The United Transportation Union says it recognized some time ago that furloughs of operating crews would be necessary as traffic slumped. That's when UTU began to talk with the carriers about devising ways to ensure that a sufficient number of crews would be available when traffic came back.
Union Pacific, with memories of being caught crew-short after the UP-Southern Pacific merger, has responded with a solid plan, says the union.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, UP at a cost of around $50 million a year is arranging that 1,600 of its 5,000 furloughed workers--many of them trains conductors--will continue to work eight days a month to remain current on training and qualifications. They will also get all health benefits. Calling these workers back will take less than 30 days vs. 60-to-90 days for other furloughed employees.
Among other considerations, notes UTU's Frank Wilner, this will help prevent some of the best-qualified young workers from straying to other employment.
Union Pacific CEO Jim Young, who is also chairman of the Association of American Railroads, says he expects new railroad regulations from Congress "probably within the next year" in response to complaints from captive shippers that they are being overcharged.
Young believes a compromise is possible between railroads and their customers that will protect shippers from unfair pricing and at the same time permit railroads to recover their replacement costs.
"If they get this wrong, I will cut back capital [spending] significantly," said Young.
The Omaha-World Herald suggested that a replacement-cost pricing formula would not satisfy the shipper lobby, Consumers United for Rail Equity, whose executive director, Bob Szabo, fears railroads might inflate their costs by scheduling projects they will never build.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty have pledged joint coverage of the entire C$950 million (US$815 million) cost of Toronto’s planned light rail transit line along Sheppard Avenue East. Provincial funds would cover roughly two-thirds of the amount, with the federal government providing the remainder.
The 15-kilometer (9-mile) Sheppard Line would run from Toronto Transit Commission’s Don Mills subway station to Meadowvale Road. The line is among TTC’s top priorities among several LRT proposals. TTC says construction could start this fall, with service beginning in 2013. The Sheppard Line has long been the highest priority of the proposed new lines sought by TTC.
Last month, TTC awarded a C$1.2 billion (US$1 billion) contract to Bombardier Transportation to replace Toronto’s current LRT fleet. The additional vehicles required for the Sheppard Line are an option in that proposed contract, with the option required to be exercised by June 27.
Metrolink's Board of Directors has approved a $975,000 contract with Chicago-based Railhead Vision Systems to install video cameras in its locomotive fleet. The board hopes the move will prevent any recurrence of accidents such as the one last September in Chatsworth, Calif., that killed 25; a Metrolink train ran a red signal and collided with a Union Pacific freight train.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa claims Metrolink will be the first commuter rail agency in the country to install video cameras that will record all engineer and other staff activity.
Cameras will record activity both ahead of the train and inside the cabs for forensic and investigative purposes.
GE Transportation announced Monday the introduction of its newest line of fuel-efficient and low-emissions Evolution® Series locomotives, the Model ES44C4, part of the company’s ecomaginationSM environmental program. The company says the new line will deliver a cleaner, faster, safer, and more reliable alternative to the aging North American fleet of DC-powered locomotives.
GE Transportation, part of Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric Co., will produce the new line at its Pennsylvania manufacturing plants in Erie and Grove City, Pa.
Three key performance improvements are touted by the company: advanced technology, greater reliability, and better environmental performance.
GE says the advanced technology in the Model ES44C4 “delivers sophisticated traction control technology with its patented Dynamic Weight Management System that continuously monitors traction at the axles and automatically adapts to maximize performance on heavy trains.” This system automatically transfers some of the weight from the two idler axles to the four AC-powered axles whenever additional traction is required.
In terms of reliability, the company says, “GE’s new AC motors have fewer parts to maintain and eliminate the electrical problems that hamper DC motors. As a result, they are easier to maintain and provide a higher level of reliability, which will allow the new ES44C4 to spend more time on the rails instead of in the shop for maintenance and repairs. Ultimately, this new platform could replace the older generation of DC-powered locomotives in hauling our nation's freight.”
GE’s environmental emphasis asserts, “Compared to older DC locomotives, Model ES44C4 uses up to 17% less fuel and reduces emissions by approximately 70%. Six hundred of GE's latest locomotives can displace up to 800 older locomotives, translating to an annual reduction of more than 70 million gallons of fuel—the equivalent of taking 115,000 cars off the road for a year. The overall annual emissions reduction from this displacement is estimated to be 48,000 tons of nitrous oxide; 1,500 tons of particulate matter; and 1.0 million tons of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.”
GE says BNSF is the “launch customer” for the new locomotive, recently taking delivery of 25 units. "We are putting these locomotives through rigorous testing to determine the benefits of this new AC alternative, and the early results have been positive,” said BNSF Vice President of Mechanical and Value Engineering Chris Roberts. In the photo, four units (two at each end of the train) are seen during recent tests conducted by BNSF along the Columbia River by Wallula Gap near Yellepit, Wash. (Photo courtesy of Richard A.
In a statement, Lorenzo Simonelli, president and CEO of GE Transportation, said, “Railroads helped build this country, and this locomotive is proof that manufacturing and heavy industry can deliver the innovation that will drive economic growth.” He added, “It also provides a direct replacement option for the current six -axle, 4,400-hp locomotives being delivered today."
More information is available at www.getransportation.com.
Corn and soybean products could bolster rail freight volume for the 2009/2010 crop year, according to a report by Morgan Stanley Research analysts William Greene and Adam Longson. “While total production/export volumes were flat, corn and soybean forecasts implied volume improvement (exports up 9% and 2% and production flat and up 2%, respectively), whereas wheat forecasts predict sharply down volumes (exports down 11% and production down 19%)," the report said. "That said, the USDA forecast for falling wheat stocks could stimulate near-term volumes if higher prices encourage destocking."
Green and Longson believe farmers “have built significant grain inventories in response to weak prices. In this context, we view flat grain production as a positive for two reasons: (1) were volumes to track production rates, flat volumes in 4Q09/2010 would represent a significant second derivative improvement from recent, sharp [year-to-year] declines, and (2) tempered grain production has the potential to stimulate favorable prices - which would likely lead to de-stocking, thus stimulate volumes.”
The Morgan Stanley duo believe Canadian National and UnionPacific will reap the biggest benefits among the Class I railroads. “[W]e view the forecast as a modest positive for rails with heavy U.S. grain exposure (Canadian and Western rails). However, poor wheat exports are an incremental, offsetting negative for [BNSF], as export wheat volumes are some of the highest margin moves on the railroad.”