Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
January 27, 2015

Posts in "Rail"

January 27, 2015

As Blizzard Hits, Cuomo Bans Travel

Men delivering packages struggle in blowing snow in Manhattan's financial district on Monday as the city braced itself for a blizzard. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Men delivering packages struggle in blowing snow in Manhattan’s financial district on Monday as the city braced itself for a blizzard. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A massive nor’easter was hitting New York, New Jersey, and New England Monday night and Tuesday. That means that mass transit and the highways, at least in the New York City area, were closed, as of 11pm Monday.

In a press briefing late Monday afternoon, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat just elected to his second term, said he’d ordered commuter railroad and subway service to stop at 11pm Monday to allow train cars to be moved to safe storage locations “so that when the weather does leave we’re in a position for the system to start back up.”

He said the city and state had learned from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 that it was far better to protect subway and commuter trains so that service could be resumed as quickly as possible.

He also ordered a travel ban on highways and roads in a 13-county area, including the five boroughs of New York City, except for emergency vehicles.

“If you violate this state order it’s a possible misdemeanor; it’s fines up to $300,” he told a press conference.

Full story

January 26, 2015

Decline in Coal Shipments Hurting Norfolk Southern

A coal mound at the coal-fired Big Sandy Power Plant in Cattletsburg, Ky.  (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

A coal mound at the coal-fired Big Sandy Power Plant in Cattletsburg, Ky. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

Coal is still the single biggest source of energy for the electricity that makes it possible for you to read this story.

In 2014, coal supplied 39 percent of U.S. electricity generation.

And despite all you’ve read about rail shipments of crude oil, coal is “still by far the largest commodity volume moved by rail,” according to the Energy Information Administration, with about seven times more carloads of coal shipped than carloads of oil.

When your business relies on shipping coal, as does Norfolk Southern’s, it hurts when utilities to switch from coal to natural gas. So it was no surprise that coal was a dominant theme of the fourth quarter earnings conference call that Norfolk Southern executives did with investment analysts Monday.

Full story

Week Ahead: The State Of Freight Rail, Boeing’s Future

An Air New Zealand 787-9 Dreamliner (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

An Air New Zealand 787-9 Dreamliner (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Freight rail efficiency and the resilience of the nation’s infrastructure will be getting attention this week as will the continuing saga of falling oil prices.

Monday

Norfolk Southern, which serves 22 states mostly east of the Mississippi, announces its quarterly earnings. The railroad is a big carrier of coal and serves 24 automobile assembly plants, 14 of which belong to Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, according to Standard & Poor’s.

Tuesday

January is far away on the calendar from hurricane season but catastrophic storms like Super Storm Sandy in 2012 do have a lasting cost for federal and state governments by wrecking expensive infrastructure.

Case in point: the South Ferry subway station in Lower Manhattan was underwater for a week and was severely damaged by Sandy, which arrived just three years after a $500 million project to modernize that station had been completed.

A House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee panel holds a hearing on how to reduce the impact of catastrophe storms and accelerate recovery from them. On the witness list: current Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate and former FEMA head David Paulison.

Wednesday

Aircraft maker Boeing announces its earnings for the fourth quarter of its fiscal year.

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said last October that oil prices would need to fall “a long way from where we are now” before “you begin to see even [an] incremental impact” on airlines’ demand for more fuel-efficient aircraft.

But the price of crude has fallen from about $85 a barrel in October to less than $50 a barrel today.

Boeing delivered a record 723 commercial aircraft to airlines in 2014. One Boeing executive recently said annual deliveries “will grow easily to over 900 over the next few years.”

One reason Boeing can meet the booming demand is its non-union plant in North Charleston, S.C.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is trying to dissuade Boeing workers in her state from joining the union which represents Boeing workers in Washington state.

Also Wednesday morning, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee holds a hearing on safety and efficiency on freight railroads.

Among the witnesses are Frank Lonero of CSX Transportation and Chris Jahn, president of The Fertilizer Institute.

January 23, 2015

A Look Back At The Week: Drone Delays, Smoky Subway

A consultant holds a drone made by HiTec during the first-ever Drone Expo in Los Angeles on December 13, 2014.  (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

A consultant holds a drone made by HiTec during the first-ever Drone Expo in Los Angeles on December 13, 2014. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

We spent a lot of time this week reporting on something that’s up in the air: the yet-to-be-issued notice of proposed rule-making (NPRM) for small remotely piloted aircraft, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles.

That NPRM will be a big step as the Federal Aviation Administration moves toward a final rule allowing commercial use of drones.

But the FAA may not issue a final rule until 2017 – which drone industry ally Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D- Ore. says is “unacceptable.”

Michael Drobac, head of the Small UAV Coalition, said “technology is being stifled in the U.S., but only in the U.S.”

At a House hearing Wednesday the FAA’s man in charge of UAV integration James Williams said the rule must “go through the regulatory process that has been put in place by Congress and we’re working our way through that.” He added, “You’ve got to understand this is a very complex rulemaking.”

Meanwhile airports were one part of the nation’s infrastructure that did not get explicit mention by President Obama in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night – but Congress is going to pass or at least try to pas, an FAA reauthorization bill this year and it could embody significant policy changes.

On the ground or below it, travelers are at risk in our nation’s capital as a fatal Jan. 12 smoke incident on the Metro made dramatically apparent.

D.C.-area members of Congress are pledging to keep a wary watch over Metro managers as they work to fix the safety problems.

After sand growth, Union Pacific warily eyes oil prices

A pump jack and frac tanks stand in a field being developed for drilling in the Monterey Shale formation where hydraulic fracturing is done near Lost Hills, Calif. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

A pump jack and frac tanks stand in a field being developed for drilling in the Monterey Shale formation where hydraulic fracturing is done near Lost Hills, Calif. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

In its fourth quarter earnings conference call Thursday, Union Pacific reported an impressive 35 percent increase in its volume of shipments of sand used in fracking.

But oil prices have plummeted and the outlook for fracking growth in the United States in 2015 seems doubtful.

Union Pacific executive vice president Eric Butler told analysts that in the fourth quarter, the railroad’s crude oil shipments were up 7 percent compared to the same period in 2013.

“We saw gains in shipments from the Niobrara and Uinta Basins which more than offset continued weakness in Bakken shipments” caused by falling prices.

Full story

January 19, 2015

Week Ahead: Obama Agenda Setter And New Governors

Maryland Governor-elect Larry Hogan, at the microphone, flanked by other newly elected governors outside the White House after meeting with President Obama on Dec. 5, 2014.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Maryland Governor-elect Larry Hogan, at the microphone, flanked by other newly elected governors outside the White House after meeting with President Obama on Dec. 5, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This week features the president’s attempt to steer the agenda with his State of the Union address, as well as a focus in Washington on unmanned aerial vehicles. That industry and members of Congress impatiently await a proposed rule on commercial drone use from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Tuesday

At the National Press Club in Washington, the Small UAV Coalition holds a discussion and drone demonstration with industry representatives including Jesse Kallman, head of business development and regulatory affairs at the flight control software maker Airware and Lucas van Oostrum, co-founder and chief technology officer at Dutch drone manufacturer Aerialtronics.

Full story

January 16, 2015

A Look Back At Our Week: It’s Just Congestion All Over

Traffic jam in Mill Valley, Calif., this one caused by rain and flooding. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Traffic jam in Mill Valley, Calif., this one caused by rain and flooding. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Congestion. Transportation planners spend their lives analyzing it and trying to devise ways to relieve it.

Especially with lots of transportation wonks in Washington this week for the 94th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, we heard much expert discussion about congestion on the highways, in our cities, and at our seaports.

On the highways, HNTB’s congestion pricing guru Matthew Click gave us his thoughts on why the San Francisco Bay area is the most interesting place in country in 2015 to watch for development of toll lanes.

Once you exit the highway and arrive in the big city, you may face the question: where can I find a place to park?

We heard from urban planners at the TRB meeting who find that, in fact, parking is much over-supplied in many cities. Maybe not in midtown Manhattan at high noon on a weekday, but in small and mid-sized cities.

Full story

January 15, 2015

Drivers Suffering As Delays Continue To Clog Ports

Truck near the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Truck near the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Drayage, the business of carrying cargo containers by truck from a port terminal to a distribution center, warehouse, or rail ramp, is in a god-awful mess right now at ports from California to New Jersey.

The problems:

  • Shortages of chassis and dislocations of chassis, meaning that chassis are in the wrong places at a port when truckers need to put a container on a chassis and move it to a distribution center. The chassis problems mean delays for truckers.
  • Growing frustration among drayage drivers and shortages of drivers.
  • Bigger ships bringing more containers when they arrive at a port.
  • A labor dispute between the International Longshore & Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminal operators and shipping companies.

“The current congestion issues that we’re facing now are unprecedented, both nationally and in the San Pedro Bay port complex [the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles],” said Alex Cherin, a former executive at the Port of Long Beach who is now senior vice president at Englander Knabe & Allen, a Los Angeles lobbying and public policy firm.

Full story

January 13, 2015

NTSB Increases Pressure for Automatic Train Braking

The wreckage of a Metro-North commuter train lies on its side after it derailed in the Bronx on Dec. 1, 2013. Four passengers died in the accident. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)

The wreckage of a Metro-North commuter train lies on its side after it derailed in the Bronx on Dec. 1, 2013. Four passengers died in the accident. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images)

The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday issued its annual tally of Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements, adding to the list for the first time the issue of the safety of railroad tank cars carrying crude oil and ethanol.

The safety board also urged the railroad industry to adopt a technology known as “Positive Train Control” (PTC) by the end of this year.

“We also added a date to one of our transportation priorities,” said NTSB acting Chairman Christopher Hart said. “We don’t usually do that, but we did it for a reason this year: implement Positive Train Control in 2015.”

Full story

By Tom Curry Posted at 12:20 p.m.
Rail, Transit, Uncategorized

Cell Phone Signals Offer Massive Trove of Travel Data

Travelers on the New York City subway, many of whom are transmitting data about their travel patterns. (Photo credit should read Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Travelers on the New York City subway, many of whom are transmitting data about their travel patterns. (Photo credit should read Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Every hour of every day cell phones are generating data which transportation planners, real estate developers, and investors use to help them to understand traffic flows, shopping patterns, and population shifts.

An Atlanta-based company, AirSage, collects real-time data (15 billion data points every day) from cell phone tower interactions – whenever a person sends a text, makes a phone call, or when a phone is searching for the next cell phone tower.

AirSage was one of the exhibitors at the annual Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington this week.

The company draws the data, which come from more than 100 million mobile devices, from two of the top three cell phone providers. The data cover more than a third of the U.S. population.

Full story

Safety Board Investigating Fatal D.C. Metro Incident

Smoke inhalation victims walk towards a medical aid bus after passengers on the Washington, D.C. Metro were injured when smoke filled the L'Enfant Plaza station Monday.(Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Smoke inhalation victims walk towards a medical aid bus after passengers on the Washington, D.C. Metro were injured when smoke filled the L’Enfant Plaza station Monday.(Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

The National Transportation Safety Board  has launched an investigation into the incident on Washington D.C.’s Metro system in which one woman died Monday.

NTSB said that its investigators are on the scene at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station.  Shortly after pulling out of the station Monday afternoon, a subway train filled with smoke. One witness told the Washington Post that it took about 40 minutes for firefighters to arrive and to evacuate passengers from the train.

Eight-four people were hospitalized, including the passenger who died, D.C. fire department spokesman Tim Wilson said, according to the Post.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles told the local NBC affiliate Monday night that two passengers were in critical condition.

According to the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were 51 subway fatalities nationwide in 2012, (the most recent year for which data is presented). For the ten years from 2003 to 2012, fatalities averaged 56 per year.

In any given year the number of subway fatalities is about one-tenth of one percent of all U.S. transportation fatalities, with car, truck, and motorcycle fatalities accounting for more than 75 percent of all transportation fatalities.

January 12, 2015

BNSF Warns Against State Curbs On Oil Shipments

BNSF locomotive in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

BNSF locomotive in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The increase in domestic crude production not only in the Bakken region but in the Eagle Ford in Texas and elsewhere “truly the greatest business development that I think we’ll all see in our collective lifetime,” BNSF Railway Executive Chairman Matthew Rose said Sunday at a panel discussion at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting in Washington.

But Rose also put the crude-by-rail story in context: crude shipments account for only four percent of BNSF’s total business. “Most people think it’s 25 percent of our business,” he said. BNSF is also the largest coal hauler and largest ethanol hauler in the country.

