Association of American Railroads President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger Thursday issued a statement commenting on the Senate Commerce Committee markup of the Surface Transportation Board Reauthorization Bill.
Said Hamberger, "We appreciate the efforts of the Senate Commerce Committee, under the leadership of Chairman [Jay] Rockefellerand Senator [Kay Bailey] Hutchison and senior Committee members of both parties, to work with all freight stakeholders over the last several months in developing this legislation.”
Rockefeller (D. W.Va.) in years past has criticized the freight rail industry; Hutchison (R-Tex.) is ranking member of the committee.
"This bill would be the most significant rewrite of the railroad industry's regulatory system in the last three decades. Under the bill, Class I railroads would be required to open their privately owned and maintained rail networks and would face vastly expanded government involvement in railroad operations,” Hamberger said.
"We continue to have concerns about certain provisions in the bill, particularly the nature and scope of the antitrust provision that may be added at a later date, and we will remain engaged with the Commerce Committee, Congress, and the Administration, to craft final legislation that ensures railroads can continue to make the investments that sustain a healthy national rail network," he said.
Michigan State Rep. Bert Johnson reportedly was to introduce legislation Thursday that would establish a regional public transit authority for metropolitan Detroit, as the Motor City continues to play catch-up in terms of public transportation.
Johnson, who represents Detroit, said he wants the legislation introduced before the Legislature leaves for the year at the end of the week, saying that federal transportation funding will be lost to elsewhere if action isn't taken soon. Johnson seeks to advance the legislation despite concerns voiced by Detroit Mayor David Bing.
Bills that would set up the authority to govern a system of improved and new bus and rail service throughout Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, and in the city of Detroit, already have been presented to the state legislature. A state-sanctioned legal authority is needed to qualify for federal transportation dollars to finance implementation of any regional system.
But so far, approval for creating an authority has proved elusive. The three counties were able to reach an accord on the bulk of the proposed legislation, but Detroit has objected because the 65-35 city-suburbs percentage split of federal transit funding set up in the 1980s would be replaced in the new legislation by tradition state and federal formulas.
"The city is right to be concerned for that. That's a very valid point," Johnson acknowledged, but he said an imperfect process is preferable to further delays. "These are imperfect ideas we hope to make more perfect" through negotiations during work group and committee meetings, he said.
Trucking giant Schneider National announced Wednesday that its Intermodal division has completed a three-year conversion of its trailer/container mix to an all-container fleet.
"Current economic realities require that shippers scrutinize every aspect of their supply chain in search of energy efficiencies and cost savings,” said Schneider’s Bill Matheson, president, Intermodal Services. “Our 53-foot container-focused service makes it even easier for customers to leverage Schneider Intermodal’s trucklike service and the environmental benefits that come with shipping by rail."
He said the multimillion-dollar conversion included more than 12,000 units.
“The benefits of moving freight via intermodal containers are so significant that there’s no doubt containers will become the intermodal standard in the very near future,” Matheson said. “Shippers want to stack containers and move more freight–in an energy-efficient manner–at one time. They also want a simplified process for trailer/container management, both for their shipping department and the truck drivers moving their freight. Our new containerization approach delivers on both fronts.”
Sound Transit will open its Tukwila to Sea-Tac International Airport light rail extension Saturday at 10 a.m. The agency is counting on the addition for direct access to the airport and to bolster ridership on the existing 13.9 mile system. Airport access from the LRT system has been offered by a free bus shuttle.
Sea Tac/Airport Station connects to the airport garage via a pedestrian walkway. Airport passengers will follow a separated guideway through the garage to the main terminal. Luggage carts will be available at the station.
Sound Transit says the airport employs roughly 15,000 directly and indirectly, and expects many to tap LRT for their trips to and from work.
The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) issued a statement Wednesday applauding the higher-than-expected high speed rail allocation--$2.5 billion--included in the in the Fiscal Year 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Conference Report, which Congress approved Sunday.
Howard Learner, executive director of ELPC, said: “Investment in high speed rail will create good jobs and revitalize American rail manufacturing, helping the nation move from recovery to prosperity. High speed rail is the most practical, environmentally responsible and energy efficient way to transport people safely and comfortably over moderate distances."
ELPC noted that the high speed rail allocation in the $1.1 trillion dollar spending bill is in addition to the $8 billion included by President Obama in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and brings the Administration’s total commitment to to $10.5 billion.
(It was incorrectly reported here earlier that $1 billion of the high speed allocation was part of---not in addition to--the President's initial pledge $8 billion with an extra $1 billion to be included in the national budget for five years.)
Metrolinx, an Ontario government Crown Corporation, today completed the acquisition from CN of the 60-mile-long Barrie-Bradford GO Train corridor between downtown Toronto and Barrie, Ont. The last transaction in the deal was the purchase of the lower portion of the Newmarket Subdivision in central-north Toronto for C$68 million (US$64 million).
Metrolinx is responsible for creating an integrated, multi-modal transportation network in the Greater Toronto Area from York and Durham through Toronto, Peel Halton, and Hamilton. GO Transit, the operating division of Metrolinx, provides commuter rail and bus services in the GTA.
Metrolinx President and Chief Executive Officer J. Robert S. Prichard said: "This transaction marks a milestone for the agency, giving us--for the first time--end-to-end ownership of a GO Transit rail line. This transaction with CN will permit improvements to service between Toronto and Barrie and points in between. Improved commuter rail and mass transit are vital to easing traffic congestion and air pollution in the GTA, while improving the productivity and economic competitiveness of the region."
