William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

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.

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Wednesday, 06 July 2011 07:43

AAR, UIC offer PTC conference details

The Association of American Railroads Wednesday announced preliminary details for the third International Conference on Communications-Based Train Control and Train Efficiency conference, hosted in partnership with the International Union of Railways (UIC), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and the Transportation Technology Center, Inc. (TTCI). The event will take place April 30-May 1, 2012 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

The event will address communications-based train control systems, particularly I-ETMS and ERTMS, as well as communication standards, interoperability and related train efficiency management systems. Conference participants will be able to participate in an optional field trip to TTCI’s internationally recognized research and testing facilities in Pueblo, Colorado, May 2, 2012.

“AAR is pleased to co-host this premier event which will bring together some of the world's leading experts on communications-based train control issues,” said AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. “PTC is an important issue to our industry, and will continue to be so in the years ahead.”

“UIC is excited that the International Train Control conference is being held in the U.S. next year,” said Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, director general of the UIC. “This will follow on the very successful conferences held in Istanbul in 2008 and in Tokyo in 2010 and will present a unique opportunity for professionals from around the world to share knowledge and experiences with their counterparts.”
Wednesday, 06 July 2011 10:45

Bombardier layoffs cause British discomfort

A rare 2011 setback for Bombardier Transportation has prompted the company to plan layoffs for 1,400 workers in Great Britain. Bombardier says it will let go 446 permanent employees and 983 temporary workers at its Derby, England, facility, following its failure to land a contract to build passenger trains for Thameslink, a regional rail line running from Bedford through London to Brighton.

A consortium led by rival Siemens AG was awarded a $2.25 billion contract in June to supply 1,200 cars. Britain’s Department for Transport says Siemens will hire about 650 people in Britain to build the trains.

Bombardier’s announcement, made Tuesday, has prompted British political interests to voice larger concerns over open market policies within the European Union. Some have suggested France and Germany have adhered to EU rules somewhat haphazardly, sometimes favoring hometown companies during bidding procedures.

Last month Bombardier landed a 354 million pound ($566 million) contract from Transport for London (TfL) to install Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) on London Underground’s Sub-Surface Line (SSL) network. Bombardier also scored in Australia during June, landing a $265 million stake in a $1.1 billion contract with the Queensland state government.

As expected, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) Thursday unveiled a six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill, totaling $230 billion, roughly 20% less than the previous bill, SAFETEA-LU, and also significantly less than a $500 billion reauthorization bill introduced to Congress, but never passed, in 2009.

john-mica.jpgMica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (pictured at left), has said future spending should not exceed funding available in the Highway Trust Fund, which has been supplemented by general revenue in recent years. Federal transit funding assistance and even highway funding directed to the states would decrease as a result.

The bill’s effort to reduce costs includes revamping or terminating numerous programs, and removing any requirement for states to offer "transportation enhancements" such as pedestrian and bicycle improvements, though saving generated by the latter change would be marginal at best. The bill also would not allow states to impose tolls on existing interstate highway lanes, though tolls could be imposed on new highway lanes and on existing federal (U.S. number) roads.

Mica’s bill also rejects any increase in the federal fuels tax, last changed in 1993 and already producing lower revenue due in part to more efficient automotive fuel use and alternative-fuel vehicles.

Negative reaction to the Mica bill, some of it bipartisan, preceded the bill’s introduction. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), an ardent advocate of light rail, streetcar, and bicycle transportation, said, “The proposed funding levels in this reauthorization are disastrously stingy and do not meet the minimum levels required to keep America's transportation network safe and our economy competitive." He added, "Funding at these levels will result in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs and roads, railways and bridges with structural deficiencies that threaten our communities."
Thursday, 07 July 2011 07:51

U.S. opening highways to Mexican trucks

The United States and Mexico signed an agreement in Mexico City Wednesday that will permit Mexican trucks to operate on U.S. highways. In return, Mexico will cancel tariffs ranging between 25% and 50% that it imposed oncertain U.S. products in retaliation for the decision of the Obama Administration in 2009 to cancel a pilot cross-border trucking program initiated under President George W. Bush.

