Category: Rail

Hopper style rail cars

MAFC has completed an Analysis of Surface Transportation Board Waybill Data for Freight Planning and Operations.

The objective of this study is to review the STB rail waybill data, analyze it, and examine the adequacy of the data for state freight rail planning and operations decision-making. The study reviews waybill data, focusing on aspects including accessibility, composition, quality, and usability of the data. It compares the waybill data against alternate databases, specifically the Association of American Railroads (AAR) rail data, to determine the waybill data’s strengths and shortcomings, and suggest where alternate sources should supplement the waybill data depending on analytical needs. Given the user demand for timely and detailed freight rail data, the ease of procurement, use, and potential deficiencies were examined. Read the full report at: MAFC 24 Analysis of Surface Transportation Board Waybill Data for Freight Planning and Operations.

Next Generation Tank Cars for BNSF

BNSF Railway Co. has issued a request for proposals (RFP) to major rail-car manufacturers to submit bids for the construction of 5,000 “next-generation” tank cars that will be used to transport crude oil.

The tank cars are to be built to exceed the new stronger standards the rail industry voluntarily adopted in October 2011 for the CPC-1232 jacketed tank car, BNSF officials said in an emailed statement. The following safety requirements must be met by the selected car builder: the tank car’s body shell and head ends must be 9/16-inch thick steel; each car must be equipped with 11 gauge steel jackets and full-height, 1/2-inch-thick head shield; each car must feature a thermal protection system that incorporates ceramic thermal blanketing and an appropriately sized pressure-relief device capable of surviving an ethanol-based pool fire; and each car must feature a bottom outlet valve handle that can be disengaged to prevent unintentional opening.

Check out the rest of the story in Progressive Railroading.

MDOT Publishes Rail Plan

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has published a state rail plan designed to guide freight and passenger rail development for the next 20 years.
This plan aims support a rail system that provides “enhanced mobility for travelers and the efficient movement of goods, while supporting economic development and environmental sustainability.”

    For more information, visit the MDOT Rail Plan page, consult the executive summary, or read the entire plan.

    Wisconsin's Long-range Transportation Plan

    Officially adopted in 2009, Connections 2030 is the long-range transportation plan for Wisconsin.

    The plan addresses all forms of transportation; integrates transportation modes; and identifies policies and implementation priorities to aid transportation decision makers when evaluating program and project priorities over the next 20 years.

    Connections 2030 is a comprehensive transportation plan for moving people and freight in and through Wisconsin using highways, local roads, air, water, bicycle, pedestrian, and transit modes. The plan’s vision closely echoes the US DOT’s strategic goals:

    An integrated multimodal transportation system that maximizes the safe and efficient movement of people and products throughout the state, enhancing economic productivity and the quality of Wisconsin’s communities while minimizing impacts to the natural environment.

    Read More

    The Far Reaching Effects of Canal Expansion

    Since it opened in 1914, the Panama Canal has been a vital part of international trade. However, the growth of worldwide shipping over the course of the last century has increasingly strained the Canal’s capacity, causing the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) to estimate in 2006 that the Canal would reach its current operating capacity before 2012. This capacity squeeze resulted in significant waiting times and demand for reserved transit slots, a problem compounded by the canal’s size limitations.
    At present, the canal can accommodate the operation of vessels of up to 965 feet (294.1m) in length, 106 feet (32.3m) in width (beam), and 39.5 feet (12m) in depth (draft). Accordingly, vessels of this size are called Panamax, reflecting their status as the largest ships able to navigate the series of locks. Panamax vessels generally can carry 4000-4500 Twenty Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs). Ships larger than the Panamax standard now operate along most major trade routes but exceed the limitations of the canal’s lock system. In response to rising demand for international shipping and the increasing prominence of these “post-Panamax” vessels, canal authorities proposed a major canal expansion that was overwhelmingly approved by the citizens of Panama in a referendum on October 22, 2006. The $5.25 billion expansion project will add a third set of locks to the canal system, as well as deepening and widening existing channels. New locks will be able to accommodate much larger post-Panamax ships that are expected to dominate the route with dimensions of up to 1200 feet (366m) in length, 160 feet (49m) in beam, and 49 feet (15m) in draft. When completed, the expansion promises to reduce wait times and cut shipping costs through the Panama Canal. A new toll structure, combined with decreased transit times and larger vessels, will affect the shipping dynamics of a wide variety of products. ACP estimates 7 percent to 17 percent savings for shippers of switching to post-Panamax due to economies of scale. Read More

    DOC Listening Sessions

    The US Departments of Commerce (DOC) and Transportation have recently broken new ground. They are cooperating on a series of public meetings in which members of the private sector have been asked to come and discuss their concerns and ideas about transportation. This is new ground because the agencies are dealing with a fundamental issue that is all too often lost in discussions of transportation: that it is critical for the economic well-being of the United States.
    On February 7-9 in Kansas City, Missouri, the Federal Highway Administration sponsored a regional peer exchange on freight. Most of the meeting was a fairly standard peer exchange, with state, MPO, and federal folks sharing information and ideas. The last half-day of the event was different. Representatives of two railroads, a sporting goods company, an engineering consultant, and an academic formed a panel to share their ideas and concerns about transportation. Some of the ideas offered:

    • Encourage public-private partnerships. The rail companies, in particular, saw a need for greater cooperation between the public sector and rail interests. They urged that an effort be made to sort out the benefits that accrue to the private sector and the public and allocate costs of some projects in that manner. They pointed to the Crescent Coalition and the Gateway Corridor, two successful public agency-rail company partnerships, as examples of the benefits that can be found in such arrangements.
    • Pass an investment tax credit that would encourage rail companies to invest in system capacity. They pointed to the tax provisions that had been enjoyed by class II and III railroads as an example of how tax policy could be used to promote desired outcomes.
    • Come up with the big idea or the vision for transportation. This idea was intended as a way of interesting the public and elected officials in transportation. Unfortunately, the panel was short on specifics as to what that idea might be.
    • Reduce the regulatory hurdles for doing construction projects. The rail company and engineering representatives all pointed to stories of how long it took to complete their projects and how long it took for public agencies to do projects and suggested that something had to be done to speed things up. Again, they were a little short on specifics.
    • Reduce the regulatory burdens on truckers. Examples were offered of how the industry could significantly improve productivity if they could use vehicles of slightly—or significantly—different configurations.
    • Spend more money. All looked at the stagnant revenue streams for transportation and agreed that something had to be done. Again, the specifics were lacking.

    In total, the session was informative. It illustrated the frustrations that the private sector has about how government does its job. It also illustrated the lack of understanding in the private sector over the constraints within which public agencies operate. It was a good effort, even though it’s currently unclear what the next steps are. The Departments of Commerce and Transportation should be applauded for moving into this new and important area.

    Michigan State Rail Plan

    This article was contributed by Larry Karnes, Michigan DOT
    With hundreds of public comments and notes from dozens of stakeholder outreach meetings in hand, the Michigan Rail Plan team is rounding the bend toward completing MDOT’s first major rail plan in decades. The lead consultant, HNTB Michigan, Inc. is on-track to deliver the draft document by the end of March, after which a second round of public meetings is being planned.
    One of the team’s first deliverables was the Technical Memorandum #1 concerning the plan’s vision, goals and objectives. As noted, Michigan’s future is envisioned to include “A rail a system that provides enhanced mobility for travelers and the efficient movement of goods while supporting economic development and environmental sustainability.”
    The goals are to:

    • Promote the Efficient Movement of Passengers
    • Promote the Efficient Movement of Freight
    • Encourage Intermodal Connectivity
    • Enhance State and local Economic Development
    • Promote Environmental Sustainability
    • Promote Safe and Secure Railroad Operations

    More than 200 people attended the initial set of four public meetings in September held in Negaunee, Traverse City, Detroit and Grand Rapids. As expected there was strong interest in expanding passenger service in Michigan, with more than three-quarters of the comments addressing it. Common themes included the need for greater transportation choices, more energy efficient travel, improved quality life, economic development, and concern over divesture, loss of right-of-way and funding. Of the comments dealing with passenger service locations, Traverse City, Detroit and Grand Rapids were mentioned most frequently.
    In addition to 350 comments received at the MDOT meetings and through an on-line comment form at, the Michigan By Rail initiative has offered to share input from its 15 public forums held throughout the state last fall. Michigan By Rail is a coalition of passenger rail advocates led by the Michigan Environmental Council and the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers.
    A second Technical Memorandum also is available for download that describes the existing conditions of Michigan’s rail system. The report presents the freight rail system profile, freight rail traffic, passenger rail service profile, federal and state funding programs, and a review of existing studies. Canadian National operates the most miles of rail in the state, 1,017, while Norfolk Southern and CSX each operate 642 and 569 miles respectively. Nearly 119 million tons of freight rolled on Michigan tracks in 2009. Amtrak ridership has been on the rise in recent years, reaching 500,000 riders in 2010 alone.
    The MI Rail Plan will address the serious problems facing Michigan’s rail system, including the need to identify funding sources to fill any current and future funding gaps. It will address the key concepts defining Michigan’s rail priorities and “business as usual” investment pattern, plus explore strategic concepts/opportunities to improve upon “business as usual” through strategic investment.
    The plan will satisfy a federal requirement in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008. The law established new federal funding programs for passenger rail services, including high speed rail. MDOT anticipates applying for additional federal funds in mid-year, if available, that would further improve services on the federally-designated high speed rail corridor between Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac. Applying for those funds will require completion of the State Rail Plan.
    For more information about the Michigan state rail plan, visit

    Recommendations for Reauthorization

    As part of the Recommendations for Reauthorization project (MVFC 09), we’ve produced a series of one-page, topic-based documents that encapsulate the MVFC’s positions regarding the next federal surface transportation bill.

    These documents were distributed to attendees at the 2010 MVFC Conference and Annual Meeting.  They are now available for download.