Canada’s commissioner of official languages has launched two investigations into allegations VIA Rail Canada staff did not offer emergency instructions in French to 334 passengers who had to be evacuated from a train August 17.
Some passengers, including a journalist, reported emergency instructions were given only in English to passengers on board a train bound for Ottawa, the nation’s capital. Others, however, dispute this.
Member of Parliament Richard Nadeau said he would raise the issue with a House of Commons’ committee when Parliament resumes this fall.
Catherine Kaloutsky, a VIA Rail spokeswoman, said the company “is not disputing” that some customers heard messages only in English. But, she said, there are reports other customers heard messages in French and in English. Staff on board spoke French and VIA has only hired bilingual front-lineworkers since 1985, she said.
Moreover, Anne Marie Harbec, a passenger on board the train, said she witnessed VIA Rail employees giving instructions in French. “They went above and beyond, I certainly have a lot of praise for how they handled it,” Harbec said. She added that some firefighters or fellow passengers who volunteered to help with the evacuation effort may have been unilingual, “but I don’t think VIA can do anything about that.”
Notwithstanding such observations, VIA Rail has issued an official apology and said it was launching its own investigation, saying it is interviewing the staff on board and reviewing its emergency response, including why messages from its megaphone weren’t clear.
China’s Shanghai Composite Index rallied 4.5% Thursday, prompting other Asian markets, their Europe counterparts, and Wall Street to follow suit in similar fashion. While the rally on Wall Street was attributed to several contributing factors, including expansion in U.S. regional manufacturing, some analysts cite China’s continued strong investment in rail infrastructure as abullish factor affecting markets worldwide.
Before Thursday's advance, the Shanghai index was down more than 20% from its early August peak, officially putting it into bear market territory and making global investors nervous.
But China’s Ministry of Railways says its investment for the first seven months of 2009 is up 110% compared with the comparable period of ayear ago. China previously had noted its commitment to invest 700 billion yuan (roughly $100 billion) per year in each of the next three years on rail infrastructure, to promote economic growth and ease transport bottlenecks. It hopes to have upgraded or put in place 86,000 kilometers (53,320 miles) of rail by year’s end, expanding to 110,000 kilometers (68,200 miles) by 2012.
The 700 billion yuan commitment to rail infrastructure expansion and upgrading represents roughly 17.5% of China’s overall stimulus package of 4 trillion yuan.
U.S. railroad carloadings are registering incremental gains but remain down year over year for the week ended Aug. 15, 2009, the Association of American Railroads reported Thursday. Traffic added up to 276,488 cars, down 17.1% from the corresponding week in 2008.
Intermodal volume of 193,488 trailers or containers was down 18.4%. Container volume fell 13.1% and trailer volume was down 38.6 %. Total U.S. volume for the latest week was estimated at 29.5 billion ton-miles, down 16.7% from last year.
All 19 carload commodity groups were down, with declines ranging from 0.9% for farm products not including grain to 51% for metals and metal products.
For the first 32 weeks of 2009, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 8,436,160 carloads, down 18.9% from 2008; 5,958,304 trailers or containers, down 17.2%; and total volume estimated at 897.8 billion ton-miles, down 18%.
Canadian railroads reported 62,796 carloadings for the week, down 21.7% from last year, and 42,828 trailers or containers, off 16.7%. For the first 32 weeks of 2009, Canadian railroads originated 1,909,206 carloads, down 23.8% up from 2008, and 1,286,117 trailers or containers, off 16.3%.
Mexican railroads originated 12,039 carloads of traffic, down 10.6% from the same week last year, and 5,803 trailers or containers, down 15%. Cumulative volume for the first 32 weeks of 2009 was 3635,192 carloads, down 15.2%, and 156,543 trailers or containers, off 21.2%.
Combined North American rail volume for the first 32 weeks of 2009 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads totaled 10,708,558 carloads, down 19.7% from last year, and 7,400,964 trailers and containers, down 17.1% from last year.
BNSF Railway says it has created 23 new intermodal services so far this year and has improved transit times on 45 lanes. "These enhancements were developed in direct response to feedback solicited from customers, BNSF said in a service report Thursday.
BNSF claims its intermodal service is approximately 28% faster than that of any other carrier. Ontime performance exceeds 94%.
