Archive for the ‘Other News’ Category

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.

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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.

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.

WisARP Seeks Support for Another Amtrak Train

February 22, 2019

The Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers recently held town hall meetings in an effort to drum up support for a second Amtrak daily train between Chicago and Twin Cities.

West of Milwaukee Amtrak’s only service is the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Wisconsin passenger rail supporters have said a second train is needed to provide more reliable service.

The westbound Empire Builder is usually on time when it reaches Milwaukee, but its eastbound counterpart is often late, sometimes by hours when it arrives in the dairy state.

WisARP Presdient Terry Brown said that makes it difficult for passengers traveling from the central and western parts of the state.

“Its schedule has become crazy,” Brown said. “It is unreliable, it is chronically late.  But it’s not late in a predictable pattern.”

The group favors a second train that would be scheduled to reach Milwaukee in mid-morning westbound and during the evening hours eastbound.

The departments of transportation of Wisconsin and Minnesota have studied supporting a second Chicago-Twin Cities train, but not commitments to fund it have been made.

The town hall meetings were held in Tomah and Portage.

AAR Calls for Gax Tax Hike, Highway User Fees

February 16, 2019

The Association of American Railroads is calling for an increase in the federal gasoline tax as well as a user-based fee system in an effort to maintain the fiscal viability of the Highway Trust Fund.

The recommendations were contained in the trade group’s national infrastructure priorities for 2019.

Not surprisingly, AAR wants Congress to reject efforts to increase the permissible weight and length limits on trucks. AAR has long opposed increased in those limits.

Other items on the AAR wish list include maintaining a balanced structure of economic regulation, streamlining the infrastructure project permitting process, promoting private partnerships and supporting the Section 130 program to improve grade crossings.

High-Speed Rail Decision Draws Mixed Reviews

February 16, 2019

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to scale back his state’s high-speed rail project triggered no shortage of views, including a tweet from President Trump calling on the state to return $3.5 billion it received for the project.

Newsom rejected that, saying the project may be smaller but is still being built.

The governor has proposed that the high-speed line be completed in California’s Central Valley. Trump called the program a “green disaster.”

Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Trump’s efforts to claw the money back won’t be easy so long as California meets all of the required guidelines of the grant.

LaHood was head of the U.S. Department of Transportation when the grant was awarded and believes that California has California correctly used the funds.

He called Newsom’s decision “short-sighted.

However, the American Public Transportation Association supported Newsom’s decision, saying it would still result in the creation of thousands of jobs and produce dramatic improvements in mobility through clean, efficient public transportation.

Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passengers Association, had a pragmatic take, saying Newsom’s decision recognized that many in California had lost faith in the ability of the project’s managers to complete it.

In a statement, Mathews said that even a shortened high-speed rail service would go a long way toward restoring public trust, but said the line must eventually connect to urban areas in the north and south of the state.

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada also offered support for Newsom’s decision, but called for “improved rail service and transportation capacity to California travelers, especially those residing in the San Joaquin Valley.”

CSX Continues to Seek to Sell Some Routes

February 16, 2019

CSX continue to seek to sell 4,500 route miles to short-line and regional railroads, but it unclear if any of those segments are used by Amtrak.

The sales announced thus far and those known to be in process do not include any tracks used by Amtrak.

The 4,500 miles CSX is seeking to unload includes 1,325 miles that have been sold or on the sale block.

Trains magazine reported this week that the Class 1 carrier might lop off another 500 to 1,500 route miles that are under scrutiny for their economics.

The magazine said those lines could be retained if their financial number improve.

In 2017 CSX began reviewing the potential sale of 8,000 route throughout its network.

CSX operates 21,000 route miles and the lines it is eyeing selling it has described as low-density or redundant.

Eventually, the railroad has proposed slimming down to 16,500 route miles.
The carrier has said it wants buyers who can grow traffic on the affected lines.

FRA Status Report Shows PTC Progress Continuing

February 16, 2019

In its latest status report, the Federal Railroad Administration said all railroads affected by a Dec. 31, 2018, statutory deadline to install positive train control met the mandate of full implementation or submitting requests demonstrating they had met or exceeded the statutory criteria for an alternative schedule.

The latter would enable the carriers to have two additional years to complete full implementation.

Under federal law, 41 railroads, including passenger rail agencies, were required to meet the Dec. 31 deadline.

In a news release, the FRA said it drew its conclusion about compliance based on self-reported data from the affected railroads.

The FRA said all railroads satisfied the six statutory criteria necessary to qualify for an extension.

PTC was in operation in the fourth quarter of 2018 on 46,000 of the 58,000 route miles where the technology systems must be deployed.

PTC systems were in revenue service demonstration on an additional 288 route miles.

The key remaining steps for full PTC implementation includes conducting revenue service demonstration (advanced testing on the general rail system), submitting a PTC Safety Plan and obtaining PTC System Certification from the FRA, achieving interoperability between host railroads and tenant railroads, and activating the PTC system so it governs all operations on the required main lines.

The latest status report showed that as of Dec. 31, 2018, host railroads’ operations are governed by a PTC system on 83 percent of the freight railroad route miles subject to the mandate and 30 percent of the required passenger railroad route miles.

Of approximately 233 host-tenant railroad relationships, 16 percent have reportedly achieved PTC system interoperability as of Dec. 31, which means the locomotives of a host railroad and a tenant railroad operating on the same main line can communicate with and respond to the PTC system, including uninterrupted movements over property boundaries.

The FRA said it has conditionally certified 12 host railroads’ PTC systems, based on their PTC Safety Plans; two PTC Safety Plans are currently under review; and 23 additional PTC Safety Plans must be submitted by June 2020.

Thirty-three railroads have submitted a written notification formally requesting FRA’s review and approval of an alternative schedule and sequence, and as of Feb. 11 the agency had formally approved 25 requests.