Warren Buffett said Monday that Berkshire Hathaway companies, including BNSF Railway, are doing well and “I see our businesses coming back almost across the board.”
Buffett told the Montana Economic Development Summit: “I am a huge bull on this country. We will not have a double-dip recession at all ... I don’t see that in our businesses. I see we’re employing more people than a month ago, two months ago.”
“It’s night and day from a year, year-and-a-half ago,” said the billionaire investor via a video connection. “I know Wells Fargo, they would love to have $50 billion more of loans now. Go in and talk to the banker.” Berkshire Hathaway is Wells Fargo's biggest shareholder.
Fairport, N.Y.-based RailComm said Monday it has been selected to provide a wireless remote control derail system at Amtrak’s Maintenance Facility in Hialeah, Fla., outside Miami.
Two customized Local Control Panels, located within the maintenance building, will provide wireless remote control to the derails. The panels include a keypad for advanced security and logging. The user is required to input a unique pass-code (PIN #) to operate the derail machines.
All control panel operations are recorded and stored on a wirelessly linked PC work station. The data entries contain the name and trade of the operator, the nature of the operation, and the date and time. The work station allows supervisors, managers, and other authorized personnel to review the operation logs and manage the system security.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in Shanghai Monday that California will seek China's help in building its estimated $44 billion high speed rail system.
So far, the federal government has pledged $2.25 billion of the funding through the high speed rail stimulus plan; state voters in 2008 approved another $9.95 billion in debt financing to launch the project. To help fill the huge remaining gap, Schwarzenegger said California would seek funding from China as well as construction bids from Chinese companies.
“We look to China to build our high speed rail, to be part of the bidding process that we are going to go through,” Schwarzenegger told a U.S. trade mission. Noting that “many countries will be bidding to build our high speed rail,” he said California would also seek Chinese funding.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in Seattle last week that federally financed Americans trains should built in the U.S. There has long been strong “Buy America” requirements for federally-aided transit equipment, and a number of foreign firms have established construction plants in the U.S. The Federal Railroad Administration’s curent requirements for HSR projects call for 100% U.S. content—in the opinion of some, an unrealistic provision.
The Federal Railroad Administration Monday said Amtrak has joined FRA’s Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS), a safety pilot project that permits rail employees to voluntarily and anonymously report “close call” incidents that could have resulted in an accident or injury but did not.
Amtrak is the fourth railroad to join the C3RS program, following Canadian Pacific, Union Pacific, and New Jersey Transit. Under the program, employees can report “close call” incidents that did not result in an accident without fear of sanction or penalty from the railroad or the federal government.
“This pilot program has the potential to transform safety and has already prevented injuries and saved lives where it’s being used,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Once evaluated, we hope to make this reporting system a permanent part of our national safety strategy involving railroads across the country.”
“Amtrak’s national reach gives us the last piece we need to make this pilot program complete,” said FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Rae.
FRA currently requires all railroads to routinely report a wide range of accidents and incidents. While “close call” events are not required to be routinely reported, they could be potentially serious. Understanding these events will help railroads and FRA take appropriate steps to ensure accidents don’t actually occur by helping develop and institute mitigation strategies, countermeasures, and best practices, FRA said.
The cumulative results of confidential close call reporting are being analyzed by the Department’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) to determine areas of potential risk and to develop solutions to prevent and minimize their occurrence in the future. Preliminary analysis by RITA of Union Pacific’s close call reporting project at its railyard in North Platte, Neb., have already shown a significant reduction in human factor-related incidents, making it first in safety in the Union Pacific system.
In order to participate, Amtrak, the United Transportation Union, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen each ratified an agreement with the FRA to allow employees to make confidential reports of close calls.
The agreement covers Amtrak employees in yards and terminals in the Northeast Corridor, and also in the Chicago, Miami, Seattle, and Los Angeles areas. Amtrak anticipates adding its mainline routes to the C3RS program in the future, thus covering the entire Amtrak national system.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is assisting FRA on this research effort using its authority to protect the confidentiality of the data, as it currently does with the airline industry and Veterans Administration Hospitals.
New Jersey Transit has suspended further work on two new Hudson River commuter rail tunnels for least 30 days at it re-examines prospects for funding the $8.7 billion project. The Federal Transit Administration, through which federal funds flow, is reportedly concerned by the prospect of cost overruns.
In a written statement, New Jersey Transit Executive Director James Weinstein said: “The governor has made it clear to me that the project must stay on time and on budget. Anything short of that is unacceptable.”
The project has not won universal applause among transportation economists. But project advocates claim that it would come close to doubling trans-Hudson commuter rail capacity.
The Ohio Rail Development Commission says it has approved a staff recommendation for the Commission to act as the public sponsor for a $750,000 dollar grant from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. The grant would leverage $250,000 in CSX funds for a project to lower the tracks beneath the Front Street bridge in Downtown Columbus, the state capital (near the Arena District).
ORDC says the project would also benefit the environment and reduce traffic congestion by taking up to 70,000 longhaul truck moves off of Ohio’s highways, resulting in substantial fuel and diesel emissions savings.
In a second major project, ORDC staff approved a $125,000 grant to help leverage funds from Norfolk Southern to build a new switch and rehabilitate a rail spur to help revive a vacant South Columbus plant and create jobs.
The switch and spur project will enable Phoenix-based International Technical Coatings to establish a manufacturing operation in the vacant Techneglas plant in South Columbus, and create an estimated 120 to 200 jobs. The Columbus site reportedly was the choice of ITC over a site in Kentucky because of the access to rail and favorable electric rates. In addition, grants are being provided through grants and tax credits from the Ohio Department of Development, the City of Columbus, and Columbus-based American Electric Power.
“Projects like these are the essence of how the ORDC works with the private sector to make significant economic development happen,” said ORDC Executive Director Matt Dietrich.
The important trend, Union Pacific Chief Financial Officer Bob Kight told a Credit Suisse conference in New York Wednesday, is “being in a position to discuss volume growth.” The rate of growth remains a question.
UP expects a peak fall season generally, but as for the seasonal peak in the flow of containers from Pacific Rim countries into the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Kight was quoted as saying, it could be “more of a bump” than a “historical, traditional peak.”
UP’s total freight volume is growing, though more slowly than in the second quarter. UP’s third-quarter volume through August was up 13% from last year. Intermodal was up 24%.
CSX Transportation said at a Dahlman Rose conference on Wednesday that it’s preparing for a peak fall season, with intermodal strengths continuing at least through the rest of this year.