Thursday, April 02, 2009

Matt Rose to Congress: “Develop a realistic vision”

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BNSF Chairman, President, and CEO Matthew K. Rose may be a Class I executive, but he is taking a leadership role in passenger rail development, particularly with how it affects the freight/passenger rail interface. Rose is one of the principals behind the new OneRail coalition, which, placing an emphasis on unity, seeks to advance the interests of the entire rail industry—freight, passenger, and suppliers—as well as those of environmentalists. He also served on the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission.

matt-rose-web.jpgRose testified on April 1 before the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development during a hearing titled The Future of High Speed Rail, Intercity Passenger Rail, and Amtrak. Following are excerpts from his testimony:

“I . . . have traveled to Europe and Asia and appreciate the perspective of those in the United States who ask why Americans can’t have what they have—200 mph corridor service connecting dense population centers which, themselves, have efficient regional transit distribution. . . . [W]hile many passenger rail advocates and policy makers at all levels of government are intercity passenger rail advocates, they are somewhat skeptical of this vision. Their appetite is for a more incremental approach of improving existing intercity passenger rail service. Perhaps conditioned by years of scant Amtrak budgets and Congress’s disinterest in a formal federal intercity passenger rail program, many also are concerned that some large metropolitan areas might not be included in a ‘bullet train’ network, either due to unavailability of right-of-way or other market-based demand reasons.”

“[Dedicated high speed rail] is a trillion-dollar funding proposition. Such a system may be beyond our current means; but one certainly can envision the development of five to ten truly high speed passenger regional rail corridors that make economic and operational sense.”

“Public investments made to enhance reliability of [Amtrak] service can yield tremendous on-time performance reliability benefits, which is often all that is needed to successfully satisfy demand for passenger service in certain markets. There are many examples of this, but most recently, BNSF completed several double track construction projects on behalf of the State of California, which are intended to further improve already good on-time performance levels for 79 mph service.”

“Speaking as a freight railroad CEO, it is possible to increase speeds from 79 mph to 90 mph on tracks that both freight and passenger trains use. Upgrades would include the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC). . . . Track would need to be upgraded from Class IV to Class V track, which would lead to [an] increase in track maintenance and track component replacement. For example, a larger number of ties per mile would have to be replaced each year. Rail joints would have to be eliminated. Extensive and regular undercutting would have to be undertaken to eliminate sub-grade defects. Rail would have to be re-surfaced much more often. All of this, in turn, would lead to more frequent outages for needed work, which will make joint freight/passenger operations more challenging and expensive.”

“At sustained speeds in excess of 90 mph, passenger train operations will need to be segregated from freight operations on separate track. The level of maintenance work required, the very different impacts passenger and freight rolling stock have on the surface of the rail and managing the flow of train traffic with such differences in speeds would make the joint use of track uneconomic and impracticable. [A]t these speeds, all interface between passenger trains and road crossings will need to be eliminated by grade separations or crossing closures. While it may be possible in some instances to co-locate higher speed passenger tracks with freight tracks in a freight railroad’s existing right-of-way, that won’t always be the case. . . .”

“The unprecedented cost [of PTC]—which we estimate could be in excess of $1 billion when fully implemented on BNSF in 2015—is driven by factors mostly outside of our control, such as the presence of passenger trains and our statutory common carriage obligation to haul toxic chemicals. The cost will have to be fairly allocated between BNSF, its shippers, and the public.”

Rose concluded his remarks by saying that Congress should “observe the principles for passenger/freight joint use of rail right-of-way that the Commission recognized, and be realistic about the kind of passenger service that can be achieved, given the limitations of joint use. Generally, those limitations are based on nothing less than the laws of physics and the consequences that flow from them. Develop a realistic vision for passenger service that works for all stakeholders—including freight railroads and the nation’s shippers—and fully fund it.”

For the full text of Matt Rose’s testimony, CLICK HERE. Rose will be the keynote speaker at Railway Age’s 16th Annual Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads Conference in Washington, D.C., Oct. 19-20.