American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association President Richard F. Timmons addressed Congress Wednesday, urging improvements to the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Program that would affect local communities and businesses reliant on short line rail service.
“Short lines have grown from 8,000 miles of track in 1980 to nearly 50,000 miles today. There are over 500 short lines operating in 49 states,” said Timmons, addressing the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. “Short lines are the ‘first mile-last mile’ for over 14 million carloads of goods annually–nearly one out of every four carloads moving on the national rail network.
RRIF loans fund track maintenance and rehabilitationprojects that aid rail access to local businesses nationwide. The projects are labor intensive, requiring short lines to hire contractors and additional laborers, as well as purchase track ties and other U.S.-made materials, Timmons noted, adding, “Railroading is the single most capital intensive industry in the country.”
He continued, “Based on comprehensive data surveys ASLRRA has conducted since 2004, short lines invest nearly 30% of their annual grossrevenues in track rehabilitation and maintenance.”
RRIF at present leverages substantial private investment in the short line infrastructure but the program is not being fully utilized, ASLRRA says. ASLRRA wants Congress to subsidize an interest rate reduction to 1% on all RRIF loans, as well as defer payments for up to five years after substantial completion of a project.
A third improvement to the RRIF program to extend the loan term from 25 to 35 years was proposed by ASLRRA and adopted by the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee last year. “I am proud to say, in the 10 years the RRIF loan program has been on the books, not a single short line railroad has missed a single quarterly payment on its debt,” said Timmons.
CSX Transportation says that 100 new industrial projects developed along its lines in 2008 will eventually bring nearly 150,000 new carloads of traffic annually to the railroad. Those projects included 60 new and 42 expanded industrial plants.
Among the new projects were 19 ethanol and bio-diesel facilities and eight facilities for recycling or environmental remediation. Some of the resulting traffic will originate or terminate on the 230 smaller railroads that connect with CSXT.
"Our efforts are directed at supporting economic development in the states and communities we serve," said Derrick Smith, CSXT's vice president-emerging markets. "The connectivity we provide to ports, natural resources, and manufacturing facilities enables companies to leverage the efficiency and environmental benefits of rail."
In a transaction approved Wednesday by the SurfaceTransportation Board, Wisconsin & Southern (WSOR) will add 11 miles to itscurrent 700-mile regional rail system, restoring service to a plant site at Kohler, Wis., formerly occupied by Cargill Malt. STB made its approvaleffective May 8, so that WSOR may begin of rehabilitate the track this spring.
The transaction was initiated by a petition filed Feb. 13, in which WSOR sought approval "to acquire and operate a permanent exclusive freight rail operating easement over approximately 10.95 miles of railroad known as the Kohler Industrial Lead that is currently owned by the Union Pacific and operate approximately 1,000 feet of UP industrial spur track. The State of Wisconsin Department of Transportation has agreed to purchase the railroad and right-of-way assets comprising the line from UP and will contract with the East Wisconsin Railroads consortium to provide service on the line." WSOR will operate the line under contract.
In its decision, STB said WSOR will market the line to both new and former customers.
Railway Age has honored Wisconsin Southern as its 2009 Regional Railroad of the Year, citing its success in attracting new customers to rail. Railway Age will present Wisconsin Central with its award April 27 at the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association's annual meeting in Las Vegas.
Norfolk Southern Corp. Tuesday said its first-quarter net income was $177 million, or 47 cents per diluted share, compared with $291 million, or 76 cents per diluted share, for the first quarter of 2008. Operating revenue fell 22%, to $1.9 billion compared with the first-quarter of 2008, mostly due to a 20% decline in traffic, as well as lower fuel-related revenue.
Wall Street analysts had expected a profit of 54 cents per share, and traders punished NS shares in Tuesday after-market activity, as well as during regular session trading early Wednesday. By day's end, however, shares of the Class I railroad, at one point down almost 10% less than 24 hours earlier, closed almost unchanged, down just 5 cents.
Railway operating expenses for the quarter were $1.6 billion, down 19% from the comparable period a year ago. NS’s operating ratio rose to 80.3%, up from 76.9% in the first quarter of 2008.
