Posts Tagged ‘transportation’

Infrastructure Plan to be Released by Late May

May 19, 2017

Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao told a Senate committee this week that the Trump administration’s U.S. infrastructure revitalization plan will be released before the end of May.

However, Chao said in her testimony to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that it will be fall before a more detailed plan is presented.  She said that will coincide with a congressional timetable.

“In the interim, obviously the president is very impatient, and he has asked that principles be released, so they should be coming out shortly,” Chao said.

She declined when pressed to provide any details other than to repeat earlier statement that the plan will be focused on using federal dollars to attract additional funding from state and local governments, and the private sector.

“The infrastructure proposal is being put together with a much greater view of principles,” Chao said. “Given the decentralized nature of our transportation infrastructure, there will be seeding of federal dollars that, hopefully, will leverage other monies from the private sector, state and local to $1 trillion.

“Federal funding often displaces state and local funds. We believe that the infrastructure needs are so great that all entities need to collaborate,” she said.

Some senators used the hearing to actively promote transportation projects in their states, ranging from transit capital funding to the Caltrain’s Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project to the need to rebuild Northeast Corridor infrastructure.

Some senators also expressed concern about the future of DOT TIGER and FASTLANE competitive grant programs.

Chao acknowledged that TIGER grants were popular with Congress. A Trump fiscal year 2018 budget blueprint has proposed ending TIGER funding, but Chao said it could re-emerge in a different form.

“The thought was that going forward there be a more holistic approach to infrastructure, and these TIGER grants would be recast some way in the future,” Chao said.

One ‘Law’ Won’t Change Following the Infamous United Airlines ‘Re-Accomodation’ Incident

May 11, 2017

Whenever I read about an incident in which police are alleged to have used excessive force, I think about a comment made by a political science professor who taught a course I took titled Introduction to the Legal System.

On the first day of class the late Charles A. Hollister told us that law is a very jealous mistress that won’t tolerate competition.

The incident last month aboard a United Express flight at Chicago O’Hare Airport during which a Kentucky doctor was dragged off the plane by airport police officers reminded me yet again of professor’s Hollister’s missive.

He was talking about the legal system, but law is a concept that transcends the courts and its officers.

Every transportation company has a central “law” that is sacrosanct. Though shall not interfere with operations. Planes must fly, ships must sail, and the wheels of trains, buses and trucks must turn. Moving objects are, after all, the essence of transportation.

News reports indicate that the United Airlines incident began when four crew members showed up at the gate and said they had to get to Louisville, Kentucky, on this flight because they were scheduled to operate a flight for the company the next day.

United officials chose four passengers already aboard the plane to bump, three of which agreed to accept the airline’s financial incentive.

By law airlines must compensate passengers denied boarding, a rule that apparently also applies to those already aboard a plane.

But the Kentucky doctor balked. He had his own “law,” which he is reported to have described as “I need to get back home to attend to the needs of my patients.”

What happened after that was the logical result of everyone acting like a jealous mistress and holding fast to their “laws.”

Airline officials called police and millions have seen how they drug the recalcitrant doctor down the aisle of the plane after grabbing and pulling him out of his seat.

Those images resonated with many because it represented one of our worst nightmares about flying.

It was also an aberration. Most people get to their destination aboard the flight that they booked without getting bumped or physically assaulted.

Most people would not defy four police officers telling them to get off the plane. We are conditioned to obey police officers because if we don’t, well look what happened to that Kentucky doctor.

Police generally do not respond well to those who resist or refuse to recognize their authority and they have the legal right to inflict physical punishment upon those who defy them.

Much has been written about how the airline should have handled the situation. Commentators have written that everyone has their price and if the Kentucky doctor was unwilling to take the airline’s initial offer, then the gate agent authorized to make the offers should have gone to another passenger or upped the ante until the Kentucky doctor agreed to take the money and walk.

But whoever decided to choose the doctor for involuntary removal from that flight, or as United CEO Oscar Munoz infamously described it as “re-accomodate” him, also decided to become a jealous mistress and dig in his/her heels and insist on bumping this particular passenger.

How dare a passenger defy an airline employee telling him to get off the plane?

