William Vantuono

William Vantuono

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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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.

bnsf_rose_3.jpgRose (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.

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By William C. Vantuono, Editor

william-vantuono-web.jpgWhile 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)?

Amtrak.

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.

engine-999-front.jpgPlug 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!

 

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By William C. Vantuono, Editor

 

william-vantuono-web.jpgMichael 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 accomplishment.

 

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 Oklahoma.”

 

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 that). 

 

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 fellow Democrat)?

 

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.”

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By William C. Vantuono, Editor

 

william-vantuono-web.jpgGas 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 spending.”

 

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 highways.”

 

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? Naïve?

 

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.

 

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By William C. Vantuono, Editor

william-vantuono-web.jpgChina 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 tchina-hsr.jpgechnicians.”

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 RENFE/Talgo.

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 regulations.”

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 Janeiro.”

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 Oakland.

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.

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By William C. Vantuono, Editor

william-vantuono-web.jpgThough 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.”

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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.

groucho_marx.jpgAs 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

William Vantuono | 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 Maintenance-of-way Association?

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 are doing.

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 you think.

railway-age-pullman-car-1883.jpgRailway 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 wvantuono@sbpub.com.

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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. 

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By William C. Vantuono, Editor

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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."

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By William C. Vantuono, Editor

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Recovering from the worst business downturn in nearly 80 years, U.S. Class I railroads earned an average rate of return on net investment of 9.60% in the 12 months ended June 30, 2010, compared with a year-ago ROI of 9.47%.

The nation’s two largest railroads had returns in the low double-digits. BNSF Railway earned 10.25% vs.10.20% a year ago, closely followed by Union Pacific, with a return of 10.02% compared with 9.15% in the prior 12-month period.

Canadian Pacific subsidiary Soo Line, smallest of the Class I railroads, was statistically the best performer in the 12 months ended with this year’s second quarter. Soo Line ROI was 16.30%, up from 11.06% a year ago.

Norfolk Southern earned an ROI of 9.44% in the latest 12-month period vs. 10.89% a year ago; CSX earned 8.54% vs. 8.59%; Kansas City Southern earned 8.43% vs. 6.79%; and CN subsidiary Grand Trunk Corp., 7.84% vs. 7.39%.

“Whether any of these ROIs meet the Surface Transportation Board’s revenue adequacy standard is not now clear,” says Luther S. Miller, our Senior Editorial Consultant. “In the view of the STB, which uses the information in rate cases and other proceedings, a railroad is revenue adequate if it earns the current cost of capital.”

The latest cost of capital determination by the STB was 11.5% for the year ended Dec. 31, 2009.

Take a look at the STB chart below. I think you would be hard-pressed to find another industry that has posted numbers as strong as these in difficult economic times.

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By William C. Vantuono, Editor

william-vantuono-web.jpgOne full issue of Railway Age, much less one page of it, wouldn’t come close to doing justice to InnoTrans 2010, “the best of the best,” as Publisher Bob DeMarco told me upon his return late last month from Berlin. “I can’t imagine it getting any better in quality or quantity. The thought of doing something on this scale in the U.S. is mind-boggling.”

Picture, if you can, a transportation expo with roughly 2,000 exhibitors, and 110,000 delegates representing close to 50 nations. Acres of indoor and outdoor exhibit space (“impossible to cover in just one week,” according to International Railway Journal Editor David Briginshaw, who was one of 12 Simmons-Boardman Rail Group staff to attend InnoTrans).

The U.S. railway industry was well-represented at InnoTrans. No fewer than 31 companies and organizations large and small—twice that of 2009—participated: AREMA, EMD/Progress Rail Services, GE Transportation, Nordco, Orgo-Thermit, Penn Machine, Portec Rail Group, RMI, Sperry, Wabtec, Western-Cullen-Hayes, to name a few. Add to these U.S. staff from companies like Siemens and Bombardier.

While the RSI/RSSI/REMSA/AREMA Railway Interchange 2011 at the Minneapolis Convention Center next Sept. 18-21, won’t match InnoTrans in size and scope, it nevertheless promises to be the North American railway industry’s “show of shows.” The Simmons-Boardman Rail Group—the only transportation trade publishing company with a truly global reach—will have a strong presence. We urge you to do likewise.

Exhibit space at Railway Interchange 2011 is now open. For more information, visit www.railwayinterchange.org.

