American Railroads

News each weekday of American railroads. Our focus is on freight rail, but Amtrak and commuter rail are also essential ingredients. Nothing published on holidays.

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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

Published in Trains magazine, Railfan & Railroad, Passenger Train Journal

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Commuter rail to be restudied

A commuter rail project from San Diego to Riverside County rejected 15 years ago is getting another look from Riverside. The proposed plan would bring the rail line from Corona, down the I-15 corridor to Temecula and all the way to downtown San Diego.

That plan was rejected by former San Diego Metropolitan Transit District Board Chairman James Mills about 15 years ago, recalled the San Diego Daily Transcript yesterday.

Mills had successfully argued that it simply wasn’t cost effective to bring commuter rail down the I-15 to San Diego. Instead, he favored an express bus rapid transit system much like the one that expected to ply the I-15 corridor not long after the turn of the decade.

“Senator Mills (he was also a state senator) may well have been right at the time, but I don’t know if anyone could have envisioned the explosive growth in population we have seen in places like Temecula and Murrieta and the unincorporated areas around them,” said John Standiford, Riverside County Transportation Commission spokesman.

He added, “I don’t think anyone envisioned $3 gasoline either.”

Standiford said while there are plenty of concerns, there was sufficient interest that it unanimously voted late June to commission a $100,000 study independently of the San Diego Assn. of Governments (SANDAG).

The commuter rail would serve as an extension of the Southern California Metrolink system.

“We’ve had a lot of success with Metrolink in Orange County and L.A. County, and the I-15 corridor is one of the fastest-growing areas in Southern California,” he added.

The study is to be conducted by Wilbur Smith Associates, a global consulting, planning and engineering firm, which also completed studies for the Riverside County Transportation Commission on other Metrolink projects within Riverside County.

Wilbur Smith also has been involved in feasibility studies for the high-speed rail system that could bring trains from Sacramento to San Diego at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour.

Joe Kellejian, chairman of the SANDAG Transportation Committee and president of the San Diego division of the League of California Cities, said about 30,000 people come into San Diego County each day from Riverside County, and he likes the rail concept – he just doesn’t know if it is feasible.

Kellejian knows something about using the rails here. Each day he takes the Coaster down from Solana Beach to Old Town, where he picks up his car to drive to his auto parts business in Chula Vista. He may even have been able to take the trolley to the South Bay if he didn’t need his car during the day.

A major problem with the I-15 corridor is the competition for operating space.

High-speed rail in California has been on the front and back burners for some time. It is important because the preferred alignment takes the train down the I-15 corridor. Kellejian said this project could make the commuter rail redundant. The high-speed rail system also could effectively use up what little space there is left in the I-15 right-of-way.

“We’ve already used up the space on either side for the Managed Lane System,” Kellejian said.

Kellejian said the system would probably have to be elevated.

Standiford suggested that a commuter rail system could be built more quickly.

“I don’t know. Something like The Sprinter (which will start service between Escondido and Oceanside next year) might be easier to do than high-speed rail,” Standiford said.

In June, the California legislature delayed a bond measure to begin a proposed high-speed rail system. The $9.95 billion state bond measure for the project was scheduled to go before California voters in November 2006; however, a bill was passed that will delay that vote until 2008.

If the high-speed rail plan dies at the polls, Kellejian said there are other problems that could kill the commuter rail – not the least of which is the steep grade between Temecula and Fallbrook.

“I understand that a 3 percent grade is about the maximum these trains can handle, and while I don’t know what the grade there is, I know it’s a whole lot more than that,” Kellejian said.

Music City Star readies

Middle Tennessee’s first commuter rail service is just a little over two weeks away from starting. Monthly passes for the Music City Star went on sale in Mount Juliet this week, reports WTVF-TV Nashville.

Trains will be stopping in Nashville at Riverfront Park, but this week crews are still making practice runs.

Officials are “cautiously optimistic” about usage on what is the eastern point of the Music City Star which runs between here and Lebanon.

It’s really too early to tell what ticket sales will be like, but an official said they can make it work if they can get 1,350 riders per day.

Most boarding passes go on sale next week, but Mount Juliet started early.

One way passes costing $5 each will be available in machines, and monthly passes will be sold for $75

Regular service on the Music City Star is scheduled to start September 18, but not everybody is happy about it.

