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Hoosier State Passenger Rail Service Extended Through April

March 19th, 2015

The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) Commissioner Karl Browning has announced that the Amtrak Hoosier State rail service will continue to run through the end of April and not end on April 1, 2015 as previously announced.

The announcement follows a commitment by the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg to reconsider the FRA’s decision requiring the state of Indiana to serve as a railroad to continue running the rail line.

“It is not clear that the FRA will change its mind,” Browning said. “Because Ms. Feinberg committed to reviewing this, we want to give the FRA another opportunity to consider the problems Indiana has been airing.”

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AAR Executive Tom Stahura Passes Away

March 18th, 2015

Funeral services will be held March 19 in Alexandria, Va., for Thomas J. Stahura, who passed away last week following a short illness.

Stahura, 63, spent the last 30 years with the Association of American Railroads (AAR) in Washington, D.C. He was the Executive Director of Rules and Standards for the AAR.

“The railroad industry has lost a great friend and strong leader,” noted James P. Grady, Assistant Vice President – Technical Services for the AAR. “Tom came to the AAR in 1985 specifically to initiate the Quality Assurance Program, generally known by its formal designation as M-1003. Under his guidance, the M-1003 program has become the gold standard not only for the railroad industry in North America but also for railroads and suppliers throughout the world.”

He traveled extensively for work and was well-known in industry circles from the committees he was involved in and the meetings he attended, spoke at and sometimes organized. He is probably best known as the manager of the Arbitration and Rules Committee for nearly the past 20 years. He served on the board of directors for the Mechanical Association Railcar Technical Services (MARTS). He was a longtime contributor to AAR’s North American Railroad Mechanical Operations (NARMO) seminar and one of the founders of the AAR mechanical seminars, now Exporail in Mexico.

“He was great to work with, and a true gentleman,” Tom Simpson, president of the Railway Supply Institute, told RailResource. “His expertise and friendship will be missed.”

Stahura was born in East Chicago, Ind., and grew up in Hammond, Ind. He graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and later studied metallurgy at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Prior to joining the AAR, he worked with Raymond Kaiser Engineers and at Pullman Standard.

Stahura is survived by his wife of six years, Araceli. Funeral services will be held at Jefferson Funeral Chapel, 5755 Castlewellan Drive in Alexandria, Va. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that any donations be sent to a children’s cancer charity such as The National Children’s Cancer Society.

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Greenbrier Reports More Than $1 Billion in Railcar Orders

March 18th, 2015

The Greenbrier Companies, Inc., a supplier of transportation equipment and services to the railroad industry, has received new orders totaling 10,100 railcar units valued at $1.09 billion in its second quarter that ended February 28, 2015. Included in the new orders are 3,500 units with an approximate value of $400 million received in December 2014, which Greenbrier disclosed in January.

The orders were for a variety of railcar types, including double stack intermodal cars, gondolas, covered hopper cars, refrigerated and insulated boxcars, and tank cars used for transportation of both crude oil and other commodity types.

“Our strategy to diversify our product offerings, invest in efficient, flexible and lower cost facilities, and to drive more volume through our lease syndication and asset management business continues to pay off,” stated Greenbrier Chairman and CEO William A. Furman. “Since the beginning of our fiscal year on September 1, 2014, we have received orders for 24,200 new railcar units valued at $2.33 billion, across multiple railcar types. Deliveries will extend beyond calendar 2016, with nearly 80% of these orders for railcars that serve non-energy related markets.”

“Recent orders include a significant multi-year order, a testament to the positive outlook and strong industry fundamentals for the foreseeable future,” said Furman.

Furman continued, “We anticipate the regulatory picture for tank cars transporting hazardous materials will be clarified with final US and Canadian government actions to occur no later than mid-May. We expect Greenbrier’s Tank Car of the Future will be adopted as the new standard and an additional wave of new tank car orders and tank car retrofits will occur, regardless of oil prices.”

“Our business is well-balanced, and our strong order book provides us good visibility through calendar 2016 and beyond,” said Furman. “We remain committed to operational excellence in each of our businesses and enhancing the long-term trajectory of key metrics, including financial goals of at least 20 percent aggregate gross margin and 25 percent ROIC (return on invested capital) by the second half of fiscal 2016.”

“We will continue to take a balanced approach to reinvesting in high rate of return projects in our core businesses, seeking acquisitions within our core competencies, and returning capital to shareholders,” concluded Furman.

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FRA Requires Replacement of Unapproved Tank Car Valves

March 18th, 2015

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued a Railworthiness Directive that requires rail tank car owners to replace UNNR ball valves manufactured and sold by McKenzie Valve & Machining LLC. The FRA has found that these valves were not approved for use on railroad tank cars.

All 3 inch McKenzie UNNR ball valves in tank cars used to transport any hazardous material described in 49 CFR 172.101 must be removed within 60 days. The Directive also requires all tank car owners to remove the McKenzie 1 inch and 2 inch valves within 90 days.

“Ensuring the safe transport of hazardous materials is a top priority for the Department of Transportation,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “I expect this audit to force a stricter adherence to the structures in place to keep our railways safe.”

In addition to the McKenzie valves not having an approved design, the FRA has also discovered that when the 3 inch ball valve is not properly configured, it leads to the tank cars leaking small quantities of hazardous materials. The McKenzie 1 inch and 2 inch ball valves do not appear to present the same safety concerns as the 3 inch valves but must also be replaced. FRA investigations and subsequent testing have determined that only small amounts of hazardous materials could have escaped through the unapproved valves.

After tank car owners have removed the unapproved valves and replaced and tested new components, they may use the tank cars to transport hazardous materials. If upon an adequate showing demonstrating the safety of the 1 inch and 2 inch valves, McKenzie obtains approval for the use of those valves on tank cars, cars equipped with these 1 inch and 2 inch McKenzie valves may be returned to hazardous materials service.

“Any type of hazardous materials release, no matter how small, is completely unacceptable,” said Acting Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg. “The removal of these valves from service will help to reduce the number of non-accident hazardous materials releases.”

All valves applied to tank cars must be of an approved design by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Tank Car Committee. FRA’s investigations demonstrate clear inconsistencies between the AAR approved valve design and the design of the valve actually being used. This raises questions about the approval process and a manufacturer’s adherence to an approved design type.

The FRA will immediately begin working with AAR to commence a full audit of the Association’s process for approving tank car valves and other components in order to prevent incidents like this from occurring again.

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Former Navy SEAL to Keynote Railway Interchange 2015

March 18th, 2015
U,S, Navy Veteran Robert O'Neil.

U.S. Navy Veteran Robert O'Neill.

The host organizations of Railway Interchange 2015 have announced that retired U.S. Navy SEAL and motivational speaker Robert O’Neill will deliver this year’s keynote address at the rail industry convention, which will take place October 4-7 in Minneapolis.

O’Neill is a highly decorated combat veteran who has trained more than 800 special operations and tactical operators and held combat leadership roles in more than 400 missions in four different theaters of war. He will share insights with attendees on leadership, decision-making, operating in uncertain environments, and how to become the ‘best of the best.’ O’Neill will speak on the topic of his “never quit” mantra, which he views as the single most important factor in determining success.

The trade show is jointly sponsored by the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA), the Coordinated Mechanical Associations (CMA), the Railway Supply Institute (RSI), the Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers Association (REMSA) and Railway Systems Suppliers, Inc. (RSSI).

“We are thrilled and honored to have Rob O’Neill for our keynote speaker at the Railway Interchange 2015 opening general session,” said AREMA Interim Executive Director and CEO Larry L. Etherton, PE. “I know that our more than 8,500 expected attendees will be inspired by his experience and will benefit from his advice on how to thrive in today’s competitive business climate.”

Registration for Railway Interchange 2015 is currently open. The event will be held at the Minneapolis Convention Center and at BNSF Railway’s nearby Northtown rail yard.

The opening general session begins at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, October 5, with O’Neill scheduled to speak at 8:00 a.m.

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San Mateo Transit District Names Hartnett GM/CEO

March 17th, 2015
Jim Hartnett

Jim Hartnett

The board of directors of San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) has unanimously selected Jim Hartnett as general manager and chief executive officer, effective March 30, 2015, succeeding general manger and chief executive officer Michael J. Scanlon, who is retiring after 15 years of running SamTrans.

Hartnett’s new position includes the titles general manager/chief executive officer of the SamTrans bus and paratransit system, executive director of the Caltrain Peninsula commuter rail service and executive director of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority. SamTrans is the San Francisco Bay Area administrative authority of these services.

Jeff Gee, who chaired the SamTrans search committee that unanimously recommended Hartnett to the board, remarked, “The selection committee, reflecting the stakeholders of San Mateo, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties, agreed: Jim has the skills and experience we need right now for this job.”

“Jim has the highest level of understanding of these three agencies and the communities they serve, along with local, regional, national, and international transit experience,” added Gee. “He is a proven Bay Area leader who knows how to collaborate and build consensus.”

Hartnett served on the board of directors and as chair of both SamTrans and Caltrain. He was appointed to the board of directors of the California High Speed Rail Authority four years ago, where he served most recently as vice chair. He has resigned from that board.

Hartnett served 15 years on the Redwood City, Calif., ,city council including terms as mayor and vice mayor.

“This is personal for me,” said Hartnett. “I grew up on the Peninsula. I rode the bus before there was a SamTrans. I rode the train before there was a Caltrain. I believe in what transit can do to make a better life for all of us and to preserve those things we so deeply value and treasure about living and working here. I understand the important role our bus and train systems play in maintaining our quality of life and sustaining the economic vitality of our region.”

“These three agencies are doing outstanding work and their combined talents comprise a team of well-respected employees who are working together to achieve the region’s transportation vision,” continued Hartnett. “I’m privileged to have the opportunity to serve at this extremely important time and I appreciate the confidence and trust that has been placed in me.”

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Metrolinx Adding Track to Barrie GO Line

March 17th, 2015

Metrolinx, the agency for transportation in the Toronto area, has announced that a second track will be added to a six-kilometer stretch of the Barrie corridor on the GO Transit rail service. The additional track will improve existing service by enabling more train trips and the introduction of two-way service.

Construction will take place between the York University and Rutherford GO stations, with grading and signal improvements already underway. Planning and design work is also underway to bring more train trips and two-way service to the rest of the Barrie corridor.

“We are expanding transit and infrastructure for now and for the future,” said Ontario Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca. “These investments are part of a 10-year plan that will help to manage congestion, connect people to jobs, and improve the economy. This is further proof of our government’s commitment to making the daily commute and quality of life better for Ontario families.”

The multi-year project is part of part of Metrolinx’s regional transportation plan to improve transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Areas, supporting the Government of Ontario’s plan, under Moving Ontario Forward, to bring regional express rail service to the GO network.

“Improvements like these are helping us bring faster, more frequent, two-way service to our GO Train network — all critical pieces of our Regional Express Rail plan,” said Bruce McCuaig, president and CEO of Metrolinx. “This project will help us give our customers more transit choices that will save them time and make it easier to get where they want to go.”

GO Transit public transit service, PRESTO fair card system, and Union Pearson Express rail service, are divisions of Metrolinx.

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G&W Reports Increased Carloads for February 2015

March 17th, 2015

Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (G&W) has reported an increase of 1.6 percent in carloads for February 2015 compared to February of 2014. Carloads increased by 2,325 to a total of 145,127 carloads.

For February 2015, G&W’s same-railroad traffic dropped by 3.5 percent, or 4,986 carloads, to a total of 137,816 carloads, when compared with February 2014. The company’s same railroad traffic excludes traffic from the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad, which commenced operations on June 1, 2014 and the Arkansas Midland Railroad, the Prescott & Northwestern Railroad and the Warren & Saline River Railroad, which were acquired on January 5, 2015.

Also in February, North American same-railroad carloads dropped by 4,059 carloads, or 3.3 percent, primarily due to decreases in metals and coal & coke traffic. Metals traffic decreased 2,817 carloads, or 21.9 percent and coal & coke traffic decreased 2,752 carloads, or 10.4 percent for same-railroad traffic for the month of February.

G&W’s traffic for the month was weaker than the expected mostly due to a drop in steam coal and metals traffic, and the impact of extreme winter weather conditions in several North American regions.

G&W’s traffic in the first quarter of 2015 through February increased by 13,090 carloads, or 4.4 percent, to 312,476 carloads compared with the first quarter of 2014 through February. Same-railroad traffic in the first quarter of 2015 through February was 297,072 carloads, a decrease of 2,314 carloads, or 0.8%, compared with the first quarter of 2014 through February.

For the first quarter of 2015 through February, same-railroad traffic for North America decreased 775 carloads, or 0.3 percent, primarily due to decreased metals traffic, partially offset by increased overhead Class I shipments. These Class I shipments are part of G&W’s other commodity group traffic, which increased 2,960 carloads, or 32.8 percent. Metals traffic decreased 3,088 carloads, or 11.9 percent for the first quarter of 2015 through February, and minerals & stone traffic increased 2,892 carloads, or 9.3 percent.

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Railsponsible Launches, Offers CSR Ratings

March 16th, 2015

Railsponsible

Six railway industry companies have collaborated to establish Railsponsible, a rail supplier initiative intended to drive sustainability throughout the railway supply chain by sharing best practices and using common tools to create efficiencies. To officially launch the program, Alstom TransportBombardier TransportationDeutsche BahnKnorr Bremse, Nederlandse Spoorwegen (“NedTrain“) and SNCF signed the Railsponsible Charter in the Netherlands.

The goal of Railsponsible is to establish an efficient analysis of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in supply chain practices, which would improve CSR through best practice sharing and capability building.

Railsponsible is facilitated by BSR, a global nonprofit organization that develops sustainable business strategies and solutions, with the support of EcoVadis which operates the sustainable procurement collaborative platforms that will assess, monitor and improve supplier CSR performance.

Pierre Francois Thaler, co-CEO of EcoVadis, said “Along with our partner BSR, EcoVadis initiated this effort because we saw the opportunity for four of our existing clients (Alstom, Deutsche Bahn, NedTrain, and SNCF) to join with their other industry peers to realize similar synergies as our other collaborations.”

“On one hand, procurement teams face challenges such as finding reliable sustainability indicators in a myriad of standards and regulations, and scales across global supply chains,” continued Thaler. “On the supplier side, they are faced with multiple duplicative surveys and little guidance on improvements. This industry collaboration, combined with the EcoVadis platform, solves these challenges with a universal CSR scorecard rating and sharing system.”

The Railsponsible initiative is open to all railway operators and companies across the industry value chain, as well as key industry associations. Members will begin the first common supplier assessment campaigns this month.

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Amtrak Renames Chicago Control Center to Honor Former FRA Leader Szabo

March 16th, 2015
Amtrak honors Joseph Szabo (2nd from right). Photo: courtesy of CMAP.

Amtrak honors Joseph C. Szabo (2nd from right). Photo: courtesy of CMAP.

At a ceremony last week in Chicago, Amtrak renamed its Chicago railroad operations center to honor former Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) leader Joseph C. Szabo for his longtime support of intercity passenger rail systems and national rail safety in the United States.

The Joseph C. Szabo Chicago Control Center dispatches 580 trains and 120,000 passengers daily, and is used by Amtrak intercity and Metra commuter trains as well as Amtrak lines in Michigan, Indiana and Louisiana.

The resolution was adopted by Amtrak’s board of directors, under the leadership of Chairman Anthony Coscia and Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman. The resolution stated, “Under Mr. Szabo’s leadership at the FRA, rail transportation has never been safer in the United States, culminating with two straight years of record-breaking safety performance with significant reductions in all types of accidents.”

“In recognition of Joe’s contributions – past and those yet to come – to Amtrak, to the railroad industry, and to the Chicago metro area, we could think of no more appropriate place to honor him than our Chicago Control Center,” said Boardman.

“I am deeply touched by the Amtrak Board’s recognition,” said Szabo. “Chicago is my home and where I began my railroad career. Having worked with and represented the railroad workforce in Illinois, it is very special to be associated with the facility that dispatches train operations in and out of Union Station – it’s where the work gets done.”

“As an economic driver, rail’s impact is unsurpassed for getting residents to and from their jobs, getting goods to market, and getting the most out of public infrastructure. At CMAP (Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning), I look forward to continuing my efforts in support of rail transportation, including the need for new strategic investments,” Szabo added.

After serving as administrator to the FRA for six years, Szabo joined CMAP as senior fellow in January 2015. The CMAP is a regional planning organization which addresses challenges, such as transportation and land use, for the area.

“This is a great honor for Joe Szabo, and CMAP is proud to have him on our team, supporting collaborative planning across the metropolitan Chicago region,” said CMAP Chairman Gerald Bennett, mayor of Palos Hills. “Our agency benefits from Joe’s knowledge of issues at the local, state, and federal levels, including his experience as a former mayor, head of FRA, and leader of organized labor.”

Szabo is a fifth generation railroader and the first FRA Administrator to come from the ranks of rail workers. He worked as a conductor and switchman and was State Director of the United Transportation Union in Illinois for nearly 13 years. He has served as mayor of Riverdale, Ill., a member of the South Suburban Mayors Transportation Committee, and vice chairman of the Chicago Area Transportation Study’s Executive Committee. As FRA Administrator, Szabo served on the Amtrak Board as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s delegate, where Boardman prized the “essential counsel, direction and perspective” that Szabo provided to the Amtrak board and staff.

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