Railroad shippers anticipate an average base rate increase of 3.3% during the next six-to-12 months, according to a new survey conducted by New York-based investment bank Dahlman Rose & Co.
The 2009 2Q Rail Shipper Survey finds rail companies expecting to continue to face pricing pressure in the upcoming months. The rate is below past quarterly survey results-- a 3.6% expected increase in the first quarter of 2009 and a 3.5% increase in the fourth quarter of 2008.
Survey respondents were small, mid-to-major U.S. companies that use rail to transport a range of materials, including metals, petroleum, and chemicals, as well as building, consumer, and paper products, Dahlman Rose said.
“Although the near-term outlook remains bleak for railroads, shippers expect their businesses to pick up and grow 4% on average across multiple industriesin the next year,” Dahlman Rose said. “The results show agricultural products, metals, and petroleum products are leading the way for best anticipated growth; chemicals, building products, and consumer products, on the other hand, expect lower growth. The results bode well for the rail space and the broader market in the long term.”
"It is clear from our proprietary survey that pricing pressure exists in the marketplace," said Jason H. Seidl, Dahlman Rose director of Rail, Trucking and Air Freight research and Railway Age Contributing Editor (photo, left). "However, if shipper optimism for business growth turns out to be well-founded, this could relieve the pressure."
The survey also indicates that a great majority of shippers do not plan to file any rate action against a railroad during the next 12 months. The results, compared to last quarter's, suggest that shippers believe that current pricing practices are not out of line.
J.B. Hunt, a major over-the-road carrier, issued a third-quarter earnings report Tuesday that disappointed Wall Street, with both revenue and earnings falling below expectations. But the trucking company expressed optimism over the future of its intermodal business.
"We believe that, as our rail partners continue to make multiyear investments to improve service and network efficiency and as shippers remain under economic and environmental pressure to find sustainable alternatives to truck, the long-term outlook of our intermodal business is very attractive," said the trucking company.
"As a result it is important for us to continue to make strategic investments even in the midst of harsh market conditions. In the interim, we are focused on cost reduction efforts to help mitigate competitive price pressures," said J.B. Hunt.
Lowell, Ark.-based J.B. Hunt said recent contract negotiations resulted in an overall decrease in price as well as changes in mix of freight which, along with "only modest increases in seasonal volumes, lead us to expect earnings comparisons will continue to be difficult over the short term."
Meridian Southern Railway LLC (MDS), a 55.5-mile short line, has asked the Surface Transportation Board for authority to build 1,910 feet of track in Lauderdale County, Miss., to extend existing MDS track to the Norfolk Southern yard in Meridian.
This will give MDS a connection to the NS main line in addition to its existing connection with the Kansas City Southern main line.
"MDS anticipates that the proposed connecting track will provide existing shippers and consignees with improved access to the national rail system by addition of a routing option with more efficient flow and adding pricing competition," STB said on Wednesday as it announced the application.
STB expects to grant MDS the requested authority barring a possible stay based on environmental or historic issues, on which MDS has already submitted its own review.
Officials from VIA Rail Canada, Canadian National, and the federal government will gather at Toronto’s Union Station Thursday to tout two developments aimed at improving passenger rail service on VIA’s Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal route.
The news conference in Toronto is highlighting VIA infrastructure work on CN's Kingston Sub Project, designed to improve passenger train frequency and capacity. In addition, VIA will ceremonially acknowledge receipt of its first fully rebuilt F40 locomotive at simultaneous events in both Toronto and Montreal. The locomotive is the first of 54 F40s to be rebuilt by CAD Railway Industries (CAD) of Lachine, Québec.
Slated to appear are Gary Goodyear, federal Minister of State (Science and Technology), CN Executive Vice President Claude Mongeau, and Donald E. Wright, chairman of VIA Rail Canada.
Washington state’s Port of Vancouver Commission has approved plans to acquire six acres of property to allow new rail access into port facilities across the Columbia River from nearby Portland, Ore.
The West Vancouver freight access rail project plans call for the new line to be built across property adjacent to the port and owned by Clark Public Utilities and Clark County, Wash., as well as port property leased by Great Western Malting Co.
Four Class I railroads currently serve the port, including BNSF,Union Pacific, Canadian Pacific, and Canadian National.
The port will pay Clark County an amount still to be determined for approximately four acres and will swap parcels, each less than an acre, with Clark Public Utilities. The port intends to negotiate a new lease with Great Western Malting Co. intended to reclaim nearly an acre for port use.The port has planned to purchase the properties for more than three years, but has not yet set a price.
Planners in California’s Sonoma and Marin counties, north of San Francisco, have recommended diesel multiple-unit (DMU) equipment for a proposed 71-mile rail line serving the northern Bay Area. The Sonoma Marin Area Rapid Transit (SMART) Board of Directors approved the recommendation Wednesday in a 9-2 vote, directing staff to write specifications. The process will take several months at a cost of $400,000.
