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.”
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) has approved a request from Wilmington, Del.-based chemical shipper E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. (DuPont) to withdraw its November 2008 rate case complaint against CSX Transportation. Specifics of a settlement, however, have not been made public.
STB Acting Chairman Francis P. Mulvey did say in a statement that this is the first large rate case mediated to settlement under STB’s oversight. "This mediation demonstrates that active Board staff involvement at the early stages of the case process can help narrow or, as here, completely resolve, disputed issues," said Mulvey. "I commend DuPont and CSXT, and the Board's staff mediators for their efforts. The agency will continue to promote mediation as an alternative to formal and more expensive dispute resolution processes."
DuPont’s complaint, filed last November, said CSX rates for the movement of 38 commodities between 99 origin and destination pairs "possesses market dominance over the traffic and requested that the maximum reasonable rates be prescribed along with other relief pursuant to the Board's Stand-Alone Cost [SAC] test." The SAC test is used in the most complex rate cases that involve large sums of money.
STB’s announcement is available on its website, www.stb.dot.gov, under "E-LIBRARY," then under "Decisions & Notices," beneath the date "05/11/09."
Add Rochester, Minn., officials to the list of those seeking federal stimulus funding to advance high speed rail plans and, in the process, possibly reroute freight rail traffic. The plan is supported by a powerful local political force, the famed Mayo Clinic.
Plans for a $325 million, 48-mile “Southern Rail Corridor” would increase passenger trains speeds and frequency between the state’s Twin Cities and Chicago. The reroute would run south of Rochester west across Dodge County in southeastern Minnesota.
The Mayo Clinic wants a passenger rail link to assure ease of access for patients, but has feuded for years with operators of the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railway Co., now a subsidiary of Class I Canadian Pacific, seeking to reroute freight activity away from its location. Tracks currently pass within 100 feet of the clinic.
But the proposed bypass route has generated opposition of its own. One critic says the Rochester proposal is inferior to Amtrak’s existing service route, which roughly parallels the Mississippi River and is almost 50 miles shorter.
Amtrak’s long-distance Empire Builder is the sole passenger rail link at present between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago; Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service offers more frequent trains between Chicago and Milwaukee.
Now almost six months behind its original opening debut in December, and two months after a revised launch in late March, Austin, Tex.’s 32-mile diesel multiple-unit (DMU) system still is struggling to commence operations, according to Fred Gilliam, chief executive of Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
"Capital Metro is committed to opening the MetroRail line when it is ready,” Gilliam said. “Rather than picking a new date now, we will assess progress during the final comprehensive operational testing phase and begin service when all remaining steps are complete. Capital Metro will report back to the community by mid-June. We are as eager to get MetroRail started as you are."
Gilliam stressed that some progress has been made. "Last week we completed the grinding of the entire rail line. This work was performed to remove rust and other buildup on the rail which sometimes prevents proper shunting, the process where the train wheel completes a circuit when it makes contact with the track.” And, he said, as of May 9, “the Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) system which monitors a train's real-time location on the line and helps control all signals and switches has been validated and is now operational. This was a major milestone because it allows our trains to operate at their planned speeds."
Operations testing is also under way, he said. “In this phase, testing of the vehicles and training of the operators are conducted at full speeds. Up to this point, all testing has been conducted at lower speeds. Trains are now traveling at speeds up to 60 mph in some areas."
A year ago, Capital Metro and the Federal Railroad Administration were at odds over engineer certification and emergency preparedness, issues which lingered into this year. FRA also classified Cap Metro’s fleet of six Stadler-Bussnag diesel units as “commuter rail,” rejecting a request to classify the system as a diesel light-rail transit (DLRT) system comparable to San Diego County, Calif.’s SPRINTER service or New Jersey Transit’s RiverLINE operation.