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.
Amtrak has awarded a contract to Jacobs Engineering Group to provide program management and construction management services for more than 100 infrastructure improvement projects (at more than 360 Amtrak locations) valued at around $560 million.
The projects are being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus program. They include maintenance facility upgrades, bridge replacements, track work, security enhancements, and station improvements.
An announcement Tuesday said that "in support of small and minority-owned businesses, Jacobs and Amtrak will set individual goals for significant levels of small and disadvantaged business enterprise participation, and contract projects to create jobs that will further economic recovery and provide long-term benefits."
New York-based Dahlman Rose & Co., in its third quarter Rail Shipper Survey, notes “railroad shippers anticipate an average base rate increase of 3.2% over the next 6-12 months. This is largely in line with the 3.3% increase expected in our 2Q09 Shipper Survey and below the 3.6% increase noted in our 1Q09 Shipper Survey.
“While some may view the downtick as an indication of pricing pressure, we believe it is indicative of an economic stabilization. As volumes start to come back, rail pricing should firm as well in our view,” the firm said.
Dalhman Rose’s survey also suggests shippers support rail legislation efforts on Capitol Hill only to a certain point, noting, “A vast majority of shippers seem to support some sort of action on Capital Hill while only 4% want the regulators to stay totally out of the railroad business. However, it is important to note that not all shippers who support government action want actions that are unfavorable to the railroads.” The survey finds “22% of respondents ... are in favor of a 25% rail investment tax credit, while 21% would support a short line tax credit. An improved rail costing model would win the support of 24% of our respondents, while DOJ [Department of Justice] oversight was selected by just 13% of respondents.”
In terms of rate case actions, Dahlman Rose’s survey found “98% of shippers indicated that they do not plan to file any rate action against a railroad over the next 12 months. This is an increase from 94% and 88% in our 2Q09 and 1Q09 surveys, respectively, suggesting that shippers feel pricing will come in on its own or that current pricing practices are not egregious.”
Dahlman Rose also found shipper optimism improving. “Shippers expect their respective businesses to grow approximately 5.9% for the next year, versus 2Q09 and 1Q09 survey responses of 4% and 1% respectively. We believe this optimism is largely driven by the modest improvement in theeconomy in the third quarter. Building products and chemicals showed the highest expected growth over 2Q09.”
Norfolk Southern said Tuesday its customers now can receive text messages notifying them of the status of shipments with Railcar Event Alerts. Using a simple application on the company’s e-commerce site, accessNS, customers can set up alerts to advise them of a variety of events for as many as three railcars, containers, trailers, or chassis at a time.
NS says once an alert is set up, Railcar Event Alerts checks the status of the equipment every hour and sends a text message to the customer’s cell phone if the status has changed.
Information available through Railcar Event Alerts includes: changes in ETA or ETI; bad order notification; when a shipment is received from another rail carrier; when a shipment is placed for a shipper’s customer; and/or when a car in the shop has been repaired and is moving again.
For customers needing assistance with e-commerce applications, Norfolk Southern also has added live online chat support. NS stresses that this is in addition to the toll-free help line and email support the accessNS team already provides.
By clicking the “Live Support” link, available in the top left corner of the accessNS title bar or as a button on the accessNS sign-on screen, customers can open a chat session with support personnel in realtime. This new feature is meant to allow the accessNS support team to help more customers in less time.