Posts Tagged ‘Surface Transportation Board’

2 Seats on STB Likely to be Filled in Early 2020

September 20, 2019

Two open seats on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board could be filled by early 2020, Railway Age reported this week.

The Trump administration is reported to be considering naming Robert Primus as a Democratic nominee to go with Republican Michelle A. Schultz.

Schultz was nominated two years ago but her confirmation by the Senate has been stalled until a Democrat was named to fill a seat that by law must go to a member of that party.

Primus, 49, is a career congressional staffer who was recommended by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-New York).

If Primus and Schultz are nominated and confirmed, they would join current board members Republicans Ann D. Begeman and Patrick J. Fuchs, and Democrat Martin J. Oberman.

The STB regulates railroads transporting freight in interstate commerce.

Railway Age said the confirmation process for Primus and Schultz is unlikely to be completed before December.

Under current law the maximum number of STB members is five.

The seat that Primus would hold has an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2022. Schultz would fill a seat that would expire five years after her confirmation date.

Although STB members are nominated by party, the agency is independent of executive branch control.

The party controlling the White House is allowed by law to hold three of the five seats.

If nominated and confirmed, Primus would become the fifth African-American to serve among 114 regulators confirmed by the Senate to serve on the STB or its predecessor, the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Primus does not have a railroad or shipping industry but served on the staffs of two legislators well-known to the railroad community, the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) and former Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Massachusetts).

He earned an undergraduate degree in marketing from Virginia’s Hampton University, and participated in the Senior Managers in Government program at Harvard.

His grandfather and great-grandfather were employed by the Southern Railway in North Carolina.

Schultz, 44, initially was nominated 2017 and again in January 2019.

The Senate Commerce Committee endorsed her nomination in July pending the naming of a Democrat to serve on the Board.

She is deputy general counsel for commuter railroad Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

Earlier in her career, Schultz was an associate with the Philadelphia-based law firm of White and Williams, dealing with bankruptcy and commercial litigation, and a law clerk with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

She has an undergraduate degree in English from Penn State University, a master’s degree in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania, and a law degree from Widener University.

Railway Age said it has learned that shipper and railroad interests have told the Senate and White House that they have “no objections” to a Primus nomination.

Class 1 Employment Continued Falling in August

September 20, 2019

Employment at U.S. Class 1 railroads in August was down 139,284 workers or 1.01 percent compared with July and down 5.98 percent with compared with August 2018

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board said that on a month-over-month basis, all employment categories logged decreases.

Executives, officials and staff assistants, were down 0.68 percent to 7,703 employees; professional and administrative were down 0.97 percent to 11,319; maintenance of way and structures were down 0.3 percent to 31,629; maintenance of equipment and stores were down 1.24 percent to 24,627; transportation (other than train and engine) were down 0.92 percent to 5,515; and transportation (train and engine) were down 1.35 percent to 58,491.

On a year over year basis all employment categories posted decreases.

They were executives, officials and staff assistants, down 8.95 percent; professional and administrative, down 5.49 percent; maintenance of way and structures, down 3.01 percent; maintenance of equipment and stores, down 8.61 percent; transportation (other than train and engine), down 3.25 percent; and transportation (train and engine), down 6.33 percent.

STB data showed that in August BNSF employed 42,659 workers; Union Pacific Railroad, 39,864; Norfolk Southern, 24,261; CSX, 19,115; and Kansas City Southern, 3,053.

STB to Review Acquisition of G&W

July 24, 2019

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has put the brakes on the proposed acquisition of short line railroad operator Genesee & Wyoming by Brookfield Investment Partners.

The STB said it was imposing an indefinite hold on the $8.4-billion deal until it can decide if it wants to allow the normal exemption for an acquisition that does not involve two railroads, a Class I, or a deal that links rail lines.

“The board is considering the issues presented here, including whether the class exemption is appropriate for this transaction,” the STB said. “To provide sufficient time for the board to fully consider the issues presented, the exemption that is the subject of this proceeding will not become effective until further order of the board.”

