The Federal Railroad Administration has refused to issue an emergency order banning the use of one-person crews in conventional and remote control yard switching operations, but it pledged to monitor them "very closely." The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers-Teamsters and the United Transportation Union filed a petition in June seeking the prohibition.
“Because of the advances in technology, we are seeing significant changes in operations–many that never existed before. FRA will continue to look very closely at these changes," the agency said ina letter to the two unions.
FRA said it has"no factual evidence" to support a ban on one-person crew operations. "Switchmen, trainmen, and RCOs routinely perform tasks alone, even when on a two-person or three-person crew," noted the agency.
FRA acknowledged that "since these particular one-person operations are new, we have no prior data with which to compare conventional operations and have little prior experience with these operations. Accordingly, we intend to monitor these operations very closely. While there may be operations where a one-person crew can function safely, there may be other operations that are unsuitable for such operations."
"As technology advances," said the letter, “FRA is also aware that the transfer of certain additional tasks and responsibilities to a single individual may result in 'information overload' and/or diminished 'situational awareness.' We believe these conditions should be considered when changing work assignments or adding new technology. Inthis vein, FRA recommends that safety impact studies be conducted prior to implementing such changes.
"FRA understands that fatigue may play a role in human-factor caused accidents. As the duty tour unfolds, employees tire and may become less coherent. As a consequence, FRA has encouraged the development of fatigue mitigation programs."
UTU International President Mike Futhey said the fight against one-person crews “will remain the UTU's top priority–before the FRA and before Congress. We know, and the BLET agrees, having stated jointly with us in the petition for the emergency order, that no conditions exist where one-person operations are safe.”
Canadian Pacific is readying a pilot test of Positive Train Control on its right-of-way linking Calgary and Red Deer, in Alberta, next year to test its efficiency in reducing human error as a potential cause of accidents. CP is preparing to comply with a mandate passedby the U.S. Congress in late 2008 requiring PTC across most of the U.S. rail freight network, prompted by the collision of a freight train and passenger train in Chatsworth, Calif., on Sept, 12, 2008, which killed 25.
"Human factor causes for accidents is a very small number, industry-wide," said Chris Carroll, CP director of operations, positive train control. "But they are also the accidents that can have grave consequences ... We are doing a pilot project of the technology thatwill be used in the U.S.” CP’s U.S. subsidiaries include Soo Line Railroad and the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad.
CP recently completed a GPS survey of the Calgary to Red Deer track last week. "We will develop a database over the nextmonth," said Carroll. "We are spending quite some time in the lab. We will put this technology into work next summer and test trains."
Dallas Area Rapid Transit's continued, aggressive expansion of light rail transit has been recognized as one of the year's Top 100 Global Infrastructure Projects, compiled by the Washington, D.C., consulting firm CG/LA Infrastructure LLC.
Projects included on the 2009 list were chosen for their vision and the competitive boost they add to the communities they serve. DART's activities were cited by the firm for its commitment to continued growth in the face of economic recession, marked in 2009 by the opening of the first sectionof the Green Line during September. DART says it is on schedule to nearly double its light rail network to 90 miles by 2013.
According to Norman F. Anderson, president and CEO of CG/LAInfrastructure, "The aim of the Global Forum is to fix a spotlight on the most important infrastructure projects in the world--and to give the men andwomen who lead those projects an opportunity to build long-term assets criticalto their country's future, at world-class levels of quality and velocity."
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey announced that PATH ridership declined 4% during the first nine months of 2009. Ridership went from 56.4 million in January-September 2008 to 54.1 million during the same period in 2009.
At the Port Authority’s six vehicular bistate crossings, traffic dropped 2.1%. Truck traffic declined by 10.45%, costing the Port Authority about $20 million in tolls.
At the Port Authority's major airports, traffic is down 6.4%.
Cost-cutting measures taken by the agency include a zero-growth operating budget, no staff increases, and "prioritization of long-term capital programs in the context of the new economic and fiscal realities."
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released a study Thursday showing an improvement of around 22% between 1990 and 2006 in freight rail fuel efficiency.
“While all types of transportation are vital to the distribution of goods across the country, this study shows that utilizing America’s freight rail system can lead to significant fuel savings,” said FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo (pictured at left). “The environmental benefits of these positive changes over the last two decades are enormous. We look forward to working with the freight rail industry to make sure these gains continue.”
As reasons for the increase in fuel efficiency, Szabo cited improvement in diesel-electric locomotives, increased use of double stack trains, track and signal improvements, and longer trains.
The Association of American Railroads Friday commended FRA for its report. "Railroads are continuously improving fuel efficiency--through new technologies, locomotive improvements, enhanced employee training, and other initiatives," said AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. "The environmental benefits of freight rail--such as our ability to take trucks off the road and lower greenhouse gas emissions--are made possible by our fuel efficiency."
Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. said in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission Thursday that it has arranged an $8 billion loan to help pay for its acquisition of BNSF Railway. Berkshire is paying $26.3 billion, or $100 per share, for the 73% of BNSF that it does not already own. It signed the financing deal with JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo on Wednesday.
