U.S. freight carload traffic for the week ending July 3 scored another advance over traffic from the comparable week one year ago—up 18.8%--but also edged up 0.4% from the comparable week in 2008, the Association of American Railroads reported Thursday. One caveat: Comparison weeks in both 2009 and 2008 included the July 4th holiday, AAR said.
Still, the gains for the 26th week were significant, as 18 of the 19 carload commodity groups increased from the comparable week in 2009. They included metallic ores, up 205.5%; motor vehicles and equipment, up 122%; metals and metal products, up 80.3%; and crushed stone, sand, and gravel, up 50.6%. Seven of the commodity groups also posted gains over 2008 levels.
U.S. intermodal traffic rose 36.6% from the comparable 2009 week and was up 19.1% over 2008 levels, in fact reaching its highest level since week 42 of 2008.
Canadian carload volume was up 21.3% over the comparable 2009 period, while intermodal traffic rose 22.2%. Mexico’s two major railroads reported carload volume was up 21.9%, while intermodal gained 21.3%.
Combined North American rail volume for the first 26 weeks of 2010 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was up 10.8% from last year, while intermodal advanced 13.6%.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Thursday announced $293 million in federal funds to “coordinate transportation, housing, and commercial development investments” in numerous U.S. cities.
The funds will flow through two grant programs, the Bus and Bus Livability Grant Program and the Urban Circulator Grant Program. LaHood, along with Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, announced the winners of the two competitive grant programs during a press conference call in Washington.
Five new streetcar projects and one Bus Rapid Transit project will be funded with $130 million from the FTA’s Urban Circulator Program. The five rail projects, awarded roughly $105 million, or 36% of the funds, are: the St. Louis Loop Trolley Project ($25 million); the Charlotte (N.C.) Streetcar Starter Project ($25 million); the Cincinnati Streetcar Project ($25 million); the Fort Worth (Tex.) Streetcar Loop ($25 million); and Dallas’ Olive/St.Paul Street Loop ($4.9 million), extending the current McKinney Trolley to connect with DART light rail at St. Paul Station.
An additional 47 projects aimed at upgrading bus services and facilities will receive more than $163 million from the FTA's Bus and Bus Livability Program.
“Streetcars are making a comeback because cities across America are recognizing that they can restore economic development downtown—giving citizens the choice to move between home, shopping, and entertainment without ever looking for a parking space,” said Rogoff. “These streetcar and bus livability projects will not only create construction jobs now, they will aid our recovery by creating communities with the potential to be more prosperous and less congested.”
DOT said 65 applications totaling more than $1 billion were submitted to the Urban Ciruclator Program, while 281 applications totaling more than $2 billion were submitted for the Bus and Bus Livability Grant Program. Projects were eligible to receive up to 80% in federal funding, although a maximum of $25 million was placed on Urban Circulator projects.
A detailed list of the projects can be found here.
Officials from Cleveland’s Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) in recent years have urged passenger rail advocates to consider the virtues of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), in the process chiding those who questioned the tag line of “just like light rail, but cheaper.”
(Railway Age has been included in that scolding, following its April 2009 article evaluating BRT and LRT, entitled "Option or oxymoron?"; we received our redress in June 2009 during the American Public Transportation Association Rail Conference in Chicago.)
But one media report now notes RTA’s $200 million HealthLine, which traverses Euclid Avenue, “is moving at about the same slow pace as the bus it replaced.”
Cleveland is adjusting traffic signals along the route to bolster BRT’s speed, which during one monitored run covered the 7.1-mile route in 44 minutes—three minutes faster than the predecessor No. 6 bus, but falling short of the projected trip time of 33 minutes. A monitored trip in the opposite direction was completed in 36 minutes.
“I am very disappointed with the performance of the Euclid Corridor,” said Brad Chase, chairman of RTA's Citizens AdvisoryBoard, which pressured RTA to release the run times. “It is much nicer and ridership is up, but timing-wise it has never really made it.”
