Signal Peak Energy, an expanded coal mining operation near Roundup, Mont., with a new 35-mile link to the BNSF Railway mainline, has confirmed reports that it will send an undetermined number of coal cargoes to China on a trial basis by the end of this year.
It has been unofficially reported that two Panamax cargoes, 60,000 to 70,000 deadweight tons, and a Capesize cargo, 125,000 tons, could move through Vancouver, B.C., by year-end.
Don Drabant, president of the marketing company Global Coal Sales Group, which represents Signal Peak, said discussions were under way with South American markets as well as Asian rim countries.
Signal Peak, formerly the Bull Mountain coal mine, expects to increase production from few hundred thousand tons a year to around 14 million tons a year by 2011.
The new operation is owned by the joint venture of Ohio utility First Energy Corp. and Boich Companies. The mine produces 10,300 Btu bituminous coal with 0.55% sulfur content that is said to combine the advantages of eastern U.S. coal and low-sulfur Powder River Basin coal.
French National Railways (SNCF), which owns and operates France's TGV high speed rail network, said Friday it had responded to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Request For Expression of Interest process with respect to four of FRA’s 10 prospective HSR corridors: California, Florida, Texas, and the Chicago Hub Network.
SNCF said each of the four submissions, filed September 14, outlines SNCF’s project rationale for the project, including: evaluation of the benefits of high speed rail networks to the targeted communities and environment; detailed technical descriptions of the project, including proposed route; estimated operations costs, services, and schedules; the project’s business model, including simulated revenue, financial statements, and possible financing opportunities with both the public and private sectors; and the plan’s compliance with existing legislation and the possibilities for federal, state, and local government partnerships.
SNCF Chairman Guillaume Pepy, who also is chairman of Eurostar service, wrote that that in California, Florida, and Texas, SNCF’s review and analysis of the available data regarding these three states leads it to the preliminary conclusion that HSR passenger service at speeds of 220 mph would produce significant public benefits, offsetting “by almost twice the public investment in the design and construction of the systems.”
Concerning the Chicago/Midwest Hub, Pepy said local and state authorities in and around this corridor intend to effect a dramatic improvement in the public transportation system; Pepy said SNCF believes 220 mph service would also work for this region, and proposed a 1,400-mile network including a bypass line in Chicago, servicing 28 stations in seven states.
Said Pepy, “While the RFEI process in the United States, first announced in 2008, has been overtaken somewhat by more recent legislation and a new process, we elected to proceed with our detailed submission on the four corridors in the interests of advancing the discussion about how high speed rail can benefit the U.S., and especially the regions where high speed rail planning is most advanced.”
He continued, “The United States is well-suited for high speed rail, and the significant benefits, beyond being a better transportation option, include economic stimulus, community enhancement and growth, environmental advancements, energy efficiencies, and reduced dependence on foreign oil.
“SNCF has a longstanding and strong interest in participating in the development of high speed rail in the United States and hopes that its decision to proceed with the RFEI submission advances the conversation and underscores its commitment and ability to help the United States realize the potential for HSR systems,” Pepy said.
In a stunning move certain to affect the rail supply industry within North America and beyond, London-based Balfour Beatty plc, Britain's biggest builder, has agreed to buy construction and infrastructure-services provider Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc., a U.S. powerhouse, for $626 million.
Balfour Beatty said Friday it plans a $583 million rights offer to provide the majority of funding for the acquisition. New York-based PB, which is employee-owned, had annual sales of $2.34 billion in fiscal year 2008, which ended in October.
PB’s prominence in the U.S. likely will aid Balfour Beatty as the U.S. market for rail solutions grows, particularly in the passenger rail segment, now being bolstered by the federal stimulus package. Balfour Beatty already has considerable U.S. rail experience and exposure, observers say, and roughly 30% of its overall sales are generated within the U.S.
Balfour Beatty CEO Ian Tyler acknowledged the potential U.S. market. "We've been looking to develop over a long time the weight and depth of our U.S. business," Tyler said in an interview. "This really does create a very strong and powerful business there."
Industry observers, however, suggest to Railway Age the more significant impact may be the opportunity PB offers Balfour Beatty for entry into potentially lucrative markets in Australia, India, China, and South Africa. Tyler also acknowledges the potential of these markets, including rail but also encompassing electrical and mechanical design, airports, and other construction segments.
In a conference call with Morgan Stanley analysts William Greene and Adam Longson, former Surface Transportation Board Chair Linda Morgan anticipated a draft version of rail legislation to be introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va., pictured at right) “very soon," and likely before the month ends. Morgan Stanley foresees a “compromise bill” resulting as Congress seeks to handle a potentially contentious issue.
Morgan told the Morgan Stanley duo a focus on other issues, including healthcare and climate, has delayed rail legislation, but Congress is likely to act now and not wait for 2010, a congressional election year. “If a rail bill is going to pass by year-end, the end of September is likely a critical deadline for introducing draft legislation,” the analysts said in a note.
“The mere introduction of rail legislation will create headline risk for rails, and the recent appreciation in shares makes the stocks increasingly vulnerable to a near-term correction,” Greene and Longson warned. “There are three key areas the proposed legislation is likely to address: 1) provisions to strengthen the STB, giving it more authority, resources and commissioners; 2) provisions to help increase customer access to the rail networks; and 3) reforming review process on rail rates and service.”
