With Railway Age since 1992, Bill Vantuono has broadened and deepened the magazine's coverage of the technological revolution that is so swiftly changing the industry. He has also strengthened Railway Age's leadership position in industry affairs with the conferences he conducts on operating passenger trains on freight railroads and communications-based train control.
By William C. Vantuono, Editor
At 50, Matt Rose, Railway Age’s 2010 Railroader of the Year, is among the youngest of our industry’s top echelon.
Rose (left, with me in his Fort Worth, Tex., office) has two advantages. First, he joined our industry at a critical point in its history, around the time the Staggers Rail Act was passed. He had a chance early on to work under the experienced guidance of several highly regarded veterans, and learn from them. Second, he’s young enough to have many years to go—and a chance to help determine our industry’s direction, to nurture its growth, to provide guidance, to influence public opinion. Thanks to the dedication of Matt Rose and others, there’s a growing recognition that this old “smokestack industry” of ours truly represents the future of transportation, and is key to America’s economic stability and growth.
Just ask Warren Buffett.
Rose has great respect for his predecessors, as he told me for our cover story: Upon his elevation to chief executive, “The first thing I did was spend time going around and seeing some of the former executives of the Burlington Northern and the Santa Fe, because they were a fairly large group. I commissioned Larry Kaufman to go out and do video interviews, which resulted in a book that he wrote about the past leadership of BNSF. (Leaders Count: The Story of the BNSF Railway, by Lawrence H Kaufman. Texas A&M University Press, 2005.) I got a glimpse into people like Dick Bressler and Bob Downey. I met Ben Biaggini, and of course I had worked under Rob Krebs. And so I had a lot of different glimpses into the leadership of railroads past.”
To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of railroaders—hired post-Staggers, tempered by mergers and cost cutting, disciplined by a committment to safety, proud of their heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the undoing of their ability to invest growth capital, to which this industry has always been committed.
An eight-year high: Railway Age’s annual survey of the passenger railcar market (p. 48) shows that 1,141 new cars valued at nearly $2 billion were delivered to passenger train operators in the U.S. and Canada in 2009, the highest number since 2001’s 1,332. On Dec. 31, 2009, builders had a backlog of 2,580 new cars on order and undelivered. The operating agencies told us that they plan to place orders in 2010 for an additional 1,382 cars. New railcar deliveries last year were nearly double the 596 cars delivered in 2008. In addition to new cars, manufacturers and company shops delivered 677 rebuilt cars in 2009.
Examine our tables, and you get a picture of a vibrant, growing passenger rail industry. There’s been a dramatic turnaround, and it’s picking up steam. We began our annual survey many years ago, after the production of passenger railcars reached such a low point that the American Railway Car Institute stopped counting them. Today, the monetary value of the passenger railcar market is approaching that of the freight car market—and may well surpass it next year.
While Florida and California’s high speed rail projects are getting the most attention in the media (probably because 200-mph passenger trains are considered a whole lot more exciting than those that operate at “only” 90 or 110 mph), they’re actually receiving less than half of the $8 billion under President Obama’s HSR iniative.
Yes, $3.5 billion is $3.5 billlion more than we’ve ever had for “true” high speed, but it represents a fraction of the cost of a full buildout for either project.
Who’s going to benefit from the remaining $4.5 billion (and probably a substantial portion of whatever additional funding may be available for high speed)?
Yes, you heard me right—Amtrak. The $4.5 billion has been awarded to state projects, most notably in the Chicago hub, and it supports incremental improvements to current or planned Amtrak services—creation of HrSR (higher speed rail, an acronym we should get comfortable using). The Northeast Corridor and its feeder routes benefit as well, with $500 million awarded for state-led improvements.
As expected, the grumbling has already started. As Managing Editor Doug Bowen points out, “Not content with his own state’s triumph, Florida Rep. John Mica took time to publicly disparage FRA funds of $1.1 billion bestowed to upgrade Chicago-St. Louis service to 110 mph. But other observers found the route, part of an eight-state plan advanced for the Chicago Hub, a good fit for HrSR opportunity, potentially reducing travel times between the two Midwest cities by up to two hours, compared with current schedules of 5½ hours or more. Less noticeably, the Chicago Hub also received $244 million to upgrade Amtrak’s Detroit-Chicago service.”
Add to all this Amtrak’s Cascades Corridor, which scored $598 million because Washington State’s DOT presented a strong case for incremental improvements linking Portland, Ore., with Vancouver, B.C., via Seattle; Wisconsin, $822 million, to improve service between Chicago and Milwaukee and extend it to Madison; North Carolina, $520 million, to upgrade the Piedmont route to 90 mph operation; and Ohio, $400 million, for the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati (3C) Corridor.
