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Pan Am Railways, Port Saint John to offer new intermodal service

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on March 20, 2018 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (1)

Pan Am Railways and DP World have agreed to form a new direct intermodal service connecting the Boston market to Port Saint John in New Brunswick, Canada.

 

The new agreement provides a "viable alternative" to customers in the New England area, said officials representing DP World, the port's terminal operator. Port Saint John provides connections to more than 500 international destinations.

 

The intermodal service from the port to the Boston market will be provided via the inland container terminal at Ayer, Massachusetts, said Pan Am Railways Executive Vice President Michael Bostwick.

 

"We will provide value to importers and exporters via an alternate gateway into the large consumer markets around Boston and central New England that reduces congestion on the highways," said Bostwick. "As the vessel calls at the port increase, we will be there to grow our service offerings and train capacity to match those needs."

 

DP World's strategy includes extending the port's market through intermodal connections in Canada and the United States, said DP World Saint John General Manager Curtis Doiron.

 

"The natural geographic advantage of Port Saint John, being located close to the U.S. border, is now enhanced by this new PanAm service into the New England marketplace," said Doiron. "Importers and exporters seeking to move goods to and from major centers in the North East now have an option that will get them there faster and move over shorter inland distances."

Pan Am Railways drops federal complaint against Portsmouth

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on January 30, 2016 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (0)

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) — Two subsidiaries of Pan Am Railways have dropped a federal complaint that they filed last fall against the city of Portsmouth.

The Portsmouth Herald reports (http://bit.ly/1mX6Er0 ) the rail carriers asked a federal judge to exempt Pan Am from both local and state regulations stemming from the group's earlier plans to unload propane in the city.

Portsmouth and Pan Am officials said Tuesday that the dismissal was the end result of negotiations between the two parties.

At issue for the city was the subsidiaries' desire to transload propane on railroad property. Transloading is the process of unloading propane from rail cars onto waiting trucks.

Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president of Pan Am Railways, said Tuesday that the railroad filed the notice of dismissal without prejudice, meaning they can refile if necessary.

Scrap yard opens at former mill site

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on January 30, 2016 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (0)

JAY - A scrap metal yard has opened at the former site of the Wausau Paper Mill on the bank of the Androscoggin River this week, aiming to serve as a "flagship facility" for a number of Maine yards.

 

According to project manager Leon Dorr, Clark's Riverside Scrap will serve as both a collection center for local metal in Androscoggin and Franklin County as well as a distribution point for heavy iron scrap collected throughout the state. The yard intends to make use of the Pan Am Railways line that runs through the site to transport heavy iron out of state. Meanwhile, light iron and non-ferrous metal scrap, such as copper, will be transported by truck to other Clark sites within the state.

 

"We actually had our first customer this morning, which is exciting," Dorr said.

 

He spoke inside the office building that will provide oversight for the yard. Dorr said that the company had put a lot of work into the small building to make it eco-firendly, utilizing heat pumps and energy efficient windows. Through one set of windows, visitors could see the truck scales that will weigh incoming scrap. Through the other is the Androscoggin River.

 

"Almost every day we've had people stopping in," Dorr said. "Asking when we're going to be open."

 

The Wausau Paper Mill operated on the banks of the river since the late 1880s. Otis Ventures LLC, owned by Howes and husband Tim DeMillo, purchased the site after the mill closed in 2009 and renamed it Otis Falls Mill. Their initial goal was to transform the 22-acre site and 600,000-plus square foot mill complex into a commercial and/or industrial park. They ended up selling the site to John Clark III of Farmingdale in April 2015.

 

Clark's Riverside Scrap will be the fourth such yard in the state, Dorr said, and the largest. The other sites, in Hallowell, Montville and Chelsea, will transport heavy iron scrap to Jay by truck, for eventual sale and transportation out of state by rail. Meanwhile, those same trucks will return to the other Clark yards with light and non-iron scrap.

 

Of course, the Jay site will also be collecting scrap metal from municipalities, companies and individuals, known as "peddlers" in the scrap dealer parlance. Dorr noted that peddlers needed to be at least 18 years old and provide valid, government-issued identification. All transactions are recorded and then paid for by check; cash is never available at the yard.

 

For towns, the yard offers a closer drop-off point for metal waste than previous options. Highway Foreman John Johnson, who also manages the transfer station, noted that Mill Street location represented an eight-mile round trip, rather than previous deliveries made out of the county. Given the currently low price for scrap, Johnson said, many towns were actually losing money on the haul.

 

Additionally, Johnson said, some residents might decide to bring metal items directly to Clark's Riverside Scrap, rather than the transfer station. That may be particularly true for items such as lead acid car and truck batteries (Clark's Riverside only accepts lead acid batteries).

 

"I would expect our metal may go down," Johnson said.

 

Two large concrete pads toward the rear of the facility will be used to store the heavier metals. The drains go directly to an oil/water separater for treatment, while the pads are equipped with scales. Copper and other non-ferrous scrap will be stored in a secured building on site.

 

Dorr estimated that the site was 85-percent complete; some paving and fencing will need to wait for the ground to thaw. The plan is to have single-direction traffic around the 5-acre yard to reduce the chance of an accident. The company may look at bringing down some of the old mill buildings in the long term, but there are no immediate plans to do so.

 

"I think it will work out well for everyone," Dorr said. The company would be hiring employees as business dictated, he said.

 

Business hours for the yard will be Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. The yard's address is 2 Mill Street in Jay. Those with questions can call the yard at 207-500-2368 or visit www.clarksscrapmetals.com.

AAR: Weekly rail traffic down 10.5 percent from 2015 for week ending January 23

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on January 30, 2016 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (0)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Association of American Railroads (AAR) today reported U.S. rail traffic for the week ending Jan. 23, 2016.

 

For this week, total U.S. weekly rail traffic was 490,324 carloads and intermodal units, down 10.5 percent compared with the same week last year.

 

Total carloads for the week ending Jan. 23 were 237,190 carloads, down 19.5 percent compared with the same week in 2015, while U.S. weekly intermodal volume was 253,134 containers and trailers, down 0.1 percent compared to 2015.

 

One of the 10 carload commodity groups posted an increase compared with the same week in 2015. It was miscellaneous carloads, up 15.3 percent to 9,018 carloads. Commodity groups that posted decreases compared with the same week in 2015 included coal, down 35.8 percent to 74,128 carloads; petroleum and petroleum products, down 19 percent to 12,409 carloads; and metallic ores and metals, down 16.2 percent to 19,418 carloads.

 

For the first 3 weeks of 2016, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 719,081 carloads, down 16.6 percent from the same point last year; and 775,836 intermodal units, up 2.7 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 3 weeks of 2016 was 1,494,917 carloads and intermodal units, a decrease of 7.6 percent compared to last year.

