The top spokesman for the nation’s major freight railroads told Congress the industry is frustrated by a regulatory process that has kept railroads from installing the bulk of the signaling system antennas necessary for positive train control to operate effectively.
Association of American Railroads President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger spoke about the freight rail industry’s inability to get regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to install most of the signaling antennas necessary for PTC. None of the remaining 22,000 communications structures needed for PTC to work have been installed because the FCC almost a year ago ordered the railroads to stop installation work while the agency develops a workable process for the historic preservation review of the structures.
“The FCC’s stop-work order has effectively prevented us from doing what Congress mandated and we’re fully committed to doing – installing a nationwide PTC system,” said Hamberger. “We are caught between a statutory requirement and an unworkable bureaucratic process and don’t see a viable path forward to deploy PTC in a timely manner.”
Railroads have been devoting “massive resources” to PTC, Hamberger said. “They’ve retained more than 2,200 signal system personnel to implement PTC, and to date have spent approximately $4 billion (of their own funds, not public funds) on PTC development and deployment. They expect to spend that much again — approximately $8 billion in total — before development and installation is complete. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent each year after that to maintain the system,” he said.
PTC’s complexity, the enormity of the implementation task, and the fact that much of the technology and engineering applications PTC requires have had to be developed from scratch mean that, despite railroads’ best efforts, much work remains to be done.
The back-and-forth communication key to PTC can take place only if a sophisticated, comprehensive wireless communications network is in place. A key part of this network is a series of thousands of antennas, spaced about every few miles along the 60,000 or so miles over which PTC is being installed on U.S. freight railroads. These antennas are generally around 40-feet tall, and the vast majority are to be installed directly adjacent to the tracks on existing railroad rights-of-way, owned by the railroads, in holes just a few feet deep and a couple of feet wide. In total, approximately 22,000 PTC-related antennas need to be installed.
The railroad industry began working several years ago with the FCC to license the wireless spectrum necessary for PTC, and to its credit, the FCC has worked diligently to address spectrum-related issues, AAR said. Nonetheless, the industry learned just last year that, under the FCC’s interpretation of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), railroads must ascertain, on an antenna-by-antenna basis, if the antennas will harm areas of historic, cultural, or religious significance.
At the center of the challenge is the FCC’s required notification and evaluation process that utilizes the FCC’s “Tower Construction Notification System” (TCNS) for review by Native American tribes. Under that system, railroads must input certain information into the TCNS. That information is then transmitted to any Native American tribe that has expressed interest in the county in which an antenna will be located. The initial information that railroads must input into the TCNS, such as the precise location of the antenna to be installed and its height, is relatively straightforward. That information is then transmitted to interested tribes and the tribe has up to a couple of months to show interest in the proposed antenna site. “If it does so, it can demand much more comprehensive information about that site — such as a complete archaeological history — that can be difficult (if not impossible), costly, and time consuming for the railroad to obtain,” according to the AAR. “Based on railroads’ experiences to date, it takes, on average, three to five months between the time the railroad initially inputs information into the TCNS and the time when all necessary reviews are completed and the antenna can be cleared for installation.”
Multiply this process by 22,000 antennas and it becomes clear why this is such a significant matter, the AAR pointed out.
On Jan. 29, 2014, the FCC proposed a new, streamlined process for PTC-related reviews. “Unfortunately, we do not believe the “streamlined” process will lead to a meaningful reduction in the substantial and excessive delays associated with PTC antenna installation,” AAR said.
Under the streamlined system, the FCC would still require an antenna-by-antenna evaluation. “Perhaps most vexing, even when a tribe cannot identify any specific historic or cultural area or property that could potentially be impacted at any proposed individual antenna site, the tribe can still demand a comprehensive review of the site, which could include field work and the preparation of wide-ranging cultural resource reports and ethnographic studies. The tribe can also demand that railroads dig holes for antenna structures by hand,” the AAR noted.
