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

Friday, August 18, 2006

NS’s Shelocta secondary opens

Norfolk Southern Corp. (NYSE: NSC) says that its first train ran on the new Shelocta Secondary on August 7.
“This culminates a five-year, $44 million project to establish a direct rail connection between Norfolk Southern’s Conemaugh Line in Saltsburg, Pa., to the coal-powered Keystone Generating Station in Shelocta, Pa.,” a company spokesman said.
“The Shelocta Secondary is a new link in our network providing the Keystone Generating Station with an efficient direct connection to western Pennsylvania coal fields served by Norfolk Southern,” said CEO Wick Moorman.
He added, “Norfolk Southern’s investment in this project underscores our commitment to improving service to coal customers. Additionally, this project has significant environmental and public safety benefits.”
He praised Re. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) for his help.
The regulatory approval process for construction of the Shelocta Secondary began in December 2001, according to NS. Construction of the new line began in April 2005 and involved building approximately five miles of new track and right of way between Saltsburg and Clarksburg and rehabilitating 11 miles of existing out-of-service railroad right of way between Clarksburg and Shelocta. To construct the new segment, more than 1.4 million cubic yards of soil were moved to establish efficient grades. The Shelocta Secondary replaces a circuitous, limited-capacity route that is 51 miles longer than the new line. It is estimated that more than 3 million tons of coal will move over the line annually.


UP increases speeds on Texas line

Union Pacific is gradually increasing top train speeds through Raymondville, Lyford, Combes, Harlingen, and San Benito, Texas to 49 ph, beginning August 28.
Following Federal Railroad Administration regulations, the railroad will gradually increase the maximum speed limit through Raymondville and San Benito from 35 mph to 49 mph, through Lyford from 40 mph to 49 mph, and through Combes and Harlingen from 20 mph to 49 mph. The gradual increase will be five mph per week and four mph on the last week until the new maximum is reached.
“This measure is expected to improve public traffic flow and grade crossing safety by increasing train traffic fluidity through the area,” the freight carrier stated in a press release.
“Statistics show that more highway-rail grade crossing collisions occur at slower train speeds. At the same time, slower train speeds can cause traffic delays as trains occupy crossings longer,” the carrier said.
Elsewhere on UP, the railroad said it has job openings at many locations throughout its 23-state operating system.
“Opportunities are available in train service, skilled disciplines,” like diesel mechanics and electricians, “and management.”
They invited job seekers to go online at http://www.up.com and click on “Jobs at UP.”



Intermodals are up, says AAR

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported yesterday intermodal volume was up but carload freight was off slightly in comparison with the corresponding week last year during the week ended August 12.
Intermodal volume of 249,953 trailers or containers was up 6.6 percent from the comparable week last year. Container volume was up 9.2 percent while trailer volume was off 1.5 percent.
Carload freight totaled 336,568 cars, down 0.2 percent from last year, with loadings up 2.7 percent in the West but off 3.6 percent in the East.
Total volume was estimated at 33.9 billion ton-miles, up 1.5 percent from 2005.
Among individual carload commodities, coal loadings were up 5.4 percent from last year while metals were up 14.1 percent and petroleum products gained 6.3 percent. On the downside, primary forest products were down 19.6 percent, coke was off 18.9 percent and motor vehicles and equipment declined 13.0 percent. Overall, 14 of 19 commodity groups were down from a year ago.
Cumulative volume for the first 32 weeks of 2006 totaled 10,752,664 carloads, up 1.5 percent from 2005; 7,459,533 trailers or containers, up 6.4 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.06 trillion ton-miles, up 2.7 percent from last year.
On Canadian railroads, during the week ended August 12 carload traffic totaled 72,143 cars, down 2.7 percent from last year while intermodal volume of 44,708 trailers or containers was down 1.8 percent from last year.
Cumulative originations for the first 32 weeks of 2006 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,373,545 carloads, down 1.4 percent from last year, and 1,430,822 trailers and containers, up 5.9 percent from last year.
Combined cumulative volume for the first 32 weeks of 2006 on 13 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 13,126,209 carloads, up 0.9 percent from last year and 8,890,355 trailers and containers, up 6.3 percent from last year.
The AAR also said that during the week ended August 12 Mexican railroad Kansas City Southern de Mexico (KCSM) reported total carload volume of 11,476 cars, up 3.2 percent from last year. KCSM reported total intermodal volume of 4,255 trailers or containers, up 4.2 percent from the 32nd week of 2005.
For the first 32 weeks of 2006, KCSM reported total cumulative volume of 360,097 cars, down 5.2 percent from last year, and 124,008 trailers or containers, down 6.3 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.