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By William C. Vantuono, Editor

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If you happen to believe the popular misinterpretation of the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar (Mayan Calendar), we won’t need any new equipment as of 12/21/2012, so don’t bother reading any further. If, on the other hand, you’d like some valuable analysis of the long-term freight car market (not from me, mind you), read on.

The analysis comes courtesy of Peter Toja and Economic Planning Associates. EPA has upped its freight car production estimate for 2011 from 19,800 units to 22,500 units, with more-substantial growth beginning in 2012. “After three dismal years, we look for railcar deliveries to advance moderately to 32,800 cars in 2012 and then expand annually to the level of 59,000 units in 2015,” Toja says. Here are highlights from EPA’s Oct. 30, 2010 overview:

“On the heels of rebounding traffic in commodity haulings and intermodal movements, demand for rail equipment is recovering. Equally important, equipment demand is broadening as orders are being placed for previously neglected categories such as small-cube covered hoppers, intermodal platforms, grain service hoppers, and hi-cube covered hoppers. Some of the other recently quiet categories are drawing interest as one railroad announced fourth-quarter orders for mill gons and coil cars while another indicated a forthcoming investment in its coal car fleet.

“While deliveries increased in both the second and third quarters, backlogs jumped from 10,462 cars at the beginning of the year to 19,267 units at the end of September. The backlogs as well as our anticipation of future growth in traffic should keep short- and medium-term assemblies of assorted railcars moving up gradually. The improvements in railroad traffic volumes, revenues, and profitability continues to gain momentum. Citing revenue gains across the board in all market sectors, the railroads are also looking to invest in facilities and equipment to accommodate future traffic expansion as well as to upgrade fleets to better-service customers. During the third quarter, the railroads specifically addressed their need to invest in equipment to service lumber and wood products, iron ore, steel, and coal. Investments are also being planned in other equipment types.

“Agricultural exports are rising, ethanol production is accelerating, the housing markets are stabilizing, light vehicle sales are expanding, manufacturing activities have revived, and a stronger economy will stimulate greater electricity production. These activities will prompt haulings of grain, ethanol and DDG, lumber, motor vehicles and parts, metals and products, chemicals, plastics, and coal.

“These improvements will extend into 2011 and beyond. We expect commodity loadings to advance 5.3% this year and 2.9% in 2011. From 2012 through 2015, annual growth in carloadings will moderate from 1.8% to 1.4%. Demand for intermodal services is rebounding strongly. We expect a 10.3% rebound in intermodal movements this year, followed by a 5.5% hike in 2011 and a 5.2% jump in 2012. From 2013 through 2015, intermodal traffic gains will be in the range of 3.5-5.0% per year.

“Some idle capacity will continue to dampen equipment demand. Given assemblies to date, current backlogs, and the builders’ conservative approach to managing backlogs, we expect deliveries of 13,500 cars this year. The cautious attitude of the builders is best exemplified by the fact that third-quarter backlogs of 19,267 still represented 5.2 quarters of assemblies at current production rates. Replacement pressures and technological advances as well as legislative measures will also play a role in promoting the demand for a variety of railcars.”

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By William C. Vantuono, Editor

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OK, it’s December. It’s the end of the year. The Holidays are here. We’re supposed to be spreading peace on earth and good will toward men (well, people). My boys’ O-gauge electric trains are running around the Christmas tree (the steam-powered Polar Express and a Conrail mixed merchandise train pulled by an SD70MAC—the Vantuono household has no problem with shared use). Maybe I should write a column in a more positive vein. You know—be thankful you work in a growing industry, the Class I’s will continue spending big capital bucks next year, here’s to a safe and prosperous 2011, deck the halls, etc.

My previous paragraph is going to be about as positive as I can get as I write this in early December 2010. Why? For one thing, based upon what I’ve been hearing, the halls of the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, starting with the incoming governor’s office, are being decked with poison ivy. The windows will soon have high-powered rifles, with passenger trains in their gunsights.

Unfortunately, the passenger rail enthusiast Jolene Molitoris, who spent the past few years as Director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, has left the building. Many of us know Jolene. She was a coalition builder during her tenure in the 1990s as Federal Railroad Administrator, and she’s always been an advocate for passenger trains, particularly those that run north of 79 mph.

Now, according to Ohio Gov.-elect John Kasich, Jolene Molitoris and many others in Ohio who have been working on the 3C (Cleveland- Columbus-Cincinnati) passenger rail corridor belong to a cult—specifically, a “train cult.”

Let me guess—they’re led not by Jim Jones, but by Casey Jones.

Kasich, who for whatever reason is not fond of passenger trains, and who is always quick with a quip, said proponents of passenger rail service in Ohio are part of a “train cult.” This proclamation came during a press conference announcing Jolene’s replacement at ODOT: Jerry Wray, who is actually returning to his former post.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Wray retired as ODOT Director in 1999. What has he been doing for the past 11 years? He’s been vice president of Flexible Pavements of Ohio, an asphalt industry lobbying association. No wonder Kasich—who wants to take the federal government’s $400 million grant for the 3C corridor and build more roads with it—appointed him.

Beam me up, Scotty. There’s no intelligent life down here. And while you’re at it, get me a case of antacid. I think I’m going to be sick.

On second thought, maybe not. Word just came in that U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood is taking Ohio’s spurned passenger rail funds (along with those of Wisconsin, whose incoming Governor, Scott Walker , is killing his state’s HrSR project), is going to redistribute the money to those existing grant recipients whose plans haven’t been derailed.

Here’s what Kasich actually said: “We’re not going to run some program that some train cult wants to support.”

Kasich made the cult remark when asked about his widely chronicled opposition to the 3C passenger rail corridor. He has said on numerous occasions that the project is “dead” when he takes office, calling it a “potential boondoggle for state government” and claiming the project “is being driven by special interests that would benefit from the train line’s construction.”

“Special interests”? Excuse me, Gov.-elect Kasich, but doesn’t your new ODOT head come from a lobbying firm? Am I missing something here?

I won’t mention that Kasich is a Republican. People might think I’m trying to influence them into believing that only Democrats support passenger rail. That’s not true, of course, and I’m not trying to influence you. There are plenty of Republicans that support passenger rail, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been seen riding Chinese high speed trains (though not in California, just yet).

“So how does it feel to be part of the train cult?” wrote Jerry Bell, a reporter for Columbus Biz Insider. “At least two people seem ready to wear the label as a badge of honor. ‘Kasich has things backwards,’ said Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio, a Cleveland-based advocacy group for passenger trains and better public transit. ‘The U.S. and especially Ohio are the weirdos of the world,’ Prendergast told us, ‘when it comes to our passenger rail development or lack thereof. Feel free to use that as a quote.’

“We did.”

Bell also mentioned Jack Shaner, deputy director of the Ohio Environmental Council, “which is pro-passenger rail all the way. He gave us an assortment of quotes via email. Here’s the snappiest:

“‘Most Ohioans would call someone wanting to invest $400 million in rail infrastructure and grow 8,000 potential jobs a capitalist, not a cultist,’ said Shaner, referring to the amount of federal money earmarked for the 3C project and the indirect and spin-off jobs that could result because of it.

“He also forwarded a news release that pro-passenger rail groups issued the day before Thanksgiving. Among its claims were that Amtrak sold out the passenger trains serving its seven stations in Ohio for the holiday weekend and its ridership in the state grew 14.6% in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

“And Shaner had a parting shot for the governor-elect: ‘Don’t worry. No one’s trying to pry your cold, white-knuckled fingers away from that steering wheel. But if we want to attract new investment, slow the brain drain, and catch up with our competitors in North Carolina and elsewhere, we need to expand—not contract—our transportation options.’”

OK, enough venting (for now).

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Friday, 21 January 2011 04:36

From the Editor: A railroader

By William C. Vantuono, Editor

 

william-vantuono-web.jpgIn his own words, Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman, Railway Age’s 2011 Railroader of the Year, was a kid who loved trains. A fully qualified and licensed locomotive engineer, there are few things about his job he likes better than going out on the railroad and “seeing some folks,” meaning his employees.

The former Southern Railway track worker likes offering a friendly handshake and a “how’s it going?” to an engineer or brakeman or dispatcher as much or more than he likes, when he has the chance, to lay his hand on the throttle of a locomotive. He’s as comfortable wearing a pair of work gloves and safety glasses out on the road with the people who run and maintain the operation as he is wearing a suit in front of a Wall Street investor audience at an earnings presentation.

Prior to my traveling to Norfolk, Va., to interview Moorman, the NS Corporate Communications department sent a video copy of “A Week With Wick.” It’s a great snapshot of the man who leads what is arguably the world’s best transportation company.