In the wake of the video made by passengers of the Kentucky doctor being drug down the aisle going viral, United has been falling all over itself apologizing, announcing rule changes and seeking to put the incident behind it as quickly as possible.

After attorneys for the doctor said he would sue the airline, the two sides quickly settled out of court for an undisclosed sum – possibly in the millions – and issued statements praising each other.

The rule changes that United and other carrier have announced may lessen the probability of another violent bumping incident from occurring again, but won’t change the basic “law” that came into play in the United Airlines incident.

Planes must fly, wheels must turn and ships must sail and the owners of those vessels will continue to insist that it is they and not those being transported who will dictate the terms of operations.

Chao Says Infrastructure Plan Will Cut Back Regulations, House Committee Approves Passenger Rail Legislation

March 31, 2017

It’s not the money it’s the red tape. Or so Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao wants everyone to believe is the reason why more isn’t being done to rebuild America’s infrastructure.

Speaking during an open house to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Chao said the Trump Administration’s infrastructure proposal that has yet to be delivered to Congress will include proposals to eliminate regulations.

“Investors say there is ample capital available, waiting to invest in infrastructure projects,” Chao said.” So the problem is not money. It’s the delays caused by government permitting processes that hold up projects for years, even decades, making them risky investments.”

Chao said the Trump infrastructure plan “will include common-sense regulatory, administrative, organizational and policy changes that will encourage investment and speed project delivery.”

Although she did not provide details, that infrastructure proposal will include a “a strategic, targeted program of investment valued at $1 trillion over 10 years,” Chao said.

She said the proposal will cover more than transportation infrastructure. It will also include energy, water and potentially broadband and veterans hospitals.

Public-private partnerships will be a focal point of the plan as a way to avoid “saddling future generations with massive debt.”

In an unrelated development, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure this week approved a bill involving passenger rail.

The committee reported out H.R. 1346, which repeals a rule titled “Metropolitan Planning Organization Coordination and Planning Area Reform.”

In a statement, the committee said the rule exceeds what is required in law, is contrary to congressional intent, and increases burdens on MPOs and states.

The committee said H.R. 1346 maintains MPO and state flexibility in planning and making transportation investments.

Also approved was H.R. 1093, which mandates the Federal Railroad Administration to notify Congress about any initiation and results of passenger and commuter rail comprehensive safety assessments.

NTSB Acting Chairman Named

March 20, 2017

Bella Dinh-Zarr has been named as acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board after the term of incumbent Chairman Christopher Hart expired last week.

Hart remains a member of the five-member board and had served as chairman since March 2015.

He had served as acting chairman for nearly a year before being nominated by the Obama administration to be the permanent chairman.

Dinh-Zarr has served as vice chairman since March 2015. Before joining the NTSB, she served as director of the U.S. Office of the FIA Foundation, an international philanthropy organization that promotes safe and sustainable transportation.
NTSB members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for five-year terms. By law, a board member is designated by the president to be the chairman while another is designated to be the vice chairman for two-year terms.

‘Accident’ or ‘Crash?’ Both Might Be Accurate Terms But Don’t Quite Mean the Same Thing

April 20, 2016

As a professional writer, I pay close attention to the words I use to convey information and express thoughts.

Hence, I took an interest in a recent discussion on a railfan chat list in the wake of an incident in which an Amtrak train struck a backhoe 15 miles south of Philadelphia.

Two Amtrak maintenance-of-way workers were killed and 30 passengers aboard the train suffered minor injuries.

The online discussion focused, in part, on the use of the word “accident” to describe what happened.

On TransportationA poster in the thread asserted that because events such as the one in which the train struck the backhoe are preventable many in the railroad and regulatory fields now call them collisions or crashes rather than accidents.

That’s because the word “accident” suggests that no one was at fault.

If the two construction workers had been killed after being struck by a meteor, that would be an accident because no rules were violated and, hence, no one was at fault. It would have been the proverbial act of God.

The poster was correct that the incident involving the backhoe was preventable. A piece of construction equipment doesn’t just happen to find its way onto a railroad track over which trains are operating at better than 100 miles per hour.

Someone made a mistake. A rule was violated and it is often said that every rule in every rule book of every railroad is written in blood.