Chase, who said he rides both bus and rail routes, is hopeful speeds can improve. “I know that [the train] is not going to stop at traffic lights,” he said. “This [the HealthLine] is supposed to operate like a train but on wheels and it is just not there. It can be. We have the equipment but need to program it properly.”
Michael Schipper, RTA’s deputy general manager who was in charge of the Euclid Corridor project, said the agency understands the city is trying to coordinate the lights, but the priority bus function should be working, as should another function of the traffic signals called a Q-jump, which would give the bus lane a green light for five seconds in the middle ofthe light phases for the side streets so the bus could go through.
Leveraging $23 million in federal stimulus funds obtained last February, the city of Dallas, aided by the North Central Texas Council of Governments, expects to move forward on a 1.5-mile streetcar route linking Dallas Union Station with Methodist Dallas Medical Center in the Oak Cliff neighborhood, southwest of downtown Dallas.
The project, estimated to cost $35 million, would also be funded from regional toll road revenue. The project is separate from the Olive/St. Paul Street Loop, a Dallas streetcar project awarded $5 million Thursday by DOT and the Federal Transit Administration.
The city of Dallas would own the line, while Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) would operate it through an agreement with the city. Streetcar fares and revenues from parking, tax-increment financing, and public improvement districts would cover annual operating and maintenance costs, estimated at $1.5 million.
Groundbreaking is targeted for July 2013, with revenue operation beginning in October 2015. But “there are a lot of caveats and unknowns,” said Tom Shelton, a senior transportation project manager for the North Cenral Texas Council of Governments. Among the unknown factors: the load capability of the Houston Street Bridge, on which a structural analysis will be made this summer.
The Greenbrier Cos. Thursday reported net earnings for the third quarter of $4.6 million, or 23 cents per diluted share, a welcome contrast to the comparable quarter a year ago when the company logged a net loss of $51.1 million, or $3.04 per diluted share.
Revenue for the third quarter of $211.5 million was down from $244.4 million one yea ago. Earnings before interest, taxes, debt, and amortization (EBITDA) for the quarter was $25.9 million, or 12.2% of revenue, compared to $20.3 million, or 8.3% of revenue, in the third quarter of 2009.
The company noted it had reduced its net debt by almost $75 million, and ended the quarter with $117 million in cash and $106 million of committed additional borrowing capacity.
New railcar deliveries in the third quarter of 2010 were 700 units, compared with 800 units in the third quarter of 2009. Greenbrier's new railcar manufacturing backlog as of May 31, 2010 was 4,400 units with an estimated value of $370 million. Greenbrier commenced management of a lease fleet of nearly 4,000railcars valued at approximately $230 million, acquired by the newly formed WLRoss-Greenbrier Rail Holdings I LLC.
Said President and CEO William A. Furman in a statement, “Each of our business segments realized improved performance, leading us to a return to profitability and our highest pre-tax earnings since the fourth quarter of 2008. Both revenue and margin grew in the third quarter compared to the first two quarters of 2010. We are currently seeing some improvement in end-market demand for our rail products and services.
“Our third-quarter results place us on solid footing to finish our fiscal year with positive momentum, and we continue to believe that the second half of 2010 will be stronger than the first half,” Furman said.
He added, “Leveraging our strategic relationship with WL Ross, WLR-GBX, owned by affiliates of WL Ross & Co., was formed in April 2010 and purchased a used lease fleet of 4,000 railcars, which are managed by Greenbrier. The acquisition of this portfolio allows us to further scale our fleet management operations, a core competency of Greenbrier, and to participate in the economic performance and upside of this portfolio.”
In an analyst’s note Thursday, Steve Barger, director, Industrial Manufacturers, for KeyBanc Capital Markets, Inc., said that Greenbrier Cos. “reported a strong $0.23, vs. our estimate of $0.03 and consensus of a loss of $0.02. Even though revenue was down 13% year-over-year (and up 6% sequentially), GBX posted strong year-over-year and sequential increases in gross and operating margin. Railcar book/bill in the quarter was 1.0x, the best figure since 1Q08 when the Company booked the massive General Electric order.
