Posts Tagged ‘Federal Railroad Administration’

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.

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Indiana Short Line Restores Erie Mining F9A

October 30, 2017

An Indiana short line has repainted and overhauled an F unit that once belonged to Erie Mining Company.

The Vermilion Valley Railroad has repainted  F9A No. 4210 into the yellow-and-maroon colors it wore at Erie Mining and has received an EM logo.

Vermilion Valley shop workers also had to rebuild the unit, replacing rusted-out side panels and installing an emergency brake valve in the cab in order to make the locomotive compliant with Federal Railroad Administration regulations. No. 4210 is also expected to receive FRA safety glass in its windshield.

No. 4210 was one of 11 F-units (five A’s and six Bs) built for Erie Mining by EMD in 1956 and used to transport taconite pellets on the private railroad to a processing plant at Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota, to an ore dock at Taconite Harbor on Lake Superior’s north shore.

The locomotive’s original livery was blue with a silver band, but in 1963 it was repainted yellow with a maroon band. It later received a black roof.

LTV Steel Corp. bought Erie Mining in May 1986 and renamed it LTV Steel Mining Company. The F unit fleet continued to operate until 1997.

The Vermillion Valley also owns another former Erie Mining F9A, No. 4214, which it plans to eventually repaint in Erie Mining colors.

The Vermilion Valley operates 5.9 miles of former New York Central (Peoria & Eastern) track between Olin, Indiana, and Danville, Illinois.

Ann Arbor Park Commission Favors Putting New Amtrak Station, Parking Garage in Fuller Park

October 19, 2017

An advisory committee has accepted an environmental study favoring building a new Amtrak station in a park in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Despite some opposition, the Park Advisory Commission voted 6-2 in favor of agreeing that the use of Fuller Park for the station would result in a minimal impact on the park.

The environmental assessment was conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration and favors putting the station in Fuller Park rather than building along Depot Street.

The commission serves as an advisory body to the Ann Arbor City Council.

The FRA had made a preliminary determination that there would be minimal effect on the park from building a new Amtrak station elevated above the railroad tracks and an adjacent parking garage.

The station site would be in the footprint of an existing parking lot in the park along the south side of Fuller Road in front of the University of Michigan hospital.

The city council must now concur that building the station would have a minimal effect on the park.

City officials have said that 3.2 acres (5.4 percent) of Fuller Park would experience permanent impacts from construction associated with the station.

Several members of a grassroots citizens group called Protect A2 Parks argued against the minimal effect designation and in favor of locating the new station along Depot Street, where the current Amtrak station is located.

Protect A2 Parks member Rita Mitchell said a Depot Street site would be more likely to favor improved transit and train travel.

Mitchell also contended that a parking garage in the park would be unsightly.

Citing the parks master plan, Mitchell said there are just 4.53 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents in the central area of the city compared to a rate of 18.52 citywide.

Nancy Shiffler and James D’Amour of the Huron Valley Group of the Sierra Club said using park property for a transportation facility sets a bad precedent.

“Fuller Park is an essential river-valley park providing some of the remaining open viewshed to the valley. There is no way to replace this value,” Shiffler said.

D’Amour, a former city planning commissioner, expressed fear that there could be more proposals to repurpose city parkland. He called for protection of parkland for future generations.

Vince Caruso, another member of Protect A2 Parks, said a station in Fuller Park would be too far away from Ann Arbor’s activity centers.

He said a Depot Street location would be more walkable to downtown. He also said placing the station in Fuller Park would restrict economic development around the station.

“So if we wanted shops — coffee shops, stores, small shops in the vicinity of the station like you normally would see — Fuller doesn’t really allow that,” he said.

Parks Commission member Alan Jackson, who voted in favor of the resolution, said he suspects if the portion of Fuller Park in question was ranked using the city’s parkland acquisition criteria “it would rank exceedingly low and we wouldn’t want to acquire it.”

Commission member David Santacroce, who also favored the resolution, expressed hesitation about second guessing the work of experts who decided that Fuller Park is the best location for the station. He also said the site of the station would still be needed for parking for the park.

Ruth Kraut, who voted against the resolution, retorted she’s not sure it would always have to be a parking lot, saying some have argued the site has been a parking lot for too long and should be transformed into green space.