“Current economic conditions were clearly reflected in Norfolk Southern's first-quarter results," said Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman in a statement. "We are responding by aggressively controlling costs, while enhancing our service and continuing to invest in projects that will drive future growth. This approach will position us to participate in the economy's eventual recovery as we tightly manage the company in the face of an ongoing reduction in railway traffic volumes."
Shares of NS fell roughly $1, or about 2.7%, in morning trading Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange, recovering from a steep plunge during after-market trading Tuesday evening, and by afternoon trading NS shares were up more than 3%.
Dahlman Rose & Co. analysts Wednesday noted, "Many investors were expecting strong numbers out of the company given the better-than-anticipated results" announced earlier by both CSX and Canadian National.
In a conference call with analysts Tuesday, Moorman said Norfolk Southern foresees "significant pressure" on second-quarter performance, but also expects declines to approach the bottom during the period, with modest improvement possible in 2009's second half.
On Thursday, Dahlman Rose had a few more-optimistic things to say:
"Pricing remains VERY strong: Average revenue per carload (ARC) was down 2% in 1Q as an 8%+ gain in pure pricing somewhat offset a significant drop in fuel surcharge revenues ($94 million versus $320 million in 1Q:08) and a $40 million negative mix impact. These results were particularly impressive given the pressure that is being placed on eastern domestic intermodal business by the trucking sector. Pricing Remains VERY Strong. Average revenue per carload (ARC) was down 2% in 1Q as an 8%+ gain in pure pricing somewhat offset a significant drop in fuel surcharge revenues ($94 million versus $320 million in 1Q:08) and a $40 million negative mix impact. These results were particularly impressive given the pressure that is being placed on eastern domestic intermodal business by the trucking sector.
"Taking cautious steps and controlling costs: NS continues to store locomotives with fewer than 150 being stored as of January 2009 and now approaching 400 in April. The number of railway employees has also declined with a 4.2% drop since November 2008. During the first quarter of 2009, NS did not repurchase any shares of common stock and management stated they will not do so until the economy improves. The company ended the quarter with $884 million in cash and cash equivalents.
"Modestly trimming estimates: We are trimming our 2009 and 2010 EPS estimate by $0.05 to $3.10 and $3.70, respectively. Accordingly, our price target drops $1 to $46 per share. We are maintaining our Buy rating as NS is poised to benefit once volumes eventually return to the North American rail network. However, we are not without caution as we believe coal volumes have the potential to come under notable pressure after the first quarter due to continued mine outages, lower thermal demand, and a considerable drop off in export coal to Europe."
Orange County, Calif., has generated its share of controversy in recent years involving passenger rail, particularly light rail, but Santa Ana has awarded Cordoba Corp. a contract worth up to $6 million for a two-year study of streetcar options for the city. The initial plan calls for a line linking downtown Santa Ana with downtown Garden Grove, a distance of approximately nine miles.
But the choice of Cordoba Corp. has generated its own controversy, since the company reported received the lowest ranking by the city’s evaluation committee among three bids submitted. Parsons Brinckerhoff reportedly wrote a letter protesting the decision, saying it “raises serious doubt as to the integrity of the process.” David Evans and Associates, Inc., was the third bidder.
Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido says Cordoba will be the lead contractor of a “hybrid” team the city plans to assemble. The evaluation committee assembled by the city included the city managers from both Santa Ana and Garden Grove, as well as a planner, an engineer, a public-works administrator, and a deputy executive from the Orange County Transportation Authority. OCTA plans to fund most of the planning effort.
Toyota Logistics Services announced Tuesday that it has presented an award to Union Pacific recognizing UP as the top railroad in customer service for 2008.
The award recognizes excellence in "equipment supply, communication, responsiveness, information supply, and overall ease of doing business."
Noting that the railroad moved more than 700,000 Toyota vehicles in 2008, Julie Krehbiel, UP's general manager and vice president-Automotive, commented: "Our team worked hard to satisfy Toyota's customer service needs and is dedicated to providing the best service possible. Toyota is well-known for its continuous improvement programs and appreciated our success on their behalf."
