FRA Sends Congress Trespassing Report

February 23, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration continues to ramp up its efforts to prevent trespassing on railroad property by sending to Congress a report titled National Strategy to Prevent Trespassing on Railroad Property.

The FRA said that reducing casualties and injuries due to trespassing is one of the agency’s high priorities.

“Almost every trespasser death or injury is preventable and FRA is working to intensify our efforts,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. “Now that we have examined current data on contributing factors of the problem, we are seeking to energize our state and local partners to implement solutions and save lives.”

Between November 2013 and October 2017 the top 10 counties for trespasser casualties were Los Angeles; Cook (Chicago); San Bernardino, California; Harris (Houston), Broward, Florida; Palm Beach, Florida; Fresno, California; Riverside, California; Contra Costa, California; and San Diego.

During that period there were 4,242 pedestrians were killed or injured while trespassing on railroad property nationwide. That figure excludes suicides.

In its report, the FRA reviews the causal factors that contribute to trespassing incidents.

By gathering data to determine trespassing “hot spots,” the FRA plans allocate resources to those areas in its efforts to prevent trespassing.
That process also include fields visits to learn more about the specific local circumstances that contribute to trespassing.

The FRA said what it learns will be used to implement and evaluate targeted mitigation strategies.

The agency said it will gauge its success by how much trespassing incidents and casualties are reduced nationwide.

Advertisements

High-Speed Rail Fight May Spill Over to 2020 Election

February 23, 2019

The fight between the Trump Administration and California over the state’s troubled high-speed rail project could become an issue in the 2020 elections.

There is a move being led by a conservative radio talk show host in San Diego to place a referendum on the 2020 ballot that would halt the high-speed rail project and transfer its funds to road repairs.

The Associated Press quoted public policy professor Sherry Bebitch Jeffe of the University of Southern California as saying that supporters of President Donald Trump see the issue as a way to generate turnout of Republican voters.

Observers note that the battle over the high-speed rail project is yet another front in an ongoing battle between Trump and California that has led the state to sue the Trump administration 46 times over policy change disagreements.

In the most recent battle, the Federal Railroad Administration demanded that the state return $9 million that it awarded during the Obama administration to help develop the Los Angeles-San Francisco high-speed route.

That came after California Gov. Gavin Newsom scaled the project back to development in the Central Valley, leading some to describe it as a train to nowhere.

In a statement, Newsom described the FRA’s demand for the grant money back as “clear political retribution by President Trump” that Newsom vowed to fight.

The administration and state are also at odds over other transportation-related issues, including Trump’s efforts to remove California’s right to set its own auto emissions standards.

The Trump administration has also sought to deny funding for a plan to electrify the tracks used by Caltrain commuter trains linking San Francisco and San Jose, which some in the state see is an effort to kill the high-speed rail project because its trains would have used that route.

However, the tensions over the high-speed rail plan predate the Trump administration.

Two GOP California congressmen sought during the Obama administration to deny federal funding for the high-speed rail project. Obama fought back against those efforts.

Winter Weather Depressed Freight Traffic

February 23, 2019

A blast of severe winter was instrumental in depressing North American rail freight traffic executives of three Class 1 railroads said this week at an investor conference.

The Association of American Railroads said that in mid February Class 1 railroads were handling 3 percent less traffic compared with the same period in 2018.

However, executives with Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern and CSX said during the conference that they expect traffic to recover and grow this year.

The worst of the weather hit during February and CSX CEO James Foote said that his railroad has seen strong volumes until it hit.

“It’s been a tough winter this year, much tougher than last year,” Foote said. “It’s just been consistent across the northern half of our network.”

NS Chief Financial Officer Cindy Earhart said traffic sagged during the worst of the weather but overall has been on the rise this year.

NS Quietly, Slowly Moved Toward PSR

February 23, 2019

Norfolk Southern began its move toward the precision scheduled railroading operating model long before the company publicly embraced it, an analysis by Trains magazine found.

The analysis described as wrong the perception that pressure from Wall Street investors forced NS to change course despite CEO James Squires having once been critical of the practice.

Shortly after becoming NS CEO, Squires said in November 2015 that PSR was a “short-term, cut-to-the-bone strategy that could cause Norfolk Southern to lose substantial revenues from our service-sensitive customer base.”

In particular Squires said the focus on lowering the operating ratio, which is central to PSR, would drive away truck-competitive traffic.

But earlier this year Squires said during an investor day that NS had adopted PSR “because it works.”

The Trains analysis noted quietly hired a consultant with PSR experience long before Wall Street analysts began asking why NS couldn’t be more like CSX.

