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Transit agencies go ‘green’ … incrementally

I was having brunch with friends a couple of weekends ago when one mentioned she had just read an article on global warming. According to the piece, our home state of Wisconsin eventually would have a climate similar to Kentucky.

On this particular below-zero February day in Milwaukee, the thought of a more mild winter definitely sounded appealing. But as my warm-weather-loving friend wondered aloud if she’d live to see the day of warmer winters and less snow, I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with Caltrain Executive Director Mike Scanlon.

I spoke with Scanlon back in November for Progressive Railroading’s 2008 Outlook story. Most execs discussed funding issues, upcoming fare increases and capital projects. But Scanlon had environmental concerns on the brain — he talked about how we’re destroying our planet and reflected on the role that public transportation can play in helping to address global warming.

“There are great opportunities that will come to railroading, passenger railroads, public transportation because of the increased awareness of the reality of global warming – the way we’re living and the very real threats to the well-being of the planet and future generations,” Scanlon said. “We have an opportunity and responsibility to start addressing this stuff.”

Caltrain is trying to do its part through the agency’s 2025 plan, which calls for electrifying the commuter-rail corridor and, ultimately, operating electric multiple units instead of diesel locomotives.

But Scanlon added that it doesn’t take decades to make an environmental difference.

“You can make incremental improvements and start reaping the benefits much sooner,” he said.

Many transit agencies have been taking the incremental route of late. Bay Area Rapid Transit is building its (and maybe the nation’s) first solar-powered station as part of the Union City Intermodal Station project. New Jersey Transit is installing a solar-power system at its Kearny locomotive and rail-car maintenance facility. On Valentine’s Day, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority offered free rides on the Tri-Rail commuter-rail system for passengers to “show they love the environment.” And Sound Transit recently obtained a certificate of approval from Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance stating the agency’s environmental management program has met internationally recognized ISO 14001 standards.

“Expanding mass transit is the single biggest thing we can do to reduce greenhouse gases and combat global warming, but simply providing transit isn’t enough,” Sound Transit Board Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said in a Feb. 12 press release. “Government needs to lead by example when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Well put. And kudos to those transit agencies that are going the extra mile to make an environmental difference.

Posted by: Angela Cotey | Date posted: 2/22/2008

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Posted by Dave Smith on 2/22/2008 7:38:52 PM

Fraud is fraud, even if it is committed for a "good" cause. This idea that man is causing global warming (and subsequently should do something about it) has no scientific basis. It is purely a political B.S. job. No wonder the transit promoters have hitched their wagon to this cult. By the way, solar activity drives climate, and most solar scientists are predicting a cooling trend based on this information. It'll be interesting to see how the climate fraudmongers attempt to save face (and avoid some serious prison time) when their catastrophic warming predictions fall flat!

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Posted by James Swidergal on 2/26/2008 2:44:10 PM

Agreed Dave- But doesn't global warming actually produce or can produce Ice Age results. I thinks thats where most folks get it wrong. Even in the text of this story Wisconsin as warm as Kentucky? Global warming actually should (at least what I've read) be causiisng extremes on both ends of the climate scale. Our winters will be like the winters when I was 40 years ago,lotsa snow,cold and blustery, summers hot and muggy,typical Chicagoland. But what blows is that all too many political,and scientific (researchers are much like politicians) to do is want us commoners to think the sky is falling when what actually is happening  the earth is cleansing itself, and going thru a natural cycle much like the oceans and the lakes do every year. What are we to do?

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Posted by serial catowner on 3/2/2008 11:12:43 AM

Leaving aside the deniers, who "will always be with us", the rail industry needs to brace themselves for the deluge. If there's one constant in a democracy, it's that people will deny the problem until it's almost too late, and then demand to know why something wasn't done sooner. It's no big secret that too much freight is moving by truck that should go by rail. Even bigger savings come when you can move commuters by rail instead of private cars. The rail community needs to be arguing now for changes toward rail, because, whether we're reducing our dependence on foreign oil, reducing the waste that flow from our highways to our waterways, or reducing the pollution we put in the air- it's the right thing to do.