Brossard, Que.-based Railpower Technologies Corp. announced Tuesday that the Quebec Superior Court has issued an order giving the company an additional period of protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act Canada (CCAA). The purpose is "to provide Railpower with an opportunity to develop a comprehensive business restructuring plan for consideration by its creditors" and the court.
An initial order was granted on Feb. 4, was extended on March 4 and April 7, and has now been further extended until May 20. While Railpower is under CCAA protection, creditors and other third parties are stayed from taking steps against the company.
Railpower develops and markets environmentally friendly locomotives and power plants for the transportation and related industries.
Seattle will join U.S. light rail transit ranks on Saturday, July 18, when Sound Transit’s 14-mile, $2.44 billion Central Link light rail service commences, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has announced.
The long-awaited service, under federal funding agreements, is supposed to commence on July 3, but Seattle is fearful of possible problems related to the July 4 weekend, which could tax police and other municipal services.
Sound Transit officials are planning for 100,000 riders July 18; the agency plans to run 14 trains with at least 28 of its 35 cars and will have live entertainment at stations. Rides will be free on the two inaugural weekend days, July 18 and 19.
Link initially will run between Westlake Station, at the north end of downtown Seattle, and Tukwila International Boulevard. A 1.6-mile extension to Sea-Tac Airport is scheduled to be added in December, with buses set to connect the Tukwilla station to the airport until that time.
Officials expect 26,000 riders a day once Link runs to the airport, though less than that between July and December, said Michael Williams, Sound Transit's light rail activation manager. Service is scheduled to run to the University of Washington in 2016, a $1.7 billion project. Sound Transit anticipates 45,000 LRT riders a day by 2020.
On the same day CN announced plans for a new chief executive officer, the Class I railroad also announced it would offer $250,000 to Michigan Technological University's Rail Transportation Program to create the CN Rail Transportation Education Center (CN RTEC).
CN RTEC will open in fall 2009 and function as a central location for student, faculty, and industry collaboration, MTU said in a statement. It will also provide education and research facilities for the Rail Transportation Program, including computer workstations with rail applications, a reference library, and online learning technologies.
"CN's decision to support the CN Rail Transportation Education Center is an integral part of the development of this program and has helped ensure its future success. It is a pleasure to be able to share with CN the excitement we have for the Rail Transportation Program," said Michigan Tech President Glenn D. Mroz.
Jim Vena, CN's senior vice president, Southern Region, said: "We are very pleased that our donation will help today's youth become tomorrow's railroaders--the people who will shape the future success of our company and the North American economy. Few universities in the United States can produce students with such high-caliber education, specifically in railroad transportation, as Michigan Tech does. Michigan Tech engineering graduates arrive at CN well equipped to start working for the railroad."
The 18-month old Rail Transportation Program (RTP), directed by Pasi Lautala, is designed to attract university students to rail industry careers.
Michigan Tech's RTP attracts students from a wide range of degree programs and includes courses about rail transportation and engineering, as well as urban rail transit. The program currently offers three rail-related courses. Through its Summer in Finland program, it is the first rail transportation education program to integrate a strong international study component into a multi-disciplinary thrust in rail education.
The RTP has begun an initiative to establish a multi-disciplinary certificate in rail transportation and engineering. The university is also working with its industry partners to expand opportunities for student and faculty participation in real-world rail development through sponsored projects and research.
Ansaldo STS, through its subsidiary Ansaldo STS USA, has received a $25.8 million contract from the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) for the LIRR Harold and Point CIL’s (Central Instrument Location) Interlocking project.
This project, part of the LIRR East Side Access program, replaces the current vital relay-based interlocking control system with a MicroLok vital microprocessor-based system.
This switch to a microprocessor-based technology follows on the success of other upgrades ASTS USA has implemented for the LIRR using the MicroLok II platform, including the Wood, Jamaica, Amityville, and Wantagh interlockings.
Harold Interlocking, located just east of the East River which separates Manhattan from Queens, handles virtually all LIRR passenger train movements on the system, as well as Amtrak trains traveling between New York and Boston on the Northeast Corridor.