Posts Tagged ‘Association of American Railroads’

AAR Says Amtrak Schedules Are Unrealistic

May 10, 2020

Amtrak’s host railroads appear poised to argue that keeping its trains on time is difficult because the schedules are difficult to meet.

During a recent hearing conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration, Ian Jefferies, CEO of the Association of American Railroads indicated that nearly all Amtrak schedules are unrealistic and it would be a mistake to promulgate on-time standards based upon them.

The FRA is considering setting on-time standards that host railroads would be expected to follow in dispatching passenger trains.

It is yet another in a decade-long legal battle over on-time performance standards that have involved AAR challenging in court a law approved by Congress directing the setting of such standards.

“The freights’ strategy is clear: Get FRA to require Amtrak to lengthen schedules even more, making passenger rail so trip-time uncompetitive that passenger rail dies in the United States,” said Jim Mathews, CEO of the Rail Passengers Association.

Mathews noted that several railroad executives spoke during the FRA hearings about hard hard it is to run a railroad and keep passenger trains on time.

Mathews also took issue with AAR’s assertion that Amtrak schedules have not been changed in decades, saying that many scheduled have been changed repeatedly.

“On time performance was much better before 2013 when Federal court action suspended performance metrics, leaving the freights with no consequences for running late trains,” Mathews said. “And it improved again when certain railroads had a bright public light put on them last year.”

He said that whether trains run on time is dependent upon consequences for host railroads when their dispatching decisions result in late trains.

The FRA is accepting public comment in the case through June 1.

Amtrak’s Michigan Trains are Invariably Late

February 26, 2020

Passengers board an Amtrak train bound for Chicago at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Chances are they will arrive late in the Windy City.

If you’re riding Amtrak in Michigan the chances are your trip is going to be late.

A report by the Detroit Free Press said the on-time rate last year in Michigan was 43 percent. On the Wolverine Service route between Chicago and Detroit it was just 33 percent.

That compared with a national average of between 60 and 70 percent.

Amtrak considers a train late if it is 30 minutes or more behind the published schedule.

Figures released by Amtrak show that the performance of the Michigan trains is getting worse.

On-time performance fell from 71 percent in 2016 and 2017 to 62 percent in 2018.

Amtrak is hoping that as part of a renewal of the federal surface transportation law that Congress will strengthen the law giving passenger trains preference over freight trains.

Marc Magliari, an Amtrak spokesman based in Chicago, said such a law would give the passenger carrier legal leverage to better deal with its host railroads, which Amtrak blames for delaying its trains.

“It’s a very important issue to us because our reliability is suffering,” Magliari said.

The Free Press said it tracked the arrival times of six Amtrak trains in Troy, a Detroit suburb on the Wolverine Service line.

The trains from Chicago varied in lateness from 30 minutes to more than two hours.

Amtrak figures show that the afternoon Wolverine from Chicago to Pontiac, the Detroit suburb that is the terminus of the route, arrived in Troy an average of 42 minutes late.

Six times it was more than an hour late and once in mid-January it was two hours behind schedule.

The newspaper said passengers it spoke with who disembarked at Troy said that although they found the delays annoying they still liked train travel.

In its efforts to put pressure on Congress, Amtrak has created a YouTube video titled Your Right to be on Time that urges viewers to contract lawmakers to complain about late trains and urge them to support legislation “that puts people before freight.”

The video contends that Amtrak’s host railroads are giving their freight trains priority over Amtrak trains in dispatching decisions.

“Usually, it’s what we call freight train interference. That’s when our trains are delayed by slow freight trains ahead of them,” the narrator says in the video.

The video acknowledges that delays can also be caused by such things as weather, track maintenance, mechanical problems with trains, and obstructions on the track.

“You can be certain we’ll tell Congress that the original law setting up Amtrak in 1970 does not allow us to bring litigation over the poor handling of our trains by the freight railroads,” Magliari said. “Imagine paying for a service from someone who knows you can’t go after them in court.”

Magliari said one reason why Amtrak trains are getting delayed by freight trains is that the latter are getting longer and sometimes are too long to put into a siding to allow Amtrak to pass.