True (“very”) high speed rail is long overdue. But as far what will be up and running first, I’m putting my money on HrSR, and Amtrak.
Plug and play locomotive: Norfolk Southern’s prototype battery-powered switcher locomotive, developed by the railroad’s Research & Test group, has been getting high marks. Vice President Operations and Planning Support Gerhard Thelen described No. 999 (pictured) as “very quiet and responsive,” with power “available immediately” and “evidence of better adhesion than a GP38.” Equipped with 1,080 12-volt AGM (absorbent glass mat) batteries, 999 can operate three shifts in a 24-hour period before needing recharging, which only takes two hours before she’s fully juiced and ready to roll again.
What’s next? A road version of this zero-emissions unit that will use regenerative dynamic braking to recharge the batteries, coupled to a conventional booster road unit that will supply extra power for starting a train. Impressive!
By William C. Vantuono,
Michael Ward’s reputation as
a highly effective railroad manager is eminently well deserved as the cover
story of our March 2010 illustrates. “As a company, we’ve done a great job at
responding to this downturn, and we’re going to be ready when the economy
comes back,” he told me in late January. “We’ve got the resources, and we can
deploy them relatively rapidly.”
There are many ways to
measure a railroad’s progress. The stock price is one of them. One year after
U.S. Class I stocks reached their lowest point, we took a look at how they have been doing. The
Big Four had more than doubled in value. CSX was leading the way—up 135%.
Union Pacific grew 104%; BNSF and Norfolk Southern, 100%. Quite an
One thing that the best
managers cannot control is legislation that could drastically affect their
company’s future value to shareholders. I became acutely aware of this while
attending the railroad industry’s annual march on Washington, Railroad Day on
the Hill. The organization and planning that go into this event is
monumental, and I’m sure that it has some sort of impact.
Just how much impact—on a
government mired in partisan gridlock and filled with politicians more
interested in payback than progress—remains to be seen.
“Congress is a reactive body,
not a proactive one. It talks in sound bytes. Most Congressmen and Senators
are more concerned with how they spin an issue, rather than how they plan to
deal with it.” Who said that? A railroader? No. A journalist? No. Then who?
A special assistant to Sen.
Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Need I say more?
How about this exchange: Sen.
James Inhofe (R-Okla.) was the only Senator who actually was present at one
of five meetings in which I participated. We explained the issues of concern
to the railroads. He listened politely, but overall seemed rather bored. As
we were taking our leave, I jokingly remarked, “Well, Senator, it looks like
we’re going to get a whole lot more snow in the Northeast than you get in
Inhofe promptly woke up, and
climbed on his imaginary soapbox: “After seven years, I’ve won my battle with
Al Gore! He’s been proven wrong! Global warming caused by greenhouse gas
emissions is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people! THERE
WILL BE NO CARBON CAP AND TRADE LEGISLATION! I GUARANTEE IT!”
Thank you for sharing that,
Senator. Excuse me, but I need to find the men’s room (I didn’t actually say
To be fair, Sen. Frank
Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who usually makes it a point to be present at Railroad
Day on the Hill meetings (especially for a delegation from New Jersey), was undergoing chemotherapy that day. His Senior Policy Advisor,
David Garten, was very supportive, and said what I thought was the most
encouraging statement I heard: “We will not support any legislation that
hurts the railroad industry.”
Sen. Rockefeller, are you
listening to your Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee colleague (and
As the AAR’s Ed Hamberger
has observed, the industry now needs to go back to Congress and keep pounding
away at the issues. Railway Age will do its part. Next month, we’ll have a
special feature on the AAR’s “Great Expectations: Railroads and U.S. Economic
Recovery” report. Our working title is a similar take on Charles Dickens: “Great Expectations; Hard Times.”
Gas taxes aren’t the only way
to fund public transportation programs, but it’s the route the State of New
Jersey has taken, and up until now it’s worked pretty well. The state’s
gas-tax-supported Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) is largely responsible for
some of the most ambitious transit programs undertaken anywhere. Without it,
where would New Jersey be?
The state is about to find
out. As of 2011, the TTF will be bankrupt, with all revenue going toward debt
service. Former Governor Jon Corzine temporarly averted a crisis a few years
ago by restructuring the debt. Now, however, it may be time to face the
music, and it’s not a pretty tune.
