Archive for the ‘Featured Stories’ Category
The step is the first follow-up action from the agency’s April 10 rail service hearing. The agency wants to hear their plans “given the immediate need for fertilizer to meet rapidly approaching planting deadlines, and the potential long-lasting and widespread effects of missing those deadlines.”
“This directive is intended to focus each carrier’s attention on these very time-sensitive deliveries while the carriers simultaneously work to address the extensive service and car supply issues for all commodities and to get those commodities moving on the rail network. The board continues to closely monitor rail service metrics data for all movements and consider other efforts to address rail service issues,” the agency said.
CP and BNSF are directed to each provide weekly status reports over the next six weeks, beginning April 25, regarding the delivery of fertilizer on their networks. These reports will include fertilizer delivery data, by state, indicating the number of cars, shipped or received, which are billed to agricultural destinations, and the number of cars placed during each prior week. CP and BNSF need to also include actual performance versus trip plan data for fertilizer shipments.
BNSF, meanwhile, put out a special service bulletin this week advising of its plans to handle peak demand for fertilizer movements. “As we enter the next few weeks of peak demand for fertilizer, we understand the shortness of the season and the necessity of timely delivery in order to safeguard that producers can get this year’s crops planted with the proper plant nutrients. BNSF is undertaking several specific actions to expedite fertilizer delivery to ensure our customers have the fertilizer where and when they need it.”
BNSF said it is taking the following measures to increase velocity on fertilizer shipments and improve the efficiency of sets in fertilizer service:
- Handling unit fertilizer similar to the logistics of grain shuttles, where customers have the capacity for rapid load/unload.
- For customers with this capability, BNSF will commit locomotives to these trains to reduce any potential delays and ensure expedited turn around service at origin and destination.
- Adding an additional shuttle set into fertilizer service to increase capacity through increased resources.
- Managing crew availability so that crews are in position when the train is ready to depart.
- Working to ensure accurate ETAs so facilities can be prepositioned to load and unload as fast as possible.
During the grain-crop week 33 that just ended, CN has spotted 4,456 hopper cars for loading at country grain elevators in Western Canada. CN has delivered more than 4,000 grain cars per week to Prairie elevators in the past three weeks, averaging 4,366 cars per week. This is 23 percent above CN’s average winter car-spotting.
“We began ramping up our grain loadings as soon as we got a meaningful break from this harsh winter’s extreme cold temperatures. We are pleased to see our network regaining fluidity,” said Claude Mongeau, CN president and chief executive officer. “That enables our team of dedicated railroaders to move more grain to address the backlog of traffic resulting from the 100-year crop harvested last fall.”
Mongeau said tackling the significant backlog will require solid end-to-end collaboration among all grain supply chain stakeholders.
CN is concerned that, with rail delivery volumes quickly increasing, grain elevator terminals on the Canadian West Coast could soon hit capacity. This would limit total export volumes before the Great Lakes shipping lane reopens and a strong export grain program can start at the Port of Thunder Bay, Ontario.
“The Great Lakes have been frozen over by this winter’s polar vortex to a degree not seen in several decades,” Mongeau explained. “We need urgent support from the Canadian Coast Guard to open navigation channels if we are to meet the federal government’s Order in Council requiring CN to move 500,000 tonnes, or close to 5,500 cars of grain per week.”
On March 7, an Order in Council was announced that requires CN and Canadian Pacific to increase weekly volumes to a combined target of 1,000,000 metric tonnes per week. The government could impose penalties of up to $100,000 a day if CP and CN do not meet the new requirement.
“Railways are not the only ones facing a significant challenge in moving this 100-year grain crop,” continued Mongeau. “It is becoming clear that other supply chain participants – grain elevator companies, shipping lines and ports — are also straining to handle the harvest given a full 50 percent increase in the amount of grain to move to export markets.”
“As I have said before, blaming railways alone – or even worse, threatening to punish them with re-regulation for an outsized crop and winter conditions beyond their control – will not help to move any more grain, now or over the longer term,” said Mongeau. “Canada urgently needs to move away from unproductive finger-pointing. We need to encourage supply chain collaboration and promote sound commercial solutions to address the challenge of moving so much grain. As a key part of the solution, CN is prepared to do its part if it is welcomed as a core member of Canada’s grain team.”
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.”