Claude Mongeau, CN executive vice-president and incoming president and chief executive officer, commented: "CN is pleased to have reached this sales agreement with Metrolinx. We have close ties with GO--most of its services in the Greater Toronto Area operate over CN's network--and we see our partnership with GO and Metrolinx continuing to drive the environmental benefits of rail in the Toronto region. In addition, this line sale will generate additional value for the company."
GO currently runs eight commuter trains each weekday between Toronto and Barrie over the Newmarket Subdivision, which also accommodates a daily CN freight train and VIA Rail Canada Inc.'s transcontinental passenger train three times a week.
Under its sales agreement with Metrolinx, CN will continue to serve five freight customers on the lower Newmarket Subdivision.
Stella-Jones Inc. Tuesday said it has signed a non-binding letter of intent to acquire Tangent Rail Corp., a provider of wood crosstie products and services to the railroad industry. The company said the acquisition will expand Stella-Jones’ capabilities within the U.S. railway tie industry and provide Stella-Jones with creosote manufacturing operations.
St. Laurent, Quebec-based Stella-Jones produces and markets industrial pressure treated wood products, specializing in the production of railway ties and timbers as well as wood poles supplied to electrical utilities and telecommunications companies. The company is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Pittsburgh-based Tangent serves the railroad industry with treated wood products, mainly railway ties, through facilities located in Warrior, Ala., Terre Haute and Winslow, Ind., Alexandria, La., and McAlisterville, Pa. Tangent produces creosote for wood preservation at distilleries in Terre Haute and in Memphis. Lifecycle solutions, consisting of tie pickup and tie disposal, are carried out at three facilities in Alabama, Minnesota, and North Carolina. Stella-Jones said Tangent’s sales for the year ended December 31, 2009 are expected to reach about US$175 million.
“The acquisition of Tangent Rail Corporation would considerably enhance our offerings to the U.S. railroad industry, while alsoextending our geographical reach,” said Stella-Jones President and CEO Brian McManus. “Tangent enjoys a solid market reputation and possesses high-quality assets, which should facilitate its integration into our network if the transaction is completed.”
The transaction is expected to close before the end of the first quarter of 2010, and is subject to U.S. antitrust clearance, as well as customary closing conditions, including entry into a definitive purchase agreement, regulatory approvals, and satisfactory due diligence.
Stella-Jones said it plans to finance the acquisition through a combination of equity and debt, subject to prevailing market conditions.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Jay Walder, in a letter to employees dated December 14, acknowledges that New York State’s budget woes are exacerbating MTA’s own economic problems, saying, “We are all aware that this budget proposes actions that are painful–both for our customers and for you, our employees."
Outlining additional cuts of $383 million, Walder (pictured at left) said, “MTA Board approval of this budget proposal will result in fewer trains and buses and longer waiting times. It will also reduce the travel discount currently provided for school children in New York City. In addition, expenses for paratransit service will be reduced through a number of efficiency measures that change the way we provide service to our disabled customers."
MTA already had announced other cost-saving measures, including furloughing some non-union employees and phasing out student discounts. A state payroll tax projection designed to fund the MTA fell short by $100 million. New York State also announced it will cut appropriations to an arbitration award due to MTA's union, adding $91 million to overall expenses.
“Service reductions identified in the budget also mean fewer jobs, but unfortunately the reductions that affect our employees don’t end there," Walder said. "The budget additionally identifies a 10% reduction to the payroll for our non-represented employees. Frankly, I believe an across-the-board reduction is neither the best nor the right way to save money. It does not distinguish between aspects of our business that add the most value and aspects that we can no longer afford. Therefore, we will not implement the administrative reduction until April 2010. By then I expect us to have found systemic, sustainable ways to reduce payroll costs that we can implement instead.”
Reiterating his belief in applying state-of-the-art technology to improve the cost-effectiveness of the agency, Walder said, “Companies nationwide have reduced costs for their products and services by successfully implementing innovations in both technology and organizational structure. We must figure out how to follow their lead–and perhaps blaze a few trails of our own. We must be far more aggressive in identifying duplicative functions performed by more than oneagency and figure out how to do them more efficiently together–across agency lines. And we must not be afraid to eliminate work that is no longer necessary. I believe these steps are essential to confirm to customers and taxpayers that they are getting good value for their hard-earned dollar.”
Such confirmation may be hard to earn. A press release issued Dec. 14 by the Straphangers Campaign declares, “The riding public was told last May that there would be no direct service cuts when the legislature rescued the MTA. Riders have held up their part of the bargain with a fare hike last June, with the base fare going from $2.00 to $2.25 and a 30-day MetroCard from $81 to $89. But now they are threatened with getting substantially less while paying more. Ridershave every right to be mad as hell–and parents furious.”
The Straphangers Campaign broadside acknowledges that “the financial mess is not of the MTA's making. But the Straphangers Campaign believes the MTA has the resources to prevent the service cuts.” Spreading the blame for the MTA’s predicament, thegroup says, “As for student MetroCards, this is a political hot potato for Mayor Bloomberg. The Straphangers Campaign believes that parents will hold the Mayor responsible if there is a loss of student MetroCards.”