Mike Farrell, who had worked at Canadian Pacific when it was run by PSR guru E. Hunter Harrison, studied NS operations with the idea of designing lower-cost, more efficient, and more reliable local and terminal operations, Trains reported.

“At the beginning, NS had one toe in and one foot out, all along testing PSR strategies,” Farrell, now senior vice president of transportation during the investor day.

NS has since began to phase in what it has described as a kinder, gentler version of PSR that will cut costs and provide reliable service while still seeking growth in merchandise and intermodal traffic.

Farrell said NS is seeking to work with customers rather than impose PSR on its customers as CSX did.

Although NS plans to cuts its workforce by 3,000 positions, the Trains analysis said that is about how many employees NS would lose through normal attrition.

Still, like CSX, NS plans to operate fewer and heavier trains.

CN Transportation Chief Departs

February 23, 2019

The chief transportation officer of Canadian National has left his position, ending a career at CN that began in 1985 as a conductor.

John Orr worked his way up to upper management, being appoint to his most recent post in August 2018.

CN would not comment on Orr’s departure, but he was not listed in a recent regulatory filing made earlier this month and his name has been deleted from the CN website.

The chief transportation officer position at CN remains vacant.

Orr, 54, had been based in Homewood, Illinois, and has served as senior vice president of the Southern Region.

There has been speculation he might surface at another Class 1 railroad that is implementing the precision scheduled railroading operating model that CN has practiced for several years.

Ready to Pour the Juice

February 22, 2019

It’s the breakfast hour aboard Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder.

The train is in eastern Washington state and about to pass through some of the route’s most dramatic scenery along the Columbia River.

For the dining car crew, it is the last meal they will serve before arriving in Seattle and some time off.

An Amtrak server holds a carton of orange juice to pour into glasses for passengers eating in her end of the diner.

Indiana House Rejects Hoosier State Funding

February 22, 2019

The House of Representatives of the Indiana legislature rejected on Thursday an amendment to fund the Hoosier State after July 1.

The House voted 59-25 against an amendment offered by State Representative Chris Campbell to keep state funding for the service.

Campbell’s amendment sought $3 million, which had been how much the Indiana Department of Transportation has paid Amtrak in recent years to operate the quad-weekly train.

Another $500,000 has come from Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Rensselaer, and Crawfordsville.

Governor Eric Holcomb had omitted the funding for Amtrak from his budget proposal submitted earlier this year.

Earlier this week a House committee has affirmed leaving out the money for the

The House of Representatives of the Indiana legislature rejected on Thursday an amendment to fund the Hoosier State after July 1.

The House voted 59-25 against an amendment offered by State Representative Chris Campbell to keep state funding for the service.

Campbell’s amendment sought $3 million, which had been how much the Indiana Department of Transportation has paid Amtrak in recent years to operate the quad-weekly train.

Another $500,000 has come from Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Rensselaer, and Crawfordsville.

Governor Eric Holcomb had omitted the funding for Amtrak from his budget proposal submitted earlier this year.

Earlier this week a House committee has affirmed leaving out the money for the Hoosier State.

“We have a lot of students in the West Lafayette, Lafayette area that rely on that transportation to get to and from the university to Indianapolis or Chicago,” Campbell said when asked why she offered the amendment.

She also expressed concern that jobs will be lost if the Hoosier State is discontinued as now seems likely.

The Hoosier State operates on days that the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

The House of Representatives of the Indiana legislature rejected on Thursday an amendment to fund the Hoosier State after July 1.

The House voted 59-25 against an amendment offered by State Representative Chris Campbell to keep state funding for the service.

Campbell’s amendment sought $3 million, which had been how much the Indiana Department of Transportation has paid Amtrak in recent years to operate the quad-weekly train.

Another $500,000 has come from Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Rensselaer, and Crawfordsville.

Governor Eric Holcomb had omitted the funding for Amtrak from his budget proposal submitted earlier this year.

Earlier this week a House committee has affirmed leaving out the money for the Hoosier State.

“We have a lot of students in the West Lafayette, Lafayette area that rely on that transportation to get to and from the university to Indianapolis or Chicago,” Campbell said when asked why she offered the amendment.

She also expressed concern that jobs will be lost if the Hoosier State is discontinued as now seems likely.

The Hoosier State operates on days that the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

The House of Representatives of the Indiana legislature rejected on Thursday an amendment to fund the Hoosier State after July 1.

The House voted 59-25 against an amendment offered by State Representative Chris Campbell to keep state funding for the service.

