JAXPORT’s $30 million Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) has officially opened for business.
The ICTF facilitates on-dock rail service to JAXPORT’s North Jacksonville seaport terminals: the Blount Island Marine Terminal and the TraPac Container Terminal at Dames Point. The direct transfer of containers between vessels and trains speeds up the shipment process, and representatives say shippers will now have access to improved options and efficiencies.
The facility was constructed with $20 million in funding from the state of Florida and $10 million in federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant funds.
The rail that connects to CSX Transportation’s main line allows for two unit trains per day. Ceres Rail Services manages the terminal’s daily operations.
The ICTF is one of many major capital projects at JAXPORT intended to serve global cargo customers, increase efficiency and contribute to Northeast Florida’s economy.
Railroad reregulation is not what Congress intended
On the heels of the first presidential debate, Americans remain critically focused on how best to stimulate the U.S. economy. Both Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump continue to promote massive infrastructure investments, even if funding mechanisms remain vague.
“Broken roads, unsafe bridges, antiquated water systems, power grids, flood controls, ports and aviation facilities – all threaten America’s economic health and quality of life,” writes political commentator Ron Faucheux. “Everyone agrees this is a problem. But, where will the trillions of dollars come from to solve it?”
Thankfully, one section of our nation’s infrastructure – privately owned freight railroads – do not face such difficult decisions. Buoyed by smart public policies linked to partial deregulation in 1980 that put railroads on equal footing with the rest of the private sector, freight railroads invest an average of $26 billion annually in recent years. According to Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute, these investments significantly impact the U.S. economy, supporting 1.5 million jobs across the economy, generating $33 billion in taxes and producing $274 billion in economic activity in 2014 alone.
So it is troubling to see the Surface Transportation Board (STB) move forward on reregulatory efforts through several proposed rules, including so called “reciprocal switching” and commodity reregulation. Given past precedent and the potential for widespread disruption in the rail network, regulators should abstain from such efforts. Congress, which just reauthorized the STB for the first time since its creation, must exert its will as well, and ensure the STB is operating as Congress intended.
Reciprocal switching, or more accurately, forced access, would upend longstanding precedent. It would force railroads to switch traffic to competitors without any suggestion that the incumbent railroad failed to offer competitive services, or has otherwise engaged in any sort of unreasonable behavior.
A rash of new switches could possibly advantage a few, but in the aggregate it would strain a 140,000 mile network and degrade services for the majority of customers. “Forced access would slow rail shipments across the network, injecting increased complexities and inefficiencies into the network,” says transportation expert Anthony Hatch.
Perhaps more pertinent, this regulatory effort could greatly cut into capital spending by the railroads. Past analysis by the Association of American Railroads found that a similar proposal could affect an estimated 7.5 million car loads of traffic, placing nearly $8 billion in revenues at risk.
Reduced revenues mean reduced money for investment in the rail network and reduced demand for businesses like that feed the rail network, such as suppliers and technology companies. These are generally high-paying and high-skilled manufacturing jobs in our communities. Continued investments are critical not only for maintaining a safe and efficient rail network, but for job creation.
The government dictating what a private business can do with its property and operations is antithetical to the free market and should be soundly rejected by a Congress that has never advised the STB to embark on this path.
A separate commodity regulation would subject five commodity groups to STB economic regulation for the first time in two decades. This would come despite the fact that railroads face strong competition for the service from trucks and without any evidence that the transportation markets are different today than in past decades. Most alarmingly, these commodity groups did not petition for a rule change.
The railroad supply community plays an integral role in maintaining the world’s safest, most efficient and highly competitive freight railroad system. Along with the railroads, suppliers are concerned that the STB has interpreted its reauthorization as a signal that Congress wanted the independent agency to regulate more.
A transparent and efficient STB is crucial in maintaining a proven regulatory structure and America’s impressive transportation network. But the STB’s recent trend of imposing regulations first, and discovering the consequences later, is no path forward.
The STB should stop this wayward path now, before the U.S. economy pays the price.
Eleven projects across six states and the District of Columbia will receive grants from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to assist in the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC).
FRA awarded $25 million to the projects, as appropriated by Congress for Fiscal Year 2016, but received 30 eligible applications requesting $90.6 million, nearly four times the appropriated amount.
FRA notes that many of the awards will help railroads achieve interoperability among the different PTC systems that railroads are deploying.
"Every dollar we invest in implementing Positive Train Control as quickly as possible is money well spent because ultimately it means fewer accidents and fewer fatalities," said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg. "Today's grants inch us closer to a safer rail network with PTC."
In 2008, Congress mandated PTC implementation on the mainlines of Class 1 railroads and entities providing regularly scheduled intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation over which any poisonous or toxic by inhalation hazardous materials are transported or over which intercity or commuter rail passenger transportation is regularly provided. Last October, Congress extended the original PTC implementation deadline from Dec. 31, 2015 to at least Dec. 31, 2018.
