capitolU.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today held his second hearing as chairman entitled, “Freight Rail Transportation: Enhancing Safety, Efficiency, and Commerce.” The hearing focused on challenges facing our nation’s freight rail network created by higher demand, pending and proposed rules and regulations, and infrastructure needs. Today’s hearing continued Thune’s work to improve freight rail service for ag producers and shippers and prevent future rail service disruptions from occurring.

Thune also invited Dave Brown, Chief Operating Officer of Genesee and Wyoming, parent company to South Dakota’s Rapid City, Pierre, and Eastern line (RCP&E), to testify before the hearing. Dave spoke about the opportunities and challenges that RCP&E and other shortline railroads face.

Last Congress, the Commerce Committee held various rail related hearings, including a hearing on the rail service challenges facing shippers across the country, which included agriculture producers in South Dakota who struggled with access to reliable freight rail service during a record harvest. In addition, on September 17, 2014, the Commerce Committee passed the bipartisan Surface Transportation Board (STB) reform bill that Senator Thune and former Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) introduced to institute common-sense reforms regarding how the STB works and to address rate disputes and service complaints.

“As 2013 and 2014’s freight rail delays and service challenges highlighted, rail service is absolutely critical to our nation’s economy. South Dakota farmers scrambled to find rail cars and watched as rail turn times worsened, delaying shipments and creating grain storage challenges for the record breaking wheat, corn, and soybean crops.

“However, those delays were not just limited to the north central United States, they also extended across the country and impacted every shipping sector and industry.

“Thankfully, this winter’s relatively mild weather and better service have provided some improvements, but there’s still work to be done.

“I am pleased that Genesee and Wyoming, the parent company of South Dakota’s Rapid City, Pierre, and Eastern Railroad (RCP&E) has joined us for today’s hearing. I look forward to hearing from Dave Brown, the Chief Operating Officer of Genesee and Wyoming, which is the largest Class II railroad in the country with over 100 shortline and regional railroads, about the opportunities and challenges the RCP&E and other shortline railroads face.

“From automobiles, to coal, to ethanol, to agriculture, rail service moves goods from farm and factory to consumer marketplaces across the country and across the globe. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) notes that freight rail moves roughly 40 tons per person each year. As a nation, we rely on cost efficient, timely service to move food, consumer products, and energy resources on a daily basis.

“The private infrastructure that makes up our nation’s freight rail system is costly, as old tracks and equipment require ongoing maintenance and investment. Our nation’s railroads continue to invest in new track, sidings, locomotives, and car resources with the goal of serving their customers. Class I railroads and shortlines alike face increasing demands for prompt, reliable, and safe service.

“In 2014 freight traffic increased nearly five percent over 2013 levels, and we should seek solutions that foster an even stronger freight rail network to meet this increasing demand.

“The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has proposed or finalized over 15 new freight rail safety rules since the passage of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, and many of these regulations will take effect in 2015.

“Not only is the Positive Train Control (PTC) mandate looming, with its December 31st deadline, but the DOT has announced that it expects a crude-by-rail regulation to be published around May of this year.

“Although the PTC deadline is quickly approaching, it remains unattainable. Through the end of 2014, railroads have invested over $5 billion in PTC, and they expect to spend billions more in the coming years.

“They have begun installation of the radio towers, locomotive technology, and other PTC infrastructure, but full compliance with the statutory requirements cannot be achieved by the end of this year. The FRA and the Government Accountability Office have documented the immense technical and programmatic challenges with implementing PTC.

“As a result of these challenges, the DOT has reported that the deadline will not be met and has offered a proposal to ensure the benefits of PTC are realized. I look forward to working with my colleagues on a legislative fix to ensure that we can set a more realistic implementation timeline for this important safety improvement.

“I am also closely monitoring the proposed crude-by-rail requirements.

“I have expressed concerns to the Office of Management and Budget as well as the DOT about the unintended harms that could result from the proposed rule. The DOT estimates its proposed crude-by-rail rule could cost nearly $6 billion, and it acknowledges the rule would increase network delays and out-of-service time for rail equipment.

“Without question, we must improve the safety of our nation’s rail system, but I am concerned about the unattainable deadlines the rule proposes. Like the PTC mandate, there are very real impacts when federal agencies set unreasonable and, many times, unachievable deadlines.

“Among other things, the DOT issued this proposed rule without analyzing the potential tank car shop capacity needed to retrofit or replace over 100,000 DOT-111 tank cars. Shippers have raised concerns about a tank car shortage, with a disruption in energy supply transportation, if DOT finalizes this rule with an unattainable deadline. I look forward to working with my colleagues, stakeholders, and the Secretary of Transportation on a realistic timeline for such a phase-out.

“While safety can and should be improved, we certainly do not need to build in system-wide delays and congestion like we have witnessed during the past year and a half.

“Our transportation network connects port to rail to truck. Delays, burdensome regulations, and failing infrastructure disrupt our nation’s economy and cost jobs. So, we must work together to find workable solutions.

“In addition, we must ensure that the Surface Transportation Board, which is tasked with resolving railroad rate and service disputes and reviewing proposed railroad mergers, can provide effective and efficient oversight of the rail industry.

“This committee has a great deal of work to do in addressing freight rail service and safety in addition to passenger rail reauthorizations. I hope members will bring forward thoughtful solutions as we address these challenges.”

NTSB_logoThe 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.

Read the complete story at Roll Call.

KCS_rail_logoKansas City Southern Railway Co. (KCSR) has begun employee training and data surveying as part of its effort to implement positive train control (PTC) by year’s end.

Last week, employees began to receive training on PTC track and wayside data management at KCSR’s TEaM Training Center in Shreveport, La. About 160 workers were trained and another group will begin training this week, railroad officials said in an item posted on the “KCS News” web page.

Read the complete story at Progressive Railroading.

NTSB_logoLITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A federal investigator said Tuesday (Aug. 19) that a signal that would have given a final instruction to the crew of a railroad train involved in a fatal head-on collision was damaged in the accident but could still hold clues as to what happened.

Crews are hopeful they can recover data from the signal, which was alongside a Union Pacific track near Hoxie in northeastern Arkansas. Two railroad workers died in the accident Sunday morning and two others were injured.

Read the complete story at the Houston Chronicle.

WASHINGTON – A group of Connecticut lawmakers is calling for action on rail-safety technology that could prevent future train collisions like the fatal “deadman’s curve” crash late last year in the Bronx.

The Positive Train Control technology, or PTC would override human error by automatically slowing or stopping trains that are speeding, entering work zones or otherwise encountering danger.

Read the complete story at the Connecticut Post.

The railroad industry took a step toward resolving a dispute with American Indian tribes that has stalled the biggest rail-safety project in U.S. history.

The $13.2 billion build-out of networks of sensors, which automatically slow or stop trains if a crash seems probable, has been held up as some tribes exercised their rights to review whether tower construction would affect their sacred grounds. The Federal Communications Commission said today that it reached an agreement with seven rail companies to begin testing on 11,000 poles that had already been constructed.

Read the complete story at Bloomberg News.

grade_crossing_webWASHINGTON – In a new report updating the industry’s progress on installing positive train control, the nation’s freight railroads said that a year-long moratorium on installing 20,000 communication antennas imposed by the Federal Communications Commission, followed by a lengthy federal approval process mandated by the agency, has seriously delayed the implementation of nationwide interoperable PTC. Whereas freight railroads once projected that by 2015 they would have PTC installed on 40 percent of the network mandated by FRA, they now believe thanks to the FCC issues only 20 percent of the PTC network will be up and running by the Congressionally imposed deadline.

“Everyone in the industry is greatly frustrated at the inability to move forward and do what we need to do to advance PTC installation,” said Association of American Railroads President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. “It’s been two steps forward, three steps back for months and we simply don’t have the certainty we need to move ahead and get PTC tested, fully functioning, certified and ready to go.”

Causing the timing for installation to be delayed significantly, Hamberger said, was an FCC directive to suspend installation of approximately 20,000 communications antennas necessary to for PTC to work until the antennas are assessed through the FCC’s environmental and historical evaluation process. The problem, Hamberger noted, is that how the thousands of antennas are to be reviewed has yet to be determined. The majority of the antennas at issue are between 10- to 60-feet tall, and roughly 97 percent are located on railroad property, he added.

The freight rail industry is expected to install PTC on approximately 60,000 miles of mainline track and has spent approximately $4 billion to date implementing the automatic braking system Congress called for as part of the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act.

AAR’s report to FRA summarizing the freight railroad industry’s progress, available here, includes an in-depth look at issues, such as delays in availability of critical back-office-server software, complexities of mapping an ever-changing nationwide rail network, and taking a phased approach to testing and implementing PTC on each railroad’s PTC network.

Hamberger noted that despite the challenges, railroads so far have been able to make progress in some areas of PTC implementation, including:

  • Installing or partially installing PTC equipment on 50 percent of the locomotives on which it will be required;
  • Deploying one third of the wayside units that will be required;
  • Replacing half of the signals needed for implementation, and
  • Mapping most of the track that will be equipped with PTC.

alaska_Rail_logoWabtec Corp. has signed contracts valued at $16.6 million with Alaska Railroad Corp. to provide Positive Train Control equipment and services, the Wilmerding-based company announced Wednesday (April 2).

The systems will be installed on the railroad’s 525 miles of controlled track, which are used for both freight and passenger service. Under the contract, Wabtec said it will provide its Interoperable Electronic Train Management System equipment and PTC components for 54 locomotives.

Read the complete story at Pittsburgh Business Times.

WASHINGTON – Railroads warned Congress again Wednesday they wouldn’t meet a 2015 deadline for automatic braking on trains, but engineers and safety officials urged adoption of the technology that might have prevented the fatal Metro North crash in New York this past December.

Freight railroads have spent $4 billion for braking equipment for trains to sense speed limits and track signals automatically, but the effort could ultimately cost that industry $8 billion, according to Edward Hamberger, CEO of the Association of American Railroads.

Read the complete story at

Metrolink _Train_Only v2The Metrolink passenger railroad Thursday (Feb. 20) will become the first commuter service in the nation to roll out a sophisticated collision avoidance system designed to overcome human error.

Had so-called positive train control been in place five years ago, experts say, it would have prevented Metrolink’s deadly Chatsworth crash. In that accident, an engineer missed a red stop signal while text-messaging on his cellphone and struck a Union Pacific freight train head-on. Twenty-five people died and 135 were injured.

Read the complete story at the Los Angeles Times.