The Association of American Railroads Wednesday released its June 2009 Rail Time Indicators economic report, and also launched a new online video summary of the June report. AAR notes the report combines rail traffic data with more than 15 key U.S. economic indicators, including consumer confidence, housing starts, and industrial production, in a non-technical snapshot of how rail traffic data reflects the broader U.S. economy.
"We wanted to pull together the best information from not only the freight rail industry, but also other key economic indicators," said AAR Senior Vice President of Policy and Economics John Gray. "We think the report offers a convenient, clear look at trends that may reveal where the overall economy and freight rail traffic are going."
AAR also launched a monthly video summary of the report, presented by a member of the association's policy and economics team.
AAR’s video highlights trends from the data on the 19 major commodities that AAR tracks in the Rail Time Indicators report. For example, this month, the video examines the impact the U.S. domestic economy is having on the freight rail movement of motor vehicles and equipment, metallic ores, and metals.
"At the end of the day, if people aren't building or buying things, freight rail traffic feels the effects," Gray added. "We thought that a video summary would be a more accessible way to introduce the data to a broader audience."
Both the written report and its video component summary are available for viewing at www.aar.org.
Between June 2008 and June 2008, Class I railroad employment in all categories declined 8.45% to 149,614, a loss of 15,685 jobs. Hardest hit was the transportation (train and engine) category, where the numbers dropped by 13,305 to 55,434, a 17.45% loss.
In other categories, employment of executives, officials, and staff assistants was down 0.02% from a year ago to 10,047; professional and administrative, down 3.13% to 13,276; maintenance of way and structures, down 0.72% to 35,382; and maintenance of equipment and stores, off 5.37% to 28,619.
The transportation (other than train and engine) group showed the only year-to-year increase, with numbers up 3.46% to 6,856.
Total June 2009 employment was down 1.27% from May 2009.
The Surface Transportation Board released the latest employment figures on Wednesday.
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is struggling with physical obstacles and financial constraints as it pursues construction of both the Second Avenue Subway (phase 1) and its Long Island Rail Road East Side Access (ESA) project to Grand Central Terminal.
MTA reportedly has completed an analysis of the projects’ respective work schedules and budgets. Based on that, the completion date for the $4.4 billion first phase of the Second Avenue Subway, running from 96th Street to 59th Street, has been extended from June 2015 to at least December 2016, and more likely the summer of 2017.
East Side Access, designed to give LIRR a second Manhattan terminal to better serve riders headed to and from Manhattan’s East Side without transferring to or from subway service, would commence operations in September 2016, instead of February 2015.
Given the tortured history of the Second Avenue Subway, a project that has struggled to become reality for decades, reaction to the news was muted. "It will not come as shock to the American people that the Second Ave. subway is behind schedule," said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, a New York-based advocacy group. Russianoff added sympathetically, “It's a big complicated project. I think part of this is bowing to the economic realities of what money is available and when."
The $6.3 billion East Side Access project, combined with the$4.4 billion Second Avenue Subway effort, accounts for more than two-thirds of the $15 billion targeted by MTA Capital Construction for five major projects. One of the five, the $500 million rehabilitation of the South Ferry Terminal subway stop in lower Manhattan, opened in March.
The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, representing 340 train engineers at VIA Rail Canada that are members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), has given notice to Canada’s intercity railroad that its members could go on strike July 24, forcing cancelation of passenger train service.
VIA Rail reportedly already has begun canceling some of its long-distance trains as a cautionary measure, and said that all trains would be canceled at noon Friday if a settlement with the union is not reached. Trains on the Sudbury-White River and Victoria-Courtenay routes will remain in service, as they are operated by third parties on VIA’s behalf.
A mediator has been appointed to assist in the negotiations and VIA Rail is “hopeful that an agreement will be reached before the set deadline,” the railroad said Tuesday.
TCRC says its members have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2006. At issue are improved wages and benefits, scheduling that allows members two consecutive days off, and increased training schedules for engineers. “Many of the issues related to what we're trying to achieve here are quality-of-life issues,” TCRC President Dan Shewchuk said.
Washington sources say that Mark Hansen, formerly a fatiguemanagement expert with NASA, is likely to be appointed to the seat onthe National Transportation Safety Board that Kathryn O'Leary Higginswill vacate Aug. 3.
O'Leary informed the White House Tuesday that she would notaccept the new term offered by President Obama and plans open a consultingbusiness.
A deputy secretary of labor in the Clinton Administration,O'Leary has worked more than 30 years in regulatory, administrative, andlegislative positions.
Already before the Senate for confirmation are thenominations of Chris Hart as a member of the NTSB and current member DeborahHersman to serve as board chair.
Atlanta’s on-again, off-again plans for a Peachtree Street streetcar line appear to be on again, as the City Council, in an 11-3 vote, approved a motion to apply for federal stimulus funds to build part of the line.
Just as Portland, Ore.’s MAX light rail operations attracted focus groups from interested U.S. cities beginning in the 1990s, so, too, does the Rose City’s streetcar operation draw interest in the best tradition of “show and tell.” Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory is the latest to use Portland as a model for local officials not yet convinced of the potential benefits of a Cincinnati streetcar line.
