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February 28, 2015

Posts in "Rail"

February 23, 2015

Week Ahead: Tolling, Flight Tracking, Energy Shipping

Sen. James Inhofe, R- Okla., and Rep. Bill Shuster, R- Pa., will both address the AASHTO conference this week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. James Inhofe, R- Okla., and Rep. Bill Shuster, R- Pa., will both address the AASHTO conference this week. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It will be a busy week in Washington for transportation policy, with hearings, speeches, and panel discussions on everything from better tracking of airline flights to tolling on interstates.

Tuesday

The Mileage Based User Fee Alliance holds its second annual conference in Washington.

The Alliance includes state departments of transportation and contractors in the tolling business. Panelists will discuss such topics as California’s Road Usage Charge Pilot Program.

Full story

February 20, 2015

Week In Review: Derailment, Delay, And Delta’s CEO

Delta CEO Richard Anderson (Photo credit Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Delta CEO Richard Anderson (Photo credit Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

This week was dominated by the derailment of an oil train near Mount Carbon, W.V. The accident, which caused explosions and fires and destroyed one house, illustrated the risks that towns and cities face as Bakken crude from North Dakota makes the journey from the oil well to the tank of your car.

Full story

Unions, Governors Make A Transportation Weekend Of It

Rep. Peter King, R- N.Y. will be conferring with transportation union leaders this weekend (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Peter King, R- N.Y. will be conferring with transportation union leaders this weekend (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Trains and buses may be on a reduced weekend schedule but transportation events run at a brisk pace Saturday and Sunday.

In Atlanta, the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO holds its annual executive committee meeting with 32 member unions in Atlanta. The unions represent workers from airline pilots to light rail operators.

Labor leaders will confer with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx Saturday, and on Sunday Reps. Peter King, R-N.Y. and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. will meet with the union leaders.

Full story

February 19, 2015

Devolution For Transportation A Long-Term Strategy

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R- N.Y. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R- N.Y. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The conservative Heritage Foundation and its political arm Heritage Action want Congress to spend the money in the Highway Trust Fund on highways and not on subways, commuter trains, and other forms of mass transit.

Heritage transportation analyst Emily Goff said that current policy directs up to 20 percent of the money in the Highway Trust Fund to mass transit even though only 5 percent of commuters use mass transit. Most of the money that goes into the trust fund comes from gasoline and diesel taxes.

“How does the transit ride of someone in New York benefit someone who is a farmer in Montana who is using the roads?” she asked Wednesday at a Heritage briefing.

The think tank would like to devolve the federal transportation programs to the states. Goff said “letting the states who want to pursue transit do so” would result in better transit systems since states would design them to fit their needs and fund them themselves.

Full story

A Train Station, Or ‘An Incredible Destination’?

The lobby of the Radisson in Scranton, Pa., formerly the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad station. (Courtesy: Radisson Hotels)

The lobby of the Radisson in Scranton, Pa., formerly the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad station. (Courtesy: Radisson Hotels)

So valuable is some big city real estate that rail yards can’t be just rail yards anymore, and a train station must be far more than a place to get on a train, it must become a “destination” or better still a “a place to be seen.”

If you’re a utilitarian traveler from Washington to New York or from Washington to Philadelphia, you might be satisfied simply with “a clean, well-lighted place,” a crime-free train station with tolerably hygienic bathrooms.

Add a good coffee shop, and perhaps a place to get a glass of wine and a sandwich. And a newsstand, and maybe a book shop, like the late lamented Posman Books in New York’s Grand Central Station.

That’s enough for some travelers.

And most importantly, the train service itself should be frequent and reliable.

But if your calling in life is real estate development, those expectations are far too modest.

Full story

February 18, 2015

Derailment Complicates Regulators’ Rule-Making Task

Sen. John Thune, R- S.D., right, is one of the farm state lawmakers keenly interested in rail congestion  (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. John Thune, R- S.D., right, is one of the farm state lawmakers keenly interested in rail congestion (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Monday’s derailment in West Virginia of a CSX train carrying crude oil occurred at a politically sensitive point as the Obama administration is working on a long-awaited proposed regulation on tank cars that carry oil and ethanol.

Just two weeks ago, at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the pending tank car rule, members voiced frustration about the uncertainty that the administration has created by its slowness in issuing the rule.

The derailment “is just another example of why the federal government must act,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking Democrat Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon said Wednesday. “The federal government should not delay further — it must issue the new rules for safer rail tank cars as soon as possible.”

Full story

Foxx Sees Innovation Out-Running Regulation

Transportation Secretary Foxx inspects a self-driving car at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. on Feb. 2 (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Transportation Secretary Foxx inspects a self-driving car at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. on Feb. 2 (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In our interview Friday with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, he suggested that the pace of technological innovation in transportation is out-running the ability of federal regulators to devise rules governing the use of that technology.