Campbell’s amendment sought $3 million, which had been how much the Indiana Department of Transportation has paid Amtrak in recent years to operate the quad-weekly train.

Another $500,000 has come from Lafayette, West Lafayette, Tippecanoe County, Rensselaer, and Crawfordsville.

Governor Eric Holcomb had omitted the funding for Amtrak from his budget proposal submitted earlier this year.

Earlier this week a House committee has affirmed leaving out the money for the Hoosier State.

“We have a lot of students in the West Lafayette, Lafayette area that rely on that transportation to get to and from the university to Indianapolis or Chicago,” Campbell said when asked why she offered the amendment.

She also expressed concern that jobs will be lost if the Hoosier State is discontinued as now seems likely.

The Hoosier State operates on days that the tri-weekly Chicago-New York Cardinal does not operate.

Amtrak Eyeing Major Revamp of Its Route Network

February 22, 2019

The big news concerning Amtrak this week was a report in the Wall Street Journal that Amtrak plans to revamp its route network to emphasize new corridors, primarily in the South and West.

The Journal quoted an unnamed Amtrak official as saying: “We are undertaking a major rethinking of the national network and how we offer service on the national network. That study and planning isn’t done yet, and we aren’t prepared to announce any plans or recommendations yet—those will come in our reauthorization proposal.”

The newspaper report said the route restructuring is being prompted in part by a need to replace or retire the aging Superliner fleet devoted to most long-distance trains.

Another factor is that Amtrak must be reauthorized by Congress later this year.

Amtrak officials have been hinting for at least a year at a change in the carrier’s business focus.

During a speech in California, Amtrak President Richard Anderson described the long-distance trains as experiential.

Anthony Coscia, the chairman of the Amtrak board of directors, told the Rail Passengers Association in a meeting last May that in the long term the overall shape of Amtrak’s national network is likely due to population shifts, demographic trends and economic growth.

Coscia expressed Amtrak’s desire to develop corridor routes with strong potential for growth in unserved or lightly served areas.

Writing on the Trains magazine website, columnist Fred Frailey said the implication of the report by the Wall Street Journal is that Amtrak wants to operate daylight service between large city pairs.

Frailey quoted at length the remarks of Amtrak’s Stephen Gardner, a senior executive vice president, at the Rail Trends meeting in New York City last November.

“We’re looking at a different America. They do not live half in the city and half in the country,” Gardner said. “Now the vast majority live in major metropolitan areas. And those metro areas are shifting. The Northeast will be a net loser.

“Where growth is happening is in the South, Mountain West and West. And guess who lives in those metro areas? It’s Millennials, by far.”

Gardner went on to say that this has resulted in a mismatch between population density, transportation demand and Amtrak’s current network.

Frailey speculated that what ultimately may occur is that some of Amtrak’s long-distance routes will be split into segments operating during the daytime.

He cited the example of the Chicago-New Orleans route, which might be broken into Chicago-Memphis and New Orleans-Memphis segments.

FRA Wants California to Return $9.2M

February 22, 2019

The Federal Railroad Administration wants its money back.

In a letter to the California High Speed Rail Authority FRA Administrator Ron Batory asked the state to return $928.62 million that it received for a high-speed rail project that California Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week will be scaled back to a 160-mile line in the Central Valley.

Plans to create a high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco were dropped.

Batory said absent a compelling counter by the state, the agency would terminate the grant.

The letter cited several concerns including the state’s failure to meet matching grant deadlines, missing the project’s 2022 “period of performance” benchmark, an inability to effectively manage delivery of the project, not taking “appropriate corrective actions to ensure delivery of the project,” and failure to produce realistic construction schedules

Batory also said the FRA “is exploring all available legal options” to recover the nearly $2.5 billion in federal funds that have already been spent.

The grant money was awarded to California under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The letter gave state officials until March 5 to show how they have complied with terms of the federal grant.

Roanoke Ridership Continues to Grow

February 22, 2019

Amtrak ridership in Roanoke, Virginia, grew by 9.5 percent between 2018 and 2018.

That stood in contrast to ridership at other cities, which declined during that same period.

Figures released by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation showed that ridership fell in Norfolk decreased by 1.5 percent by 2.2 percent in Newport News, by 8.4 percent in Richmond and by an overall 0.7 percent level for all state-funded trains.

The state’s statistics also showed that patronage of state-funded trains is 60 percent female with most passengers of either gender traveling primarily for pleasure.

Recent figures also show that ridership in Roanoke continue to grow, with more than 15,000 passengers in January. That is an 8 percent increase over ridership in January 2019.