Despite the fact that New
Jersey has the nation’s third-lowest gas tax-—a tax that hasn’t been raised
since 1988 (which may be attributable in large part to the state’s heavy
investment in public transportation)—the new administration of Governor Chris
Christie is adopting that familiar old political refrain: “Tax-and-spend
isn’t the way to go.”
What? Does this really make
any sense in a state that has
been successfully taxing gasoline to pay for its transportation system?
New Jersey is faced with
other problems, like a $300 million operating shortfall at New Jersey
Transit. Like many North American transit agencies, NJT says it can handle
that with service reductions and fare increases. But NJT is also considering,
as Executive Director Jim Weinstein told me, delaying other important capital
programs. Fortunately, one of them isn’t the new Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel
(p. 38), a joint venture of NJT and the Port of Authority of New York & New Jersey.
What about other critical
capital programs? NJDOT Commissioner Jim Simpson (FTA Administrator under
George W. Bush) told me that a gas tax increase is a “non-starter, off the
table.” He also told me that “the state has a spending problem first when it
comes to transportation infrastructure,” “there’s too much politics involved
in infrastructure spending,” “if we doubled the gas tax we’d still have the
same problem,” “we have to re-examine the entire capital program,” which the
prior administration “bonded the heck out of,” and “we have to rein in
I’m sure that’s exactly what
the people of New Jersey want to hear.
Sorry fellas, but it probably
ain’t gonna work. How many times can you refinance debt? How are you supposed
to maintain and expand your rail network, or fix your crumbling highways and
bridges? Who’s supposed to pay for this? The federal government?
Yes—partially, at least.
Simpson said SAFETEA-LU reauthorization should include “a new-starts
megafund” and “more ability to flex highway funds over to transit.” A
Republican appointee, he praised the Obama Administration for loosening some
of the guidelines on federal funding, and the ability for states to flex
money. He recommended public-private partnerships and
design-build-operate-maintain projects—both good ideas—as a way to finance
capital projects. NJT already has two very successful DBOMs, Hudson-Bergen
Light Rail and the RiverLINE diesel interurban. He also said there are “too
many federal programs. There should be just two categories, transit and
Based on his experience at
FTA, Simpson said the FRA and FTA, to eliminate duplication, should be merged
into a single agency called the Federal Railroad and Transit Administration
(FRATA—sounds like a Starbucks drink). This agency would handle safety
regulations and grant programs.
These are all good ideas, but
the ones dealing with state transportation funding problems seem like a way
to avoid the obvious, simplest solution: Raise the gas tax to where it needs
to be. People may scream and yell that they shouldn’t be taxed for something
they don’t use (“I don’t take the train. Why should I pay for it? I don’t
have kids in public school. Why should I pay school taxes?”).
You may lose the next
election, but at least you’ve done what’s neccesary for the greater good of
your constituents. Isn’t that what being a public servant is all about?
Am I being disingenuous?
Most people hate the word
“tax.” It’s un-American, dammit! It’s one reason why we threw all that tea
into Boston Harbor and sent King George III packing. Perhaps “gas tax” is a
poor choice of words. Maybe it should be called a “transportation investment contribution.”
In any case, how much money
are we talking about? Ten cents a gallon extra? I’m already paying close to
$3.00 a gallon for premium. What’s another 10 cents—about $1.50 every time I
fill up? What will I have to give up? Half a Grandé FRATA at Starbucks?
So, you drive to work? Why
should you pay for my commuter train, you say? Here’s why: I’m not forced to
drive, thereby freeing up valuable highway space that your car could be
using. Yes, by you forking over that extra 10 cents a gallon, I won’t be
staring into your rearview mirror in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
China is well ahead of the United States in high speed rail, with
plans to invest nearly half a trillion (that’s trillion with a “t”)
dollars through 2012 on a national network of rail lines, most of which
would be dedicated (“true” or “very”) high speed lines with passenger
trains operating at speeds up to 220 mph. Some 1,200 miles of HSR will
open this year alone, at a cost of $50 billion. The country’s
longer-term plans call for high speed routes expanding beyond China’s
borders, linking Shanghai to Singapore and New Delhi and connecting
Beijing and Shanghai to Moscow, Tehran, Prague, and Berlin. The Beijing
to Shanghai system will be finished by early 2012, cutting travel time
to four hours from 10 (pictured, a Chinese high speed train on the
Zhengzhou-Xi’an line). By comparison, traveling by Amtrak from New York
to Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited, a similar distance (about
1,000 miles), takes about 20 hours.
Now, following the Obama Administration’s $8
billion in starter funds for U.S. HSR systems, the Chinese want to leap
across the Pacific and export and license their HSR expertise to the
U.S., supplying technology, rolling stock, engineers—and financing.
They’re attempting a jumpstart in California, where in the 19th
century the Union Pacific hired thousands of Chinese laborers to build
westward the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. The Golden Spike
ceremony of 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah, is a long time and distance
away from San Francisco and Los Angeles, but those two cities,
separated by 465 miles, represent an initial, $43 billion HSR link in a
statewide system envisioned by the California Rail Authority. The
Authority,which received $2.25 billion in federal HSR grant funds, needs
up to $12 billion in private financing for this project, and the
Chinese Ministry of Railways has taken a first step, signing cooperation
agreements with the State of California and General Electric.
The MOR’s deal with GE is described as a framework agreement to license
MOR technology. GE says the agreement stipulates that 80% of the content
of locomotives and related control systems would have to be sourced
from U.S. suppliers, with final assembly occurring in the U.S. The MOR
would license its technology and supply engineers as well as up to 20%
of the components. This agreement is similar to those that rolling stock
suppliers to the domestic rail transit market like Siemens, Alstom,
Bombardier, Kawasaki, and Hyundai-Rotem have with U.S. transit agencies.
Described by a World Bank transportation specialist as “engineering
driven— they know how to build fast, build cheaply, and do a good job,”
the Chinese Ministry of Railways says it is “the most advanced in many
fields ... willing to share with the United States.” In an extensive
interview with The New York Times, Chinese MOR HSR program chief Zheng
Jian said his agency “can provide whatever services are needed. ... HSR
requires a lot of high technology—we would send many high-end engineers
and high-end technicians.”
The State of California seems highly interested in China’s plans, but at
the same time the HSR Authority is looking at other proposals from the
railways and suppliers of Japan, Germany, South Korea, Spain, France,
and Italy. In these cases, the railways are closely aligned with
suppliers—for example, SNCF/Alstom/SYSTRA; Deutsche Bahn/Siemens; or
But besides domestic content requirements, any effort the Chinese
attempt to make in U.S. HSR will be filled with requirements and
obstacles they don’t have to deal with in China: elected politicians,
labor unions, U.S. Immigration,
EPA, OSHA, ADA, etc., etc. Aside from exporting goods on container
ships, the Chinese have virtually no experience dealing with U.S.
regulatory and political bodies. By contrast, railway suppliers like
Bombardier, Siemens, Alstom, Talgo, and Ansaldo already have years of
U.S. experience behind them. According to The Times, “Zheng said
repeatedly that any Chinese bid would comply with all American laws and
Easier said than done.
Then there is the issue of intellectual property. Zehn indicated that
all of the HSR technology would be Chinese, but according to The Times,
“State-owned Chinese equipment manufacturers initially licensed many of
their designs over the last decade from Japan, Germany, and France.
While Chinese companies have gone on to make many changes and
innovations, Japanese executives in particular have grumbled that
Chinese technology resembles theirs, raising the possibility of legal
challenges if any patents have been violated.” There is some precedent,
as this is similar to a scenario the U.S. freight rail supply community
has dealt with in the past. For example, several domestic suppliers have
grumbled to Railway Age that, after licensing agreements
expired, Chinese suppliers continued manufacturing patented,
U.S.-design, AAR-approved freight car components without permission.
China is well-stocked with capital and appears ready to bring it to the
U.S. HSR table. According to The Times, “China’s mostlystate-controlled
banks had few losses during the global financial crisis andare awash
with cash now because of tight regulation and a fast-growing economy.The
Chinese government is also becoming disenchanted with bonds and looking
to diversify its $2.4 trillion in foreign reserves by investing in
areas like natural resources and overseas rail projects. [The MOR] has
already begun building HSR in Turkey, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia, and
is looking for opportunities in seven other countries, notably a route
sought by the Brazilian government between São Paulo and Rio de
Interestingly, an automobile assembly plant that until late last week
turned out Japanese and American cars—the General Motors/Toyota NUMMI
(New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.) joint venture in Fremont, Calif.,
which produced the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe sport-compacts plus other
Toyota models—is shutting down after 25 years, eliminating nearly 5,000
jobs. One idea under consideration is converting the factory to the
assembly of HSR equipment, according to California HSR Authority Board
Member David Crane, who is also a member of the state’s Economic
Development Commission. Instead of Japanese auto parts, Chinese-sourced
rail equipment components would arrive through thenearby Port of
Regardless of how the Chinese interest in U.S. HSR pans out, swapping
automobiles for high speed trains is something the State of California
and the Obama Administration would love to see happen.
By William C. Vantuono, Editor
Though safety is always good business in the railroad industry, the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which kicked-started the industry down the path to Positive Train Control, was never meant to be a business proposition.
For the purposes of the 2015 deadline and the technology that the railroads and their suppliers are scrambling to develop, PTC is about safety. Period. Anyone who tries to soften the blow of the financial burden of this unfunded mandate by claiming that the railroads will reap “business benefits” from PTC is barking up the wrong logic tree.
Business benefits could come, eventually—provided the railroads move well beyond the basic overlay systems they will install over the next few years to a true moving-block system, which involves a wholesale replacement of existing signaling and train control technology.
The AAR commissioned Oliver Wyman to conduct a study, “Assessment of the Commercial Benefits of PTC.” It’s 93 pages long, but to understand what they’re talking about, just look at p. 2:
“Outside of safety benefits, two key assumptions underlie the majority of projected commercial and operational railroad benefits from PTC: that it will increase rail line capacity and network velocity. Benefits ranging from reduced capital investments in new track, to reductions in customer safety stock levels, are all tied to predictions related to these factors, which are expected to be realized through two primary means: 1) implementation of ‘precision’ or ‘optimized’ dispatching, which would greatly reduce train delays and allow more trains to move over each rail line; and 2) improved over-the-road train performance through improved train control information/signaling, supporting reduced spacing between trains, which ultimately would reduce train delays. The largest benefits calculated to date for PTC derive from the assumption that precision dispatching can be used in conjunction with PTC to achieve greater line capacity on U.S. rail routes. We found no direct relationship between precision dispatching and PTC.”
Various cost-benefit ratios are being lobbed (or lobbied) about; the worst of these is the FRA’s own 20:1 (though an AAR official has told me that “we’re looking at a ratio as high as 24:1”). At least the FRA is not trying to paint an unrealistic picture.
Here’s what the industry is saying: “No one is against improving safety—we especially. We’re not questioning that PTC can improve safety, and we’re committed to getting it done. However, only 3% of all train accidents are train control-related (i.e., PTC will not prevent accidents caused by broken rails or broken axles). We have existing, far-less-expensive technology at our disposal that will deliver essentially the same safety benefits, at a much lower cost. Much of it is already in place. PTC, which will decrease capacity and slow us down, will have to be paid for by our customers. If they’re unwilling to do that, they’ll take their business back to the highways. Care to guess what happens to safety, in terms of transportation-related casualties? You folks want PTC? Then you need to help us pay for it. Period.”
Have you seen the headline on the latest press release from CURE (Consumers United for Rail Equity), written in bold capital letters? It‘s rather shocking:
“BNSF CEO REFUTES CRITICISM OF RAIL REFORM”
Saints preserve us! Has BNSF Railway’s chief executive, Matt Rose, changed direction, broken away from the rail industry and endorsed CURE’s cure for the monopolistic actions of the big, bad railroads? Do Bob Szabo and company really, truly desire a healthy rail industry?
Well, just read CURE’s press release. Here it is, verbatim:
“Many freight rail company representatives and advocates have resorted to scare tactics and misrepresentations in an attempt to undermine the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Act of 2009 (S.2889), bipartisan reform legislation that would remove barriers to competition in the rail industry and improve rail customer access to protections in law against monopoly rail pricing and practices. But in a recent interview with the Nightly Business Report, Matthew Rose, CEO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, made a statement that refutes that criticism, saying reform would still allow the rail road (sic) industry to effectively operate and make profits. Specifically, Mr. Rose said:
“‘But certainly we believe that a free market approach to transportation has served this country very well. And you can still have partial changes to the regulatory environment and allow the railroads to do what they need to do.’
“‘Mr. Rose’s comments demonstrate that, despite the heated rhetoric of opponents of legislation, Congress can pass rail reform that protects consumers and shippers while continuing to ensure a vibrant rail industry,’ said Bob Szabo, executive director of Consumers United for Rail Equity (CURE). ‘S. 2889 is bipartisan legislation unanimously approved by the Senate Commerce Committee that achieves this careful balance by restoring fairness for rail customers without damaging the industry’s ability to achieve continued growth. We urge Congress to ensure the enactment of S.2889 at the earliest possible date in 2010.’”
I’m not sure whether to be angry or laugh. I’m more inclined to choose the latter, but what bothers me is that people who don’t know any better might actually believe CURE’s line of, er, gobbledeegook.
As Groucho Marx once said, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.” He also said, “The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made.” Or, “Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well, I have others.” Finally, “Why, a four-year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four-year-old child. I can't make head nor tail out of it.”
