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 24, 2006

Friday, August 25, 2006

SEPTA engineers ratify contract

Locomotive engineers working on the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority’s (SEPTA) regional rail line ratified a new, five-year collective bargaining agreement on Wednesday.

“This contract provides SEPTA engineers with annual wage increases of 3 percent,” said Richard Dixon, General Chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET).

“In addition to wage increases, we won a significant change in the pay awarded to engineers for the their federally required certification. Instead of a $4 a day flat fee, they will now receive 50 cents per hour increase for the certification.”

Locomotive engineers on SEPTA also won a reduction in the amount they pay for health care coverage. They will now pay just 1 percent of 40 hours of their wages per week for health care coverage effective August of 2008. Until then, they will pay nothing towards health care coverage.

“Locomotive engineers on SEPTA’s regional transit system work very long hours, usually an average of 62 hours per week,” Dixon said.

“We’ve been working on getting a new contract since August 2005 and our members deserve all of the improvements in this contract.”

SEPTA has nearly 200 engineers.


Station owner now says

he wants Amtrak to stay

The co-owner of the New London’s Union Station now says he’s hoping to work with the state on a public-private partnership to improve conditions at the area’s main transportation hub, the train and bus station.

Union Station co-owner Todd O’Donnell said Wednesday he has no plans to evict or Amtrak or Greyhound, his two paying tenants, but wants concerns about his unusual situation as a private owner of a train station addressed.

On Monday he said he would serve eviction notices following Labor Day.

“This station has been in operation for over 120 years. Hopefully it will stay as a train station,” O’Donnell said, but he continued, “We cannot continue to provide public services at private expense.”

O’Donnell said he has been working with the state and local officials on a resolution to some issues, such as paying $40,000 a year to maintain public bathrooms. The station bustles with activity from train, bus and taxi services.

“Hopefully we can identify to (the state) the issues we face and work together...” O’Donnell said. “Some of the expenses need to be addressed.”

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said his company is hopeful it can remain in the landmark building. Amtrak serves about 150,000 passengers annually in New London and has been at the location since they started service in 1971.

“We have no intention of ceasing service to the city, even if means we have to leave (as tenants). If it comes to the point we have to leave, we will seek an alternative,” Black said.

Black said Amtrak owns property adjacent to the station.

Financial firm says rails improving

Service on the nation’s railroads is showing marked improvement over year-earlier levels, according to a recent survey of shippers by Bear Stearns.

“Our second-quarter survey results indicate that rail service levels improved on both a sequential and year-over-year basis,” the financial services company said in its quarterly research report.

In a press release on Tuesday, The Assn. of American Railroads (AAR) said the survey results generally agreed with its own analysis of Class I metrics, which showed improvements year over year in both dwell time and velocity.

Shippers were also optimistic about rail services for the peak-shipping season, with 72 percent expecting service levels to be stable or improved over the same period last year, according to the survey.

Bear Stearns added, “Unlike in past years when West Coast port congestion meaningfully slowed rail service during the peak demand season, we believe the railroads and the entire supply chain have done a better job of planning for the peak season.”

“These improvements are especially impressive considering the fact that railroads are moving more freight than ever before in their history,” said Association of American Railroads President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. He noted that total volume is up 2.7 percent so far this year while intermodal – the industry’s most service-sensitive business segment – is up 6.4 percent from last year when previous records were set.

“Railroads have spent billions of dollars over the past few years – including a record $8.3 billion in capital improvements this year alone – in order to increase capacity and improve service,” Hamberger noted.

“Railroads have also changed operating practices and entered into joint agreements that improve the flow of traffic across the rail network.”

He said that these actions “have left railroads in a good position to handle the upcoming peak shipping season efficiently and safely.”

Railroads provide more than 40 percent of U.S. intercity freight transportation, more than any other mode, according to the AAR.

DM&E gets building okay

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued its environmental impact review on August 17 to Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad’s (DM&E) $6 billion upgrade project, putting in place one of the last pieces of the DM&E’s federal loan application.

