Railroad customers will turn the spotlight on such urgent industry issues as Positive Train Control and re-regulation at the 2010 North American Rail Shippers annual meeting. The sessions will be held at the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C., May 26-28.
"Both PTC and re-reg will impact customers and rail carriers alike," notes NARS President Allan Roach. "PTC is estimated to cost $10 billion. If the government doesn't subsidize that in some way and the railroads still have to do it, who's going to pay?"
"There are two sides to re-regulation," adds Roach. "Some shippers believe it will reduce transportation expenses, while railroads say it will force them to curtail capital spending—just when they are expected to carry more of the nation's freight."
A key NARS feature is the railroad chief marketing officers' panel, followed by breakout sessions where shippers can discuss their concerns with railroads individually.
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been asked to give the opening address, followed by Association of American Railroads and Norfolk Southern Chairman Charles W. Moorman.
Philadelphia’s Suburban Station will host a public display Tuesday of a married pair of new Silverliner V cars being delivered to SEPTA. Agency staff will be on hand toanswer questions. The cars will be on display through Thursday.
SEPTA in 2005 ordered 120 of the cars from South Korea’s Rotem (now Hyundai-Rotem), with delivery initially expected to begin a year ago. Cars will be arriving on the property throughout this year and during 2011. Final assembly of the cars is taking place in South Philadelphia.
The cars have been ordered in part to replace older Silverliner II cars built by the Budd Co. in 1963, and Silverliner III cars produced by St. Louis Car Co. in 1967.
In October 2008, SEPTA offered its customers a chance toreview and comment on a Silverliner V mock-up display, also positioned atSuburban Station.
GE Transportation announced Sunday that it is signing a Memorandum of Understanding with Kazakhstan’s Joint Stock Company Locomotiv (JSC Locomotiv) and Joint Stock Company Kurastyru Zauty (JSC LKZ) for the supply of 150 switcher locomotives.
GE called it “the next milestone in a long-term commitment to develop the railway infrastructure in the Republic of Kazakhstan.”
The new a.c. traction locomotives will be suitable for use in the Republic of Kazakhstan and across the CIS region using a track gauge of 1,520 mm.
The first five locomotives are to be built at GE Transportation’s Erie, Pa, plant. After the prototypes are successfully tested, the remainder of the order is to be assembled at Joint Stock Company Kurastyru Zauty’s plant in Astana, Kazakhstan, with kits from GE Transportation. Locomotive delivery is is to be completed in 2012.
“The ongoing cooperation between the Republic of Kazakhstan and GE demonstrates that a solid strategic partnership can help fuel both short-term infrastructure improvements as well as long-term economic growth,” said Askar Mamin, president of Kazakhstan’s state-run railroad Kazakhstan Temir Zholy. “Today’s announcement continues to enable Kazakhstan’s critical rail infrastructure to remain modern and efficient in the future. I look forward to continuing the relationship with GE as it helps the Republic of Kazakhstan develop a world-class rail system.”
Amtrak Thursday said it expects record ridership in fiscal year 2010, noting that with its first two fiscal quarters completed, rail ridership of 13.6 million was up 4.3% compared with the first half of FY09. Amtrak ridership set a record in fiscal year 2008 of 28.7 million.
The company said March ridership was strong, up 13.5% systemwide, up 14.3% on Acela high speed service, and up 12.9% on its Northeast Regional trains.
Ridership on long-distance trains increased by 16% in March and is up 5.2% for the first two quarters of FY10. Ridership on all short-distance routes also increased, with many routes notching double-digit gains.
“Americans are beginning to travel again and are choosing Amtrak as an affordable and efficient way to move around the country,” said President and CEO Joseph Boardman, noting a slowly improving economy and continued high fuel prices as factors in Amtrak ridership growth.
Boardman said the ridership growth demonstrated the presentand growing need for the carrier to replace, expand, and modernize its fleet of aging locomotives and passenger rail cars, calling it Amtrak’s “most urgent unfunded need.” Amtrak has requested $446 million from Congress to fund its Fleet Acquisition Program.
San Francisco's rebuilt Transbay Terminal, already expected to maximize passenger intermodalism by both land and water routes, has moved into contention as the endpoint for the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s proposed $44 billion system. Authority directors Thursday rejected by a 6-1 vote an alternate underground site at Beale Street.
Either site would have extended HSR beyond the currentCaltrain terminus at Fourth and King streets. That site will continue to beserved by Caltrain and possibly by HSR as well.
The decision was just one of many made by the authority; it also approved plans for the San Francisco to San Jose segment to follow existing Caltrain service through the Peninsula, rejecting alternative routes along Highway 101 orInterstate 280. The authority’s Board of Directors did agree to continue study of potential stations in Millbrae, where the rail system would link to San Francisco International Airport, and in downtown San Jose. It also agreed todelay any decision on whether to run the tracks underground through the Peninsula, a costly solution favored by many local cities.