“I feel there are other alternatives. I’m not convinced this is the best alternative, even if it weren’t parkland,” she said.

Report Calls for More Action on Tank Car Safety

October 13, 2017

Tanks cars could be made safer if the Federal Railroad Administration would “enable and incentivize more frequent and comprehensive inspections of rail routes with regular energy liquids traffic,” a report by the Transportation Research Board concluded.

The TRB said that although the vast majority of hazardous liquids have been transported safely by the rail, pipeline, and maritime industries, the volume of that traffic has grown significantly since 2005 and there is an “incomplete understanding of the dynamics of tank-car unit train derailments and a lack of clear guidelines and resources for state and local emergency responders.”

Among the issues that need to be addressed are the technical basis for track inspection standards, lack of training of first responders, and differences in the ways that officials gather and share accident data among states and communities subject to liquid fuels.

The report said some railroads continue to use older and less crashworthy tank cars.

That was disputed somewhat by the Association of American Railroads, which told a congressional committee recently that through the first two quarters of 2017, only 156 DOT-111 cars remain in flammable liquids service.

AAR said the weaker DOT-111 cars are being phased out in favor of the sturdier DOT-117 tank cars.

The TRB reports called for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to ensure that preparedness grants meet the needs of communities, and make sure that first responders are taking advantage of training opportunities.

It wants the FRA to provide incentives for more frequent inspections along routes used for transporting flammables, including the use of sensors and other monitoring technology.

Regulators need to encourage carriers “to make greater use of quantitative risk analysis tools … to inform decisions about priorities for maintenance and integrity management of the equipment and infrastructure.”

DOT Seeking Environmental Review Changes

September 29, 2017

Regulatory changes being proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation are being touted as designed to streamline the environmental review process for multimodal projects.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said the proposed changes will bring the Federal Railroad Administration’s  environmental review process into harmony with procedures used by the Federal Transit Administration and Federal Highway Administration.

A DOT news release said that the proposal, which has been sent to the Federal Register for publication, is being made so that multimodal projects are required to follow only one process rather than multiple agency processes.

Under the proposed rules, most concrete and steel bridges built after 1945 would be exempt from historic sites review.

In her AASHTO speech, Chao said that DOT is seeking to identify ways to eliminate unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy that will save states time and money, and reduce burdensome compliance costs.

“Important new regulatory and policy changes are underway at the Department to help deliver infrastructure projects faster, and in a more cost effective manner,” she said.

Chao said DOT has issued an updated guidance policy for the application of categorical exclusions for multimodal projects. The new rules allow one USDOT agency to use the categorical exclusions of another USDOT agency for certain multimodal projects.

CSX VP to Head DOT Hazmat Unit

September 12, 2017

A CSX executive will be named by President Donald J. Trump to become Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Howard R. “Skip” Elliott has served for the past decade as CSX group vice president of public safety, health, environment and security.

His duties have included hazardous materials transportation safety, homeland security, railroad policing, crisis management, environmental compliance and operations, occupational health management and continuity of business operations.

Elliott is a receipient of the Association of American Railroads Holden-Proefrock Award for lifetime achievement in hazardous materials transportation safety.

A 40-year railroad industry veteran, Elliott is a graduate of Columbia Southern University and Indiana University, where he received the first ever Distinguished Alumni Award from the Department of Criminal Justice, and is a current member of the IU College of Arts and Sciences Executive Dean’s Advisory Committee.

PHMSA, which is housed within the Federal Railroad Administration, holds regulatory responsibility for hazmat transported in railroad tank cars. Among its most recent actions was overseeing development of the DOT-117A tank car for crude oil and ethanol transportation, and regulations governing phasing-out of older, “legacy” DOT-111 tank cars.

FRA Publishes Rules For Passenger Rail Test Program

August 5, 2017

The Federal Railroad Administration has established its rules for seeking competitor bids to replace Amtrak on up to three long-distance routes.

The agency published the rules in the Federal Register and they take effect on Sept. 5.

The pilot program is mandated by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

The rules establish a petition, notification and bid process as well as establish deadlines for filing petitions and bids and the execution of contracts with winning bidders.

The FAST Act described an “eligible petitioner” for the pilot program as one that owns the relevant rail infrastructure on the route or has a “written agreement” with the rail infrastructure owner.