 

North American rail volume for the week ending Jan. 23, 2016, on 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads totaled 323,156 carloads, down 17.5 percent compared with the same week last year, and 324,000 intermodal units, down 0.1 percent compared with last year. Total combined weekly rail traffic in North America was 647,156 carloads and intermodal units, down 9.6 percent. North American rail volume for the first 3 weeks of 2016 was 1,958,155 carloads and intermodal units, down 7 percent compared with 2015.

 

Canadian railroads reported 68,677 carloads for the week, down 14.1 percent, and 59,388 intermodal units, down 0.5 percent compared with the same week in 2015. For the first 3 weeks of 2016, Canadian railroads reported cumulative rail traffic volume of 381,833 carloads, containers and trailers, down 6.5 percent.

 

Mexican railroads reported 17,289 carloads for the week, up 2.9 percent compared with the same week last year, and 11,478 intermodal units, up 2.1 percent. Cumulative volume on Mexican railroads for the first 3 weeks of 2016 was 81,405 carloads and intermodal containers and trailers, up 2.1 percent from the same point last year.

Teamsters Rail Conference opposes hostile takeover of Norfolk Southern

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on January 30, 2016 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

CLEVELAND, January 19 — The Teamsters Rail Conference is adding its voice to the dozens of elected officials, shippers and labor unions that strongly oppose an apparent attempt at a hostile takeover of Norfolk Southern (NS) by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP).

 

The Rail Conference represents more than 70,000 active railroad workers whose constituent unions are the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED). The group stated its opposition to the forced takeover attempt in a letter from Rail Conference President Dennis R. Pierce to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) dated January 18, 2016.

 

Instead of the “substantial value creation” identified by CP in its December 16, 2015 presentation to investors, the Rail Conference predicts the opposite. CP’s hostile takeover of NS would trigger a round of additional Class I rail mergers, eventually reducing the industry to just two transcontinental railroads, “which is not in the best interests of our members, U.S. shippers or the public.” It could lead to a “death spiral” of job cuts and deferred plant and equipment maintenance industry wide, resulting in the loss of vital service — similar to the crisis that crippled rail service in the Northwest and Midwest between the 1960s and late 1970s.

 

Pierce, who is also National President of the BLET, raised questions about CP’s reliance upon a voting trust to move ahead with the forced takeover outside of the STB’s standard rail merger approval process. “At the very least, the Board should immediately make clear to CP that it will not tolerate any attempt to short-circuit the process set forth in the law and accompanying STB regulations.”

 

President Pierce concluded: “CP’s proposal — while it may be good for Wall Street, hedge funds and certain investors — is bad for the shippers, bad for the railroads’ workers, and bad for the public. I urge the Board to reject any and all attempts at this hostile takeover, and thank you in advance for your most serious consideration of our position.”

 

The Teamsters Rail Conference represents more than 70,000 rail workers employed as locomotive engineers, trainmen and maintenance of way workers across the United States as members of the BLET and BMWED. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Vice President John Murphy serves as Director of the Rail Conference. Teamsters Vice President at Large Freddie N. Simpson is National President of the BMWED.

 

A PDF copy of the Rail Conference letter is available from the BLET National Division website.

BLET prepares to move into new headquarters

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on January 30, 2016 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

CLEVELAND, January 15 — Renovations are proceeding rapidly at the BLET’s new headquarters in Independence, Ohio, and the National Division expects to be moved in by early to mid-March.

 

The BLET sold the historic Standard Building to Weston, a real estate development group, in mid-2014. One of the stipulations of the sale was the BLET would lease back space in the Standard Building for up to three years. Fortunately, construction at the new headquarters facility has moved forward at such a quick pace that the lease back time is closer to two years. The BLET purchased the new space in Independence, a suburb of Cleveland, in March of 2015.

 

The new headquarters will provide ample room for National Division officers and staff in a more modern work environment. It will also feature an expanded and improved state-of-the-art Education and Training Center.

 

The AM Higley Co. of Cleveland is performing the construction services related to renovation of the new headquarters. A 100 percent union workforce is performing all renovation work on the new building.

 

The BLET is the oldest labor organization in the United States. Cleveland was selected in 1870 as the union’s headquarters city due to its central location for serving U.S. and Canadian members. From 1910 to 1989, the union’s national office was located in the Engineers Building, the BLET’s original headquarters building in Cleveland. That building was sold in 1988 to make way for the Marriott Key Tower. The Standard Building, which was originally constructed by the BLE and dedicated in 1924, has served as National Division headquarters since 1989.

 

It is expected that the move will take place in early March with as little impact as possible on the day-to-day operations of the National office.

 

The BLET will dedicate the new building with a ribbon cutting ceremony, which is tentatively scheduled for after the move has been completed. Information and other details will be posted on the BLET website (www.ble-t.org) and the National Division Facebook page (www.Facebook.com/BLETNational).

Pan Am eyes downtown Portsmouth for unloading propane train

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on January 3, 2016 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

PORTSMOUTH — City officials with safety concerns may try to derail a possible plan by Pan Am Railways to unload propane from rail cars along tracks in the heart of Portsmouth.

 

Details of the proposal are still being ironed out, but a top Pan Am Railways official confirmed Monday that Portsmouth is one of the sites the company is eyeing as it tries to meet the region’s growing demand for propane.

 

The area under consideration is located in a rail yard in the city’s downtown near the historic Old North Cemetery on Maplewood Avenue and Gary’s Beverages on Deer Street.

 

“Because of its location, it is a location that we’re looking at for potentially transloading propane,” said Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president of Pan Am Railways.

 

According to Scarano, the propane would arrive by rail, and would then be pumped into trucks from different propane companies that would transport it from the site.

 

Scarano said Pan Am, which owns the tracks, is still considering other sites as well for an offloading facility and hasn’t made a final decision.

 

City officials said they haven’t received any formal propane plan for downtown, but are aware of the possibility.

 

“If this were to occur, certainly there would be concerns and the city would take every action possible to protect residents. We plan on opposing this,” Deputy City Manager David Allen said Monday.

 

The possible propane plan comes as the city continues to appeal the Newington Planning Board’s decision to give Sea-3 the go-ahead to expand its propane storage terminal in Newington to accommodate rail deliveries. Trains to Newington travel through downton Portsmouth, and the city has fought Sea-3’s stalled expansion plan amid concerns about rail safety and increased risk of mishaps involving propane deliveries.

 

Jane Ferrini, a city staff attorney, said Pan Am would have to meet various local, state and federal regulations to move ahead with any off-loading plan in Portsmouth.

 

She said the offices of the state fire marshal and Gov. Maggie Hassan have also been made aware of the possibility.

 

While plans are still preliminary, Ferrini said the city “has explored various legal avenues” in the event Pan Am moves ahead.

 

The plan would not involve the installation of any holding tanks to store propane at the site, Scarano said.

 

“Safety is our No. 1 priority and we’ll make sure we follow all the regulations,” Scarano said.