“Overall, this was an encouraging quarter, although we think the consolidated margin is probably higher than we should expect on a run rate due to mix in Manufacturing and car sales in Leasing & Services. Regardless, we believe this supports our positive view on the name and we expect the stock (and the group) will react favorably to this news,” Barger said.
Manitoba’s capital city appears ready to commit to lightrail transit, after the Winnipeg Executive Policy Committee Wednesday recommended the mode to the City Council as part of a long-term plan. LRT is strongly supported by Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz.
The City Council is expected to vote on the recommendation soon, but the issue is controversial; some council members want funds to continue being targeted at a Bus Rapid Transit route now under construction. Committing to light rail would likely divert some of the funds now envisioned for BRT extensions.
Any LRT system in Winnipeg would be the first within Manitoba. Neighboring Alberta has two cities, Edmonton and Calgary, which committed to modern LRT in the 1978 and 1981, respectively—the first two North American cities to do so.
Maine officials reportedly have reached agreement with the Federal Railroad Administration on how to apply $35 million in federal stimulus funds to extend Amtrak’s Downeaster service beyond Portland, the state’s largest city.
Amtrak operates five roundtrips per day between Portland and Boston’s North Station. The Downeaster-Portland North Project will extend service north from Portland to Brunswick, with a stop in Freeport, said the FRA.
The $35 million grant, combined with additional state funds, will allow rehabilitation and upgrading of about 26 miles right-of-way owned by Pan Am Railways. The Downeaster project also will improve 36 highway-rail grade crossings, upgrade numerous wayside signals, install signals on the Brunswick branch, and provide other right-of-way improvements, FRA said.
Many Major League Baseball teams have moved into new ballparks in recent years, with most of them gaining (or strengthening) rail transit links in the process. But in Florida’s Tampa Bay metropolitan area, the goal is even more ambitious: to both create a new stadium and launch a brand new rail service, route yet to be determined.
Off-again, on-again efforts to establish rail transit in the Tampa Bay area have been bolstered as the MLB Tampa Bay Rays seek a new ballpark in the region. The site is not yet certain, and may depend on whether rail would serve it—or, conversely, the site chosen could affect any planned rail service route.
“We want to keep the Rays in Pinellas County,” said R.B. Johnson, chairman of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. “How does that play into the rail line? The time is not too far off where we’ll be talking to the Rays about how a new stadium converges with plans for rail.”
That could also include high speed rail service offered by the proposed Tampa-to-Orlando route now being advanced by state officials and bolstered by federal funding. An HSR station in downtown Tampa could be a factor in the relocation of the Rays, team ownership has suggested.
Alstom said Tuesday it has been chosen by LK Comstock & Co., Inc. for design and supply of the interlocking and signaling equipment for MTA New York City Transit’s No. 7 subway line (the Flushing Line).
The contract, valued at $43 million, “covers the renovation andm odification of the signaling and control systems” for the line, Alstom says. That’s including the ongoing extension now being constructed west of Times Square to 34th Street and 11th Avenue, on Manhattan’s Far West Side.
Alstom says design and equipment will be produced at its signaling center in Rochester, N.Y. White Plain, N.Y.-based LK Comstock will install the equipment. The contract is part of a program designed to increase headways and enhance safety on the No. 7 line, the second full line in the New York City subway system receiving communications-based traffic control (CBTC).
The Association of American Railroads has added to its website an interactive map that allows any user to take a “snap-shot” of information about railroads in a given location. AAR says the map is active for all states (including Hawaii, which has “no freight rail activity,” the map duly notes).
A state-by-state breakdown includes pie charts, divided by commodity category, for both traffic originating in a given state and ending up in that state. Other data within a given state, including freight railroad miles, number of freight railroads in operation, and number for rail employees, also is listed.
The map is available at http://www.aar.org/incongress/railroadsstates.aspx.