A winning bidder who doesn’t own the infrastructure must obtain from the owner a written agreement that governs access issues.

Ex-Conrail Head Named FRA Director

July 12, 2017

A former Conrail executive has been named by President Donald Trump to serve as administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Ronald Batory

Ronald L. Batory has more than 45 years of railroad industry experience and until March 31 served as president and chief operating officer of Consolidated Rail Corporation.

Batory joined Conrail in 1998 as vice president-operations and was appointed COO in 2004.

Previously, he served as president of the Belt Railway of Chicago. His career includes more than 20 years working for eastern and western Class I railroads as well as assisting a court-appointed trustee’s oversight of a regional railroad bankruptcy.

His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation. The FRA is currently without a director although deputy administrator Heath Hall assumed his position on June 23.

Heath Hall Named to FRA Post

June 28, 2017

Heath Hall has been named deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administrator.

Hall, whose position does not need Senate confirmation, was named by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who has known him since his days working in the deputy DOT secretary’s office and in the Peace Corps.

Now a vice president in the marketing and external affairs department of non-profit Innovate Mississippi, Hall also manages Pointe Innovation magazine.

He has served as senior vice president of external affairs at the Mississippi Economic Council, the State Chamber of Commerce, and as executive director of Mississippians for Civil Justice Reform/STOP Lawsuit Abuse in Mississippi.

Hall also served as Gov. Kirk Fordice’s director of public affairs, deputy press secretary, and deputy director of communications for Fordice’s re-election campaign.

In federal government service, Hall served as an FRA intern in the public relations office before moving into the USDOT deputy secretary’s office.

During the administration of George H.W. Bush, Hall served as an intern in the White House Office of Political Affairs.

The FRA is still without a permanent administrator. Patrick T. Warren, the FRA’s executive director, is serving as acting administrator.

Railway Age magazine reported that an administrator is unlikely to be appointed before August and that the agency is without an official mandate from the Trump Administration.

Ann Arbor Sets New Deadlines for Station Study

June 24, 2017

Although Ann Arbor officials have already missed one of their self-imposed deadlines, they continue to insist that there is still time to finish an environmental assessment for a new Amtrak station by late July.

That report will narrow three potential sites for the new depot to one.

Last month Ann Arbor City Administrator Howard Lazarus said the goal was to have the assessment ready for public release by June 19.

That didn’t happen but Lazarus told the Ann Arbor City Council this week that staff has made progress on the report and is working with the Federal Railroad Administration and the Michigan Department of Transportation to get it finished as soon as possible.

Among the locations being reviewed for the new station are the existing Amtrak station site on Depot Street, a location in Fuller Park in front of the University of Michigan Hospital and the former Michigan Central station on Depot Street that now houses the Gandy Dancer restaurant.

Lazarus said city staff and AECOM, a consultant helping the city prepare the environmental assessment report, have completed various revisions and are expected to have a complete draft ready to send to the FRA shortly after June 22.

“FRA will complete their review of the resubmitted and revised documents and schedule a call with the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office,” Lazarus wrote in a memo to the council. “MISHPO has the authority to make determinations on the implications of the proposed design alternatives on historic resources. The current draft documents reflect the current state of consideration recognizing specific detail regarding impacts on historic resources.”

The FRA review of the assessment is expected to take a couple of weeks.

“Once the FRA management signs off on the document, the materials are ready for public review,” he wrote in the council memo.

The environmental assessment will be made available on a project website, at city hall and during three public meetings.

Ann Arbor is facing a Sept. 30 deadline to use a federal grant to pay for preliminary engineering designs. Any money not spent by that date will revert back to the federal treasury.

Lazarus said the preliminary engineering work began on May 22.

City officials hope to begin a 30-day public comment period about the environmental assessment on July 30 with public meetings held in August.

The preliminary engineering work would continue into December.

Lazarus said the city, MDOT and the FRA have agreed to a “tapered match” approach for having federal funds cover all of the costs of ongoing work through the grant-funding period, after which the city will spend more local dollars to complete the remaining work.

That anticipates that 80 percent of the work will be federally funded and 20 percent locally funded.

After the FRA has approved a plan for a new station, Ann Arbor officials will put the project to a vote in an election. The city plans to seek federal funds to cover  most of the costs for final design and construction.