During a presentation at the annual RailTrends Conference held this week in New York City, Edward R. Hamberger, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) president and CEO, addressed the need for a strong and robust freight rail network to meet the changing demands on the nation’s rail industry.
“A healthy and efficient freight rail network is vital to delivering America’s changing economy. America’s railroads are moving more traffic since the recession. Business production and consumer demand are increasing, and rail is playing a bigger part in getting American goods to market,” said Hamberger.
Hamberger pointed out that several factors are resulting in the rail industry working hard to meet immediate shipping demands and considering longer-term adjustments to their networks. Some of the factors include rail traffic that has increased from comparatively light to heavy traffic in a short period of time and the demand to transport a mix of more commodities.
“Railroads cannot simply pick-up track and move it from one location to another due to shifting shipping patterns,” said Hamberger. “It takes time and careful network planning. To accommodate the shipping needs of customers, the rail industry has to be flexible, efficient and responsive. This includes railroads spending about $1 billion every two weeks on operational enhancements and hiring thousands of Americans for new jobs.”
Hamberger said while the U.S. rail industry is well-positioned to drive the nation’s economy, the potential of any new government regulation would undercut industry efforts to manage the rail network.
“In order for the freight rail industry to meet demands of our nation’s growing and changing economy, we need to ease regulatory roadblocks that curtail the industry’s ability to address service pressures,” Hamberger added. “New restrictive regulation would be imposed on the nation’s railroads at exactly the wrong time, when investments in capacity, new equipment and new hires are needed.”
The AAR has reported strong growth in rail traffic, with total U.S. carload and intermodal volume for the first 10 months of 2014 reaching 24.3 million units, up 4.5 percent over the same period last year. It was the highest year-to-date total since 2007. October 2014 was the best month in history for U.S. rail intermodal traffic and was up 5.5 percent over 2013. The month of October also saw year-over-year carload increases for 15 of the 20 carload commodity categories tracked by the AAR each month.
General Electric Transportation (GE) is upgrading 26 diesel engine locomotives for the Philippine National Railway (PNR). This will be PNR’s first major upgrade to the locomotives since acquiring them in 1992.
Jocot de Dios, CEO of GE Philippines, said, “It signals the government’s commitment to improve the transportation infrastructure – especially at a time when the public needs alternative forms of transportation.”
The upgrade is through a contracted consortium of Meralco’s subsidiary Miescorrail and Desco Inc., an energy sector servicing firm. A ceremonial contract signing was attended by officials from the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), PNR, Miescorrail, Desco, and PNR’s locomotive engine supplier, GE.
Joseph Dilay, vice-chairman and general manager of PNR, said at the ceremony, “This GE locomotive modernization and upgrade project is a significant milestone in our journey to become a progressive national railway company.”
According to Dilay, modernizing its fleet allows PNR to provide more reliable train service to the public with Metro Manila, its suburbs and the Bicol region.
The upgrade will begin in the first quarter of 2015 with the diesel engines of two locomotives shipped to a GE facility for a complete upgrade. The engines will then be shipped back to the Philippines, reassembled, and delivered to PNR. Other parts of the locomotives, including brakes and alternators, will be repaired in the Philippines by Miescorrail and Desco engineers.
A third engine will then follow the same procedure, with all three engines expected to be finished by the end of 2015.
“Efficient transport is a critical component of economic development,” stated Mohamed Butt, president and CEO of GE Transportation Asia Pacific. “The railways are an efficient means of transportation, connecting producers and consumers. If you are able to invest in the rail business, you can help advance the free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labor and, free flow of capital, helping the country’s economy thrive.”
Bombardier Transportation was awarded a contract worth approximately US$227 million from the UK company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) for 27 new ELECTROSTAR four-car trains. The 108 cars will be designed and manufactured at Bombardier’s Derby facility.
The new train sets will include easier access for passengers with luggage, improved storage space, two by two seating and WiFi. The trains will be used on the Gatwick Express line that travels from London to the Gatewick Airport.
GTR CEO and Managing Director of Southern Charles Horton said, “This is great news for our Gatwick passengers, but also for those traveling from Brighton as in the off-peak season, some of these trains will be extended to there, while still maintaining the fast connection between Victoria and Gatwick.”
Bombardier is currently delivering 116 new Class 387/1 carriages to GTR to fulfill a 2013 contract. These trains are scheduled to enter service early in 2015 on the Bedford to Brighton line. The new order for 108 additional cars formed an option within the original 2013 contract.
“We took over the operation of the Thameslink route in September and we are already introducing new trains that will transform our passengers’ journeys on services between Bedford and Brighton,” added Horton.
“These new British built trains are great news for passengers and a boost for the economy,” said UK Rail Minister Claire Perry. “They will transform journeys on the Gatwick Express and Thameslink routes and safeguard jobs at Bombardier’s Derby factory.”
“As part of our long term economic plan over £38 billion is being invested in improving our railways over the next five years and it’s great to see companies like GTR investing in the service it provides for its customers,” continued Minister Perry.