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Posted by Dave Smith on 3/3/2008 8:09:12 PM

In response to catowner, are you aware that the earth has had a slight cooling trend since 1998, or are you a "denier" of this fact? And don't forget that coal accounts for 40% of rail freight traffic. What do you think will happen to the rail industry if we decrease our use of coal for energy in a misguided attempt to stop climate change? We have a 300 year supply of coal, and if we are serious about reducing our dependence on imported oil and natural gas, we'll need to aggresively develop coal-to-liquids and coal gasification technologies, not tax the use of our coal via pointless carbon regulations. Most of the freight hauled by trucks moves in the shorthaul corridors of less than 300 miles. How do you propose moving this freight to railroads when railroads typically shun aggregated short haul moves? How do you think commuters will get from their homes to the nearest rail station, or from their jobsite to the nearest rail station? Unless a commuter rail line runs in close proximity to a person's commuter drive route, that same person will probably end up doing more driving (and use up more precious time) trying to implement commuter rail into his/her regular commute. My view of urban congestion is that, hey, if an employer doesn't like the traffic, move to a smaller town! In short, climate fraud is economic lunacy, not fit for participation by the rail industry or the transit crowd. To quote the great Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, "Climate change is a non-problem. The correct policy to address a non-problem is to have the courage to do nothing."

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Recapping RailtecMéxico: grown-up growth

The city of Monterrey has changed a lot since 2002, the last time RailtecMéxico was held at Centro Internacional de Negocios Monterrey (CINTERMEX).

New developments — housing complexes, industrial parks, parks proper, a river walk — dot the stretch of highway from Monterrey Airport to CINTERMEX, which is part of Parque Fundidora, a multiuse development comprising an ex-steel mill that was converted into an industrial museum/race track/amusement park/gathering place. Six years ago, this “park” was still pretty industrial and anything but idyllic. On a late-January Sunday afternoon, Parque Fundidora was brimming with strollers, skateboarders and other recreating citizens of the so-called “Sultan of the North.” Home to 4 million-plus and counting, this city has “really grown up” during the past decade, as one Monterreyan told me.

So has Mexico’s railroad industry, which was on display in all its evolutionary glory at the ninth iteration of Railtec. Held Jan. 27-29, the event was presented by Asociacion Mexicana de Empresas Ferrocarrileras A.C. and co-sponsored by Progressive Railroading.

The rail evolution hasn’t been lost on the Monterrey media, which swarmed not only the Mexican government officials and other dignitaries in attendance, but the rail execs, as well. With notebooks and digital recorders in hand, newspaper, television and online services reporters pressed rail officials for details on the spending plans they’d just unveiled (see “Recapping RailtecMéxico: a few capex details”), trackage rights tussles (“They’re trying to make something out of nothing,” one rail official said of the long-simmering Ferromex-Kansas City Southern de México feud — if they’re stirring it up, you know you’ve arrived) and rail safety.

The latter topic hadn’t been discussed much at past events. But during Railtec’s opening session, rail execs had talked up their safety accomplishments, thereby inviting the scrutiny. That they’d emphasized safety at all — and, in turn, knowingly encouraged the questions — was new, refreshingly so. It prompted one supplier to wonder aloud if they’d soon begin to talk about environmental improvements. Probably not. “We’re not there yet,” one freight exec told me. “But, you know, we will be someday.”

Publicly, optimism has always been an undercurrent at Railtec, as well as within railroads’ corporate offices. The underlying message: “We’re here, we’re part of the North American rail system and we’ll get better — you’ll see.” So railroaders seemed pleased when AAR President & CEO Ed Hamberger, in his Jan. 28 luncheon keynote, said he saw what they saw.

“We are part of the North American marketplace,” he said, adding that it had never been more apparent that railroads in Mexico, Canada and the United States were facing the same issues – that they were on better-service and safety-improvement quests and, at varying degrees, working to “react and inter-react with different levels of government.”

And vice versa. Other links in Mexico’s transport chain, notably the ports, now recognize the need to partner more productively, and publicly, with rail. In a standing-room-only Jan. 29 panel discussion, General Coordinator of Mexico’s Ports and Merchant Navy César Patricio Reyes Roel called the session the “first exchange of ideas” between the ports and rails.

“Railroads are our national ally,” he said. “The first step is talking, and that is why we are here.”

And talk, they did. The discussion — which ranged from rethinking supply-chain processes to improving port-related rail infrastructure to figuring out how to cope with more intense container scrutiny at the U.S.-Mexican border — continued long after the session ended.

Real dialogue is real growth, and it was heartening to see (and hear).

Posted by: Pat Foran | Date posted: 2/12/2008 4:08:00 PM

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Recapping RailtecMéxico: a few capex details

The significance of ceremony reverberates at RailtecMéxico, and nowhere was that more apparent this year than the post-ribbon-cutting, exhibit hall parade of dignitaries that kicked off the event, held Jan. 27-29 in Monterrey, Mexico. (The event was presented by Asociacion Mexicana de Empresas Ferrocarrileras A.C. and co-sponsored by Progressive Railroading.) As they do every year, the VIPs visited selected booths (including Kansas City Southern de México S.A. de C.V., Ferrocarril Mexicano S.A. de C.V. and the Port of Mexico) and stayed just long enough to let the more than two dozen photographers and a handful of videographers record the moment for posterity.