“The most fun I have in my job is going out and seeing Norfolk Southern people,” he says. Boarding a brand-new GE AC4400, he asks the engineer how he likes the computerized display screens and other modern technology. “These locomotives are terrific,” he remarks. “They’re models of efficiency and high horsepower.” Taking a turn at the throttle, with a smile, he says, “Sitting in the cab—it doesn’t get any better than this.” There’s something to be said about loving what you’re doing, and having fun at it. Moorman has always felt this way, going back to his days in 1970 as a civil engineering co-op student from Georgia Tech, learning about railroading on the Southern. His job as CEO of NS? “It’s beyond the icing on the cake.”

Wick Moorman and I have an unusual connection that dates back close to 40 years. My father, the late Professor William J. Vantuono, and Wick’s father, the late Professor Charles Moorman (The University of Southern Mississippi), were scholars and published authors in the area of Middle and Old English literature. I remember my dad, in the midst of one of his book projects, talking about Dr. Moorman, and referencing his work. Years later, when the younger Moorman became CEO of Norfolk Southern, I thought, “That name sounds very familiar.”

Coincidence? Maybe not. In any case, if you don’t know Wick Moorman, you should.

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By William C. Vantuono, Editor

vantuono-and-lewis-2006.jpgI could publish a book about my friend and colleague, Robert G. Lewis (actually, we did two of them together). Though we worked side by side at Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corp.’s New York City headquarters only three short years—he brought me to Railway Age in 1992, and retired in 1995—I feel as though I’ve known him a lifetime. I also thought Bob would live forever. One tends to think that way about people who, regardless of their physical age, never seem to slow down, and who approach life, and their life’s vocation, with an enthusiasm that’s hard to find. Bob made me feel old at times, and he was old enough to be my grandfather!

In Bob’s case, his vocation was railroading—working in the industry (for the Pennsylvania, beginning in 1934), writing about it (at Railway Age, beginning in 1947), documenting it (as a prolific photojournalist), but most of all, enjoying it, and sharing his enjoyment with his many industry friends and colleagues (below). I don’t know exactly how many miles Bob accumulated traveling by rail all over the world, but as you’ll discover in the next article, it’s probably around three million, or roughly 12 round-trips to the moon.

One of the many things that Bob taught me about journalism was to avoid using superlatives—words like “largest” or “fastest” or “heaviest” or “unique”—because you could rarely be 100% sure if you were right.

Well, Bob, I’m afraid that I’ve got to break your rule just this one time. You see, there’s only one word that I feel truly describes you: Unique.

One person who would certainly agree with me is Bob’s good friend Tony Hiss, a former New Yorker magazine writer, and author of In Motion: The Experience of Travel and All Aboard with E. M. Frimbo, World’s Greatest Railroad Buff, among other works.

Bob Lewis peacefully embarked on his final journey on Jan. 6, 2011. Rest in peace, my friend, and thanks for everything.

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Mr. Lewis meets Mr. Frimbo

By Tony Hiss

bob-lewis-1947.jpgI’ll never forget one of my first sights of my wonderful friend Bob Lewis—he was upside-down, standing on his head. This was more than 30 years ago: Half-a-dozen distinguished businessmen had been gathered by Bob outside on the open platform of a 1920s observation car at the end of an otherwise ordinary-looking commuter train making its daily, 66-mile run across northern New Jersey, from Newark to Phillipsburg through what was then almost a storybook landscape of woods and meadows. Because everyone stayed outside the whole way, we got to hear leaves rustling as shadows lengthened and smell the sweetness of newly mown grass.

Otherwise ordinary-looking—this, as I learned, was the essence of Bob Lewis, who had organized the expedition, which ended in a steak dinner that Bob had also arranged. A brilliant organizer as a magazine publisher, he was equally brilliant at never surrendering a moment of life to eternity before extracting its essence. So a commuter trip could become an adventure; a commonplace suburban landscape could turn itself inside out and reveal its magic; it was as extraordinary as looking through the window of a Russian Easter egg.

The head-standing, for instance. It took me a while to realize on that run to Phillipsburg that I was in the middle of a genteel, cordial, but intricately plotted rivalry that was by then already decades old. I was only a young journalist and had been brought along by Bob’s good friend, my imperious New Yorker magazine colleague, Rogers E. M. Whitaker, better known to New Yorker readers as E. M. Frimbo, World’s Greatest Railroad Buff. Frimbo over a lifetime rode almost three million miles on the trains of the world; I was Frimbo’s Boswell, and had always thought that my mentor stood alone. But although Rogers was too proud and Bob too modest to mention it, it became clear from listening to the other men on the train that a mileage race was on and that Bob was at least a close second to Frimbo. (Perhaps, near the end of his days, Bob may even have tied or surpassed Frimbo.) Both men thought nothing of flying 1,000 miles just to ride over ten or twenty miles of tracks that were brand-new to them—a feat that Bob would celebrate by standing on his head (Frimbo was too staid to join him). And Bob would also stand on his head just to celebrate having a particularly good time—as on the commuter run where I met him.

bob-lewis-navy.jpgLater on, as I got to know him better, I came to understand that because Bob gave equal standing in his mind to enjoyment and industriousness, he had an unparalleled knowledge of railroads and transportation in general—the history, the missteps, the possibilities, the ways that even daily travel could transform people’s lives. Whenever I started to write something—a New Yorker piece on bringing light rail to New York, for instance, or even my latest book, In Motion: The Experience of Travel—Bob was always The Source, the first person I would call in order to get grounded and get started. In recent years—thinking about our country’s neglect of railroads—I began to think that it was America that was standing on its head, while Bob Lewis was right-side up. Now it’s up to the rest of us to keep his optimism and enthusiasm alive.

 

Bob Lewis: An appreciation

By Arthur J. McGinnis, Jr., President and Chairman, Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corp.

bob-lewis-grasse-river.jpgWhen Robert G. Lewis became publisher of Railway Age in 1956, the magazine was facing the most severe competitive challenge in its 100 years of publication. Postwar upstart Modern Railroads was snapping at our heels for the leadership position. Bob immediately became part of an editorial/business team dedicated to holding the line.

That team consisted of my father, Arthur J. McGinnis, Sr., a principal owner of the Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corp. and later head of the company; James G. Lynne, editor of Railway Age and another major shareholder; and Joe W. Kizzia, executive editor.

Bob became a key player as the team produced (and successfully sold to advertisers) a series of special reports proposing solutions to critical problems facing the industry.

The “Outrage” issue in 1957, reprinted nearly one million times, was credited with helping pass the first deregulation legislation; The “Trap” issue in 1958 laid the groundwork for the fight against crushing working rules. Other reports examined everything from the specter of railroad nationalization to passenger train losses that threatened to undermine bob-lewis-and-lyndon-johnson.jpgthe freight side of railroading.

Bob was a part of all of this, finding time for such other publishing initiatives as founding International Railway Journal, 50 years old this year and flourishing. In 1968, he was instrumental in Simmons-Boardman’s acquisition of The Railway Educational Bureau, 112 years old this year and, with Simmons-Boardman Books, also flourishing. In 1991, Bob and I acquired Modern Railroads. All of this helped secure Simmons-Boardman as the world’s leading provider of railway information.

When Bob left the company in 1995, he left a legacy of editorial entrepreneurship and business integrity—a combination that brought Railway Age a few years ago to its 150th birthday and continues today in the capable hands of Publisher Robert P. DeMarco.

Following, some friends and colleagues share their memories of Bob Lewis.

 

Bob Lewis and Luther Miller had the great foresight and courage to set up International Railway Journal, even at a time when the future of the railroad industry looked rather bleak. IRJ has been a great success and is now one of the leading railway magazines in the world.

David Briginshaw, Editor-in-Chief, International Railway Journal

 

A little over 20 years ago, as I was leaving The Bank of New York to start my own company, I approached Bob Lewis at Railway Age with an idea for a regular financial bob-lewis-1985.jpgcolumn. As he was with every new idea, Bob was positive from the beginning, and we started what is today “The Financial Edge.” Other innovations followed, including our annual Railroad Financial Desk Book and the Guide to Equipment Leasing. Without Bob’s support, these ideas would have gone nowhere.

Tony Kruglinski, Railroad Financial Corp.

 

During my 21 years as head of Simmons-Boardman’s Railway Educational Bureau, Bob Lewis, who was instrumental in bringing the REB into the company, was consistently helpful in our successful efforts to bring expanded education opportunities to many thousands of railroad people. Our book publishing division took great pride six years ago in publishing the photographic memoir that Bob prepared with the assistance of Bill Vantuono and Robert Lielich.