The ELECTROSTAR is in daily passenger service with other UK train operators, including c2c, Southeastern, London Overground, and Stansted Express. The Gautrain railway in Johannesburg, South Africa, also operates ELECTROSTAR trains.
Union Pacific Railroad is investing $12 million in the rail line between West Chicago and Franklin Grove, Ill., replacing railroad ties and rock ballast and renewing rail. The project, which began October 1, is expected to be completed by the middle of December.
UP will replace nearly 39,000 concrete railroad ties and install 8,400 tons of rock ballast between Elburn and Franklin Grove. In addition, crews will replace more than 11 miles of rail and renew the surfaces at 20 road crossings between West Chicago and Elburn.
“Union Pacific helps businesses connect with consumers, suppliers and markets across the nation and around the world,” said Donna Kush, UP vice president of public affairs for the northern region. “In addition to helping move our customers’ goods safely and efficiently, our investments support communities by reducing traffic congestion, facilitating industrial development and promoting economic expansion.”
This project in Illinois is one of nearly 1,500 Union Pacific will complete across its 32,000-mile network this year to help improve train operating efficiency, reduce motorist wait times at crossings and enhance safety.
A select committee of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board has approved contracts for the purchase of inward- and outward-facing cameras for the Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road fleets. A total of 2,064 rail cars and locomotives will be outfitted under the base, $34.6 million 36-month contract.
The outward-facing cab cameras will be installed to record track and wayside activities and inward-facing cameras will record the engineer’s control area while the train is in operation. The two railroads will also incorporate passenger area cameras to improve passenger and crew safety.
In February, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended installing camera systems on the lines. MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast immediately directed the MTA’s Commuter Railroads to begin the design, engineering, fabrication, delivery and installation of on board cameras.
“Cameras provide another measure of safety and security intended to ensure our trains operate as well as possible and reassure our customers,” said Prendergast. “They will aid investigations after accidents and other incidents, as well as deter behaviors that could affect safe train operations.”
The selection committee unanimously recommended awarding 4D Security Solutions for LIRR for $16.7 million and Sepsa North America for Metro-North for $17.9 million.
In March, Metro-North, on behalf of the LIRR, requested and received board approval to use the Request for Proposal process to procure the cameras because of the complexity of implementing such a system.
The contract now will be considered by the full MTA Board.
Alstom, leader of a consortium with Alcatel Lucent Romania and Pas 97 Impex, will supply its Atlas 200 European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) Level 2 solution to the Romanian Sighișoara-Coșlariu-Simeria high-speed rail segment. Alstom’s share of the contract with the Romania National railway company (Compania Naţională de Căi Ferate (CFR S.A.) is worth approximately €100 million.
CFR S.A. is modernizing and upgrading the signaling system on the 170 km railway segment with the final work to be completed in 40 months. With the installation of the new signaling system, the commercial transportation speed will increase from 120 km/h to 160 km/h.
“We have carefully decided on the best solutions for this particular rail segment. This deal will greatly contribute to fast and safe rail transport in the region,” said Gabriel Stanciu, managing director of Alstom Transport in Romania.
Alstom will provide one regional train to CFR S.A., a Coradia Polyvalent dual-mode (electric and diesel) that is fully equipped with testing capabilities. The Coradia Polyvalent is the only generation of trains to have a low floor throughout and to integrate bi-modal drive systems. The Polyvalent bi-modal power supply system reduces the train’s environmental impact, aligning its operating mode to existing infrastructure on electrified and non-electrified lines.
“The passengers will not only appreciate the increased speed and the enhanced comfort on the upgraded section, but also the design and the capabilities of the test train, showing what could be the solution for future passenger transportation needs in the country,” added Stanciu.
Alstom’s ERTMS technology is currently contracted in 23 countries covering 12,500 km and more than 4,600 trains and is in use on 7 of the world’s 12 high speed lines. It is the second project with Atlas 200 in Romania.
Valley Metro, the regional transit system for the Phoenix metropolitan area, is hosting a public meeting to give updated information on the Tempe Streetcar route and to request comments from the public on stop locations and traffic configuration.
The current recommended three-mile proposed Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) includes a one-mile downtown counter-clockwise loop on Mill and Ash Avenues connecting to bi-directional service along Apache Boulevard and Rio Salado Parkway. The route was supported by the Tempe City Council earlier this year in June.
The Tempe Streetcar Project was adopted locally and regionally into the Regional Transportation Plan in 2010 as a one-way loop between Rio Salado and University Drive, going north on Mill Avenue and south on Ash Avenue in the City of Tempe, Ariz. Valley Metro and the city of Tempe, along with a Community Working Group made up of residents and business owners along the proposed line, defined where the streetcars would travel and stop. The plan was approved by Tempe City Council in fall 2011.
In April 2013, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approved the Tempe Streetcar into Project Development, which is the first step in receiving federal approval. The updated route must now be shared with the community, coordination with the FTA must continue, and regional route approval must be sought from the Valley Metro Rail and Maricopa Association of Governments boards.
The Tempe Streetcar project has an estimated cost of $175-190 million and will be funded using regional Proposition 400 funds, federal grant dollars, and potential other sources. The City of Tempe will be responsible for operating costs.
