Calendar of Events
|Railroads Plan Major Investments|
|Written by Tessa Borklund|
|Monday, 28 November 2011 14:23|
By David Gambrel
In early September 2011, STB Chairman Dan Elliott wrote to each of the nation’s major railroads requesting they summarize important operating features they have experienced or expect to experience in 2011. The top seven North American railroads expect to spend more than $14 billion on freight service and capital improvements in 2011. The two major western railroads, UP and BNSF, will spend $3.3 and $3.7 billion respectively. BNSF reported its expected cost of flood-related activities, but specific delineations were usually omitted in the reports.
BNSF does not expect any significant freight surges for the balance of the year, but does expect to see continued improvement in coal velocity and deliveries. UP’s strategy of maintaining “surge capacity” with extra locomotives puts it in an excellent position to handle peak business. Except for UP’s chemical shipments, which continue to be strong, neither railroad predicts an increase in freight shipments that would cause them shipping problems.
Flooding & Extreme Weather Conditions
Recent issues of Coal Age have dealt with spring flooding in the Midwest, but have focused on the Lower Mississippi River. The western railroads also dealt with flooding problems, but these were chiefly in or near the Missouri River Valley. Record snowfall in the northern Midwestern states led to record runoffs and floods in the Missouri and Souris River valleys, causing some of the worst weather impacts in the history of the western railroads. The Corps of Engineers reported that in the 114 years of detailed record-keeping, the amount of runoff from winter snowfall was the highest level it had ever seen.
BNSF temporarily lost two of its busiest corridors to floodwaters. Both main tracks in Minot, N.D., which handle about 30 trains per day, were flooded from late June until early July. Along the Missouri River BNSF’s St. Joseph Subdivision was completely severed for weeks, disrupting the flow of about 50 trains per day. BNSF estimates its total spending due to flood-related activities to have been about $375 million. UP faced the loss of its three-track, 120-train-per-day Central Corridor when the Platte River began carving a new channel next to its track, but was able to save the tracks by constructing a new levee. UP did lose its Falls City and River subdivisions to flooding from late June through most of July due to levee breaks. Farther south, CN Railway was out of service due to flooding for three weeks at its Centralia and Cairo subdivisions, and for two weeks at its Memphis, Low Line and Y&MV subdivisions. It operated for three weeks on slow orders at Baton Rouge; Bonnet Carre Spillway Bridge was washed out and out of service for one week. (Detailed accounts of flood-caused problems may be found on the individual railroad websites. BNSF has included several video clips.)
Corrective measures taken by both BNSF and UP during the flood were extraordinary. BNSF rerouted as many as 460 train starts per day and relocated nearly 500 train crew employees. They raised miles of track by up to 8 feet and replaced many miles of damaged track, bridges, and structures. To halt the Platte River from undercutting its Central Corridor, UP used helicopters, an armada of dump trucks, and the Nebraska National Guard to build a levee to hold the river in its course.
Winter weather was almost forgotten in the wake of record flooding in the first half of 2011, but was the genesis of much of the flooding. Record snowfalls in the Dakotas, Chicago and the Twin Cities affected key yards and tracks, such as CP’s St. Paul Yard. UP recently completed a $100 million parallel route through Feather River Canyon, allowing its trains to avoid a historic blizzard in Donner Pass. However, the Chicago and eastern service was completely shut down by a blizzard in the Chicago area early in the year.
Positive Train Control
Anyone who has lost entire trainloads of coal due to derailments or collisions, or who has lost friends or relatives due to rail-related causes will certainly appreciate STB’s high level of concern for improving Positive Train Control.
Positive Train Control (PTC) refers to technology that is capable of preventing train-to-train collisions, overspeed derailments and casualties or injuries to roadway workers operating within their limits of authority as a result of unauthorized incursion by a train. PTC is also capable of preventing train movements through a switch left in the wrong position. PTC systems vary widely in complexity and sophistication. The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA) has mandated the widespread installation of PTC systems by December 2015.
Currently, all of the affected railroads are aggressively pursuing development of the PTC implementation plans required by the RSIA and are adapting their individual PTC systems to maximize interoperability. BNSF, UP, NS and CSX are leading the interoperability effort for technologies based on the Electronic Train Management System (ETMS) for rail traffic outside of the Northeast Corridor (NEC). The National Passenger Rail Corporation (Amtrak) is undertaking similar action for rail traffic in the NEC using the Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System.
The Eastern Railroads
CSX and NS both expect export shipments of coal to remain strong due to continued global demand for steel production, and are planning accordingly. CSX has invested in significant upgrades at its Curtis Bay Terminal in Baltimore, and is working with the State of Alabama to increase capacity at the Alabama State Docks in Mobile. As shown in the table, both railroads will invest heavily in rail cars and locomotives, many of which will be devoted to hauling coal.
Much of the CSX capacity expansion will continue to be focused on its National Gateway Project, an $850 million joint venture with the federal government to create a highly efficient cleared corridor for double-stack container traffic. It will cover the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina. CSX is looking to the states and federal government to chip in more than half the cost, while the railroad commits $395 million of its own money.
The NS version of a cleared double-stack route is called the Crescent Corridor. It is a $2.5 billion initiative connecting nine states running in a southwesterly direction from New Jersey to Memphis, Tenn. NS has received or expects to receive about $256 million in public capital funding commitments from the states of Pennsylvania, Alabama and Tennessee, and from the federal TIGER stimulus program.