U.S. intermodal rail traffic volume reached its highest level in September since last November, the Association of American Railroads says, even though when compared to September 2008 levels, intermodal rail traffic declined 14.4%.
AAR’s monthly Rail Time Indicators summary with downloadable report and embedded video summary note that the relative improvement in intermodal traffic may be related to retailers restocking shelves for the upcoming holiday season.
September’s monthly carload data showed a decline of 14.2% compared with a year ago. AAR says weather may have been a factor, since flooding in the Southeast affected traffic across many commodity categories. Lower natural gas prices and the relatively mild summer may also have been a factor in carload declines, since there was a 13.3% drop in demand for coal, the single largest commodity shipped by railroads, compared with year-ago levels.
“The data in the October report gives us some indication that better things may be on the horizon,” said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John Gray. “While some of this activity is seasonal, railroads have taken more than 15,000 cars out of storage between September 1 and October 1. However, we must continue to wait and see.”
Officials in Woodbridge, N.J., say they’ve reached accord with Conrail to create “quiet zones” at four township grade crossings, which will include quad gates at two of the crossings, to resolve noise issues generated by increased rail freight activity.
A boom in the ethanol industry has boosted rail traffic for refineries in the township’s Sewaren neighborhood. "Because of increase in train activity, they're blowing (the horn) five times during the day," said First Ward Councilman Charles Kenny, who has lobbied to get the quiet zones in his ward. "Six blocks away from my house, when I have the windows open, I can hear the train whistle from the first, second, and third crossings at one in the morning."
The zones will be installed at crossings on Woodbridge Avenue, Blair Road, Rahway Avenue, and St. Georges Avenue.The Woodbridge and St. Georges crossings each will sport quad gates. The Blair Road crossing will allow quieter whistle use under the agreement.
Amidst a tight gubernatorial race and with Election Day looming Nov. 3, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has said he’ll weigh raising the state’s gasoline tax should he be re-elected to a second term. Corzine also said that, failing such a hike, he would consider diverting money from other programs to keep the state’s Transportation Trust Fund solvent.
Both options are problematic. New Jersey consistently sports the third- or fouth-lowest state fuels tax within the U.S., with most residents opposedto raising the current 14.5-cent-per gallon tax for any purpose, let alone railand transit uses. Diverting money, in turn, would exacerbate looming shortfalls for other needs already anticipated by a budget gap that could reach $8 billionin New Jersey’s next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Despite that, Corzine said some kind of action would be required. “I’m more than happy to do either one of them, not because I like doing it, but because it’s going to be necessary,” he said in a recent press interview.
“Fifty years from now, when the trains are going under the Hudson River, people will say somebody was willing to make an unpopular decision to do something,” he said. The state’s Transportation Trust Fund is expected to supply New Jersey’s matching share of the $8.7 billion Mass Transit Tunnel under the Hudson River connecting New Jersey and New York.
As recently as last year, Corzine said raising the gas tax would be “a very, very last resort.”
CSX Corp. saw its third-quarter earnings fall 23% from the comparable period a year ago due to the continued effects of the economic slowdown. CSX earned $293 million in the third quarter on revenue of $2.29 billion, also down 23%. But earnings of 74 cents per share still beat Wall Street consensus estimates of 71 cents per share for the quarter.
The performance contributed to a strong performance by CSX shares Wednesday, up 5.76%, or $2.55, to $46.83 in midafternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Though CSX cautioned that demand for coal will remain weak well into next year, it also noted that the decline in third-quarter volume wasn't as steep as had occurred in the second quarter of 2009, suggesting that freight traffic losses were nearing a bottom. "The third quarter reinforces our view that the worst of the recession is likely behind us," Chairman, President and CEO Michael J. Ward said in a statement.
CSX offset some slower business in the third quarter by drastically cutting expenses, resulting in a 24% decline in total operating costs. Fuel costs were less than half what they were a year ago. The company said "pricing remained strong and consistent with prior quarters," although it made less money per unit of freight than it did at the same point last year.
Russia and China signed a memorandum of understanding Tuesday on “developing high speed and very high speed rail links in the territory of the Russian Federation.”
