Railroad News

Rising Stars 2020: Ashley King

Ashley King, 35
Director of customer service
Norfolk Southern Railway

Nominator’s quote: “Ashley and her colleague and co-nominee JP McNeil have been key leaders in standing up the new customer service center at Norfolk Southern and helping drive a low-effort interaction for our customers. They have been integral in the design of the new center, the selection and continuous training of a high quality staff, the implementation of new technology and the development of meaningful metrics that depict the level of customer service Norfolk Southern is providing its customers.” — John Scheib, NS

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MTA CEO urges Apple to create mask-compatible iPhone Face ID technology

Rail News Home Security 8/11/2020 Rail News: Security
image Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Patrick Foye yesterday called on Apple Inc. to modify its iPhone Face ID technology to recognize users wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.    In a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Foye asked the company to accelerate work on the issue so that iPhone users may more easily unlock their phones using the Face ID feature in order to use their devices while at stations or on trains. “Upgrades enabling users to unlock their phones while keeping their masks securely covering their nose and mouth would be beneficial in all public spaces, not just on public transportation,” Foye wrote. Foye also suggested Apple enable notifications to alert users of Apple’s recent iPhone modification that allows users to input passcodes more quickly when the Face ID function fails. This would help encourage people to keep their masks on to unlock their phones, he wrote.  The MTA is willing to collaborate on that messaging — whether through in-device notifications or signage in MTA stations and on trains, he said. MTA requires all riders wear face coverings at stations and on trains to limit the spread of coronavirus.   

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MARTA earns certification of quality management system

Rail News Home Passenger Rail 8/11/2020 Rail News: Passenger Rail
image The certification was achieved after a nearly two-year, five-phase process.Photo – MARTA

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Department of Safety and Quality Assurance (DSQA) last week achieved the International Organization for Standardization 9001:2015 certification of its quality management system (QMS). 

The certification was achieved after a nearly two-year, five-phase process that included several rounds of internal and external audits of MARTA’s DSQA and QMS, agency officials said in a press release.

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Retail imports expected to register lowest annual total in years, NRF says

Rail News Home Intermodal 8/11/2020 Rail News: Intermodal
image U.S. ports handled 1.61 million TEUs of cargo in June, down 10.5 percent year-over-year.Photo – Port of Oakland

Imports at major U.S. retail container ports this year are expected to register the lowest total in four years as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. economy continues, according to a report released yesterday by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates

U.S. ports handled 1.61 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo in June, up nearly 5 percent compared to May but down 10.5 percent year over year, NRF officials said in a press release.

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George Washington University to advise Amtrak's pandemic response

Rail News Home Amtrak 8/11/2020 Rail News: Amtrak
image Amtrak today announced it has engaged the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health to provide ongoing technical expertise and guidance to enhance the railroad's response to the coronavirus pandemic. The research will supplement Amtrak's efforts to deliver a "new standard of travel" that includes enhanced cleaning protocols, contactless amenities, social distancing on board and in stations, required face coverings and sophisticated air filtration, Amtrak officials said in a press release. "The extensive expertise within the [university's] Department of Environmental and Occupational Health will augment our internal health and safety team as we continue to make decisions to protect customers and our employees who serve them," said Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Safety Officer Steve Predmore.  Amtrak currently has a full-time medical director and public health and safety team who've been on the front lines of addressing the pandemic's impact on the railroad, its employees and passengers. As part of the new partnership, the GW Milken School of Public Health will advise Amtrak's team in the following areas: • reviewing safe work practices, return-to-work plans and guidance for employees, managers and facility operators;
• monitoring the pandemic using regional and national data sources to anticipate and respond to geographic transmission trends;
• implementing workplace and operational practices that exceed the latest public health guidelines for COVID-19 prevention;
• reviewing and recommending disinfection, sanitization and decontamination practices in trains, stations and facilities; and
• providing timely and evidence-based advice to promote a safe work culture for Amtrak employees and travel experience for Amtrak riders.

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AAR: Mexican railroads' carload haul falls 10 percent through July

Rail News Home Rail Industry Trends 8/11/2020 Rail News: Rail Industry Trends
image Ferrocarril y Terminal del Valle de Mexico (Ferrovalle) operates railroads and terminals in and around Mexico City.Photo – Ferrocarril y Terminal del Valle de Mexico Facebook page

Mexican railroads originated an average of 19,160 carloads per week during July, down 11.1 percent from July 2019 and down 6.2 percent from June 2020, according to the Association of American Railroads' (AAR) most recent Rail Time Indicators report.

