Bowing to the realities of recession and its effects on capital programs, Denver’s Regional Transportation District is scaling back its customer information goals of live “next train” announcements in favor of a less sophisticated arrangement, basing information on the scheduled arrival of light rail trains.
RTD had planned for “next train” information to be available on its T-REX light rail lines, now under construction, offering live information both over public address speakers and on electronic variable message signsplaced at each station. RTD also had planned to retrofit its existing LRT system over time to employ such a system as well.
Glitches in the communications system on RTD’s southeast line, which opened in 2006, delayed “next-train” messages for two years, prompting RTD to withhold about $5 million due the communications contractor. The problem was resolved and the funds were released.
RTD Acting Assistant General Manager for FasTracks/Engineering Rick Clarke, in justifying the move, notes that a live alert informing that the next train will arrive in three minutes isn't useful to someone who arrives on the platform two minutes before its arrival. Instead, RTD will have communications personnel working on the West Corridor light railline retrofit the existing system with a simpler one that tells passengers on platforms when the next two trains are to arrive based on the published schedule, he said.
"It is stepping back from the original intent of having real-time information," Clarke acknowledged, though he said that since 95% of trains stay on schedule, "Scheduled information provides most of what passengers need at much less cost and much less complexity." When trains are delayed, RTD's control center can make special announcements to passengers on platforms, he said.
California high speed rail proponents are concerned that language in the current budget could cost the Golden State $1.3 billion in federal stimulus package money, which could bog down the proposed $45 billion, 700-mile project.
Current language in the bill, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he will veto, reportedly contains a line that requires more study of the part of high speed rail route that runs between San Francisco and San Jose. The language was attached as a condition of the state spending $139 million to hire staff and engineering firms. But HSR proponents say such a study could delay the project beyond when it would be eligible for $1.3 billion in federal stimulus money.
One source says the language threat could be accidental or inadvertent, but notes some political “pushback” is occurring from several groups not sold on HSR, ranging from Not-In-My-Back-Yard forces to pro-rail factions still seeking more conventional, incremental upgrades to passenger rail. Those factions, singly and together, “have legislative allies,” the source says.
Because the decline in railroad traffic accelerated in the second quarter, Citi Investment Research analyst Matthew Troy has reduced railroad earnings estimates for the period by an average of 16%. Only Norfolk Southern retains a "buy" rating.
In a 23-page analysis to investors July 6, Troy said the revised outlook "reflects lingering volume weakness with no meaningful sequential improvement evident through June. Specifically, after falling 16% in 1Q, rail freight volumes fell a steeper 21% in 2Q, with little easing in recent weeks despite the benefit of easier flood-related comparisons in the year-ago period."
Troy also said: "Despite our appreciation for the early cycle nature of rail stocks, which historically outperform 4-6 months prior to an economic trough, we remain cautious here. Specifically, with the market already well versed in the group's early cycle virtues, we see risk of further estimate reductions and investor disappointment later in '09.
"Sequential deterioration in June Chinese port data (off 18-20% vs. May down 12-15%) undermines intermodal volumes into August, while coal traffic remains structurally challenged given stockpile build (up ~1.5-2X), lower U.S. electricity production (down 5% in 2Q) & cooler East Coast temperatures (down 2-4%). We think focusing on 'normal' historical stock performance patterns in a market dislocation that is anything but normal doesn't adequately discount the risk of a protracted recovery or 'L' shaped stagnation. While we continue to keep Hold rated UNP, CSX & CNI in the portfolio, today NSC is our only Buy rated rail," Troy said.
President Obama’s nomination Monday of Daniel R. Elliott III to chair the Surface Transportation Board is another potential political coup for the United Transportation Union. Elliott, currently UTU associate general counsel, follows the appointment of UTU Illinois State Legislative Director Joe Szabo as head of the Federal Railroad Administration.
For its part, UTU is hoping that, assuming Elliott is confirmed by the Senate, the twin choices will be followed by others from UTU in the future.
"The selection by President Obama of Dan Elliott and Joe Szabo to head major transportation regulatory agencies is tribute to the political influence of the UTU, which flows from the UTU PAC," said UTU International President Mike Futhey in a statement. "We have good reason to expect President Obama to reach into the UTU ranks for other appointments in the near future."
Elliott, a Democrat, would join fellow Democrat Frank Mulvey and Republican Charles Nottingham on the three-member board.
Light rail transit expansion for Calgary and Edmonton trumps provincial needs for high speed rail, according to Alberta provincial government officials, despite rising clamor for linking the two cities with intercity service.
The stance follows the release Monday of a feasibility and ridership study, conducted last year, showing HSR service between the province’s two largest cities, with travel times of one hour, would cost between C$3 billion and C$20 billion depending on the type of train chosen. The report projected ridership of up to 4 million per year on trains traveling 300km/h (186 mph).
"At this time, when we're a little short of cash, show me the money. That's what I would have to say because we've got a lot of other needs that will have to come first," said Alberta Finance Minister Iris Evans.
Provincial officials have indicated a preference for a public-private partnership, including a design-build-operate-maintain (DBOM) option. Under such an arrangement, Alberta likely would acquire rights-of-way needed for any HSR service.
Edmonton’s light rail system, which opened in 1978, was thefirst “new” LRT system to debut in North America, while Calgary’s C-Train LRT,which began revenue service in 1981, was second.