In AAR’s recent comments on the FCC’s streamlined proposal, it called on the agency to exempt all PTC-related infrastructure no taller than 75 feet located on the railroad right-of-way and not immediately near a known historic property. “If the FCC decides not to pursue an exemption, it should put in place a process that really does expedite the historic review process, provides deadlines on the resolution of disputes, and encompasses all railroads’ PTC infrastructure on the right-of-way. The existing “streamlined” process does none of these things,” the AAR said.
The bottom line is that without further changes to the FCC approval process, AAR warned that the timeline for ultimate deployment of PTC will be delayed significantly. Railroads currently face a PTC implementation deadline of Dec. 31, 2015. “The 2013 construction season was lost for PTC wayside antennas. A new review process at the FCC will not be in place until at least April of this year. If that process takes several months to clear locations, the 2014 construction season will also be in jeopardy,” the AAR said.
AXION International Holdings, Inc. has received a purchase order for 600 ECOTRAX® rail ties from a second Russian metro transit system. The order was acquired through TVEMA, AXION’s in-country distributor and business partner. TVEMA is a Moscow-based international group of companies with subdivisions in design, manufacture, and project development of rail diagnostic equipment.
“We are excited with the progress we have made in developing our business in Russia,” said AXION President and CEO Steve Silverman. “Breaking into a new market with a new technology is a process that takes time. After several years of lab testing and in track trials, we are starting to see the business develop.”
“Russia is the second largest rail network in the world and we have focused resources against this large opportunity,” continued Silverman. “We are extremely pleased with our partnership with TVEMA and look forward to a very fruitful relationship as we continue to progress in the global adoption process for a high quality composite rail tie and continue to build our footprint in Russia.”
ECOTRAX® composite rail ties are made from 100 percent recycled plastic and exceed specifications of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association.
CN has called on its supply chain partners to help it comply with the Canadian government’s unprecedented order requiring the country’s two major railroads to each ship at least 500,000 tonnes of grain per week to ease a massive backlog that is harming farmers.
CN responded to the Order in Council announced on March 7 by Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, which requires CN and Canadian Pacific to increase weekly volumes, over a four-week period, to a combined target of 1,000,000 metric tonnes per week – more than doubling the volume currently being moved. Last year’s record grain crop is putting significant pressure on Western Canada’s grain handling and transportation system.
The government is giving the railways four weeks to ramp up to the minimum level and could impose penalties of up to $100,000 a day if CP and CN don’t meet the new requirement.
A record harvest coupled with a transportation bottleneck has left grain sitting in bins across the Prairies. Last year’s harvest was up by about 20 million tonnes.
CN has to move 10 million more tonnes of export grain, or 50 percent more than any other crop. According to the company, 10 million tonnes is equivalent to twice the amount of export potash CN handles, 25 percent more than the total amount of lumber it moves to export, and almost as much coal as it moves to export in a year.
CN President and CEO Claude Mongeau said that “CN will do its part to meet the challenge of moving this 100-year record grain crop. Our assessment shows that an upper limit of around 5,500 cars per week may be achievable, but only if all members of the supply chain work together closely.”
“No supply chain in the world can reasonably be expected to handle a 10 million tonne increase in traffic on such short notice,” Mongeau continued. “It takes eight months to on-board and train a crew member, and seven to eight months to acquire cars and locomotives.”
Extreme winter conditions made the movement of this year’s record grain crop more difficult, causing a shortfall of around 10,000 carloads (around one million tonnes) compared to a normal winter grain flow. CN has moved approximately 10.5 million tonnes of grain from prairie Canada this crop year even after grain elevators shipped at least 10,000 carloads less than the available rail capacity in August. This throughput is on par with the average to-date performance over the last five crop years. CN’s grain performance to date benefited from record spotting performance from September to November, until extreme cold weather hit much of North America in December.
As soon as weather conditions permit and a strong Thunder Bay program starts, CN has indicated to the federal government its intention to ramp up towards 5,500 cars delivered to country elevators each week. CN will have the resources – locomotives, cars and crews – in place to support this record weekly spotting level. CN believes it can sustain this level of delivery, provided that there is strong collaboration from all partners in the supply chain – grain companies, country and terminal elevators. Critical factors will include: use of all sale corridors; timely loading and unloading of grain cars; and encouragement from the federal government to act in a collaborative manner in the grain supply chain.
