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, October 06, 2006

South Shore’s future uncertain

A top official of the agency that runs the South Shore Line says Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is looking into whether the state should sell or lease the commuter railroad, The AP reported Wednesday, but the next day Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District general manager Gerald Hanas says he doubts the line would be a candidate for privatization like the Indiana Toll Road, since it doesn’t break even on ticket sales.

The state funds about one-third of the South Shore’s $30 million annual operating budget. The line runs between South Bend and Chicago.

A spokesman for the Indiana DOT denied that they’re talking about privatizing the South Shore. He said the state’s most recent conversations with railroad officials have been about finding federal funds to buy new cars.

Daniels’ office denied on Wednesday that the administration had proposed the state consider leasing the South Bend-to-Chicago line to a private operator.

“The governor has zero interest in ‘selling or leasing out the South Shore,’ and has no ability to do so if he did,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

The report comes barely a month before an election in which some Republican legislative candidates are distancing themselves from Daniels’ push for a $3.8 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road to a foreign company for 75 years.

Gerald Hanas, general manager of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, said he had a preliminary discussion about a month ago with state transportation Commissioner Tom Sharp about South Shore privatization.

20 receive $271 fines for ignoring lights, gates

About 20 people learned the hard way Wednesday why it’s unsafe to cross railroad guards when they’re down.

They now have to pay $271 tickets.

The Manteca, Calif., Police Department joined forces with Union Pacific, Amtrak, and the Ripon police departments along with San Joaquin Probation Department in the annual Operation Lifesaver sweep aimed at educating the public about the dangers of crossing railroad tracks when trains are approaching.

“We consider this to be a safety awareness, education, and enforcement operation,” said UP Western Region Police Public Safety Officer Tim Nehrling. “This stretch from Sacramento to Fresno is our most critical corridor when it comes to accidents involving cars and pedestrians and we want to prevent that.”

It also yielded some interesting results.

Throughout Wednesday afternoon the train made passes through the majority of Manteca on the main UP line — moving along at less-than-normal speeds while officers from each of the agencies manned posts throughout town at each of the crossings.

Several pedestrians were cited for trying to run across the tracks before the train actually approached — something that Nehrling wanted to point out was especially dangerous and deadly.

“The misleading thing about a train is that it’s almost impossible to tell how fast it’s going,” he said. “Unfortunately that’s the main reason why a lot of these accidents occur and hopefully we can let people know that.”

It wasn’t just people who violated the crossing guard laws that got caught up in the operation, either.

While the train making one pass down the tracks an officer on board spotted somebody removing copper wire from one of the communication units that controls the arms — something that could provide a potentially deadly situation for motorists.

Jonathan Paul Wilson was arrested on felony charges that stemmed from the incident.

“Unfortunately it’s really been an issue throughout California because of the increasing value of the wire,” Nehrling said. “It can be deadly and we’re just glad that we were able to catch it.”

According to Manteca Police Department Public Affairs Officer Rex Osborn, the Operation Lifesaver program has been a valuable tool in preventing disasters on the tracks — something that has happened in Manteca in the past.

Just last year a local man was honored as a hero when he pulled a suicidal woman from the tracks just seconds before she was hit.

“The biggest benefit is bringing all of these agencies together and promoting awareness,” Osborn said. “It’s something that’s being done throughout the entire valley and it’s something that people are going to be talking about.”

Hutchison sees need to keep Amtrak

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, a month away from her re-election bid against Democratic nominee Barbara Radnofsky, said today Texans need to help keep Amtrak. She spoke in a meeting with the editors of the Longview News-Journal and earlier at Longview Partnership’s Governmental Affairs luncheon.

Speaking to the editors on a variety of topics, the senator asserted the need to keep Amtrak going and expressed opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor and its plans for using toll systems to raise revenues.

She said it is in the best interest of Texas to keep Amtrak viable.

“It’s important that we have alternative transportation,” she said. “We need all modes of transportation to take away our dependency on the highways.

“If you lose Amtrak, you’ll lose the tracks, then we’ll never be able to afford the accelerated rails,” she said.

Hutchison said the scarcity of transportation dollars can be blamed for Interstate 69 delays, but Texas is second only to California in getting transportation dollars back from Washington.

She said the state gets 92 percent of those dollars returned.