 

The downtown site is a “primary” spot because “it’s a central location of where we need to get this propane delivered to,” she said.

 

When asked if the delays in Sea-3’s expansion prompted Pan Am’s plan, Scarano responded, “What’s behind it is the fact that propane use as far as rail shipment is up 35 percent and that’s just because it’s considered a clean fuel now.”

 

Scarano confirmed that Pan Am officials were asked to meet with the governor’s office and others about the plan, including energy directors around New England.

 

She said she’s not sure when the plan could move forward because it all depends on demand, but she insisted that it would be within the coming months.

 

If the area sees an early cold snap and demand spikes while supply is low, Scarano said the off-loading plan would be needed sooner rather than later. - See more at: http://www.unionleader.com/Pan_Am_eyes_downtown_Portsmouth_for_possible_propane_plan#sthash.uTSCnCNV.dpuf

Winslow man says Pan Am fired him for seeking time off for cancer treatment

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on January 3, 2016 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

WATERVILLE – A man says he was wrongfully fired from his job at a railroad system after requesting time off to receive cancer treatment.

 

WABI-TV reported that Eric Thomas of Winslow filed an employment discrimination lawsuit in Bangor federal court this week against Pan Am Railways.

 

A lawyer for the 51-year-old Thomas said Pan Am unlawfully fired Thomas on the day he requested three additional weeks of medical leave to undergo chemotherapy.

 

Officials at Pan Am’s Waterville office were not immediately available for comment.

Winter weather blamed for dismal Downeaster performance

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on March 28, 2015 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Ridership on Amtrak’s Downeaster service fell sharply this winter as harsh weather caused numerous train cancellations and delays.

 

Ridership declined by 3 percent in January and 19 percent in February compared to the same period last year, according to the Northern New England Passenger Authority, which manages the service. It was the service’s worst performance over a two-month stretch since it began operating in December 2001, according the authority’s executive director, Patrica Quinn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delays, damaged infrastructure and drops in ridership were among the many problems the Downeaster faced in early 2015, but railroad officials hope warmer weather will contribute to a smoother operation.

Delays, damaged infrastructure and drops in ridership were among the many problems the Downeaster faced in early 2015, but railroad officials hope warmer weather will contribute to a smoother operation. 2015 Press Herald file photo/Whitney Hayward

 

Sixteen of 310 trains were canceled in January, and 36 of 280 trains were canceled in February. In addition, nearly every train in February was late, Quinn said.

 

In February, 4.7 percent of Downeaster trains were on time, according to Amtrak. Amtrak defines a train as on time if it reaches its final destination within 10 minutes of scheduled arrival. The service’s average for the last 12 months is 22.3 percent. That’s a huge decline from the on-time performance of 82 percent the Downeaster achieved in fiscal year 2013. Any number below 80 percent is considered substandard.

 

The service offers five daily round trips between Boston and Portland and two daily round trips between Boston and Brunswick. In February, 29,300 passengers rode the Downeaster – nearly 6,800 fewer than in February 2014.

 

Quinn said the service was affected by heavy snow and cold, particularly in Massachusetts, where the Downeaster runs on tracks owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.

 

For example, blowing snow was blamed for a Feb. 12 incident in which a train with 25 passengers was stranded in North Berwick for more than five hours because snow clogged an engine’s traction motor.

 

The lower ridership has affected the service’s revenues. In February, revenues were $532,000, a decline of 12 percent from February of last year. Still, expenses have been lower than expected, so the service’s net revenues are ahead of budget for the fiscal year that ends on June 30, according to the rail authority.

 

Quinn said a proposed maintenance facility in Brunswick would make it easer for maintenance crews to work on the trains in winter. A public hearing on a critical permit needed to start construction on the project was held all day Wednesday in Brunswick.

 

Changing conditions

 

The harsh winter damaged railroad infrastructure, which will likely further exaggerate the delays typically experienced during the spring thaw, Quinn said.

 

The rail authority on March 30 will implement a new schedule designed to reduce the number of late trains by allowing for more time between trains.

 

“As we build up reliability again, people can start depending on the service,” she said.

 

The rail authority, the MBTA and Pan Am Railways, which owns the rail line in Maine and New Hampshire, have been making rail repairs over the past year, resulting in numerous delays. Only 8 percent of trains arrived on time in May, and only 19 percent of trains arrived on time in June. The Downeaster’s problems worsened in July, when 51 trains were canceled due to track repair projects.

 

Pan Am, which has been replacing thousands of rail ties, stopped that work this winter but will begin again on May. 4. Midday trains will be canceled on weekdays while crews are working, and delays of between 10 and 45 minutes are to expected on trains operating during that time, Quinn said.

 

She said the service will run more smoothly once the work is completed later this year.

 

Freight slows as snow and cold pummel trains across New England

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on March 28, 2015 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (0)

New England’s freight railroads are struggling to dig out from this winter’s heavy snowfall, and that means delays and unpredictable deliveries for industrial customers who depend on rail service to receive supplies and move products to market.

 

For some companies, the bad weather means trains are coming every other day instead of daily. But for smaller customers at the end of a line, the delays can be longer.

 

 

 

 

Additional Images

 

 

Train 202 of the Central Maine & Quebec Railway forges through snow-covered tracks in Orneville Township – a typical scene for a very unusual winter in New England.

Train 202 of the Central Maine & Quebec Railway forges through snow-covered tracks in Orneville Township – a typical scene for a very unusual winter in New England. Photo courtesy of Rod Bushway

 

 

 

 

The Dicalite plant in Thomaston, for example, hasn’t had deliveries of perlite, a glassy volcanic rock it uses to manufacture industrial filter aids, since the Jan. 27 blizzard. The company has been using trucks to ship the mineral, which is mined in New Mexico.

 

Harmony Llanto, general manager of the Maine Eastern Railroad, which runs freight to the plant on a 56-mile line between Brunswick and Rockland, said the tracks are clear but there’s too much snow on sidetracks at the interchange in Brunswick, where rail cars are passed back and forth between trains operated by Pan Am Railways.

 

She said the snowstorms that have been pummeling the region have been tough on railroads.

 

“Every time we get caught up and it seems we’re good, we get slammed again,” she said.

 

Pan Am, the largest railroad in Maine and New England, seems to be struggling the most to keep up with the movement of trains – particularly trains traveling through Massachusetts eastbound from points west, such as Chicago.

 

The railroad maintains about 1,700 miles of track in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and eastern New York. For the past two weeks, it has issued several “embargo” orders to railroads in the West that delay or at times stop trains heading to Pan Am’s intermodal yard in Ayer, Massachusetts, so crews have time to clear the yard and process the trains. At the yard, which is a major freight point in New England, containers are transferred between trains and trucks.

 

Rather than moving approximately 12 trains a day through Massachusetts, the railroad is moving about seven a day.

 

“It’s fighting this crazy weather,” Pan Am Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano said. “Whatever storms seem to miss us in one area hit another. None of them cleared us totally.”

 

COLD CAUSES MYRIAD PROBLEMS

 

The region has been hit this winter with both unusually cold weather and high snowfall amounts – both of which wreak havoc on trains.

 

At very cold temperatures, air brake systems can lock up if moisture gets into the lines and freezes. Mechanical switches can stick, wires tighten and snap. Light snow can be sucked into engine filtration systems. The snow then melts and causes electric motors to break down.

 

Moreover, compressed air used for braking doesn’t travel as well through lines in extreme cold, so trains are shortened for safety, said Chuck Jensen, vice president and chief operating officer of Morristown & Erie Railway, which owns the Maine Eastern Railroad.

 

“The colder the trains, the shorter the trains get,” he said.

 

In some cases, highway crews plow snow onto tracks. That’s what happened in Wells on Tuesday, when a Pan Am freight train got stuck after operators attempted to pull onto a siding that was covered with snow. Highway crews plowing the Maine Turnpike pushed snow onto the tracks from an overpass, Scarano said. Not only did the snow trap a Pan Am freight train for about five hours, the snow also trapped two southbound Amtrak trains behind it. Passengers on a southbound train were put on a bus, and another train made it through two hours late.

 

In large rail yards, it’s difficult to keep sidetracks and switches clear of snow, Scarano said. Plow trucks can’t just sweep through as if they’re plowing a parking lot. Pan Am has a rail-mounted plow with an extended blade so it can clear a wide path through a rail yard to allow crews to walk next to trains.

 

Regionally, the snowfall amounts this year have been much higher than normal. Boston has seen 100 inches of snow, Portland 87 inches and Bangor 111. The average temperature in Portland this month has been 13.3 degrees – nearly 12 degrees below normal for the month.

 

Pan Am doesn’t have enough manpower to handle a heavy winter, said Chalmers Hardenbergh, who publishes Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports, an industry newsletter. He said the national railroad, CSX, appears to be having far fewer problems in its rail yard in Worcester, located just 30 miles from Ayer.

 

He said Pan Am doesn’t keep enough maintenance workers on staff through the winter.

 

“Clearly, it wasn’t as prepared for this weather as other railroads,” he said.

 

A WINTER OF HISTORIC WEATHER

 

Scarano said the staffing was adequate for a normal winter, but this winter’s been far outside the norm. Portland saw its coldest February since record-keeping began in 1940 at the city’s municipal airport.

 

“We weren’t prepared for this sort of weather we received, which from my understanding has broken records that go back to the 1800s,” Scarano said.

 

She noted that the winter weather has significantly disrupted trains operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, causing service delays and shutdowns.

 

Scarano said her railroad is in daily – and in some cases hourly – contact with many of its customers and is working hard to get the system back to normal. The company also is working out agreements with other railroads to arrange cars in adjacent groups or in “blocks” that allow crews to more easily move cars in rail yards affected by snow. “Everyone is doing their best,” she said.

 

Rail customers contacted about how the weather has affected Pan Am’s deliveries either didn’t return calls or declined to comment. Hardenbergh said many businesses are reluctant to criticize the company publicly because of the possible repercussions.

 

The snow and cold have been problems for all railroads in the region, said John Giles, president of the Central Maine & Quebec Railway, which operates a 481-mile network from Sears-port to Brownville Junction and extends to Quebec and northern Vermont.

 

“We are all struggling,” he said.

 

Trains in Maine: Plans would expand passenger and freight service

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on March 28, 2015 at 3:30 PM Comments comments (0)

PORTLAND, Maine — Lawmakers and rail enthusiasts spent Tuesday pushing legislation that would make it easier to expand passenger train service from Portland to Lewiston-Auburn, but the Maine Department of Transportation has a bigger plan.

 

The Maine DOT’s draft plan sets out goals for $125 million in passenger rail investments between 2014 and 2019 — mostly using federal funds — and a range of other projects proposed to boost freight rail service.

 

The study and bills come at a time of big additions and changes to state railways, with the pending connection of Pan Am’s tracks to the International Marine Terminal expected this summer, a lull in paper shipments with the mill closure in Bucksport and the operation of the Central Maine & Quebec Railway under new ownership.

 

The big picture calls for broad investment, some with unknown costs. For passenger rail, studying a Portland-Auburn extension is one part of a suggested effort to preserve existing rail corridors in anticipation of future transit needs, including long-term investments to study the possibility of commuter rail service in Greater Portland and an intercity rail service, extending Amtrak’s Downeaster from Portland to Montreal.

 

Supporters point to increasing revenue and ridership for the Downeaster, operated by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which gets about 53 percent of its funding from the federal government and state of Maine.

 

For freight, the work ahead is more extensive as the study notes many of the state’s railways have weight and height limits that make them less competitive with other shipping options. At the same time, rail investments also are driven by customer demand, which in Maine has typically been from the paper industry.

 

For freight, the report calls for the state to continue investing about $1.5 million every two years in specific industrial rail projects, continue to preserve specific rail corridors, invest in hubs where railroads connect with other forms of transportation and work long-term to address the weight and height restrictions on much of the state’s tracks, projects for which the cost is not known and estimated completion date is beyond 2018.

 

But for freight, planning is driven by market demands. Nate Moulton, head of the Maine Department of Transportation’s Office of Freight Transportation, said while the five-year plan provides overarching goals for his department, development is driven primarily by the private sector and the outlined investments do not mean the DOT is proposing funding all of them.

 

While Maine’s paper industry has been on a steady employment decline, the industry — as noted in the DOT plan — follows the trend of declining employment but sustained or increasing output for manufacturers as they invest in new technologies and more efficient production methods. In short, the fact that Maine has fewer papermakers does not translate directly to a commensurate decrease in the delivery of papermaking materials to mills in the state.

 

However, the paper industry’s travails in 2011 caused the former Maine, Montreal & Atlantic Railway to abandon 233 miles of track in northern Maine, which the state bought for $7 million to allow trains to keep delivering materials to manufacturing customers along the way.

 

Forest products still make up the bulk of the demand for shipping on rail lines. Projects at Sappi Fine Paper in Skowhegan, Woodland Pulp in Baileyville, Hancock Lumber in Pittsfield and Irving Forest Products in Ashland receive a share of the money DOT gives each year to specific rail projects through its Industrial Rail Access Program.

 

Dependence on the paper industry can be a challenge for rail infrastructure investments, according to the DOT’s latest five-year plan, as shippers need customers lined up before they can justify investing in new rail lines. For shippers, the report found that Maine’s rail system is not as reliable as trucking to provide timely deliveries on short notice, or “just-in-time” shipments of goods.

 

Oil producers have been one of those new shippers nationally, but not in Maine. The surge in domestic production has led to more shipments of crude oil and other fuels via rail in the U.S. and Canada, raising widespread safety concerns in the wake of the disastrous July 2013 explosion in Lac-Megantic that killed 47 people. While oil shipments by rail continue in other parts of the country, shipments through Maine largely stopped after the deadly accident.

 

The first crude oil shipment in nearly a year came through Maine in February, traveling on Pan Am lines through Waterville and across to the Northern Maine Junction in Hermon, where Pan Am tracks intersect with the Central Maine and Quebec Railway. Cameron Crawford, an 18-year-old Hermon resident, was one of a few railroad enthusiasts to document the train’s trip through Maine.

 

John Giles, president and CEO of CMQ, confirmed his company received the 60-car shipment in Hermon, where it then traveled to Brownville Junction on CMQ lines. It continued on to New Brunswick via the tracks of the New Brunswick Southern Railway subsidiary, Eastern Maine Railway. Both of those lines are owned by Irving, which has refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.

 

Giles said he could not comment on the reasons for the shipment, which was the first crude oil delivery through the state since March 2014. Mary Keith, a spokeswoman for the New Brunswick Southern Railroad, said she could not comment on a customer shipment.

 

Spokeswomen for Pan Am and Irving did not respond to requests for comment about the shipment.

 

Propane has been on the rise, but figures are difficult to track. As noted in the DOT’s rail plan, oil and propane shipments have both been on the rise nationally since 2011, including shipments from the central U.S. to and through Maine, but exact figures are hard to track.

 

“Adequate data is not yet available, but indicators suggest a continuation of growth in this market for both rail and maritime trade,” the report states.

 

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection tracks crude oil shipments, not propane, but the industry newsletter Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports reported Moulton said during a February meeting about rail infrastructure planning at the Greater Portland Council of Governments that propane shipments in Maine have shifted mostly to rail in the past five years.

 

Regardless of shipments, the state report identifies Maine’s key transport routes, not just rail (with few surprises). The state report notes that 90 percent of all shipments spend at least some time on trucks, traveling mostly through six transportation corridors largely connecting with state’s major metropolitan areas and its three major ports.

 

Specific to railroads, the report identifies critical corridors as Pan Am’s Brunswick-Boston line, the Portland-Auburn-Fryeburg combination of railroads, Pan Am’s Portland-Bangor line, the CMQ’s Searsport-Brownville Junction-Millinocket line the network from Vanceborough-Brownville Junction-Jackman, the Eastport rail connection and the railroads connecting Millinocket-Madawaska-Van Buren.

 

South Portland students bring old rail line back to life

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on January 2, 2015 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (0)

SOUTH PORTLAND — Fourth-grade students at Brown Elementary School, in collaboration with the South Portland Historical Society, recently completed the first phase of an Adopt-a-Rail project.

Last week, Jane Eberle, director of business partnerships for the School Department, and Robin Reinhold, a fourth-grade teacher at Brown, presented the City Council with a slide show, detailing each stage of the process.

 

As the Greenbelt Walkway winds around near Muzzy Street, there is a piece of railway that was once part of a longer rail line used to move goods to factories in Mill Creek before World War II, Reinhold said.

 

City Councilor Tom Blake was leading third-graders on an interactive tour of the greenbelt several years ago and pointed out the railroad. Eberle said that planted the idea to uncover and restore the section of rail.

 

The class began the endeavor in the fall, "to gain a greater appreciation of the history of our community, in general, as well as in the neighborhood around our school," Reinhold told the council.

 

As the project gained momentum, more sources jumped aboard to offer help.

 

"Our original plan was that the fourth-graders would be given some clippers and go out there with some trash bags and clear the site," Eberle told the council. "That turned out not to be the case; the invasives were so thick, the bittersweet, multi-flora rose ... so the city actually came out with the city crews and had to use machinery and bush hogs and clear it all out."

 

Kathy DePhillipo, executive director of the historical society, stepped in as a collaborator, along with representatives from Pan Am Railways of Dover, New Hampshire, who donated time, labor and expertise.

 

With the help of Jeff Beecher from Pan Am, it was determined that the railway ties, or date nails, were replaced sometime between 1956 and 1958. The bumping post at one end of the fragmented track dates back to 1920, and, as Eberle described, along the side of the rail, "you can see where it was made, the weight of the rail and that it can take speeds of up to (approximately) 100 miles per hour."

 

Once the brush had been cleared, Pan Am donated rock bits, or ballast, that the students scattered along the railroad between each tie.

 

While the excavation was taking place, the fourth-grade students were also documenting their experiences in the form of writing, drawing, photography and video recording.

 

Now that the physical portion of the project is complete, students are compiling components to create short documentaries.

 

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is tentatively planned for next spring.

 

"Just think," Blake said, "200 years down the road, we'll be able to point this out because of the project that you all undertook. It's absolutely great."

 

Amtrak Vermonter makes first Knowledge Corridor run in Springfield, Northampton and Greenfield

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on January 2, 2015 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

SPRINGFIELD — The ride Monday from Greenfield south to Springfield on Amtrak's Vermonter was smooth and swift, said Alden Dreyer of Shelburne.

 

"The best Christmas present ever," Dreyer said as he waited in Springfield's Amtrak station for the ride back north to Greenfield. "I'm so happy to have the train in Greenfield again. We are tired of coming down to Springfield to catch the train at 4 in the morning."

 

Dreyer retired after 20 years with the old Boston & Maine Railroad, some of it spent directing rail traffic from the tower in Springfield. Now, he takes Amtrak trips all over the country.

 

"I did 20,000 miles last year," Dreyer said. "Highway travel is so aggravating with the traffic. Especially on Interstate 91. This service will be great for people."

 

On Monday, he and six friends made the trip from Greenfield to Springfield through the Knowledge Corridor and back to test out the new Vermonter for themselves. It was the first passenger service on the former Boston & Maine tracks along the Connecticut River since 1989, when deteriorating track conditions forced Amtrak to switch to a roundabout route through Palmer and Amherst.

 

Monday was the first passenger train to stop in Greenfield and Northampton since 1989. A stop in Holyoke, also not serviced since 1989, will be added in a few months, but the station there is not yet ready.

 

The Vermonter runs both ways each day from Washington, D.C., to St. Albans, Vermont. In between, it serves dozens of stops, including New Haven's Union Station, New York's Penn Station and Philadelphia's 30th Street Station in addition to its local stops in the Pioneer Valley.

 

Amtrak figures fares on a sliding scale based on rider demand.

Fare ranges:

•Northampton to New York Penn Station: $61 to $89

•Greenfield to Penn Station: $61 to $89

•Greenfield to Springfield: $16 to $24

The Vermonter was full both ways on Monday. Dreyer wasn't the only one who took it out of curiosity. The trip form Springfield to Northampton took about 40 minutes going 35 to 50 mph or so. North of Northampton, the trains reach 79 mph for a stretch in Hatfield and Whately.

 

Rail fans and people who photograph trains as a hobby lined up along the route on Monday.

 

Michael Kusek of Northampton and three friends took the southbound train, went for a beer at The Fort in Springfield, and took the train back.

 

"It was the first train in Northampton in more than 20 years," he said. "We had to take it. I do take the train all the time to New York City, and it will be great to get it in Northampton."

 

Others would have taken the Vermonter even if the route hadn't changed.

 

Hunter Cropsey, 21, of Longmeadow, a student at the University of Vermont in Burlington, was headed back early from Christmas because of his job.

 

"I've tried other things, getting rides from friends. The train works out best for me," he said.

 

A lanky fellow, he finds buses don't have enough leg room.

 

Siyanda Stillwell, 18, of Boston, took his snowboard on the train. He left Boston a little after noon and was meeting friends in Brattleboro, Vermont, and from there they would go on to Stowe.

 

"I couldn't really figure out another way to get there," Stillwell said.

 

They were joined northbound by Joseph H. Boardman, president and CEO of Amtrak. Boardman's three cars, including the Amtrak presidential observation car, were attached to the regular five-car train.

 

Boardman said Amtrak is on the upswing, not just here in Springfield. Dec. 9, 10 and 11 were the busiest travel days in the history of Amtrak's Acela high-speed express service from Boston to Richmond, Virginia.

"Then you see the excitement here today," Boardman said. "It demonstrates the expanding demand for rail travel. People are looking to live without cars or at least to get away from their cars on their daily commutes."

 

Amtrak is also benefiting from increased highway congestion and the decision by the airlines to either curtail service or pull out of some markets.

 

But it takes money, Boardman said.

 

Returning the Vermonter to the Connecticut River Valley took a $120 million state and federal project. The federal stimulus program provided $73 million of the $120 million.

 

Vermont spent $53 million in state and federal money rehabbing the tracks in the Green Mountain State.

 

Connecticut is spending $450 million on rail improvements in that state.

 

Connecticut also plans to add more frequent service from Springfield to New Haven in 2016. Connecticut issued a request on Dec. 18 for potential train operators.

 

"I know that Connecticut is working on adding more service that would be more of a commuter nature," Boardman said. "We will see how that develops."

 

He had some insights, but few hard answers, concerning expanded rail service in the Pioneer Valley.

•Increased east-west service from Boston to Springfield and west to Albany would also take more money, Boardman said. It would also take the freight railroads that own the tracks agreeing to give up capacity for passenger trains. Those agreements are not always easy.

•Service to Montreal from Springfield requires political cooperation in Canada, Boardman said.

•Amtrak will adjust the Vermonter's timetable [pdf] to reflect a quicker trip, Boardman said. The train should be able to save a half-hour of travel time through Massachusetts each day.

•Track speeds are set by the track owners, in this case Pan Am Railways, a successor to the Boston and Maine.

•The $82 million rehabilitation of Springfield's Union Station, set to be completed in the fall of 2016, also bodes well for Amtrak. New, expanded stations mean more riders.

 

"You see how crowded it is here today," Boardman said. "A rehabbed Union Station will make more people feel comfortable choosing Amtrak. It will be more welcoming for people to access our system."

 

Feds to review Norfolk Southern Railway plan to buy line

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on January 2, 2015 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Federal regulators this week said they'll review plans by Norfolk Southern Railway Co. to buy Delaware & Hudson Railway's 282-mile line between Schenectady and Sunbury, Pa. Norfolk Southern will pay $217 million for the line, which intersects its Southern Tier line in Binghamton.

 

The federal Surface Transportation Board said it would accept comments until Jan. 15 and that those who want to participate in the review must notify it by Dec. 29.

 

Responses to comments are due by March 31. The STB said it plans to make a decision by May 15.

 

Norfolk Southern already is the major user of the line connecting Schenectady, Cobleskill, Oneonta and Binghamton and will retain track rights to Saratoga Springs and Mechanicville over existing D&H lines.

 

Whats next for the local Pan Am Railways?

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on January 2, 2015 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (0)

BUCKSPORT — Ever since its October announcement that it was selling the local paper mill, Verso Paper Corp. has been silent about what would happen to the 85-year-old facility. At least, it was until Monday evening, when news broke about the company’s agreement to sell the mill to AIM Development, a U.S. subsidiary of a Montreal metal recycler.

 

Much less news has been generated about the fate of another local asset: the Bangor-to-Bucksport railway that has carried paper production materials and finished paper into and out of the mill over the years.

 

 

 

 

Headquartered in Billerica, Mass., Pan Am Railways owns and operates the 20-mile-long, 10 miles-per-hour Bucksport line. Verso is currently its only client on the track.

 

Now that mill has closed, Pan Am Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano says, the company is looking for new business on the Bucksport route, which passes through Orrington and Brewer on its way to the Bangor freight hub.

 

“We have no plans on closing the line. We’re working on some new customers and new development,” Scarano said. “[Verso] was a substantial customer. We’re trying to fill the void.”

 

Scarano said trains are still transporting supplies to and from the Verso facility this month, as mill workers help to clean up and mothball the facility. She’s spoken with several potential new clients on the route, but wouldn’t identify any of them.

 

Rep. Richard Campbell (R-Orrington), though, named two entities that are interested in Pan Am’s railway: the Penobscot Energy Recovery Center (PERC), a regional waste-to-energy facility in Orrington, and Mallinckrodt U.S. LLC, which is cleaning up chemicals spilled from former plants in Orrington.

 

Both may soon use the Pan Am rail to bring in and ship out waste, Campbell said. Unfortunately, he added, that means rail service won’t continue down to Bucksport until another manufacturer or industry moves in there.

 

While the Verso mill was operating, the train brought materials such as clay slurry and starch, leaving with coated paper.

 

Last year, Campbell, an engineer, proposed a bill in Augusta to study the diminished state of the rail bed between Brewer and Bucksport. What’s now needed are a set of new railroad ties, Campbell said.

 

Bucksport Economic Development Director David Milan testified at the hearing for that bill, explaining how water has diminished several stretches of track.

 

At the very moment Milan was testifying, he recalled learning later, a train car derailed along the Bucksport line.

 

In fact, several cars have derailed from Pan Am’s rail over the years, including one instance in 2012 when 4,000 gallons of a (reportedly non-hazardous) papermaking chemical known as kaolin spilled into the Penobscot River.

 

But Campbell’s bill proved unnecessary, the legislator said, because Pan Am committed to investing in the local rail if more industrial customers started using it.

 

At the time of publication, Scarano hadn’t responded to a request for confirmation of that commitment. But when interviewed earlier for this story, she said all track investments depend on “new businesses and what type of services they would require.”

 

It’s not just towns on the east side of the lower Penobscot that are now trying to make the manufacturing-rail logistics formula work.

 

Before Verso’s closure announcement, the federal government had awarded Eastern Maine Development Corp. (EMDC) of Bangor a $187,000 economic development grant to draft a regional response to the loss of major rail services and paper production businesses in northern Maine.

 

According to EMDC President Michael Aube, in light of Verso’s announcement, his group is now proposing to expand the scope of that project to include Hancock County. (EMDC has separately been facilitating assistance for the soon-to-be-laid off Verso workers.)

 

“That is clearly an asset, to and from a major industrial activity, that needs to be looked at,” Aube said of the Pan Am railway. “In terms of its value to the marketplace, it’s certainly something that once it’s gone, it’s hard to replace. My own personal view, in terms of economic development, is that you always look at preservation first and how you can increase or modify activity in way that makes sense.”

 

Plus, said Don Maier, associate dean of Maine Maritime Academy’s (MMA) Loeb-Sullivan School of International Business and Logistics, rail is a much more cost-effective shipping method than truck.

 

Several years ago, a group of students in the business program performed their own study for EMDC of a logistics route between Searsport and Bangor that would run essentially parallel — but also in coordination — with the Bucksport line. A deepwater port is located at Mack Point in Searsport.

 

One of the students involved in that 2012 study, Alaina Scheuchzer, is now an assistant professor at MMA. She explained that coordination between separate businesses also can be a boon for reducing shipping costs, since it can immediately create more volume for a rail freight service.

 

Just what volume will be coming out of Bucksport in the coming years is a big question mark, particularly with the declines in papermaking industry around the state and the recently announced purchase of the Verso mill by AIM Development.

 

“The loss of Bucksport is the loss of a major business for Pan Am, which isn’t good… Until the Verso closing, we were optimistic that volume would be increasing,” Campbell said.

 

“There’s a lot of potential here,” Campbell went on, pointing to other Bucksport assets like a deepwater port, power plant and easy access to multiple highways and municipalities.

 

It would be ideal if another manufacturer moved into Bucksport, he said, “but if not, were going to try to see what we can up with.”

 

MBTA rail operator hit with $804,000 fine

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on November 21, 2014 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

The operator of the MBTA’s commuter rail service has been fined $804,000 for late trains and other performance issues, including station and train cleanliness, according to transit officials.

 

Officials for the company, Keolis Commuter Services, said mechanical problems and old trains partly contributed to the poor performance, while state officials noted that the contract is still new.

 

 

 

 

“After four months of running MBTA commuter rail, October was a disappointing month for Keolis and our passengers, but we’re determined to improve,” said Mac Daniel, a Keolis spokesman.

 

Keolis took over operation of the commuter rail in July after winning a $2.68 billion, eight-year contract. The deal calls for penalties for service delays, a provision promoted by MBTA officials as a way to ensure quality service from the international rail service company.

 

The MBTA levied fines of $434,000 for inadequate on-time performance, which dipped to 85 percent in October, and also fined the company $370,000 for inadequate fare collection, staffing, cleanliness, and lighting failures during the past four months.

Thomas M. Mulligan, general manager of Keolis, said mechanical problems have been a significant issue for the company. Some of the commuter rail locomotives were built in the 1970s, Mulligan reminded the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board of directors during its monthly meeting Wednesday, where the company’s performance was discussed.

 

“It’s like trying to keep an old car together,” Mulligan said. “It’s very challenging, so the new equipment would be a relief to a lot of the situations that we face today.”

 

The MBTA has sought to replace some of the aging fleet, purchasing 75 new commuter rail coaches and 40 new locomotives. Fifty of the coaches and eight of the locomotives are in service.

 

Twenty-five coaches and 11 locomotives are undergoing testing before being put into service. Officials are still waiting on the delivery of 21 locomotives from a $222 million contract awarded in August 2010 to Idaho company MotivePower Inc.

 

Beverly A. Scott, general manager of the MBTA, said she is not satisfied with Keolis’ performance, but noted that the company is only four months into an eight-year contract.

 

“I think Keolis did a very good job in terms of the initial transition and mobilization,” Scott said.

 

“I’m also very clear that what we want, on a 10-point scale, we want a 10, and I know that’s going to take time.”

 

Since Keolis began running the service in July, the company has struggled to match the on-time performance last year by the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co.

 

In October, on-time performance slipped to its lowest since Keolis took over, with trains staying on schedule only 85 percent of the time, compared with a rate of 90 percent for the same period last year.

 

According to the MBTA, trains on the Fitchburg/South Acton Line were late most often, with 64 percent of trips arriving on time in October.

 

In addition to the on-time penalties, the company was also fined for failures in vehicle cleanliness, station maintenance, train staffing, fare collection, lighting, and toilets, and the size of train and rail car combinations.

 

Mulligan said several issues contributed to the late trains, such as leaves on the tracks creating slippery conditions and track work on the Fitchburg line.

 

Eric Asselin, the executive vice president of Keolis North America, also told the MassDOT board of directors that “resistance to change” by employees has contributed to the decline in performance.

 

He mentioned a “lack of training for managers,” and said the company still needs to ensure that all employees respect safety procedures. When asked about safety concerns, Mulligan noted that some employees do not wear hard hats in certain areas, despite concerns from the company.

 

In addition, the company has been running without a permanent chief mechanical officer. Gerald Francis, who served as interim general manager before Mulligan was appointed, has been overseeing day-to-day mechanical operations.

 

Asselin also placed some blame on the delays in the delivery of new equipment. “Until these problems are resolved, on-time performance will continue to suffer,” Asselin said.

 

Mulligan said Keolis is seeking to improve in several ways, including filling critical vacancies, creating an anonymous tipline where employees can report safety violations, and developing job performance appraisals.

 

City has very good meeting with governor.

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on November 21, 2014 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

PORTSMOUTH — Mayor Robert Lister said city officials had a “very good meeting” with Gov. Maggie Hassan focused on their concerns about expanded propane rail cars in the Seacoast.

 

 

“She seemed very interested in our concerns,” Lister said about the Thursday meeting. “We didn’t get very specific, but it was a chance for her to hear from us and where we were with the litigation.”

 

 

City officials have waged a long battle against the expansion of the Sea-3 propane terminal in Newington, which was approved in May by the town’s Planning Board, despite concerns raised by area officials and residents.

 

 

Most concerns have focused on the condition of Pan Am Railways’ tracks, which will carry a significant increase in propane rail cars throughout the Seacoast because of the expanded propane terminal.

 

 

The tracks are now Class 1, but Pan Am Railways Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano has said the company may upgrade them to Class 2, which would allow trains to travel as fast as 25 mph, up from 10 mph.

 

 

Portsmouth officials have asked Pan Am to commit to running its trains at only 10 mph, but Pan Am has refused.

 

 

The city of Portsmouth filed an appeal of Newington’s approval of the expansion, but that appeal, and a subsequent request for rehearing, were rejected by the Newington Board of Adjustments.

