cant operations in the United States.) To which, this column humbly offers a Number 6 — Capacity. The industry has been pointing out for years that the antici- pated population growth over the decades immediately ahead justifies some federal as- sistance with in expansions required to meet the need. Perhaps the NASDAQ analysts considered that as part of the “capital inten- sive” issue.
The Positives In the short-term, the rail industry for the first quarter of 2012 gets a thumbs-up from the NASDAQ folks: “Contrary to market ex- pectations, the freight railroads emerged un- scathed by coal’s woes, with most of the big players surpassing their earnings estimates.” Overall, according to market reports, North America’s Class I railroads registered a growth of approximately 29 per cent in that time period. And this despite an 8.6 per cent decline on coal volumes, along with lesser dips in shipments of agricultural and food products and chemicals. However, there was major railroad growth in petroleum products and automobile shipments as well as iron and steel products and forest products. If there is a superstar in this report, it
would be the upsurge in intermodal traffic, “driven by a demand shift from the truck- load market [which] is allowing railroads to gain through higher freight pricing.” In fact, in the larger picture, “The railroads contin- ue to benefit from the ongoing highway con- version due to the significant rise in fuel costs of truckers. Currently, rail intermodal services are considered one of the most fuel- efficient modes of freight transportation, and therefore remain the backbone of the railroad freight business.”
An Addendum After the NASDAQ report was issued, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram carried a story in- dicating that the long-awaited completion of the Panama Canal widening project may not have the immediate effect on freight rail that is anticipated. Theoretically, the wider canal (expected in about two years) should make it possible for huge ships carrying car- go from Asia to bypass usual stops in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area and instead sail directly to states along the Gulf of Mexico, where they would be loaded “on trains and trucks and shipped across the country.” The only problem with that is that “Texas
and other Gulf states are woefully unpre- pared to handle the goods to the area on enormous ships soon to pass through the canal.” Still farther inland, according to the story, “highways and rail lines lack the ca- pacity for additional freight traffic.” But reporter Gordon Dickson quotes John Lanigan, Executive Vice President of BNSF, as remarking, “It’s been our position for quite some time that the impact of the new Pana- ma Canal lock will be relatively minimal.”
Keystone Separate? By the time you read this, it may be in the mainstream media, but The Carmen Group’s Washington Letter on Transporta- tion reports that the Keystone Pipeline will not block the omnibus transportation bill (referenced above). House Republicans have insisted on including the pipeline after the president had postponed a final decision (possibly until after the election) on this issue that is anathema to some activist groups.
What the newsletter sees is an “orches-
trated” reversal by President Obama “some- time this summer” in which he will an- nounce his support for the project. “That’s our modest prediction,” declared the CG.
Paying for Passenger Trains There were reports from Capitol Hill of at- tempts to inject provisions into the omnibus transportation bill that would impose new rules on some of the private entities that are entering the passenger rail business, as fa- cilitated by the 2008 Passenger Rail invest- ment and Improvement Act (PRIIA). One advocate of increased privatization of pas- senger rail complained that the idea was in- serted into a Senate bill “without notice or hearings” and would “impose costly regula- tion and punish private businesses that al- ready provide passenger rail service in the United States.” Others argue the effort is not “punishment,” but aims to plug a loop- hole that had existed before PRIIA. When Amtrak President Joseph Board-
man testified before Congress earlier this year, he urged the lawmakers to address “gaps in licensing and insurance require- ment for passenger rail operators.” Federal law and U.S. Department of Transportation regulations require all interstate motor car- riers of passengers — even if they operate just a single minibus —to be licensed and to maintain adequate levels of insurance” Mr. Boardman said. And yet, he added, “There are no comparable licensing or insurance re- quirements for rail passenger operators.” Only Amtrak, required by the Rail Passen- ger Service Act to have $200 million in in- surance coverage, and others receiving fed- eral passenger rail grants are required to maintain any insurance. By contrast, the Amtrak chief testified, “Other [rail passen- ger] operators do not have to carry insur- ance, even if they receive funding under oth- er programs.” Mr. Boardman’s point was, that under
this scenario, the “actual liability could be with the providers, carriers, states, or the taxpayers.” Such lack of clarity, he believes “makes it difficult to start passenger or com- muter services or to increase the participa- tion of states and public entities, and we therefore encourage the Committee to ad- dress this issue and clarify this situation.” Although the Senate may not have devot-
ed much time to the dispute, the Senate nonetheless — by approving the entire bill — is on record in favor of that portion of it. The House remained a question mark.
Iowa — The Railroad The STB has given the green light to Iowa Pacific Holdings to move forward with its plan to expand the Saratoga & North Creek Railway north to Tahawus in upstate New York. The 29.7-mile line between North Creek and Newcomb (Tahawus) was origi- nally built by the federal government in 1940 and was last owned by National Lead, which sold it to Iowa Pacific last year. IP in- tends to haul tailings left over from past mining operations and also will offer com- mon carrier freight service to other cus- tomers. The STB had originally rejected Iowa Pa-
cific’s request after environmental activists opposed it and urged instead that the tracks be removed and the land be returned to the State Forest Preserve. Saratoga & North Creek currently offers
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