|Posted on November 21, 2014 at 11:25 AM||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.
|Posted on November 21, 2014 at 11:25 AM||comments (4)|
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.
|Posted on November 21, 2014 at 11:20 AM||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.
|Posted on November 21, 2014 at 11:20 AM||comments (7)|
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."
|Posted on October 12, 2014 at 11:50 AM||comments (3)|
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.
|Posted on October 12, 2014 at 11:50 AM||comments (0)|
BUCKSPORT, Maine — It has been a week since David Milan, the economic development director for the town of Bucksport, was blindsided by the news that the Verso Paper mill will close in December.
“We were sucker-punched,” he said of the Oct. 1 announcement that caught town officials and millworkers alike off-guard.
Milan said he didn’t sleep well that first night, worried about what the closure of the mill, which pays about 44 percent of the town’s property taxes, would mean for the future of Bucksport. But by the next morning, he said things felt different.
“The next day, I said, ‘What the heck am I upset about?’” Milan said this week, adding that his first concern is for the soon-to-be displaced workers and their families. “One door closes and another opens. You always plan for the worst and hope for the best. We’ve planned for this. I’ve rolled up my sleeves. We’re moving forward.”
Town officials in Bucksport over the years have set aside about $8 million in a rainy day fund to soften the blow of potential layoffs, and since the closure announcement, their mantra has seemed to be that it isn’t time to panic.
Meanwhile, a few miles away from downtown Bucksport, that optimism seemed a little harder to come by for a self-employed Orland man who makes his living harvesting and hauling spruce and fir to the Verso Paper mill. Tom Pelkey, a 57-year-old former millworker who “pretty much walked out of school and walked into the mill,” is contemplating his new, tougher financial reality.
“It’s definitely not going to help any,” he said Wednesday of Verso’s imminent closure. “I sell them a lot of wood. … I’ve invested in a lot of equipment. I’ve got several bunchers and skidders and delimbers. I’ve got so much invested in it.”
The mill closure will affect his family in other ways, too. His son-in-law works there and has a young and growing family and a house he bought just a year and a half ago.
“He’s a good kid, and he’s a good worker. He’s just getting started,” Pelkey said of his son-in-law. “We have a good workforce and people that are dedicated. Then this [crap] happens. … Wood is just like your garden. It needs to be managed. It needs to be used. It’s a shame we’re losing so much of our heritage.”
‘Everything is changing daily’
One thing that seems certain, in a week of changes and questions, is that reverberations from the planned Dec. 1 closure of the paper mill will continue to spread throughout the Bucksport area and beyond. The mill has dominated the town’s economy and skyline since it was built in 1930, and it now produces coated paper for magazines and also speciality paper products such as prescription pads and sugar packets.
Some of the impacts seem obvious — the loss, for example, of the good-paying jobs held by about 500 of the 570 mill employees. Because the mill needs to be decommissioned and the associated power plant will remain open, not all the Verso workers in Bucksport are slated to lose their jobs, Verso spokesman Bill Cohen said Thursday.
If a buyer isn’t found for the mill, municipal officials said that Bucksport is likely to have some hard decisions to make in the future, as the town figures out how to balance its budget with much less help from its largest single taxpayer. Also, there are open questions for suppliers, including the contractors and vendors who work for the mill but are not directly employed by Verso, and Pan Am Railways, which hauls goods in and out of the mill. Such entities would be directly impacted by a closure of the mill.
“That’s a noise you won’t hear so often,” Bucksport resident Christopher Johnson said Wednesday night, as a mournful-sounding train whistle echoed through the quiet streets of his town.
But other impacts are more oblique. The closure of the mill and disappearance of those jobs surely will have an effect on local businesses, from the convenience store closest to the Verso gates to the automobile dealerships a half-hour up the Penobscot River in Bangor where some of the millworkers purchased their cars and trucks.
The millworkers come from all over the northeastern portion of the state, Cohen said, with about half living in Bucksport, Orland, Verona and Prospect. But some of the workers travel as much as 75 miles one way to get to the mill.
“They come from Hancock, Piscataquis, Washington, Waldo, Knox and Penobscot [counties],” he said, adding that the hourly workers’ average age is 54.
Also, people such as Pelkey, who cut or haul wood for the mill, will be affected. The ripple effects will be felt at Eastern Maine Community College, where a new training program launched last fall to prepare workers for the papermaking industry has eight students enrolled — each of whom anticipated securing a job at Verso upon completion of the two-year program.
The questions, and possible extended effects from the closure, encompass many areas — even as seemingly remote to the Bucksport mill as the future of Toddy Pond, Alamoosook Lake and Silver Lake. Verso owns the water rights to each of them, Milan said, and could potentially remove their dams, which would have major downstream consequences.
“My big concern right now, beyond the families of the millworkers, is the long-term impact [of the closure],” Milan said. “Right now, I feel like the guy on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show,’ with the spinning plates. Everything is changing daily, and I’m trying to keep the plates from dropping on my head.”
