As a lifelong railroader, I’m especially pleased to join Operation Lifesaver Inc. (OLI) and others across the nation in observing Rail Safety Week (RSW). In addition to Canada, this year we also welcome our colleagues in Mexico in helping all of us in North America to raise the profile of rail safety awareness.
THE FINANCIAL EDGE, RAILWAY AGE SEPTEMBER 2020 ISSUE: The rail industry continues to twist as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. To say that the length of the pandemic either has or will exceed most people’s initial expectations would be an understatement. So as the market continues to scuffle along, “Financial Edge” tried to look for some “green shoots” to provide some sense that there will be a return to normalcy sometime in the future.
I don’t often feel the need to defend our industry’s regulator, the Federal Railroad Administration. Part of that is me. Like many who have stumbled into a career in this industry (and I literally stumbled my way into railroad employment, half-blinded and three-quarters frozen by a blizzard in Chicago), I’ve always had a problem with authority. Not that I begrudge anyone his or her authority, title, rate of pay—any of that stuff. I just don’t like other people telling me what to do, and I positively hate it when others think they need to tell me what to do.
Time is running out for daily operation of Amtrak’s long-distance trains. It could also be running out for the very concept that a train could provide reliable transportation between far-flung communities every day, with same-day connections to other trains, at least in this country. With various exceptions, this has been the basis of Amtrak’s long-distance train network for the first 49 years and five months of its corporate existence, as well as for nearly 140 years before Amtrak began operations in 1971.
For almost half a century, passenger rail service in the United States has resided in the public sector. Despite its unusual statutory charter, Amtrak’s voting shares belong to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Every transit agency that runs trains in its metropolitan area is owned by some sort of public entity, whether based in state or local government, or a separate public-sector authority. Times are changing, though, and certain private-sector entities have expressed interest in running passenger railroads.
There are always two sides to every story. I don’t have the financial resources to hire an army of public relations people to ghost write columns like New York MTA Chairman Pat Foye has and send them to every media outlet in town. Nevertheless, here’s my take on an alarmist op-ed that recently appeared in the New York Times, re-printed by Railway Age.
When trying to comprehend what’s going on in complex markets, it’s best to consider multiple expert opinions. It is also prudent to consider different ways to sort the data sets available and then display them against other matched datasets. The more views, the better the comprehension. In the digital age, there are a lot more sources.
For one reason or another, European railroads have never universally adopted semi-automatic knuckle couplers, a technology that revolutionized operations and improved safety on North America railroads generations ago. We take them for granted. But if you think about it, our system is still labor-intensive, as air brake hoses must be manually connected, and uncoupling is lever-activated, manually. Now it seems as though our European counterparts may leapfrog us, with a technology called DAC, for “Digital Automatic Coupling.”
In a desperately irrational move at the end of its term in the winter of 2019, Alberta’s former NDP (New Democratic Party) government tried to defy Economics 101 by dramatically increasing crude-by-rail capacity in order to raise prices. Nobody outside former Premier Rachel Notley’s statist brain trust thought that was a good idea. Especially not the railways: CN and Canadian Pacific both insisted that the government commit to paying the $C3.7 billion contract price, whether or not the trains were needed. In the event, “or not” turned out to be a very wise condition for the railways.
“New York City cannot recover without a robust transit system, and the country cannot rebound without New York,” New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye and Transport Workers Union International President John Samuelsen wrote in a Sept. 1 op-ed published in the New York Times on what they say is “the MTA’s dire fiscal crisis.” The MTA released the op-ed to media outlets. We reproduce it here.