American Railroads

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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

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

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

CTA drops plan for airport express trains

The Chicago Transit Authority is shelving plans for express train service from the Loop to O’Hare and Midway airports-at least for now-in favor of pared-back, non-stop service that would be privately run.

Under a proposal quietly submitted to the CTA by a consultant last month, $10-a-ride a private company using CTA staff and equipment would manage train service. Sources close to the matter say the proposal by a division of consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc. appears to have the backing of top agency officials and could be implemented by the end of 2008, according to Today’s Crain’s Chicago Business News.

However, the proposal stops well short of the 20-to-25 minute express service the CTA had envisioned in earlier planning documents. Instead, to save as much as $1.5 billion in projected capital costs, the private firm would run airport-only trains in between regular service on the Blue Line to O’Hare and Orange Line to Midway.

That means riders would get to the airports in the same time they do now, roughly 45 minutes to O’Hare and 30 minutes to Midway, but it would be considerably cheaper than taking a taxicab to either airport.

The report states that, “Single market services are not CTA’s traditional business. Therefore, it is recommended that the CTA tap into the existing domestic and international market of transportation service providers to enlist the private sector.”

The document states that setting up direct service from a $200-million superstation now under construction beneath Block 37 in the central Loop would cost only about $64 million – mostly the cost of acquiring and refurbishing old coaches from the CTA.

The report projects the service could carry 1.7 million riders by 2010, with patrons able to ride in one of nine four-car dedicated trains without the influx of other passengers between the Loop and the airports. In addition, the report argues service would be reliable, cheaper than other options and allow passengers to ride in cars with special baggage space.

“CTA should negotiate a concession agreement with a qualified team of service providers that can, working in full partnership with the CTA, deliver financing, customer service, management, pricing and revenue management,” the report stated. Such a private/public partnership “should be beneficial for both parties,” it stated, noting that express links have been successful in Singapore and other major cities.

The report also concluded that express service utilizing a runaround track in the median strip of the Kennedy Expressway and perhaps Union Pacific tracks near O’Hare could be established, but at a start-up cost of $770 million to $1.5 billion.

The CTA currently does not have a source for such an expenditure, but the report says that, over time, “There will be investment choices available to the CTA and its private sector partners to build the infrastructure needed to reduce airport train service travel times.”

Sources said the matter could come before the CTA board for approval at its November meeting. The agency already is seeking a financial adviser to help move the project to the next phase.

Railroads oppose surcharge regulation

The big four railroads have urged restraint regarding the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) proposals focused on fuel surcharges, with Union Pacific Corp. saying the board’s “core conclusion” that rate-based surcharges are an unreasonable practice “is fundamentally flawed.”

Dow Jones Newswires via The Associated Press, reported from Chicago that comments, including filings from the railroads, were due Monday on the STB’s fuel-surcharge proposals, which stemmed from a public hearing it held in May that focused on surcharge practices used by railroad companies. Specifically, the board wanted to know about surcharges being computed as a percentage of base shipping rates and the means used to measure increases in railroads’ cost of fuel.

Fuel surcharges are typically put in place when a customer contract is negotiated or renegotiated. Railroads have employed hedges to protect against volatile fuel prices, but in the past couple of years, they have turned more to surcharges to cover the additional costs.

The STB proposed the measures in August, saying it wanted railroads to develop a way of computing a surcharge that more closely links it to the actual increase in fuel costs.

The board also said then that it wanted to end “double dipping,” whereby railroads charge customers for the same increases in fuel costs for the same shipment through both a fuel surcharge and the use of what is called a rate escalator. The escalator is based on an index that may include a fuel-cost component.

In addition, the STB wants railroads to use one uniform index for measuring increases in fuel costs. It would also have the railroads submit monthly reports, showing actual total fuel costs, total fuel consumption and total fuel surcharge revenue.

The railroads argued in their filings that, generally, the proposals would be time-consuming and difficult to achieve. They want more clarity on the proposals, and they questioned the STB’s legal authority to regulate fuel surcharges.

“The board has made some general, yet sweeping, proposals that are inconsistent with law and impractical to implement,” said Union Pacific, the largest of the Class I railroads by revenue, in its filing. “If the STB wants to pursue the proposals, it should do so with a more complete understanding of the facts.”