‘This community is not going to die.’
Dale Tozier, who owns Tozier’s Bucksport Variety on Route 15, said this week that Verso closing will no doubt have a significant effect on his business. Millworkers come in before and after their shift changes to pick up coffee, newspapers, sandwiches and more.
“It’ll be very widespread, without 570 people coming into the town every day, making very good wages,” he said. “Especially on this end of town. We’re not on Route 1. We’re not a tourist destination on this end. It’ll be a blow.”
Tozier said it’s not the first time he’s gone through a mill closure as an owner of a nearby business. Tozier’s Market on South Main Street in Brewer is just up the street from Eastern Fine Paper, which closed in 2004 and left 430 people without jobs.
“It hurts,” he said. “But this community is not going to die. This is an old community. A strong community. There’s a lot of pride in this community. We’re survivors — we’ll survive this.”
One bright spot amid the gloomy economic news from Verso’s planned closure is the fact that Maine’s Job Bank this week hit an all-time high number of available jobs, according to Julie Rabinowitz of the Maine Department of Labor. While some of the listings are for seasonal employment, a lot of them are for full-time work with good benefits at places including Bath Iron Works and Bar Harbor’s Jackson Laboratory.
“We have had a tremendous response from employers who have open positions,” she said, referring to companies that contacted the department after the Bucksport announcement, specifically seeking to hire displaced millworkers.
The department’s Rapid Response Team met earlier this week with Verso officials and has started to schedule resume writing workshops and other activities aimed at helping the workers.
“For some people, it’s still settling in. They’re still a little in shock,” Rabinowitz said of the millworkers. “What we want to do is empower each individual worker to make the decision that’s best for them. Sometimes that’s training for a new career. Sometimes it’s get a new job. If they’re on the verge of retirement, it might be retirement.”
People in the Bucksport area said this week that they believe in their community and in its ability to get through the tough times to come. The closure of the mill is major, but it won’t define their town, they said.
“This town has seen a lot of challenges over the years and has overcome them very well,” James Bradney of the Bucksport Bay Healthy Communities Coalition said. “I’m not minimizing the hardship that many residents will feel in the near term. It’s going to impact all aspects of the community in a very serious way, in the near future. In the long term, this is a very close-knit community that pulls together in caring for our own.”
|Posted on October 12, 2014 at 11:45 AM||comments (0)|
The Canadian Pacific Railway is "close to completing a transaction" to sell the former Delaware & Hudson Railway network south of the Capital Region, top officials at CP Rail told analysts last week.
Hunter Harrison, the railroad's CEO, and James Clements, vice president, strategic planning and transportation services, told analysts the company was close to completing a deal during a two-day meeting with analysts in White Plains.
Canadian Pacific would retain the lucrative line that carries Bakken crude from Montreal south to oil terminals at the Port of Albany.
The D&H line runs through Schoharie County, Oneonta and Binghamton and then into Pennsylvania, ending at Sunbury with trackage rights into Philadelphia.
Much of the traffic on the line consists of Norfolk Southern trains, mainly intermodal container trains and auto carriers, which use it to connect to the Pan Am Southern line from Mechanicville to Ayer, Mass., outside Boston. Pan Am Southern is a joint venture of Pan Am Railways, formerly Guilford Transportation, and Norfolk Southern.
Norfolk Southern already owns the so-called Southern Tier route once operated by Conrail that runs east and west through Binghamton.
A spokesman for Norfolk Southern declined to comment on "rumor or speculation" about whether it would acquire the former D&H line.
And Canadian Pacific officials didn't respond to several requests for comment.
But observers say Norfolk Southern would be the logical purchaser, enabling it to improve the line and increase train speeds.
State officials are watching the deal progress.
"We are aware that Canadian Pacific has announced they have an agreement to sell, and we are awaiting further details to evaluate the impact of the transaction in New York state," state Department of Transportation spokesman Beau Duffy said.
Business leaders welcomed the possibility that Norfolk Southern might serve the Capital Region with its own rail connection, instead of depending on trackage rights over competitors' lines to reach shippers here.
"Anything that improves service is significant for us," said David Buicko, chief operating officer of the Galesi Group, which operates industrial parks in the Capital Region.
The U.S. Surface Transportation Board would have to approve the sale of the rail line.
One analyst, Benoit Poirier, of Desjardins Capital Markets in Montreal, said in a note to clients the sale could yield about $200 million Canadian, or 180 million U.S., according to Bloomberg News. He rated the shares buy.
Shares (NYSE: CP) gained 15 cents to close at $214.82 Monday.
|Posted on October 12, 2014 at 11:45 AM||comments (0)|
GREENFIELD — Last week, emergency responders gathered to plan how they’d handle a fiery train derailment.
Wednesday morning, responders found themselves faced with something less dangerous but real — when a freight train derailed on a stretch of tracks just near Hope Street.