Lorraine Jacquemin rents a home on East Division Street in Mount Juliet.

Her only access to the road is over the tracks, and she worried that the tracks may be blocked by a gate.

“It’s right here. I mean obviously you’re not going to cross the railroad tracks. You can hear that train,” Jacquemin said.

The train reaches speeds of 60 mph, so safety is also a concern.

Music City Star officials said they’re installing stop signs, but private land owners may take other measures to make sure the crossing is safe.

Music City Star representatives have scheduled a meeting next week with private land owners in Mount Juliet to talk more about safety and railroad crossings on private land.

New Rail Lines for Genesee & Wyoming

Genesee & Wyoming, Inc., which owns short line and regional freight railroads scattered across the U.S., said Wednesday it bought rail lines in Virginia, Georgia and Alabama in two separate deals.

The railroad operator said it exercised an option to buy 12.5 miles of previously leased rail lines through Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Suffolk, Va., from Norfolk Southern Corp., The AP reported.

GWI subsidiary Commonwealth Ry. will own and operate the line, and will serve a new Portsmouth container terminal under construction by a subsidiary of global shipping company Moller-Maersk Group.

GWI said it started $14 million in capital improvements to meet demands of its new customer.

The company also said its newly formed subsidiary, Chattahoochee Bay Railroad, Inc., acquired about 29 miles of rail lines from the Chattahoochee & Gulf Railroad Co., Inc. and the H&S Railroad Co. Inc., running between Hilton, Ga., and Dothan, Ala., for $6 million in cash. GWI expects the new railroad to move more than 5,500 carloads per year.

NAFTA surface trade jumps

Surface trade between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico rose 12.6 percent in June compared to the same month in 2005, the USDOT reported this week. Surface trade, which makes up about 90 percent of shipments between the three countries, mainly includes freight movement by rail, truck, or pipeline.

Rails continued to improve in North America. Rail imports rose 22.4 percent, while exports gained 12.9 percent to $2.8 billion, Today’s Trucking reported on Thursday.

U.S. imports by truck rose 10 percent from last year $24.4 billion, while truck exports to the U.S.’s NAFTA partners rose 14.2 percent to $23.3 billion.

Total trade between Canada and the U.S. jumped 9.7 percent, while there was an 18.1 percent gain in U.S.-Mexico trade.

Voters to decide freight yard future

Gardner, Kans. voters will decide whether the city should annex BNSF Ry.’s proposed freight yard, after the Gardner City Council voted Monday to put the issue on the November 7 ballot.

BNSF wants to build a $200 million intermodal shipment center on up to 1,000 acres southwest of Gardner, close to the Gardner Municipal Airport, reports The AP.

Under the plan, trains coming from Pacific ports would be unloaded at the site, with the goods trucked to other destinations or stored there. The intermodal facility itself would occupy about 300 acres, with the other property used for distribution sites, BNSF has said.

BNSF officials said they plan to proceed with the project regardless of the outcome of the vote. The railroad already has spent millions of dollars to buy several hundred acres.

Supporters say annexing the site would give Gardner millions of dollars in tax revenue and control over development in the area. Opponents have said the proposal would bring heavy truck traffic, pollution and crime to the area.


Intermodal sets weekly record

Intermodal volume on U.S. railroads set a weekly record during the week ended August 26, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported yesterday.

Intermodal volume of 253,981 trailers or containers was up 7.1 percent from the comparable week last year, and broke the previous weekly record of 250,966 set during the week ended July 31. Container volume was up 10.6 percent while trailer volume was off 3.5 percent.

Carload freight totaled 341,285 cars, up 0.7 percent from last year, with loadings up 3.9 percent in the West but off 3.0 percent in the East.

Total volume was estimated at 34.3 billion ton-miles, up 1.8 percent from 2005.

Among individual carload commodities, coal loadings were up 6.0 percent from last year while metals were up 14.4 percent and metallic ores gained 11.5 percent. On the downside, coke was down 18.3 percent; primary forest products were off 17.8 percent; and motor vehicles and equipment declined 12.6 percent. Overall, 11 of 19 commodity groups were down from a year ago.