If Groucho were still around and were asked to comment on the goings-on in Washington involving railroads, he’d probably resurrect these gems. He’d probably appreciate Norfolk Southern’s Wick Moorman, who recently referred to a group of “cynical and short-sighted shippers” who with the enthusiastic help of Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, are attempting to win reduced freight rates by tinkering with rail regulation, and a Washington attitude toward railroads that “is verging on schizophrenia.”
I asked Railway Age Contributing Editor Larry Kaufman to weigh in:
“Typically, CURE takes Matt Rose out of context, and in doing so, it ignores his rather direct statement: ‘. . . we believe that a free market approach to transportation has served this country very well.’ Nothing in Rose’s statement endorses CURE and its hand-crafted effort to set the railroads back to the pre-Staggers era when railroads were financially crippled. Rose certainly did not refute any criticism of rail reform. On the contrary, a reading of his entire interview makes it clear that he does not disagree with justified criticism of the CURE bill.
“Congress may, in fact, be able to pass legislation that protects consumers and shippers while continuing to ensure a vibrant rail industry, as CURE claims, but the Rockefeller bill, S.2889, isn’t it. Szabo seems to think that calling something ‘bipartisan’ gives it dignity, whether deserved or not. The fact is there is no Republican or Democrat transportation policy, so a statement that a measure is bipartisan qualifies as meaningless. While there is much in S.2889 that would warm the cockles of a utility or chemical company’s heart, there is nothing in it that benefits railroads. Some compromise!
“As for ‘heated rhetoric,’ the railroads have been quite circumspect in their pronouncements, especially as they continue to try to work with Senate Commerce Committee staff to develop an acceptable bill. No, the heated rhetoric comes from CURE, which has been unable for 29 years to persuade the Congress that the Staggers Act needs amending.”
In American politics, anything goes, distortions included. Matt Rose, and for that matter all railroad chief executives, the Association of American Railroads, or any rail industry organization, have far too much class to resort to such tactics.
As Groucho Marx once said, “Quote me as saying I was misquoted.”
—William C. Vantuono, Editor, Railway Age
By William C. Vantuono, Editor
More than a century ago, one
of this magazine's chief editors remarked, “It may be true that experience is
the best teacher. But a man is damned fool who cannot learn from anybody’s
experience but his own.” This is perhaps the most important reason for a
trade publication'“s existence, but it also applies to trade associations, and
their annual expositions.
After 18 years at Railway Age, I've attended dozens of
industry trade shows. In recent years, two observations have caught my
attention. One comes from suppliers, who expend a lot of time and money on
these events: “The turnout is a bit disappointing. There should be more of
our customers here.” The other comes from the railroads: “There are far too
many trade shows. We’re too busy and have far too little staff to send people
to every one.’
Points well taken. What’s the solution, Railway Supply
Institute, Railway Systems Suppliers, Inc., Railway Engineering-Maintenance
Suppliers Association, and American Railway Engineering and
Here’s your answer, railroads
and suppliers: Railway Interchange 2011, Minneapolis, Sept. 18-21, 2011.
Everybody-RSI, RSSI, REMSA, and AREMA-in one location, at the same time. All
the railroad disciplines-mechanical, C&S, engineering-under one roof
(Minneapolis Convention Center) and at one outdoor facility (Canadian
Pacific’s Humboldt Yard). New technology. A wide variety of technical
sessions. Best of all, the opportunity to see firsthand what your colleagues
Railway Interchange 2011 will
be the biggest, most important railway industry exposition since the massive
trade shows held "“back in the day” in Chicago. It has been close to a
half-century since we had one of these events in the U.S. We strongly suggest
you start planning for it, because September 2011 will be upon us sooner than
Railway Age’s own history is
closely associated with such industry extravaganzas. In 1883, Chicago hosted
the very first one, the month-long National Exposition of Railway Appliances,
at the Inter-State Exposition Building, also known as the “Glass Palace”
(where the Art Institute of Chicago now stands). The Exposition’s chief
proponent and principal organizer was Railway Age President and Editor Elisha
Hollingsworth Talbott, who joined forces with industry titans like George
Westinghouse and George Pullman. The latter was responsible for building an
opulent railroad car (pictured, below) for the Exposition.
John H. White, Jr. wrote
about this car in the Winter 2010 edition of Chicago History magazine: “The
most elegant form of railway travel was represented by a private car named Railway
Age. In an interview with a New York Sun reporter, George Pullman explained
that the car was one of the most luxurious ever placed on a pair of trucks.