SMART’s directors endorsed plans for a fleet of 11 “American-style” DMU units, projected to cost $88 million, as opposed to diesel light rail transit (DLRT) cars similar to those used in New Jersey and southern California. Doing so would allow the project to meet crash standards mandatedby the Federal Railroad Administration, and avoid temporal separation of freight and passenger services; the proposed rail service, linking Cloverdale and Larkspur, Calif., would share the right-of-way with existing freight rail services. The line would interface with Golden Gate Ferry services at Larkspur, providing intermodal passenger service to and from San Francisco.
Planners and area rail advocates are aware of the difficulties Austin, Tex., has experienced in its ongoing, much-delayed startup of rail service there; Austin’s Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority opted for DLRT equipment, which FRA said necessitated temporal separation of freight and passenger rail operations.
“The majority understand it’s a tough choice, but in the end the regulatory environment is what it is, and we don’t want to have a systembased on regulations that we wished existed. We need to build a system based on regulations the way they are,” said SMART spokesman Chris Coursey, explaining SMART’s desire to avoid any entanglements with FRA.
“It is passionate because this is one of the biggest decisions we will make and it will impact the people who ride it,” said Debora Fudge, vice chairman of the SMART board. “They will see these cars, and theywill look sleek and modern.”
The board says it’s aware that only one U.S. manufacturer, Columbus, Ohio-based US Railcar LLC, is capable of producing DMU equipment. US Railcar, owned by the Value Recovery Group, purchased most of the assets of Fort Lupton, Colo.-based Colorado Railcar earlier this year.
The city of Phoenix has awarded contracts valued at $255 million to Bombardier Transportation for the design, supply, operation, and maintenance of an INOVIA automated people mover (APM) at Sky Harbor International Airport.
New York Gov. David Paterson Tuesday nominated Jay Walder to head the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Walder must be confirmed by the state Senate, which is expected to meet Wednesday on the matter.
Walder, 48, previously served with MTA as its chief financial officer from 1983 to 1995. He also served as managing director for finance and planning at Transport for London from 2000 to 2006. He then became a partner in McKinsey & Co., a consulting firm.
If confirmed, Walder will serve as both chairman and chief executive officer. Walder would succeed Lee Sander as MTA’s CEO; Sander was forced to resign last May. Helena Williams, president of MTA Long Island Rail Road, has been acting CEO in the interim.
Walder’s nomination has been greeted warmly by regional transit advocacy groups, including the Straphangers Campaign and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
CSX’s second-quarter earnings decline of 20% nonetheless beat Wall Street consensus estimates, as the company announced earnings of $308 million, or 78 cents per share, compared with $385 million, or 93 cents a share, in the second quarter of 2008. Revenue fell 25% to $2.19 billion.
Dahlman Rose & Co. cautioned that the earnings per share results, “when stripped of $0.06 per share in discontinued operations related to the [sale of the] Greenbrier resort ... came in at $0.72.” But even that, Dalhman Rose said, was “above our estimate of $0.66" and the consensus estimate of 62 to 64 cents per share.
Morgan Stanley analysts, though even more cautiously noting “$0.59 may be a cleaner number” for second-quarter earnings per share, also allowed that CSX generated a “solid performance, all things considered,” and added, “CSX remains a top pick in our freight transport universe.”
“While the economy continues to significantly impact our business, there are some signs that we may be seeing the bottom in many markets,” said CSX Chairman, President, and CEO Michael J. Ward.
Analysts said CSX has acted aggressively to control costs, but some see continued pressure on pricing. Dalhman Rose said the pressure is most acute in the intermodal sector, affecting CSX’s operating ratio.
Said Dahlman Rose, “We believe CSX Intermodal has had to resort to cutting rates in an attempt to remain competitive with the very aggressive trucking market. While operating expenses declined 17% to $255 million, it was not enough to offset the steep drop in revenues for the segment, bringing the operating ratio up over 730 basis points to 87.6%.”
In a related development, the United Transportation Union said that the impact of furloughs will be lessed for some CSX workers under an "innovative furlough retention board agreement." Furloughed employees placed on each furloughretention board will be guaranteed four days of work each bi-weekly payperiod, retain health-care insurance, continue buildingseniority and Railroad Retirement credits, remain current for ruleexaminations and qualifications, and recalled to active serviceunder a pre-determined mathematical formula. UTU members placed on continuous employment boards or furloughretention boards also are able to pursue part-time employmentelsewhere, with knowledge that their families are protected, and thatwhen the recession ends, they will return to full-time employment with CSX. These agreements do not impact the operation of extra boards. The agreement is similar to a continuous employment board agreement negotiated with Union Pacific.
"In negotiating these agreements, UTU officers have stressed to thecarriers that short-term economic gains from furloughs could backfireduring the peak vacation season and implementation July 16 of newhours-of-service regulations—both of which will limit availabilityof qualified operating crews," UTU noted. "Agreements such as UP's continuous employment boards andCSX's furlough retention boards lessen the likelihood that youngeremployees will depart the railroad permanently, triggering, eventually,an expensive search for new hires who then must be trained fromscratch."
UTU said it is seeking similar agreements with other major railroads, including BNSF and Norfolk Southern.