Brookfield and G&W had sought to have the acquisition exempt from STB review. That exemption often occurs when a railroad is being purchased by a non-railroad company.

G&W operates 13,000 miles of track in 41 states, including the Ohio Central System in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

A railroad analyst quoted by Trains magazine said the STB action is not surprising given the scope of the transaction.

Todd Tranausky of FTR Transportation Intelligence said the exemption from STB review was intended to apply to small, straightforward cases such as a non-carrier buying a 30-mile short line.

Another rail analyst quoted by Trains, Anthony Hatch, expects the G&W acquisition to eventually win approval.

“I think that [Brookfield’s] case seems strong (it is a change of control, not a consolidation) but I am no lawyer,” he said. “I think this could be interpreted as the STB simply being cautious.”

The STB said it will accept public comment on the G&W acquisition through Aug. 21 with replied to those comments due by Sept. 5.

It also directed Toronto-based Brookfield and its investment partner, Singapore-based DIC, to provide status updates on review of the proposed transaction by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

Class 1 Railroad Employment Fell 0.88% in May

June 22, 2019

Employment at Class I railroads in the United States dropped by 0.88 percent in May compared with April.

The U.S. Surface Transportation board said the railroads employed 142,950 workers as of mid-May and that all but one employment category posted declines on a month-over-month basis. Maintenance of way and structures employment increased by 0.15 percent to 32,117 workers in May compared with April’s level.

Falling in May were executives, officials and staff assistants, down 0.14 percent to 7,819 employees; professional and administrative, down 0.54 percent to 11,280; maintenance of equipment and stores, down 1.32 percent to 25,908; transportation (other than train and engine), down 0.36 percent; and transportation (train and engine), down 1.44 percent to 60,256.

On a year-over-year basis, all categories reflected decreases. The executives, officials and staff assistants category fell 6.46 percent; professional and administrative was down 4.71 percent; maintenance of way and structures, down 1.99 percent; maintenance of equipment and stores, down 3.53 percent; transportation (other than train and engine), down 0.25 percent; and transportation (train and engine), down 2.17 percent.

U.S. Class 1 Employment Stable in July

August 24, 2018

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board reported this week that U.S. Class I railroad employment was stable in July.

The railroads employed 147,426 people, up 0.1 percent from the count a month earlier and down less than a tenth of a percent from the workforce figure in July 2017.

On a month-over-month basis, the maintenance-of-way and structures segment of U.S. Class I workforce declined 0.3 percent to 32,617.

The other five segments posted gains: Transportation (other than train and engine), 1.7 percent to 5,691; executives, officials and staff assistants, 0.4 percent to 8,422; transportation (train and engine), 0.2 percent to 61,891; professional and administrative staff; 0.05 percent to 12,004; and maintenance of equipment and stores, 0.01 percent to 26,801.

On a year-over-year basis, only the transportation (train and engine) category showed growth, expanding 3.9 percent.

Professional and administrative staff shrunk 5 percent; the maintenance-of-way and structures workforce declined 3.6 percent; the number of executives, officials and staff assistants decreased nearly 3 percent; the transportation (other than train and engine) worker count dipped 1.7 percent; and the maintenance of equipment and stores employee tally slipped 0.9 percent.

Union Pacific employed 44,605; BNSF employed 43,063, Norfolk Southern employed 25, 993, CSX employed 20,418 and Kansas City Southern employed 3.051.

Oberman Nominated for STB Seat

July 7, 2018

Martin Oberman has been nominated to serve as a Democratic member of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

The White House announced the nomination on Thursday on its website.

Oberman is a former chairman of Chicago commuter railroad Metra.

Subject to being confirmed by the Senate, Oberman will fill the remainder of a five-year term expiring Dec. 31, 2023.

That seat was voluntarily vacated in 2017 by former Chairman Dan Elliott.

