AAPRCO News Brief - November 2022

Russell Sharp <russsharp21@...>

My friends, fellow members and fellow residents, you may desire to peruse below ⬇️.

Begin forwarded message:

From: Russell Sharp <russsharp21@...>
Date: November 1, 2022 at 6:33:13 PM CDT
To: Dave Homer <homer.d338@...>
Subject: Fwd: AAPRCO News Brief - November 2022

Dave, you may elect to share below ⬇️ with our fellow Chapter members.

Begin forwarded message:

From: AAPRCO <execdirector@...>
Date: November 1, 2022 at 6:23:48 PM CDT
To: russsharp21@...
Subject: AAPRCO News Brief - November 2022
Reply-To: execdirector@...

November 2022
Volume 10 Issue 11
Transportation Report

by Taylor Johnson
Fellow AAPRCO Members,

The days of massive Amtrak special trains are over. Chattanooga represented the high mark at 29, with Napa a close second at 28 cars. With restrictive access, increased rates, incremental insurance, and numerous PVs moving to short lines and museums, economies of scale have dramatically impacted where we can now operate special trains. We should celebrate our past while embracing the reality of the future.
This year has offered a preview of future special trains. In April, we successfully operated "The Sugarland Limited" in south Florida. The train was well received by members and our host railroad, the South Central Florida Express Railroad, operated by US Sugar. The train operated behind steam on portions of the railroad that had never hosted a passenger train. Amtrak proved an agile partner during the pandemic, facilitating the movement of cars from DC to Miami. Amtrak also enabled the handoff in Sebring to the South Central Florida Railroad. Although only about one mile, this was the first time Amtrak operated on SCFRE trackage.
Labor Day weekend served as our annual convention dates in Chicago after receiving an invitation from Metra to operate a special train on their railroad. The invitation was a direct result of our volunteer contributions over several years to Pullman Railroad Days. Labor Day weekend was the ideal slot for Metra, as they operate a reduced schedule. We had the additional pleasure of operating as the last passenger train to negotiate street running in Michigan City, Indiana, thanks to our host, the Chicago South Shore and South Bend RR. Additionally, we were able to operate on the UP to Union Illinois to the Illinois Railway Museum.
In October, we operated the "American Autumn Explorer III" in Vermont. Economically, this was not our most successful train. Operationally, the trip was flawless, with Vermont Rail System once again demonstrating their professionalism. Highlights included a BBQ reception in Bellows Falls, a side trip to Hildene-- the Robert Todd Lincoln family home -- and for some, a boat trip and lunch on the Ethan Allen on Lake Champlain.
In conclusion, 2022 was a great year for AAPRCO special trains, but we need to embrace lessons learned. One lesson is to not schedule two trains a month apart. The corollary is we need to be flexible to embrace opportunities when they exist. I refer to this as 'preparation meets opportunity' which applies directly to Metra, CSS, UP, and Chicago. Historically, our conventions have been held in September. The BOD has agreed to perpetuate Vermont in October if it is financially viable. As such, I recommended to our BOD we move future conventions to early May going forward. This model creates a five month space between a rotating convention location and Vermont. I also recommended we establish a two year special train road map to improve visibility, marketing, and participation.
Looking forward, we are in the planning stages of the "Grand Canyon Limited" and convention scheduled for the first week of May in Williams, AZ. The special train will originate from either Albuquerque or LA, depending on cost and member preference. The special will terminate in Abq which is developing PV infrastructure at their museum. VRS will host us again the first week of October with new mileage to Newport on the Canadian border. The 2024 convention is tentatively planned for Pinehurst, NC, on the Aberdeen Carolina and Western.
Safe travels,

Taylor Johnson
VP - Transportation 
Washington Update

by Ross Capon
In reporting on the Senate Commerce September 7 confirmation hearing for Amtrak board nominees, I should have noted that Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) got Amtrak Chairman Coscia to commit to work with the State of Wisconsin to raise Hiawatha ridership to pre-pandemic levels as soon as possible, and to get the long-proposed new Chicago-Twin Cities service started. Watch the hearing and find this exchange at 1:54:00.

