The Ramsey County (Minn.) Board Tuesday unanimously approved purchasing St. Paul’s Union Depot main building for $8.2 million, to facilitate use by the planned 11-mile, $914 million Central Corridor light rail transit project and for future passenger intermodal options as well. The board serves as the Regional Rail Authority overseeing the matter.
The purchase includes the head house and the parking structure and the land that the building sits on. Thirty-nine condo units built by the current owner will remain in private hands.
Union Depot is scheduled to reopen in 2012, two years ahead of the planned debut of the Central Corridor. The depot was built from 1918 to 1923.
"Today marks the official start of the project to return the Union Depot to what it once was: a transportation hub for Ramsey County, the state of Minnesota, and the entire upper Midwest," Commissioner Jim McDonough, chair of the Regional Rail Authority, said. The site would facilitate Amtrak and/or Midwest high speed rail service, Greyhouse and Jefferson Lines buses, Metro Transit, and bicycle transit options under current plans.
State officials and rail advocates in Iowa and Illinois have been lobbying for new Amtrak routes to add to the national rail passenger carrier’s Chicago hub. Now a similar effort in the Midwest, spearheaded by Appleton, Wis., representatives, seeks to restore passenger rail service to the state’s Fox Valley, connecting Green Bay, Wis., with Chicago.
"We could transport people from here and get them connected to Chicago, one of the biggest economic engines in the country and the world. That's an incredibly powerful thing to have," said PaulLinzmeyer, president of the advocacy group NEWRails and a founder of New North, an economic development consortium of 18 northeastern Wisconsin counties.
Fox Valley last was served by passenger service Apr. 30, 1971; Amtrak’s launch the next day terminated all offerings to the region. Advocates say Amtrak could run on existing Canadian National right-of-way,stopping at Appleton, Neenah, Menasha, Oshkosh, and Fond du Lac, terminating or originating in Green Bay.
Perhaps stating what many in the passenger railroad business would consider obvious, Canada’s Department of Finance has labeled VIA Rail as "not self-sustaining," grouping VIA Rail with eight other entities that could be sold as part of the government's asset review.
Ottawa last November said it would conduct a review of Crown assets, and government documents publicized since then suggest the government would consider privatizing VIA Rail and at least eight corporations requiring federal financial assistance. The move is part of a government effort to rein in Canada’s deficit, expected to surpass C$50 billion (US$46 billion) this year. Asset sales are projected to raise as much as C$4 billion (US$3.7 billion).
Under the Financial Administration Act, Parliament would have to approve the privatization of any Crown corporation, and such passage is not assured, observers said.
A Finance Department spokeswoman said the asset review won't necessarily lead to sales in all cases.
Amid fallen giant General Motors Corp.’s larger troubles,the beleaguered U.S. auto manufacturer owes CSX Corp. $8.9 million for automotive shipments. CSX hopes to receive some reimbursement despite GM’s declaration of bankruptcy June 1.
"We've had informal discussions about that they would assume our contract and wouldn't be able to get out of bankruptcy until they made good," CSX spokesman Garrick Francis said. Francis said CSX has carrier liens on all the goods that are in transit so it won't lose money on those carloads.
CSX’s involvement and exposure is relatively small, given that Detroit-based GM owes creditors roughly $172 billion.
RailComm says its wireless remote control derail system at Hammond, Ind.-based Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad’s RIP track facility is fully functional. A customized Local Control Panel, located within the shop, provides wireless remote control to the derails. The panel includes a keypad for advanced security and logging.
The user is required to input a unique passcode (PIN #) to operate the derail machines. All control panel operations are recorded and stored on a wirelessly linked PC workstation.
The data entries contain the name and trade of the operator, the nature of the operation, and the date and time. Fairport, N.Y.-based RailComm says the workstation allows supervisors, managers, and other authorized personnel to review the operation logs and manage the system security.
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), prime sponsor of Senate bill S. 146, the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2009, said Monday he was canceling a Senate vote on the bill, originally scheduled for June 2. S. 146 seeks to remove the rail industry’s limited antitrust exemptions, and also would remove the Surface Transportation Board’s exclusive jurisdiction over the rail industry.
