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 21, 2006

UP opens new Utah container terminal

Union Pacific Railroad yesterday opened its $83 million, 260-acre state-of-the-art intermodal terminal in Salt Lake City. The new container terminal increases the railroad’s international and domestic container capacity in the Salt Lake City area by three times, while improving traffic efficiencies. It will also serve dozens of Utah companies that rely on intermodal rail freight to ship and receive containers with various types of materials from around the world.

The terminal will handle up to 250,000 over-the-road trailers or ocean-going containers annually.

The Salt Lake City Intermodal Terminal features also include:

· One track for receiving and departing trains.

· Four tracks with capacity to unload 75 intermodal double-stack cars.

· Five tracks to stage stack cars before loading or unloading.

· Two cranes that straddle the rail cars and one rubber-tired mobile “packer” that lifts trailers and containers on and off double-stack cars. The cranes are equipped with Global Positioning System technology.

· More than 1,300 locations for trailers and containers.

· Advanced technology that coordinates all movement of railroad cars, trucks, trailers and containers at the facility.

· Technology that decreases truck processing from four minutes to as little as 30 to 90 seconds.

· A state-of-the-art security system.

Intermodal shipping involves moving freight by more than one mode of transportation without re-packing the shipping container. For example, an ocean-going container, loaded with clothing, arrives by vessel at the Port of Long Beach, Calif., from the Pacific Rim. The container is unloaded from the ship and placed onto a double-stack car, which is then moved in a train to the Salt Lake City Intermodal Terminal. There, the container is removed from the flat car and placed on an over-the-road truck chassis, and the trucker takes the container to the customer in the Salt Lake City area.

Construction began February 1, 2005, and was completed in July 2006. The new facility, located two miles south of I-80 just off 5600 West, has additional space for future expansion based on customer demand and capacity needs.

Durbin talks up Illinois with Amtrak president

Illinois officials’ ambitious plans to expand Amtrak’s intrastate rail service could be thrown overboard as Congress and the Bush administration struggle to determine Amtrak’s long-term future nationwide.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (D), a longtime advocate for federally subsidized rail service, voiced concerns Wednesday in a meeting with Alexander Kummant, the new Amtrak president and CEO only a week into his new job.

It is uncertain how and when Amtrak will get a new budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1. Temporary resolutions could push it into next year.

President Bush recommended $900 million; the House passed $1.1 billion; the Senate approved $1.4 billion. Amtrak supporters in Illinois such as Democrats Durbin and Gov. Rod Blagojevich favor a no-cuts figure of $1.6 billion.

In an upbeat joint interview with The Associated Press, both Durbin and Kummant saluted Illinois’ efforts to aid Amtrak.

Kummant, citing his newness to his post, deferred to the senator when asked to predict Amtrak’s budget.

“I know our (train) run rates are within the ranges being talked about,” Kummant added.

Durbin did not predict a final figure but said he hoped $1.4 billion would be sufficient to allow Amtrak to continue Illinois’ current rail service and expand in some areas.

“The good news is that Congress has shown its commitment to Amtrak on a bipartisan basis. The number we are going to produce is going to be significantly higher than the president’s budget, which I think is a vote of confidence for Amtrak and its future,” said Durbin, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat.

Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois DOT, said Amtrak cutbacks historically have led to fewer trains.

“Illinois cannot afford to shoulder this burden alone, and should the federal government reduce its commitment to Amtrak, rail passenger service in our state and all of the Midwest would be severely impacted or in some areas may cease,” Vanover said.

For the year that ended in June, a record 952,529 passengers rode Amtrak trains in Illinois under a $12.1 million contract with the state’s DOT, which was an 11 percent passenger increase over the previous year.

Durbin, a member of the Senate subcommittee on transportation funding, secured commitments last spring for three Amtrak trains to help provide an additional run on the Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis lines each day.

The state also would like to see Rockford-to-Chicago service restored. Amtrak is studying the proposal.

The Amtrak board has proposed passing on certain overhead operating costs to states, which has Illinois officials worried.

Kummant said whatever happens would not be done “cold turkey” or without budget planning on the states’ parts.

“Our strategy really is engagement and reaching out to the states, working with the DOTs and coming up with really a multiyear plan,” he said.

Kummant also suggested Illinois should not be as concerned as most states with possible financial consequences.

“There’s no doubt the leading states, like Illinois, put out big commitments and not all states have committed to that degree,” he said.