Also part of the Railtec ritual: the unveiling of the railroads’ spending plans for the year ahead. In short: The railroads plan to invest in infrastructure (as opposed to rail cars and locomotives) in 2008 and, with respect to the two major roads, continue to pursue their intermodal-growth dreams. A few highlights of their presented (via translation) plans:

Kansas City Southern de México S.A. de C.V. (KCSM) has set aside $251 million for 2008, said Transportation Director Oscar del Cueto. The railroad will invest more than $100 million in track maintenance, capacity improvement and commercial projects, including the replacement of 232,000 ties and 50 miles of rail, according to a Jan. 29 press release. To boost capacity, KCSM will extend sidings at Tarentan and San Miguel Allende, and double-track a line from Rojas to Ramos Arizpe. The railroad also intends to complete preliminary engineering and environment impact studies of proposed “international” crossings at Nuevo Laredo (“the most important commercial trading point for Mexico,” del Cueto said) and Matamoros, and work with Mexican and U.S. officials to obtain “as soon as possible” authority for a new international bridge in Nuevo Laredo. KCSM also will continue to work with state of Tamaulipas officials to develop a new international bridge in Matamoros. … On the mechanical side, KCSM will spend more than $100 million, with plans to purchase 35 new locomotives and 600 new freight cars, as well as upgrade existing cars and locomotives. … Meanwhile, the railroad plans to push ahead with the Lazaro Cardenas-North America International Intermodal Corridor by accelerating intermodal terminal construction at Palm Island, a facility designed to complement the new Hutchison Port Holdings Terminal facility that opened in November. KCSM also is just about ready to select a “strategic development partner” for MEGAMEX, a logistics center slated to be developed in the Valley of Mexico.

Ferrocarril Mexicano S.A. de C.V. (Ferromex) will spend $182.2 million this year, but none of it on new locomotives after acquiring 40 AC units in 2007. Instead, the railroad will focus on infrastructure upkeep and intermodal/automotive terminal development, said Juan Manuel Soler, director of maintenance/operations resources. Work will include installing 125 miles of new rail and 263,000 ties (wood and concrete); rehabbing 38 bridges; extending or building 30 sidings; aligning 730 track miles; and installing 2 WILD detectors, 11 DOAs and11 hot-box detectors. … On the intermodal/automotive front, Ferromex expects to continue planning/developing terminals, including facilities in such strategic locations as Ciudad Juarez, Tabalaopa, Culiacán and Viborillas, with yard expansions scheduled for facilities in Manzanillo, Bojay, Empalme and Guadalajara, Ferromex’s operations center. … Mechanically speaking, the railroad won’t be buying power (as mentioned) or rail cars, but it will overhaul 43 locomotives.

Ferrosur S.A. de C.V. has budgeted $42.6 million. Operations Director Hugo Gomez didn’t delineate the peso/dollar allocation, saying only that the railroad planned to invest in “main track capacity,” in part by rehabilitating track (no kilometer amount given); extending 11 sidings and building four new ones; rehabbing 49 bridges; and building a new yard just outside the Port of Vera Cruz, and “continuing work” on infrastructure at the ports of Coatzacoalcos and Tierra Blanca. The railroad also plans to “implement hot box detectors” (no total provided) and “relieve rail friction” by installing Pandrol® “e” Clips on 25 5-degree-or-higher curves, Gomez said, adding that Ferrosur installed 35 “e” Clips in 2007.

Ferrocarril del Istmo de Tehuantepec S.A. de C.V. (Ferroistmo) could spend up to $25 million, mostly to rebuild (per Mexican government dictates) the former Chiapas-Mayab S.A. de C.V., which was ravaged by Hurricane Stan in October 2005. The work could include rebuilding 28 bridges, many of which had been completely washed away — or, as in one instance, “the water raised it up 7.4 meters and we have to correct it,” said Operations Director Gustavo Baca.

Ferrocarril y Terminal del Valle de Mexico (Ferrovalle) will invest $18.1 million, said Operations Director Antelmo Melgarejo Guzmán. The breakdown: $9.1 million for locomotive maintenance and repair; $5.6 million on infrastructure, primarily rail rehab work; $2.3 million on “signals,” as Guzmán simply put it; and $1.1 million for (mostly) equipment for the Pantaco intermodal facility.

Linea Coahuila Durango S.A. de C.V. was scheduled to present but didn’t.

Posted by: Pat Foran | Date posted: 2/12/2008 3:00:00 PM

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