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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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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greenbrier 3Q revenue up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 11 July 2011 04:52

Axion, Sicut form joint venture

Axion International announced that it has signed a letter of intent with Sicut Holding Ltd. to form a global joint venture for the manufacture and sale of Recycled Structural Composite (RSC) crossties utilizing their respective licenses from Rutgers University.

The new company, to be known as Axion Rail LLC, will be 65% owned by Axion, which is based in the U.S., and 35% by U. K.-based Sicut.

Axion’s current licenses cover markets in North America, South America, Australia, Russia, and a portion of the Chinese market. Sicut is the licensee of patents owned by Rutgers for Europe, India, South Africa, Southeast Asia, and part of the Chinese market.

“We have been working with our partners at Sicut since Axion’s founding,” said Steve Silverman, Axion’s president and CEO. “However, instead of dividing our efforts among the world’s different geographic regions, the time has come to take advantage of our synergies and combine forces to sell our innovative products on a truly global basis.”

Maine’s largest city, Portland, hopes to upgrade numerous grade crossings this summer, in conjunction with the anticipated expansion of Amtrak Downeaster passenger rail service.

amtrak_downeaster_logo.jpgThe crossings, all affecting Forest Avenue, are located at Walston Street, Riverside Street, Allen Avenue, Read Street, Congress Street, and Woodford Street. The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority began work on the crossings late last year.

The improvements are part of a $40 million project to extend Amtrak’s state-supported Downeaster service roughly 30 miles from Portland to Freeport and Brunswick, Me. Portland currently is the terminus for the service, which connects Maine with Boston’s North Station.
Bombardier said Monday it has recognized suppliers Hitachi and ABB with its first Bombardier Transportation Sustainable Suppliers Awards.

bombardier_logo.jpgBombardier said the  awards, to be issued annually, recognize suppliers’ accomplishments in the field of sustainable development, emphasizing the strong strategic importance of a responsible supply chain as part of the company’s objective to foster Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Hitachi was honored for its sustainable product design and life cycle concepts, Bombardier said, while ABB received the award for its long-term engagement and continuous improvement in CSR.

Bombardier Transportation Vice President Operations and Chief Procurement Officer Pierre Attendu, along with Bombardier Transportation CSR Director Christoph Schwärzler, made the announcement during a suppliers day at the company’s headquarters in Berlin. “Congratulations to both Hitachi and ABB for their clear commitment to a responsible supply chain, which is a key component of our continuous commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility,” said Attendu.

The Bombardier Transportation Sustainable Suppliers Awards are based on Bombardier’s supplier self-assessment survey of a total of 423 master vendors. The selection criteria cover quality systems (IRIS); environment, health and safety systems (ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001); labor conditions and business ethics (SA 8000); and general CSR commitment (GRI level B reporting), including philanthropic engagement.
Brad Chase has been named president of OmniTRAX Canada in Winnipeg, with responsibility for overseeing operations including the Port of Churchill, North America’s only deepwater Arctic port, and the Hudson Bay Railway, which delivers freight in Manitoba along 630 miles of track. He will also have oversight of the Carlton Trail Railway, based in Saskatchewan, and the Kettle Falls International Railway connecting British Columbia to the U.S.

omnitraxlogo.jpgChase was formerly senior vice president of Kleysen Group LP in Winnipeg, heading the Intermodal Business unit.

“Brad’s leadership abilities, transportation background, and deal-making skills are keys to expanding our operations and partnerships in Canada,” said Gary Long, president and CEO of OmniTRAX, Inc.

“I look forward to pursuing business opportunities for OmniTRAX that also benefit Canada, and particularly, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the North,” said Chase. “We will make strategic capital investments, seek joint ventures, and work with all levels of government to ensure that the Hudson Bay Railway and the Port of Churchill contribute to the success of Canada's Northern Strategy.”

OmniTRAX-managed businesses are located in three Canadian provinces and 10 U.S. states.
Monday, 11 July 2011 10:02

Rate of rail traffic growth slows

For the first six months of 2011, railroad carloads were up 2.7% over the corresponding period of 2010, but for the month of June carload growth was up only 0.9%, the Association of American Railroads reported Monday.

aar_logo.jpgIntermodal growth, which has often been in the double digits this year, slipped to 4.6% in June compared with June 2010, the lowest monthly year-over-year increase in 18 months, AAR said.

AAR noted that in May, Class I railroads added 745 employees, bringing the total to 157,522 — “the fourth straight month to see an employmentincrease, and the 13th monthly employment increase in the last 17 months.”

“For several months now, rail traffic, along with other economicindictors, has presented a mixed picture of the economy,” said AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray. “While rail carloads have been relatively weak for the past quarter, largely due to coal traffic being down, rail intermodal remains relatively strong.”

During the month of June, said AAR, railroads brought 2,847 freight cars back into service, leaving 276,236 cars, 18.2% of the North American fleet, in storage.
In response to public comment collected last summer, new rail alignments have been developed in two sections in Virginia of the Southeast High Speed Rail project (SEHSR). The two areas affected are in Brunswick County, north of Alberta, Va., between the Nottoway River and Flat Rock Road (project Section D), and south of Alberta, between Millville Road and the Meherrin River (project Section G).

The two alignments are part of the Draft Tier II Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Richmond, Va. to Raleigh, N.C., portion of the SEHSR route being advanced by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). The two states hope to advance HSR along 162 miles of right-of-way in both states, eventually linking with Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and extending HSR to Charlotte, N.C.

The new rail alignments will be presented to the public at a Project Update Meeting this Thursday, at the Southside VA Community College, Christanna Campus, 109 Campus Drive, Alberta, Va. 23821. The meeting is an open-house style gathering, with the public invited to stop by any time between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

Maps with the new designs are on the project website www.sehsr.org. Comments may be submitted at the Project Update Meeting, on the web site, or by mail to SEHSR Comments, NCDOT Rail Division 1553 MSC, Raleigh, NC 27699-1553. Comments must be submitted by August 15, 2011. The state agencies say more than 1,800 individuals, local governments, and agencies provided comments on the DEIS.

A Project Update Meeting will be held in Raleigh, N.C., in late summer, to present a newly developed rail alignment in downtown Raleigh. A series of smaller update meetings will be scheduled in Virginia and North Carolina later in the fall to obtain comments on newly developed roadwork in areas where the rail alternatives are on common alignment.

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