Mallory said a tour of Portland’s operations remains on the agenda despite Cincinnati’s looming $28 million budget deficit, which could grow to $40 million next year. The mayor and allies hope to reinforce proponents’ plans for a $128 million starter line, using public and private funding sources. Opponents of the plan seek a ballot initiative mandating voter approval this fall for any streetcar plan or other rail options.
Costs of the trip for the mayor and one aide will be paid through a fund established in 2006 as part of a settlement with Duke Energy over its merger with Cinergy. Duke deposited the $750,000 into the Business and Jobs Attraction Account. Others who plan to travel to Portland will have to cover their own expenses.
Suffolk, Va.-based Commonwealth Railway says it will be incorporating RailComm’s Track Warrant Control functionality into its existing Domain Operations Controller System (DOC®).
Commonwealth Railway has dispatched trains within CTC territory by accessing RailComm’s web-enabled Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery model. RailComm’s SaaS offering provides a “pay-as-you-go” model, eliminating capital equipment procurement constraints. Through the SaaS delivery model, Commonwealth Railway is remotely dispatched by parent Genesee and Wyoming’s Portland & Western Railroad, located in Salem, Ore. The addition of the Track Warrant Control module allows Commonwealth Railway to seamlessly dispatch both its CTC and its dark territory from the same control desk.
The DOC® SaaS provides built-in disaster recovery capability. Because the application is accessed over the Internet, in the case of evacuation of the dispatch building, the dispatcher’s can be relocated to any Internet-connected location to continue moving trains. Additionally, since the DOC® control application resides on servers within RailComm’s managed data center in Rochester, N.Y., the requirement for local IT support at each railroad is greatly reduced.
Canadian National Monday reported second-quarter profit fell 16%, reflecting the falloff in freight rail traffic, with net income at C$387 million (US$350 million), or 82 Canadian cents per diluted share, compared with C$459 million, or 95 Canadian cents per diluted share, in the comparable 2008 quarter. Operating income fell 18% to C$583 million.
CN revenue declined 15% to C$1.8 billion (US$1.6 billion). Operating expenses fell 14% due to cost-containment measures and a “significant reduction” in fuel prices compared with the comparable quarter, CN said. CN's operating ratio increased by one percentage point to 67.3%.
The strengthening of the U.S. dollar affected the conversion of the company's U.S.-dollar-denominated revenue and expenses, increasing second-quarter 2009 net income by C$15 million, or C$0.03 per diluted share, the railroad said.
But E. Hunter Harrison, president and chief executive officer, said, "I think we've seen the bottom. "
"The second quarter of 2009 saw a continuation of significant weakness in most of our commodity groups as a result of the current recession in North America and difficult global economic conditions, with all groups but coal registering double-digit declines in carloadings," Harrison said. "The biggest declines were in metals and minerals shipments, principally on account of a sharp reduction in short-haul iron ore movements in northern Minnesota, and in automotive and forest products traffic. Intermodal, grain and fertilizers, and petroleum and chemicals saw lesser declines. Coal was a bright spot, however, as a result of higher U.S. shipments resulting from our acquisition" of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway.
"CN's solid pricing has limited its top and bottom line slide," Dahlman Rose Director Equity Research and Railway Age Contributing Editor Jason H. Seidl noted. "While volumes based on carloads declined 22%, top line results came in just 15% below the prior year as average revenue per carload increased by 9% due in part to the continuing 4-5% increases in pure price gains, positive changes in traffic mix and FX (foreign exchange). While volume declines were significant, the operating ratio was 67.3%, vs. an operating ratio of 66.3% in 2Q08. On the balance sheet, the company maintains a strong cash position with $238 million increase in free cash flow year-to-date over 2008. While we believe that CN’s optimism regarding solid pricing and a potential bottoming of the market may be well founded, we believe that volumes will continue to decline in the near term and that any turnaround in the market is likely to be slow and gradual. [Yet,] we reiterate our Buy rating as CN continues to be a way for investors to own a 'best in class' company that continues to generate strong free cash flow in a difficult operating environment. CN's prospects for the long-term are favorable despite the ongoing freight recession. The company noted that it sees some signs of improvement in the environment and that business volumes may have reached a bottom. Specifically, the company cites optimism regarding possible improvements in the merchandise business, auto production, steel production, chemicals, petroleum and forest products. We note that these last four industries are expected to enjoy positive growth rates over the next 6-12 months according to our recently published proprietary rail shipper survey."
Seattle's Sound Transit light rail transit ridership Monday, the first day of revenue service, was reported to be light on the 14-mile line. The line made its debut this past weekend, when approximately 92,000 people were given free rides during the two-day period. One-way fares range from $1.75 to $2.50.
The heaviest ridership so far has occurred close to downtown, according to Martin Young, a manager helping with Monday's startup. The 600-space park-and-ride lot at Tukwila International Boulevard Station, one of the few park-and-ride lots provided by the new line, was reported to be about 25% full.
Sound Transit projects 26,600 per weekday by the end of the first year; ridership on Monday appeared to fall short of that projected target. "It's a Monday morning, on a brand new system, on a really nice sunny summer day in July," Sound Transit spokeswoman Linda Robson pointed out.
Sound Transit also has yet to adjust its bus routes to offer transfer opportunities; many bus routes will be adjusted this fall. Sound Transit LRT also will be extended two miles to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport by the end of the year; a shuttle bus from Tukwila Station currently connects the new line to the airport.