Noting that coal traffic throughout 2009 “has been a significant drag” on freight rail traffic and, consequently, on freight rail company share values, Morgan Stanley analysts William Greene, Adam Longson, and John Godyn, in a report released Friday, say that change is looming.
“In recent weeks, sequential data shows that coal stockpiles have sharply declined,” the trio wrote. “In fact, according to industry consultant Genscape, U.S. generators have recently averaged 63 days of coal supply. While still up Y/Y, this represents a marked improvement from the ~80 days of inventory levels seen as recently as 3Q09, which led a number of rails to reaffirm negative views on domestic coal prospects during their earnings calls. In contrast, should recent trends continue, 4Q09 management commentary on domestic coal trends is likely to be far more upbeat--a point which could excite investors.”
Casting an eye on the harsh winter weather enveloping much of the U.S., Morgan Stanley said, “The silver lining in recent cold weather trends is greater coal demand,” adding, “[I]nvestors are likely to focus on the weather's silver lining--increased heating demand and electricity consumption. In addition to directly reducing existing coal stockpiles, greater heating demand also puts upward pressure on natural gas prices (as we have seen recently). If it continues, this trend is likely to reverse the price-driven substitution effect (more natural gas, less coal) we witnessed in 2009 when natural gas prices crashed.”
Based in part on those developments, Morgan Stanley reiterated its “attractive view on freight—rails in particular.” Greene, Longson, and Godyn concluded, “We like freight stocks as a way to play the economic recovery, particularly stories where we see positive cyclical and secular trends such as the rails. Easing legislative concerns are likely to refocus investors on key rail investment positives including: (1) operating leverage to recovering volumes, (2) the pricing story, and (3) continued productivity improvements.”
Norfolk Southern has asked the SurfaceTransportation Board for permission to cease service on its Cockeysville, Md.,branch, which it operates at night under a temporal separation agreement with Maryland Transit Administration. MTA's light rail transit trains in Baltimore ply the line by day, as part of its Hunts Valley Line service.
NS acquired operating rights over the ex-PennsylvaniaRailroad line when Conrail was partitioned between NS and CSX in 1999. The route once served trains linking Baltimore and Harrisburg, Pa.
GE Transportation announced Thursday it has signed an agreement with Brazil’s Cosan SA Industria & Comercio to deliver 50 new AC44i locomotives for freight transport starting this year through Rumo, Cosan’s subsidiary for logistics operations.
Cosan is a major grower and processor of sugar cane and reportedly one of the largest ethanol and sugar producers in the world. Cosan will use the new locomotives to haul sugar from its processing plants to port on the rail infrastructure provided by its partner America Latina Logistica (ALL).
“GE welcomes Cosan as its most recent customer in South America. This order helps validate GE's investment in market-leading AC heavy-haul, diesel-electric locomotive technology and the performance value it provides,” said Lorenzo Simonelli, president and CEO of Erie, Pa.-based GE Transportation.
The Model AC44i locomotives are powered by diesel engines supplied by GE Transportation’s manufacturing plant in Grove City, Pa. GE says the locomotives feature GE’s unique AC individual-axle traction-control technology that enables the Model AC44i to haul heavier loads by significantly reducing slippage on start-ups, inclines, and suboptimal track conditions. Model AC44i locomotives also are equipped with dynamic braking in addition to air brakes to provide smoother handling when hauling heavier loads.
"As we expand our logistics network the proven performance of these GE AC-technology locomotives makes them a perfect fit for our requirements,” said Julio Fontana, president of Cosan's Rumo subsidiary. "These new locomotives will contribute significantly to increase our hauling capacity and our company’s growth."
“The ModelAC44i locomotives will be built by GE Transportation South America, GE Transportation’s affiliate facility located in Contagem, Brazil. They are scheduled for delivery starting in 2010,” said Guilherme Segalla de Mello, president and CEO of GE Transportation Latin America. “GE Transportation South America has built diesel electric locomotives including AC44, Dash 9, and the C Series in Brazil since 1967, and has produced more than 1,000 locomotives that are operating in more than 15 countries around the world.”
The Association of American Railroads reports that for the holiday week ending Jan. 2, intermodal volume registered an increase, but carload freight remained down in comparison to 2008.
U.S. intermodal traffic totaled 149,128 trailers and containers, up 1.85% from a year ago, though down 9% from 2008.
Railroads originated 227,227 carloads, down 1.5% from the same week in 2008 and down 17.9% from 2007.
Thirteen of the 19 carload freight commodity groups were from with the same week last year, with increases ranging from 2.5% for grain to 53.3% for motor vehicles and equipment. Declines ranged from 24.9% for the catch-all category "all other carloads" to 0.5% for primary forest products.
Total volume on U.S. railroads for the week ending Jan. 2 was estimated at 25.5 billion ton-miles, down 1.2% from the same week last year and down 25.9% from 2008.