A nationwide railroad strike remains possible, as early as November 19. Reporting for Railway Age, Frank Wilner says “concern is increasing that the two largest rail unions—the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET, a Teamsters affiliate) and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART-TD)—will vote “no.” BRS and BMWED already have voted no. What these four unions “have in common is away-from home duties and start-time variability affecting family life and sleep cycles.” Wilner says “there is still opportunity for a new accord, but carriers would have to give considerably more than previously offered, with a new risk of rejection.” Both sides are playing a high-stakes game. Unions could face a reversion to the Presidential Emergency Board position, losing sweeteners offered by the carriers since negotiations. Carriers could face new, less-favorable terms imposed by arbitration or Congress. And “a joint risk for labor and carriers is that Congress, given its deep political divide, is unable to find in both chambers majority votes to end the work stoppage…How and why rail labor and rail management put each other and the nation’s economy in these circumstances should be an embarrassment to union and carrier contract negotiators as well as the National Mediation Board (NMB), which failed in its mission to administer the Railway Labor Act (RLA) as a manual of peace rather than one of war.” Click here to see Wilner’s full article.

Local, state and federal trade associations -- 322 of them! -- signed a joint letter to President Biden urging him to continue to work with carriers and unions to avoid a strike. The DC-based National Retail Federation spearheaded the letter. Click here to read the Logistics Management newsletter’s report. 

FRA has launched an “Amtrak Daily Long-Distance Service Study”. For more click here and/or read Bob Johnston’s November 1 Trains News Wire article.
“Addressing Amtrak’s capacity crisis: Personnel and equipment shortages plague the carrier; new president Roger Harris offers his views.” This is the headline on a lengthy and devastating Bob Johnston article in the December Trains which reached many mailboxes October 31. Here are a few passages: “Then-president William Flynn explained [Amtrak reduced] most long-distance frequencies to three times per week in October [2020] because that’s when ridership on those trains sharply declines. Except it doesn’t. A review of ridership and revenue for the last decade clearly shows national-network demand ‘valleys’ typically develop in early November through mid-December.” Citing a New York Times report on bonuses for top executives, Johnston reports, “A former Amtrak supervisor tells Trains that goals are established by management, then bonuses are doled out -- throughout management, not just at the top level addressed by the Times…This might be one reason the company’s hiring freeze did not end for 16 months, until [October 1, 2021]. An Amtrak spokesman says…long-term incentives, available only to senior management, include increasing revenue on the Northeast Corridor -- but not other portions of the system -- along with ridership growth and delivery on capital investments…The cost-focused business plan has left revenue-generating assets in short supply – just when they are needed most…”

Amtrak Board Public Meeting, St. Louis, Thursday, Dec. 1, 10-11:30 AM Central Time, St. Louis Union Station Hotel, 1820 Market St, St. Louis, MO 63103, Meeting Room: Midway Suites 10. Click here for Amtrak’s release; click here to register.  

Amtrak Service and Capacity Issues. Click here to see the Rail Passengers Association release regarding Amtrak’s disastrous mishandling of the delayed Wolverine Service Train 351 October 7, 2022. Click here for RPA President & CEO Jim Mathews’ related letter to Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose.

Amtrak Gulf Coast Service. The Surface Transportation Board held nine days of contentious hearings from February to May regarding Amtrak’s effort to restore passenger train service on the Gulf Coast. Unsatisfied with the approach of both Amtrak and the host railroads, the STB asked for more information from both. With that in hand, the STB scheduled a presumably final two days of hearings for “November 17 and 18, 2022, beginning at 9:30 a.m. ET each day. The Board also announced that it will hold a voting conference on December 7, 2022, beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET.” The hearings “will be limited to examination and cross-examination of the new evidence presented in the supplemental materials filed following the conclusion of the hearings on May 12, 2022, and to present closing arguments.” The hearings and voting conference will be open to the public and carried on the Board’s YouTube page. Click here for that page. Click here for the Board’s October 28 release with more information.

However, five days after the STB announcement the parties made a joint filing requesting more mediation -- Wednesday, Nov. 2, and running through Thursday, Dec. 1, with a stay of board proceedings until Dec. 1. The filing stated in part, “The Parties have made considerable progress in their discussions, and expect that the coming weeks, leading up to Dec. 1, will be critical in determining whether a negotiated resolution can be reached.”
Passenger Rail News
Festivities hailed the return of rail passenger service to Burlington's Main Street Landing on July 29, 2022. Photos by Marc Glucksman courtesy of Amtrak.
New Amtrak Service makes a Strong Start

Vermont Biz, Sunday, October 23, 2022
by C.B. Hall, Vermont Business Magazine 

Three-plus months since Amtrak and the Vermont Agency of Transportation extended the northward reach of the Ethan Allen Express by 68 miles, from Rutland to Burlington, patronage on the train is exceeding expectations. The addition of the new mileage to the existing 200-mile New York City-to-Rutland route – roughly a 33% increase – brought with it a ridership boost of 51% in August, the new service's first full month, relative to ridership in August of 2019, the last pre-pandemic year.

VTrans and Amtrak had projected that the extension would add 2000 to 2500 riders per month to the patronage, according to Dan Delabruere, director of the agency's Rail and Aviation Bureau.

Ridership in July 2022 was 11,377, exceeding ridership of 5,875 in July 2019 (the last pre-pandemic year) by more than 5,000. The August 2022 ridership was 9,112, exceeding the August 2019 ridership of 6,036 by more than 3,000."

In Vermont the Ethan Allen stops at Ferrisburgh, immediately outside the Vergennes city limits, and at Middlebury and Castleton, in addition to Burlington and Rutland.

The train provides one of the three mass transit options that VTrans supports on the Route 7 corridor, the other two being buses that run from Colchester through Bennington to the Amtrak station in Rensselaer, New York, just outside Albany.

Asked if any plans existed for adding stops in Shelburne and Brandon to the train's itinerary, as has been discussed occasionally, Delabruere said that VTrans "will monitor any future demands for stops but is focusing on the new service stops in Burlington, Vergennes, and Middlebury for now. "

Williston-based passenger rail advocate Carl Fowler termed the served extension "an unambiguous success."

The patronage figures "blew away projections," he said.

"I think we're kicking butt on ridership," was the assessment from Melinda Moulton, recently retired from her post as executive director of Main Street Landing, the long-time owner of Burlington Union Station, and a leader in the decades-long effort to restore passenger service to the Queen City after a hiatus of 69 years.

"Back when Howard Dean was governor of Vermont, we were both featured on NBC's national news as “fleecers” of America, for getting $1.5 million to modify the old Union Station for Amtrak service. I told the interviewer, 'People love trains, and they'll ride them.' Well, here we are, 25 or 30 years later, and we've got an Amtrak train in Burlington."

Faster Times Ahead?

Timekeeping has been another question, however.

On its July 29 inaugural trip, the train left Burlington five minutes behind schedule; it left its first stop, Ferrisburgh-Vergennes, about 15 minutes late. Fowler, who was on the train, told VBM that it left Middlebury 22 minutes behind schedule – but arrived in Rutland on schedule.

Fowler's seemingly odd accounting is explained by the timetable, which gives the train a fat 71 minutes to get from Middlebury to Rutland, only some 34 miles away.

This "padding," a common practice in Amtrak scheduling, inserts extra time on segments terminating in a key station, in this case Rutland, so as to facilitate arrival at the advertised time, for the relatively large number of patrons anticipating that arrival.

An analysis by Massachusetts-based rail advocate Ben Heckscher found that "the train took an average of 47 minutes to travel between Middlebury and Rutland in August" and concluded that "at least 20 minutes of time should be removed from the schedule for this segment."

In all, the schedule calls for a Burlington-to-Rutland trip lasting an even two hours, and a Rutland-to-Burlington travel time of one hour and 59 minutes. Both times substantially exceed the one hour and 40 minutes that served as a reference point in planning the service launch – and matched the time it took the defunct Rutland Railroad to hustle its premier Green Mountain Flyer train between the two cities back in 1940, Fowler stated.

Delabruere told VermontBiz that a possible reduction in the running time "will be evaluated next summer, after the train runs through different seasons."

What's Next?

With the long-awaited Burlington launch behind it, the top priority for VTrans's passenger rail program is to extend service on the Washington, DC-St Albans Vermonter, the state's other publicly sponsored train, north to Montréal.

The state's efforts to restore that connection date to 2012, if not earlier, but have run into repeated challenges, including the creation of a customs pre-clearance facility at Montréal's Central Station. U.S. and Canadian officials agreed in 2015 to build the facility, but it remains to be built.

