oil-train-railU.S. railroads are rallying customers, including lumber and steel companies, to fight a government proposal to slow trains hauling crude oil.

Urged by railroads, more than a dozen companies and business groups are warning regulators that cutting speeds to 40 mph from 50 mph would have a cascading effect, delaying other trains sharing the tracks carrying cargo such as furniture, grain and electronics.

Read the complete story at Transport Topics.

WASHINGTON — Two railroad industry trade groups have quietly asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to drop its requirement that rail carriers transporting large volumes of Bakken crude oil notify state emergency officials.

The railroads have maintained that they already provide communities with adequate information about hazardous materials shipments and that public release of the data could harm the industry from a security and business standpoint. But they haven’t been successful in convincing numerous states or the federal government.

Read the complete story at The Columbian.

oil-train-railThe oil and railroad industries are urging federal regulators to allow them as long as seven years to retrofit existing tank cars that transport highly volatile crude oil, a top oil industry official said Tuesday (Sept. 30). The cars have ruptured and spilled oil during collisions, leading to intense fires.

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters that the institute and the Association of American Railroads were jointly asking the Transportation Department for six months to 12 months for rail tank car manufacturers to gear up to retrofit tens of thousands of cars and another three years to retrofit older cars.

Read the complete Associated Press story at ABC News.

railyard1-150pxAmerica’s railroads today are handling more business more efficiently and safely and for better profits than ever before in their nearly 200 years of existence. They remain a growth industry.

The record $15 billion they invested in 2013 will no longer be a record in 2014, considering that two of the Class I’s alone will be spending close to $10 billion.

Read the complete story at Railway Age.

A mining and natural resources company, Oxbow Carbon and Minerals, has filed an antitrust suit against BNSF and Union Pacific, alleging the railroads have illegally fixed freight rates, in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, “to gouge customers.” Oxbow mines and ships coal and petroleum coke.

The lawsuit, before the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, was filed the same day the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association urged members of Congress to oppose legislation introduced in the Senate earlier this year by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) to bring railroads more fully under the nation’s antitrust laws. That bill is S. 49, the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2011.

There is no direct connection between the Oxbow lawsuit and S. 49, although they both deal with antitrust law. The lawsuit alleges violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.

Oxbow, controlled by industrialist William Koch, is asking the federal court to order BNSF and UP “to stop their illegal practices that restrain competition,” and is seeking unspecified damages that would be tripled under antitrust law if the lawsuit is successful.

The lawsuit also alleges BNSF and UP “have colluded” with CSX and Norfolk Southern, with the four railroads “[conspiring] since 2003 to use the deceptive concept of a ‘fuel surcharge’ to raise prices charged to their customers. The so-called ‘fuel surcharge’ has little to do with the actual cost of fuel and is simply a mechanism to increase rail shipping prices,” alleges Oxbow.

An attorney for one of the law firms representing Oxbow said, “This lawsuit will finally force Union Pacific and BNSF to account, in federal court, for their long history of breaking American antitrust laws. The complaint filed today describes how the railroads have used monopolization and price-fixing illegally to drive up the price of shipping coal and many other products, and those higher prices affect every business and consumer in the country.

“Only the power of the federal court can compel the freight railroad industry to fundamentally reform its business practices and stop abusing customers, consumers and the national economy,” said the attorney representing Oxbow.

Additionally, the Oxbow complaint alleges that since passage of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which partially deregulated railroads, mergers have resulted in only four major rail carriers – BNSF, CSX, NS and UP — and that the four “control shipping in the western states and agreed not to compete with each other or encroach on each other’s service territories by offering lower prices to potential customers.”

A BNSF spokesperson told Bloomberg news, “BNSF has not colluded or conspired in violation of any law.” UP said in a prepared statement that Oxbow had long warned of litigation unless the railroad came through with “exceptional commerical concessions.”

In its letter to congressional lawmakers June 7, the Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association said S. 49 “purports to repeal the railroads’ antitrust exemptions in order to treat the railroads like all other industries. However, the bill goes much further than repealing the limited antitrust exemptions the railroads currently have. It would subject railroads to discriminatory provisions that do not apply to other regulated industries.

“Railroads are already generally subject to the same antitrust laws as other businesses,” said the railroad associations in regard to S. 49. “The limited exemptions that the railroads do have exist only where the Surface Transportation Board regulates the same matter or activity. There is no gap in government regulatory oversight.

“Going beyond the antitrust laws, the bill limits the application to the railroads of the judicial doctrine which allows courts to defer to the primary jurisdiction of an administrative agency on matters that are within the agency’s areas of expertise and oversight,” the railroad associations told lawmakers.

“This doctrine is common for all regulated industries and for all legal matters,” said the railroad associations. “However, [S. 49] singles out only the railroads for hostile treatment in a manner which has nothing to do with an antitrust exemption.”

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration suggests scaling back by 10,000 miles a federal mandate that positive train control (PTC) be installed on some 140,000 miles of freight and passenger track no later than Dec. 31, 2015.

The 10,000 miles represents track over which freight railroads say neither passengers nor dangerous hazmat will be transported in 2015.

PTC is a crash-avoidance safety overlay system long supported by the National Transportation Safety Board and rail labor organizations. Installation of PTC was required by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, with the FRA subsequently setting the 140,000-mile mandate, which was said to encompass all track over which passengers and the most dangerous hazmat cargo travel.

Bloomberg business news writer Angela Greiling Keane reports that the proposed 10,000-mile scale-back of PTC is part of a White House initiative to repeal or modify regulations at 30 federal agencies said to pose a significant compliance costs to American business.

The Association of American Railroads had previously filed a federal lawsuit seeking the 10,000-mile scale back of the PTC mandate; and rail CEOs earlier this year visited the White House to plead for administration support.

Railroads contend that the 140,000-mile FRA mandate for PTC installation is based on outdated hazmat traffic data, and that railroads will not be transporting those hazmat cargos over the 10,000 miles sought to be removed from the mandate. The Association of American Railroads says the removal of those 10,000 miles from the mandate will save the industry some $500 million in installation costs.

There is currently no provision to liberalize the timetable for installation of PTC over the remaining 130,000 miles of track.

WASHINGTON — Rail traffic for the week ending Jan. 15 continued its upward climb, reports the Association of American Railroads.

Carloads were up by 7.5 percent compared with the same week in 2010, and intermodal (trailers and containers on flat cars) showed a gain of 5.8 percent over the same week in 2010.

The AAR reported that for the first two weeks of 2011, U.S. railroads reported an increase of 13.5 percent in carloads and 7.2 percent in intermodal.

Shippers are increasingly abandoning all-truck movements for their freight in favor of rail intermodal (trailers and containers atop rail flat cars), reports the Journal of Commerce.

Journal of Commerce trucking editor Bill Cassidy writes, “Supermarkets and shopping malls don’t have rail sidings, truckers love to point out, but the intermodal industry is moving steadily closer to the store floor.”

Increased investments in improved port transfers and the growing fleet of 53-foot long domestic containers are creating what shippers call more “seamless” transportation — hence the move to intermodal, says the Journal of Commerce.

The Association of American Railroads reported last week that through the first 46 weeks of 2010, total intermodal loads are up 14.8 percent over a similar period in 2009. 

The Association of American Railroads reports that through the first 46 weeks of 2010, total intermodal loads (trailers and containers atop rail flat cars) are up 14.8 percent over a similar period in 2009.

Intermodal loads on Class I railroads doubled from some 6 million in 1990 to more than 12 million in 2007. Although the economic downturn saw intermodal loads retreat to fewer than 10 million in 2009, they have resumed their upward climb, according to AAR statistics.