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— by Pat Foran, Editor
There'll be a whole lot of benchmarking going on when the rail worlds — any number of them, actually — meet in Minneapolis at Railway Interchange 2011. To be held Sept. 18-21 at the Minneapolis Convention Center, the event comprises the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association Annual Technical Conference; technical presentations courtesy of the Coordinated Mechanical Associations; and an exhibition organized by the Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers Association, Railway Systems Suppliers Inc. and Railway Supply Institute. As of Sept. 1, 600 exhibitors had signed on to display their latest products, equipment and systems. In all, between 7,000 and 8,000 railroaders will attend the Interchange, organizers were projecting.
With that kind of sample size, attendees ought to be able to draw a conclusion or two about the state of the North American rail industry. At the very least, those who plan to be in Minneapolis to listen, learn, post, tweet and otherwise share news, hearsay and (perhaps) intelligence will note a certain (as in definite) vitality on display — the certainty that even in this era of global uncertainty, rail will continue to be a growth industry for the foreseeable future. If nothing else, discerning attendees will get a better sense of where their colleagues, counterparts and competitors are on the confidence curve.
The spending powers that be at BNSF Railway Co. expect to increase this year's capex budget by about $300 million to $3.8 billion, according to a 10Q form posted on the Class I's website. "The increase is due to increased capital projects resulting from severe flooding conditions on our network and the acceleration of other projects that will utilize economic stimulus incentives, which provide favorable tax treatment," BNSF officials wrote in the form, which is dated Aug. 5.
The Class I plans to spend about $2 billion this year to maintain its core network and related assets, continue investing in the locomotive and rail-car fleets, and complete projects designed to expand and improve infrastructure. BNSF also is budgeting about $300 million this year to continue installing positive train control equipment.
BNSF is the latest Class I to pump up capex in 2011. Citing profitability, cash generation and growing financial returns, Union Pacific Corp. in May added $100 million to its 2011 spending budget, increasing capex to $3.3 billion. In July, CSX Corp. revealed it would bump up its 2011 capex total from $2 billion to $2.2 billion to purchase certain assets, primarily rail cars, to meet growing export coal demand.
On Aug. 10, the Association of American Railroads and International Union of Railways announced that 43 projects in 11 nations won 2011 Brunel Awards in the international railway design competition, which was held in Washington, D.C. Nineteen projects received Brunel Awards, the highest level of recognition; 24 others received commendations.
Brunel Awards recognize excellence in railway architecture; engineering; landscape and environmental, locomotive and car, and product design; graphic arts; and corporate branding. Five projects in the United States and five in Japan won Brunel Awards; projects also were recognized in Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The five winning U.S. projects are: the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Amtrak station in Wilmington, Del.; Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority stations in Fort Washington, Ambler and North Wales; MTA Metro-North Railroad's Croton Harmon locomotive and car shop; the Union Station bike transit center in Washington, D.C.; and Union Pacific Railroad's heritage locomotive fleet program. U.S. projects that received commendations are the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Massachusetts Avenue and Columbia Road bridges, Norfolk Southern Railway's Heartland Corridor intermodal route and Amtrak's Superliner I coach overhaul program.
Founded in 1963, the Brunel Awards are sanctioned by the Watford Group of International Railway Designers, which comprises railway design professionals from 20 countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas.