After a flurry of late-spring optimism, the national economy at midyear shows no strong signs of recovery—and, as the Association of American Railroads noted Thursday, freight traffic on U.S. railroads "continues to parallel the nation's overall economic condition."
In the holiday week ended July 4, rail carload traffic was down 15.6% from the corresponding week last year; intermodal volume was off 12.8%; and total volume, measured in ton-miles, was down 14.3%.
Carload volume was off 23.0% in the East and 11.1% in the West. Out of a total of 19 carload commodity groups, 18 were down in the most recent week; the declines ranged from 3.3% for coal to 72.4% for metallic ores.
Canadian railroads fared no better, with carload volume down 20.5% in the week ended July 4 and intermodal volume off 18.7%. In Mexico, carload traffic fell 40.2% and intermodal traffic was down 42.0%.
AAR noted that, effective with the week ended July 4, Canadian National now incorporates traffic of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway (EJ&E). All CN 2008 and 2009 data has been restated on a pro-forma basis to include EJ&E traffic as if it was part of CN since Jan. 1, 2008. The former EJ&E traffic is now included in the Canadian total, not the U.S. totals.
Los Angeles’ east-west Green Line light rail transit operation has generated ridership despite falling short (by roughly two miles) of a logical passenger generator: Los Angeles International Airport. Now a City Council committee has urged airport officials to conduct a six-month study of such a link.
"It's a no-brainer that every major airport has a rail line going into it," said Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes LAX.
The two-mile proposed extension for the 20-mile Green Line is estimated to cost $200 million, likely be funded by Measure R, which Los Angeles County voters approved last fall. The half-cent county sales tax measure took effect this month and is expected to generate $40 billion for local transportation projects during the next 30 years.
Beyond funding issues, a Green Line extension now is deemed more due to the city’s recent purchase of a parking lot next to the airport that could be used as a station site.
The Green Line, costing $718 million, opened in 1995. Much of its route sits in the median of the Century Freeway (Interstate 105). Its current western terminus is at Marine/Redondo Station; a free shuttle busconnection from Aviation Station offers access to LAX.
Though direct airport access by rail has been stymied for more than a decade, weekday ridership on the line averaged about 38,301 in May. By contrast, elder sister Blue Line, serving downtown Los Angeles, averaged 80,175 during May.
Urban neighbors and rivals Dallas and Fort Worth, Tex., have reached agreement on complementary passenger rail access to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, with both cities achieving direct access to the airport itself.
Under the current agreement, Fort Worth Transportation Authority will proceed with its “T” regional rail service through northeastern Tarrant County and Grapevine, connecting to the airport by running the tracks parallel to InternationalParkway and dead-ending at Terminal B.
For its part, Dallas Area Rapid Transit will extend its DART Orange Line light rail through Irving to the airport’s Terminal A, including a ground-level, dogleg turn around the northeastern edge of the airfield. Both rail operations could be connected by a walkway between Terminals A and B.
The plan also allows for the possibility of new options on the airport’s north end, such as if DART proceeds with developing its Cotton Belt line from Coppell to eastern cities such as Plano. Such a plan is not scheduled to be completed until 2028, but DART is weighing a public-private partnership to accelerate the proposal’s implementation.
DART’s options include extending a branch of Orange Line LRT to the Cotton Belt. But that could require future airport-bound travelers on the Forth Worth “T” to transfer at Grapevine for airport access, a plan officials in Tarrant County have panned.
New Jersey Transit Wednesday said it will debut rail service between Hoboken Terminaland Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., via Secaucus Junction, beginningSunday, July 26, when the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final title soccer match isscheduled.
New Jersey Transit Wednesday said it will debut rail service between Hoboken Terminaland Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., via Secaucus Junction, beginningSunday, July 26, when the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final title soccer match issched ...
New Jersey Transit said July 9 it will debut rail service between Hoboken Terminaland Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., via Secaucus Junction, beginning Sunday, July 26, 2009, when the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final title soccer match is scheduled.
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.