The agreement came out of talks in Beijing between theRussian and Chinese premiers, Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin, Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin, and Chinese Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun.
“The purpose of the memorandum is to study and elaborate the issue of cooperation in reconstructing existing rail lines in order to improve speeds, and constructing high-speed and very high-speed routes,” said an announcement by Russian Railways. “This document is aimed at broadening the Russian-Chinese partnership. In line with the memorandum, a joint working group of qualified specialists from both sides will be created by Dec. 1, 2009.”
On June 17, 2008, Russian Prime Minister Putin signed the Strategy for Developing Rail Transport up to 2030. One goal in implementing this strategy is to develop high speed (up to 100 mph) and very high speed (up to 215 mph) passenger rail transportation.
“In line with the strategy,” said Russian Railways, “the total length of high speed passenger rail track in Russia will be increased by almost 17 times over the next 20 years, from 650 to 10,887 km. Also, additional trunk lines are planned to be built on various routes, able to carry ordinary freight, passenger trains, and suburban trains, with special tracks for high speed trains.”
Bombardier Transportation has announced that it will supply an additional 100 E464 electric locomotives to Trenitalia (Italian Railways). The order is valued at approximately $383 million.
In an announcement Wednesday, Bombardier noted that it has already received orders from Trenitalia for 638 E464 locomotives, 480 of which are in service.
The contract carries an option for a further 50 locomotives. Delivery of the new order is scheduled for 2010-2012.
Shares of RailAmerica Inc. made their public trading debut on Wall Street Tuesday, but the initial public offering failed to draw the anticipated support that would suggest stronger industry economic performance ahead.
Jacksonville, Fla.-based Rail America, which operates 40 North American short line and regional railroads, set a price of $15 a share late Monday in offering of 22 million of its shares. The offering price itself was below the company’s estimate last week that the shares would fetch $16 to $18 a share.
Shares fell further in first-day trading Tuesday, down $1.25, to close at $13.75. Shares rallied Wednesday, however, closing up almost 5.9% at $14.56, mimicking the advance of other U.S. rail company stocks.
RailAmerica’s revenue was down 19% during the first half of 2009, though the company did raise its operating income by 10% during the period due to cost-cutting.
The company made its public trading debut on the New York Stock Exchange 2½ years after being acquired by New York-based Fortress Investment Group LLC, a private-equity firm.
Economic turmoil took its toll on Amtrak ridership during fiscal year 2009, which ended September 30, but the national passenger railcarrier reported it still notched its second-best ridership year in its 38-year history. Amtrak carried nearly 27.2 million passengers in FY09, down from the record 28.7 million carried the previous fiscal year. Total FY09 ticket revenue was $1.6 billion.
"In a difficult year for the economy--particularly in the travel industry--Amtrak ridership has remained strong albeit with some regional variation," said Amtrak President and CEO Joseph H. Boardman (pictured at left) in a statement. "In particular, reduced business travel along the Northeast Corridor prevented us from reaching the ridership we achieved last year."
Amtrak on-time performance systemwide rose to 80% in FY09, up from 71% in FY08. Industry sources note privately that much of that improvement came due to less capacity stress and conflict between Amtrak and Class I freight traffic moves, an improvement which may disappear once freight traffic levels recover.
Boardman also noted FY09 Amtrak ridership suffered in par tdue to the spike in passengers the previous fiscal year, resulting from soaring gasoline prices.
Though ridership on Amtrak’s flagship Northeast Corridor declined, other routes achieved gains over the previous year, including Chicago-St. Louis (up 6%), Harrisburg-Philadelphia-New York Keystone Service (up 2.7%), the Raleigh-Charlotte, N.C., Piedmont (up 3.8%), and the Vermonter (up 1.9%).
Among long-distance trains, Coast Starlight ridership rose 22.3%, in part due to a 15-week service disruption in 2008 that closed a portion Union Pacific in northern California. The tri-weekly Sunset Limited route saw ridership rise 9.8%, the Texas Eagle gained 3.6%, and two New York-Miami trains, the Silver Star and Silver Meteor, gained 1.1% and 3.4%, respectively.