Pat Kentner

 

One of the greatest honors bestowed upon Ferrovias Guatemala was Bob Lewis’s visit on the occasion of our first anniversary trip, a doubleheaded steam special in January of 2001. On behalf of Ferrovias Guatemala, we regret the passing of not bob-lewis-clayborne-pell.jpgonly a friend but one of our biggest fans. In classic Bob Lewis style, he outlived our time as a functioning railway.

Henry Posner III, Chairman, Ferrovias Guatemala

 

Bob Lewis loved railroading and likely anything with parallel rails. My fondest memory was when I mounted an exhibit of his photography at an RSA show in the 1990s. Amsted Rail/Brenco sponsored it, which allowed me to visit Bob at his Florida home in Ormond By The Sea. Hearing Bob recount his railroad life with texture and depth to me personally, punctuated by a childlike laugh as he remembered things he had not shared in decades, was a few steps closer to heaven. I relished my privileged position and soaked it all in like a sponge.

Mike Edwards, President/Partner, iIRX

 

Bob Lewis was infectious while communicating his love and enthusiasm to everybody he encountered. I was born into the industry the son of a Pennsylvania Railroad signal bob-lewis-jscc.jpgengineer and came into the supply industry in 1955. I soon was involved with Bob in RSSI activities; as a board member, he was counselor and mentor. He had sought me out because of beginning his career working with PRR General Manager William C Higginbottom, my uncle, in Philadelphia. Bob’s understanding of the technical and philosophical foundations of what make the industry great inspired us all to use our talents in a very positive manner. We could never ask for a better friend. His memory is an inspiration in all we do.

Jim Higginbottom, The Okonite Co.

 

Bob Lewis’s fifth appendage was his camera, from his first Brownie in 1930 to the latest in film technology. He had an eye for composition and most of his pictures were priceless documentaries of railroad history. Of the tens of thousands of photos he took, he could remember most of the details of each one. It was an honor and privilege to work with him and Bill Vantuono to publish Bob’s best pictures and memories in the book Off the Beaten Track.

Robert H. Leilich

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I knew Bob Lewis for almost 40 years. His was an extraordinarily genial personality, and at any kind of gathering of railroad people, Bob always seemed to be one of the best known—and liked—people there.

William D. Middleton

 

In 2006, Railway Age assembled the Sesquicentennial Limited excursion train to celebrate 150 years of publication. At one point during the trip, I remarked to Bob that with us were men representing more than 150 years of railroad writing: Bill Middleton, Bill Vantuono, Joe Kizzia, Luther Miller, and Bob Lewis himself—grinning like a kid.

Roy Blanchard

 

Five words best describe Bob Lewis: soft spoken, witty, charming, encyclopedic. He will be missed.

Frank N. Wilner

Friday, 04 March 2011 10:08

Commentary: DEAR MR. PRESIDENT

Will Florida’s loss be California’s gain? That’s one of many questions that arise from the Florida Supreme Court’s decision that Governor Scott was within his rights in spurning federal grants to bring fast trains to the Sunshine State.

If the Obama Administration really wants to see a corridor in the United States that meets international high speed standards—trains cruising at 200 mph—the fastest path right now may be to transfer Florida’s funds to California, just as the DOT recently transferred funds in smaller amounts from Ohio and Wisconsin, which rejected them, to Florida and California.

There’s a strong feeling at home and abroad that true high speed corridors will never gain a foothold in America until one is actually built to demonstrate its capabilities.

If the corridor fails to meet expectations, the skeptics will be proved to have been right.

If it succeeds, other parts of the country will not only accept high speed trains—they will demand them.

Let’s fund a test that will have more do to do with the nation’s transportation needs than with the proclivity of politicians to spread the money around to garner votes.

Meanwhile, keep going with other parts of your fast train initiative by funding them through Amtrak, which has the experience to build and run them.

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—William C. Vantuono, Editor, Railway Age

By William C. Vantuono, Editor

vantuonoportrait.jpgWhat would E. H. Talbott, Railway Age’s first editor, think of social media? I’m sure that at the very least, he’d be skeptical at first. Social media like Facebook and Twitter, like the title of the final Star Trek movie with the full original cast (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, etc.), is still regarded by many as “the undiscovered country,” though the railroads are beginning to sit up and take notice.

This 155-year-old trade magazine has ventured into the new world of social media. You can now find Railway Age on Facebook at “Railway Age Magazine” (CLICK HERE) and follow us on Twitter as “RailwayAge” (CLICK HERE). In addition to our website and using an RSS feed to receive breaking news as we post it, you can now get our news stories throughout the day on your iPhone or iPad or Blackberry, or whatever personal digital device you happen to be using. By the way, don’t forget to “friend” us.