 

 

The city also filed an appeal in Rockingham County Superior Court, but they are still waiting to get a hearing date set, according to staff attorney Jane Ferrini.

 

 

Asked Friday if the city would consider taking the case to the state Supreme Court if the city lost its appeal in Superior Court, Lister said, “That’s a possibility, it depends on the outcome in Superior Court.”

 

 

The meeting with the governor on Thursday included staffers from the city and her office, Lister said.

 

 

“The emphasis was on safety of the residents and development near the tracks,” Lister said.

 

 

He confirmed that they also talked about upgrading the six railroad crossings in the city, which city officials have estimated could cost as much as $2.4 million in total to do.

 

 

“I think it’s an agreement we’re going to have to have in the near future,” Lister said about whether the state will pay in part or in full for the improvements.

 

 

The governor’s staff plans to do more research on safety-related issues and the two groups will talk again soon, Lister said.

Pan Am clerical workers ratify pact

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on November 21, 2014 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Pan Am Railways clerical workers represented by the Transportation Communications Union (TCU) recently ratified a new four-year contract by a unanimous vote.

 

The pact provides wage increases totaling 12 percent over the four-year term and is identical to a contract ratified a week earlier by the railroad’s TCU-represented carmen.

 

"Our members’ decisive action to ratify this contract came just in the nick of time," said TCU National Vice President Arthur Maratea in a press release. "Right after we finalized the deal, Pan Am lost a major customer, and it has since significantly reduced its contract offer to unsigned unions."

 

Pan Am Railways is North America's largest regional railroad system, totaling about 1,700 route miles. The company’s routes run from Saint John and St. Leonard, New Brunswick, to Rotterdam Junction, N.Y., and Derby, Conn.

 

D&H selling Schenectady-Binghamton rail line

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on November 21, 2014 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Sometime next year, pending approval by federal regulators, Norfolk Southern will take over the 282-mile rail line connecting Schenectady with Binghamton and Pennsylvania.

 

The railroad said late Monday it has reached an agreement with the Delaware & Hudson Railway to buy the track, which stretches to Sunbury, Pa., for $217 million. Canadian Pacific, which acquired the D&H in 1991, will continue to own tracks from the Capital Region north to Montreal.

 

"Acquiring this portion of the D&H provides for more efficient rail transportation system by consolidating freight operations with a single carrier," said NS CEO Wick Moorman. "Aligning the D&H track with Norfolk Southern's 22-state network allows us to connect businesses in central Pennsylvania, upstate New York and New England with domestic and international markets while enhancing the region's competitive rail and surface transportation market."

 

 

 

Norfolk Southern is a partner in Pan Am Southern, a joint venture with Pan Am Railways, which operates a line from the Capital Region east to the Boston area. In recent years, Norfolk Southern had increased usage of the D&H line from Schenectady through Oneonta and Binghamton into Pennsylvania. Norfolk Southern already operates an east-west rail line through Binghamton that it acquired as part of a deal by it and CSX to purchase Conrail.

 

"As we have stated in recent months, we've been in the process of negotiating the final details for the potential sale of the southern portion of our D&H line," said CP CEO E. Hunter Harrison. "We are pleased to find a prospective buyer in Norfolk Southern."

 

The Times Union reported last month that Harrison had told analysts CP was close to a deal to sell the southern portion of the D&H system, but he didn't identify the potential purchaser.

 

But industry observers said that Norfolk Southern, which already operated the majority of the traffic over the line, was the likely purchaser.

 

Owning the line would give the railroad some advantages.

 

"NS is the majority user of the line, but we're subject to the dispatching, maintenance and capital priorities of another railroad," spokesman David Pidgeon said. "Our customers demand a high level of safety, reliability and efficiency, and we're in a great position to apply those principles to the D&H line, which will hopefully set the stage for future economic growth."

 

Norfolk Southern, which will also acquire a D&H car shop in Binghamton, is expected to upgrade the former D&H line.

 

The acquisition gives Norfolk Southern direct access from the Southeast and from Chicago to Albany.

 

The deal still needs the approval of the federal Surface Transportation Board. Norfolk Southern said it would offer jobs to about 150 D&H employees.

 

The deal is projected to close in the second quarter of 2015.

 

"This acquisition would preserve good-paying railroad jobs and set the stage for economic growth," said John Friedmann, NS vice president of strategic planning. "Absent this transaction and its efficiencies, we are concerned that rail service along much of New York's Southern Tier would be threatened with losing a crucial link to New England."

 

Gov. Hassan invites Mayor Lister to meet on Sea-3 concerns

Posted by Matthew P. LaFrenier on October 12, 2014 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (0)

PORTSMOUTH – Gov. Maggie Hassan has invited Mayor Robert Lister to meet with her about his concerns over the expansion of the Sea-3 propane facility in Newington.

 

 

“I share the concerns that you and many other Seacoast-area residents have expressed about Sea-3’s proposed expansion,” Hassan wrote in a letter to Lister.

 

 

She noted that the state Legislature has just established a commission “that is about to begin its work on these issues.”

 

 

“For our endeavors to be successful and to ensure the safety of our rail systems, I want to ensure that we work collaboratively with all stakeholders so that we resist duplication of efforts and find constructive solutions on this issue of critical importance,” Hassan said.

 

 

She then invited Lister to meet with her in Concord.

 

 

The mayor said Friday he was “pleased that she’s willing to meet with us,” and added that he plans to bring other city officials with him.

 

 

Most concerns raised about Sea-3’s proposed expansion have focused on the condition of Pan Am Railways’ tracks, which will carry a significant increase in propane rail cars throughout the Seacoast.

 

 

The tracks are now Class 1, but Pan Am Railways Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano has said the company may upgrade them to Class 2, which would allow trains to travel as fast as 25 mph, up from 10 mph.

 

 

Portsmouth officials have asked Pan Am to commit to running its trains at only 10 mph, but Pan Am has refused.

 

 

Hassan’s letter to the Portsmouth mayor came in response to Lister's request asking her to issue an executive order to review the state’s rail system. He has previously asked the state to “perform a comprehensive safety and risk analysis regarding all aspects of the transportation of LPG (liquefied propane gas) throughout the state.”

 

 

Lister said the meeting with the governor hasn’t been scheduled yet.

 

 

Lister considers rail safety a “statewide issue” and believes the governor shares that feeling.

 

 

“Obviously, she’s very concerned with safety,” Lister said Friday.

 

 

A recently released 10-year state energy plan warns about the vulnerability the state faces in terms of propane shortages, like the one it endured last winter.

 

 

Asked whether he thinks the city’s fight against the Sea-3 expansion plan could hurt the supply of propane in the state, Lister said, “Hopefully we’re providing all that New Hampshire needs.”

 

 

Lister heats his home with oil and propane, the mayor said.


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