He pointed out that rule-making by federal agencies, which entails a lengthy preparatory phase, a cost-benefit analysis by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, then a public comment period, and a round of refining of the final rule, “is designed to ensure that when rules do come out there’s been a thorough look at whether there are alternatives or whether there’s a better way to get there.”

Full story

February 17, 2015

W.V. Derailment A Reminder Of Delay In Tank Car Rule

An oil train derailment, explosion, and fire near Mount Carbon, W.V., Monday seems likely to increase pressure on the Obama administration to speed the release of a regulation to require more robust oil tank cars.

“You don’t see the Kanawha River on fire every day,” reporter Bob Aaron, who was the scene, said on Charleston television station WCHS Monday after the train derailed and at least one tank car went into the river. “It is a huge, huge ball of flame.”

CSX said in a statement Monday that “at least one rail car appears to have ruptured and caught fire.”

The railroad said its workers were cooperating “with first responders to address the fire, to determine how many rail cars derailed, and to deploy environmental protective measures and monitoring on land, air and in the nearby Kanawha River.”

Full story

February 10, 2015

Manufacturers Eyeing Fate Of NW Coal Export Terminals

A coal-fired power plant in northeast China's Jilin province.(Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

A coal-fired power plant in northeast China’s Jilin province.(Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Will there still be a demand for U.S. coal in places such as China if state and federal regulators finally decide to allow exports from two proposed terminals in the Pacific Northwest?

Whether the administration of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington allows coal to be shipped from the proposed terminals in his state is a question that will take years to answer.

The state is taking into account the environmental effects of the burning of coal in China and other foreign countries if it’s exported from Washington state terminals.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is pondering a request from the Lummi Indian nation that it reject a permit application for the proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point, Wash., about 13 miles from the U.S.-Canada border.

The Lummi argue that the increased ship traffic would endanger the tribe’s fishing grounds.

One coal industry ally, National Association of Manufacturers president Jay Timmons, was at the state capitol in Olympia Monday to urge the state to OK the terminals.

Full story

February 6, 2015

Week In Review: Struggling With Rivals and ‘Trolls’

Copies of President Obama's Fiscal Year 2016 budget await distribution in the Senate Budget Committee room Monday (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Copies of President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget await distribution in the Senate Budget Committee room Monday (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Running through our stories this week was the theme of struggle, the competitive fray, the battle between contending forces.

Since we’re in Washington, D.C., of course there’s the inevitable struggle between the executive and legislative branches over political power and the interpretation of law.

Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., told us that in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), enacted just last year, “We laid out a very reasonable, common-sense goal of increasing what we’re spending every year” on harbor dredging and port maintenance.

But Hahn said President Obama’s proposed Fiscal Year 2016 budget “decreases what we’re spending every year and in fact in 2025 is only proposing that 30 percent of all the money we collect would be returned to the ports.”

And we described another legislative vs. executive struggle over a new tank car standard which the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has yet to deliver, creating regulatory uncertainty among railroads, shippers, and car manufacturers.

A sardonic Rep. Peter DeFazio, D- Ore., said at a House hearing Tuesday the rule is “lost somewhere in the bowels of the administration between the agency and the trolls over at the Office of Management and Budget who will further delay the ruling.”

Then there’s the struggle between major U.S. airlines and Persian Gulf competitors such as Emirates over the terms of Open Skies agreements were intended to allow fairly free and open competition.

The U.S. air carriers are asking the Obama administration to consider re-negotiating those deals, alleging that Gulf air carriers are government subsidized.

Another form of struggle is the eternal one of labor versus management. We saw it this week in the West Coast port managers’ standoff with the International Longshore & Warehouse Union over a new contract.

Pacific Maritime Association President Jim McKenna as he warned that ports from Los Angeles to Seattle were at “the brink of collapse” due to union work slowdowns.

Derailment A Reminder That Ethanol, Too, Moves By Rail

Gas pump on  Nov. 15, 2013 in Pembroke Pines, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Gas pump on Nov. 15, 2013 in Pembroke Pines, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The train derailment which spilled ethanol into the Mississippi River on Wednesday north of Dubuque, Iowa was a reminder that amid the debate about safe shipments of crude oil, ethanol traffic on the nation’s railroads remains a significant business.

According to the LaCrosse Tribune, three rail tank cars carrying ethanol caught fire and at least eight leaked their contents after a train derailed along a stretch of Canadian Pacific track on the bank of the Mississippi River.

At a House hearing this week on “How the Changing Energy Markets Will Affect U.S. Transportation,” almost all the discussion was about rail and pipeline shipments of oil. The word “ethanol” was not mentioned.

According to the most recent available data from the Association of American Railroads, more than 306,000 carloads of ethanol were carried by railroads in 2012. That was 1 percent of total railroad carloads, up from just 0.3 percent in 2003.

Full story

February 4, 2015

Six Killed As Commuter Train Hits Vehicle On Tracks

Workers stand near a burned-out Metro North train car  Tuesday night in Valhalla, N.Y.   (Photo by Michael Graae/Getty Images)

Workers stand near a burned-out Metro North train car Tuesday night in Valhalla, N.Y. (Photo by Michael Graae/Getty Images)

The National Transportation Safety Board has dispatched investigators to the site of a fiery collision Tuesday night between a Metro-North commuter train and a Jeep Cherokee in the New York City suburb of Valhalla, N.Y. in which six people were killed.

According to the Journal News, which covers the lower Hudson River Valley, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said the driver of the car might have been outside her Jeep Cherokee when the crash occurred at about 6:30 pm. She and five people on the train were killed.

At a two-lane grade crossing, “the gates came down on top of the vehicle, which was stopped on the tracks,” said Aaron Donovan, an MTA spokesman, according to the Journal News. “The driver got out to look at the rear of the car, then she got back in and drove forward and was struck.”

Full story

New Yorker Sees Risk Of Terrorists Using Oil Trains

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D- N.Y.  (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D- N.Y. (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Could terrorists use one of the trains transporting flammable crude oil throughout the country as a weapon of mass destruction?

That disquieting scenario was sketched out Tuesday by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D- N.Y.

At a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Maloney said he represented an area of the Hudson Valley that “sees an enormous amount of oil being moved both by rail and by barge down the Hudson River.”

Full story

February 3, 2015

Members Fume Over Delayed Oil Tank Car Rule

Rep. Jeff Denham, R- Calif., chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call)

Rep. Jeff Denham, R- Calif., chairman of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call)

Another House hearing and another regulatory agency under bipartisan fire for its slowness in issuing an eagerly awaited rule that will have sweeping effects on several industries.

Tuesday’s hearing of the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads Pipelines and Hazardous Materials was a chance for members and industry spokesmen to assail the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) not issuing a rule that would tell railroads and rail car manufacturers the standard they need to meet for new oil tank cars.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Peter DeFazio said that even though PHMSA has known that the older tank cars, designated as DOT-111’s, “are not adequate or safe since 1993, PHMSA has yet to promulgate a rule for new standards. In fact, the industry itself is so frustrated that they’ve proposed a new standard to the agency.”

But the agency couldn’t act quickly, he said and the rule is “lost somewhere in the bowels of the administration between the agency and the trolls over at the Office of Management and Budget who will further delay the ruling.”

PHMSA has “managed to mangle the rule by merging it together with operational issues which are much more difficult to deal with and controversial,” DeFazio said. Full story

January 30, 2015

A Look Back: Cuomo, Coons, Coal, Climate Change

A bulldozer operates atop a coal mound in Shelbiana, Ky. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

A bulldozer operates atop a coal mound in Shelbiana, Ky. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

This week we looked at the buzz over a new revenue source for the nation’s highways and transit systems. Sen. Rand Paul, R- Ky., Sen. Barbara Boxer, D- Calif., Rep. John Delaney, D- Md., and others are proposing ways to tax repatriated profits and fill the Highway Trust Fund.

Think big – $170 billion, Delaney says. We’re a long way from a committee markup, but things seem to be moving.

We also used the appearance of Henry Kissinger before the Senate Armed Services Committee to revisit the perennial struggle of “guns versus butter,” or America’s overseas commitments versus its domestic needs (like subways, buses, and tunnels).

Kissinger once worked for a man who said, “Until we make public transportation an attractive alternative to private car use, we will never be able to build highways fast enough to avoid congestion.” That was in 1969. Are we there yet?

As well as congestion this week we also examined Cuomo, climate change, Chris Coons, and coal.

In that order:

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York ordered highways closed and commuter railroad and subway service to halt at 11pm Monday in the face of a blizzard, which in the end turned out to be a bit underwhelming, at least in New York. We looked at the economic winners and losers from the storm.
  • The Senate voted to disagree with the idea that “more frequent and intense extreme weather events” are damaging the nation’s highways, subways, and ports. It voted to kill an amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline bill offered by Sen. Chris Coons, D- Del., that he said “simply acknowledges that climate change is having an impact on our infrastructure” and doesn’t blame humans for it.
  • Burning coal to produce electricity allowed me to write this and allows you to read it, at least if you’re in one of the regions of the country where coal is heavily used, as in the Mid-Atlantic States. Burning coal produces carbon dioxide and, many scientists say, it contributes to climate change.

But railroads make money by moving coal from mine to power plant.

We heard this week from Norfolk Southern how a decline in coal shipments is hurting the railroad’s bottom line.

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