But does that meant that if a rules violation leads to injury or death that it is not an accident, but a collision, a crash, or even an incident?

I would describe it as an accident because the event was unintentional.

The operator of the backhoe did not go to work intending to be struck and killed by a train.

The engineer of the train did not go to work intending to strike a piece of construction equipment and kill someone.

The passengers didn’t board the train intending to suffer personal injury.

It will be several months before the National Transportation Safety Board issues a final report that will specify which rule or rules were violated by whom and how.

Once the NTSB report is released, there may be some discussion about the adequacy of the rules and/or how they are practiced. Some might call for a revision of the rules in the name of safer practices.

In the meantime, the Federal Railroad Administration has ordered Amtrak to review its safety practices and retrain its workers.

All of this is oriented toward creating and maintaining an environment in which there are zero injuries and fatalities.

That is unlikely to occur so long as that environment involves humans because people are subject to such things as forgetfulness, lack of knowledge of the rules and procedures, lack of skill in following the rules and procedures, and engaging in poor judgment.

The business of assessing fault has consequences that transcend what caused the incident and what rule(s) were violated by whom.

Jobs might be lost, careers destroyed and thousands, if not millions, of dollars must be paid to repair damaged equipment and property, not to mention paying the medical costs for making the injured whole again.

Someone has to pay for those costs and the determination of who is fault goes a long way toward identifying who those people and companies will be.

In that context, whether the event is framed as an “accident” or a “crash” could be important in how that determination is ultimately made.

Such frames guide how people, including judges and juries in a court of law, think about what occurred and make decisions as to who owes what and how much to whom.

On the surface, the words used to describe an event might seem to be a trivial matter.

Arguably, “accident,” “crash” and “collision” all accurately describe the same thing.

Yet there can be subtle differences in how the meanings of those words are perceived and that might make a significant difference in sorting out the aftermath.

Falling Rail Traffic Has Me Seeing 2008 Again

February 6, 2016

For the past year I’ve been following the dismal news about falling freight car traffic on North American railroads.

Then I ran across a commentary that America’s industrial sector is in a recession and therefore so are North America’s railroads.

On TransportationIt remains to be seen if this will pull the rest of the U.S. economy into a recession. Consumer spending fuels two-thirds of the economy and so long as that remains strong there may be a slowdown but not a recession.

But the statistics about falling freight traffic combined with the response of the railroads has taken me back to the early summer of 2008. Like today, railroad traffic was slowing then, too.

Although I didn’t suspect that a recession was around the corner, I did tell a friend in an email message that I expected to see fewer trains and do more trackside reading that summer.

Later that year the Great Recession took hold and I have a vivid memories of driving to Akron Railroad Club meetings on Friday evenings and seeing a long line of idled boxcars and auto rack cars on a siding of the CSX New Castle Subdivision in Cuyahoga Falls.

It was a vivid and tangible reminder of how sour the economy had turned.

The railfan press published photographs of long lines of older locomotives mothballed by Class 1 railroads because there were fewer trains operating.

I am not prescient enough to predict what will happen to the U.S. economy this year and many economists who claim to be able to do so are not worried yet about another recession.

But I can see 2008 and 2009 happening again and in fact it has already started.

Last year CSX began operating fewer and longer manifest freights.

I got a first-hand glimpse of that strategy one afternoon in New London last fall. I’ve always enjoyed sitting in the parking lot next to the above ground reservoir and watching CSX trains on the busy Greenwich Subdivision.

But on this day the Greenwich Sub was uncharacteristically quiet. Every busy rail line has lull periods, but the lulls on this day were out of character from what I had observed in the past.

It was a Monday and I’ve heard that there is less rail traffic on Mondays. So maybe that explained the paucity of even intermodal trains.

But I’ve noted on other days that there seem to be fewer trains on CSX. I’ve also taken notice of monster length mixed car freights.

In the past couple of years I used to be able to count on seeing multiple tank car trains during a given railfan outing. Now I do good to see one.

Norfolk Southern recently said that it is going to run fewer and longer trains as part of a strategic plan to improve its financial position.