Regulation of fuel surcharges would put railroads at a competitive disadvantage, Norfolk Southern Corp. said. NS added that other modes of freight transportation have fuel surcharges yet there aren’t any government regulations regarding what those companies can or can’t do with the surcharges.

Railroaders get detailed security training, says AAR

The nation’s major freight railroads provide their employees with comprehensive security training that includes programs developed by the federal government, individual railroad companies, and Rutgers University’s National Transit Institute, according to the Assn. of American Railroads.

“The training encompasses topics such as what to do when an employee sees a stranger or suspicious activity on rail property; to whom to report the anomaly; the need to keep information about train movements and cargoes confidential, and the need to keep rail property safe and secure,” said Edward R. Hamberger, President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads on September 28.

The U.S. Senate recently adopted several rail security amendments as part of the port security bill, now headed to conference committee with a similar measure approved by the House in May. Thanks to the railroad industry’s proactive efforts, railroad security training already encompasses all the elements of the legislation – and more.

Testifying before Congress on Thursday, Hamberger noted that the industry submitted its security training plans to the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Railroad Administration for review last February.

“Earlier this week, we received notice from DHS that our program is relevant, up-to-date and does indeed help raise the baseline for rail security,” said Hamberger. “Going forward, rail employee security training will be documented and recorded, something that has not previously been done.”

Not only have individual railroads been providing their employees with security training since September 11, 2001, all railroad employees handling hazardous material receive additional training mandated by the federal government. The railroads incorporate security training into safety recertification programs, new-hire training, and new manager training. In addition, freight railroads adopted an industry-wide program based on training techniques developed by Rutgers University’s National Transit Institute.

Hamberger said the program includes four modules – What is Security; Vulnerability, Risk, and Threat; What to Look For; and Employees’ Role in Reducing Risk.

“The goal of the standardized curriculum is to provide rail employees with an understanding of their role and responsibility in system security, and how to implement their companies’ procedures upon detection of suspicious objects or activities,” he said.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Class I railroads quickly recognized the importance of security training for their employees and didn’t wait for a government mandate to start training programs.

Hamberger said employee security training is an essential part of the industry’s comprehensive security plan that was implemented shortly after 9/11. That security plan is a comprehensive, intelligence-driven, priority-based blueprint of actions designed to enhance freight rail security. The Assn. of American Railroads adopted the plan December 2001 and remains in effect today, said the AAR. Because of that plan, freight railroads quickly enacted more than 50 permanent security-enhancing countermeasures.

For example, access to key rail facilities and information has been tightened, and cyber-security procedures and techniques have been strengthened. Security awareness briefings were given to railroad employees, who were instructed to maintain high awareness and to immediately report suspicious activity. In addition, the plan defines four progressively higher security alert levels and details a series of actions to be taken at each level.

“Railroads are proud of the success they have achieved in enhancing security while keeping our nation’s vital rail network operating efficiently and safely,” Hamberger said, “and employee training is part of the reason for that success.”

Bad day at Amtrak

On October 2, Amtrak’s Cardinal, Train 51 of October 1 was rerouted via Canadian National following a collision and derailment at the junction of Norfolk Southern (NS) freight train and Belt Railway of Chicago which blocked all three main tracks.

Sources told AR the collision involved an NS train, which ran into the side of a CSX trackage rights train. Amtrak’s train was detoured west from Thornton Jct. via CN to Harvey, then north on CN to Chicago. The train was delayed 26 minutes at Thornton Jct. for a CN pilot, and lost another hour and 5 minutes on the detour.

This additional delay to No. 51 resulted in initial terminal delay to the Hoosier State, Train 318 of October 2 because there were no rested conductors and engineer to operate the train.

The underlying reason was because Amtrak had cut the engineers’ extra board at Indianapolis to only two. This now matches the two-man conductor extra board that has been running so short that on occasion, engineers have had to work as conductors on some relief assignments. The shortage of Indianapolis crews has led to Trains 50 or318 departing late every day this week.

After all that, Amtrak’s No. 318 of October 2, with Amtrak engine 455, stopped at Dolton Jct., 17 miles out of its departure point, Chicago, with its horn blowing continuously.

Mechanical advised the crew to cut out the horn, which they did. The train continued, flagging every grade crossing to Dyer, where Amtrak gave up due to the delays this was causing, and “bustituted” all 34 passengers. The equipment deadheaded to Indianapolis.

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