Current practice permits most truckers based in Mexico to operate in the U.S. only within small commercial zones near border crossings.

According to the trucking publication Transport Topics, Mexican trucks enter the U.S. about 4.5 million times a year.
U.S. freight carload traffic for the week ending July 2 advanced 0.3% compared with the same week in 2010, the Association of American Railroads said Thursday. U.S. intermodal volume, meanwhile, gained 2.5% for the week compared with a year ago.

aar_logo.jpgAAR noted 15 of the 20 carload commodity groups it measured posted increases from the comparable week in 2010. Pacing the gaining groups were farm products excluding grain, up 22.3%, metallic ores, up 18.5%, and lumber and wood products, up 14.3%. AAR said waste and nonferrous scrap was the only group posting a notable decrease, down 12.3%.

Canadian freight carload volume moved up 7.6% for the week ending July 2, compared with volume one year ago; Canadian intermodal volume also rose, up 6.9%. Mexican freight carload volume rose 3.9% compared with the same week last year, while intermodal was up 60.4%.

Combined North American freight carload volume for the first 26 weeks of 2011 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican was up 2.7% compared with the same time span last year, while intermodal marked a 7.1% gain.

Friday, 08 July 2011 05:13

STB slashes rate-case filing fee

The Surface Transportation Board announced Thursday that it is cutting the fees that shippers pay to file a railroad rate or unreasonable practice complaint from $20,000 to $350. The board is maintaining the $150 fee to file an expedited small rate case.

stb_logo.jpgThe board said it based its decision on three considerations: "The filing of a complaint is often the Board’s only mechanism for investigating and addressing potential rate violations or other unlawful practices. High fees for the filing of formal complaints may discourage shippers and others from bringing complaints before the Board. The changes to the Board’s regulation sreducing such fees should improve the agency’s management of its docket and resources."

On Feb. 15, the board filed a notice of proposed rulemaking reducing some fees. At that time, Chairman Daniel R. Elliott said, “Charging a small business more than $20,000 to bring a complaint is not right.”

In Thursday’s announcement, the board said: “While Chairman Elliott believes the new fee structure will make it easier for shippers to file formal cases with the Board, he invites them first to avail themselves of the free, informal mediation service offered through the agency’s Rail Customer and Public Assistance Program. He added that the agency also offers a successful program of formal mediation.”

Regional Rail, LLC, on Friday said it has entered into an agreement with Norfolk Southern Corp. to lease and operate the Class I railroad’s York Industrial Track, which runs from York, Pa., to Stony Brook, Pa. Regional Rail said the line will be operated as part of its subsidiary East Penn Railroad, LLC, which serves southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware.

east_penn_rr_logo.jpgKennett Square, Pa.-based Regional Rail filed the notice of exemption with the Surface Transportation Board last week and plans to initiate service on the line on August 1.

“This addition to our operations further illustrates our solid relationship with NS which has resulted from our mutually beneficial carload growth and quality service on our existing NS served lines,” said Regional Rail President and CEO Bob Parker.

Regional Rail Vice President Al Sauer said, “The presence of a number of existing customers, along with the opportunity to reactivate rail service to other customers and the ability to provide transload services to non rail served facilities gives us an established base from which to grow and expand the carload traffic on the York Line.”

Regional Rail LLC also is the parent company of the Middletown & New Jersey Railroad, LLC which owns and/or operates four rail lines in southeastern New York State.

Chicagoland’s Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), seeking to bolster and assist ridership on its bus and train routes, has produced a video entitled “From the Suburbs to Chicago” aimed at customers using Chicago Transit Authority, Metra regional rail, and Pace suburban bus services.

The two-and-a-half minute video is especially designed for sharing on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. It includes details about: RTA’s goroo, a multi-modal public transit trip planner; weekend passes; and the free fares for children under 7.

(“From the Suburbs to Chicago” can be seen here.) 

