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.
RailComm says it has provided New Jersey Transit with a control system for several derail devices as part of the NJT’s ongoing upgrade of Hoboken Rail Yard, a major service and storage facility for the rail corporation.
A RailComm Control Panel is located adjacent to the wheel truing machine pit and controls the derail devices. Operation of each derail is enabled via a keyed selector switch on the derail control panel. Blue and amber LEDs are mounted on the building end walls.
Upon derail activation, the derail is applied on the track and the automatic blue flag is raised. The blue LED illuminates when the derail is applied and the blue flag is on, while the amber LED illuminates when the derail is open and the blue flag is off.
The Long Island Railroad (LIRR), San Francisco Bay AreaRapid Transit (BART), and Washington Metro (WMATA) are using IBM Maximosoftware to manage predictive maintenance programs for rolling stock andfacilities. Maximo software can predict and automatically schedule themaintenance process, providing information on the exact location and conditionof all assets and equipment.
The LIRR will use IBM technology to manage and maintainapproximately 1,180 railcars, locomotives, and their associated part. As partof a project expected to be completed in 2012, IBM will also be helping theLIRR expand its asset management system to include facilities, bridges, andtunnels. The IBM Maximo software integrates the work order and materialsmanagement systems within the LIRR Corporate Asset Management System to improvebusiness operations, lower maintenance costs and improve passenger safety.LIRR’s Corporate Asset Management System will be expanded to includemaintenance and management of all IT assets including PCs, laptops, servers,and software licenses, facilities including Penn Station and Atlantic AvenueTerminal, and assets being installed for the East Side Access project that willconnect the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal. The system will also integrate with the LIRR’s GeographicInformation System and MTA Business Service Center software applications toimprove administration and support. The LIRR plans to utilize hand-held devices using IBM’s mobile versionof their asset management software for work orders and materials management.
BART will use IBM technology for integrating and managingits purchasing, inventory and maintenance systems that support all trains,stations, equipment and operations. Part of the modernization project includingupdating and integrating older trains and adding new railcars to the fleet,BART will use the software to know the condition and location of all of itsassets and automatically manage maintenance in line with business operations toknow what parts, people, and time are required to fix problems. BART will useMaximo to conduct analysis and schedule maintenance before a part or systemfails. The software will also help BART make sure it has the right partsavailable before they are needed, and eliminate parts that are no longer used.The intelligent asset management software will allow BART to continuouslyevaluate and implement improvements while better planning jobs for a moreefficient workforce, and help BART prepare for the purchase, testing, andacceptance of new railcars. Maximo will also help BART adopt internationalstandards for inventory and allow it to better address regulatory requirements.
WMATA is using IBM technology to manage all of its assets,including more than 12,000 bus stops and train stations, 106 miles of track,1,144 railcars, and 1,500 buses. Beyond the transportation assets, WMATA usesthe IBM software to maintain 594 escalators and 275 elevators. Once informationis gathered from across the transportation system, the IBM software helpsmanage nearly 180,000 work orders each month. The system provides mechanicswith suggested work plans for standard maintenance procedures to ensure thatthe equipment is repaired before it fails. This level of preventativemaintenance allows WMATA to improve maintenance procedures by integrating theoverall work procedures with contract management, as well as monitor and managemaintenance equipment. This will lower the operational maintenance cost whileimproving productivity and prolonging the life span of the equipment.
Explaining that it seeks "another way to demystify the process," the Surface Transportation Board will begin holding public oral arguments in major cases.
"Hearing from parties directly and having the opportunity to ask them questions will help us make better decisions," said STB Chairman Daniel R. Elliott III.
The oral arguments will give parties an opportunity to directly address the board. The format will be similar to oral arguments in federal appellate courts, allowing board members to ask questions before making a decision. While the proceedings will be open to the public, only counsel for the parties will be allowed to present argument.
Elliott also plans to overhaul the Board's website, www.stb.dot.gov, to make more information more readily available to stakeholders and the public. "We are doing the public's business and the public should be able to quickly and easily learn what we are doing," Elliott said.
The first scheduled oral argument will be on Oct. 27, in the case of Entergy Arkansas, Inc. and Entergy Services, Inc. v. Union Pacific Railroad Company and Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad Company, Inc., STB Docket No. 42104 and DesertXpress Enterprises, LLC—Petition for Declaratory Order, STB Finance Docket No. 34914.
The Board has also scheduled oral arguments for Nov. 23, but a list of cases to be argued then has not been finalized.