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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Thursday, 30 June 2011 06:52

DOT funds clean-fuel transit technologies

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Wednesday announced that transit providers will be able to compete for a share of $101.4 million in federal funding by proposing innovative projects that create “green” jobs, promote the use of clean fuels, and cut U.S. dependence on oil.

The winning proposals, which can be found here, were chosen from among 274 applications from across the U.S. Bus and Bus Rapid Transit operations are the predominant winners, but some rail-related projects were identified. Among them: A $341,694 grant to the Illinois Department of Transportation to install anti-idling systems to Metra locomotives to reduce emissions and fuel consumption.; $1.2 million to install a geothermal system for the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit Operations and Maintenance and Support Facility in Minneapolis to provide heat, cooling, and hot water for the facility; roughly $2.5 million for New Jersey Transit to install electric rail switch heaters to improve safety and operational efficiency in colder weather; and $4.2 million for Portland, Ore.’s
TriMet to retrofit light rail transit vehicles for on-board energy storage to capture and reutilize braking energy.

The money is being provided competitively through the Federal Transit Administration’s Fiscal Year 2011 Sustainability Initiative, which includes funding from two programs: $51.5 million from FTA’s Clean Fuels Grant Program and $49.9 million from FTA’s Transit Investment in Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) III Program. 

In addition to announcing competitive funds available through the Sustainability Initiative, the FTA Wednesday also issued similar notices for two additional competitive programs: the $750 million State of Good Repair Initiative, which targets U.S. transit agencies' maintenance and repair backlogs, and the $175 million Livability Expansion Initiative, which will fund investments that support the DOT-HUD-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

U.S. freight carload traffic fell 0.2% in the week ending June 25, 2011, the Association of American Railroads said Thursday. Counterbalancing that, U.S. intermodal volume rose 3.3% measured against the comparable week in 2010.

aar_logo.jpgAAR said the freight carload results were “mixed,” noting 12 of the 20 carload commodity groups it measured posted increases from the comparable week in 2010. Increases were led by grain, up 14.4%, and coke, up 10.6%. Declining commodity groups included farm products excluding grain, down 19.5%, and waste and nonferrous scrap, down 14.7%.

Canadian freight carload volume, by contrast, rose 1.9% from last year, while Canadian intermodal volume also advanced, up 2.8%. Mexican freight carload volume declined 1.5%, while intermodal soared 41.6%.

Combined North American freight carload volume for the first 25 weeks of 2011 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was up 2.7% compared with the same point last year, while intermodal was up 7.2%.

Representatives from CSX and New York State Thursday unveiled the state’s second ultra-low emission GenSet locomotive at an event at CSX’s Selkirk Yard. Jointly funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and CSX, the locomotive will be used at the yard, near Albany, N.Y., significantly reducing nitrous oxide, particulate matter, and carbon dioxide emissions in the area.

csx_logo.jpg.jpgThe GenSet locomotive, manufactured by National Railway Equipment Co., was purchased with a $1 million EPA award under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to the New York State Department of Transportation, made possible through the National Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program. CSX funded the remaining $400,000 as part of its commitment to reducing emissions and using less fuel.

CSX says the introduction of GenSet locomotives throughout its network is part of the company’s commitment to reduce its carbon dioxide intensity 8% by 2011, which was achieved nearly one year ahead of schedule. During the last decade, CSX has invested more than $1.5 billion to upgrade its locomotive fleet with technology that reduces fuel consumption and air pollutant emissions. Through these efforts, the company says, it has improved its fuel efficiency by more than 90% since 1980.nrec_logo.jpg 

“The GenSet locomotive you see behind me represents the next generation of sustainable technology,” said Skip Elliott, vice president, public safety and environment, CSX Transportation. “We are proud of our partnership with EPA and the State of New York, which helps us serve our customers and communities with the most efficient and environmentally friendly service every day.”