“I think this video animation is really eye-catching and a new way to get the word out. We put a lot of information on brochures and printed schedules but it still can be confusing for someone who has never or rarely used public transportation. This animation gives a great explanation for riders from the suburbs of how the CTA, Metra, and Pace work together to get people where they want to go,” said RTA Executive Director Joe Costello.
Friday, 08 July 2011 06:07

Greenbrier 3Q revenue up

The Greenbrier Cos. Friday reported revenue of $317 million in its third quarter ended May 31, up from $207 million in the comparable period in 2010. Net loss for the quarter was $3.3 million, or 14 cents per diluted share, compared with net earnings of $4.6 million, or 23 cents per diluted share, in the prior year's third quarter.

greenbrier_cos._logo.jpgLake Oswego, Ore.-based Greenbrier noted that, excluding a one-time charge of $10.0 million pre-tax, $6.0 million after-tax, for costs associated with the retirement of $235 million of senior unsecured notes during the quarter, net earnings were $2.7 million, or 10 cents per share.

Wall Street took the one-time charge in stride.  Shares of GBX were down 3% in mid-morning trading Friday, and halved that loss in early afternoon trade. And in an analyst note Friday, Steve Barger, KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc. director, Industrial Manufacturers, said, “Rather than focusing on these quarterly results, we think investors should look to GBX’s orders of 6,400, which implies a book:bill of 2.9 for the quarter (and represented the strongest level of quarterly bookings since fiscal 1Q08). We think this could be indicative of solid order activity for the industry.”

Barger added, “Overall, we think the order rate and the industry commentary renew our confidence in our positive thesis for the [industry] group, and we continue to believe investors should want exposure” to Greenbrier and its competitive rivals.

The company noted it ended the quarter with $34.3 million of cash and $112.2 million of committed additional borrowing capacity. New railcar deliveries in the third quarter of 2011 were 2,200 units, compared to 700 units in the third quarter of 2010. Greenbrier's new railcar manufacturing backlog as of May 31 was 13,600 units with an estimated value of $1.05 billion, compared with 9,500 units valued at $720 million at February 28, 2011.

Said President and CEO William A. Furman, “As anticipated, we returned to profitability during the quarter, excluding the one-time charge associated with retiring our $235 million senior unsecured notes. However, these results did not fully meet our expectations, principally due to a temporary shortage of castings in North America and a temporary delay in certification of railcars in Europe, which dampened new railcar deliveries by about 300 units. In addition, about $2 million of certain other non-recurring general & administrative costs were incurred during the third quarter.”

Furman added, “Business momentum continues in what we believe is the early stage of an upturn in the markets we serve. Revenue in our Manufacturing and Wheel Services, Refurbishment & Parts segments, and lease rates on our lease fleet have grown for the third consecutive quarter, driven by stronger demand for our products and services. Business visibility continues to improve, particularly in new railcar manufacturing, where we are experiencing a cyclical recovery and benefitting from the strength of our diversified and expanded product portfolio and the ramping up of additional capacity.”

San Antonio’s VIA Metropolitan Transit has hired HNTB Corp. as a program manager to determine plans for an urban rail line. HNTB, with an office in the city, will work as VIA's in-house consultants to determine the potential rider market, route or routes, and whether light rail transit (LRT) or streetcar would better serve the city.

san_antonio_via_logo.jpgVIA has tentatively proposed north-south and east-west streetcar lines through San Antonio’s downtown, and hopes HNTB will help it pinpoint more exact routes.

“We're the glue that's going to be responsible for day-to-day focus on these efforts, supporting the staff here,” said Kyle Keahey, HNTB Corp.’s associate vice president and the VIA project program manager.

HNTB also will counsel VIA on finding the financial means to build any rail system, something Keahey says must occur before the Federal Transit Administration will consider providing any fiscal support. “As program manager, we will help you find the money,” Keahey said.

San Antonio, population 1.33 million, is the largest city in Texas without an urban rail transit system.

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