Posts Tagged ‘Union Pacific’

Class 1s Pause Vaccine Rules, Amtrak Does Not

December 10, 2021

Three Class 1 railroads will delay implementation of COVID-19 vaccination rules but Amtrak said it plans to require the vaccinations.

The action follows a ruling by a federal judge in Georgia who issued a nationwide stay of an executive order from the Biden administration that federal contractors require their workers to be vaccinated by early January.

Judge R. Stan Baker issued the stay in response to a lawsuit filed by seven states.

The judge said the plaintiffs “are likely to succeed in their claim that Biden exceeded authorization from Congress when he issued the requirement in September.”

Baker’s ruling applies nationally because another plaintiff in the suit, the Associated Builders and Contractors, has members who do business nationwide.

The Biden executive order had required “federal contractors and subcontractors to comply with workplace safety guidelines developed by a federal task force.”

Those guidelines require employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 18 with limited exceptions being allowed for medical or religious reasons.”

Earlier, Amtrak, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and BNSF cited the executive order in requiring employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

Unions representing workers at all of those carriers have sued in an effort to get the rules overturned. The unions have said they are not opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations but want the carriers to engage in collective bargaining over any rule requiring vaccinations.

Another federal judge in Kentucky had issued a similar stay of the Biden executive order but it only was effective in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

In statements following this week’s court actions, NS, UP and BNSF said they have halted enforcing their vaccine rules but Amtrak said it has not.

NS said in its statement that it has encouraged its workers from the start of the pandemic to follow the guidance of public health experts.

The statement said NS is pausing enforcement of its vaccine rule, which means it will not subject unvaccinated workers to disciplinary action.

The Atlanta-based carrier said it is still still encouraging employees to get vaccinated and will observe how the legal challenges play out.

In a memo sent to its workers on Dec. 9, Amtrak said 95 percent of its employees are fully vaccinated. That percentage increases to 97 percent when taking into account workers who have received the first of two immunizations.

However, it said that regardless of the court action, it will continue to require workers to be vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.

The memo noted that Amtrak announced its vaccination rule on Aug. 11, which was before the Biden executive order was issued.

In the meantime, Amtrak said it is sending “counseling letters” to employees who have failed to present proof of vaccination to advise them they are in noncompliance with company policy.

Those failing to provide proof of vaccination by Jan. 4 will be consider insubordinate and termination of their employment will be imposed.

Amtrak has said it expects to fall short of 100 percent compliance with the vaccination rule by Jan. 4 and expects to reduce service levels accordingly.

In testimony to Congress on Thursday, Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said long-distance trains will be subject to operating on less than daily schedules through March.

The passenger carrier has not said which trains would be affected but plans to do that next week.

The Associated Press has reported that all three of the Biden administration executive orders mandating workers receive COVID-19 vaccinations have been stayed by federal courts.

Court Consolidates Vaccine Rule Lawsuits

November 24, 2021

A federal court in Illinois has consolidated lawsuits involving Class 1 railroads and their unions over COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

The action was taken by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and involves Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, BNSF, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and two other unions.

The Class 1 railroads have cited a federal executive order in requiring their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.

The unions argue that the vaccine edict by the carriers violates the collective bargaining process.

In a related development, unions representing Amtrak workers have filed suit over the passenger’s carrier’s vaccination requirement.

BLET and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD) said they generally support vaccination but want Amtrak to engage in collective bargaining over the issue.

The unions claim Amtrak is negotiating directly with employees rather than talking with their unions.

The lawsuit against Amtrak raised many of the same issues as those in the litigation involving NS and UP.

Amtrak is requiring its workers to submit proof of vaccination before Dec. 8. Those workers who have received just dose of the vaccine have until Jan. 4, 2022, to show proof of being full vaccinated.

The carrier has threatened to fire workers who failed to comply with the rules.

NS CEO Warns Vaccine Rule May Cause Crew Shortages

October 28, 2021

A Class 1 CEO warned this week that COVID-19 vaccine mandates may result in crew shortages.

James Squares said during his company’s third quarter earnings call that his company has been experiencing higher than normal attrition of operating personnel.

NS is one of three Class 1 freight railroads that have announced that all employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or present a valid reason for an exemption.

Union Pacific and Canadian National also have issued similar rules. The CN rule only applies to Canadian employees.

 NS and UP are involved in litigation over the issue with labor unions who want the issue to be subject to collective bargaining.

