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.
Acting Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg will respond to questions before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation at her confirmation hearing to become permanent FRA Administrator on Thursday, Sept. 17th at 9:45 a.m. Will the hearing be about her job qualifications, or about the controversy on Capitol Hill surrounding the Dec. 31, 2015 Positive Train Control implementation deadline?
The latter topic cannot be avoided.
“Despite it being a confirmation hearing, the subject matter most certainly will be the PTC implementation deadline and what actions FRA can or should take to avoid the embargoes on TIH hazmat and passenger traffic the railroads maintain they will be forced to enact on Jan. 1, 2016, since—as they say—they are unable to meet the deadline and would be violating federal law should they operate such trains,” notes Railway Age Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner.
As most followers of Capitol Hill goings-on realize, confirmation hearings tend to be based on political agendas and not on the actual nominee and his or her qualifications. That’s business as usual in Washington. However, in this case, things are much more complicated, and Feinberg—a skilled and by many accounts effective political insider—may feel like she’s caught between a rock and a hard place.
Feinberg’s testimony—specifically, her answers to questions about PTC delays and potential fallout effects—could be a difficult balancing act for the long-time Democratic political operative. Sen. John Thune (R-S.Dak.), who serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and has a great deal of influence upon whether Feinberg is confirmed or rejected, supports the railroads’ position that the PTC deadline must be extended and stands ready with legislation that will accomplish just that. The FRA itself has said to Congress that the deadline is unattainable and must be extended.
However, the FRA is a regulatory body charged with upholding federal law and overseeing railroad safety. Unless the deadline is extended, the FRA by statute will have no choice but to fine the railroads up to $25,000 per day for every day that they are not in compliance. The railroads’ response, individually, and collectively through the AAR? “We’ll have no choice but to embargo all shipments of TIH hazmat and refuse track access to Amtrak and other passenger rail operators.” As Frank Wilner recently noted, “Allowing such operations over noncompliant track would expose all parties to unimaginable jury awards were the unthinkable to occur.” More important, “Congress was warned by shippers that such embargoes would kindle severe national economic harm.”
Is Congress listening?
Is Pope Francis an Episcopalian?
All of this has fallen squarely into Feinberg’s lap as 2015 winds down, while a procrastinating, do-nothing Congress that cannot even agree on a highway bill as the nation’s roads and bridges crumble away does little or nothing to deal with a deadline that most halfway-intelligent people realize cannot be met. Is the railroads’ embargo threat real, or just the public part of a multi-act play going on behind the scenes on Capitol Hill? Has Feinberg’s confirmation hearing been purposely timed as the focal point for Congress to get off its partisanship-petrified posterior and make a decision?
Some observers are suggesting that this will all be worked out, at the last minute (perhaps just before the New Year’s Eve ball drops in Times Square). Probably so, but that does nothing at the moment for Sarah Feinberg, who before the Senate Commerce Committee will be asked to provide some sort of solution—even though the responsibility does not rest entirely with her, or with the FRA.
Sarah, it’s all up to you. Good luck!
(Sarah Feinberg has served as Acting Administrator since January 2015. President Barack Obama formally nominated on her May 29, 2015 to be FRA Administrator. Feinberg’s nomination questionnaire can be downloaded by clicking HERE.)
Class I railroads have been seeking a rugged mobile AEI (Automatic Equipment Identification) application that will provide them with detailed railcar inspection and maintenance functions in addition to asset tracking. Several are currently evaluating a promising new device offered by Trimble, a manufacturer of rugged handheld computer devices.
Cowen and Company’s 8th Annual Global Transportation Conference featured presentations by publicly traded U.S. railroads as well as a panel discussion on the railcar industry. In general, traffic levels appear to be recovering in several sectors, with modest growth expected in 2015’s second half and into 2016.
The Association of American Railroads Coupling System and Truck Casting Committee has approved the new Strato Inc. E50BE Knuckle as meeting the AAR M-216 Knuckle Fatigue Test specification, which requires an average fatigue life of at least 600,000 cycles.
Metrolinx, the government agency that oversees public transportation in Canada’s Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area in Ontario Province, on Sept. 10, 2015 awarded Alstom Transport a contract worth $127 million (C$168.5 million) million for a new computer-based integrated traffic control system for the GO Transit regional/commuter rail network.
Transportation Technology Services (TTS), recently acquired by BNSF Logistics, LLC, and Siemens Energy, Inc., have entered into a joint venture to market and operate the KWUX 101, a 20-axle super-heavy-duty Schnabel railcar.
Transportation officials in El Paso, Tex., are finalizing agreements with two firms to build a $97 million, 4.8-mile streetcar line approved by City Council in 2014. The state-funded project involves refurbishing and placing back into service historic El Paso City Lines PCC cars that operated until the 1970s.
2015 is adding up to be a year of innovation, and a few surprises, in the North American locomotive market.
CSX Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Fredrik Eliasson, formerly the company’s CFO, on Sept. 9, 2015 reviewed performance to date and updated investors on the company’s third-quarter and full-year expectations at the Cowen and Company 8th Annual Global Transportation Conference in Boston, Mass.
The Sacramento Regional Transit District (RTD) on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015 will begin operating the first set of light rail vehicles newly refurbished by Siemens on the recently opened Blue Line light rail extension to Cosumnes River College.