Posts Tagged ‘railroads’

TSA Forms Committee to Advise on Security Issues

April 21, 2019

A committee has been formed to advise the Transportation Security Administration on security issues related to rail and other modes of surface transportation.

The agency said in a news release that members of the committee will represent freight and passengers railroads. Some members will come from the ranks of federal departments and agencies with surface transportation oversight.

Voting committee members from the freight railroad sector include Thomas Farmer, assistant vice president of security at the Association of American Railroads; Herschel Flowers, homeland security manager at Kansas City Southern Railway; Edward Gelnar Jr., vice president of safety and compliance at the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association; Greg Bretzing, senior vice president of global security, safety and corporate affairs at The Greenbrier Cos. Inc.; and Donald Loftis, principle software engineer at Olin Corp.

Voting members representing passenger-rail service include: Lisa Ann Shahade, deputy chief of police for strategic operations at Amtrak; Edward Bruce, director of intelligence, New Jersey Transit; Robert Gatchell, chief safety and security officer of Brightline/Virgin Trains USA; Polly Hanson, director of security, risk and emergency management at the American Public Transportation Association; Ronald Pavlik Jr., chief of police at Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority; Joe Perez, chief of police and security at Metra; Jaime Becerra, chief of transit enforcement and deputy chief of safety and security at North County Transit District; and Robert Finnegan, captain, police administration at Delaware River Port Authority.

TSA said the committee will meet at least twice a year with one meeting open to the public.

PTC Progress Has Been Uneven

December 27, 2017

Less than a quarter of passenger rail lines have positive train control systems in operation on the track that they own, the Federal Railroad Administration reported.

The FRA said freight railroads have implanted PTC on 45 percent of their route miles that are required to have it.

The figures show progress through Sept. 30. The FRA has given conditional certification to eight of 37 railroads required to implement PTC by a Dec. 31, 2018, deadline.

There are 41 railroads that must meet that deadline.

The FRA date showed that 68 percent of freight and 50 percent of passenger locomotive fleets have PTC controls. It also showed that 82 percent of freight and 66 percent of passenger railroad employees have received PTC training.

Among freight railroads, BNSF has made the most progress while among transit systems, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority is nearly ready.

A handful of railroads have reported making little to no progress in installing and implementing PTC.

Somewhat a Reminder of the Streamliner Era Equipment

January 11, 2017


Few people will confuse or equate an Amtrak Amfleet car with the equipment that was built during the streamliner era of American passenger trains.

Amfleet cars and what Amtrak described as its Heritage Fleet were built to different designs. But how does other Amtrak rolling stock compare?

When I ran across this photograph of the rear of a Horizon Fleet car on Amtrak’s Illini departing from the station at Mattoon, Illinois, I began comparing it with a streamliner era car.

I’ve seen many images over the year of a streamliner era passenger car as the last car on a departing train. Like the Horizon fleet, the streamliner era equipment had a boxy design with a rounded roof.

The diaphragm around the doorway that enabled passengers and crew members to move from one car to another are similar. Many trains in the streamliner era had a tail hose just as this Amtrak train does.

I’ve also seen rear markers lights on streamliner equipment similar to those on this Horizon car.

Streamliner equipment often had a folding gate that could be put into place if a car was the last one on the train. I don’t see that on this Horizon car.

In short there are differences, but enough similarities to remind me of passenger equipment from another era.

TSA Mandates RR Workers get Security Training

December 20, 2016

In a regulation published on Dec. 16, the Transportation Security Administration said it will require all “security sensitive employees” of Class I freight railroads, commuter lines, and Amtrak to have formal security training. The rules also will apply to intercity bus companies.

tsa-logoTransportation companies will be required to establish a TSA-approved training program within a year.

Railroad employees expected to be affected by the training requirement are locomotive engineers, conductors, dispatchers and maintenance of way employees.

TSA said in a statement that the security training will focus on the ability “to observe, assess, and respond to security risks and potential security breaches.”

In particular, this will apply to railroad workers engaged in the transport of explosive, toxic, or radioactive cargoes through “high threat urban areas.”

All transportation companies covered by the regulation must appoint security coordinators.
TSA put the estimated cost of implementing the regulations at $90.7 million for freight railroads, and $53.4 million for commuter railroads.

TSA expects to extend the rules it is proposing for railroads and bus companies to maritime operations.

Speed, Glorious Speed

March 11, 2009

The $8 billion allocated to the development of high-speed intercity passenger rail service that was slipped into the economic stimulus bill at the behest of the Obama administration has many dreaming of fast passenger trains. What some have in mind are the type of swift and reliable trains cruising at triple digit speeds that travelers have long enjoyed in Western Europe and Japan.

The quest for faster passenger trains is as old as rail transportation itself. It may be hard to fathom today, but railroads of the middle 19th century were slow and dangerous. Trains could run 15 miles per hour, which some in that era considered reckless or contrary to
how God intended man to travel. But rail travel was faster than walking, riding on horseback, traveling in a horse-drawn wagon or going by boat. Despite the qualms of some about speed, travelers and shippers wanted faster trains. By the 1850s trains were capable of 30 mph.

