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, September 14, 2006

Gardner, Kans. is set to grow

BNSF will build a huge yard

BNSF Corp. already owns up to 600 acres of farm fields at the edge of Gardner, Kans., part of a soon-to-be-completed land stake worth at least $15 million, all to build a massive new intermodal logistics center designed to meet the railroad’s rising demand for moving freight in an evolving global marketplace.

“Let me tell you what’s going to happen,” said Matt Rose, the railroad’s chairman, president and CEO, in Lawrence on Tuesday to deliver a lecture. “Whether or not the city – the town – annexes the property or not, we’re going forward with this facility,” the Lawrence Journal World reported.

Rose added, “There’s been a question of, well, if the town decides not to annex, then they won’t build it. That has nothing to do with it. We’re going to proceed with the application and permitting process to build this facility, whether Gardner annexes that property or not.”

The issue, which was the subject of boisterous meetings in Gardner and resulting in a ballot measure to be decided Nov. 7, does not sound all that contentious when Rose is doing the talking. It is simply a matter of reality.

By year’s end, his railroad will have only 46 miles of single-line track on its major line connecting the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach with Chicago, and plans are under way to start going from two lines to three lines of track beginning next year.

The line already has a logistics center near Chicago, a 2,500-acre complex at the edge of Joliet, Ill., that is doing booming business, he said. Wal-Mart last month opened 3.5 million square feet of warehouse space at the center, in two buildings that each stretches a half-mile long.

That’s the kind of development foreseen for Gardner, where the center will be planned to have 12 million square feet of warehouse space, which will be enough to swallow about eight copies of Kmart’s massive distribution center in Lawrence, and accommodate nearly 2,800 trucks each day.

The project would generate 7,000 jobs in Gardner, among 12,000 jobs forecast for Johnson County and 13,000 expected statewide during the next 20 years related to the project, Rose said.

Rose went to Lawrence to deliver the annual Anderson Chandler Lecture, organized by Kansas Univ. School of Business. His speech, Future Transportation Crisis, addressed how Americans have grown complacent with their transportation infrastructure, particularly regarding rails and highways, and how the nation must come up with a long-term plan to upgrade such systems if it wants to keep up with global competitors.

“China is spending, literally, tens and tens of billions of dollars on infrastructure,” he said.

“They’re building out high-speed rail. They’re building out freight rail. They’re building out Maglifts. They’re building out super-airports, superhighways, and the reason why they’re doing that is they’re really taking a page out of our book: They’re seeing how productive our country has been, through this economy, through the 1960s and ’70s and ’80s and ’90s.”

Rail-funding plans may go on Utah ballot

Instead of four new TRAX lines, voters in Salt Lake County may be asked to approve a tax increase this November to build two or maybe three light rail lines, plus commuter rail – and that’s if all the money from the tax increase goes to rail projects, Utah Transit Authority boss John Inglish said Wednesday during a committee meeting of the UTA Board of Trustees.

A transportation-funding bill that’s being drafted for an expected special legislative session on Tuesday is “so open-ended that there’s no guarantee the money would go to TRAX lines,” he said.

At the request of lawmakers, UTA is working on several different scenarios for how to spend the money in the bill, if it is approved. Two proposals are being considered, the Deseret Morning News reported.

One would put a statewide quarter-cent sales tax for transportation on the November ballot. It would fund “regionally significant” projects like airports, transit and road improvements.

The other proposal would allow individual counties to put a quarter-cent sales tax hike on the ballot for transportation improvements. The counties would decide which projects the money would fund.

Either way, Inglish said, it’s clear that the measure won’t provide enough money to build all four TRAX lines, plus commuter rail in Salt Lake County. The TRAX lines would cost taxpayers about $895 million. Commuter rail is estimated to cost upwards of $300 million to build.

Inglish said Wednesday that building commuter rail through Salt Lake County became a priority last month when Utah County Commissioners put a sales-tax increase on the ballot to build commuter rail through their county. It makes no sense for Utah County to build the line if it doesn’t connect through Salt Lake County, Inglish said.

That could mean that one or two TRAX lines may be postponed to pay for commuter rail. Another alternative might be that only portions of the four lines would be built, Inglish said.

“Frankly, something’s got to give,” Inglish said. “We now have more projects than resources.”

Crews clear up PanAm derailment

Work crews used cranes and other heavy equipment yesterday in Deerfield, Mass. to re-rail 19 freight cars and repair the tracks where a freight train derailed on Tuesday.

The cars were carrying feed grain and vegetable oil when they derailed along a section of track near I-91 5:45 p.m. No one was injured, and no major spills of products occurred, The Republican of Springfield reported yesterday.

“We didn’t find any hazardous materials or oil,” said Eva V. Tor of the state Department of Environmental Protection Wednesday. “At this point, there’s really no follow-up on our part,” she added.

Crews worked through the night at the scene.

Pan Am Systems, formerly Guilford Transportation Industries, operated the train, which was rolling north into the East Deerfield yards. The company operates on about 1,600 miles of track in the Northeast, and is based in Billerica, Mass.

Rail traffic rises a tad

Thanks to strong gains in intermodal, total rail freight traffic on U.S. railroads was up slightly during the week ended September 9 in comparison with last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported yesterday. Both this year’s week and last year’s included the Labor Day holiday.

Intermodal volume of 215,673 trailers or containers was up 5.3 percent from the comparable week last year with container volume up 9.0 percent while trailer volume was off 6.0 percent.

Carload freight totaled 323,043 cars, down 0.8 percent from last year, with loadings up 1.7 percent in the West but off 4.0 percent in the East.

Total volume was estimated at 32.6 billion ton-miles, up 0.9 percent from 2005.

Among individual carload commodities, coal loadings were up 3.7 percent from last year while grain was up 17.0 percent and metals were up 11.5 percent. On the downside, farm products other than grain were down 22.7 percent; nonmetallic minerals were off 22.0 percent; and primary forest products declined 18.5 percent.

Cumulative volume for the first 36 weeks of 2006 totaled 12,107,087 carloads, up 1.4 percent from 2005; 8,431,245 trailers or containers, up 6.4 percent; and total volume of an estimated 1.20 trillion ton-miles, up 2.7 percent from last year.

On Canadian railroads, during the week ended September 9 carload traffic totaled 72,946 cars, down 3.0 percent from last year while intermodal volume of 42,499 trailers or containers was up 4.0 percent from last year.

Cumulative originations for the first 36 weeks of 2006 on the Canadian railroads totaled 2,677,324 carloads, down 1.1 percent from last year, and 1,616,625 trailers and containers, up 5.9 percent from last year.

Combined cumulative volume for the first 36 weeks of 2006 on 13 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 14,784,411 carloads, up 1.0 percent from last year and 10,047,870 trailers and containers, up 6.3 percent from last year.

The AAR also said that during the week ended September 9 Mexican railroad Kansas City Southern de Mexico (KCSM) reported total carload volume of 12,412 cars, up 6.9 percent from last year. KCSM reported total intermodal volume of 4,967 trailers or containers, up 17.1 percent from the 36th week of 2005.

For the first 36 weeks of 2006, KCSM reported total cumulative volume of 406,676 cars, down 4.4 percent from last year, and 141,736 trailers or containers, down 4.8 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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