Added Morgan Stanley, “Significant compromise is the most likely outcome, in our view. Any rail bill will need consensus to ensure it passes with little debate, given the proposed timeline. The rails may support a compromise bill to avoid potentially more onerous legislation, while shippers may accept a compromise to avoid potentially walking away with nothing.
“We don't think a compromise bill will lead to a wholesale change in rail economics. While far from the best-case scenario, this is more favorable than antitrust legislation or re-regulation, which could affect rail profitability in a materially negative way,” Greene and Longson wrote.
A planned $4 billion Transbay Transit Center in downtown San Francisco took a big step forward Thursday when the U.S. Department of Transportation's Credit Council recommended the approval of a $171 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan for the project. The loan will help fund 14% of the Phase I capital cost. A combination of federal, state, and local sources is funding the project.
“We are very grateful to the council for this unanimous recommendation of approval,” said Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, executive director of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA). “This important step will help us move the project forward and bring to fruition the largest, fully approved transportation project in the country.”
The Joint Powers Authority submitted a letter of interest to the DOT in October 2003 and the application was submitted in October 2008. Following the Credit Council's recommendation, the next step is for the Secretary to approve a term sheet and loan agreement. The Joint Powers will bring the agreement to its board of directors for approval by November.
TIFIA was established to create a Federal credit program for eligible transportation projects of national or regional significance.
The Transbay Transit Center will replace the existing Transbay Terminal with a multi-modal facility, and centralize the region’s transportation network by accommodating nine transportation systems under one roof. The project also involves extending the Caltrain rail line 1.3 miles into the heart of the Financial District and redeveloping the surrounding area with 2,600 new homes, parks, and a retail main street.
The project broke ground on the temporary terminal in December 2008 and demolition of the current bus terminal is scheduled for February 2010.
Phoenix-area sports fans headed for a scheduled event of the NBA Suns or WNBA Mercury basketball teams at US Airways Center can present their game tickets as a valid light rail fare, Valley Metro announced Thursday. The program begins October 1 and will run through Sept. 30,2010.
Other events at US Airways Center, including concerts and family shows, are also included in the package, billed as the Rail Ride Event program. The 20-mile, $1.4 billion Metro light rail line, serving Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe, Ariz., opened for revenue service Dec. 27, 2008.
"This program will encourage use of the system as a great way to get to and from events at US Airways Center," said Tom Simplot, vice mayor of Phoenix and chair of the Metro Board of Directors. "The Rail Ride Event program will encourage new riders who will soon discover how convenient, efficient and safe the system is."
“Suns fans who used light rail to travel to games last year told us that being able to avoid traffic and parking issues, as well as the ease and convenience of the trip, resulted in an experience that enhanced their enjoyment of attending a game,” said Phoenix Suns President and CEO Rick Welts. “We appreciate the willingness and creativity the leadership at Metro light rail demonstrated in developing this program for all US Airways Center events.”
“Special event and recreation-oriented trips are already asignificant portion of our ridership,” said Valley Metro CEO Richard Simonetta. "Teaming up with the Suns and a great venue like US Airways Center just takes it to the next level.”
Said US Airways General Manager Ralph Marchetta, “Whether attending a Suns or Mercury game, a concert, the Ringling Brothers Circus, or a Disney on Ice Show, we believe having a ticket that includes round-trip transportation on Metro light rail will actually result in more people attending events at US Airways Center.”
U.S. carload freight traffic for the week ended September 12 was down 19.8% compared with the same week in 2008, the Association of American Railroads reported. AAR noted part of the decline could be attributed to the 2009 Labor Day (September 7); last year’s corresponding week 36 did not include the holiday.
All 19 carload freight commodity groups measured by AAR were down from last year. Farm products not including grain fell a modest 1.5%; metallic ores plunged 52.3%.
U.S. intermodal traffic also fell 25.8% from the same week last year. Container volume fell 20.9% and trailer volume dropped 43.9%.
Canadian railroads reported volume fell 22.1% for the weekcompared with last year; intermodal volume declined 27.5%. Mexico’s two major railroads reported originated volume down a modest 1% from the same week last year, while intermodal registered a gain, up 8.4%.
Combined North American rail volume for the first 36 weeks of 2009 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was down 19.2% from last year. Combined intermodal volume fell 16.9% during the period measured against the comparable 2008 span.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Policy Board, a regional transportation board, Wednesday approved plans to help fund CSX efforts to expand and improve freight capacity in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. The Board approved a letter supporting federal grant applications to help cover the estimated $160 million cost.
Concern remains within the board that CSX has not supported improvements to passenger rail needs within the board’s territory, prompting the board to add language in its letter seeking commitments from the Class I carrier. CSX track is used by Amtrak, Virginia Railway Express, and Maryland MARC trains.
CSX has stated that the 13 planned improvement projects in the area would benefit freight and passenger operations. Many of the projects raise clearances for double-stack trains, potentially relieving current bottlenecks and resultant congestion for both freight and passenger moves, CSX has said.
Train crew employment on U.S. railroads in mid-August stood at 57,167, an increase of 353, or 0.62%, over July, although the transportation (train and engine) group trailed August 2008 numbers by 15.86%.
Also registering improvement in August was the transportation (other than train and engine) category, which at 6,685 was up 2.12% over July and 1.27% higher than in August 2008.
Total Class I employment in August at 150,064 was off 0.22%, or 336, from July and down 8.65% from August 2008.