Canadian railroads reported volume of 56,608 cars for the week, up 16.9% from last year, and 31,466 trailers and containers, up 7.4%. Mexico's two major railroads reported originated volume of 7,907 cars, up 17.1% from the same week last year, and 3,702 trailers or containers, up 23.3%.
The Greenbrier Companies Friday reported revenue totaling $172 million for its first quarter of 2010, down from $256 million in the prior year's first quarter.
The company recorded a net loss of $$3.2 million for the quarter, compared to a net loss of $3.9 million in the prior year's first quarter. EBITDA for the quarter was $14.8 million, or 8.6% of revenue, compared to $12.5 million, or 4.9%, of revenue in the first quarter of 2009.
New railcar deliveries in the first quarter of 2010 were approximately 350 units, compared to 800 in the first quarter of 2009.
The company modified its multi-year railcar agreement with General Electric Railcar Services in subsequent to the quarter. Greenbrier's new railcar manufacturing backlog as of Nov. 30, 2009, inclusive of the GE contract modification, was approximately 4,900 units with an estimated value of $430 million, compared to 15,900 units valued at approximately $1.39 billion as of Nov. 30, 2008.
William A. Furman, president and chief executive officer, said, "Our results continue to reflect depressed demand as a result of the weakeconomic environment. We remain focused on cost containment and operational efficiency, and managing the company for cash flow and liquidity in this environment. While recent indicators suggest that a recovery may be emerging in certain sectors of the economy, North American rail loadings remain soft and a significant portion of the entire North American railcar fleet remains idle. However, we are starting to see signs that certain of our markets are beginning to stabilize and slightly improve."
Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. (MBCR), the private company that operates Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) regional rail services, won a two-year contract extension Wednesday worth $559.7 million, while MBCR pledged to continue improving on service delivery.
MBTA’s Board of Directors approved the contract extensionunanimously. State officials said they brought the contract to the board forapproval without putting it on the public agenda, despite voluminous complaints from riders over service quality, particularly during the summer of 2006.
Complaints have declined markedly since then, however, while on-time performance was just under 90% for 2009, falling short of MBTA’s goal of 95% but still much improved from years past. MBTA said “adjustments” made to account for delays caused by its own activities bolstered MBCR’s on-time performance to the 95% level.
FreightCar America has appointed Michael D. MacMahon vice president, business development and strategy, succeeding Charles Magolske, who left the position in December. An announcement Wednesday said MacMahon "will serve as a key member of FreightCar America’s leadership team and continue to be based at the company’s Johnstown, Pa., location."
MacMahon, 43, joined FreightCar America, Inc. in 2005 as a controller in the company’s finance organization. Most recently, he served as vice president of marketing and international sales.
Ed Whalen, president and CEO, commented, “We are extremely pleased to have Mike accept the challenge to help guide FreightCar America’s long-term strategy. He has an established track record of making significant contributions to our company, and I am confident he will continue to do so in his new role.”
The Surface Transportation Board has granted the request of the state-owned Alaska Railroad Corp. (ARRC) to build and operate the 80-mile as the Northern Rail Extension, subject to extensive environmental mitigation conditions.
In an announcement late Wednesday, the STB said: "After considering the entire public record before it, including both the transportation aspects of ARRC's proposal and potential environmental issues, the Board was satisfied that the proposed line would provide reliable, year-round freight and passenger service to the region south of North Pole, AK; access to training areas used by the United States military; and an alternative to the Richardson Highway, now the sole means for surface transportation of commercial freight in the proposed project area. The Board was also satisfied that the proposal would foster development o fAlaska's economy by expanding ARRC's passenger and freight network to an area currently without rail service."
The decision follows the board's analysis of the Sept. 192009, Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) issued by the agency's Section of Environmental Analysis. STB said the FEIS reflects "careful comparison of potential alternatives to the proposal to identify environmentally preferred rail alignment alternatives, as well as conditions to avoid, minimize, or mitigate potential environmental impacts." STB said it was "satisfied that the preferred rail alignment alternatives it authorized, along with the environmental conditions the Board imposed, would avoid, minimize, or mitigate, to the extent practicable, potential environmental impacts."
Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo and FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Rae will be keynote speakers at three regional seminars on high speed rail in February, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and the International Union of Railways (UIC) both announced.
APTA and UIC developed the three regional seminars to provide U.S. decision makers with the information necessary to implement high-speed rail.
Entitled “International Practicum on Implementing High-Speed Rail in the United States,” the seminars will take place February 8-9 in Washington, D.C., February 9-11 in Chicago, and February 11-13 in Los Angeles.
Railway Age is the official media sponsor of the event.
The programs feature practitioners from high-speed railsystems around the world and will focus on best practices and lessons learnedfrom European and Asian systems. APTA and UIC say experts from Spain, Germany, Japan, Korea, Italy, and France will share their experience and knowledge, with U.S.-based speakers providing appropriate context for application in the North American operating environment.