Eight governors from Midwest states announced a pact Monday to seek federal stimulus funds to establish a high speed rail network with Chicago as the hub. The Obama Administration in April identified such a network as one of 10 candidates eligible for a portion of $8 billion provided for high speed rail by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
In forming the pact, the governors, by accident or design, are mimicking ongoing efforts by the not-for-profit Midwest High Speed Rail Association, which since 1993 has advocated a Chicago-based high speed rail network with top speeds of 220 mph.
Governors from Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio gathered in Chicago Monday at the Midwest High Speed Rail Summit, signing a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly seek federal funds for HSR. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, also present, signed the MOU on behalf of his city. Other states in the group include Minnesota, Indiana, and Missouri; the governors from these three states signed the MOU prior to the meeting.
Said Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, “We are determined to take full advantage of federal recovery funds and bring high speed rail to Illinois and the Midwest.” He added, "Today's agreement will help make our vision a reality."
The participants will establish a multistate steering group to coordinate the region's work associated with all ARRA applications. Such coordination could turn a potential liability—numerous state players—into a political asset if the group maintains its cohesion.
The governors and their allies envision an initial push to upgrade three routes to operate at top speeds of 110 mph: Chicago-St. Louis; Chicago-Madison, Wis., via Milwaukee; and Chicago-Pontiac, Mich., through Detroit. Amtrak currently covers those routes, save the link between Milwaukee and Madison, and between Detroit and Pontiac, with conventional short-distance services. Other routes, such as St. Louis-to-Kansas City, Mo., and Ohio’s “3C Corridor” linking Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, would be added to the high speed rail network in future years.
Public comment solicitation ended Monday for St. Paul, Minn.’s Central Corridor light rail project, with local citizens and the University of Minnesota weighing in over various concerns.
Project Manager Mark Fuhrmann anticipated St. Paul community groups to lobby for three more light rail stations along a stretch of University Avenue in St. Paul.
The university continues to voice concerns over supposed noise and vibration threats and electromagnetic interference affecting sensitive scientific equipment on campus. A faculty committee appointed by university President Robert Bruininks last January released a study last week noting the problems could be addressed but could prove costly.
Preliminary engineering for the Central Corridor has begun, with construction slated to begin next summer, and service scheduled to commence in 2014.
Veolia Transportation said Monday it has been awarded an operations and maintenance contract by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) for Houston’s light rail transit expansion project. The work will take place through a joint venture company, Houston Operation and Maintenance, LLC (HOM), an entity owned by Veolia Transportation and Parsons.
HOM will initially be responsible for planning and development services and advising in the planning, design, and integration of the rail lines, systems, and maintenance facilities and the light rail vehicles for the project.
Once revenue service begins, Veolia Transportation will be responsible for all aspects of the LRT network for an initial period of five years, which can be extended up to 35 years. Responsibilities include maintaining four new routes totaling approximately 20 miles of light rail, 32 stations, storage and inspection facilities, right-of-way and systems maintenance, dispatching, and operation and maintenance of 103 LRT vehicles.
“We applaud Houston METRO on its visionary approach to this project which provides for the operator to be involved from the inception of planning,” said Mark L. Joseph, CEO of Veolia Transportation’s North American entity. “This is a signature project for the United States which we expect to be a model for other cities and we are thrilled to be playing a central role. Projects like this offer major benefits to cities in the enhancement of the urban environment, mobility, and quality of life.” Houston Rapid Transit, a Parsons joint venture including Granite Construction Co., Kiewit Texas Construction LP, and Stacy and Witbeck Inc. will oversee the design-build portion of the project.
VIA Rail Canada and the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference late Saturday agreed to binding arbitration to settle their contract dispute, one day after the latter went on strike at noon, July 24, effectively shutting down most of Canada’s intercity rail passenger service. VIA services slowly resumed operation on Sunday.
“The process proposed by the mediator will allow the parties to resolve outstanding issues and, most importantly, will get Canada’s passenger rail service up and running again for our customers,” said VIA President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Côté.
“The negotiations have been challenging and we appreciate the support shown by our members during this process. We look forward to having our members back on the trains,” said Dan Shewchuk, president of the TCRC.
TCRC says its members have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2006. At issue are improved wages and benefits, scheduling that allows members two consecutive days off, and increased training schedules for engineers.
Wilmerdering, Pa.-based Wabtec Corp. said Friday itssecond-quarter profit slipped 9% due to the continuing falloff in freight rail traffic;earnings of $30.8 million, or 64 cents per share, were down from $33.8 million,or 69 cents per share, in the comparable 2008 quarter. That was lower than WallStreet analyst expectations of 62 cents per share.
Revenue also declined by 14% to $334 million. Wabtec cut itsfull-year earnings guidance, citing the weak freight rail market. Companyshares lost 5% of their value at midday Friday.
"Going forward this year, we expect stability in ourtransit operations, while the freight businesses will continue to be affectednegatively by the global recession," Wabtec CEO Albert J. Neupaver said ina statement.
Kansas City Southern Friday announced David R. Ebbrecht, its vice president-transportation, will assume the role of senior vice president operations for Kansas City Southern de Mexico, SA de CV (KCSM).
Based in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, south of Laredo, Tex., Ebbrecht will report to KCSM President and Executive Representative Jose G. Zozaya, closely coordinating with KCS Executive Vice President and COO Scott E. Arvidson.