Kohl said he has reached agreement with others, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, to possibly include some limited portions of S. 146 into a bill that the Senate Commerce Committee plans to introduce in the near future that would reauthorize the STB.
In a “Dear Colleague” letter Monday signed by both Kohl and Rockefeller, the senators said “we have jointly decided to ask Senator [Harry] Reid (D-Nev.) to withdraw the pending cloture petition on S. 146, the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act. We share the common goals of addressing the longstanding concerns of rail shippers and making the rail industry more competitive.
“The Commerce and Judiciary Committees intend to work together on comprehensive rail competition legislation,” the letter continued. “We hope to shortly have a bipartisan package that reforms the Surface Transportation Board and repeals the railroads’ antitrust exemption available for the consideration by the full Senate. We are working on harmonizing our two efforts to produce a robust reform package.”
Late last week, Rockefeller and three other Commerce Committee members—Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and John Thune (R-S.D.)—circulated a letter asking other senators to oppose a procedural motion that must pass before the Senate can take a final vote on the bill’s passage. The move was backed by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.
Railroad stocks handily outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial average in a Wall Street rally that followed the release of unexpectedly strong economic indicators. Reuters said the new data "bolstered optimism that the worst of the global recession was past."
In early afternoon trading, the Dow was up 2.55%, with railroads showing the following gains: CSX, 7.02%; Union Pacific, 6.60%. Norfolk Southern, 6.53%; Burlington Northern Santa Fe, 5.95%; Canadian Pacific, 4.23%; Kansas City Southern, 3.2%; and Canadian National, 2.72%.
One welcome sign was the Commerce Department's report on Monday that U.S. construction posed an unexpected 0.9% gain in Ariel--the second month in a row that builders around the country increased spending. Economists had expected a 1.2% drop in April.
More good news came from the Institute for Supply Management, which said its May index of manufacturing was 42.8, its highest level since last September. Thomson Reuters analysts had anticipated a May index of 42.
Meanwhile, railroad traffic, while still registering double-digit losses, appears to have slowed its rate of decrease. U.S. carload traffic for the week ended May 23 was 21.5% below the corresponding week in 2008, but 4.9% ahead of the previous week.
OMERS Private Equity of Toronto, Ontario, has acquired Nordco, Inc. from The Riverside Co, Nordo announced Monday. Terms and amount of the sale were not disclosed, though a Riverside Co. spokesman allowed that the deal was “extraordinary,” and “a wonderful return for our investors.”
Oak Creek, Wis.-based Nordco Inc. has about 330 employees in several subsidiaries, including: Dapco Industries , Ridgefield, Conn.; Nordco Rail Services of Lee’s Summit, Mo.; Shuttlewagon of Grandview, Mo., and J.E.R. Overhaul of Arcola, Ill. Nordco manufacturing facilities are located in Oak Creek and in Oshawa, Ontario.
The Riverside Co. purchased Nordco as part of a management-backed buyout in 2003. The firm moved Nordco into a larger facility, launched a rebuild and repair division, and added the other companies during its parental tenure.
With 693 large and small U. S. railroads reporting, the first quarter of 2009 saw double- and triple-digit improvements in safety, according to statistics posted on the Federal Railroad Administration's website May 29.
Train accidents were down 30.6% to 450 from the 648 reported in the January-March period last year. Collisions declined 2% to 39, and derailments were off 32.5% to 318.
Track causes were cited in 137 train accidents, down 38% from last year; human factors for 149, a decline of 33.2%; and signal causes for 13, down 7.1%. Miscellaneous causes were blamed for 74 accidents, down 28.2%.
Total fatalities, mostly caused by grade crossing accidents and trespassing, declined 1.3% to 350. Crossing fatalities were down 2% to 49, and trespassing deaths were up 3.3% to 94. There were seven employee fatalities compared with six last year.
Accidents rates, which take into consideration the exposure factor (total traffic), were also down in significant categories: The train accident rate declined 19.9%; the yard accident rate dropped 20.5%; and the total accident/incident rate was down 9.98%.