Throw in the loss of coal and crude oil traffic and it means that if you spend time in Berea this year watching trains you are going to have a lot of time to read the latest issue of Trains or Railfan and Railroad between trains.

Trains are not going away and the industry expects better times to return eventually. But until then, there will be less to see trackside.

Although I didn’t live in Northeast Ohio in the early 1980s, guys who did have talked about how scarce trains became on the Chessie mainline through Akron.

If you found a train on the Chessie, you followed it as far as you could and created as many photo ops as possible. Otherwise, you might be spending hours looking at empty rails.

Given what lies ahead with the railroads of Northeast Ohio, it might be time to pull out of storage the chase a train most of the day strategy.

Trains columnist Fred Frailey has suggested there is something different about this falloff in rail traffic.

In a column titled “The Party’s Over,” Frailey said the railroad renaissance of growing traffic of the past decade is over. Coal, once a dependable source of revenue and traffic, is falling precipitously and growth of intermodal traffic has stalled amid intensifying competition from truckers benefiting from lower fuel prices.

Although some railroad industry analysts believe the railroad renaissance is on hold, not over, Frailey thinks otherwise.

He called for a new business model that can respond effectively to highway competition, shipper unhappiness, increased government regulation, and unrelenting pressure from Wall Street for short-term results.

Frailey suggested that BNSF might have the framework for such a model in mind because its traffic numbers are up slightly in some areas and only slightly down in others.

I’m sure that Frailey will be writing about the “new model” in future columns in Trains. Goodness knows I’ll have plenty of time to read those columns as I sit trackside waiting for the most recent lull in rail traffic to end.

Late June Afternoon in Harpers Ferry

June 10, 2012

Amtrak’s westbound Capitol Limited rolls into the station at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., on June 7, 2012. The train is named after a B&O train of the same name that used these tracks for decades before being discontinued in 1971.

Harpers Ferry, W.Va., is a scenic and historic small town that also happens to be a good place to photograh trains. Craig Sanders spent more than three hours in Harpers Ferry on June 7 and offers a report on the trains that he saw and photographed.

This is CSX territory and many of the trains that pass through Akron also pass through Harpers Ferry, although some are reclassified in Cumberland to the west.

Harpers Ferry features Amtrak, MARC commuter trains and a good mix of CSX freight. This is all former Baltimore & Ohio. The tunnel under Maryland Heights that the B&O drilled through the rock long ago is still in use as is the bridge over the Potomac River. But the B&O color position lights are long gone.

To reach Craig’s report and view more photographs, click on the link below.

https://akronrrclub.wordpress.com/trackside-tales/late-june-afternoon-in-harpers-ferry/

Photographs by Craig Sanders

MARC No. 12 is MP36PH-3. MARC Brunswick line trains serving Harpers Ferry terminate to the west at Martinsburg, W.Va.

A westbound CSX auto rack train exits the tunnel under Maryland Heights and crossed the bridge over the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry.

First Rays of Sunlight

June 4, 2012

Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited was early in arriving into Cleveland on Sunday, June 3. I was returning from a brief, but enjoyable, trip out to downtstate Illinois to visit my dad and stepmother. It is an annual trek that I take right after Memorial Day.

I stowed my belonging in the trunk of my car — it is always a good sight to see my car still in the Amtrak parking lot — and then got out my camera to see what I could capture.

It was still quite dark, but the first rays of sunlight of the new day were just coming over the horizon. I set the ISO and white balance to automatic and experimented a bit with making the images lighter than what the camera wanted to do on its own.

In this image, you can see the Key Bank tower and the tower of the former Cleveland Union Terminal. Alas, a parking garage is another dominant feature. The wires are from the RTA Waterfront Line, which was not operating at this early hour.

The Lake Shore had its typical consist of two P42 locomotives up front, two baggage cars (one of which was on the end of the train), three Viewliner sleepers, six Amfleet II coaches, a Horizon food service car that served as the lounge, and Viewliner diner Indianapolis. It was the first time I’d seen Amtrak’s sole Viewliner diner.

In the image of the “Indy” below, you can see the interior of the diner through the windows. Although there was stirring in the kitchen area, breakfast would not be served until 6:30 a.m.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders