The Association of American Railroads reported Thursday that U.S. rail traffic "continues to show slight improvement with rail carloadings at their highest level since early March."
Carload traffic for the week ended Aug. 22 totaled 279,478 originated cars, down 16.1% from the corresponding week in 2008. Loadings were down 14.22% in the West and 18.9% inthe East.
U.S. intermodal volume totaled 193,207 trailers or containers , down 16.2% from last year. Container volume was off 10.2% and trailer volume was down 38.2%. Total volume for the week ending Aug. 22 was estimated at 29.8 billion ton-miles, down 15.6%.
All 19 freight commodity groups were down except the nonmetallic mineral category, which eked out a 1.3% increase. Declines ranged from 5.7% for petroleum products to 49.3% for metallic ores.
Canadian railroads reported 64,267 originated carloads for the latest week, down 15.3%, and 41,971 trailers or containers, down 19.2% from 2008.
Mexican railroad reported originated volume of 11,461 carloads, down 1.4% from last year, and 6,279 trailers or containers, off 3.1%.
Combined North American rail volume for the first 33 weeks of 2009 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads totaled 11,063,767 carloads, down 19.6% from last year, and 7,642,421 trailers and containers, down 17.1%.
Contrary to assertions made by opponents of high speed rail, the 800-mile, $44 billion HSR proposal for California is not imperiled, says Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Morshed reaffirmed HSR’s potential despite a court ruling ordering the Authority to revisit and possibly rewrite portions of its environmental impact statement for the Bay Area.
Morshed also asserted that Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny generally affirmed the agency's choice of Pacheco Pass as the preferred alternative for the rail line, countering suggestions made by the non-profit Planning and Conservation League that an alternate route over Altamont Pass was the clear-cut preferred option.
“Fundamentally, the judge agreed with our environmental work and our selection of the Pacheco Pass," he said. “The things the judge asked us to take a look at are relatively small items that we can accommodate." The judge found that the Authority "studied a reasonable range of alternatives and presented a fair and unbiased analysis" before it chose Pacheco Pass, which includes the Caltrain route in the Peninsula.
The court ruling also found that the Authority should have recirculated the environmental report following Union Pacific’s declaration to oppose any sharing of its right-of-way.
But Morshed said the Authority has already been operating under that premise, and has been evaluating options, including the use of properties adjacent to UP right-of-way.
British rail operator Network Rail says it plans to cut 1,800 maintenance jobs by April 2011. "We are discussing our plans withour people and their union representatives and no final decisions have been made,” said a company spokesman quoted by the Times of London.
Network Rail, which runs Britain's rail network and its largest train stations, employs 33,000 people.
The news follows the company’s announcement of plans for a high speed rail link from London to the north of Britain that would halve travel time to Scotland to just over two hours.
Rail transit vendors have two bulky new documents from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority available for study as they seek clues to business opportunities over the next couple of decades. Total rail transit capital expenditures exceed $10 billion a year, and more than half of that is spent on in MTA rail systems serving the New York City area.
In addition to a previously reported draft five-year (2010-2014) capital investment plan totaling $25.5 billion, MTA has a released a 20-year (2010-2029) Capital Needs Assessment “focused on rebuilding the existing system, which includes replacing assets and maintaining those assets already repaired.”
These add up to $128.8 billion, of which $112.304 billion would go to MTA’s three rail operators: NYC Transit, $84.146 billion; Long Island Rail Road, $16.372 billion; and Metro-North Railroad, $11.786 billion. (The remainder would be go to MTA Bus Company, MTA Bridges and Tunnels, and MTA Police and Security.)
“These needs are constrained only by the capacity of the agencies to implement the program while continuing to operate their systems and serve their customers,” said MTA.
“On a fully unconstrained basis, the agencies’ needs are even greater than what is included in this assessment since more backlogged State of Good Repair Needs exist than can be implemented.” These backlogged needs total roughly $50 billion for all agencies.
MTA identified these major rail agency needs:
NYC Transit. More than half of NYCT needs, $47 billion, focus on signal system investments, subway cars, buses and paratransit vehicles, and stations. Signal systems, $14.5 billion, constitute the single largest category of needs. The next 20 years will see much of the subway system rebuilt with communications-based train control, permitting higher speeds and shorter headways, thus increasing capacity, as well as providing for automated train operation. New subway cars, at $11.278 billion, are the third-largest category of needs, following station improvements, $12.56 billion. Communications improvements will cost an estimated $3.48 billion. Of NYCT's 228 miles of line structures, 76 miles will be rehabilitated. CBTC will be installed on most of the lines to be modernized.
Long Island Rail Road. Major planned investments over the next 20 years are: rolling stock, $2.299 billion; stations,$1.85 billion; track, $5.67 billion; line structures, $1.088 billion; communications and signals, $2.19 billion; and power, $1.44 billion. Centralized train control will relocate LIRR train dispatching, train supervision, and tower operations to the Jamaica Control Center. As LIRR modernizes the signal system at Jamaica, it will reconfigure a 96-year-old track layout for increased throughput.
Metro-North Railroad. Rolling stock, at $3.614 billion, is the costliest planned investment. Track and structures will get $2.406 billion; Grand Central Terminal, stations, and parking, $ 2.277 billion; communications/signals, $747 million; power, $615 million; and shops and yards, $1.7 billion. Metro-North plans to increase capacity on its busy Harlem, Hudson, and New Haven lines, through track, signal, and power improvements. These include electrification of the Hudson line between Croxton-Harmon and Peekskill.
Systemwide, MTA says communication investments will see “expansion of real-time transit information in subway and rail stations and on personal handheld devices. New technologies such as Twitter and Instant Messaging will deliver targeted information to customers.”
During the next 10 years, the fare payment infrastructure on all MTA properties will reach the end of its useful life. “The replacement promises the ability to use a single smartcard or a cellphone with a smartchip to ride any and all of the MTA region’s transportation systems.”
New transfer points will be added between intersecting subway lines and between bus and subway or bus and regional rail connections through intermodal terminals.
In federal court papers filed Wednesday in Cheyenne, Wyo., the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad said it has dropped condemnation lawsuits against some landowners in northeastern Wyoming because the recessionary economy has caused an indefinite delay in plans to extend its lines into the Powder River Basin coalfields.
The proposed extension was the focal point of a $6 billion plan to tap into coal resources now available only to BNSF and Union Pacific. Two years ago, DM&E filed condemnation suits against 19 property owners seeking up to 1,200 linear acres for a right-of-way. DM&E is now owned by Canadian Pacific.
A company spokesman says the move doesn’t signal DM&E’s abandonment of rail access to the Powder River Basin, but instead is a change in tactics in seeking to obtain rights of way from landowners in northeast Wyoming.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s environmental impact statement for the Bay Area portion of its proposed 800-mile, $44 billion high speed rail system is inadequate, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled Wednesday.
The decision validated some of the objections filed by conservation groups, joined by outright opponents of HSR in the Bay Area communities of Atherton and Menlo Park. Other objections, such as the claim that HSR promotes urban sprawl, were judged to be without merit and dismissed by Kenny.
Left open for political maneuvering was the specific route of the system in the Bay Area. Some contend that HSR would carry more passengers if the service followed a route over the Altamont Pass instead of the recommended Pacheco Pass routing.
The judge ruled the Authority’s environmental impact report did not fully address vibration issues, land-use impacts outside of sprawl, such as the displacement of residences and businesses, or the impact of Union Pacific’s refusal to share its right-of-way for HSR use.
One observer said the ruling appears not to require any change to the current proposed route in the Bay Area. But the non-profit Planning and Conservation League, one of the plaintiffs, said the decision means the choice to build the train along the Pacheco Pass route will be rescinded and the impacts and alternatives more thoroughly studied.
Tina Andolina, the group’s legislative director, said, "We hope the Authority will get right to work on a thorough and comprehensive review. The public supports high speed rail but wants it done right since we simply can't afford to throw $10 billion [sic] at a project that is done haphazardly."
Andolina said the alternative route along the Altamont Pass route would have fewer environmental and community impacts, serve more riders, and likely cost less than the proposed Pacheco Pass route.
As an indication that the rail industry is truly on the rebound, analysts have been awaiting the return of stored freight cars and locomotives to service. That is now happening.
Norfolk Southern is reported to have returned to duty approximately 9,500 of the 35,000 freight cars previously in storage, along with about 200 of 700 idled locomotives. This has happened gradually in recent weeks and leaves about one-fourth of the railroad's total freight carfleet and around 14% of its motive power in storage.
Rising traffic demands have also led Union Pacific to bring back on line an undisclosed portion of its stored rolling stock.
All major Class I chief executives commented in announcing second-quarter results that the recession appeared to have bottomed out. The year-over-year percentage decline in traffic, which at one time was in the mid-20s, has recently been in the upper teens.
Seattle’s Sound Transit has begun reviewing bids for tunnel boring work required for its $1.9 billion University Link light rail transit extension, set to commence early next year. The work would connect Seattle’s existing transit tunnel with Capitol Hill, with the extension set to open in 2016.
Sound Transit reports the estimated costs came in below expectations. The lowest bid of $153.6 million submitted by JCM U-Link Joint Venture was $20.7 million, or 12%, below an engineering estimate. The joint venture comprises Jay Dee Contractors, Frank Collucio Construction Co., and Michaels Corp. A second bid, at $154.1 million, was submitted by a Kenny Construction/J.F. Shea Construction Co. joint venture.
Sound Transit’s Board of Directors expects to select a winning bid this fall.