Posts Tagged ‘Edward R. Hamberger’

Tariffs Not Hurting Railroads — Yet

July 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Some Doubt Private Investment Will Help Rails

October 7, 2017

Private sector investment in railroad projects is unlikely, a congressional committee was told this week.

The comments were made at hearing held by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on rail infrastructure on a proposed Trump administration infrastructure renewal plan.

The Trump plan would rely on private investment as well as public funding.

The witnesses at the hearing said that the federal and state governments can be expected to play a role in sustaining and expanding the nation’s rail network, but the private sector is unlikely to be much of a player when it comes to railroad investment.

“What you’re talking about clearly goes beyond what the private sector at this point is prepared to do,” said Ed Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads.

In particular, Hamberger referenced the capital needs of Amtrak. The carrier’s co-CEO, Charles “Wick” Moorman had told the committee that the critical, huge infrastructure projects that Amtrak faces will require federal investment.

Without that, Moorman said, the system runs out. “We can do a lot of work on state of good repair, we can improve the way we spend money, but it’s going to take a lot of federal investment,” he said.

“I think Mr. Moorman’s needs go far beyond what the private sector can do,” Hamberger said.

One news report said that Democrats on the subcommittee pushed for public funding of intrastructure projects while Republicans members remained silent about that.

Even President Trump has reportedly expressed doubt about the scope of the private sector’s role in infrastructure rebuilding.

Trump reported said during a closed meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee that public-private partnerships were not the solution for repairing the nation’s roads, bridges, and ports.

The Trump administration has been talking investing $200 billion in federal fund to leverage $800 billion of private investment. However, details about that plan have yet to be announced.

“I understand that the private sector has a role, the states have a role, but I think the federal government has to have a bigger role,” said U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J. “Without the support of the federal government, I don’t think these projects can be done. Does anyone here believe that the private sector is the sole answer to this? If you do, please tell me, because I don’t believe this.”

AAR Upbeat on State of Railroad Industry

January 28, 2016

In its first state of the industry report, the Association of American Railroads gave an upbeat assessment of the industry while noting that it faces key challenges.

“Our industry maintains its leadership position through innovations designed to improve the performance of our employees, our equipment and even the rail itself,” said AAR President and CEO, Edward R. Hamberger. “This new report outlines how the railroad industry provides innovative, on-the-ground technologies and community programs that safeguard our customers’ cargo, the communities we serve and our employees.”

AARDesigned to educate lawmakers, business leaders and the public about the freight railroad industry’s top priorities, the report also reflects the views of such experts as John Tunna, director of the Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Research and Development and Tony Sultana, a principal investigator at the Transportation Technology Center.

The AAR said the railroad industry continues to address safety and cited a 45 percent decline in the train accident rate since 2000 and 80 percent since 1980.

“The exciting thing right now is that technology is moving into the transportation field at a rapid rate,” Tunna said in the report.

The industry continues to implement positive train control technology and to take advantage of such emerging technologies as drones while providing community-based training and outreach.

Among the innovations discussed in the report is the development of an ultrasonic detection system that allows a better view into steel rail to locate track defects before they cause problems.

Drones are being considered for inspection of track, bridge and other freight rail infrastructure, as well as monitoring air quality.

Hamberger said the ultimate takeaway from the report is an increased emphasis on rail network investments —$25 billion annually over the last five years on average — collaboration with customers and government, and the development of new technologies. All of these are designed to improve safety.

“The sweeping reduction in freight rail accidents and injuries over the last several decades is the result of stepped-up employee training as well as a dedicated team of safety experts who conduct rigorous research, examine problems in new ways, apply technological advances and novel changes to processes that ultimately make a safe system of transportation even safer,” he said. “We are proud of the industry’s efforts, including those highlighted in this report, and look forward to promoting more developments in the future.”

The AAR will issue multiple state of the industry reports each year, including two more in 2016. Each report will focus on a particular theme.

2014 Was a Safe Year For U.S. Railroads

May 1, 2015

Calendar year 2014 was the safest in history for railroads in the United States in the number of accidents and the accident rate per million train-miles

Track-caused accidents declined 10 percent, dropping from 565 in 2013 to 506 in 2014. The track-caused accident rate dropped 12 percent from 2013 and has dropped 54 percent since 2000.

Equipment-caused accidents fell 4 percent from 229 in 2013 to 219 in 2014. Equipment-caused accident rate fell 6 percent from 2013 and 44 percent since 2000.

Human-factor accidents dropped 5 percent from 690 in 2013 to 657 in 2014. The rate for human factor-caused accidents declined 4 percent from 2013 and 44 percent since 2000.

Total train accidents decreased 5 percent from 1,822 in 2013 to 1,736 in 2014. The total train accident rate was down 7 percent compared with 2013 and 45 percent since 2000, a new low.

The figures were released by the Federal Railroad Administration and include passenger rail, though the majority are freight rail accidents.

“The FRA statistics show that while freight railroads moved more products in 2014 than any time since 2007, the focus on safe train operations remained front and center through technological improvements, company-wide safety programs and ongoing record spending back into rail operations,” said Association of American Railroads President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger.

The AAR head noted that since partial deregulation in 1980, “$575 billion has been spent on maintaining and modernizing our 140,000-mile rail system with $29 billion planned to be injected into rail infrastructure and equipment in 2015.”