Amtrak also has imposed a vaccination requirement for employees. All of the carriers have cited an executive order signed by President Joseph Biden.

In a related development, the board of directors of the Alaska Railroad has rescinded a previously announced vaccination rule.

The board said in a statement that it will wait for the conclusion of court challenges to the federal mandate to play out.

Squires also indicated during the earnings call that NS has faced challenges in hiring and retaining new conductors and that those who have been hired or are in training have quit at high rates.

He indicated NS expects to lose some employees due to the vaccine mandate, which affects railroads because they are considered to be federal government contractors who are thus covered by the executive order.

NS Requiring COVID-19 Vaccinations for Employees

October 21, 2021

Norfolk Southern told its employees on Wednesday that they must be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus by Dec. 8.

In a memorandum sent to employees, NS said the move is in reaction to an executive order issued by President Joseph Biden and various related guidelines requiring federal contractors to require vaccinations for all employees.

The memo noted that NS is a federal contractor because it handles shipments of military vehicles and jet fuel for the U.S. Department of Defense.

NS is the second Class 1 railroad to announce an employee vaccine mandate. Union Pacific said on Oct. 13 it was requiring vaccinations by Dec. 8.

The mandates have draw opposition from three railroad labor unions, which are threatening work stoppages if the mandates are not rescinded.

The unions are the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers; the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees.

UP and the unions have both filed lawsuits over the vaccine mandate.

Railway Age columnist Frank Wilner wrote on the trade journal’s website that the unions are not directly opposing mandatory vaccinations but demanding that UP collectively bargain such a result.

The unions want the railroads to give their members additional pay for becoming vaccinated.

The text of the NS memo can be read at https://www.railwayage.com/freight/class-i/ns-requiring-covid-19-vaccinations-for-all-employees/

Supply Chain Congestion Seen as Lasting 6 Months

September 17, 2021

Industry observers expect that the tangled global supply chain will take at least six months to untangle, reported Trains magazine this week on  its website.

The magazine quoted intermodal consultant Larry Gross as saying the strain on the intermodal operations is unprecedented, the worst he has seen in his 41 years in the business.

Gross spoke during a panel discussion at the Intermodal Association of North America’s annual Intermodal Expo event.

Analysts say that a flood of imports driven by an explosion in consumer spending has hindered the supply chain between Asian ports, to U.S. ports to railroad networks and their intermodal terminals.

Also driving the congestion has been the fact that retailers are struggling to keep up with consumer demand because their product inventories dipped during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A record 59 container ships recently were reported to be anchored off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach awaiting berth space.

Lars Jensen of Copenhagen-based Vespucci Maritime told the panel that some of those vessels have been in San Pedro Bay for more than two weeks, delaying the unloading of more than 400,000 twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, the standard measure of international containers.

Much of that cargo will eventually travel to the Midwest and Texas via BNSF or Union Pacific intermodal trains.

Rail intermodal volume has fallen by 10 percent from its May levels and is down 7 percent compared to where it was a year ago at this time.

 “What we really have here is a system starting to bog down from all the operational constraints, congestion, and lower velocity, shortage of equipment, you name it,” Gross said.

He said all links in the supply chain share some of the blame for that congestion.

One panelist, Evan Armstrong of Armstrong & Associates, said railroads are missing an opportunity to pick up business that is instead going to trucking companies.

Yet railroads say shippers have been slow to pick up their containers at intermodal terminals, particularly in Chicago, and that has had a cascading effect.

 Shippers also have been holding containers at their warehouses, which has created a shortage of chassis used to tote containers.

Tim Denoyer, vice president and senior analyst at ACT Research, said the chassis shortage is unlikely to be resolved for another six to 12 months.

Officials at Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, and Canadian Pacific all said during the panel discussion that intermodal systems were in “disarray” around the globe.

They said their intermodal networks have capacity to handle current volumes, but only if all links in the supply chain are working relatively smoothly.

“Everything depends on speed,” said Leggett Kitchin, NS vice president of domestic intermodal. “At the current speeds, the box supply is probably tight.To the extent that we can speed up, and the street can speed up, then we’ll have capacity to grow into.”

A UP Kind of Day

September 10, 2021

This past Wednesday was a Union Pacific kind of day. It began with catching a former Union Pacific 10-6 sleeping car on the rear of Amtrak’s westbound Lake Shore Limited in Chesterton, Indiana.

