Posts Tagged ‘House Subcomittee on Railroads Pipelines and Hazardous Materials’

House Committee Seeks Probe of PSR

May 17, 2021

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is seeking an investigation of the practice of precision scheduled railroading.

It has asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct the probe with a focus on how the practice has affected shippers, Amtrak, commuter railroads, employees and others.

A letter from committee chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) and Donald Payne Jr. (D-New Jersey), chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, asked Comptroller General Gene Dodaro to, “at a minimum,” investigate 10 aspects of the impact of PSR.

“These include the safety and service impacts of longer trains, and of reduced workforces; elimination or downsizing of yards and maintenance facilities; changes in dispatching practices; on-time performance of passenger trains; quality, availability and reliability of service to shippers; and increases in demurrage or other charges.”

The letter noted that longer trains, unhappy shippers, and a workforce pushed to do more with less is not a model to emulate “unless you’re on Wall Street.”

“But we can’t let hedge fund managers write the rules of railroading,” DeFazio said in a statement.

Hearing Set on Railroad Grade Crossing Safety

February 1, 2020

A congressional committee plans to hold a hearing on Feb. 5 to discuss railroad grade crossing safety.

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials will meet at 10 a.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington.

A news release sent out by the committee said the hearing will hear testimony regarding the challenges affecting grade crossing safety, trespassing and suicide incidents, blocked grade crossings, as well as efforts to mitigate safety and community concerns of those issues.

The hearing will be available for viewing via webcast.

House Committee Gets Earful About Amtrak Practices

November 14, 2019

A House committee that held a hearing to consider the future of Amtrak got an earful from witnesses who were critical of the passenger carrier’s practices.

But Amtrak’s host railroads also came under fire for poor dispatching of passenger trains in the hearing held by the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.

That led committee chairman Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois) to observe that most witnesses seemed to favor giving Amtrak a right of action in dealing with its host railroads to force them to provide better dispatching so that trains are not habitually late.

Among those appearing before the committee were Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, representatives of three railroad labor unions, the president of the Rail Passengers Association, an Oregon state legislator, and a California corridor operator.

“The bottom line is we need [on-time performance] standards and metrics completed by the FRA with a real enforcement mechanism and we need a private right of action because freight railroad delays are our biggest single threat,” Anderson said.

Anderson said Amtrak could grow its national network if it could partner with its host railroads and co-invest to rebuild tracks for higher speeds while removing congestion bottlenecks.

“If you allow us to operate at 125 mph in a 100-mile zone, you’ll take a lot of cars off the highway,” Anderson said.

Amtrak’s onboard service was a frequent topic addressed during the hearing.

Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) was critical of crowded lounge cars on the Coast Starlight since Amtrak removed from service the Pacific Parlour car on the Seattle-Los Angeles run.

He also told Anderson that Amtrak is at risk of losing its high-end passengers because of changes in onboard food and beverage services.

RPA head Jim Mathews said comments his organization has received from Millennial age passengers is, “the idea of sitting at a table with no tablecloth, a plastic bag, and plastic trash, is not what they were looking for and certainly not what they paid for.”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) called Amtrak meals “paper sack food” and strongly disagreed with Anderson’s contention that it changed food and beverage service in response to market survey data

Anderson had said Amtrak doesn’t make changes based on anecdotes.

“That wasn’t true,” said Cohen, adding that he hopes Amtrak executive will “consider the humanity, the romance, and the appeal of train travel with food, and not do it like Delta Airlines that took all the meals away.

“I hope you don’t continue that on Amtrak,” Cohen said.

RPA head Jim Mathews held up what he termed a “survival pack” that he takes with him while traveling on long-distance trains.

It included duct tape, plastic and wooden shims (to stop rattles), Velcro (to hold curtains together), hand sanitizer, and a power strip.

“Everyone has their own version of this,” he said.

Anderson said Amtrak is replacing the P42DC locomotives that pull long-distance trains with new Charger locomotives and it is taking other steps to improve service.

This includes replacing pillows and bedding in the sleepers, and refurbishing Superliner II coaches at the Beech Grove Heavy Maintenance Facility near Indianapolis.

San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority Executive Director Stacey Mortenson expressed frustration with Amtrak’s lack of information about why it makes changes, saying her agency often can’t get a rational explanation of why Amtrak has made those changes.

She compared that with working with Herzog, the company that operates the Altamont Commuter Express.

“We are able to work with Herzog but have no control over what it costs to maintain our own equipment with Amtrak,” she said.

Mortenson said part of the problem is Section 209 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act allows Amtrak to hide what it considers proprietary information while pushing costs on the states to “treat everybody the same.”

House Committee to Discuss Amtrak Today

November 13, 2019

Amtrak’s future will be discussed today in a hearing being conducted by the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

Witnesses appearing before the committee are expected to express their concerns about how Amtrak’s management is doing business.

This includes changes in food and beverage service that have been made in the past year aboard overnight eastern long-distance trains, removal of ticket agents at some stations, the stated desire of Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson to transform long distance routes into disconnected short corridors, and Amtrak’s imposition of mandatory arbitration in lieu of the ability to sue the carrier following catastrophic events such as derailments.

Anderson is scheduled to speak to the committee at the hearing that begins at 10 a.m. and be live streamed online.

A statement released by subcommittee chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-Illinois) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) said the hearing will review recent Amtrak service changes and ponder the needs of the carrier “to sustain and strengthen its existing network.”

Among the witnesses who have been reported as scheduled to testify before the committee are Oregon state legislator Nancy Nathanson, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority Executive Director Stacey Mortenson, Rail Passengers Association President and CEO Jim Mathews, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department Secretary-Treasurer Greg Regan, Transportation Communications Union National Vice President Jack Dinsdale, and Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation Division Illinois Director Bob Guy.

Shippers Vent About Adverse Effects of PSR

July 31, 2019

Shippers grumbled about the effects of the precision scheduled railroading operating model at a forum sponsored last week by a congressional committee, saying they are bearing the brunt of the effects of work force cuts and poor service.

The event was sponsored by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

No railroads that practice PSR were invited to participate.

Many of the shippers were critical of poor communication on the part of the railroads to explain operations changes.

“A combination of poor service and rising costs over the last few years is not only unacceptable — it falls in the category of unimaginable,” said Mike Amick, a senior vice president at International Paper.
Although the boxcars used by his company may arrive at a local yard on time, cuts in local service means delivery of those cars to the mills is often delayed.

“So the cars are close enough to touch but we can’t really reach them or access them,” he said adding that creates bottlenecks at mills that operate 24 hours a day.

Some shippers acknowledged that railroads need to become more efficient and that increases in profits could be used to fund investment in the rail network.

But they said that PSR in practice has rewarded investors to the detriment of customer service.

Echoing the comments of Amick, Ross Corthell, vice president of transportation at Packaging Corp. of America and head of the National Industrial Transportation League’s rail freight committee, said under the PSR model Class 1 railroads do well in measuring the performance of their road trains, but not local service.

“This is where railroads do a horrific job,” he said. “They’re very unpredictable, they make resource planning at our facilities almost impossible, and yet they don’t measure that service at all.”

Corthell said at one of my company’s mills, the railroad serving it missed scheduled switches 22 percent of the time with the carrier’s local showing up up at any hour of the day.

“Precision Scheduled Railroading is anything but precise at origin and destination,” he said.

Shippers who use unit trains said they also have seen shoddy service.

“They may claim that PSR improves service but our experience, and that of many other shippers, has been the opposite,” said Emily Regis, fuels resource administrator the Arizona Electric Power Cooperative, which also has plants in California and New Mexico.

She said the round-trip transit times from a coal mine to a New Mexico power plant used to average three to four days, but has doubled amid what Regis said are PSR-related power and crew shortages.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois) said he convened the shipper forum as a follow-up to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board’s demurrage and accessorial hearing.

Lipinski said no one disputes that the Staggers [deregulation] Act of 1980 has been successful, but companies need cost-effective and reliable rail service to compete in the global economy.

Some of the disputes over service are an outgrowth of effort by railroads to use demurrage and accessorial charges as a carrot and stick approach to prompt shippers to turn over rail cars more quickly. The railroads say that will reduce congestion and result in better service.

The practices, the railroads content, are designed to customer behavior and not generate additional revenue.

But shippers counter that these charges are one-sided, unavoidable, and lack reciprocity when a railroad doesn’t provide service as scheduled.

Shippers also said that demurrage bills are often riddled with errors and challenging them is burdensome.

“The entire burden of proof is on the shipper to prove the railroad’s invoice is inaccurate,” said Randall Gordon, head of the National Grain and Feed Association.