“Friend” Railway Age? Where I come from, “friend” is a noun, not a verb, but I guess that’s part of a new language I’m going to have to get used to. When I’m working on my laptop on a business trip, I’m “officing.” One thing I can’t bring myself to do is use some of those texting shortcuts—which include a total disregard for proper punctuation and capitalization—that people like my 17-year-old niece take for granted, like “how r u? im ok. whats up? nothing lol!” It reminds me of Newspeak from “1984,” which I read in high school.

(If you’d like to delve further into how language is “evolving,” see <a href=http://www.newspeakdictionary.com target=

By William C. Vantuono, Editor

Ever hear of “classical repulsion?” Portland, Ore., Tri-Met is wielding it to great effect to ward off young perpetrators of crimes like vandalism. In other words, if you want to discourage unruly teenagers from spraying graffiti on your system-map displays or light rail vehicles, play Stravinsky instead of Snoop Dog (woof!), or Bach instead of Britney Spears (Britney who?) on your station platforms.

Disclaimer: Your editor has been listening to jazz since he was out of diapers (and that’s no bull), and his grandfather was a violinist in the Newark (N.J.) Symphony Orchestra. Nevertheless, I am not a musical snob, OK? Some of this modern hip-hop stuff (at least the tunes with a melody) can be pretty good. I happen to like “Sexy Love” by Ne-Yo (Shaffer Chimere Smith, Jr.), though I wouldn’t recommend playing this hot little number on your station platforms, unless you want to risk extreme public displays of affection and arrests for indecent exposure.

But I digress.

Music has charms to soothe a savage breast—or drive it away, as the Los Angeles Times noted in an April 4, 2011 editorial, “Crime and Classical Music: Another Reason Sarah Palin Should Support the Arts?”

“We recently took Sarah Palin to task for dismissing the National Endowment for the Arts as a waste of tax dollars,” the L.A. Times said. “Art, we argued, matters to human development and the economy. In the case of classical music, art also deters crime. More specifically, it sends misbehaved teenagers scattering.

“David Ng at Culture Monster reports: ‘Whether it’s Handel piped into New York's Port Authority [bus terminal] or Tchaikovsky at a public library in London, the sound of classical music is apparently so repellent to teenagers that it sends them scurrying away like frightened mice. Private institutions also find it useful: Chains such as McDonald's and 7-Eleven, not to mention countless shopping malls around the world, have relied on classical music to shoo away potentially troublesome kids.’

“In the latest example of classical repulsion, the regional transit [agency] in the Portland, Ore., area has been playing orchestral and operatic tunes over speakers at light rail stations in an attempt to prevent vandalism and other crimes that result from teens having too much free time on their hands.

“Theories differ as to why teens react to classical music this way. Some experts believe the music has a soothing effect, while others think it has to do more with negative neurological response. Either way, if this genre of music prevents crime by teens, perhaps we ought to invest more on classical music. Another argument in favor of classical music: It can also inspire students in the classroom to learn.

“The Tri-Met light rail service in Portland, Ore., has begun playing classical music at train stations in an effort to ward off the kind of crimes that happen when people just hang around. A bill making its way through the Oregon legislature would expand the program to all light rail stops in Clackamas, Washington, and Multnomah counties deemed high-crime areas by police or residents.”

Maybe this is why the three-phase a.c. traction motor chopper controls on MTA New York City Transit’s R142 subway cars from Bombardier play the first three notes of “Somewhere” from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” when accelerating from a stop? It’s technically not classical music, but it sure fits New York!

Here’s a thought for the American Public Transportation Association: We might have the makings of a whole new Arts in Transit program. Why not bring a little culture to the experience of using public transit while fending off vandals and farebeaters? Look at all the major U.S. cities with rail transit systems that have a resident symphony: The Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Philadelphia Orchestra. The Houston Symphony. The Chicago Symphony. The New York Philharmonic. The Pittsburgh Symphony.