The car incorporated the best-of-the-best wheels, paneling, and lamps. It was
painted Talbott Blue, a special blend of exterior paint mixed by Sherwin,
Williams & Company and named in honor of the Exposition’s secretary and
chief organizer. The observation room was paneled in oak, the floor covered
in velvet carpets. The parlor was mahogany with inlaid panels and carvings
from rare woods imported from all over the world. The bedroom was paneled in
maple, the floor covered with amaranth (a purplish red) carpet. It would cost
$75,000 to reproduce the car, and it was given to Talbott as a thank you by
the exhibitors. Talbott and his wife took the car on a trip to Yellowstone
and the Pacific Northwest. But the gift was too expensive for him to keep up,
so within a few years, he sold it back to the Pullman Company, where it was
used as a rental car.”
I wonder what happened to Railway
Age’s first and only Pullman car. If you happen to know, drop me a line at email@example.com.
By William C. Vantuono, Editor
Creation of two new subway extensions in New York City is testimony to the drive and persistence that eventually gets very bigthings done in a very big city.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stubbornly wanteda $2.1 billion West Side subway extension (the No. 7 Flushing Line) to helpcommercial development, and he's getting it. The city is funding it for the NewYork Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a state agency, and the tunneling machinehas been digging away.
On the other side of town, another tunnelingmachine is (at last!) grinding its way along the path of the first phase of the$4.8 billion Second Avenue Subway, long the dream of planners-and the nightmareof guardians of the public purse.
That such visionary public projects can prosper inthe budget squeeze that has strangled so many other worthy projects is eloquentevidence of the priority that public transportation is getting these days. Acity like New York, which Doug Bowen points out expects to add 1.5 millionpeople in the near future, really has no choice.
These two expansions are just the "top of the news"on the transit scene in New York. Under a revised five-year capital improvementprogram-slightly shrunk from the previous one, but still impressive-MTA NewYork City Transit will continue purchasing new subway cars. The most recentorder, for $87 million, went to Kawasaki Railcar USA for 23 new R-188s. Withall options exercised, NYCT will take delivery during the next few years on 123R-188s and refurbish 350 cars-$384 million worth of work. A $343 millioncommunications-based train control system from Thales (details, p. 8) is slatedfor the entire No. 7 line, including an update of the traditional technology onthe existing No. 7 route. Meanwhile, as noted in our recent Passenger RailPlanner's Guide (March issue), the $527 million reconfigured South FerryStation opened on March 16, expanding capacity and improving transfers to theStaten Island Ferry and other NYCT subways. Earlier, NYCT exercised optionswith Alstom Transport and Kawasaki for 382 R-160 cars on a contract originallyawarded in 2002. There are now more than 1,400 R-160s service, out of NYCT'sfleet of nearly 6,300 cars.
That's what I call rolling out the rolling stock!No wonder the transit car components business for companies like Wabtec, whichsupplies both the freight and passenger rail industries, is doing so well. Insome cases, were it not for rail transit, these suppliers would be struggling.Remember, we won't see an appreciable improvement in the freight car marketuntil 2012.
New York'sRenaissance Man: Legendary civil engineer William Barclay Parsons(1859-1932) designed the Interborough Rapid Transit, New York's first subway,and many other engineering marvels, among them the Cape Cod Canal. ParsonsBrinckerhoff, the engineering firm he founded in 1885 with his brother, Harryde Berkeley Parsons, is celebrating its 125th anniversary.
"William Barclay Parsons: A Renaissance Man of OldNew York" celebrates the life and accomplishments of this remarkable man.Written by PB Manager of Editorial Services Tom Malcolm, a senior member of thecompany's Corporate Communications Group, the book describes an individualwhose achievements were surpassed only by his modesty.
On the IRT's opening day, Oct. 27, 1904, ChiefEngineer Parsons gave the shortest speech amidst all the pomp and circumstance.He simply said, "I have the honor and very great pleasure to state that theRapid Transit Railroad from the City Hall Station to the station of 145thStreet, on the west side line, is ready and complete for operation."
Indeed, what more be said?
The next day, a reporter for The World newspaperasked Parsons, "Does it give you any emotion to have finished the first stageof your work-not to have it with you?" Parsons replied, in his usualunderstated manner: "I had a feeling this morning of pleasure-when I went intothe station to come downtown and saw the people rushing for the trains-it didgive a great feeling of pleasure, quite a little emotion, the thought that I had been instrumental inbringing it to pass. I really felt that I had done something for somebody; thatI had helped people along a little bit. I stood there and watched them forquite a while, and it pleased me-yes, it made me happy."