But this time, in real life, there was no fire, no hazard and no injuries.
According to Cynthia Scarano, the executive vice president of Pan Am Railways, the derailment occurred around 7:45 a.m. By 9 a.m., railroad workers were on the scene assessing the situation.
Scarano said nine of the train’s 56 cars derailed and two of the locomotives had “wheels off the tracks.” None fell over.
Greenfield Fire Lieutenant Peter McIver said two of the cars involved had ended up sitting sideways across the tracks and the rest had only gone off the rails. All of the cars remained upright, he said.
Scarano said the cars were carrying paper manufacturing products and lumber.
According to McIver and Scarano, none of the cargo spilled, and none of the cars contained any hazardous materials.
“There were no liquids, no hazardous materials. It was all paper and cardboard products,” said McIver. “There were small fires reported off the tracks, but none were found.”
As of noon, Scarano said Pan Am employees were still analyzing the situation and would be devising a plan to re-rail the cars as soon as possible. She estimated it would take about a day to complete the task.
Scarano said Pan Am has not determined the cause of the accident, but would be downloading the “black box” data recorders and looking at the cars and tracks.
According to Scarano, the tracks that the derailment occurred on are only used for freight, and will not be part of a series of upgrades that are being carried out on other area tracks to accommodate Amtrak’s new high-speed passenger trains.
Though no hazardous materials were released in this particular incident, trains regularly transport all types of products along area railways, from regular household products to heating oil, ethanol, propane.
“It’s one of the largest methods of shipping in the United States,” said Turners Falls Fire Chief and Montague Emergency Management Director Robert J. Escott, who participated in the training exercise last week and noted the coincidence.
Escott said local emergency service organizations are constantly training and preparing to deal with any situation where a derailment could release toxic materials.
To alert the public to a dangerous incident or order an evacuation, Montague and Greenfield, as well as other county towns, use an auto-dialing phone system to send recorded messages to people living in a targeted geographic area. The systems send the messages primarily to house phones, but residents can sign up for deeper alerts in the form of text messages and emails.
|Posted on October 12, 2014 at 11:45 AM||comments (0)|
A federal judge has rejected a defamation lawsuit brought by Pan Am Railways and its former president against a small industry newsletter in a case that First Amendment advocates say demonstrates an important safeguard for the online publishing industry.
Pan Am Systems, Springfield Terminal Railway Co. and its former president, David Andrew Fink, sued Chalmers “Chop” Hardenbergh and his newsletter Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports, saying the railroad and Fink were defamed in articles published in the newsletter, which is distributed by email. The lawsuit was filed in 2011 in U.S. District Court in Portland.
Chalmers Hardenbergh near a railroad in Freeport Wednesday. He said the Pan Am Systems suit against him and his newsletter took “a significant amount of my time, but I’ve enjoyed it because I felt the law was on my side.”
Chalmers Hardenbergh near a railroad in Freeport Wednesday. He said the Pan Am Systems suit against him and his newsletter took “a significant amount of my time, but I’ve enjoyed it because I felt the law was on my side.” Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
Hardenbergh responded that the statements the railroad took issue with were made by other people and quoted in the newsletter. They also represented opinions, not facts that could be shown to be false.
“The motivation … was directly intended to chill the speech of a small publication to prevent the small paper from reporting on events involving the company,” said Russell Pierce, of Norman Hanson and DeTroy, who represented Hardenbergh.
On Tuesday, federal Judge Nancy Torresen sided with the newsletter, granting its request for summary judgment, meaning that the lawsuit did not even get to trial.
Reached at his home in Freeport on Wednesday, Hardenbergh said he was pleased with the victory but that it was a long and time-consuming struggle.
“It’s taken a significant amount of my time, but I’ve enjoyed it because I felt the law was on my side,” he said.
Corporate lawsuits filed to silence critics are not a new threat to free speech, said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition.
“Defendants without deep pockets are more likely to acquiesce to the plaintiff’s demands because they simply can’t afford to litigate the issue,” Silverman said. “This is a significant concern given the growth of small community-based publications and blogs which report news of public interest. It is important for courts to recognize when a company is bullying a publication into silence and to continue to protect its First Amendment rights.”
Hardenbergh, 69, a former assistant Attorney General for Maine who served in the 1970s, started distributing his newsletter 20 years ago, covering seaport and railroad issues from east of Albany to the Canadian Maritimes. His motivation is environmental – he believes trains are a more environmentally friendly way to move freight than trucks. His roughly 300 subscribers, who pay $459 annually for the email newsletter, are mainly people in the shipping and freight industries or public officials involved in the business, he said.
Hardenbergh’s reporting earned him the enmity of Pan Am’s then-president David Andrew Fink.
“We had been at loggerheads before and in fact Pan Am refused to respond to any inquiries from me as a reporter for several years before the lawsuit was filed,” he said. A company official accused Hardenbergh of being “anti-Pan Am,” which he denies.
“I’m pro railroads, pro railroads getting more business and doing a good job serving customers,” he said.
Just before the lawsuit was filed, Fink’s son took over the business and the railroad has improved significantly, Hardenbergh said.
Pan Am officials did not return a call for comment Wednesday. Pan Am’s attorney, Thad Zmistowski of Eaton Peabody in Bangor, said he would release a statement but none was received Wednesday.
The articles that formed the basis for the railroad’s lawsuit involved statements made by other people that were published in the newsletter.
In one article, a New Hampshire official described a derailment as a “perfectly predictable accident” and said Pan Am’s rail system was “horrendously dilapidated.” In another, an official described the railroad as having broken a promise to provide a certain service. In another, Pan Am was criticized for having “lost” rail cars.
The railroad argued that none of those statements was true, but the judge ruled that the average reader would know the statements to be exaggerations.
Torreson also pointed out that the railroad had previously brought a similar lawsuit against a newsletter in Washington, rather than suing another, larger publication that also printed the information.
The newsletter publisher in that case also won in court, but spent $250,000 in legal fees, Hardenbergh said. He would not say how much his defense cost.
“Like me, he won in the end but he had to sell his house in order to pay those legal fees,” Hardenbergh said.
Pierce said he took the case for a reduced fee because of the principle at stake. The victory is important given the changing media landscape, he said.
“In a way it becomes more important in this day and age as reporting and journalistic activities take place beyond the confines of well-known newspapers and magazines,” he said.
|Posted on August 31, 2014 at 11:50 AM||comments (3)|
Canada’s largest freight railroad is ending service to Maine’s truck-and-rail hub in Auburn, citing insufficient freight volume for a move that jeopardizes the future of the only such transportation center in the state.
The 35-acre terminal, which opened 20 years ago, connects Maine shippers with the Canadian National Railway and its straight run across the continent to the port of Vancouver and a new container terminal in Prince Rupert in British Columbia.
The Auburn terminal has large-lift vehicles called “reach stackers” that pick up containers off truck chassis and place them on flatbed rail cars. This allows companies that don’t have direct rail access to ship freight on trains. L.L.Bean in Freeport, which uses the Auburn facility to receive a “significant” amount of its freight from Asia, could be affected by the change, according to L.L.Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem. She said the company is monitoring the situation and has a plan in place for moving goods if it’s unable to use the hub.
“CN is terminating its rail service to the Auburn Intermodal Terminal because traffic volumes are not sufficient to sustain that service,” said Jim Feeny, director of public and government affairs for the railway.
Though the center will remain open, the short-line railroad that operates it, the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railway, is only 157 miles long, beginning at Portland’s East Deering neighborhood and ending in the suburbs of Montreal.
There is no truck-and-rail hub at the end of the line, said Chalmers Hardenbergh, publisher of Atlantic Northeast Rails and Ports, an industry newsletter.
“Nobody is going to use it because there is nowhere to go,” he said.
Officials at St. Lawrence & Atlantic did not return phone calls.
Canadian National on Friday sent a notice to shippers that its service to the Auburn facility is being discontinued effective Nov. 15. It said that Nov. 1 will be the last day it will pick up Auburn-bound containers from ports in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, and Nov. 5 will be the last day for picking up containers in the Port of Halifax.
The railroad will still be hauling tanker cars and box cars to Auburn. Savage Safe Handling, which has direct rail access to the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railway at its Auburn plant, won’t be affected by the change because it doesn’t use the Auburn terminal, company officials said.
Hardenbergh said volumes at the Auburn terminal have been declining for more than a decade. At its peak in 1998, about 12,000 containers moved through the terminal, he said, but by 2009 the terminal moved only 800 containers. He said Genesee & Wyoming Inc., which bought the line in 2002 from Emons Transportation, has stopped reporting data.
The new owner has never reported annual numbers. Hardenbergh believes that volumes have continued to decline because of competition from truck-and-rail hubs in Massachusettts, in Ayer and Worcester. The competition intensified in 2009 when Pan Am Railways and the Norfolk Southern Railway joined forces to improve the rail route between eastern Massachusetts and Albany, New York.
While the Auburn facility lost its domestic shipping business to Massachusetts, it continued to serve shippers importing or exporting cargo overseas, Hardenbergh said.
In 2003, the U.S. Customs Service designated the Auburn facility as an official port of entry into the country, allowing customs agents to inspect containers there. The industrial park adjacent to the facility is designated as a Foreign Trade Zone, allowing companies to defer or avoid paying duties and tariffs on imported goods.
Hardenbergh said the loss of the terminal would make it harder for Auburn and Lewiston to market the region to companies looking to relocate or expand.
Auburn and the state and federal governments have invested millions of dollars on infrastructure improvements in the area, Auburn Mayor Jonathan P. LaBonté said, noting that the center still will be able to offer access to global markets via the port of Portland.
However, Portland is focused on building its own container service with Europe and the North Atlantic, as well as developing shipping service along the Eastern Seaboard, said Patrick Arnold, who manages Portland’s International Marine Terminal.
“They can work with Portland, but it’s a different product,” he said. “We are not offering (overland) service to the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada.”
|Posted on August 31, 2014 at 11:50 AM||comments (0)|
PORTSMOUTH — The city has reached an agreement with the attorney for the Sea-3, propane facility in Newington, which may delay Monday's scheduled hearing before the Newington Zoning Board of Appeals, according to Portsmouth staff attorney Jane Ferrini.
The ZBA is scheduled to hear the Portsmouth's appeal of the Newington Planning Board's decision to approve the expansion of the propane facility, but Ferrini said Monday afternoon the city agreed to delay the hearing because of the agreement.
But Ferrini said despite the agreement, it's ultimately up to the ZBA members to decide if they will delay the hearing, which is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in Newington Town Hall.
Ferrini said the city reached a deal for Sea-3 to conduct a safety assessment of the site, but they still have to negotiate the "scope of the safety hazard study."
The study will not focus on the condition of the railroad tracks owned by Pan Am Railways, which will carry many more trains carrying propane because of the approved expansion.
Numerous area officials and residents have complained about the condition of the tracks and city officials had repeatedly asked for a comprehensive safety assessment of the operation, which included the condition of the tracks.
But Ferrini said Monday the appeal to the ZBA — and a second one filed in Rockingham Superior Court — are focused on the safety of the site.
If the negotiations on the scope of the study are successful, Ferrini said, she expects both appeals to be dropped.
She said city officials are continuing to explore the condition of the tracks and noted that Mayor Robert Lister asked Gov. Maggie Hassan for the state to "perform a comprehensive safety and risk analysis regarding all aspects of the transportation of LPG (liquefied propane gas) throughout the state."
Hassan responded by sending a letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation asking for his help in dealing with the potential impact of increased propane traffic on Pan Am Railways tracks in the Seacoast.
Citing recent train derailments in Lynchburg, Va., and LacMegantic, Quebec, Hassan said those incidents "remind us that proper care and regulation of freight trains is essential to ensuring the safety and well-being of our people and our economy," according to a copy of the letter that was sent on Thursday.
She asked Secretary Anthony Foxx to evaluate the condition of the tracks carrying propane tank cars, evaluate the proposed plans for 15 rail crossings along the track, "strengthen federal rules regarding the safety or rail cars carrying hazardous materials," and call for improved communication between rail companies, local communities and first responders.
|Posted on August 31, 2014 at 11:50 AM||comments (19)|
Robert Hassold looked at pictures of the Pan Am Railways rail trestle that crosses Great Bay and worried about the condition of the bridge crossing.
"They look rickety, they look like they're in desperate need of repair," Hassold, a tugboat captain, said this week at his home in Portsmouth. "Personally, I don't think you'd walk over those bridges."
His concerns were shared by Great Bay Piscataqua Waterkeeper Jeff Barnum as he looked at a map showing the trestle that crosses Great Bay between Newfields and Stratham.
"It's got 1,500 feet of exposure. If something fell off the tracks, it goes into the water," Barnum said. "There are two other water crossings on this 13½-mile stretch of railroad."
But what has Barnum and Hassold concerned — along with numerous Portsmouth officials — is that Pan Am Railways is not required to share its annual inspection reports of the bridges with the public.
Barnum and Hassold say if the reports showed the bridges to be in good condition, Pan Am Railways would release them.
Portsmouth Assistant Mayor Jim Splaine worries not only about the condition of the trestle over Great Bay, but the condition of all of Pan Am's bridges on the Portsmouth line.
"It's clear to me we're putting way too much trust in Pan Am's in-house inspections," Splaine said Friday. "They're supposed to be looking at them and inspecting them at least once a year. We should not have to have that kind of blind trust in a corporation."
Their comments came the same week that Portsmouth's Staff Attorney Jane Ferrini announced the city was working toward an agreement that could result in the city dropping its two appeals of the Newington Planning Board's decision to approve an expansion of the Sea-3 propane terminal. The approval, if not successfully appealed, will lead to a substantial increase in the number of railcars carrying propane on Pan Am lines in the Seacoast from the Rockingham Junction in Newfields to Sea-3 in Newington.
Ferrini this past week said the potential agreement between Sea-3 and Portsmouth for the company to do a safety study of its facility would focus on the site, and not on the condition of Pan Am's tracks. She said questions raised by city officials and residents about the condition of the tracks is a "statewide concern that the mayor has reached out to the governor's office to pursue and request a statewide rail study."
Portsmouth City Councilor Stefany Shaheen said she's "very concerned" about any deal reached by the city with Sea-3 that doesn't include the condition of the tracks. She also has called for Pan Am to release its bridge inspection reports.
"I thank ultimately we can't move forward as a municipality without some very strong assurances that the safety of the tracks is where there need to be," Shaheen said, adding, "This is still a very fluid situation."
But Pan Am Railways Executive Vice President Cynthia Scarano said Friday the company won't release its bridge inspection reports. When asked why the company would not give them to city officials as requested, Scarano said, "Because the agency that is put in place by the federal government, and that has the knowledge and the education necessary to look at those inspection sheets, has them."
She maintains that "it becomes a safety and security issue when they all of a sudden become a public document."
Portsmouth Deputy City Manager Dave Allen said Friday an official with the Federal Railroad Administration told city officials the bridges in Portsmouth were inspected in May and were found to be in good condition.
Scarano said that in addition to the annual inspections Pan Am does of its bridges, it also inspects its tracks, including the ones on the bridges, every week.
FRA spokesman Mike England said Pan Am has installed 5,000 new cross ties on the Portsmouth branch line and 2,000 relay ties. He said the metal part of the rail has been "entirely resurfaced" for all 13-plus miles on the line.
Scarano said the line is considered a Class 1 line, which means trains can no faster than 10 mph. If the line were upgraded to Class 2, trains could go as fast as 25 mph, under FRA regulations, but city officials have asked Pan Am to commit to running its trains at only 10 mph.
"What we have stated is if we bring it up to a Class 2 classification, we're going to reserve the right to go 25 mph," Scarano said. "But in my lifetime, I don't see it happening because of the crossings and the distance of the line."
She said Pan Am has never had a derailment on the Portsmouth branch of the line and it is committed to operating safely.
"Propane is crucial for all of us," she said Friday. "We just want to deliver it safely."
Asked if Pan Am will pay for all or part of improving the railroad crossings in Portsmouth, Scarano said it's too early to say. She did say the rail company's engineering department has met at least once with Portsmouth Department of Public Works officials to "start taking a look at some of the crossings." But she said until it's clear what exactly needs to be done to improve the crossings, Pan Am won't commit to taking on the cost of the improvements.
Because the railroad "then becomes responsible" for maintaining the crossings, she said.
But Splaine argues that's something the railroad should do.
"They have to pay for this," Splaine said. "They're going to make a lot of money" if the Sea-3 expansion is ultimately approved.
|Posted on August 31, 2014 at 11:45 AM||comments (0)|
MONTREAL — The union and lawyers representing two railway employees accused in the Lac-Megantic disaster are urging the Crown to drop the charges in light of recent findings by the Transportation Safety Board.
Engineer Tom Harding, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie and Jean Demaitre, the manager of train operations, each face 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death — one for each victim of last summer’s oil-train derailment in the Quebec town.
A conviction carries a maximum life sentence.
On Thursday, the attorneys for Harding and Labrie, as well as a union official, called on prosecutors to re-evaluate their cases following the release of last week’s TSB report into the catastrophe. Demaitre was not unionized.
In its findings, the TSB criticized the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic railway for its “weak safety culture” and also targeted Transport Canada for its poor oversight of the industry, particularly amid a boom in oil-by-rail shipments across the continent.
“We’re asking the Crown to revise the charges against the workers implicated in Megantic,” Daniel Roy, Quebec director of the United Steelworkers, told a news conference.
“We can see who’s really responsible for this event, this whole tragedy.”
Later in the day, however, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said the TSB report does not change anything about the police evidence that was already evaluated by the Crown. Therefore, proceedings are expected to move ahead.
The TSB report, the first comprehensive account of the derailment released to the public, identified 18 contributing factors it says led to the crash.
Among the factors, the TSB said Harding applied an insufficient number of hand brakes on the train and conducted an inadequate test before he left the convoy unattended for the night.
Attorney Thomas Walsh, who represents Harding, said his client’s actions amounted to “human error,” not “wanton and reckless disregard,” which he added was necessary for a criminal-negligence conviction.
He also pointed to the TSB’s findings on Transport Canada and the MMA.
The TSB report concluded that the railway did not thoroughly identify security risks, nor did it have a functioning safety management system — both contributing factors to the crash.
|Posted on August 31, 2014 at 11:45 AM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, August 27 — Active and retired railroad employees covered under The Railroad Employees’ National Health and Welfare Plan may be eligible for Life and Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D) benefits from MetLife.
For eligible active employees covered by the above policy, the death benefit is $20,000, and there may be an additional AD&D benefit that could pay up to $16,000, should circumstances permit. For eligible retired employees, the death benefit is $2,000.
Most employees filled out a designated beneficiary form when they began work for a participating railroad and MetLife urges employees and retirees to keep this form with their other important papers.
If you need to update your beneficiary form, or if there is doubt as to whom you designated, it is recommended that you complete a new form and send it to MetLife. A beneficiary form, as well as a copy of the full summary plan description book, can be found at www.yourtracktohealth.com.
Select “Life” in the gray box at the bottom of the page, then select “Railroad National Plan.” You can also obtain information about this benefit by calling MetLife at (800) 310-7770.