Hutchison is firmly in opposition to the envisioned $183.5 billion Trans-Texas Corridor, preferring to invest in the corridors the state already has, such as Interstate 35.

‘Dead’ crew stops Chicago commuters

Thousands of rail commuters on Metra’s Southwest Line were delayed – some nearly two hours – Thursday morning because a freight train was blocking the tracks and its “outlawed” crew was unable to move it, according to today’s Chicago Tribune.

The incident was the latest in a series of problems that commuters say they have faced on the line serving Chicago’s Southwest Side and suburbs.

Six of the Southwest Line’s eight inbound trains were blocked by a CSX freight that came to a stop at the Forest Hills crossing, between 179th and 153rd Street stations in Orland Park, according to Metra. It stopped because its crew had exceeded federally mandated work hours, Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.

A fresh CSX crew had to be summoned to move the train while about 3,400 Metra commuters waited, Pardonnet said.

“The train should not have been left where it was,” she said. “It’s certainly not proper protocol, and we expressed our concern to CSX. They said they’ve made a mistake and would initiate new procedures to see that it doesn’t happen again.”

One Metra train left the 179th Street station at 5:10 a.m. and didn’t arrive at Chicago’s Union Station until about 8:08 a.m., Pardonnet said. It was scheduled to arrive at 6:15 a.m.

Four other trains experienced delays of from 44 minutes to 12 minutes, Pardonnet said. Another train, scheduled to leave at 5:49 a.m. was canceled.

Metra passengers were angry.

“There were a lot of unhappy people,” passenger Kirk Hartley said. “You could hear people saying, ‘I’m going to miss the doctor, I’m going to miss this or that.’ This is just destroying our faith in whether we can count on [Metra].”

Pardonnet said CSX promised to improve the training of its crews and dispatchers. Calls to CSX headquarters in Jacksonville were not returned Thursday afternoon.

Federal Railroad Administration regulations govern train crew members.

In general, the rules mandate that employees not remain or go on duty unless they’ve had at least eight consecutive hours off during the prior 24 hours. If employees have been on duty for 12 consecutive hours, they cannot resume work until having at least 10 consecutive hours off.

Even before Thursday’s delays, Southwest Line commuters termed this week a “commuting disaster” because of delays Tuesday, blamed on the previous night’s storm. Commuters said freight trains have blocked crossings before and switching problems have caused delays.

“Metra has clearly fallen down on the job of policing the right-of-way on this,” Hartley said. “It shouldn’t take calls from reporters and cranky commuters to get results.”

‘Amwoes’ in the Northeast Corridor

Boston-bound Amtrak Regional train No. 94 of October 4, with Amtrak engine 949, an AEM-7, stopped at CP229.0 in Metro-North territory with a dead engine. Its engineer reset the engine, and the train continued on its way but without head-end power – meaning neither heat nor air conditioning.

At New Haven, another AEM-7 was added, No. 911, onto the point, and the train continued, but stopped again, this time at Mill River, a junction where trains either continue on to Boston via the Shore Line, or turn northward for Springfield, Mass.

The 911 was unable to make its automatic voltage changeover, but the engineer reset it and was able to continue eastward.

At Groton, Conn., the engineer reported a spurious penalty stop from the traffic and signal system, and requested permission for a reverse move to gain momentum to get over a hill. After the reverse move, the engineer had to manually override the controls to prevent another penalty stop. He then operated at restricted speed to Midway, about eight miles. His train made it to Boston’s Back Bay station, one mile short of South station, but then both engines died – and this time the engineer was unable to clear the problem by resetting them. No. 94 was terminated and its passengers transferred to train 178, which was nearby.

Rescue engine 901, another AEM-7, was sent from Southampton Street Yard to haul 94’s equipment to the yard.

Numbers climb again for freight carriers

Both intermodal and carload freight were up on U.S. railroads during September, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reported yesterday.

The last three weeks of September 2006 were the three highest-volume intermodal weeks in the history of U.S. railroading, as railroads originated 987,903 intermodal units during the month, up 50,543 trailers and containers (5.4 percent) from the same month last year. Carload volume also rose, totaling 1,352,159 units, up 4,366 carloads (0.3 percent) from September 2005.

Eleven of the 19 major commodity categories tracked by the AAR saw U.S. carload increases in September 2006 compared to September 2005. Intermodal traffic is not included in carload figures.