The company that William Barclay Parsons founded all thoseyears ago today employs 14,000 people in 150 offices on six continents, doingthings ranging from strategic consulting to program and constructionmanagement. I think that would have made him happy.
The Great Recession is receding (though some insist it mightbe reseeding). Traffic is returning to the railroads. Profits are up.Productivity is up. Operating ratios are falling. Take a look at Class Isecond-quarter earnings reports ifyou're skeptical.
"The rails are now riding the recovery wave of expandingtraffic for major commodities haulings as well as strong year-over-yearcomparisons for intermodal movements," says Peter Toja of Economic PlanningAssociates, the industry's well-known freight car forecaster. "As of the secondquarter, all the major commodity groups were registering gains with theexceptions of coal and paper, which have rebounded in the second quarter but havenot yet overtaken their extremely weak starts. While we are gratified by thesecond quarter traffic results, we anticipate further commodity traffic flowimprovements as we proceed through the second half of this year and into 2011.Agricultural exports are rising, ethanol production is accelerating, thehousing markets are improving, light vehicle sales are expanding, manufacturingactivities have revived, and a stronger economy will stimulate greaterproduction of electricity. These activities will prompt the haulings of grain,ethanol and distiller grain, lumber, motor vehicles and parts, metals andproducts, chemicals, plastics, and coal. And, these improvements will extendinto 2011 and beyond."
That's great news. What does it mean for the industry'sfreight car builders, who are finally starting to experience a gradual upturnin orders after bottoming out yet again in the endless roller coaster ride ofthe railcar market?
"Railcar orders are reflecting the rebound in traffic," saysToja. "After rising to 5,078 cars in the opening quarter of this year, ordersin the second quarter amounted to 4,886 cars. The first half strength in orderswas centered in coal and related service cars, covered hoppers, and tank cars.While we believe that replacement pressure was the driving force behind coalcar demand, the acceleration in ethanol production has sparked renewed interestin hi-cube covered hoppers and certain tank cars. The previously dormantsmall-cube covered hopper segment came back to life in the second quarter as1,307 cars were ordered."
Toja says he is "enthused by the outlook for commodity andintermodal haulings but is cautious with regard to new equipment demand in theshort term due to the still large amount of idle capacity in the rail system.Still, the improvements in major commodities markets will once again stimulatedemand for rail equipment during the longer term forecast horizon. It alsoappears that carbuilders are exercising caution at this early stage of recoveryin new equipment demand. While we appreciate the caution on the part of thecarbuilders as well as the multi-year orders portion of the existing backlogs,we would expect to see a pickup in second half production runs."
Looks like the carbuilders will have to wait a while longerbefore production really gets back on track, Toja notes: "We have lowered ourforecast of assemblies this year from 16,000 to 13,250 cars. Even withcontinued improvements in economic activities, the oversupply of railcars willdampen the rebound in assemblies next year. In 2011, we look for deliveries ofonly 19,750 cars. Beginning in 2012, far stronger economic activities willprovide support for certain railcar assemblies. The extremely low levels ofdeliveries this year and next will serve to intensify the pressure to replaceaged equipment in various fleets during the longer term forecast horizon. Afterthree dismal years, we look for deliveries to advance moderately to 31,000 carsin 2012 and then expand annually to the level of almost 60,000 units in 2015."
Mystery solved: In the June issue, I asked if anyone couldlet me know what became of Pullman car Railway Age built for the 1883 NationalExposition of Railway Appliances and presented to Railway Age Editor E. H.Talbott. My thanks to Adrian Ettlinger of the Railway and Locomotive HistoricalSociety, and William Howes, aformer B&O and Chessie System executive. Howes came up with the following:
"The car was built by Pullman in January 1882 (or, perhaps,ordered in 1882 and completed in 1883), to Plan 117 as the only car in Lot 24.It was acquired by E. H. Talbot of Railway Age. It was sold back to Pullman inMarch, 1889 and became one of Pullman's private cars available for rent. Itsname was changed (probably in 1889) to Wildwood, which appears on an 1893Pullman list of private cars available for rent. The Wildwood was apparentlyremodeled and modernized about 1898 (Plan 117B). Records indicate that the Wildwoodwas wrecked on the Pennsylvania Railroad in early 1899. This seems to besubstantiated by the fact that the car does not appear on a 1901 Pullman listof private cars available for rent. Photos of the Wildwood taken by Pullman in1898 are available at the Smithsonian (negative numbers 4282 through 4285).Additional information on the car can probably be found at the Newberry Libraryin Chicago."