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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Class Is put stop to post-Katrina service metric slip, Smith Barney/Citigroup says


The U.S. Class Is are slowly beginning to improve their service metrics, which eroded after Hurricane Katrina. However, the roads’ metrics have hardly been bulletin board material all year long and their year-to-date average train speeds continue to lag behind 2004’s pace, according to Smith Barney/Citigroup's latest ground transportation research report.

During 2005’s first 36 weeks ending Sept. 9, average velocity stood at 23.3 mph for Kansas City Southern, down 11.5 percent; 23.6 mph for BNSF Railway Co., down 6.0 percent; 22.0 mph for Norfolk Southern Corp., down 4.2 percent; 19.4 mph for CSX Transportation, down 3.8 percent; and 21.3 mph for Union Pacific Railroad, down 1.7 percent compared with 2004’s first 36 weeks.

“Norfolk Southern’s average train speed increased 3.1 percent versus last week as post-Katrina operating metrics show some signs of improvement,” said Smith Barney/Citigroup Managing Director and Progressive Railroading columnist Scott Flower in the report. “At CSX, train speed improved 1.5 percent, marking the third-straight weekly improvement, [but] average speed remains down 4.3 percent over the last four weeks.”

In Canada, Canadian National Railway Co.’s year-to-date average train speed rose 4.5 percent to 25.4 mph and Canadian Pacific Railway’s speed dropped 0.5 percent to and 24.5 mph compared with 2004’s first 36 weeks.

Excluding CN and UP, all the Class Is continue to operate more cars on line compared with the same 2004 period. Through 36 weeks, KCS’ cars on line increased 9.1 percent to 27,588 units; NS’, 5.5 percent to 193,264 units; BNSF’s, 3.6 percent to 207,246 units; and CSXT’s, 0.4 percent to 234,198 units. CN’s and UP’s cars on line decreased 1.5 percent to 110,571 units and 1.1 percent to 319,670 units, respectively.

Meanwhile, CN, UP and CPR are leading the pack in average terminal dwell times. Through 36 weeks, CN’s system-wide average of 13.3 hours dropped 7.7 percent, UP's average of 28.4 hours decreased 6.4 percent and CPR’s average of 29.6 hours fell 0.1 percent compared with 2004’s first 36 weeks. CSXT’s average terminal dwell time rose 5.4 percent each to 29.9 hours, NS’ average increased 5.2 percent to 23.4 hours and BNSF’s average went up 0.9 percent to 10.0 hours. KCS didn’t submit current data.

“Although Hurricane Katrina may continue to have a residual impact on the rail carriers’ operations in the weeks ahead, we think that their operational performance will show gradual improvement, building on the week’s modest progress,” said Flower.