This is a very important benefit for all eligible active and retired railroad employees covered under the national health and welfare plans, although many employees, especially retired employees, may not be fully aware of it.
BLET members are asked to post this notice at appropriate work locations on their property and remind all retirees with whom you may come in contact that they should contact MetLife to inquire about their eligibility for the $2,000 death benefit.
Widowed spouses and children may also be due life insurance benefits if the deceased spouse or parent was eligible for the insurance, but the family members were unaware of the coverage.
The insurance policies were originally issued by Travelers Insurance Company, but MetLife began administering the program in 1995.
To file a claim, a potential beneficiary must be able to provide the name, birth date, Social Security number and death certificate of the worker, as well as the name of the railroad company for whom the deceased worked.
If you should have any questions regarding this benefit or your possible eligibility for same, then please contact MetLife at (800) 310-7770.
|Posted on August 31, 2014 at 11:40 AM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, August 28 — Chance Jason Gober, 40, a member of BLET Division 182 (North Little Rock, Ark.), was killed in the line of duty on August 17, 2014.
He was one of two crew members killed when two Union Pacific trains collided head on near the town of Hoxie, Ark. Brother Gober was born on November 12, 1973, in Sacramento, Calif. He is survived by his wife and three sons.
After serving his country in the United States Navy, Brother Gober hired out with the Union Pacific Railroad on March 30, 1998. He earned promotion to locomotive engineer on March 21, 2003, and joined the BLET on September 1, 2006.
Brother Gober loved hunting, fishing, camping and spending time with his children. He also enjoyed playing and coaching baseball. He watched and coached his sons in Little League for many years.
He is survived by his wife, Heather Glass Gober; sons, Zach Gober, 21, and his wife, Ashley, Jack Gober, 12, and Clay Gober, 10; mother and step-father, Carole and Jimmy Mullins; brother, Dustin Gober; sister, Jennifer Wells; grandmother, Jean Owen; and grandchild, Bentley Gober.
Brother Gober was preceded in death by his daughter, Estee Alexandra Gober; father, Johnny Gober; grandfather, Charles Owen; and great-grandparents, Jack and Josie Owen.
Funeral services were held on August 22, 2014, and Brother Gober was interred at Leek Cemetery in Star City, Ark.
BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce extended deepest condolences to the Gober family.
“The passing of this young man is a great loss to our Brotherhood and the close-knit membership of Division 182 in North Little Rock,” President Pierce said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Brother Gober’s family following this terrible tragedy. On behalf of the entire Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, I extend our most heartfelt condolences to every member of Brother Gober’s family.”
Memorials in memory of Brother Gober may be made to White Hall Little League, PO Box 20085, White Hall, Arkansas 71612.
|Posted on August 6, 2014 at 6:55 AM||comments (0)|
CLEVELAND, August 1 — If you have a Health Flexible Spending Account (Health FSA), it’s important to know how you can use it and what expenses can and cannot be covered with the Health FSA funds. To learn more visit the following website: http://www.yourtracktohealth.com and click on "Latest News."
Except as noted at the end of this paragraph, locomotive engineers and Tex-Mex train service employees covered by the Health & Welfare portion of the most recent National Agreement, dated January 5, 2012, are eligible to participate in the FSA plan. The national Health FSA is distinct and separate from the on-property BNSF Health FSA plan.
|Posted on July 24, 2014 at 1:15 PM||comments (0)|
GALESBURG — A BNSF Railway union met Wednesday to discuss a new contract that would remove the conductor from the cab of a freight train in an effort to cut costs.
The Galesburg committee of Adjustment GO-001 and other SMART-Transportation Division union members gathered to discuss and debate the union-drafted contract that would affect that largest skill group at BNSF. Conductors and ground service workers make up 60 percent of the work force.
General Chairman Randall Knutson introduced the proposal to a hostile crowd, which was amped to verbally bash the plan several times during the discussion.
Knutson responded to the opposition by explaining that engineers already can run a train by themselves, and soon BNSF will remove conductors from trains anyway. He said this way the union can at least protect the workers if they agree to a contract now.
“Engineer-only operated contracts are coming, whether you vote for this one or wait for the next one,” Knutson said.
According to Knutson, with new technology the position of conductor is starting to become irrelevant, just like technology bested the traditional caboose.
But in a room full of conductors that message didn’t go over well.
“There’s way too many variables to make an educated decision regarding safety and the well-being of the towns we drive through,” member Bill Redfern said.
The engineer operates the train, working with the mechanics of the locomotive, while the conductor makes sure the train knows where to go, while also managing the cargo and keeping an eye on the surroundings, especially near roads and urban areas. The conductor is also in charge of the safety of the train.
Most members in attendance were most worried about that part of their job description.
“How many people are in the cockpit of an airplane? Two. They say that because the technology fails,” one member said.
Under the new proposal, Knutson said there will be a “master conductor” who will overlook three to four trains at a time from a central location, instead of physically being in the train.
He said in cases of emergencies the workers will get to work in company vehicles, driving out to sites where they are needed instead of being on stand-by on the train as they traditionally do. One member called the new job “glorified van drivers.”
Another member said the two-man train is essential for safety purposes not just for the city’s they drive through, but the members on the train.
“One guy had a heart-attack on the train and an engineer saved his life,” he said.
The members are also concerned they will be out of a job with the new plan, since there is a limited number of employees who will be retained as a master conductor.
|Posted on July 24, 2014 at 1:10 PM||comments (0)|
NORTH BERWICK, Maine (AP) — Authorities say an Amtrak Downeaster train has struck and killed a person on the tracks in North Berwick.
The train, full of passengers, struck the person just after 7 p.m. Wednesday.
His name has not been made public but authorities say he lived in town.
An Amtrak spokesman says 88 passengers were on board the northbound train, but no passengers or crew were injured.
The death caused significant delays on the line.
Local police and Pan Am Railways, which owns the rail line, are investigating.
|Posted on July 24, 2014 at 1:10 PM||comments (0)|
PORTSMOUTH — Mayor Bob Lister is tired of waiting for a response from Gov. Maggie Hassan's office to a request he made in a June 18 letter sharing his concerns about the expansion of the Sea-3 propane facility in Newington.
"I would have appreciated at this point a response back from the governor's office," Lister said during an interview Monday. "We need to have a combined effort on this."
Lister and the City Council have been fighting the expansion of the Sea-3 facility — which the Newington Planning Board recently approved — because it will mean a substantial increase in the amount of trains carrying propane through downtown Portsmouth and other parts of the city.
City officials, along with numerous city residents, have voiced concerns about the condition of the railroad tracks owned by Pan Am Railways, on which the propane cars would travel.
Lister expressed his concern in the letter, saying the safety issue is a "statewide concern because transportation of hazardous material is an issue of public health, safety and welfare."
"This letter is to request that the state, through the Department of Safety and Department of Transportation, perform a comprehensive safety and risk analysis regarding all aspects of the transportation of LPG (liquefied propane gas) throughout the state, which would include hazard identification, vulnerability assessment, risk evaluation, environmental risk assessment, analysis of emergency response capabilities and a security assessment," Lister said in the letter.
Lister said he was promised somebody from the governor's office would reach out to him either Monday or Tuesday, but by late Tuesday afternoon, no one had.
William Hinkle, press secretary for Hassan, said Tuesday that representatives from the governor's office have had "multiple conversations with him since this letter was sent."
Hinkle also said Tuesday in a prepared statement that Hassan's office "has been working with the appropriate state and federal agencies about the questions raised by the mayor."
"The governor is preparing a request to send to the federal government on the issue and will continue working with the relevant stakeholders to ensure the safety of New Hampshire citizens," Hinkle said in the statement.
Lister also said Tuesday he has not heard back from the state yet on whether it is prepared to pay for part or all of the cost of upgrading the six rail crossings in the city.
City Staff Attorney Jane Ferrini has estimated the cost of the upgrades will be $2.4 million.
"I've not heard from them, but of course, that's one of the questions I want to get answered when I finally do," Lister said.
Cynthia Scarano, executive vice president of Pan Am Railways, has said the approval of Sea-3's expansion means the railroad will upgrade the tracks from Class 1 to Class 2, which will allow the trains to travel at speeds of up to 25 mph.
She said the railroad plans to limit the trains to 10 mph, but she said that could change.
The railroad has already installed 500 new ties along the line and will continue with that process if the appeals the city has filed with the town of Newington and Rockingham Superior Court end in Sea-3's favor, Scarano said at a recent Portsmouth City Council meeting she attended.
Lister points out in his letter to Hassan that the requests for the comprehensive safety assessment the city of Portsmouth asked for was never done.
"During the public hearing process, the city specifically requested that Newington require a safety/hazard assessment to identify the risks and hazards associated with transporting LPG through the city and other affected communities," Lister said in the letter. "Unfortunately, no such stipulation was required of the applicant and the city has appealed the Newington Planning Board's approval of the Sea-3's expansion to compel such a study."
That appeal is scheduled to be heard Aug. 25
|Posted on July 24, 2014 at 1:05 PM||comments (0)|
A train and logging truck collided in Livermore Falls on Wednesday afternoon, blocking Main Street to traffic for several hours but resulting in no serious injuries.
The crash happened at 3:15 p.m., when a logging truck traveled into the path of a Pan Am Railways train and was struck, causing it to tip onto its side and lose its load, railroad spokeswoman Cynthia Scarano said late Wednesday afternoon.
The truck was in the railroad crossing when the collision occurred, she said.
Scarano said the train was on its way from Jay to Portland. It was carrying 46 cars, 26 of which were loaded with paper and the rest of which were empty.
She expected the crossing to reopen to traffic Wednesday night, after the truck and logs had been cleared out of the way.