Buffett has announced that Berkshire to borrow half of the $16 billion cash needed for the transaction. The loan is to be repaid over a three-year period.
The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority's new chairman, Jay Walder, warned at an MTA board meeting Wednesday that the agency's worsening fiscal crisis "demands that we permanently overhaul the way the MTA does business."
"The bottom line is that there is no more money for us in Albany, and we will learn to do more with the funding we have," he said.
New fare increases and work force reductions are coming, he said—it's only a question of size and timing.
MTA operates one of the world's biggest urban/suburban passenger rail systems; each day its trains move more than four million riders on New York City subways and hundreds of thousand more on the Long Island and Metro-North railroads.
Although MTA is a state agency and its chairman is appointed by the governor, the state legislature earlier this year balked at committing substantial long-term help.
At Wednesday's board meeting, which was Webcast, it was indicated that fares will rise by 7.5% in 2011 and 2013 and possibly earlier to help narrow rising budget gaps. Chief Financial Officer Gary Dellaverson said MTA would nave have to tap $150 million of reserves because the recession has caused revenue from an urban real-estate tax to fall far more steeply than anticipated.
Despite a sizeable fare increase and service cuts imposed earlier this year, MTA's farebox recovery ratios remain too low for comfort, especially in view of the vast new debt MTA is assuming as it presses ahead with such multibillion-dollar projects as the Second Avenue Subway on Manhattan's East Side, and also LIRR East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal.
MTA last week released figures showing that in this year's first eight months, subway riders paid only 34.4% of the total cost of their rides (including debt as well as operating expenses); Metro-Morth riders paid 39.2%; and LIRR riders, 28.9%.
The Association of American Railroads Thursday reported a "slight improvement" in both carload and intermodal traffic on U.S. Class I railroads for the week ended Nov. 14. Rail carloads were up 2.3% from the previous week, and intermodal wasup 0.6%.
Compared with a year ago, however, traffic was still down. U.S. railroads reported originating 281,218 carloads for the week, down 8.9% from the corresponding week in 2008 and down 17% from the same week in 2007. Intermodal traffic totaled 208,056 trailers and containers, down 7.7% from a year ago and down 15% from 2007.
While 13 of the 19 carload commodity groups were down from last year, there were increases in nonmetallic minerals (19%), grain (16.1%), chemicals (8.5%), waste and scrapmetal (6.6%), food and kindred products (3.6%), and grain mill products (1.7 %). Declines ranged from 0.1% for motor vehicles and equipment to 51.7% for metallic ores.
Total volume on U.S. railroads for the week ending Nov. 14 was estimated at 31.6 billion ton-miles, down 7.9% from last year and down 11.2% from 2007.
Canadian railroads reported volume of 71,802 cars for the week, up 0.9% from last year, and 41,443 intermodal units, down 10.9%. Mexican railroads reported originated volume of 12,721 cars, up 1.3% from last year, and 6,775 trailers or containers, down 2.8%.
Combined North American rail volume for the first 45 weeks of 2009 on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian, and Mexican railroads totaled 15,357,248 carloads, down 17.9% from last year, and 10,681,718 trailers and containers, down 15.9%.
French National Railways (SNCF) said Wednesday it is in exclusive negotiations with Bombardier Transportation to acquire a significant order of up to 860 BiLevel high speed rail cars, worth up to $11.98 billion.
SNCF hopes to reach agreement by next February, and would expect the first cars to enter service in 2013. An initial order of 135 cars would be worth roughly $2 billion.
Bombardier Transportation spokesman Talal Zouaui said, “We put together and proposed an offer that is very competitive.”
Bombardier’s chief competition is Levallois-Perret, France-based Alstom SA, which landed a separate $2.4 billion contract from SNCF last month.
The new cars would replace aging rolling stock in several regions, including Aquitaine, Brittany, and Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur.
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and 12 local labor unions have signed an agreement that will pay union workers prevailing wages to build Honolulu's $5.4 billion Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor project (HHCTC), while guaranteeing that those workers would not delay construction through a strike.
Among those signing the HHCTC agreement were unions representing carpenters, heavy equipment operators, iron workers, and roofers.
Hannemann said the deal also ensures that local workers would be employed on the planned 20-mile line. Construction is set to begin in 2010, with completion targeted by 2019.
But opposition to the project remains, and not just from more predictable sources such as anti-rail activists and/or NIMBYs. One faction of opponents to the current plan object to the decision to construct the line as (largely) an elevated rapid rail line, using automated technology.
That faction is preparing to file a lawsuit in federal court alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in the preparation of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The lawsuit would be served as soon as the Federal Transit Administration releases its Final EIS (FEIS) and issues a Record of Decision approving the project. The FEIS is not expected until early 2010.
Honolulu City Council members Duke Bainum and Charles Djou are among those questioning the specific choice of rail mode, noting other options, such as light rail, were dismissed prematurely. “When we voted on the Locally Preferred Alternative, at-grade or elevated wasn’t the question,” Djou said. “It was, Should we do a fixed-guideway system, and the answer there, of course, was, ‘Yes, we should.’”