During a visit to Union Depot in St. Paul, Minn., yesterday, President Obama spelled out his vision for investing in America’s infrastructure with a $302 billion, four-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal and announced that $600 million is being made available by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to fund transportation projects.
The funding will be made through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER ) Discretionary Grant Program for road, rail, transit and port projects. The TIGER grant program was recently funded in the Consolidated Appropriations Act.
The President was joined by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx for the announcement at the Union Depot, which received $35 million in the first round of TIGER grants to renovate the facility and restore tracks.
“President Obama knows that transportation means opportunity for so many Americans,” said Foxx. “TIGER investments answer the President’s challenge to expand opportunity through a strong transportation system that connects Americans with a better way of life.”
The highly competitive TIGER program, which offers federal funding initiatives for large, multi-modal projects, leverages federal funds with money from private sector partners, states, local governments, metropolitan planning organizations and transit agencies. The program emphasizes projects that support reliable, safe, and affordable transportation options that improve economic competitiveness, improve existing transportation systems, increase transportation options, improve energy efficiency, reduce fuel consumption and improve the safety of transportation systems.
In addition to funding for grants, Congress also provided the DOT with the flexibility to use up to $35 million of the 2014 TIGER funds for supporting the planning of innovative transportation solutions, as well as for freight, port and regional transportation planning, and for supporting efforts that improve efficiency and sustainable community development.
The President also outlined his proposed budget that dedicates $150 billion to address the funding of surface transportation programs and increase infrastructure investment. The amount will be used to fill the current funding gap in the Highway Trust Fund and also increase surface transportation investment over current projected levels by nearly $90 billion over the next four years. The plan will result in a total of $302 billion being invested over four years.
The proposal includes policies and reforms to prioritize investments for repairs and to improve safety with particular attention given to roads and bridges. It also increases average transit spending to $72 billion over four years, which will enable the expansion of new projects such as light rail.
The proposal will make permanent and provide $5 billion over four years for the TIGER competitive grant program and create a $10 billion multimodal freight grant program for rail, highway, and port projects.
DOT is now soliciting applications for the TIGER Discretionary Grants. Information on applying to the TIGER Grant Program is available at on the DOT website. Final applications may be submitted starting April 3, 2014, through Grants.gov. The final submission date is April 28, 2014. Registering for the application process must be completed before submitting an application. The registration project takes 2-4 weeks to complete.
The 70 new locomotives will serve as the workhorses of Amtrak Northeast Corridor operations, power all Northeast Regional and long-distance trains between Washington, New York and Boston, and match existing trip-times at speeds up to 125 mph. They also will operate eventually on Amtrak’s Keystone Service between New York, Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa.
The Siemens-built electric locomotives, known as the Amtrak Cities Sprinter, are being assembled at its solar-powered rail manufacturing plant in Sacramento, Calif. The equipment includes parts built from Siemens plants in Norwood, Ohio; Alpharetta, Ga., and Richland, Miss., and nearly 70 other suppliers, representing more than 60 cities and 23 states.
“Amtrak is integral to the daily life of the Northeast and the new locomotives will keep the people and businesses of the region connected and on the move,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman. “New equipment ensures Amtrak can deliver the reliable service the region depends on and supports the growth of the region as America’s economic powerhouse.”
“We are extremely proud to serve as a rail technology partner for Amtrak,” said Michael Cahill, president of Siemens Rail Systems in the U.S. “Through our teamwork with Amtrak, we are not only delivering improved performance, we’re boosting American manufacturing. Our innovation, expertise and proven technology are helping transportation operators across the country keep the economy moving.”
The new AC-64 locomotives are designed for improved reliability and easier maintenance leading to faster turn-around times and increased availability for service. A state-of-the-art microprocessor system performs self-diagnosis of technical issues, takes self-corrective action and notifies the locomotive engineer. In addition, there are redundant systems to ensure power is maintained to the passenger cars to keep heating and cooling systems working, the lights on and the doors operational. The locomotives also meet the latest federal rail safety regulations, including crash energy management components.
The locomotives are energy efficient and use a regenerative braking system to feed energy back into the power grid. The new locomotives will replace older equipment that had between 25 and 35 years of service and average mileage of more than 3.5 million miles traveled with some approaching 4.5 million miles. Amtrak officials said they expect to have several more new locomotives enter revenue service in the coming weeks and then will receive monthly deliveries of the remaining units from the $466 million contract through 2015.
TTX Co. is looking to extend its flatcar pooling authorization for another 15 years.
TTX filed for reauthorization with the Surface Transportation Board on Jan. 16 in Finance Docket No. 27590 (Sub-No. 4). The Chicago-based company said that the railroad participants in TTX’s flatcar pool have agreed to extend the TTX flatcar pooling agreement for another 15 years and by its application, TTX and its railroad participants seek STB approval of an amended pooling agreement and related car contracts between TTX and its participating railroads.
The railroads that participate in TTX’s flatcar pool are: BNSF Railway Company; Canadian National Railway Company, through its U.S. affiliates Illinois Central Railroad Company and Grand Trunk Western Railroad Company; Canadian Pacific Railway Company, through its U.S. affiliate Soo Line Railroad Company; CSX Transportation, Inc.; Ferromex; The Kansas City Southern Railway Company; Norfolk Southern Railway Company; Pan Am Railways; and Union Pacific Railroad Company.
The next step would be for the STB to issue a public notice of the pooling application and establish a procedural schedule for public comments in the case.
The former Interstate Commerce Commission approved TTX’s original flatcar pool in 1974, and “over the ensuing four decades, the pool has become one of the great success stories of American railroading,” TTX said. The ICC and the STB extended TTX’s pooling authority in 1989, 1994, and, most recently, in 2004 for a 10-year period that expires this year.
By reducing the risks of acquiring new equipment, increasing operational efficiency, lowering repair and maintenance costs, and investing in innovation, TTX said its flatcar pool enhances competition. TTX said its experience over the last decade, in particular, has illustrated the pool’s resilience and its value to the railroad industry during uncertain times. In the first years after TTX’s 2004 reauthorization, record-setting intermodal growth challenged the ability of railroads to invest in capacity–but the availability of intermodal flatcars was never a constraint, because of TTX’s investments and the efficient utilization fostered by the flatcar pool. That traffic boom was interrupted by the Great Recession, which brought the first decline in intermodal traffic in years.
“The TTX pool was instrumental in helping the railroad industry weather this challenge, affording relief from usage charges, facilitating storage of excess equipment, redeploying assets to efficient uses, and then, as domestic intermodal traffic emerged as the new engine of growth, investing heavily in new equipment so the railroads could keep pace with demand,” TTX told the agency. “Through its history, TTX has proven that sharing commonly owned equipment–the very essence of TTX’s pooling activities–not only makes sense as a conceptual matter, but can be made to function exceptionally well in practice. TTX’s flatcar pool works. TTX’s long track record means the board may rest assured that continuing TTX’s authority will benefit the railroad industry without entailing any adverse competitive consequences,” the company said in its filing.
TTX’s mission in operating the flatcar pool is to provide a fleet of reliable, high-quality flatcars and related services to meet the needs of its railroad participants and the shippers they serve. TTX’s predecessor, Trailer Train, was formed in 1955. It began operations in March 1956, pursuant to a series of bilateral contacts, with a fleet of 500 75-foot flatcars designed for intermodal use. By 1973, when it sought authority to engage in pooling operations, its fleet had expanded to 67,468 cars, including flatcars to carry automobile racks. Today, TTX’s flatcar fleet consists of 128,500 railcars. The fleet includes 47,500 intermodal flatcars, which provide the capacity to carry approximately 227,400 40- to 53-foot trailers or containers; 48,800 autorack flatcars, which are used along with attached racks (usually supplied by railroads) to transport finished vehicles; and 32,200 general service flatcars, which are used to carry such products as lumber, pipe, structural steel, agricultural and military vehicles, and heavy equipment.
TTX fulfills its car supply function by acquiring new equipment and by modifying and upgrading cars in its existing fleet. From 2004 through 2013, TTX spent more than $3.12 billion to acquire 81,200 new intermodal platforms and 9,700 other flatcars, including 5,500 flatcars for handling automotive shipments, according to Thomas Wells, president and CEO of TTX. It also spent almost $550 million on conversion programs and other modifications to existing flatcars.
To ensure that the needs of the marketplace are met, TTX acquires flatcars for the pool using its own capital, without any financial guarantee by any railroad. TTX can acquire a large number of cars because it reduces the risks and costs of investing in new equipment. It reduces the risks because it takes a market-wide view of the future need for cars, its distribution protocols maximize productive use of cars, and it invests in modifying and redeploying equipment to meet the changing demands of shippers, thus extending the economic life of its assets. TTX reduces the costs because it maintains a solid credit rating, the free-running nature of its fleet reduces unproductive switching and empty returns, and it achieves maintenance efficiencies.
TTX’s flatcars form a free-running fleet that is not encumbered by adherence to the Association of American Railroads’ car service rules or the parochial incentives that can apply to cars owned or leased by individual railroads. TTX pool cars flow efficiently across the entire North American rail network to satisfy needs for equipment wherever they arise. Participating railroads have access to TTX cars on terms that encourage efficiency. TTX cars can be loaded anywhere and to any destination. When the normal flow of equipment does not result in enough empty cars in the places where they are needed, TTX’s management of the pool enables cars to be directed from railroads that have excess capacity to railroads that are short of cars. TTX cars incur low usage charges, thereby avoiding incentives for inefficient movements aimed at getting high-cost cars off-line as quickly as possible. TTX’s participating railroads are assured of access to the fleet when they need it, but they are not burdened by excess cars. Rather, participants can turn back pool cars when they are not needed–that is, after cars have been idle for five days, participants can cease paying usage charges without the need to move the cars off-line.
TTX is responsible for the repair and maintenance of pool equipment. Maintenance is performed at TTX’s facilities in Florida, South Carolina, California, and Michigan, and at select independent shops. TTX also performs repairs and inspections using a network of Field Maintenance Operations located at major intermodal facilities and other strategically located sites. TTX also uses Mobile Repair operations to work on flatcars that do not normally pass through a location with a Field Maintenance Operation. TTX develops and implements highly efficient maintenance practices, taking advantage of state-of-the-art information technology, to optimize maintenance for the overall benefit of the railroad network. TTX works to reduce the total costs associated with maintaining cars, including not only the costs of the repair itself, but also the costs associated with disruptions to the network when cars fail in service.
TTX submitted with its application an initial group of support letters from more than 50 shippers. A core group of TTX’s supporters are shippers whose freight moves on flatcars, including: intermodal shippers like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Canadian Tire; steamship lines like APL, Hapag-Lloyd, Hyundai Intermodal, “K” Line, Maersk, and MOL (America); automotive shippers like General Motors, Nissan, and Toyota; forest products shippers like Georgia-Pacific, Plum Creek, and Roseburg Lumber; manufacturers of tractors and other heavy machinery like Deere & Company; pipe and steel shippers like American Cast Iron Pipe Company and EVRAZ; shippers of power transformers like SPX Transformer Solutions; and the trade association representing wind energy shippers, American Wind Energy Association, and intermodal, the Intermodal Association of North America. Supporters also include intermediaries who represent shippers that depend on efficient flatcar supply, including: trucking companies like J.B. Hunt and Swift; intermodal marketing companies like C. H. Robinson and Hub Group; transloaders like Universal Warehouse; arrangers of heavy-duty shipments like Mammoet USA, Maritime World Logistics, and BNSF Logistics; and arrangers of wind turbine shipments like Logisticus. Backers also include some of the largest container ports in the United States, including: New York/New Jersey, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Tacoma, and the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority, and East Coast ports such as Miami and Savannah, which are relying on rail intermodal to support anticipated increases in throughput resulting from the expansion of the Panama Canal. Several railway industry suppliers, including Amsted Rail, Miner Enterprises, Morton Manufacturing, Pennsy Corp., Phoenix Bearings, Timken and Wabtec, also supported the TTX filing.
The Port of Long Beach said that “TTX facilitates continuing investment in the U.S. railroad industry in intermodal equipment supply, so that this vital need is not underserved in eras of high demand on railroad capital.” The American Wind Energy Association cited how “TTX nearly doubled the size of its wind energy fleet to ensure adequate capacity would be available to handle [an] incredible surge in demand for wind energy shipments.” J.B. Hunt lauded TTX for having “kept [its] promise of providing high-quality, well-maintained flatcars in sufficient supply,” and particularly highlighted TTX’s investments in stretching “many of its 48-foot well cars to 53-feet, enabling us to become more efficient and better serve our customers.”
APL Logistics noted TTX’s geographic flexibility, which ensures that cars “can be distributed to handle any need that we might have throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.” Similarly, Hyundai observed that the pool “ensures that capacity can move freely across the rail network, and be available for shipments on all railroads and in all lanes.”
The Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, for example, stated that TTX “has supported the annual growth of Port Authority intermodal business, which for the last decade has averaged 4.8 percent,” and failing to reauthorize TTX would “cause disruption to international trade and commerce that would have negative consequences to the regional as well as the national economy.”
Automotive shippers such as Toyota also “rely and depend on the smooth functioning of the TTX flatcar pool for … continued growth and success.” Toyota uses “a shared multi-level fleet that is managed by TTX” as well as TTX-owned “pooled flatcars on which is mounted a railroad-owned auto rack.” This enables Toyota to move 70 percent of its vehicles by rail, saving money and minimizing impacts on the environment. Toyota supports reauthorization of the TTX flatcar pool “as it will serve to maintain the current rail transportation system” upon which Toyota relies.
The short line infrastructure tax credit program will likely be extended by Congress before the end of the first quarter, according to a key champion of the original legislation.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said he expects that the so-called 45G short line tax credit, which provides an incentive for short lines to invest private sector dollars on freight railroad track rehabilitation and other projects, will be extended by the end of March. The tax credit expired at the end of 2013.
Moran made his remarks at the annual conference of the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association, which was held this week in Palm Desert, Calif. “45G has become a cause for me,” Moran said, “and this legislation became law because people in this room visited lawmakers and had compelling stories to tell. You have convinced many of my colleagues.”
Section 45G creates an incentive for the private sector to invest in rail infrastructure by providing a tax credit of 50 cents for every dollar the railroad, or a qualified customer or supplier, spends on track improvements. The credit is capped based on a mileage formula. Over the past five years, the short line railroad tax credit has generated $1.5 billion in railroad infrastructure investment. The Railway Tie Association estimates that as many as 1.5 million additional railroad ties are installed when the credit is in effect.
Moran noted that the tax credit enjoys widespread support in Congress and that it is the most co-sponsored piece of legislation in the Senate today. In short, “the short line tax credit works and that’s why we’ve been able to extend it,” he said.
“We hope and we think that between now and March 30 it will be extended,” he said.
The National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) has moved to intervene in the Surface Transportation Board’s proceeding last month that defined a railroad contractor as a rail carrier.
NRC said it supports a petition for reconsideration filed by Rail-Term Corp. and joins with the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association in requesting the STB open the case for public comment on issues raised by the finding and specifically by the dissent of Vice Chairman Begeman.
NRC is a national trade association representing contractors, vendors and suppliers to the freight railroad and transit industries. It has more than 350 member companies.
“NRC’s members are generally not considered to be rail carriers within the meaning of 49 U.S.C. 10102(5),” NRC President Chuck Baker said in comments filed Dec. 27 with the agency. “The board’s decision raises new uncertainty as to when companies that provide services or products to rail carriers may be “imputed” to be rail carriers for purposes of regulation by the board under the Interstate Commerce Act and the application of other federal law which applies to entities subject to the jurisdiction of the board under the ICA.”
In a decision issued Nov. 19 in Finance Docket 35582, the STB ruled on a referral question from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit asking whether Rail-Term, a contractor that provides dispatching services for short lines, fits its statutory requirements to be considered a rail carrier. The agency found that by performing an essential rail function on behalf of several short lines, Rail-Term had become a rail carrier under its jurisdiction.
In its petition for reconsideration filed with the STB, Rail-Term said the practical effect of the STB’s ruling is to subject this railroad industry vendor and potentially many other railroad industry suppliers to coverage under the Railroad Retirement Act (RRA) and the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA), a result clearly not intended by Congress. “The November decision is not only contrary to the plain language of the statute…it also reverses without legal justification a long line of STB and Interstate Commerce Commission precedent on the term ‘rail carrier’ and draws conclusions without any basis in the record,” Rail-Term told the STB.
Rail-Term describes itself as a small privately held Michigan corporation and a subsidiary of Canadian corporation Rail-Term Inc. Rail-Term Inc., and subsidiaries Rail-Term and Centre Rail-Control Inc., are engaged in a variety of activities that support the railroad industry in both the U.S. and Canada. Rail-Term and its sister corporation in Canada, Centre Rail-Control Inc., provide dispatching software and dispatching services for short line and regional freight railroads and for VIA RAIL CANADA, Canada’s national passenger railroad. Rail-Term develops computer-based dispatching software and provides dispatching services for several American short line railroads from an office in Rutland, VT. In effect, Rail-Term’s rail carrier clients have contracted with Rail-Term to provide the dispatching functions that they could otherwise perform “in house.”
Rail-Term said it currently employs 7 people in its U.S. office and, along with its corporate parent and Canadian sibling, employs about 100 people overall. Rail-Term provides dispatching services in the United States for the Aberdeen Carolina and Western Railway Inc., Carolina Coastal Railway, St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad (a Genesee & Wyoming subsidiary), Royal Gorge Express, LC, Washington and Idaho Railway, and short line holding company, Omni-Trax, Inc., and its subsidiary railroads.
“The NRC and its members have an interest in ensuring that the board not extend its jurisdiction to entities that are not true common carriers and by doing so extend the application of other federal laws applicable to rail carriers to entities that are not actual rail carriers as that term has been commonly understood and applied,” Baker told the STB.
The Federal Railroad Administration is launching a two-month comprehensive safety review of Metro-North Commuter Railroad in the wake of its deadly Dec. 1 crash. The review, which FRA dubbed Operation Deep Dive, will begin Dec. 16 and will closely examine Metro-North’s compliance with federal regulations, its procedures and practices, and its safety culture.
“Safety is our top priority, and this in-depth investigation will help ensure that Metro-North is doing everything possible to improve its safety record,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Together with our other recent efforts, Operation Deep Dive will give travelers the peace of mind they deserve when traveling throughout the railroad’s region.”
U.S. Department of Transportation technical and human factors experts will begin a comprehensive review and assessment of safety-critical procedures and processes at Metro-North. The rail safety team will look at:
- Track, signal and rolling stock maintenance, inspection and repair practices;
- Protection for employees working on rail infrastructure, locomotives and rail cars;
- Communication between mechanical and transportation departments at maintenance facilities;
- Operation control center procedures and rail traffic controller training;
- Compliance with federal Hours of Service regulations, including fatigue management programs;
- Evaluating results of operational data to measure efficiency of employees’ execution and comprehension of all applicable federal regulations;
- Locomotive engineer oversight;
- Engineer and conductor certification; and
- Operating crew medical requirements.
“Encouraging a safety stand-down with employees and issuing an Emergency Order and Safety Advisory after the recent Metro-North accident were all necessary first steps to immediately secure and improve safety, and we commend Governor Cuomo and MTA in taking those steps,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “Operation Deep Dive allows FRA to further identify sources of risk and drive continuous safety improvement. This approach will help restore public confidence in Metro-North and is evidence of FRA’s safety program that has helped reduce train accidents nationwide by 43 percent over the last decade.”
Once Operation Deep Dive is completed, FRA will issue a report with findings and recommendations. FRA will further evaluate Metro-North’s compliance with the Emergency Order, its effectiveness in fulfilling the recommendations in the Safety Advisory, and then consider if additional actions are necessary to strengthen safety at Metro-North.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) has introduced the Commuter Rail Passenger Safety Act in an effort to help commuter rail lines pay for and implement positive train control (PTC) systems. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has viewed PTC as a valuable initiative for national transportation safety for several years. The NTSB has investigated 15 accidents since 2005 and has concluded that PTC would have provided critical redundancy that would have prevented each accident.
“This strategic investment is critical to protecting the hundreds of thousands of riders that travel on Metro-North and systems like it every day,” Maloney said. “Installing positive train control systems in our commuter rail systems is the single most important step towards reducing human error and saving lives – the safety of our neighbors and families is too important to wait.”
Maloney introduced the legislation after touring the site of the Metro-North train derailment, which NTSB confirmed could have been prevented with the use of PTC systems.
The Commuter Rail Passenger Safety Act will allow commuter rail systems to invest in PTC systems for their existing line by applying for loans and loan guarantees through the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) Program. This existing program, which finances the development of critical railroad infrastructure, provides direct loans and loan guarantees.
The new legislation would also reauthorize the expired Railroad Safety Technology Grant Program which funds the deployment of train control technologies, electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, rail integrity warning systems, switch position indicators and monitors, and other railroad safety technology such as PTC. It will also increase the total investments in the program to half a billion dollars over the next five years.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) awarded a contract last month to Siemens Rail Automation Division in a consortium with U.S. Bombardier Transportation to upgrade train control systems on MTA’s Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road commuter lines.