Last lines

What’s ahead in law

The United Transportation Union’s National Legislative Director James Brunkenhoefer last week posted a white paper outlining what’s ahead in Congress for the nation and for Amtrak. The upcoming fall elections are clearly on his mind.
He wrote, “It appears that the Democrats should make significant gains in both the House and Senate. Although we have friends in both parties, it would be best if the Democrats would pick up either or both legislative chambers. If that was the outcome, then the strategy… becomes much more threatening to the railroads.”
He pointed out the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would become Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.).
“Oberstar has actively supported legislation that is similar to S. 919.”
A major player in the Senate Commerce Committee would be Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) “who is a key supporter of S. 919.”
“Currently, the table is tilted towards the railroads and against the UTU. They have their friends at the White House, at the Mediation Board, in the House and in the Senate. If there was to be a change in the party in power due to the November election, we are sure it would not benefit the railroads.”
He pointed out that both legislative bodies are currently in its yearly, standard, August recess. They will return shortly after Labor Day and are then scheduled to adjourn September 29 or shortly thereafter due to the November 7 elections. He stated, “It is not expected that they will work much past the September 29 target because so many of them are in deep political trouble. They want to return to their districts and soothe their voters.”
Brunkenhoefer wrote, one of the first pieces of legislation expected to be handled on the Senate floor is S. 1516 introduced by Trent Lott (R-Miss.).
He added, “Lott has surprisingly become the white knight to save Amtrak, and although it is far from perfect, S 1516 is probably the best legislation that can be expected to be passed. UTU supports S. 1516, although there is one amendment that will be offered by Sen. Gregg (R-N.H.) that we will oppose that will cripple long distance trains. There may be other hostile amendments offered. Please contact your Senators and ask that they support S. 1516.”
Also on the agenda for UTU members, he wrote, is the appropriation for the National Mediation Board (NMB). This is where the funding for all public law boards, etc. comes from.
“Unfortunately, the funds for this agency are wrapped in a bill that is referred to as controversial every year, and that is Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations. This is always the very last appropriations bill passed every year. Very simply, if Congress passes this legislation before October 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, then public law boards, etc. will continue uninterrupted.”
He explained, “If Congress is unable to pass this legislation on schedule – and if it did it would be a surprise – then it will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) which would stop or delay many of the activities of the NMB until the appropriations bill covering that agency is finally passed and signed into law.”
Many times the delay for such funding runs into several months.
UTU is very interested in seeing H.R. 5483 passed into law. It is currently out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and is awaiting scheduling after the August recess for House Floor action. This is the bill that would raise the cap on outside earnings for disabled railroad workers. All the signals were green until UTU used its legislative efforts to fight the railroads than suddenly the railroads’ lobbyists began using the legislative schedule “to delay this much needed legislation in an effort to kill it out of revenge or spite.”
H.R. 5074 has passed the House and will be pending in the Senate after the August recess. If this bill becomes law, it would increase the Railroad Retirement Trust Fund by about $1 million a year. That is about much money as the $27 billion Railroad Retirement Trust Fund earns before lunch in a single day.
“I know of only two places where $1 million is inconsequential. Here in Washington and the bonuses for a railroad CEO. This is simply a technical bill that corrects a flaw in the Railroad Retirement and Survivors Improvement Act of 2000. UTU supports the passage of H.R. 5074.
Brunkenhoefer offered a short history lesson.
“For many years in Washington, UTU and the railroads pursued a win/win agenda. Recent efforts by the railroads at the bargaining table have shown that they have changed their direction and are now interested in a they win/you lose strategy. UTU has countered with win/win or lose/lose. It appears that the railroads are finally becoming aware of our legislative strategy. Legislative strategy is much like a chess game. There are no secret moves but there are surprising moves. When any piece on the board is moved, it changes the relationship of every piece on the board.”
He said, “At the railroads’ request, S. 3742 was introduced. This would be an enormous tax cut to the railroads estimated at $400 million. This tax cut would only come if the railroads made an investment and grew their capacity. Normally UTU would be an active supporter of such legislation because overall it would mean new jobs. But this time, UTU has chosen to observe from the sideline. We know that it is highly doubtful that this legislation will not become law this year. It is also highly doubtful that the railroads can achieve this legislative success without the support of or over the objections of labor. We have indicated to the railroads that if they continue to substitute a win/lose strategy for a win/win strategy than it is highly doubtful that this legislation will ever become law.
He noted S. 919 “has been portrayed by the railroads as re-regulation. Wall Street analysts have characterized the bill as a bullet to the head of the railroad industry. During previous years, UTU would have joined with the railroads in opposing this legislation that damages the railroad industry. It is doubtful that this legislation will be considered this year and UTU continues to monitor it. If the railroads are successful in pushing their win/lose strategy, it can be expected that UTU will join the shippers in supporting the language in S. 919 being made a part of any return to work forced settlement Presidential Emergency Board legislation. We will also examine other legislation for the same purpose. Once again, there will be either a win/win strategy between UTU and the railroads or there will be a lose/lose strategy.”


Editor’s note:

This edition marks the end of our first week publishing American Railroads. We hope you find it useful, and will continue reading daily. We try to get it out by 7:00 a.m. EDT weekdays, but that doesn’t always happen. We need your feedback. Please let us know what we’re doing right, and what we’re doing wrong.

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