The Public Open House will be held on December 1, 2014, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Tempe Transportation Center on 200 E. Fifth Street in Tempe.
Short line giant Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (G&W) has reached a $40 million cash deal with Pinsly Railroad Company to acquire subsidiaries that constitute Pinsly’s Arkansas Division. The parties expect the transaction to be completed in early January 2015.
Based in Jones Mills, Ark., Pinsly Arkansas includes the Arkansas Midland Railroad, which is comprised of seven non-contiguous branch lines; the Prescott & Northwestern Railroad; and the Warren & Saline River Railroad; as well as the two Arkansas transload operations of Pinsly’s Railroad Distribution Services subsidiary. Operations are composed of 137 miles of owned and leased track, 70 employees and 16 locomotives and serve the Hot Springs and Little Rock areas, as well as the southwestern and southeastern portions of the state. The railroads currently haul approximately 35,000 carloads per year and serve a diverse customer base, including aluminum, forest products, aggregates, energy and carton board.
If the deal is approved by government regulators, Pinsly Arkansas will be run as part of G&W’s Central Region, which includes six existing short lines in Arkansas.
In 2015, G&W estimates that Pinsly Arkansas will contribute approximately $5.4 million of EBITDA, including certain net cost savings.
Jack Hellmann, president and CEO of G&W, commented, “Over the past 22 years, the Pinsly team has built an impressive cluster of short line railroads in Arkansas, with a clear focus on safety and customer service. Following the acquisition, G&W will own nine short line railroads in Arkansas, and we are excited about the opportunity to support and drive further economic growth in the state.”
John Levine, president and CEO of Pinsly, added that “Pinsly Railroad Company is very pleased to be transitioning ownership of its Arkansas Division to Genesee & Wyoming. G&W is a highly respected leader in our industry and our customers, employees and communities will be well positioned for continued growth and success in the coming years. I am very pleased and proud of the accomplishments of our talented and dedicated Arkansas team over the past 22 years. We look forward to working with G&W towards a successful closing and transition of the business in January 2015.”
G&W owns short line and regional freight railroads in the United States, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium.
The Board of Directors of Metra, the commuter rail agency serving counties in the Chicago area, unanimously approved a budget and capital program for 2015.
The budget includes an average fare increase of 10.8 percent across all fare types that will help fund a modernization plan as well as the increasing costs of operating the commuter rail service. Metra will be restoring a discount on 10-ride tickets that was eliminated in 2013.
The 2015 capital budget allocates $92 million to rolling stock, $36.9 million to tracks and structure, $131.6 million for signal, electrical and communication work (including $123 million for PTC), $44.5 million for facilities and equipment, $9.4 million to stations and parking and $14.5 million to support activities.
“We are continuously looking for ways to run this agency as effectively and efficiently as possible,” said Martin J. Oberman, chairman of the Metra Board of Directors. “But the simple fact is that cost containment can only go so far. Through this budget, Metra is demonstrating that it is spending the dollars necessary to maintain service and taking the steps necessary to invest in its future.”
In recent years, Metra identified $5.9 million in efficiencies that will continue to reduce costs in 2015, including a renegotiated agreement with the South Shore Line, which will reduce costs by $2.3 million in 2015, $3.3 million in savings in maintenance costs, $3.8 million in employee health care cost savings and $700,000 in security cost reductions.
Despite the efficiencies, the Board included an amendment directing staff to prepare a detailed report by January 2015 outlining whether additional costs can be cut without reducing or eliminating service.
Metra’s 2015 budget includes $753.1 million for operations and $328.9 million for capital needs. The budget also projects expenses to grow by $51.5 million in 2015. Increase in funding from external sources will total $18 million.
The Board of Trustees of the Town of Cicero, Ill., has adopted the Cicero Connections Plan, which recommends transportation and development enhancements for the town over the next 20 years. The plan includes ways to improve rider access to buses and trains as well as attract development to nearby transit stations, including the Cicero Metra station and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Pink line stations.
The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), which oversees financial and transit planning for the Chicago area, provided $118,503 in Community Planning funds toward the Plan, with the Town of Cicero contributing $29,626.
“Through this project, the Town of Cicero and the RTA will be able to provide residents better transportation options and encourage more people to use the region’s transit system,” said Cicero Town President Larry Dominick. “I appreciate the time and effort of the Town’s staff and our consultants, The Lakota Group.”
“This couldn’t have been accomplished without the funds and technical assistance provided by the RTA and the West Central Municipal Conference, and the multi-jurisdictional cooperation this work received from Metra, Illinois Department of Transportation, Chicago Transit Authority, Pace Suburban Bus, Cook County and many others,” said Dominick.
The RTA’s Community Planning Program has completed more than 100 transit-oriented development and implementation plans since the late 1990’s using a combination of RTA, local and federal funds, totaling nearly $10 million.
“The RTA is pleased to contribute to Cicero’s vision and implementation by providing funds and technical assistance to develop their plan,” said RTA Executive Director Leanne Redden. “The Town’s efforts to develop this plan illustrate the type of transit-oriented improvements we can bring to riders and residents throughout the RTA region.”