The Association of American Railroads, which represents the Class 1 railroads that host Amtrak trains, contends the federal government should fund construction of additional tracks and longer sidings

“It would be nice to see the public coming forward” — that is, with federal and state dollars — “where they have an interest in keeping passengers trains operating,” said AAR’s John Gray, senior vice president for policy and economics.

Much of the track Amtrak uses on the Chicago-Detroit corridor, though, is owned by Amtrak or the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Wolverine Service trains, though, use within the Detroit metropolitan area tracks owned by Conrail, Canadian National and Norfolk Southern.

Amtrak’s Michigan trains use the busy NS Chicago Line to reach Chicago from Northwest Indiana.

MDOT, which helps fund Amtrak service in Michigan, said most of the delays incurred by Amtrak’s Michigan trains occur on that 40-mile stretch of NS.

The agency owns 135 miles of the Wolverine Service route between Kalamazoo and Dearborn. Amtrak owns the track from Kalamazoo to Porter, Indiana.

MDOT spokesman Mike Frezell said Amtrak trains using track that it and MDOT own have largely unimpeded travel there.

“We’re hoping within two years to have speeds up to 110 m.p.h. on portions of that, and we’ll be raising all the speeds through that section,” Frezell said.

He said the objective in raising speeds in the Chicago-Detroit corridor is to make train travel competitive with driving and flying.

Freight Traffic Down 2.1% in May

June 6, 2019

Rail freight traffic was down 2.1 percent in May the Association of American Railroads reported this week.

U.S. railroads originated 1,291,671 carloads in May 2019, which was 28,065 fewer carloads that they handled in May 2018.

The railroads originated 1,315,684 containers and trailers in May 2019, a drop of 5.9 percent, or 82,521 units, from May 2018.

The combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations in May 2019 was 2,607,355, down 4.1 percent or 110,586 carloads and intermodal units from May 2018.

Six of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR posted gains last month.

These included: petroleum & petroleum products, up 13,513 carloads or 25.9 percent; chemicals, up 2,630 carloads or 1.6 percent; and non-metallic minerals, up 2,534 carloads or 12.4 percent. Commodities that fell included: crushed stone, sand & gravel, down 20,358 carloads or 14.6 percent; grain, down 6,830 carloads or 5.7 percent; and primary metal products, down 3,117 carloads or 6.4 percent.

“The current weakness in the rail traffic numbers is due to a combination of factors,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics, John T. Gray. “These include flooding in the Midwest that’s been hindering the operations of railroads and many of their customers.

“More important is heightened economic uncertainty that’s being made worse by increased trade-related tensions; higher tariffs leading to reductions or disruptions of international trade, and lower industrial output. In addition, some rail markets are undergoing rapid change. For example, locally sourced frac sand in Texas is displacing sand that used to be shipped in by rail. Just by themselves, these reduced sand movements are having a material negative impact on total rail carloads.”

Excluding coal, carloads were down 26,417 carloads, or 2.9 percent, in May 2019 compared with May 2018. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 19,587 carloads, or 2.4 percent.

High Court Won’t Hear AAR Passenger Rules Appeal

June 4, 2019

Amtrak and the Association of American Railroads are both claiming victory in the wake of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to decline to review an appeals court ruling in the long-running battle over the authority of federal regulators to established on-time standards for passenger trains.

The latest action by the high court means that a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration may work together to establish on-time metrics to be applied to Amtrak’s host railroads will stand.

The Supreme Court in 2015 had ruled 9-0 that the two could collaborate on those metrics.

However, the DC appeals court has also ruled that part of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has not overturned that ruling, which was made in July 2018.

The appeals court ruled unconstitutional part of section 207, which gave the U.S. Surface Transportation Board the ability to settle disputes over on-time performance metrics and standards by appointing an arbiter to perform binding arbitration.

The court objected to the use of binding arbitration and said Amtrak could not unilaterally impose metrics and standards on a host railroad over its objections.

That same decision upheld the remainder of section 207, which dictated how on-time metrics could be developed.

It was that part of the appeals court decision that AAR appealed to the Supreme Court.

In reaction to the most recent development, Amtrak said in a statement that it is pleased with the decision and looks forward to working with FRA “to develop clear, efficient and impactful metrics that will lead to better on-time performance for Amtrak customers and the entire rail system.”

The AAR in a statement express disappointment with the high court’s refusal to accept its appeal but said it was pleased that the provision pertaining to metrics and standards remains invalidated.

“Freight railroads are committed to providing efficient and reliable service to all their customers and tenant railroads, and we will work with the FRA and Amtrak in a way that recognizes the importance of moving increased freight volume to help support the U.S. economy,” the AAR said.

The legal battle over the on-time standards dates to 2011 when AAR commenced litigation.

The essence of the latest outcome means that although the previous on-time standards are not longer valid, Amtrak and the FRA will have the opportunity to try again to come up with a different set of standards.

That process is expected to take several months and Amtrak’s host railroads may still be dissatisfied with them and seek to have then struck down in court.

Railway Age Washington reporter Frank N. Wilner said the resulting regulatory proceedings and any subsequent litigation could take up another half a decade.

Wilner speculated that the railroad industry might argue in future court cases that the standards amount to an unconstitutional taking of private property without appropriate compensation.

He said the court have yet to rule on what constitutes a reasonable compensation to remedy freight railroad delays and if such compensation even is recoverable.

Rail Freight Traffic Fell 2.4% in April

May 3, 2019

Rail freight traffic fell in April although the Association of American Railroads noted that it still did better than it did in March.

During April, the railroads originated 1,041,544 carloads, down 0.9 percent, and 1,056,146 intermodal loads, down 3.9 percent compared with April 2018.

Combined traffic was 2,097,690 units, a decline of 2.4 percent.

Six of the AAR’s 20 carload commodity categories showed gains. These included petroleum and petroleum products (29.5 percent), metallic ores (5 percent) and coal (1.8 percent).

Posting traffic declines were crushed stone, sand and gravel (10.1 percent), motor vehicles and parts (5.4 percent), and grain (4.7 percent).

“Rail traffic in April was significantly improved compared with March, in part because railroads affected by severe flooding in the Midwest were able to return their operations more toward normal,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John Gray in a statement.

“It appears that some of the economic uncertainty that was prevalent earlier in the first quarter has dissipated, although concerns about trade issues may still be having an impact on rail volumes,” he said.

STB Starts Review of Rule Change Proposal

April 10, 2019

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has started a rule-making proceeding in response to a request that the agency change its railroad performance data reporting rules.

The American Chemistry Council is seeking the changes. The STB noted it has taken no position on the merits of the ACC’s petition, but is seeking more information about the issues that it has raised.

The Association of American Railroads has submitted a reply to the ACC petition.

The chemical shippers want Class 1 railroads and the Chicago Transportation Coordination Office to report certain service performance metrics on a weekly, semiannual and occasional basis.

Specifically, the ACC wants to see rules changed so as to include chemical and plastics traffic as a distinct reporting category, saying that its members use the data to identify, monitor and respond to service issues.

The ACC said having access to performance data helps its members to hold “collaborative discussions with carriers and allows shippers to suggest service adjustments.”

The AAR opposes additional commodity-specific reporting, saying that amending the STB’s performance reporting rules would impose ongoing costs and force railroads to make programing changes to their systems in order to comply.

The ACC and AAR were directed to provide additional information in support of their positions by May 6.

Only 2 Class 1 RRs Saw 1st Quarter Traffic Growth

April 7, 2019

Canadian National and Norfolk Southern were the only two Class 1 railroads to post volume gains in traffic during the first three months of this year.

Those gains were modest, 1 percent for CN and 0.4 percent for NS. These figures were gleaned from Association of American Railroads weekly carload reports and may differ from the AAR’s quarterly report.

CSX traffic was flat compared to the first quarter of 2018 while volumes declined at BNSF, Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific.

BNSF saw its traffic sag 5.1 percent, driven by an 11 decline in coal traffic. However, grain traffic was down 12 percent and intermodal volume fell 5.3 percent.

At CP, carload volume dropped 2.1 percent while UP’s volume dipped 1 percent.

Overall U.S. rail volume rose 1.1 percent in January, fell 1.8 percent in February, and dropped 5.2 percent in March.

Railroad industry observed has attributed the declines to harsh weather conditions during the winter, and flooding in early spring.

They also have said that some shippers rushed to move goods last year ahead of tariffs being imposed in international trade.

U.S. Rail Freight Traffic Fell in March

April 4, 2019

Rail freight traffic on U.S. railroads was down in March nearly across the board.