Two days earlier, the Surface Transportation Board okayed the railroad’s request. The STB rejected arguments of DM&E project opponents and approved the carrier’s application to utilize a separate subsidiary to build and operate a new 280-mile rail line into the Powder River Basin.

“The FRA’s environmental review is one of the final steps toward approval of the DM&E’s $2.4 billion FRA Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan application,” DM&E president and CEO Kevin Schieffer said yesterday.

The DM&E expects that “current and future shippers” on its existing lines “would benefit from the rehabilitating and rebuilding of existing infrastructure to the higher standards that would be required by its use as a major route for coal transportation,” he added.

The benefits would be in the form of “reduced transit times, more reliable service and improved safety. Increased rail system safety, reliability, and efficiency could also produce rural economic benefits such as increased farm income, increased economic development, and less burden on the rural road network,” according to Schieffer.

Supporters of the project echoed those feelings.

“We, along with agriculture producers and the 55 other communities on the route, are counting on this improvement,” said Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, of Blue Earth County, Minn.

“Our railroads are an important part of the economic lifeline for our rural communities. This upgrade will provide better movement not only for our farm commodities, but also for the products from our value-added renewable energy industry.”

“The DM&E rail upgrade project would give us access to better, safer, more reliable rail service,” said Reid Jensen of Burbank, S.D., President of South Dakota Corn Growers Assn.

“The benefits of this rail investment go well beyond the borders in helping deliver ethanol from the processing plants here to the gas pumps in cities.”

The DM&E submitted an application for the RRIF loan in 2006.

The upgrade project will rebuild 600 miles of DM&E track and add 260 new miles of main line construction to low-sulfur coalmines in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.

FEC pays 7 cents

Florida East Coast Industries, Inc. (NYSE: FLA)(FECI), the parent company of the Florida East Coast Ry., yesterday declared a quarterly dividend of seven cents per share on all issued and outstanding common stock, payable on September 22, to all shareholders of record as of September 8.

From the AAR:

Intermodal up yet again

Both intermodal and carload freight registered gains during the week ended August 19 in comparison with the corresponding week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported yesterday.

Intermodal volume of 248,890 trailers or containers was up 4.8 percent from the comparable week last year. Container volume was up 7.0 percent while trailer volume was off 2.2 percent.

Carload freight totaled 342,328 cars, up 1.0 percent from last year, with loadings up 2.4 percent in the West but off 0.7 percent in the East.

Total volume was estimated at 34.5 billion ton-miles, up 2.7 percent from 2005.

Among individual carload commodities, grain was up 13.4 percent from last year, metals rose 10.1 percent and coal loadings gained 5.8 percent. On the downside, coke was down 20.6 percent, primary forest products were off 15.3 percent and lumber fell 12.3 percent. Overall, 11 of 19 commodity groups were down from a year ago.

Cumulative volume for the first 33 weeks of 2006 totaled 11,094,992 carloads, up 1.5 percent from 2005; 7,708,423 trailers or containers, up 6.4 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.10 trillion ton-miles, up 2.7 percent from last year.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended August 19 carload traffic totaled 77,903 cars, up 3.2 percent from last year while intermodal volume of 47,427 trailers or containers was up 7.3 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 33 weeks of 2006 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,451,448 carloads, down 1.3 percent from last year, and 1,478,249 trailers and containers, up 6.0 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 33 weeks of 2006 on 13 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 13,546,440 carloads, up 0.9 percent from last year and 9,186,672 trailers and containers, up 6.3 percent from last year.

The AAR also said that during the week ended August 19 Mexican railroad Kansas City Southern de Mexico (KCSM) reported total carload volume of 11,603 cars, up 0.4 percent from last year. KCSM reported total intermodal volume of 4,576 trailers or containers, up 14.3 percent from the 33rd week of 2005.

For the first 33 weeks of 2006, KCSM reported total cumulative volume of 371,700 cars, down 5.2 percent from last year, and 128,584 trailers or containers, down 5.7 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 www.aar.org.

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