There is precedent, by the way, for this sort of program, and Pittsburgh was actually the first U.S. city to do it. “I started putting classical music into Pittsburgh’s then-new subway in 1985,” recalls APTA President Bill Millar, who was general manager of PA Transit at the time. “Today we would call it a public/private partnership: Port Authority of Allegheny County owned and operated the subway; WQED chose and recorded the music; PPG Industries Foundation provided the grant to cover the costs. It made for a very nice sound environment that complemented the world class art (Sol LeWitt, Romare Bearden) we had put in the stations. Others followed. We started with recordings by the Pittsburgh Symphony and later opened the repertoire to other local classical music groups.”

Perhaps the Chicago Transit Authority could commission the Chicago Symphony to produce a “CTA Suite,” underwritten by our erstwhile Tea Party President’s favorite taxpayer’s black hole, the National Endowment for the Arts. Think of the pleasure she’d take in blasting publicly supported passenger rail and music with just one shot of her moose- and wolf-mangling rifle!

A Fifth of Beethoven, anyone?

Oops, that’s disco!

By William C. Vantuono, Editor

 

william-vantuono-web.jpgIt gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to turn this month’s column over to Norfolk Southern Chief Executive Wick Moorman, Railway Age’s 2011 Railroader of the Year. In front of a March 15 Union League Club of Chicago gathering of more than 400 rail industry “family members” (my observation when introducing him), Wick gave an inspiring talk that clearly demonstrated his leadership qualities, but also showed a very humble, human side of him. Following are a few of his observations.

• “I was a self-described kid who loved trains and to be honored with the title of Railroader of the Year by Railway Age is something that is so far beyond anything that I could have conceived of when I was younger, as to be quite simply breathtaking. Last week I was having dinner with someone who knows our industry well and is very bright, and she asked me why I thought that I had received this honor. She was kind enough to not use the words ‘how on earth’ when she asked, but I think that it’s a question that’s been on a number of people’s minds, as in ‘Wick Moorman? Railroader of the Year? What’s that all about?’ Well, it took me a couple of minutes to figure out, but of course the answer is obvious: This award is really about Norfolk Southern and the great team that we have in our company, and it is with the clear understanding that I’m accepting this award on behalf of everyone in our company that I stand before you tonight.”

• “I often tell people that I am possibly the most fortunate person that one could ever meet. Put another way, the two greatest strokes of good fortune in my life—and I want to be careful to point out here that I’m giving you them in chronological order, and not order of importance—were to go to work for the Southern Railway as an engineering co-op student in 1970, and then to meet my wife Bonnie some years later and persuade her to marry me. Some of you have seen the picture of me in Railway Age from those days when I was a track supervisor, and have probably questioned her judgment, but fortunately, I drove a big yellow Southern Railway pickup truck, and she told me later that that’s what sealed the deal. Anyway, she has been enormously supportive of me, and tolerant of the railroad throughout the years. I wouldn’t be standing here tonight were it not for her.”

• “I actually thought about just lifting large parts of Matt Rose’s excellent speech from last year, changing the BNSF stats to NS numbers and giving it again. Of course, Matt had the additional advantage of quoting Warren Buffett, but don’t worry, I’ve figured out a way to get Mr. Buffett into this talk a little later!”

• “As some of you know, the first recipient of this award in 1964 was D.W. Brosnan, the then-president of the Southern Railway. Mr. Brosnan was arguably the most influential leader in the past 100 years. Through what one of his contemporaries described as ‘a strange mixture of genius and ruthlessness,’ he almost single-handedly invented or implemented the mechanization of track gangs and car repair facilities; the use of large-scale information technology and telecommunications; the wide-scale use of modern hump yards; what we now call distributed power; modern, high-capacity freight cars, which many of you know took a Supreme Court case to make viable; the list goes on and on. You can look around our company and our industry today and still see his fingerprints.”

• “I now qualify as an old railroader, albeit with a young wife, and old railroaders like to tell stories about the past. While most of the people who work for NS today started their careers with NS, I believe that there is a strong component of Southern Railway DNA still in our company today that has been at least partially responsible for our success over the years. For those of you who tell David [Goode] about this speech, let me hasten to say that there’s some Norfolk & Western in there, too!”

• “Speculating about the future is always risky, and I heard a great line about this the other day, which reportedly was from Warren Buffett, who was quoting, of all people, Mike Tyson. Tyson said, ‘You know, there were a lot of people who got in the ring with a strategy of how they were going to beat me—and then I hit them.’ Regardless of how hard you plan for the future, something is likely to hit you. . . . Washington, with the threat of adverse legislative or regulatory action, is the Mike Tyson in the room, fully capable of knocking the industry back into the shape it was in, in the 1970s.”

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