FRA awarded grants in the approximate amounts below to the following entities:
Metrolink – California – $2.4 million to develop, test, and deploy a full-feature service desk management suite of software applications that will allow each railroad to create, track, manage and share PTC system and asset trouble tickets internally within the organization and with interoperable railroad partners.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) District – Calif.–$3 million to install PTC and integrated new grade crossing warning systems on the 2.1-mile passenger rail extension between downtown San Rafael and Larkspur, Calif.
Caltrain – California –$2.88 million to conduct two test procedures for the field integration and functional testing of Caltrain's Interoperable-Incremental Train Control System (I-ITCS) that will allow Interoperable Electronic Train Management System (I-ETMS) equipped tenants to seamlessly operate on Caltrain's tracks.
Amtrak –District of Columbia –$2.64 million to put in place authentication technology to fully secure the PTC wireless communication and data transmittal between a train's point of origin and targeted receivers on the Northeast Corridor.
American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) – District of Columbia –$2.5 million to create a Crew Initialization Back Office Server System (CI-BOS) hosted service to assist small railroads tasked with implementing PTC, particularly systems that interoperate with Class 1 railroads.
Providence and Worcester Railroad Company (P&W) – Massachusetts –$965,832 to acquire and install eight Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES) PTC onboard units for P&W's locomotives utilized on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.
Twin Cities & Western Railroad Company – Minnesota –$1.1 million to implement and test PTC systems, including a contract with a back office service and interoperability message software provider, initial activation and licensing fees of hosted back office systems, and two PTC equipped locomotives.
Missouri Department of Transportation – Missouri –$3 million to jointly partner with the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA) for an Interoperable Electronic Train Management System (I-ETMS) implementation project on the Missouri side of TRRA's territory.
North Carolina Department of Transportation – North Carolina –$771,070 to equip five converted Cab Control Units with Interoperable Electronic Train Management System (I-ETMS) and conduct testing on the Piedmont corridor or within any adjacent rail territory of NCDOT's rail partners (Norfolk Southern Corporation and Amtrak).
Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority – Texas –$3 million to implement Enhanced Automatic Train Control (E-ATC) that will overlay the existing wayside signal system and enhance onboard, wayside, and control office equipment and software to create a functional PTC system in the Austin area.
Fort Worth & Western Railroad – Texas –$2.56 million to install PTC on-board equipment and 220 MHz radios on nine locomotives in a phased installation, develop a crew initialization back office server, and train necessary personnel to operate and maintain the PTC system.
ASLRRA will use its $2.5-million grant to support the development and implementation of a back-office product that delivers PTC and is available to all shortline and regional railroads.
Linda Bauer Darr, president, ASLRRA, explained the challenges faced by smaller railroads:
"The implementation of PTC is one of the most complex and challenging projects to be mandated for the U.S. Rail System, particularly for our 460 shortline members, who often do not have the technology staff and expertise, but have a complicated roll to play, integrating with multiple Class I systems," said Darr. "This grant will enable us to rapidly move forward with providing an affordable solution for small railroads."
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) unveiled its 2017-2018 Most Wanted List, implementing a new two-year cycle as opposed to the annual one previously used.
NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart explained the two-year cycle will help the board focus its "advocacy efforts on sustained progress."
"We will take stock at the one-year mark, note what progress has been made and decide what additional improvements are needed," said Chairman Hart.
Chairman Hart noted that 2017 will mark NTSB's 50th anniversary and while much progress has been made in transportation safety, he cited increased highway fatalities as one statistic that served as a reminder that "safety is not a destination, but a continuing journey, and our efforts to improve safety must never stop."
This installment of the Most Wanted List includes 10 action items NTSB will focus on in 2017 and 2018:
Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents
Prevent Loss of Control in Flight in General Aviation
Improve Rail Transit Safety Oversight
End Alcohol and Other Drug Impairment in Transportation
Increase Implementation of Collision Avoidance Technologies
Expand Recorder Use to Enhance Safety
Require Medical Fitness
Strengthen Occupant Protection
Ensure the Safe Shipment of Hazardous Materials
With the exception of "Prevent Loss of Control in Flight in General Aviation," the rail industry is concerned in all other NTSB action items. The list includes a call to implement Positive Train Control, ensure the safe movement of hazardous materials via rail, increase monitoring and oversight of rail transit safety, eliminate operator distractions, expand the use of data recorders and strengthen occupant protection.
Additionally, a trio of action items focuses on worker health including an item that calls for policies to ensure personnel are medically fit for duty, making sure personnel receive adequate rest to reduce fatigue-related accidents and an end to alcohol and other drug impairments in transportation.
The new list is substantially similar to the 2016 list, but where NTSB had separated collision avoidance technology implementation in highway and rail applications as two items in 2015, they are combined into a single item in the new list. "Ensure the Safe Shipment of Hazardous Materials," was added to the list this year.