"We are committed to being the first and best choice for intermodal transport and can only do that by continually making service improvements based on customer needs," said Steve Branscum, group vice president, Consumer Products. "Opening new markets, increasing velocity, and working closely with our customers are just a few of the reasons why BNSF is the largest intermodal carrier in North America."
To allow shippers to see exactly how its intermodal services will move their product through the supply chain, BNSF has created an online Intermodal Transit Advisor that provides information on routes, cutoff and availability times, transit time, and miles between origin and destination. An Intermodal Savings Estimator analyzes route information and shows cost savings of intermodal vs. highway shipping.
Concord, Calif.-based Pacer International, Inc. says it has closed the previously announced sale of certain assets of its specialized heavy-haul trucking operation to subsidiaries of Universal Truckload Services, Inc., based in Warren, Mich.
In connection with the transaction, subsidiaries of UTSI assumed the real property leases and equipment leases for tractors and trailers used in the operation—as well as various customer, agent, and other contracts for a purchase price of approximately $2 million, Pacer said in a statement. Pacer retained the rights to all receivables generated by this trucking operation through the closing date of August 17.
Houston’s commitment to light rail expansion has proven to be an influence on the city’s development code, a phrase once considered nearly oxymoronic for the largest city in Texas. Houston’s City Council Wednesday unanimously voted to change the development code to aid “walkable development” in the vicinity of light rail stations.
New rules dictate sidewalks of five feet in width, up from four feet, for new development in most of the city. Incentives for developers of property along the six light rail routes existing or planned include a 15-foot “pedestrian realm” with broad, unobstructed sidewalks and other features intended to create walkable environments.
In exchange for agreeing to create a pedestrian zone, developers will be exempt from other rules, such as building setbacks at a specified distance from the street.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority of Harris County currently operates the city's 7.5-mile light rail line which opened in 2004, but is committed to adding five additional lines totaling 29 additional route miles.
Denver-area mayors Tuesday stated that if the Regional Transportation District seeks voter approval to double the FasTracks sales tax to complete rail projects by 2017, all rail lines must be constructed as promised.
Thornton, Colo. Mayor Erik Hansen said voters should get a pledge from RTD that if the tax increase passes and a given line is not built as promised, "we will give you your money back. I guarantee that's what my voters are saying."
Denver metropolitan area voters approved a 0.4% sales tax in 2004 to build six new rail lines and advance other transit measures, but RTD’s finance plan currently leaves the agency short by about $2.3 billion in completing the projects by the target date. Declining sales tax revenue, coupled with higher construction costs, have contributed to the current shortfall.
On Tuesday, Denver Regional Council of Governments consultant Ray Murphy said, "We consider (RTD's) sales-tax growth forecast to be the greatest challenge in the financing plan." The plan assumes voters will agree to raise the FasTracks tax to 0.8%, beginning in January 2011, to keep to the 2017 construction schedule.
RTD's plan is to ensure that all FasTracks lines are "shovel ready" — with environmental studies and preliminary engineering complete — for construction to start shortly after voters presumably approve the sales-tax increase in November 2010, said interim General Manager Phil Washington.
Virginia Railway Express has awarded Wabtec Corp.'s MotivePower subsidiary an order for 12 MPXpress® passenger locomotives valued at $44 million. Delivery will begin in the summer of 2010. VRE has an option to acquire an additional eight locomotives, which would bring the total value of the order to more than $73 million.
VRE used earmarked federal funds along with Federal Transit Administration, formula funds, and a recent award of stimulus money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to increase its initial order from five locomotives to the current 12.
"With our MPXpress® locomotives serving commuters throughout North America, we are pleased to be the proven industry standard with a safe, environmentally friendly, and highly reliable product that provides economic value to our customers," said Albert J. Neupaver, Wabtec's president and chief executive officer.
Since introducing the first MPXpress® model in 2003, MotivePower has continued to improve upon its technology and design. The MPXpress® meets the latest crashworthiness and safety standards recommended by the American Public Transportation Association.
Dale Zehner, VRE's chief executive officer, said: "The acquisition of these state-of-the-art MotivePower MP-36 locomotives is the lynchpin in VRE taking that next step in modernizing our fleet while expanding the potential opportunities for service expansion. Once these units are in service, VRE will be poised to make our operation even more reliable. I am confident that these MotivePower locomotives (with their higher horsepower and increased Head End Power capacity) will be paramount in providing improved commuter rail service to the people of Virginia in the coming years."