Full story

January 7, 2015

Brown Candid On Long Time Line For High-Speed Rail

Gov. Jerry Brown in July of 2012 holds bill which he signed to OK construction of California's $68 billion high-speed rail line, with Lynn Schenk, longtime proponent of high-speed rail looking on at Union Station in Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Gov. Jerry Brown in July of 2012 holds bill which he signed to OK construction of California’s $68 billion high-speed rail line, with Lynn Schenk, longtime proponent of high-speed rail looking on at Union Station in Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

At the ground-breaking ceremony Tuesday in Fresno for California’s high-speed rail system, Gov. Jerry Brown, who at age 76 has just begun his fourth term as governor, delivered candid and witty comments on the project’s cost (estimated to be $68 billion) and its extended time horizon (15 years):

  • “When I was first elected governor, I had some doubts about this project.”

Brown credited former Rep. Lynn Schenk with helping change his mind.

Full story

January 6, 2015

Governors’ Inaugurals Highlight Infrastructure

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at his election night victory party on Nov. 4. Walker took his oath Monday. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at his election night victory party on Nov. 4. Walker took his oath Monday. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

Governors’ inaugural addresses are usually delivered in broad thematic strokes, not etched in painstaking detail.

But in the inaugural speeches delivered on Monday we saw references to infrastructure that are worth noting:

  • Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown of California, starting his fourth term, gave a plug early in his inaugural address for the state’s high-speed rail project.

Brown, along with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, will be at the train’s formal ground-breaking ceremony in Fresno Tuesday.

During last year’s campaign, Brown’s Republican opponent Neel Kashkari derided the high-speed train as “the crazy train” which he said was “not only a waste of money, it is a great example–it is a symbol–of Sacramento having the wrong priorities.”

That didn’t seem to help Kashkari, who won only 40 percent of the vote.

Brown said in his address Monday that the state is grappling with its water supply infrastructure by issuing bonds.

But “equally important is having the roads, highways and bridges in good enough shape to get people and commerce to where they need to go. It is estimated that our state has accumulated $59 billion in needed upkeep and maintenance.” He told the legislature “we must do something about it.”

  • In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker delivered his second inaugural, pledging to “build the needed infrastructure to support a thriving economy. A transportation system to assist major industries, like manufacturing, agriculture, forest products, and tourism is a key part of this infrastructure.”

In November, Walker’s transportation secretary proposed $750 million in taxes and fees to pay for highways – including a five cent per gallon increase in the state’s 32.9 cents per gallon gasoline tax.

Walker hasn’t revealed if he’ll include that idea in his budget proposal.

He said last week that raising the gas tax would be a “hard pill to swallow” and asked “is there enough elsewhere in the budget, in terms of property and income taxes being reduced, that could potentially offset that?”

  • Finally in the state with the smallest population but with by far the largest coal output, Wyoming, Republican Gov. Matt Mead said in his inaugural Monday that “We will continue to expand ports, increase international trade, including coal exports, [and] invest in our communities and in our infrastructure….”

Last month Mead last month filed a petition to take part in administrative hearings in Oregon to try to reverse a decision by the state’s Department of Land that blocked a coal terminal on the Columbia River.

The proposed project would bring up to 8.8 million tons of coal a year by train from Montana and Wyoming to Boardman, Ore. From there it would be shipped on barges downstream for export to China and other Asian markets.

Mead said last month Oregon’s decision would cost his state up to $30 million a year in foregone coal tax revenues. He is also battling the state of Washington over a proposed coal terminal there.

January 5, 2015

Let’s Review the Bidding on Infrastructure Funding

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Sunday "we have to look at all the options" on revenue for infrastructure.  (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Sunday “we have to look at all the options” on revenue for infrastructure. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sunday’s political talk shows reminded anyone still emerging from their holiday stupor that despite the New Year, lawmakers don’t seem closer to an accord on how to pay for highways and infrastructure.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the new chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, broke no new ground by saying on Fox News Sunday that “I don’t think we take anything off the table at this point” — including an increase in the federal excise tax on gasoline.

Thune’s comment drew the retort “WHAT?!?” on Twitter from Dan Holler, communications director for the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action for America, but what Thune said to Fox News on Sunday was what he said to us last November: “I’m not taking any options off the table” on revenue measures as part of a long-term surface transportation bill.

Full story

Sign In

Forgot password?

Or

Subscribe

Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...