Chicago has become a notorious rail bottleneck, responsible for delays that impede freight delivery, Amtrak, Metra passenger service, and even drivers trying to cross rail lines. Now, one of the worst tangles—the 75th Street corridor—is about to get a little better thanks in part to a federal grant.
California’s new fee on rail deliveries of certain hazardous chemicals, including crude oil, is being challenged in federal court. The new state regulation, set to take effect this year, requires railroad companies to collect a $45 fee from their customers for each rail car carrying any one of 25 hazardous materials into the state. The funds are to help the state pay for improvements to its emergency response capabilities so it can better respond to spills resulting from train derailments.
A new study offers important insights into interregional travel. This category, defined as trips between 100 and 500 miles, makes up approximately three-quarters of long distance trips but suffers from insufficient data for making system investments.
As shipments of crude oil by rail have climbed dramatically in recent years, high profile derailments and explosions have put the issue high on the list of public concerns. As noted in a recent article in Governing, state legislators are looking to increase oversight and be better positioned to handle derailments and resulting fires by asserting their authority over rail carriers moving oil in their states.
Last month MassDOT announced the release of a comprehensive set of maps detailing privately operated bus, rail, and ferry routes throughout New England and connecting services to New York State. Recognizing that intercity travelers in New England often pass through multiple states in a single day, and that there was no single source for regional bus, train, and ferry information, MassDOT began its effort to develop one.
Amtrak is dealing with a steadily increasing problem of service delays. Timing conflicts with freight sharing the same tracks are a significant factor. A law passed by Congress in 2008 sets Amtrak on-time performance standards and considers any number below 80 percent as substandard. This same law requires that freight railroads give Amtrak priority on their tracks and allows Amtrak to penalize freight rail providers for giving dispatch priority to freight trains on Amtrak routes. However, a July 2013 U.S. Court of Appeals decision ended Amtrak’s power over freight lines, which has greatly contributed to the decline in on-time performance.
USDOT recently issued an emergency order requiring that railroads moving large amounts of crude oil from the Bakken formation notify the states through which their trains travel. Railroads must notify each state’s emergency response commission of the route the trains will travel, estimated volumes of oil the trains will transport, and their frequencies. In addition, railroads must provide to each state the contact information for at least one responsible party at the railroad and must assist states in sharing information with emergency responders in affected communities.
The Surface Transportation Board ordered BNSF and Canadian Pacific Railway to report their plans by April 18 to ensure delivery of fertilizer shipments this spring. Farmers and grain shippers have complained all winter that they could not get rail cars to ship grain, and fertilizer deliveries are also behind schedule.
A series of high profile derailments and explosions involving trains hauling oil have prompted calls for improved rail safety and new guidelines governing the testing and transport of oil. Concerns center on train speeds and track conditions as well as the explosiveness of oil from North Dakota’s Bakken formation oil fields.
A new report from the Panel on 21st Century Freight Transportation, Improving the Nation’s Freight Transportation System, recommends a series of steps for Congress to take in order to modernize the national freight transportation system to increase transportation efficiency and economic competitiveness.