“Projects like this will literally help repower the Empire State,” said Stanley Gee, executive deputy commissioner of NYSDOT. “This new locomotive — with three smaller engines that cycle on and off according to need — will reduce emissions and save diesel fuel as goods are moved efficiently across the state. This innovative technology is an example of Governor Cuomo’s goal of creating a new green economy with livable communities, new jobs and sustainable growth.”
Jacksonville, Fla.-based RailAmerica has been using RailComm’s Domain Operations Controller (DOC®) train control system to dispatch multiple subdivisions of its short line railroads since 2002. Now the DOC® System at RailAmerica’s American Rail Dispatch Center will soon be able to be accessed through a web-enabled software-as-a-service (SaaS) delivery, RailComm says.

railcomm_logo.jpgSaaS provides a “pay-as-you-go” model, thus eliminating capital equipment procurement constraints. Through this delivery, railroads can be remotely dispatched by RailAmerica wherever an Internet connection is available. It is now possible to relocate dispatchers to alternative locations, if the need arises.railamerica.jpg 

RailAmerica management members can log in from their offices, homes, or even from hotels to directly view dispatching activities and obtain management reports. Since the DOC® control application resides on servers within the RailComm-managed data center in Rochester, N.Y., the requirement for local IT support at each railroad is greatly reduced, Fairport, N.Y.-based RailComm notes.
Friday, 01 July 2011 04:36

UTA readies debut of Siemens S70 LRVs

Some TRAX passengers in Salt Lake City and vicinity will begin riding Siemens S70 light rail transit cars Thursday, July 7, as the cars begin entering revenue service. The S70s will enter limited service on direct trains that operate from Fashion Place Station (6400 South) in Murray to the University of Utah Medical Center Station on weekdays. The new trains will be featured on 10 northbound and 10 southbound trips each day.

uta_logo.jpgUtah Transit Authority purchased 77 of the new vehicles as part of UTA’s FrontLines 2015 rail expansion program. The vehicles have been commissioned and tested on the new Mid-Jordan and West Valley TRAX lines during the past few months. This is the first time they will carry passengers in revenue service.

The Mid-Jordan and West Valley TRAX lines are scheduled to open Aug. 7 and will operate exclusively with the new vehicles.

UTA notes the S70 vehicles are low-floor cars that allow riders to board straight from the platform without climbing stairs. Level boarding makes the vehicles more accessible to passengers with mobility aids, bicycles and strollers.

“We are excited to put some of our new S70 vehicles into service,” UTA General Manager Michael Allegra said. “We believe our customers are really going to love the new features the cars offer.”
North Carolina’s state capital may choose to rehabilitate a manufacturing plant as a new passenger rail station, in a move to save money and acquire a convenient downtown location.

Local press have followed the effort to retrofit the Dillon Supply Building, once used to supply heating and venting equipment, was purchased by Triangle Transit in 2005 for just such a possible use. Raleigh still seeks funding sources for a new station, to be used by local transit needs as well as Amtrak and future high speed rail service.

The renovation, estimated by state transportation officials to cost $20 million, would cost less than an alternate plan for a new building, one block away, estimated to cost $150 million. 

“For $2 million, the city would essentially own a $20 million facility,” said Will Allen III, chairman of the city's rail task force. Federal, state, and other sources would supplement Raleigh's fiscal commitment under current plans.

Friday, 01 July 2011 07:07

SunRail gets nod from Florida governor

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Friday gave approval to the proposed 61-mile, $1.2 billion SunRail commuter rail project in central Florida, surprising many who expected him to reject the plan following his spurning of federal high speed rail funds for the state earlier this year.

sunrail.jpgMany industry observers credit Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a longtime vocal champion of SunRail, for influencing the governor’s decision.

Scott's office made the announcement in Tallahassee Friday morning to proceed with the project, to run from north of Sanford, Fla., through downtown Orlando to Poinciana near Kissimmee. Florida is expected to cover one-half of the cost, with the federal government also picking up about 50% of the capital costs.

SunRail is expected to carry 4,300 weekday passengers on an initial 31-mile segment when it opens in 2013 and 7,400 by 2030, 15 years after the full route is completed.

Florida’s Department of Transportation will pay for operations and maintenance of SunRail for the first seven years of operation. After that point, costs will be assumed by the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission.

U.S. railroads reported 225 fatalities to the Federal Railroad Administration in this year’s first four months, an 8.7% increase compared with the corresponding period last year.

Trespasser fatalities increased 14% to 130. Highway-rail grade crossing accidents declined 1.2% to 85. There were seven employee fatalities compared with six in the prior-year period. 

The FRA data show that 737 reporting railroads recorded a total of 3,421 incidents/accidents in January-April 2011, down 8.3% from last year.

The number of collisions increased 17.5% to 47, and derailments increased 5.7% to 479. Yard accidents declined 2.8% to 343.

[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the safety figures to the Surface Transportation Board.] 

Tuesday, 05 July 2011 06:14

DOT funds Amtrak Vermonter reroute

The Department of Transportation has awarded $72.8 million to Massachusetts to rehabilitate 50 miles of track in the Bay State, allowing Amtrak service to Vermont to return to an earlier and potentially speedier route.

amtrak_vermonter_logo.jpgAmtrak’s Vermonter, which runs during the day from Washington, D.C. to St. Albans, Vt., on the U.S-Canadian border, at present straddles the eastern border of Vermont and New Hampshire, serving Amherst, Mass., Brattleboro and Bellows Falls, Vt., and Claremont, N.H., among other municipalities. The Vermonter was launched in 1995 following the termination of Amtrak’s Montrealer, an overnight train which provided service to and from its namesake city and Washington.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the improvements to the Vermont would trim up to 30 minutes of travel time by upgrading 50 miles of track between Springfield, Mass., and East Northfield, Mass. New Massachusetts station stops are planned for Greenfield, Northampton, and possibly Holyoke.

“Thanks to President [Barack] Obama’s commitment to create jobs and strengthen our manufacturing sector, these dollars are delivering more than 200 new jobs along with the purchase of 50 miles of American-made steel rails,” said LaHood in a statement.

Last year Vermont’s agency of Transportation was awarded a $50 million grant to upgrade 190 miles of track between St. Albans and Vernon, Vt. Ridership on the route reportedly increased 16% in 2010.

Christopher Parker, executive director of the Vermont Rail Action Network, said, “Anyone who has ridden the train knows about the Palmer [Massachusetts] backup move and that adds time to the trip and it is very noticeable.”
Tuesday, 05 July 2011 06:26

Massachusetts

Massachusetts’ Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs has issued a certificate to the Department of Transportation (MassDOT) that sets out a scope of work for a final environmental impact report for South Coast Rail, extending passenger rail service from Boston to New Bedford in southeastern Massachusetts.

massdot_logo.jpgThe approval directs MassDOT to focus on an electric rail service and not diesel-powered service, emphasizing air quality as an issue for the estimated $1.4 billion project.

State Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey Mullan said the issuance of the certificate was a decision that will lead to an improvement in the state's infrastructure at a low environmental impact. “MassDOT is pleased with the decision from the state’s environmental agency that the Stoughton route will best serve the people of the South Coast and will provide the best climate and air quality benefits,” Mullan said.

Some municipalities along the route are seeking mitigation measures for noise and “public safety,” as well as potential grade separation at various crossings.
Tuesday, 05 July 2011 07:20

Study to test HSR components performance

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been awarded $3.3 million to study the performance of certain track components to improve safety and efficiency on rail routes served by freight rail and high speed (passenger) rail.

Many of the proposed and planned HSR or higher-speed rail (HrSR) lines in the U.S. would require passenger trains to share the same tracks as heavy-axle-load freight trains, the university says. The research to improve concrete crossties and fastening systems will be undertaken by the university’s Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC), part of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) at Illinois. It is sponsored by the Federal Railroad Administration which contributed approximately $2.4 million for the research. Industry partners will contribute the remaining $900,000.

“The magnitude of this project reflects the importance of improved concrete crosstie design for both freight and passenger railroads in the U.S,” said Christopher Barkan, RailTEC director and CEE professor.

“High speed passenger rail operations require the use of concrete crossties or slab track because these track systems allow railways to maintain the tight geometric tolerances, such as track gauge, necessary to accommodate their operation,” said CEE faculty member J. Riley Edwards, who is leading the study. “Many of the proposed and planned HSR lines in the U.S. will require high-speed passenger trains to share the same tracks with heavy-axle-load (HAL) freight trains.”

Edwards said the goal in part is to improve “concrete tie and fastener design in order to increase safety and reliability and lower their life cycle cost.”

During the two-and-a-half-year study, researchers will conduct laboratory and field testing to compile empirically gathered performance data. Improved understanding of the tie and fastening system is expected to facilitate the development of performance requirements and design recommendations for concrete ties and fastening systems in the U.S., specifically those used in joint passenger-freight railway infrastructure. They will also develop a centralized knowledge and document depository, to be housed at the University of Illinois, about concrete ties and fastening systems.

In addition to Edwards, the research team includes experts in materials and structures: CEE professors Bassem O. Andrawes, Daniel A. Kuchma, and David A. Lange, and Research Engineer Marcus S. Dersch, a CEE alumnus.

Industry partners involved in the project include: Amtrak; BNSF Railway; GIC Ingenieria y Construccion S.A. de C.V.; Hanson Professional Services Inc.; LB Foster Company, CXT Concrete Ties; Union Pacific Railway; and Unit Rail Inc./Amsted Rail Inc.
Wednesday, 06 July 2011 06:55

Phoenix solar-cooled LRT stop debuts

Phoenix Valley Metro on Wednesday began operating a solar-cooled light rail transit stop, located at Third and Washington streets in the state capital. The station structure (pictured below) combines solar power with air to cool the stop for passengers using the station.

valley_metro_logo.jpgNRG Thermal LLC, a subsidiary of Phoenix-based NRG Energy Inc., contributed to the installation of the system, which will allow LRT riders to push a button at the station for a dose of air conditioning. NRG is covering all costs of the project and maintenance. 

The air comes from NRG’s downtown district cooling system, which uses chilled water underground to help cool buildings. Fans at the light rail stop will use solar power to blow the cold air onto riders, operating from May to September each year.

The project was timed in part to precede Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, set for July 12 at nearby Chase Field.

phoenix_solar-cool_stop.jpg 

Wednesday, 06 July 2011 07:21

Siemens eyes Ottawa LRT rebid effort

Siemens Mobility reportedly is asking Ottawa officials to adjust or alter the city’s domestic content rules so it can rebid on the proposed C$2.1 billion light rail transit project in the Canadian capital.

A Siemens consortium was selected by the city to build a project, but the deal fell through when a new municipal government took over in 2006. A lawsuit followed, with the Siemens consortium awarded C$37 million for breach of contract.

Siemens says it still seeks the city’s business, but is being thwarted by a 2008 law forcing all Ontario province-funded transit vehicles to contain at least 25% Canadian content, which the company claims gives an unfair edge to competitor Bombardier Transportation. Siemens produces its North American equipment primarily from its Sacramento, Calif.-based plant.

A spokeswoman for the provincial transportation ministry said the province had “no plans to change the policy,” but said Siemens and others were welcome to bid on the Ottawa project.

Ottawa on July 4 released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for its LRT project, to run from Tunney’s Pasture to Blair Station, as outlined and approved by City Council on May 25. Submissions are expected by September 13, and the city is expected to publish a short list of pre-qualified participants sometime in October.

Pre-qualified respondents then will be invited to respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP), with the RFP process lasting roughly nine months. The city hopes to sign a final contract by December 2012.

Wednesday, 06 July 2011 07:36

KCS realigns its sales/marketing

Kansas City Southern on Wednesday announced three executive reappointments that KCS President and CEO David L. Starling said will “help further align the sales and marketing organization to achieve KCS’s growth objectives.” All three report to Executive Vice President Sales and Marketing Patrick M. Ottensmeyer.

kcs__logo.jpgNatalie W. Putnam has joined KCS as vice president sales and marketing with a focus on running the U.S. chemical and petroleum and industrial and consumer business units. She joins KCS from YRC Worldwide, where she served as senior vice president transportation and logistics since April 2010.

Owen M. Zidar will continue as vice president sales and marketing with a change of focus to national account development.

Darin P. Selby has been named assistant vice president energy markets. In addition to handling the railroad’s coal business and short line relations, his responsibilities now include developing business with the emerging energy markets, including crude oil, biofuels, biomass, frac sand, and wind.
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.”
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