The Greenbrier Cos. Tuesday reported revenue of $244 million for its fiscal third quarter, ending May 31, down 36% from the comparable quarter in 2008. Earnings before special impairment charges for the quarter declined steeply to $600,000, or three cents per diluted share, compared with net earnings of $8.1 million, or 49 cents per diluted share, in the prior year’s third quarter.
Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, and also before special charges, was $20.3 million, or 8.3% of revenue, compared with $34.5 million, or 9.0% of revenue, in the third quarter of 2008, the company said.
Lake Oswego, Ore.-based Greenbrier Cos. noted several pre-tax conditions for the quarter, including $900,000 in pre-tax costs associated with reductions in work force and interest rate swap breakage costs.
New railcar deliveries in the third quarter of 2009 were approximately 800 units, compared with 2,200 units in the third quarter of 2008.
Greenbrier Cos. President and CEO William A. Furman, in a statement, said, “Year-to-date rail loadings in North America are down about 20%, and it is estimated that about 20%-to-25% of the entire North American railcar fleet remains idle. In this environment, we continue to scale our operations to reflect the current economic situation, control costs and expenditures, manage the company for cash flow, and seek to pay down debt. During the quarter, we paid down net debt by an additional $19 million. We expect this trend to continue in the fourth quarter.”
Greenbrier Cos. noted its dispute with GE Railcar Services Corp. has not been resolved, stating GE seeks to “substantially reduce, delay or otherwise cancel deliveries under a multiyear contract to build 11,900 tank cars and covered hopper cars over an eight-year period, with a current value of $1.0 billion. We are currently in discussions with GE.”
The company continued, “We believe GE is in breach of its obligations under our contract. GE has recently instructed us to slow our production of railcars to a rate of production less than that required under our agreement and does not allow for efficient operations of our manufacturing facility, also as required under our agreement.” The moves were “unilateral” in nature, Greenbrier said.
Eurostar Tuesday said it notched a 22% rise in passenger traffic between London and Amsterdam, following the full reopening of the Channel Tunnel in February. Eurostar said its service on-time performance since then was 96%.
The statement coincided with an announcement Tuesday from both Belgian National Railways (SNCB) and the Netherlands' NS Hispeed that additional high speed rail service linking Brussels and Amsterdam will begin next year. "Fyra" high speed trains will connect with Eurostar services at Brussels-Midi, while also stopping at Antwerp, Belgium, and Rotterdam and Schiphol, in the Netherlands, en route to Amsterdam.
Eurostar Director of Communications Simon Montague said, “Travelers are now discovering the advantages of high speed rail for longer journeys across Europe. By making one simple connection they can avoid all the hassles of flying and enjoy journeys from city centre to city centre that arejust as fast overall–and a lot more convenient.”
Rail operations in the Channel Tunnel were disrupted last September when a truck aboard a freight shuttle train caught fire roughly seven miles from the Calais portal. Repairs took about five months, with the tunnel infrastructure restored by February 9; Eurostar resumed full normal service on February 23.
Waiving border fees previously demanded by Canada’s Border Service Agency, Ottawa has agreed to allow a second Amtrak train to link Seattle with Vancouver, doubling international rail access to the city in time for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
The federal government said the fee would be waived from August of this year through March 2010, as a pilot program. The Border Services Agency had sought C$1,500 (roughly US$1,300) per day to cover costs in processing rail travelers. The waiver period “will allow an assessment of traffic well outside the actual Olympic Games themselves," Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan said.
Provincial officials in British Columbia and their counterparts in Washington state have argued for the fee of roughly C$500,000 per year to be eliminated altogether, noting Amtrak's current single Cascades train crossing the border incurs no such penalty. "People from both sides of the border have wanted this train for a long time," said Vickie Sheehan, a spokeswoman for Washington’s Department of Transportation.
U.S. railroads moved 255,668 fewer carloads of freight in June than they did in June 2008. Total volume of 1,059,889 carloads was down 19.7%. Intermodal traffic in June was off 18.2% to 755,000 units--meaning that railroads hauled 168,031 fewer containers and trailers than in June last year.
The Association American Railroads reported that for the first six months of 2009, U. S. carloads were down 19.5 % (1,594,411 loads) to 6,579,2944. Intermodal traffic dropped 17.0% (950,147 units) to 4,647,068.
Of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR, 18saw carload declines in June. The catch-all “all other” category was up slightly.
June's biggest carload declines were: coal, down 7.9%; motor vehicles and equipment (down 50.5%); metals and metal products, down 59.8%; and crushed stone and gravel, down 25.2%.
For the second quarter of 2009, total U.S. rail carloadings were down 22.4% (958,324 carloads).
Canadian rail carload traffic in June was down 25.7 % to 232,156 carloads. Canadian intermodal traffic was down 19.2% in June to 156,441 trailers and containers.
For the second quarter of 2009, Canadian rail carloadings were down 27.9%; Canadian intermodal traffic for the quarter was down 18.5%.
For the first six months of 2009, Canadian rail carloadings were down 24.1% and intermodal traffic was off 15.5%.
The Rail Products business unit of L.B. Foster Co. is supplying transit rail and associated products for Chicago Transit Authority's Dearborn Subway Project under a $6.5 million contract announced Thursday.
L.B. Foster has begun delivery of 80-foot rail sections, direct fixation fasteners, insulated joints, and contact rail insulators for the long delayed project, which will eliminate slow zones on CTA's Blue Line. The project is scheduled to complete construction in December.