The motor vehicles and parts category — which accounted for 22 percent of Mexican carloads in July — also was down 11.1 percent during the month compared with the same period a year ago, according to the report.

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SCAG: Vehicle traffic rebounds as transit ridership continues decline

Rail News Home Passenger Rail 8/11/2020 Rail News: Passenger Rail
image The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority logged a 68 percent ridership decline in April.Photo – LA Metro Facebook

Six Southern California counties have logged a significant decline in transit use since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Southern California Association of Governments’ (SCAG) first analysis of the coronavirus’ impact on travel.

Transit ridership in Southern California began dropping in March and then fell sharply between 65 percent and 85 percent in April compared with the same month last year. For example, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority logged a 68 percent ridership decline in April, and the Metrolink commuter railroad recorded a 90 percent decline during the month.

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NS signs pledge to eliminate plastic pollution

Rail News Home Sustainability 8/11/2020 Rail News: Sustainability
image Norfolk Southern Railway last week signed a pledge, dubbed Operation Clean Sweep, to help eliminate pollution caused by micro plastics being released into marine ecosystems. The American Chemistry Council and Plastics Industry Association developed the pledge, which is part of an international program that provides guidance for companies to help reduce plastics pollution.  NS, a key partner in the plastics supply chain, expressed its support by becoming the most recent U.S. Class I to sign the pledge, NS officials said in a press release.  NS Chief Marketing Officer Alan Shaw signed the pledge on behalf of the railroad, joining several of its customers to raise awareness for the environmental concern, company officials said. "As part of the pledge, Norfolk Southern will work to achieve zero loss of plastic resin into the environment," said Shaw. "We are developing an extensive education campaign to raise awareness among our employees and we will increase our scrutiny to make sure the hopper cars we transport are properly secured and sealed." The pledge becomes part of other NS actions and commitments aimed at protecting the environment, such as carbon mitigation programs, low-emission locomotives, land conservation and living shoreline projects, said NS Chief Sustainability Officer Josh Raglin. 

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Connell rail interchange project completes design phase

Rail News Home Short Lines & Regionals 8/11/2020 Rail News: Short Lines & Regionals
image The Columbia Basin rail line goes through the heart of the Columbia Basin in eastern Washington state.Photo – Connell Rail Interchange Coalition's Facebook page

The track and infrastructure design for the Connell rail interchange project in eastern Washington is completed, the Connell Rail Interchange Coalition announced yesterday.

In 2015, the Washington State Legislature awarded the project $10 million in funding to partially complete the project. Now that the track and infrastructure design is completed, the project has become eligible for other sources of federal and state funding, coalition officials said in a press release.

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Rising Stars 2020: Katrina Kalafatis

Katrina Kalafatis, 33
Project engineer
HNTB Corp. 

Nominator’s quote: “Katrina has been consistently praised by the managers she performs work for as having a strong technical background, taking responsibility for her work, and being a very well-organized engineer. She takes a lot of initiative and her excellence in abilities to coordinate and communicate are key to successfully executing projects locally and remotely.” — E. Gregory Thorpe, HNTB

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Chicago RTA to draft development plan for Crystal Lake Metra stations

Rail News Home Passenger Rail 8/10/2020 Rail News: Passenger Rail
image The plan will identify strategies to enhance development and accessibility around two Metra stations on the Union Pacific/Northwest line.Photo – RTA

Officials from Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and Crystal Lake, Illinois, last week began creating the Crystal Lake and Pingree Road Stations Strategic Action Plan

The plan will identify strategies to enhance development and accessibility around two Metra stations on the Union Pacific/Northwest line over the next decade.

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Caltrain adds revenue measure to November ballot

Rail News Home Passenger Rail 8/10/2020 Rail News: Passenger Rail
image The revenue measure would be used to preserve service and maintain and expand operations following the launch of electrified service.Photo – Caltrain Facebook

Caltrain’s board last week voted to place an eighth-cent sales tax on the November ballot, a measure that would provide the San Francisco commuter railroad with a dedicated revenue source. 

The revenue measure would be used to preserve service, maintain and expand operations following the launch of electrified service in 2022 and invest in equity polices to make the system more affordable and accessible, Caltrain officials said in a press release.

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Rail unions sue Class Is over health benefit changes

Rail News Home Labor 8/10/2020 Rail News: Labor
image The BLET is one of 12 unions that sued the Class Is over modifications to health and welfare benefits.Photo – ble-t.org/

Twelve rail unions, whose members and their families are covered by the NRC/UTU Health and Welfare Plan and the Railroad Employees National Health and Welfare Plan, last week filed a lawsuit against the Class Is in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The suit asks the court to force the railroads to bargain in good faith with the unions over mandatory subjects of bargaining. The issues involved have been the subject of collective bargaining for decades and are part of the Class Is' bargaining notices served Nov. 1, 2019, under the Railway Labor Act, according to a press release issued by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), one of the 12 unions involved in the case.

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Metrolinx shortlists tunneling contractors for Scarborough, Eglinton Crosstown West extensions

Rail News Home Passenger Rail 8/10/2020 Rail News: Passenger Rail
image Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario (IO) last week put six teams on a short list to advance tunneling work on the Scarborough Subway and Eglinton Crosstown West extensions, which are part Ontario's larger CA$28.5 billion subway expansion plan. Acciona Infrastructure Canada Inc., Strabag Inc., and East End Connectors — a team lead by Dragados Canada Inc., Aecon Infrastructure Management Inc. and Ghella Canada Ltd. — have been invited to respond to a request for proposals and prepare submissions detailing how they would perform tunneling work for the Scarborough Subway Extension.  The Scarborough Subway Extension is a nearly 5-mile extension of Metrolinx’s Line 2 from Kennedy Station to McCowan Road/Sheppard Avenue. East End Connectors, Fast Eglinton Group — a team lead by FCC Construccion SA, Astaldi Canada Enterprises Inc. and Salini-Impregilo SpA — and North American Tunnel Partners led by EllisDon Capital Inc. and Barnard LP were put on the short list for tunneling work on the Eglinton Crosstown West project, which would extend the Eglinton Crosstown light rail 5.7 miles. The Eglinton Crosstown West extension will run mostly underground, westward from the future Mount Dennis station to Renforth Drive. The tunneling contracts are expected to be awarded in mid-2021. Teams were selected for the list based on criteria in the request for qualifications process that began in March. Criteria included design and construction experience and the financial capacity to complete the project. Teams with the top three scores were then placed on the list.  

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RTD-Denver narrows CEO search to three finalists

Rail News Home Railroading People 8/10/2020 Rail News: Railroading People
image Left to right: Johnson, Le Grand, QuigleyPhoto – RTD-Denver; Quigley LinkedIn

The Regional Transportation District of Denver's (RTD) board last week identified three candidates as finalists in the agency's search for its next chief executive officer and general manager. 

The finalists being considered out of more than 58 applicants are:

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Canadian railroads' streak of intermodal records likely to end in 2020, AAR report says

Rail News Home Rail Industry Trends 8/10/2020 Rail News: Rail Industry Trends
image Canadian railroads' three-year streak of annual intermodal records is likely to end in 2020, according to the Association of American Railroads' (AAR) latest Rail Time Indicators (RTI) report. During the first seven months of 2020, Canadian railroads' intermodal traffic declined 6.7 percent, or 142,188 units, compared with the same period in 2019. In July, Canadian railroads logged a 6.2 percent decline in intermodal volume. During the entire month, Canadian railroads originated an average of 66,693 intermodal units per week, the second most for any month so far in 2020 — and just behind April, the report states. Meanwhile, total Canadian carloads decreased 13.2 percent in July compared with July 2019. AAR attributed the decline to decreases in petroleum and petroleum products, down 43 percent; crushed stone, sand and gravel, down 52.5 percent; and coal, down 31.3 percent. "The collapse of the oil market hit Canadian oil producers hard," the report states, noting that Canada's National Energy Board reported that 84 rigs were drilling for oil on June 28, 2019, compared with four on June 26, 2020. Commodities that posted carload gains for Canadian railroads last month were led by farm products, which were up 55.7 percent. That category includes pulses, which include lentils, chickpeas, dry peas and beans. Canada is the world's top supplier of pulses.  Canadian carloads of grain rose 14.2 percent in July, the biggest year-over-year gain in 15 months, according to the RTI report. AAR's Policy and Economics Department produces the RTI report.