The car, now owned by Webb Rail, was built in June 1950 by Budd. In its current reiteration, it read “Pullman” in the letterboard and “Pacific Union” in the car name space.

A few hours later I had ventured further east to Otis, Indiana, where I caught Norfolk Southern train 39E coming around a curve with a pair of UP motors.

The train originates in Elkhart and goes to the UP at Proviso Yard in Chicago.

STB Finds 5 Class 1s were Revenue Adequate in 2020

September 10, 2021

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has determined that five Class 1 railroads had adequate revenue during 2020.

The carriers were BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern, Soo Line (Canadian Pacific) and Union Pacific.

A railroad is considered to be revenue adequate if it achieves a rate of return on net investment equal to at least the current cost of capital for the railroad industry.

During 2020 the STB determined that to be 7.89 percent.

The five carriers cited by regulators achieved a rate of return on net investment equal to or greater than the agency’s calculation of the cost of capital for the railroad industry.

Ultimately, It Comes Down to Control and Self Interest

August 10, 2021

I ran across a pair of columns last week that help illuminate why expanding rail passenger service in the United States is so challenging and happens so infrequently.

One piece was written by Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passengers Association and appeared on that organization’s website.

The other was written by a Union Pacific vice president and appeared on the website of Railway Age although it originally appeared on the UP website.

Mathews was in part writing in response to a recent U.S. Surface Transportation Board decision that established a timeline in a case Amtrak brought seeking to prod CSX and Norfolk Southern into allowing intercity passenger service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, to begin next year.

The proposed service has been in the works for five years and funding is in place for capital improvements and operating expenses.

But Amtrak and the host railroads – CSX in particular – have been unable to reach agreement on what infrastructure improvements are needed.

Mathews pointed out that CSX has demanded work that would cost 19.5 times what a Federal Railroad Administration study estimated was needed.

Mathews doesn’t think NS or CSX have been negotiating in good faith, saying there is ample data available to move ahead on the Gulf Coast service, including infrastructure improvements.

“What are CSX and N-S really after in their long-standing opposition to the Gulf Coast restoration?” Mathews asked, perhaps rhetorically.

He believes the host railroads are demanding study after study until they can finally get a result “that gives them cover to stop the restoration.”

There is likely some truth to that. It’s a strategy Class 1 railroads have used before to stymie new passenger service or expansion of existing service.

If you drag the process out long enough those wanting the service might get discouraged and go away.

A subset of that strategy is demanding expensive infrastructure work that is too costly for Amtrak or a transportation agency to afford. It is all a way of getting to “no” without saying it as such.

And that brings me to the column by Wes Lujan, assistant vice president of external relations at Union Pacific.

He begins by contending UP is not hostile to Amtrak and other entities seeking to use UP rails for expanded service on existing passenger routes or creating new service on freight-only routes.

Lujan argues that UP has worked with Amtrak and state agencies in California and Illinois on projects that enabled expanded and faster passenger service and will continue to do so.

But Lujan said Union Pacific is put off by how Amtrak and others are demanding access to UP rails by announcing those plans and then bringing political pressure on the railroad to agree to them.

He cited the Amtrak ConnectsUS plan announced earlier this year of 39 new routes to be implemented over the next 15 years at an estimated cost of $75 billion.

That plan, Lujan wrote, was created in conjunction with state transportation agencies but not in consultation with the railroads that would host those trains.

“Instead of a unilateral push to expand passenger service, it would be transformational if we faced these challenges collaboratively, as partners with passenger agencies and with a common understanding that the U.S. freight rail network is a dynamic system that moves the physical goods that drive the American economy,” Lujan wrote.

To boil down Lujan’s argument to its essence, if you want new or expanded passenger service be prepared to pay for it. That means funding infrastructure improvements “and (emphasis in original) provid[ing] more reasonable compensation for access to host railroads.”

I would not take everything that either Mathews or Lujan wrote at face value. At the same time each has shown how each side comes at rail passenger expansion from different perspectives that hinder the creation of the partnerships that Lujan espouses.

To have a partnership you need to have willing partners who are committed to working through their differences to reach an agreed upon end goal.

There must be some incentive for both parties to work toward that end goal, and it helps when there is more balance in the relationship than is typically the case when Amtrak or some agency wants new rail passenger service.