Oberman was among at least eight Democrats who were being considered for the last vacancy on the five-member regulatory board

He received strong support from the Rail Customer Coalition, an association of trade groups representing major freight rail users.

The 73-year-old Oberman is an attorney who served on the Chicago City Council before being named by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in September 2013 to a seat on the Metra board of directors.

Oberman was elected chairman in 2014, serving until last October.

He also serves on the board of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and is a past general counsel to the Illinois Racing Board.

Oberman graduated from Yale University and earned his law degree from the University of Wisconsin.

Two Republicans, Patrick Fuchs and Michelle Schultz, are awaiting Senate confirmation for STB seats but have been approved by a Senator committee.

The STB currently has two members Republican Ann Begeman, who serves as STB chair, and Democrat Deb Miller.

STB Nominees Win Senate Committee OK

April 28, 2018

Two nominees for seats on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board were approved this week by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The appointments of Patrick Fuchs and Michelle Schultz will now move to the full Senate for confirmation. If confirmed, each would serve a five year term on the STB.

Fuchs is a senior staff member working on surface transportation and maritime issues for the Senate Commerce Committee. He also has served as a policy analyst and Presidential Management Fellow at the Office of Management and Budget, where he managed railroad and maritime regulatory reviews.

Schultz is a deputy general counsel at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. Before that, she was an associate with a Philadelphia law firm.

STB Nominees Seek to Be Neutral at Hearing

April 12, 2018

The two nominees for seats on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee this week and sought to deflect pointed questions they were asked about STB policies.

Patrick J. Fuchs, a former Commerce Committee staff member, and Michelle A. Schultz, deputy general counsel for the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, are Republicans who recently were nominated to STB seats by the Trump administration .

Among the questions was one by Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) about Amtrak’s statutory right of preference over freight traffic.

“The law says Amtrak has preference over freight transportation using a rail line. You talked about statutory directives. Do you agree [preference] is a statutory directive?” Wicker asked. “In reality freight railroads have consistently denied such preference to Amtrak.”

Noting that a federal appellate court has struck down one effort to regulate on-time performance, Fuchs said, “Reasonable terms and conditions are case-specific, dependent on a particular route. “I would be hesitant to make a sweeping statement. I would evaluate any case that came before the board from a fair and open perspective.”

Both nominees in their prepared statements and in answers to questions sought to paint themselves as neutral and impartial.

“I believe both in the importance of the board’s responsibilities and in the power of market forces to achieve efficiencies and drive innovation and investment,” Fuchs said in his statement.

For her part, Shultz said that “because freight rail and intercity passenger rail serve an integral role in enhancing mobility within the United States, it is incumbent upon the Board to approach matters . . . in an impartial manner within the bounds of its jurisdiction and the law.”

CSX Outlines 2018 Service Plan

March 30, 2018

In response to a U.S. Surface Transportation board request for information, CSX CEO James M. Foote has written to the board to tout what he described as the railroad’s recovery from its service issues of 2017.

The letter was in response to a board request to all Class 1 railroads operating in the United States to outline their service plans for the remainder of the year.

The STB said the request for information came in the wake of complaints the board has received from shipper organizations about deteriorating service quality on railroads generally.

In his letter to the STB, Foote thanked the agency for is recent finding that CSX had made  “marked improvement” in its service metrics.

Foote said CSX service metrics in recent weeks have been above 2017 averages “and we’ve achieved record levels for velocity, car order fulfillment and dwell.”

The letter recounted CSX plans in various areas as requested by the STB.

CSX has 2,900 active locomotives and 600 additional locomotives stored and serviceable as needed.

Locomotive power availability has been 99 percent, “demonstrating that our locomotive levels are consistently meeting train service demands,” the letter said.

CSX said that its locomotive fleet is adequate to meet customer demand and it has no plans to acquire locomotives in 2018.

