Plans for regional passenger rail service in central Florida are in jeopardy following a Florida state Senate vote Thursday rejecting the $1.2 billion project by a 23-17 vote. In a last-ditch vote Friday evening, the Senate again spurned the measure, this time by a 23-16 margin.
Supporters of SunRail service, planned for five central Florida counties in the Orlando metropolitan area, appeared resigned to the outcome. “It'll take some maneuvering to get it done. I think the forces of evil have won," said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
The state Senate Friday afternoon was to consider one last attempt at passage, with language added to the measure approving a $200 million insurance policy necessary to operate train service. Supporters were successful in obtaining a two-hour extension of the 6:00 p.m. close of the current legislative session, in order to bring the issue up for one last vote.
The project has been supported by Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, but 15 Republican senators voted against the proposal Thursday. One, Sen. Paula Dockery, was cautiously optimistic, noting, "We still have one day [Friday] to go. There's always a few tricks in the book."
SunRail, a proposed 61.5-mile route roughly paralleling Interstate 4, ran into trouble when state legislators objected to provisions protecting CSX Corp. from liability in the case of an accident. CSX would remain as a tenant on the right-of-way following its sale by CSX to the Florida Department of Transportation for $600 million.
GE Transportation announced that it has delivered and equipped six LOCOTROL® remote control locomotive systems to CN at its Johnson Yard in Memphis, Tenn.
GE Transportation, a subsidiary of Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric Co., said it has now installed more than 300 systems on seven railroads in North America and Europe.
The system is a derivative of two separate products--the LOCOTROL Distributed Power System currently used in more than 10,000 locomotives around the world, and the LOCOTROL Tower Control system used in Canada and Australia.
"This approach provides an economical, reliable, low-risk solution to meet all the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration's Advisory 2000-1 Guidelines for Remote Control Locomotives," said the supplier.
Canada’s national capital Wednesday unveiled plans for a downtown tunnel to serve light rail transit, a plan backed by city business interests and some city council members, but questions remain about LRT’s exact routing.
A two-mile twin-tunnel LRT line would stations at LeBreton, Downtown West, Downtown East, Rideau Centre, and the University of Ottawa. The tunnel is part of a planned 7.8-mile line, expected to cost $C1.4 billion (US$1.2 billion). Ottawa expects funding assistance from Ontario province and the federal government.
The current proposed alignment could miss portions of the downtown business district, running too far north, some business leaders said. Rather than turning north beginning at Kent Street, the route should continueunder Albert Street for three additional blocks, before turning north at Metcalfe Street, according to Hume Rogers, representing the Downtown Coalition.
Despite concerns, Rogers said the coalition believes the LRT tunnel plan is “light years” ahead of the city’s former surface rail plan. That plan was opposed by downtown property owners, prompting a newly elected city council elected in 2006 to scuttle the proposal.
Ottawa city officials say the current plan’s proposed turn beginning at Kent Street avoids sharp turns, thus offering a more pleasant ride and reducing wheel squeal and wear.
Kansas City Southern Thursday reported it lost $7.5 million, or 8 cents per share, in its first quarter, hurt by declining volume, declining fuel surcharge revenue, and $11 million in nonrecurring charges. The loss contrasted with earnings of $32.9 million, or 39 cents per share, in the first quarter of 2008.
Revenue dropped 23% to $346 million from $450.6 million in the comparable 2008 quarter. Results included a charge of $5.9 million, or 4 cents per share, related to debt retirement costs, and a charge of $5.1 million, or 4 cents per share, related to a foreign exchange loss associated with the weakened Mexican peso.
Analyst estimates expected KCS to notch revenue of $377.4 million and post a profit of 6 cents per share. Despite the shortfall, KCS shares rose in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange, and were up 2% in early afternoon trade.
Noted Dahlman Rose & Co. Director Equity Research (and Railway Age Contributing Editor) Jason Seidl: “With the rail industry trying to cope with the most drastic volume
declines in recent history, we believe management will continue to
focus its efforts on cutting costs and reducing capital expenditures. Indeed, KSU expects 2009 capital expenditures to be roughly 50% below
2008 levels at nearly $300 million (KSU had $100 million in capital
spending in the first quarter). This should enable the company to
generate free cash flow in 2009. Despite the significant spending
reduction, the company does plan to complete its Victoria-Rosenberg
line in the second quarter. While many may question the need for
expansionary capital in a recessionary environment, this line should
help reduce costs and improve service for the railroad’s burgeoning
cross border intermodal business."
Also, "First quarter results were also negatively impacted by the company accidently booking two preferred dividend payments. Tthis is purely a timing issue, as 2Q will not have a payment now. The operating ratio deteriorated 450 basis points year-over-year to 86%, in line with our estimate."
Joe Szabo won Senate confirmation Wednesday to become head of the Federal Railroad Administration.
His longtime friend Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) took the floor to give Szabo a warm endorsement, saying that the fifth-generation railroader and former United Transportation Union officer understands better than most the demanding and sometimes dangerous conditions under which railroad employees work.
Durbin also said Szabo will bring his enthusiasm for Amtrak to his new job, which in addition to its primary goal of ensuring that railroads are safe will also involve the administration of President Obama's high speed passenger rail initiative.
Szabo will be informally sworn into office May 5 so that he can take over his new duties without delay, with a more formal ceremony to be announced later.
Armed with $7.4 million in federal stimulus package funding to implement a Bus Rapid Transit line this year, Reno, Nev., is also looking to supplement, and eventually replace, BRT with streetcar operations.
Reno Economic Development Director John Hester justifies the plan by noting rail systems foster private investment. “I think it would be a major transformation of that whole corridor,” Hester said. “Sometimes putting in rail really makes investment happen.”
The City Council wants Virginia Street to accommodate buses, street cars, eventually trains, and other motor vehicles, he said. "The council also wants a new Virginia Street bridge strong enough for rail cars. Eventually, a light railline would run from the University of Nevada campus to the Reno-Sparks Convention Center,” Hester said.
Hester cites the success of Portland, Ore.’s growing streetcar network as a model for his city.
California’s Assembly has passed a bill directing the Golden State’s Department of Transportation to pursue Amtrak service to San Francisco. The state seeks to route such trains though Altamont Pass, currently used by Altamont Commuter Express trains and by owner Union Pacific, which has expressed strong reservations about the proposal. The bill also directs the state to negotiate with BNSF.
Amtrak current serves San Francisco by connecting busservice to and from Oakland and Emeryville, Calif., on the east side of San Francisco Bay. Those cities are served by Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin services, as well as the long-distance Coast Starlight; Emeryville also hosts Amtrak’s California Zephyr.