Mathews wants more of what Lujan opposes: Using political pressure and the power of government, specifically the STB, to force railroads to be more cooperative in allowing passenger rail expansion and seeing to it that those trains operate on time.

Host railroads, though, see little in it for them in allowing passenger trains to use their rails.

Their purpose is hauling freight, not passengers. It is not realistic to expect freight railroads to respond to every proposal for passenger trains on their rails with a response of “that’s a great idea; let’s sit down and figure out how we can make it work.”

It may be that the partnerships that Lujan cited are more the exception than the rule.

They occurred in states with a long history of paying to fund passenger service and its capital expenses. Those states also have agencies that have a history of working with Amtrak and its host railroads and understand that it takes time and money to get to “yes.”

Many, although not all, of the routes in the Amtrak ConnectsUS plans are in places where state governments have not funded intercity rail passenger service and which lack agencies with experience in overseeing and managing rail passenger service.

Railroads are accustomed to working with state transportation departments on public-private capital projects. But they see something in it for them in those projects.

Those also tend to be one-off projects that do not involve an on-going commitment to paying for such things as operating expenses as is typically the case with intercity passenger rail.

I doubt that Mathews would disagree with Lujan’s assertion that passenger rail development works best when you have a partnership of the willing.

It is just that Mathews is not convinced that railroads are all that willing to establish those partnerships to host new and additional passenger trains. These partnerships are far more difficult to establish than Lujan is willing to admit.

Ultimately, it comes down to control. Like anyone else, railroads don’t like being told what to do with their property and don’t want to be forced into doing something they don’t see as being in their interests or something they simply believe is not necessary.

Union Pacific Releases ‘Big Boy” Tour Sked

August 5, 2021

Union Pacific has released a detailed schedule for the August tour of its “Big Boy” steam locomotive.

The 4014 is slated to depart its home in Cheyenne, Wyoming, today at 8 a.m. with its first stop on the tour set for Sidney, Nebraska.

The tour will continue toward Kansas City before heading south to Texas and then east to New Orleans.

From the Crescent City the “Big Boy will head north to St. Louis through Arkansas, before moving on to Denver for the Labor Day Weekend.

It will then return home to Cheyenne. The 4014 last operated in 2019. A 2020 tour was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More information is available at https://www.up.com/heritage/steam/schedule/index.htm?fbclid=IwAR2UWj4kihbbSkrVy7UilhWXRXc5b9F71I_7akX3jPusVEtBN1mpxys4ggs

J.B. Hunt Can’t Meet Customer Demand for Intermodal Service Due to Congestion

July 21, 2021

Intermodal shipper J.B. Hunt said this week that it cannot meet the demand for its service because of reduced velocity in the North American railroad network.

During a quarterly earnings call on Monday, Hunt managers said the demand for its services exceeds its capacity.

Managers said another factor behind that was slow customer turn times.

In recent weeks some Class 1 railroads have begun limiting acceptance of intermodal shipments because of congested terminals.

BNSF, for example, is limiting the flow of international containers from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to its Logistics Park Chicago intermodal terminal for two weeks to work off a backlog of containers in Chicago.

Union Pacific has temporarily suspended inbound moves of international containers from West Coast ports to its Global IV terminal in Chicago.

Chicago is the largest single destination for cargo arriving at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two busiest ports in North America.

Los Angeles handled record container volume in June, while Long Beach saw record volumes in May.

CSX has been restricting the flow of containers from the Port of New York and New Jersey to terminals in Chicago, Cleveland and Indianapolis.

In Canada, backlogs have been reported at the Port of Vancouver due to fire-related line closures and operational restrictions affecting Canadian Pacific and Canadian National.

Darren Field, president of Hunt’s intermodal division, said labor shortages at intermodal terminals and at customer warehouses is the major reason behind slow turnaround times for Hunt’s containers.

Hunt has imposed accessorial charges and in some cases is restricting capacity to some customer locations in an effort to encourage shippers to increase their turnaround times.

 “We are working very closely with our rail providers and customers to improve our capacity across the network by focusing on reducing the detention of equipment and helping our rail providers reduce congestion across their terminal infrastructure,” Field said.

J.B. Hunt primarily uses Norfolk Southern also routes some containers via CSX.

Field said he does not expect railroads to melt down despite reduced velocity and capacity limits at some intermodal terminals.

He said at some locations employment levels are 5 percent below where they need to be to handle current volume.

“All of the railroads are very focused on these challenges and they are out addressing them,” Field said.