In the area of employee resources, CSX said it has 8,474 train and engine employees along with more than 900 employees on furlough who could be recalled if needed.

Foote said re-crew rates are at a historic low rate of less than 2 percent while crew availability has been 95 percent in recent months. CSX does not expect to increase its T&E headcount this year.

Foote said the precision scheduled railroading model places particular emphasis on the responsibility of local managerial teams to ensure a safe, efficient operation that meets customer needs.

The carrier is training 50 new trainmasters who will be deployed throughout the network to fill vacancies and strengthen field management.

Another focus of precision scheduled railroading, Foote said, is end-to-end transit and meeting customer expectations for the complete movement.

“Local service is a key element of that complete movement, and we have made significant improvements in this critical area with terminal productivity and performance measures at normal, healthy levels across the network,” Foote wrote.

CSX said it has made progress on the development and testing of an end-to-end trip plan compliance measurement that will track cars in all operating circumstances and allow for real-time management and decision-making to maximize delivery as scheduled.

“While the development of this new measure is under way, customers continue to have readily available access to CSX capabilities and performance via ShipCSX, customized to that shipper’s freight needs and patterns,” Foote wrote. “All customers who use ShipCSX currently have access to the trip plan for a given car in scheduled service and can view this information to plan, ship, and trace their shipments. Our online tools allow customers to monitor their service schedules, provide on-demand railcar tracking with an estimated time of arrival, as well as view planned and historical transits that can be quickly analyzed for transit performance and exceptions.”

Foote told the STB that CSX expects total traffic growth in 2018 to be flat when compared with last year.

He said thus far in 2018, traffic has been what the company expected with the exception of higher export coal demand driven by global market conditions.

Foote pledged to continue talking with its customers, saying he has met with shippers at the National Freight Transportation Association Conference and that the railroad’s sales and marketing staff regularly attend customer forums to provide updates and receive customer feedback.

“Our Customer Service personnel address customer concerns when needed to supplement the direct outreach channels of local operations and sales and marketing,” Foote wrote. “We also communicate with our customers through the electronic platforms of ShipCSX, Service Advisories, and Intermodal Fast Facts.”

In regards to capacity constraints, CSX argued that its network and terminals are fluid.

“We have effectively delivered service to our customers through extended winter conditions, and we are well-prepared to handle the seasonal rise in volumes during the second quarter,”
Foote wrote.

He also cited working with other railroads to create plans for interchange and blocking in and outside of Chicago to improve interline connections.

“Whenever practicable, we re-route traffic through less-congested interchange locations and assemble blocks of traffic for destinations further into our respective networks—thus reducing congestion and overall transit time,” Foote said.

He said that with intermodal demand rising across the industry there has been longer container dwell times in terminals.

“To ensure ongoing terminal fluidity and support asset utilization that benefits both CSX and customers, we have adjusted intermodal terminal storage policies and are working with customers to more effectively align terminal capacity with trucking operations,” Foote wrote.

Another Shipper Group Unhappy With Railroads

March 27, 2018

A shipper group representing fertilizer producers has joined a growing chorus of customers that is giving the U.S. Surface Transportation Board an earful about service issues.

“Rail service challenges have been ongoing and increasingly pervasive,” wrote Chris Jahn, president of The Fertilizer Institute, in a letter posted on the STB website.

Although Jahn mentioned CSX, he went on to say the carrier, which underwent major operational changes in 2017, is not the only problem spot for his members.

If anything, Jahn said, CSX service has improved recently. But fertilizer produces continue to experience “serious service disruptions” when shipping on Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.

“Unfortunately, these service challenges are becoming increasingly pervasive,” Jahn wrote.

Some railroad industry analysts say service problems are a missed opportunity for railroad companies during a time when truck capacity is limited. Instead, carload freight volumes have been falling this year.

“This isn’t a crisis — but could lead to a gigantic missed market share opportunity,” Anthony B. Hatch of ABH Consulting said in an interview with Trains magazine.