“Hard work, joint objectives and a true spirit of collaboration will be essential to the industry being able to meet the very aggressive targets that have been set today by the federal government,” Mongeau said.
CN believes that the Minister of Agriculture’s call to introduce more regulation for grain transportation is both ill-advised and seriously counter-productive. “More regulation would lead to adversarial relationships within the supply chain at a time when collaboration is essential,” he said. “Sound policy calls for exactly the opposite: a more collaborative and commercial framework is what Canada needs to support a world-class grain growing sector.”
Watco Companies has named Bob Billings regional vice president of marketing for the northeast region. Billings will support the northeast region marketing team’s effort to create organic revenue growth across the region. The northeast region consists of the Ann Arbor, Grand Elk and Pennsylvania Southwestern railroads.
Billings has approximately 20 years of railroad industry experience. He began his career with Norfolk Southern. He started working at Ann Arbor Railroad in 1998, where he held various positions, including vice president operations/marketing & sales. He joined Watco in 2013 with the acquisition of the Ann Arbor Railroad as General Manager.
Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), a commercial real estate, transportation, and infrastructure company, has appointed Julie Edwards chief marketing officer of All Aboard Florida. Edwards will be responsible for the marketing strategy supporting the launch of All Aboard Florida, the first privately owned and operated passenger rail system in the United States. The rail, developed by FECI, will connect Miami to Orlando with intermediate stations in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
“Julie brings more than 25 years of in-depth marketing and branding expertise, developing high-profile consumer technology and hospitality brands,” said Don Robinson, All Aboard Florida president and chief operating officer. “Her ability to create revenue-driving marketplace demand and awareness domestically and internationally makes Julie a tremendous asset to All Aboard Florida.”
Edwards joins as All Aboard Florida nears completion of its leadership team appointments, according to All Aboard Florida President and Chief Development Officer, Mike Reininger. “With the project moving into construction this year, our team’s preparations for launch of service will begin in earnest with Julie now on the team. Her deep knowledge of the industry and proven track record in strategic planning will be invaluable as we introduce the most highly-anticipated passenger rail service in the United States.”
For 11 years, Edwards was a lead consultant in establishing and rebranding NAVTEQ, which is now Nokia. She has worked with numerous FORTUNE 500 companies on marketing and branding and has led cross marketing efforts at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Cedar Fair Entertainment and other theme parks and resort brands.
Edwards earned a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Kentucky.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will hold the public forum “Rail Safety: Transportation of Crude Oil and Ethanol” to examine the safety issues associated with the transportation of crude oil and ethanol by rail. The forum will be held April 22-23 in Washington, D.C.
The forum will explore DOT-111 tank car design, construction and crashworthiness; rail operations and risk management strategies; emergency response challenges and best practices; and federal oversight.
“While the soaring volumes of crude oil and ethanol traveling by rail has been good for business, there is a corresponding obligation to protect our communities and our environment,” stated Deborah A.P. Hersman, NTSB chairman. “This forum will explore both the risks and opportunities that exist to improve the safety of transporting these important commodities.”
The forum is free and open to the public, and no registration is needed. A detailed agenda and list of participants will be released closer to the date of the event and made available on the NTBS website.
Amtrak has announced its plans for key improvement projects for the 2014 year. Highlights include continued installation of positive train control (PTC) safety technology, upgrading the Northeast Corridor high-speed rail and improving station accessibility for passengers with disabilities.
President and CEO Joe Boardman remarked on the improvements, saying, “With limited federal capital funding we are doing the work that needs to be done to keep the railroad operating and taking action where we can to achieve safety, operational and passenger travel improvements. ” He added, “However, to truly realize the mobility and economic benefits offered by passenger rail, there must be dedicated federal funding to support a multi-year planning and construction program.”
