of flat switching.

Figures reported to the Association of American Railroads indicate that the dwell time is greater than 40 hours in eight CSX terminals.

That can result in terminal congestion, cars missing their connections and transit times ballooning in the wrong direction.

CSX terminals experiencing the most delays include Indianapolis; Nashville, Tennessee; and Montgomery, Alabama.

The average dwell time in Indianapolis has risen to 58.5 hours. Dwell times in Nashville and Montgomery are 53.5 hours and 52.6 hours respectively.

CSX Intermodal shippers are also starting to notice delays. J.B. Hunt issued an updated service advisory warning customers to expect delays of 72 hours or more at seven terminals, including Jacksonville and Tampa, Florida; Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia.; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Memphis.

The most recent figures provided to the AAR show the average CSX train speed having sunk to 18.4 mph for the week ending Aug. 11, the lowest it’s been in the past year and the fourth straight week below 20 mph. In the third quarter of 2016, CSX’s average train speed was 20.8 mph.