"In his previous role, Dave has proven his ability to execute effective change management with a systemwide implementation of an operating methodology focused on sustainable, measurable operating results," said Arvidson in a statement. "We look forward to the implementation of this methodology on KCSM, with a goal of achieving continuous operating performance improvements, greater synergies, and economies of scale between the two railroads.""Our ability to enhance operating performance on both sides of the border will strengthen KCSM and KCSR's crossborder network and soldify our position as a world class, international rail network," said Zozaya.
Former KCSM Senior Vice President-Operations William H. Nolen has accepted a new position as executive representative for KCS. Based in Laredo, Tex., he will report to KCS President and COO David L. Starling. "In this new role, Bill will be in a position to lend his railroad expertise to a variety of special projects for KCSR, KCSM, and Panama Canal Railway Co.," said Starling.
Hamel, Minn.-based Loram Maintenance of Way Inc. said it has logged more than 4 million man-hours, over a 2 ½-year span, without a “lost-time injury,” with the injury-free span still growing.
The accomplishment complements Loram’s recent receipt of the the 2009 Minnesota Governor’s Award for Safety. Loram has received this award in 13 of the last 14 years. It also has ben honored with the 2008, 2007, 2005, and 2004 Gold NRC award for safety, a First Place Safety Award from NRC in 2000, and a 97% score in 2008 from a Liberty Mutual Insurance safety audit, reportedly the highest safety score ever obtained by a company in this audit.
U.S. freight traffic continued to struggle for the week ended July 18, the Association of American Railroads reported, down 17.9% compared with the comparable week in 2008. AAR did note, however, that rail carloadings were at their highest level in 15 weeks. Intermodal volume of 189,541 trailers or containers also fell 18.8% from the comparable week last year. Total volume of 28.7 billion ton-miles was down 17.3%.
Seventeen of the 19 carload freight commodity groups were down from last year. Farm products other than grain gained 19.8% compared with year-ago levels.
Canadian railroads reported volume down 24.4% from year-ago levels, while intermodal fell 22.3%. Mexican rail freight volume slipped 7.3%, while intermodal dropped 21.1%.
Combined North American rail volume for the first 28 weeks of 2009 on 14 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads was down 19.9%. Intermodal fell a comparable 17.1% during the same period compared with 2008 levels.
Crediting cost control measures and lower fuel prices, BNSF Thursday reported second-quarter earnings rose to $404 million, or $1.18 per diluted share, compared to second-quarter 2008 earnings of $350 million, or $1.00 per diluted share. The 2008 earnings figures included a $0.31 per share charge related to environmental matters in Montana. Earnings results soundly surpassed analysts' earnings-per-share expectations of $1.00.
BNSF said operating expenses for the quarter declined $1.25 billion, or 33%, to $2.52 billion, compared with second-quarter 2008 operating expenses of $3.76 billion. The $1.25 billion reduction was primarily attributable to strong cost controls, decreased unit volumes, and lower fuel prices.
Freight revenue fell $1.13 billion, or 26%, to $3.22 billion in the quarter compared with $4.35 billion in the prior-year period. BNSF attributed the decline in part to a decrease in fuel surcharges of about $600 million. The remaining variance was due to lower unit volumes as a result of the economic downturn, partially offset by improved yields.
“BNSF had another strong quarter of cost control in an extremely difficult economic environment,” said BNSF Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer Matthew K. Rose (pictured at right).
“We are beginning to see BNSF’s volumes stabilize in our more economic sensitive businesses, and because of our continued focus on productivity combined with our long-term market opportunities, we are well positioned to benefit when the economy recovers," Rose said.
Morgan Stanley & Co. analysts William Greene
and Adam Longson
said BNSF's second quarter results tell a a “solid story”: “Earnings surpassed our expectations, even when adjusted for
one-time items, and the degree of cost volume variability displayed in
recent quarters is impressive.” However, there may be somewhat less room for improvement, compared to other Class I's: “We expect BNSF pricing to trail other rails given
its larger relative exposure to truck competitive traffic. Moreover,
volumes are unlikely to recover as much as other rails on any rebound
in auto production given limited auto exposure, previous customer wins
and volume outperformance, and the loss of Hub Group traffic.”
Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman tolda House subcommittee Thursday that tax incentives to expand freight rail capacity would generate $1 billion in economic benefits and 20,000 green jobs.
“America needs more transportation capacity and needs it now,” Moorman said in testimony presented on behalf of the Association of American Railroads.
Asserting that today’s transportation network is not designed to handle the doubled freight demand projected by 2035, Moorman (pictured at left) said railroads are "the most affordable and environmentally responsible way to meet this demand."
He noted that railroads spent arecord $10.2 billion in capital improvements last year alone, adding: “Since 1980, railroads have spent more than 40% of their revenues–some$440 billion–to maintain, improve, and expand their networks. “Yet as much as railroads are investing, it isn’t enough to meet projected demand," Moorman said.
Moorman said recent study found a $52 billion gap between the $148 billion needed for expanding freight railcapacity and the $96 billion railroads can expect to generate. Tax incentives “provide a sensible way to help bridge this gap,” he said.
“Numerous states are partnering with us,” Moorman said. “Thanks to the leadership of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, and others, we are already investing to expand our system to meet the looming demands of moving our nation’s commerce. Congress should bolster these efforts by enacting tax credit legislation to encourage additional freight rail investment,” he said.