Commodities showing carload gains in September 2006 included coal (up 12,667 carloads, or 2.3 percent, to 569,005 carloads); metals and metal products (up 5,339 carloads, or 10.2 percent, to 57,675 carloads); and grain (up 4,457 carloads, or 5.2 percent, to 89,935 carloads).

Commodities showing carload decreases in September 2006 included motor vehicles and equipment (down 11,602 carloads, or 12.4 percent, to 82,144 carloads); nonmetallic minerals (down 5,081 carloads, or 16.3 percent, to 26,046 carloads); and stone, clay, and glass products (down 3,753 carloads, or 8.9 percent, to 38,607 carloads).

In the third quarter, total carloads on U.S. railroads rose 1.1 percent (48,271 carloads) to 4,346,112 carloads, led by coal (up 4.5 percent, or 78,072 carloads), metals and metal products (up 13.5 percent, or 22,192 carloads), and grain (up 5.6 percent, or 15,506 carloads). Carloads of motor vehicles and equipment fell 11.0 percent (28,947 carloads) in the third quarter; carloads of nonmetallic minerals were down 12.1 percent (12,167 carloads); and carloads of lumber and wood products were down 11.7 percent (8,922 carloads).

For the first nine months of 2006, total U.S. rail carloads were up 175,983 carloads (1.4 percent) to 13,136,203 carloads.

U.S. intermodal traffic was up 182,237 trailers and containers (6.1 percent) in the third quarter and was up 545,939 trailers and containers (6.3 percent) for the first nine months of 2006 to 9,203,475.

Total volume after 39 weeks was estimated at 1.3 trillion ton-miles, up 2.6 percent from 2005.

“An economy as diverse as ours is naturally stronger in some areas than in others, and the fact that freight railroads serve virtually every major sector is reflected in rail traffic figures,” noted AAR Vice President Craig F. Rockey. “The U.S. auto sector is not doing well right now, and that has depressed rail carloadings of automotive products. On the other hand, consumer spending still appears to be solid — a factor behind the record-setting intermodal traffic in September.”

Canadian rail carload traffic was down 1,045 carloads (0.3 percent) in September 2006 to 305,550 carloads, up 4,170 carloads (0.4 percent) in the third quarter, and down 32,598 carloads (1.1 percent) for the year to date to 2,909,928 carloads. In September, carload gains in grain (up 7,177 carloads, or 21.9 percent) and chemicals (up 2,660 carloads, or 4.7 percent), among other commodities, offset declines in carloads of motor vehicles and equipment (down 5,451 carloads, or 18.6 percent) and coal (down 5,012 carloads, or 14.9 percent), among others.

Canadian intermodal traffic was up 8,552 units (4.8 percent) in September 2006 compared with September 2005 to 187,769 units; up 31,651 units (5.6 percent) in the third quarter; and up 96,278 units (5.8 percent) for the first nine months of 2006 to 1,761,895 units.

Carloads carried on Kansas City Southern dé Mexico (formerly Transportación Ferroviaria Mexicana - TFM), a major Mexican railroad, were up 730 carloads (1.6 percent) in September 2006 to 46,817 carloads, while intermodal units carried totaled 18,858 units, up 2,283 units (13.8 percent). For the year-to-date, KCSM carloads carried were down 4.1 percent (18,866 carloads) to 441,081 carloads, while intermodal units carried were down 3.5 percent (5,615 units) to 155,627 trailers and containers.

For just the week ended September 30, the AAR reported the following totals for U.S. railroads: 345,299 carloads, up 2.4 percent (7,929 carloads) from the corresponding week in 2005, with loadings down 4.0 percent in the East and up 8.0 percent in the West; intermodal volume of 258,511 trailers and containers, up 4.9 percent (11,981 units) and the highest week on record; and total volume of an estimated 34.8 billion ton-miles, up 3.6 percent from the equivalent week last year.

For Canadian railroads during the week ended September 30, the AAR reported volume of 78,868 carloads, up 0.3 percent from last year; and 48,766 trailers and containers, up 6.6 percent from the corresponding week in 2005.

Combined cumulative rail volume for the first 39 weeks of 2006 on 13 reporting U.S. and Canadian railroads totaled 16,046,131 carloads, up 0.9 percent (143,385 carloads) from last year, and 10,965,370 trailers and containers, up 6.2 percent (642,217 units) from 2005’s first 39 weeks.

The AAR is online at


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