“We are looking for a degree of parity but the numbers vary a great deal.”

Safety concerns hold up plans for high-speed rail

With new safety gates and other improvements, 126 miles of track that stretches north from Springfield, Ill. is ready to whisk passenger trains about 30 mph faster than they now travel.

More than a decade after Illinois set its sights on high-speed rail, trains are still humming along at their usual 79 mph, throttled as officials reevaluate new safety technology to ensure faster trains can coexist with freight trains and cars that cross over rail lines.

Some lament that trains aren’t already rolling faster to capitalize on rail demand that is on pace to break last year’s records across the state and nation, due in part to high gasoline prices and added airport security in the aftermath of deadly terrorist attacks five years ago, The AP reported yesterday.

State officials say they’re anxious, too, but won’t ease off the brakes until they settle on one of the emerging systems designed to automatically slow down or stop trains to ease dangers that come with higher speeds.

“We’re more concerned with safety than the speed of delivery,” said Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois DOT, in Normal, Ill.

Along with curbing rail-crossing accidents, the high-tech systems ensure that faster-moving trains don’t slow freight deliveries that have set volume records the past few years using the same tracks, said Tom Brown, spokesman for the Association of American Railroads.

“There are a lot of challenges that have to be met, including making sure it doesn’t negatively affect freight. Jobs of millions depend on freight,” said Brown.

Officials say they can’t even speculate on when trains might start running at 110 mph along the stretch of central Illinois track, where the state has sunk about $80 million into rail and crossing improvements since 1999 to pave the way for speedier travel.

“I think a timetable would be nothing more than a guess and I’m not much of a gambling man,” said Jason Tai, IDOT’s director of public and intermodal trains.

Illinois is targeting the busy Chicago-St. Louis corridor, with nine stops from Alton to Summit, for its first foray into high-speed rail, most used in the U.S. in the densely populated eastern seaboard, from Washington to New York City to Boston.

Other states also are making inroads, including Michigan, where ridership has increased up to 12 percent on routes now running at 95 mph, said Marc Magliari, spokesman for Amtrak, which has set national ridership records for three straight years.

In Illinois, crossing signals have been upgraded all along the 280-mile route between Chicago and St. Louis, where faster trains are ultimately expected to cut the current 51/2-hour trip to less than four hours, but only a stretch from Springfield to south of Joliet is now ready for high-speed travel, with upgraded track for a smoother ride and nearly 70 crossing gates equipped with nets and four arms instead of two to prevent drivers from trying to sneak through ahead of trains.

No money has yet been earmarked for track and crossing upgrades between Springfield and St. Louis or from south of Joliet to Chicago, work that state officials estimate will push the total project cost to about $400 million.

Illinois could get help finishing off the improvements under a bill pending in Congress that would provide matching federal grants for rail projects, similar to federal road and aviation programs.

“That would be a major step... Right now, states are doing it all on their own,” Magliari said.

Landslide hits NS line

Norfolk Southern reported yesterday it had “experienced a landslide” at Emsworth, Penn., which is between Conway and Pittsburgh, blocking its main line. Traffic moving over the corridor, to and from locations east of Pittsburgh, will incur delays, NS stated. It blocked an ex-Pennsylvania Railroad line.

By 1:00 p.m., the railroad stated conditions had deteriorated forcing the carrier to raise it to a “force majeure” status.

Railroaders were clearing the right of way, NS stated, but offered no timetable for resuming train service.

Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black said train Nos. 29 and 30 were affected. Eastward No. 30 was reported to be more than five hours late at about 2:45 p.m.

Bombardier Transportation to lay off

more than half of Plattsburgh workforce

Layoffs at Bombardier Transportation in Plattsburgh, N.Y. will affect more than half the plant’s workers by the end of the year, company officials said yesterday.

Plant general manager James Tooley said hundreds of the facility’s 554 employees will lose their jobs as the contract to build 1,172 M-7 railcars for New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is completed in December.

As the last car moves from each work station, the employees in that area will either lose their jobs or displace other employees based on seniority.

Helene Gagnon, a spokeswoman for the Montreal-based transportation giant, said 150 employees received 60-day layoff notices Tuesday. She said that number will grow to about 280 by the end of December, including 220 hourly workers and 60 salaried employees.

The plant does have more work on the horizon, including a contract with the Chicago Transit Authority to build 406 rapid-transit vehicles, with an option for 300 more, beginning in 2009.


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