The support for Transbay Terminal as one of two northern endpoints for HSR was welcomed by San Francisco city officials and other city interests. “The terminal is ready to be under construction by August,” said Jim Lazarus, vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “It's a permanent solution for high speed rail in San Francisco.”
Berlin-based Locomore Rail GmbH & Co. KG plans to launch long-distance passenger rail service between Hamburg and Cologne beginning in April 2011, offering direct competition to domestic stalwart Deutsche Bahn (DB).
Locomore, a company backed by Pittsburgh-based Railroad Development Corp. and Birmingham, England-based investment advisor Michael Schabas, plans to offer service three times a day between the two cities, offering roughly the same travel time of just over four hours but at a competitive price, according to company chief executive Derek Ladewig.
The company had considered launching service on two other routes, but has postponed any such plans because of difficulties in obtaining financing for rolling stock, Ladewig said.
Locomore’s long-distance challenge to DB inside Germany itself marks the first such challenge to DB, but DB itself is no stranger to a competitive passenger marketplace. It already faces competition on several local and regional lines inside Germany, while DB has aggressively sought to expand operations throughout the European Union. Deutsche Bahn AG already generates 23% of its revenue from sources outside Germany.
As one example, DB has a presence in Britain with itspurchase of Laing Rail, owner of the Choltern Railway franchise, in 2008. Last month DB confirmed it had approached British rail and bus operator Arriva PLC on a possible acquisition.
China is well ahead of the United States in high speed rail, with plans to invest nearly half a trillion (that’s trillion with a “t”) dollars through 2012 on a national network of rail lines, most of which would be dedicated (“true” or “very”) high speed lines with passenger trains operating at speeds up to 220 mph. Some 1,200 miles of HSR will open this year alone, at a cost of $50 billion. The country’s longer-term plans call for high speed routes expanding beyond China’s borders, linking Shanghai to Singapore and New Delhi and connecting Beijing and Shanghai to Moscow, Tehran, Prague, and Berlin. The Beijing to Shanghai system will be finished by early 2012, cutting travel time to four hours from 10 (pictured, a Chinese high speed train on the Zhengzhou-Xi’an line). By comparison, traveling by Amtrak from New York to Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited, a similar distance (about 1,000 miles), takes about 20 hours.
Now, following the Obama Administration’s $8 billion in starter funds for U.S. HSR systems, the Chinese want to leap across the Pacific and export and license their HSR expertise to the U.S., supplying technology, rolling stock, engineers—and financing. They’re attempting a jumpstart in California, where in the 19th century the Union Pacific hired thousands of Chinese laborers to build westward the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. The Golden Spike ceremony of 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah, is a long time and distance away from San Francisco and Los Angeles, but those two cities, separated by 465 miles, represent an initial, $43 billion HSR link in a statewide system envisioned by the California Rail Authority. The Authority,which received $2.25 billion in federal HSR grant funds, needs up to $12 billion in private financing for this project, and the Chinese Ministry of Railways has taken a first step, signing cooperation agreements with the State of California and General Electric.
The MOR’s deal with GE is described as a framework agreement to license MOR technology. GE says the agreement stipulates that 80% of the content of locomotives and related control systems would have to be sourced from U.S. suppliers, with final assembly occurring in the U.S. The MOR would license its technology and supply engineers as well as up to 20% of the components. This agreement is similar to those that rolling stock suppliers to the domestic rail transit market like Siemens, Alstom, Bombardier, Kawasaki, and Hyundai-Rotem have with U.S. transit agencies.
Described by a World Bank transportation specialist as “engineering driven— they know how to build fast, build cheaply, and do a good job,” the Chinese Ministry of Railways says it is “the most advanced in many fields ... willing to share with the United States.” In an extensive interview with The New York Times, Chinese MOR HSR program chief Zheng Jian said his agency “can provide whatever services are needed. ... HSR requires a lot of high technology—we would send many high-end engineers and high-end technicians.”
The State of California seems highly interested in China’s plans, but at the same time the HSR Authority is looking at other proposals from the railways and suppliers of Japan, Germany, South Korea, Spain, France, and Italy. In these cases, the railways are closely aligned with suppliers—for example, SNCF/Alstom/SYSTRA; Deutsche Bahn/Siemens; or RENFE/Talgo.
But besides domestic content requirements, any effort the Chinese attempt to make in U.S. HSR will be filled with requirements and obstacles they don’t have to deal with in China: elected politicians, labor unions, U.S. Immigration, EPA, OSHA, ADA, etc., etc. Aside from exporting goods on container ships, the Chinese have virtually no experience dealing with U.S. regulatory and political bodies. By contrast, railway suppliers like Bombardier, Siemens, Alstom, Talgo, and Ansaldo already have years of U.S. experience behind them. According to The Times, “Zheng said repeatedly that any Chinese bid would comply with all American laws and regulations.”