Amtrak’s key improvement projects for 2014 are:
- PTC – Amtrak will continue to install PTC systems on an additional 1,200 track-miles and obtain radio spectrum needed to transmit data to operate the newly installed PTC technology. Amtrak is on target to meet a 2015 federal deadline on PTC installations.
- Improvements to Northeast Corridor High-Speed Rail – Amtrak will begin major construction on a 23-mile section of the Northeast Corridor in New Jersey between Trenton and New Brunswick to increase top train speeds to 160 mph from 135 mph. They will upgrade track and various elements of the electrical and signal systems to support the higher speeds. Track switches will be reconfigured at New York’s Penn Station to mitigate congestion issues.
- Accessible Stations Development (ADA) Program – Amtrak will continue with existing construction work at eight stations in three states and new construction at 21 stations in eight additional states to improve access for passengers with disabilities. Necessary ADA-related design work will be completed for 61 stations in 20 states.
- Gateway Program – Amtrak will continue working on the Gateway Program including plans to expand track, tunnel and station capacity between Newark, N.J., and Penn Station in New York. Work will continue on the construction of a concrete casement through the Hudson Yards commercial development project to preserve a possible pathway for a future Hudson River Tunnel into Manhattan. Amtrak will also be developing designs to replace assets on the Northeast Corridor Line such as the Maryland Susquehanna River Bridge, the New York Pelham Bay Bridge, the Connecticut River Bridge and the Maryland B&P Tunnel.
- Infrastructure Work – Amtrak‘s 2014 maintenance program includes the installation or replacement of approximately 165,000 cross ties, 23 miles of rail, and several dozen track switches, turnouts and interlockings. Sections of its electrical and signal systems along the Northeast and Keystone Corridors also will be upgraded. Several maintenance projects will be done on Amtrak’s property in Chicago, New Orleans and elsewhere in the country. Amtrak is also taking part in several state-led projects to upgrade tracks and signal systems between Kalamazoo and Dearborn, Mich., Poughkeepsie and Albany, N.Y., and New Haven, Conn. and Springfield, Mass.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has reported a 1.1-percent increase (10,729 units) in U.S. intermodal traffic for February 2014 when compared to February 2013. Total containers and trailers were reported at 993,807 units. This is the 51st-consecutive year-over-year monthly increase for intermodal volume. February 2014 U.S. carload originations totaled 1,100,858, a decrease of 1.1 percent or 12,061 carloads when compared to February 2013.
Nine commodities showed gains in the number of carloads shipped in February 2014 when compared to February 2013. Grain reported the largest increase at 12.3 percent or 8,696 carloads. Grain mill products were up 10.1 percent or 3,645 carloads. Coal showed the largest decrease in the commodity group, down by 3.5 percent or 15,571 carloads from February 2013 while primary metal products decreased 7.2 percent or 3,092 carloads. Excluding coal and grain, carloads were down 0.9 percent or 5,186 carloads in February 2014 when compared to February 2013.
AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray commented on the February numbers, saying, “It would be nice to be able to separate out the effects of the harsh winter on rail traffic, but we can’t do that. We can probably expect improvements in the rail numbers in the months ahead, assuming that the weather and the economy cooperate.” “In the meantime,” continued Gray, “crude oil has become a significant part of the railroad business. Railroads know how important it is to move crude oil safely, and they are committed to continually searching for ways to make this happen.”
AAR also reported rail traffic for the week ending March 1, 2014. U.S. railroads originated 287,294 carloads, an increase of 1.4 percent compared to the same week in 2013. Intermodal volume was up 3.4 percent over the same week in 2013, with the weekly total at 257,710 units. Total U.S. rail traffic for the week was 545,004 carloads and intermodal units, up 2.3 percent compared with the same week in 2013.
Increases were reported for four commodities compared with the same week in 2013. The largest increase was in grain, up 14.3 percent with 19,746 carloads. Nonmetallic minerals and products were up 11.5 percent with 31,793 carloads reported. Metallic ores and metals showed the largest decrease with 23,863 carloads for the week, down 5.2 percent.
