The Hill.com reported that just days after a backpack filled with explosives was found near a New Jersey train station, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), its ranking member, submitted a bill that would mandate the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to allocate funds to secure and protect rail and transit transportation hubs. Read the complete article here.
It’s no secret that freight rail and rail transit services are growing. With transit ridership breaking records year after year and expanded domestic fuel production putting more energy freight on the network, the rail industry in North America just continues to grow. This growing demand for rail services is exactly why the new Research and Innovation Laboratory (RAIL) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Rail Tech and Engineering Center (RailTEC) is so important.
Last month, I had the pleasure of touring the new lab and helping celebrate its official opening. There’s no question that this world-class facility –funded by DOT’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, the Federal Railroad Administration, railroads, and rail industry suppliers– underscores RailTEC’s status as a national leader for rail transportation research and innovation.
DOT’s University Transportation Centers (UTC) program supports critical transportation research at competitively selected colleges and universities like Illinois around the country. As the lead UTC for rail research, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign works with rail industry leaders and state organizations to ensure that the research and curriculum continue to be relevant and timely.
The Research and Innovation Laboratory makes another powerful argument for why every dollar spent on priority transportation research ultimately pays huge dividends. Cutting edge technologies like the Track Loading System and Rapid Component Degradation System housed in RAIL give researchers state of the art tools for developing safer and more resilient track designs while informing industry standards and best practices.
As impressed as I was by the technologies housed in the RAIL facility, I was even more impressed by the people I met along the way. The students and faculty of RailTEC bring innovative ideas and a tireless commitment to making rail transportation an even stronger force for enduring economic prosperity—and a more environmentally sustainable transportation network for freight and people.
Rail is one of the fundamental reasons why the United States became a global economic power in the 19th and 20th centuries. Rail transportation remains critical to American industry; countless businesses depend on our nation’s 140,000-mile freight rail network to keep their supply chains moving safely and efficiently. So, ensuring the safety and vitality of our rail network is essential to remaining competitive in the global economy of the 21st Century.
The University of Illinois’s Rail and Innovation Laboratory is exactly what this country needs to prepare for the future.
Some people lie on the tracks in the path of an oncoming train. Some walk defiantly in the direction of a train as it hurtles toward them, or stand in place until they can look directly into the eyes of the terrified engineer.
Others walk along the tracks listening to music through earbuds, purposefully oblivious to the approaching train that will end their life.
However they do it, suicides by train are on the upswing in New Jersey, leading NJ Transit and the state Department of Human Services to work together with a sense of urgency on new programs aimed at stemming the tragic trend.
VANCOUVER, Wash. — The International Air and Hospitality Academy has added a new program called the Northwest Railroad Institute. The new degree program will be the fourth such program offered in the U.S.
Students taking the six-month program will be provided with training for freight railroad careers including freight conductors, conductor trainees, brakemen, switchmen and yardmen. Training for engineers and passenger conductors is not yet available.
The degree will consist of nine units including yard switching operations, air brakes and train handling rules and hazardous materials practices and handling.
The institute reckons that nearly 20 to 25 percent of the rail workforce will be eligible for retirement within the next couple of years and entry-level jobs will become available.
“A diploma from the Northwest Railroad Institute soon will be a ticket for landing an entry-level job in the railroad industry,” said Terry Keene. Keene is a member of the school’s advisory committee and worked for BNSF Railway for 39 years and was a member of UTU Local 1977.
To start the academy will only be accepting 50 students to the program. Students must have a high school diploma or GED to apply and be at least 18 years of age. The school will start to accept applications for the program beginning June 15 and classes are set to start July 15.
Similar programs are offered at two locations of Modoc Railroad Academy near Sacramento, Calif. and Marion, Ill., and at the National Academy of Railroad Sciences at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan.
America is still mired in recession, but the railroad industry continues to show financial strength.
Most railroads over the past week reported strong improvements in profit and operating efficiency for the first quarter 2011. Stocks of Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern hit 52-week highs this week, while Norfolk Southern’s stock reached an all-time high.
For the first 16 weeks of 2011, U.S. rail carloadings are up 4 percent over the same period in 2010, while intermodal (trailers and containers atop flat cars) are up 8.9 percent.
In expectation of an improving economy, railroads have boosted orders for new freight cars, ordering as many during the first quarter 2011 as for the entire calendar-year 2010.
What’s driving the rails? Fuel efficiency has a lot to do with increased intermodal traffic. The Federal Railroad Administration says railroads are from 1.9 to 5.5 times more fuel efficient than trucks, and with diesel fuel prices spiking, there is a clear competitive advantage available to railroads so long as they can maintain reliable and consistent service quality.