In the late 19th century, a wave of mergers and consolidations created a network of trunk railroads and competitive pressures prompted them to speed up their passenger trains. I say some of them because for all of the attention paid to the “limiteds” of that era with their opulent coaches, sleeping cars and diners, most trains continued to move rather slowly in terms of trip time.

The development of the air brake helped make faster speeds possible, 60 mph or better. But among the other measures implemented to speed things up were better roadbeds and track, signaling systems and making fewer stops en route, hence the name “limited,” as in
limited stops. The public loved it. News accounts of the late 19th century and early 20th century were replete with such descriptions as fastest schedule yet.

In those days railroads used speed to attract long-distance travelers. Personifying this was the celebrated 1902 launch of a pair of speedsters between New York and Chicago. The Twentieth Century Limited of the New York Central Railroad and the Broadway Limited
of the Pennsylvania Railroad made the 900-mile trip in 24 hours. Eventually this would fall to 16 hours. These trains captivated the public imagination and defined rail travel.
Railroads had speed limits that engineers were to adhere to, but it was common for management to look the other way when engineers exceeded them to make up lost time. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. The legendary Casey Jones was trying to
make up lost time when his train struck the rear of another train in Mississippi in April 1900. Jones died in the accident, but no one else did, largely due to Jones trying to stop his train until the bitter end.

In the 1930s railroads began another effort to speed up their passenger trains, this time to win back passengers lost to airlines, buses and the private automobile. Railroads introduced streamlined passengers trains, some of which were pulled by internal combustion locomotives. These new trains were lighter and able to operate at speeds of 80 to 90 mph while other trains were held to 70 to 80 mph.

During World War II, the government forced the railroads to slow their trains to conserve fuel and for safety reasons due to the heavy volume of war-induced rail traffic. Following the war, the speed restrictions were lifted and many railroads increased the speed limits
for passenger trains.

Then the government stepped in again to slow the trains. The Interstate Commerce Commission in 1947 mandated a top speed of 79 unless the track was equipped with an automatic train stop, automatic train control or a continuous cab signal system. Most
railroad routes lacked this and railroads were not inclined to spend the millions needed to install such an apparatus.

By the late 1950s, many railroads had lost their enthusiasm for passenger trains. Making them run faster was no longer a priority or even a goal. In some places, trains ran slower because financially pressed railroads cut costs by skimping on track maintenance, if not
skipping it altogether. The safety systems that some railroads had installed following the ICC order of 1947 gradually were removed on many lines.

The mid-1960s saw the emergence of a new push for high-speed passenger trains, this time originating within the government. The result was the development of the electrically powered Metroliner between New York and Washington, and the ill-fated Turbo train between Boston and New York. Unlike earlier movements to speed up passenger trains, the idea now was to attract short distance passengers traveling between urban centers.

For much of the Amtrak era, the issue has been less about how fast do the trains go, but whether they operate on time. In some instances, railroads have demanded, and gotten, Amtrak permission to increase the travel time in the name of better on-time performance. While some Amtrak trains in the northeast corridor hit 150 mph, Amtrak trains elsewhere seldom top 79 mph, if that.

Now another push is originating within the government to speed up passenger trains. Actually, this movement is not new. There have been numerous proposals for high-speed rail corridors since the 1970s, but aside from appropriating money for studies, Congress
has never approved the kind of big bucks that it would take to develop these corridors. The $8 billion of the stimulus package notwithstanding, it still hasn’t.

What does this short history of the quest for high-speed rail mean for today’s developments? For one thing it offers a cautionary tale. The efforts of the 1960s to develop high-speed passenger rail failed to spread beyond the northeast corridor. There are many reasons for this, but the list starts with the fact that the freight railroads that own
the tracks “out there” saw no need for the kind of blazing speed that the planners and policy makers had in mind.

Much of the quest for speed over the years had come from within the railroads, first in an effort to remain competitive, and then in an effort to compete with other modes of travel. Finally, the railroads decided they didn’t want to compete with those other modes of
travel and gave up on rail passenger service, fast or otherwise.

The latest attempt to develop high-speed passenger trains comes from outside the railroad industry. Interestingly, those who support the push for high-speed rail argue that highway and air travel have become too congested. Hence, they argue that we need fast passenger trains. In fairness, not everyone who advocates expanded intercity rail passenger service is saying that we need 100 plus mile per hour passenger trains. But speed is never far from the discussion and it is what attracted President Obama to the cause.

Yet aside from a few stretches here and there, most of the routes identified as future high-speed rail corridors involve tracks owned by freight railroads. The new fast trains are either going to have to use those tracks or there will need to be built dedicated high-speed
passenger tracks.

Coal, grain, chemicals, or even trailers and containers do not need to move at triple digit speeds on the open road. Indeed railroads have reoriented themselves when it comes to the concept of speed. The culture of haste that motivated railroads to think of moving trains over the road as fast as possible has given way to way new ways of thinking about how to provide reliable and efficient service. It is not that speed doesn’t figure into the equation, just that it does not in the way that it once did when moving passengers was part of the railroad’s business plan. And for most railroads, moving people at any speed is still not in their long-range plans.