The first nine weeks of 2014 showed a decrease of 0.3 percent for U.S. railroads cumulative volume (2,446,042 carloads) when compared to the same time period in 2013. Intermodal units were reported at 2,177,092, an increase of 1.2 percent from last year. Total U.S. traffic was 4,623,134 carloads and intermodal units for the first nine weeks of 2014, an increase of 0.4 percent compared to same time last year.
Canadian railroads reported a decrease of 11.8 percent for carloads when compared to the same week in 2013. Carloads for the week totaled 71,203. Intermodal units for the week were 54,344, an increase of 3 percent compared with 2013.
For the first nine weeks of 2014, Canadian railroads saw a decrease of 7.9 percent compared to the same nine weeks in 2013, with a reported cumulative volume of 635,287 carloads. Intermodal units saw a 0.8 percent decrease, with 455,652 intermodal units reported.
Mexican railroads reported 14,726 carloads for the week, a decrease of 2.6 percent when compared to 2013. Intermodal units were reported at 9,455, a decrease of 11.9 percent compared to the same week in 2013.
For the first nine weeks of 2014, Mexican railroads cumulative volume was 132,441 carloads, up 1.5 percent from 2013, and 85,860 intermodal units, down 1 percent.
For the first nine weeks of 2014, combined North American rail volume on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 3,213,770 carloads, a decrease of 1.8 percent compared with the same period in 2013, and 2,178,604 trailers and containers, an increase of 0.8 percent compared with last year.
Watco Companies has appointed Larry McCloud as the new general manager for the Grand Elk Railroad (GDLK). McCloud will be responsible for daily operations, where he will focus on improving safety, productivity and efficiency.
McCloud has 39 years of experience in the railway industry. Prior to joining Watco, he was vice president of operations for Industrial Railway since 1997. McCloud served as president of the Tuscola Saginaw Bay Railroad from 1991 to 1997. He was also vice president at RailAmerica from 1986 to 1991. Earlier in his career, he held a variety of positions at C&O Railway, including brakeman, conductor, fireman, engineer, yardmaster, and trainmaster.
Short line pioneer Marjorie “Maggie” Pinsly Silver has passed away. A memorial service is planned for March 12 in New York City.
She retired from the Pinsly Railroad Co. in 1997, following a more than 40-year career at the company her late father Samuel Pinsly started in 1938. She worked for the railroad company since 1965 and upon her father’s death in 1977, she succeeded him as president. In 2000, she became chairman of the board and her son, John P. Levine, became president.
Based in Westfield, Mass., the company owns and operates seven short line railroads: Pioneer Valley Railroad, Florida Central, Florida Midland and Florida Northern Railroads, the Arkansas Midland Railroad, The Prescott and Northwestern Railroad Company and the Warren & Saline River Railroad Company. The company also operates Railroad Distribution Services, a wholly owned subsidiary that functions as a full-service warehouse, reload, and distribution center.
In 1978, Silver joined the board of the then-called American Short Line Railroad Association and was the first elected vice president of the Eastern Region in 1989. At the end of her term, she was named director emeritus, and remained active in the association’s and the board’s activities in her retirement.
She left her mark as an accomplished owner of short lines, as a leader on the short line association’s board and as a mentor for hundreds of women just starting out their careers in the railroad industry.
She is survived by her husband, Robert “Bob” Glenn Smith, her children John Levine of Northampton, Mass., Anne Levine of Newton, Mass., Marc Levine of Fairfield, Conn. and Dr. James Levine of Granby, Mass. She was the stepmother of Leslie Smith of Ridgefield, Conn., and Lindsey Smith Hill of Newport, R.I., and grandmother of Natalie Levine, Samuel Kooris, Lily Levine, Sara Jackson, Jeremy Levine, Evan Smith, Stephen Paolini, and Maya Levine. A memorial service will be held at Frank E. Campbell-The Funeral Chapel, 1076 Madison Ave (81 St.) New York City on March 12 at 3:30 p.m.