The Association of American Railroads reported that the carriers originated 957,144 carloads in March 2019, down 8.9 percent, or 93,616 carloads, from March 2018.

Intermodal traffic was 1,065,790 containers and trailers in March 2019, a drop of 1.5 percent, or 16,387 units compared with March 2018.

Combined carload and intermodal originations in March 2019 were 2,022,934, down 5.2 percent, or 110,003 carloads and intermodal units from March 2018.
Four of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month posted gains compared with March 2018.

These included: petroleum and petroleum products, up 8,290 carloads or 21.1 percent; motor vehicles and parts, up 1,215 carloads or 1.8 percent; and non-metallic minerals, up 927 carloads or 6.3 percent.

Declining commodities included coal, down 64,804 carloads or 19.1 percent; grain, down 11,837 carloads or 12.6 percent; and crushed stone, sand, and gravel, down 8,732 carloads or 9.1 percent.

Excluding coal, carloads were down 28,812 carloads, or 4.1 percent, in March 2019 from March 2018. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 16,975 carloads, or 2.8 percent.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first three months of 2019 was 3,195,609 carloads, down 3.1 percent, or 100,800 carloads, from the same period last year; and 3,476,457 intermodal units, down 0.6 percent, or 19,892 containers and trailers, from last year.

AAR Wants Cost-Benefit Analysis in STB Rulmaking

March 17, 2019

The Association of American Railroads has asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to use a cost-benefit analysis procedure whenever it is contemplating making rule changes.

The trade group for Class 1 railroads said that this should “include the “most current and reliable data possible.”

In particular AAR wants the STB to consider a cost-benefit analysis when evaluating the effects of new regulations.

In a news release, the AAR said that current law does not require government regulatory agencies to do a cost-benefit analysis.

However, the trade cross said the STB “would have access to better information and could have substantially greater confidence in critical rulemaking decisions if cost-benefit analyses were performed.”

AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ian Jefferies said that incorporating a cost-benefit analysis would support the board’s goals, which include facilitating a fluid and reliable rail network.

“By adopting the process improvements sought in our petition, we believe the STB would be better positioned to meet its statutory mandate and bring its practices more in line with the spirit of past executive orders, which the board has largely acknowledged to date,” he said in a statement.

AAR Says Freight Traffic Fell in February

March 7, 2019

U.S. freight railroad traffic fell in February, the Association of American Railroads reported this week.

AAR said the railroads originated 999,978 carloads in February 2019, down 2.7 percent, or 28,238 carloads, from February 2018.

The carriers during February originated 1,094,499 containers and trailers, a dip of 0.9 percent, or 9,513 units when compared with February 2018.

Combined U.S. carload and intermodal originations last month were 2,094,477, a decline of 1.8 percent, or 37,751 carloads and intermodal units from February 2018.

AAR said eight of the 20 carload commodity categories it tracks posted gains compared with February 2018.

These included: petroleum and petroleum products, up 8,269 carloads or 20.5 percent; primary metal products, up 1,378 carloads or 3.7 percent; and pulp and paper products, up 1,165 carloads or 5.5 percent.

Commodities that posted declines included: coal, down 22,945 carloads or 6.7 percent; crushed stone, sand, and gravel, down 6,190 carloads or 6.9 percent; and grain mill products, down 2,262 carloads or 5.9 percent.

“It’s impossible to know how much of the sluggishness in rail volumes in February was due to weather and how much was due to weakness in the overall economy, but it seems likely that weather played a role,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John T. Gray in a statement.

“Every winter causes problems for railroads, but this past February on average was noticeably colder than last year in much of the country and that may have been enough to pull rail volumes below last year. That said, trade-related uncertainty hasn’t helped, nor has the economic uncertainty engendered by perceived softness in parts of the economy.”

AAR said that excluding coal, carloads were down 5,293 carloads, or 0.8 percent, in February 2019 from February 2018. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 5,458 carloads, or 0.9 percent.

Total U.S. carload traffic for the first two months of 2019 was 2,238,465 carloads, down 0.3 percent, or 7,184 carloads, from the same period last year; and 2,410,667 intermodal units, down 0.1 percent, or 3,505 containers and trailers, from last year.

Total combined U.S. traffic for the first nine weeks of 2019 was 4,649,132 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 0.2 percent compared to last year.