Easier said than done.
Then there is the issue of intellectual property. Zehn indicated that all of the HSR technology would be Chinese, but according to The Times, “State-owned Chinese equipment manufacturers initially licensed many of their designs over the last decade from Japan, Germany, and France. While Chinese companies have gone on to make many changes and innovations, Japanese executives in particular have grumbled that Chinese technology resembles theirs, raising the possibility of legal challenges if any patents have been violated.” There is some precedent, as this is similar to a scenario the U.S. freight rail supply community has dealt with in the past. For example, several domestic suppliers have grumbled to Railway Age that, after licensing agreements expired, Chinese suppliers continued manufacturing patented, U.S.-design, AAR-approved freight car components without permission.
China is well-stocked with capital and appears ready to bring it to the U.S. HSR table. According to The Times, “China’s mostlystate-controlled banks had few losses during the global financial crisis andare awash with cash now because of tight regulation and a fast-growing economy.The Chinese government is also becoming disenchanted with bonds and looking to diversify its $2.4 trillion in foreign reserves by investing in areas like natural resources and overseas rail projects. [The MOR] has already begun building HSR in Turkey, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia, and is looking for opportunities in seven other countries, notably a route sought by the Brazilian government between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.”
Interestingly, an automobile assembly plant that until late last week turned out Japanese and American cars—the General Motors/Toyota NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.) joint venture in Fremont, Calif., which produced the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe sport-compacts plus other Toyota models—is shutting down after 25 years, eliminating nearly 5,000 jobs. One idea under consideration is converting the factory to the assembly of HSR equipment, according to California HSR Authority Board Member David Crane, who is also a member of the state’s Economic Development Commission. Instead of Japanese auto parts, Chinese-sourced rail equipment components would arrive through thenearby Port of Oakland.
Regardless of how the Chinese interest in U.S. HSR pans out, swapping automobiles for high speed trains is something the State of California and the Obama Administration would love to see happen.
—William C. Vantuono, Editor
U.S. railroads continued to notch gains in both carload and intermodal traffic during the week ended April 3 compared with levels of a year ago, the Association of American Railroads reported Thursday.
Carload traffic rose for the sixth straight week, up 10.7% from the year-ago week, though still down 11.8% compared with the comparable period in 2008. Intermodal traffic rose for the 12th straight week, up 6.2% from last year’s levels, though still trailing the comparable 2008 week by 9.4%. Good Friday, which is observed as a holiday on many railroads, occurred during the 2010 week but not in the comparison weeks from 2009 and 2008, AAR noted.
Total volume for the week was estimated at 31.3 billion ton-miles, up 11% from last year, though down 9.3% compared with the comparable week in 2008. Seventeen of 19 carload commodity groups showed gains from a year ago, with the largest coming from products associated with metals: metallic ores, up 104.2%;metals, up 84.1%; scrap, up 39.8%; and coke, up 30.3%. Motor vehicles and equipment rose 21.3%.
Canadian carload traffic for the week ended April 3 was up 14.8% from last year, while intermodal rose 6.1%. Cumulative volume on Canadian railroads has been ahead of year ago levels every one of the first 13 weeks this year.
Mexican carload traffic gained 4.3% over comparable 2009 traffic, while intermodal edged up a modest 0.4%.
Combined North American rail volume for the first 13 weeks of 2010 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was up 5.2% from last year, with intermodal up 8.8% during the same span.
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Wednesday offered a media briefing on its proposed light rail transit “Regional Connector,” which would unite Los Angeles LRT operations by linking them through downtown.
LACMTA said the Regional Connector would eliminate some existing transfers, allowing through-center city travel on LRT from Pasadena to Long Beach or from East LA to Culver City. The agency offered as an option an underground route through Little Tokyo, but some critics note the Regional Connector would generate a new transfer point within Little Tokyo itself.
The agency said the Regional Connector would generate about 17,000 new riders and boost ridership on several existing lines, including some double-digit projected increases.
Trip times also would be reduced significantly, LACMTA said: a trip from East LAto USC, now estimated to take 44 minutes, would be only 31 minutes with the connector. At present, riders can bridge the gap by using LA's Red Line between Union Station and 7th Street Metro Center stations (see map).
LACMTA plans to complete its Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Report (DEIS/R) this summer, and will hold another round of public hearings following its release.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit will close its Union Station light rail stop for roughly 45 days, beginning April 12, to adjust platform heightsto facilitate boarding and exiting of its light rail vehicles. DART hopes to complete the work by May 26.
Alternate bus service will be offered to riders linking Union Station and LRT stops at Dallas Convention Center and in the West End.
DART has plans to modify platform heights at several stations to better serve its low-floor “C” unit railcar retrofits now being placed within its existing Kinkisharyo rolling stock. The adjustments will expedite passenger flows and make boarding and departure easier as well, DART says.