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April 2007

Rail News: MOW

MOW Dollars: Progressive Railroading's 5th Annual Maintenance-of-Way Survey


Last year, two-thirds of the freight and passenger railroads that responded to our 5th annual maintenance-of-way (MOW) survey increased their budgets. Make it another two-thirds this year — and four straight years that the majority of respondents have budgeted more dollars.

Thirty-seven of 55 respondents to our 6th annual survey planned to boost spending. The reasons mirror those of the past few years: worn-out track, higher material costs and capacity projects.

Five of the eight U.S., Canadian and Mexican Class I respondents increased their ’07 MOW budgets while Union Pacific Railroad planned to spend an identical $1.5 billion.

Kansas City Southern’s budget would have risen 17 percent year over year to $156 million if not for last year’s Texas Mexican Railway Co. rail renewal project. KCS spent $31 million from a Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan to fund the project, which increased the Class I’s ’06 expenditures from $134 million to $165 million.

Seventeen of 25 regional and short-line survey respondents also expected to increase spending while three planned to match ’06 budgets.

Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co.
has budgeted $5.8 million — up 38 percent — to install 11 miles of continuous-welded rail and 45,000 wood ties in the Fox Lake Subdivision, and Farmrail System Inc. has nearly doubled spending to $780,000 in anticipation of a plentiful ’07 grain harvest.

Meanwhile, 12 of 22 respondents in the passenger-rail realm have increased budgets and two others projected expenditures to equal 2006 levels.

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority increased its budget 35 percent to $14.8 million to replace turnouts and fasteners, and upgrade AC track circuits, while MTA Long Island Rail Road more than doubled spending to $236.1 million to upgrade more track and bridges.

Now, railroads just need to find the track time to get the work done. For one road, the best way to set aside time is to crunch data in a computer.

For the second-straight year, BNSF Railway Co. engineering officials will use a computerized maintenance planning system to ensure the railroad is capitalizing on available work windows.

“It’s a decision-support system,” says BNSF Vice President of Engineering Greg Fox. “Now, we’re using fewer windows and work hours by optimizing the mobilization of gangs from point to point.”

And for all roads, it’ll be easier to find time if Mother Nature cooperates a little. She did in the first quarter.

“We were installing ties in January,” says Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Co. VP of Engineering Kasey O’Connor. “You can’t always count on good weather.”

In the following sections, we’re offering detailed looks at several key track and capacity projects Class Is, regionals, short lines and passenger railroads count on completing this year. We’re also providing our annual “MOW plan” breakdowns in each section, arranged by budget amounts.


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