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STB defers decision in Metra-UP dispute over commuter-rail service

Rail News Home Federal Legislation & Regulation 8/10/2020 Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation
image The Surface Transportation Board (STB) last week declined to intervene in an ongoing dispute between Metra and Union Pacific Railroad over three Chicago-area commuter-rail lines that UP operates.  Metra late last month asked the STB to issue a preliminary injunction to prevent UP from taking steps that the Chicago commuter railroad says would "degrade or halt" service on the three Metra lines operated by UP. In a separate filing, the Chicago commuter railroad also asked the STB to determine whether UP has a legal obligation to provide commuter service. UP maintains that it has no such obligation, but Metra "strongly disagrees," Metra officials said in a press release last month.  UP owns the three lines in the Metra system, including rights of way, track, yards and most stations and parking lots. Historically, UP has operated them with its own crews under a purchase-of-service agreement (PSA) with Metra. UP now wants to turn over operation of the commuter service to Metra. The two parties have been negotiating a new agreement for nearly a year, but remain far apart and are now engaged in a lawsuit over the matter. Earlier this summer, UP advised Metra that the Class I would begin to phase out various services provided under the PSA on July 31. Metra asked the STB to issue a declaratory order that UP has a "continuing common carrier obligation" to provide commuter-rail service. UP asked the STB to hold the proceeding in abeyance pending a decision on Metra's motion to dismiss or stay a related case that UP filed in December 2019 in federal district court. UP stated that the court case involves the same issues that Metra raised in the court case. The STB ruled the proceeding will be held in abeyance. It also directed Metra and UP to notify the board of any decision in the court case. The full STB ruling can be read here.  

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BNSF's Q2 revenue tumbled 22 percent on lower volumes

Rail News Home BNSF Railway 8/10/2020 Rail News: BNSF Railway
image BNSF Railway Co. reported second-quarter 2020 revenue declined 22 percent to $4.6 billion from $5.9 billion, while operating income fell 14 percent to $1.7 billion from $2 billion during the same quarter last year. The Class I attributed the revenue and operating income declines primarily to an 18 percent decrease in volume. In addition, average revenue per car fell 5 percent during the quarter driven by a one-time favorable outcome of an arbitration hearing recognized in Q1 2019 and lower fuel surcharges, BNSF officials said in a financial statement posted on the railroad's website. BNSF's Q2 2020 net income tumbled 15 percent to $1.1 billion from $1.3 billion a year ago. Operating expenses fell 26 percent during the quarter, to $2.87 billion from $3.88 billion. The decrease reflects lower volume-related costs, productivity improvements and lower costs related to improved weather conditions. The Class I posted a Q2 operating ratio of 61.1 percent, down from 64.8 percent a year ago. BNSF's volume decreases during the quarter were primarily the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which negative affected volumes beginning late in Q1 and continued through Q2. The decrease in volume during the quarter also resulted from the following:
• Consumer product volume fell 12 percent primarily due to lower international intermodal and automotive volumes due to the pandemic.
• Industrial product volumes fell 26 percent, primarily due to a pandemic-related decrease in U.S. industrial production and reduced demand in the energy sector.
• Agricultural products volumes decreased 7 percent, primarily due to the pandemic's impact on ethanol and related commodities and due to lower net exports.
• Coal volume plummeted 34 percent, primarily due to lower electricity demand driven by the pandemic and a mild winter, as well as low natural gas prices and plant retirements.

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Rising Stars 2020: Daniela Jaramillo

Daniela Jaramillo, 31
Director of asset management
Florida East Coast Railway

Nominator’s quote: “She's not afraid to push back when she knows something needs resolve, so she can keep moving the team forward.” — Steve Wicker, Florida East Coast Railway

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Rail supplier news from Alstom, Kronos, Transdev and WSP (Aug. 7)

Rail News Home Railroading Supplier Spotlight 8/7/2020 Rail News: Railroading Supplier Spotlight
image Alstom launched a validation test campaign for the Prima T8 AZ8A freight locomotive in Azerbaijan.Photo – Alstom

Alstom launched a validation test campaign for the Prima T8 AZ8A freight locomotive on the main freight line in Azerbaijan. The validation ultimately will allow Alstom’s locomotives to enter commercial service in the country, Alstom officials said in a press release. In 2014, Azerbaijan Railways awarded EKZ, a joint venture comprised of Alston and Transmashholding, a contract to supply 40 Prima T8 AZ8A locomotives to the railway. Meanwhile, Alstom officials last month celebrated the groundbreaking of a hydrogen filling station for passenger trains in Lower Saxony, Germany. The station will be the first of its kind in the world, Alstom officials said in a press release. Alstom is a project partner.

Kronos Inc. announced that Greater Anglia, a train operator in the United Kingdom, has selected Workforce Dimensions to modernize its information technology infrastructure. The new system will allow employees to access work schedules, request time off and pick up open shifts, and allows managers to see the impact of unplanned absences and alerts them to potential compliance risks, Kronos officials said in a press release. 

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