"The work that happens in Canada is not something we can demand, require or direct,” VTrans secretary Joe Flynn pointed out at a meeting of the statutory Vermont Rail Advisory Council last December.

An October 3 letter from VTrans's director for policy, planning and intermodal development, Michele Boomhower, to the Federal Railroad Administration mentioned several other priorities for consideration for a federal passenger-rail grant program.

The priorities included a further, eight-mile extension of the Ethan Allen from Burlington Union Station to Essex Junction, the Vermonter's stop for the Burlington area.

The extension of the Ethan Allen north to Burlington has naturally sucked away some of the Vermonter's patronage at Essex Junction, given the two cities' proximity to each other. But the new ridership figures make it clear that the patronage at Burlington far exceeds that loss.

Connecting the two points with the Ethan Allen by no means renders the Vermonter's stop in Essex Junction superfluous, inasmuch as the two trains follow very different itineraries as they proceed south, their only shared destination being New York's Penn Station.

The Burlington-Essex Junction extension would require improvement of the low-speed track that connects the two cities, winding through Winooski and Colchester.

Currently, only freight trains ply the line, which might be viewed as a rail analog to the highway connection that I-189 furnishes between the U.S. 7 and I-89 corridors on the other side of Burlington.
A 2017 study commissioned by VTrans put the cost of improving the route at $19.5 million, enough for major upgrades that would allow passenger trains to run at 79 mph on the track – a speed Fowler described as "ridiculous" because of speed restrictions at the many grade crossings and curves on the route.

He took the view that a lower speed would be adequate, and require less investment up front.

Closing the Burlington-Essex gap appears not to be in the immediate offing, however Delabruere said that VTrans had no current cost estimate for whatever upgrades might be needed. 

Be that as it may, the inauguration of the Burlington service presages much that lies ahead for passenger rail travel in Vermont.
Aerial view of Amtrak Ethan Allen in Middlebury. Photos by Marc Glucksman courtesy of Amtrak.
More Gulf Coast STB hearings set as mediation efforts fail

Trains Magazine
October 28, 2022
WASHINGTON — The Surface Transportation Board has scheduled two more days of hearings next month on Amtrak’s efforts to launch Gulf Coast passenger service after the passenger carrier, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern, and the Port of Mobile, Ala., failed to reach an agreement through board-sponsored mediation. 
The evidentiary hearings will be Nov. 17-18, beginning at 9:30 a.m. EST each day. In its Friday decision, the board says it will “hold a voting conference … and may vote on the outcome of the case” on Dec. 7. 
The STB’s directive limits the scope of the November hearings to evidence dealing with traffic modeling included in July and August filings following 11 previous hearings, the last of which concluded May 12. Closing arguments will conclude the final session. Like the hearings, the Dec. 7 conference, at 2 p.m. EST, will be streamed on , although “no participation by the Parties or the public will be permitted.” 
Amtrak’s attempt to add two round trips between New Orleans and Mobile began with a petition to the STB in early 2021, signifying its desire to commence service in January 2022 [see â€œAmtrak asks STB to require CSX, NS to allow Gulf Coast service,† Trains News Wire, March 16, 2021]. Members of the Southern Rail Commission from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama had spearheaded the initiative, benefiting from legislative support by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who helped secure dedicated federal funding after a then-cooperative CSX ran an inspection train on the Sunset Limited’s former route east of New Orleans in 2016. 
But Amtrak went to the STB after CSX (and later Norfolk Southern) claimed the four daily trains would “unreasonably impair” their freight operations on the 144-mile route. What followed was more than a dozen hearings kicking off on Feb. 15, 2022, and concluding in mid-May in which both sides, and later the Port of Mobile, made their respective cases. On June 10, the STB issued an order for Board-sponsored mediation. That mediation was extended several times, but the last extension expired Oct. 25 without an agreement. 
“Amtrak is preparing for the next hearing, confident in our case for Gulf Coast access and optimistic our service will begin next year,” the company said in a statement. 
Amtrak could more easily achieve its emissions reduction goals by leveraging data it already collects to further reduce excessive idling of its diesel locomotives and by mandating training on sustainability goals for management, the OIG report states.
Photo – amtrak.com
OIG: Amtrak should use data
to help achieve emissions reduction goals
Amtrak appears to be on track to reach its goals to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and increase its purchase of carbon-free and renewable electricity, but it has opportunities to use its own data to reduce excess locomotive idling and to train employees about its sustainability goals, according to an Amtrak Office of Inspector General (OIG) report.

Amtrak set a goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 40% below its 2010 baseline by 2030. To help reach its target, the railroad set goals to purchase 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030 and 100% renewable electricity by 2035.

The railroad has taken up several initiatives to meet those goals, including buying more efficient electric locomotives for the Northeast Corridor and more fuel-efficient diesel locomotives for use nationwide. It has also switched to more energy-efficient LED lighting in facilities and stations. The railroad developed a plan to increase carbon-free electricity purchases to achieve the 2030 goal, OIG officials said in the report released last week.

However, Amtrak could more easily achieve its goals by leveraging data it already collects to further reduce excessive idling of its diesel locomotives and by mandating training on sustainability goals for management, they said.

Although Amtrak has reduced excess idling — idling for more than an hour — by 21% from October 2016 through March 2022, additional efforts would not only reduce emissions, but would cut fuel costs and locomotive wear-and-tear, the OIG said.
Canadian Pacific agrees to back Amtrak's Expansion Plans

Canadian Pacific has agreed to back Amtrak's efforts to work with other states and stakeholders on its plan to expand and enhance intercity passenger-rail service in several locations, according to Amtrak's final brief on the proposed merger between CP and Kansas City Southern.

Amtrak was one of numerous parties that submitted briefs last week to the Surface Transportation Board, which is considering whether to approve the proposed CP-KCS merger. Amtrak is asking the STB to approve the merger on the condition that CP follows through with a number of commitments made to Amtrak.

In its brief, Amtrak describes CP as a "reliable partner in working with Amtrak to provide safe, efficient and effective passenger-rail services." CP has committed to Amtrak that the merger would not cause Amtrak trains to operate below on-time performance standards on CP-KCS lines, Amtrak's brief states. 

CP also agreed to allow Amtrak to add additional or new service:

• on the CP-owned portion of the Hiawatha route between Chicago and Milwaukee;
• between Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, on lines owned by CP; 
• between New Orleans (IC Junction) and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on a KCS line; and 
• via CP's Detroit River Tunnel between Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario, to connect with VIA Rail Canada.

In addition, CP has agreed to participate in a joint study including Amtrak, Norfolk Southern RailwayUnion Pacific Railroad and certain government agencies with the goal of introducing Amtrak service between Dallas, Texas, and Meridian, Mississippi, according to the Amtrak brief.

Last year, Amtrak rolled out a national plan to expand or enhance passenger-rail service on existing lines or add service in new rail corridors. To implement Amtrak's "Connects US" plan, the passenger railroad must secure the cooperation of Class Is like CP that host Amtrak trains outside of the Northeast Corridor.

Also in its brief on the CP-KCS merger, Amtrak said it opposes CN's request that the STB condition approval of the CP-KCS merger on the divestiture of a KCS rail line between East St. Louis, Illinois, and Kansas City, Missouri. That condition would not be in the public's interest, "given the adverse effect on passenger-rail service in the region."
The park is a 70-acre development anchored by the Aberdeen Carolina and Western Railway's Midland Transload Yard.
Photo – Aberdeen Carolina and Western Railway

ACWR opens North Carolina Logistics Park

The Aberdeen Carolina and Western Railway Co. (ACWR) last month announced the opening of the Midland Logistics Park in Cabarrus County, North Carolina.

The 70-acre park is anchored by the short line's Midland Transload Yard and includes three properties available for prospective rail customers, ACWR officials said in a press release. 

The yard can accommodate more than 175 rail cars for transloading, storing and distributing raw materials and finished goods. It also has space and equipment to handle bulk operations and truck self-transload. The site includes a central scale house for all tenants.

ACWR officials anticipate the yard will become a central distribution hub for the Charlotte area. Major plastic distributors already have claimed portions of the yard and plan to consolidate their regional operations at Midland.

The remaining available properties range in size from 6 to 15 acres; two properties have direct rail access constructed.

The park is a collaboration between ACWR, its customers and the North Carolina Department of Transportation Rail Division. NCDOT issued grants to the railroad to make the park a reality, ACWR officials said.
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