Railroad intermodal (the movement of trailers and containers aboard flatcars) is poised to enter a “golden age,” reports the Journal of Commerce.
The magazine estimates that 2011 could set an intermodal shipment record, eclipsing the record 14.2 million trailers and containers hauled by rail in 2006. In 2010, railroads hauled 13.4 million trailers and containers.
For the six weeks ending Feb. 12, the Association of American Railroads reports trailer and container loads are running more than 7 percent ahead of the same period in 2010.
Given a spike in fuel prices owing to Mideast turmoil, and the fuel efficiency advantage of rail over truck, that surge is expected to continue.
In his state-of-the-union speech Jan. 26, President Obama mentioned the word “railroad” eight times — the most mentions of “railroad” in more than 30 years of state-of-the-union messages delivered by five different presidents.
Yes, there are those who keep count.
In fact, the Washington, D.C., public policy advocacy firm of Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell used their research skills to trace back to the turn of the 20th century — more than 110 years ago — mention of the word “railroad” in state-of-the-union speeches.
As the table below indicates, railroads were a pretty common topic of statecraft prior to World War II, not the least of reasons being that they were the primary means of moving people and freight in America. That, of course, was before commercial air travel — especially jet aircraft — and Interstate highways. Indeed, Teddy Roosevelt said “railroad” a whopping 153 times in state-of-the-union speeches during his presidency (1901-1909).
The dearth of the word “railroad” in state-of-the-union speeches in the decades between Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) and Jerry Ford (1974-1977) ended with Jimmy Carter (1977-1981). Carter mentioned “railroad” 26 times in state-of-the-union speeches — and for good reason. During Carter’s presidency, railroad deregulation was among the top domestic priorities of his administration. It was Carter who signed into law the Staggers Rail Act, largely deregulating railroads, in 1980.
Comes now iron-horse champion Obama, who, in word and deed, is looking to resurrect rail passenger service — more precisely, world-class 21st century high-speed rail service — as a principal alternative to commercial airlines and automobiles.
Below is a table, courtesy of Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell, breaking down the mention of the word “railroad” in state-of-the-union speeches since 1901.
Total “Rail” Used
George W. Bush
George H.W. Bush
To read more about what President Obama said about railroads in his state-of-the-union speech, click on the following link:
Decades ago, the chairman of New York Central Railroad complained that while freight could move cross country without being transferred from one boxcar to another, transcontinental passengers often had to change trains in Chicago.
Even today, on Amtrak, passengers must change trains in Chicago.
A similar complaint is heard regarding intermodal passenger transportation — the separation of terminals for train and motor coach transportation. In Washington, D.C., for example, an intercity bus terminal is blocks from Union Station, which hosts Amtrak and commuter rail.
In St. Paul, Minn., the intermodal passenger problem is being solved.
The Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority has broken ground on a $243 million multi-modal transportation facility in St. Paul, reports progressiverailroading.com.
The city’s 1920s-era Union Depot train station is slated to bring together rail, bus, motor vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic by 2012, reports progressiverailroading.com. Local, state and federal funds are financing the project.
Amtrak intends to dispatch its Empire Builder through the renovated terminal, which will also serve as a transfer point for light-rail, Metro Transit and intercity bus service — and, eventually, be a hub for hoped-for high-speed trains between the Twin Cities and Chicago.
Rail traffic continued its torrid growth the first week of 2011, with the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reporting freight carloadings were up more than 20 percent versus the same week in 2010, and intermodal (trailers and containers on flat cars) were up almost 9 percent from the first week of 2010.
This comes on the heels of a banner year for freight railroads in 2010. The AAR said the combined increase in total annual carloads and intermodal in 2010 was equivalent to some 20,000 additional trains moving when compared with 2009.
Iowa Interstate Railroad and Amtrak are intending jointly to launch conventional-speed (79 mph) passenger service between Chicago and Iowa City over a previously abandoned rail line, reports progressiverailroading.com.
The proposed service, reported progressiverailroading.com, has been approved by the Federal Railroad Administration, but is not expected to begin prior to 2013.
Progressiverailroading.com quoted Iowa Interstate CEO Dennis Miller that the railroad has “spent many hours working with local community leaders, the states of Iowa and Illinois, and Amtrak to make sure that if this service was approved, we could handle it in conjunction with our existing and growing freight business.”
Perhaps contradicting many Class I freight CEOs — who are cool about expanding passenger service over freight railroad track — Iowa Interstate Chairman Henry Posner III, a former Conrail executive, was quoted by progressiverailroading.com that, “The lesson here is that a healthy freight network is the single most important building block for passenger service.”