Cumulative volume for the first 34 weeks of 2006 totaled 11,437,619 carloads, up 1.5 percent from 2005; 7,962,404 trailers or containers, up 6.4 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.13 trillion ton-miles, up 2.7 percent from last year.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended August 26 carload traffic totaled 75,163 cars, down 3.2 percent from last year while intermodal volume of 47,785 trailers or containers was up 5.2 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 34 weeks of 2006 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,526,611 carloads, down 1.4 percent from last year, and 1,526,034 trailers and containers, up 6.0 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 34 weeks of 2006 on 13 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 13,964,230 carloads, up 0.9 percent from last year and 9,488,438 trailers and containers, up 6.3 percent from last year.

The AAR also said that during the week ended August 26 Mexican railroad Kansas City Southern de Mexico (KCSM) reported total carload volume of 11,516 cars, up 3.1 percent from last year. KCSM reported total intermodal volume of 4,244 trailers or containers, down 1.6 percent from the 34th week of 2005.

For the first 34 weeks of 2006, KCSM reported total cumulative volume of 383,216 cars, down 4.8 percent from last year, and 132,828 trailers or containers, down 5.6 percent.

Railroads reporting to AAR account for 87 percent of U.S. carload freight and 96 percent of rail intermodal volume. When the U.S. operations of Canadian railroads are included, the figures increase to 96 percent and 100 percent. The Canadian railroads reporting to the AAR account for 91 percent of Canadian rail traffic. Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, and rail traffic figures are regarded as an important economic indicator.

The AAR is online at http://www.aar.org.


Opinion

Are there debts to pay?

By Evan Stair

Will Alexander Kummant run ruckshot over Amtrak at the direction of the all-Bush-administration-appointed Amtrak Board of Directors?

Does Kummant have debts to pay?

It is guilt by association at this point. His railroad background comes from that of an anti-Amtrak freight railroad, the Union Pacific (UP). This of course also ties him with the Anti-Amtrak Bush administration through Vice-President Dick Cheney, who was also a UP board member. His former corporate associates are responsible for the continued starvation and abuse of the nation’s last intercity passenger rail carrier.

The UP is responsible for massive delays of Amtrak trains making them as unreliable as the weather. The reason for these delays are numerous.

The mega-merger of Class I freight carriers through the 1970s-1990s, and resulting abandonment of thousands of miles of parallel rail routes left no capacity for upswings presently being experienced in the freight rail industry due to global trade.

The increased frequency of these mergers was made possible through the Staggers Act passed in the early 1980s. This act deregulated the freight rail industry and opened the door for what might be considered anti-trust violating mega-mergers, as blindly approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and the tepid Surface Transportation Board (STB) that replaced some ICC responsibilities.

The most damaging rail merger of recent memory was that of the UP and the Southern Pacific (SP) and resulting capacity meltdown as the two freight giants attempted to combine operations into a western duopoly with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

This meltdown made national news for weeks. Dispatching also seems suspect through recent delays as evidenced by delays to Amtrak’s Coast Starlight.

BNSF, considered Amtrak friendly, has recently shown some capacity strain (or dispatching abuse of Amtrak operations) on the rails supporting Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer (operating between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City), but that is another story.

Prior to the merger, UP had assimilated the Chicago & North Western, the Missouri Pacific, and the Missouri Kansas & Texas railroads.

The SP had assimilated the Denver & Rio Grande Western.

The all powerful UP fought Amtrak’s mail and express enterprise that arguably might have kept the railroad solvent, claiming that it was not covered under Amtrak’s initial charter and constituted freight.

Former Amtrak CEO David Gunn, a former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad executive who watched as the mail and express contracts expired without renewal in 1967, abandoned that business, possibly due to pressure from outside forces.

Strangely, it is also time sensitive “freight” that many railroads refuse today. Mail and express kept pre-Amtrak routes solvent before the 1967 expiration of U.S. Postal Service contracts.

Are there debts to pay?

It is time to get out your pens and paper. Write Mr. Kummant and request that he address the massive Amtrak delays for Amtrak trains on Class I freight railroads using his internal contacts. A massive congratulatory response will serve as a reminder that he does have customers who are watching his actions.

Amtrak CEO Alexander Kummant

National Railroad Passenger Corp.

60 Massachusetts Ave., NE

Washington, DC 20002

Evan Stair is the editor of The Flyer, the Passenger Rail Newsletter of Oklahoma (http://passengerrailok.org.) PassengerRailOk.org is a grass roots organization dedicated to the preservation and expansion of Amtrak in Oklahoma and the surrounding region.

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