With changes at railroad, CSX capital plans remain unsettled

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CSX Transportation's Tod Echler, assistant vice president, engineering, speaks at Saturday's session of the NRC conference in Los Angeles.
TRAINS: David Lassen
LOS ANGELES — It has been a year of change at CSX Transportation, with the arrival of CEO Hunter Harrison in March, his death in December, and the selection of James M. Foote as his successor. Reflecting the ongoing nature of those changes, details of the railroad’s construction plans for 2018 are “still cloudy,” according to Tod Echler, CSX associate vice president, engineering.

“We’re still figuring out where we want the capacity,” Echler says.

Echler spoke Saturday at the final day of the 2018 National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association conference at the JW Marriott at LA Live in Los Angeles.

Certain points of emphasis are clear: CSX has begun upgrading and standardizing the 47 drawbridges across its system, Echler said, aiming to increase reliability. Certain bridges are more than 100 years old and have similarly outdated operating systems. Increasing clearances for auto racks will also be a focus.

Whatever form those capital plans take, the methodology to pursue them has changed. Echler told contractors that the railroad, in support of its “Precision Scheduled Railroading” philosophy, now operates with no more than 6-hour maintenance work windows, in contrast to past practice, which allowed for 8 to 10 hour windows.

“We took some projects that were scheduled for 24 hours,” Echler said, “and brought them down to 14 hours, and in some cases six.”

More major projects, such as bridge replacement work, will be done at night, he said.

In 2017, CSX built 52 miles of new sidings or double track and 127 new turnouts. The railroad installed 470 miles of new or relayed rail; more than 2.6 million ties; 23,740 bridge ties; and 5,400 switch ties. It also resurfaced 1,800 miles of track.

In other Saturday presentations at the conference:

BNSF Railway, like most Class I railroads, has not yet set capital budget figures for 2018, but plans slight decreases in expenditures for rails and ties and a slight uptick in ballast work. The railroad plans a 49 percent increase in spending on heavy bridge work, with major bridge projects in Home Valley and North Bonneville, Wash.; Bismarck, N.D.; Media, Ill.; Bosworth, Mo.; Quenemo, Kan.; and Fort Worth, Texas.

Among 15 capacity expansion projects highlighted in the presentation by Craig Rasmussen, assistant vice president, engineering services and structures, are increases to four main tracks in Needles, Calif., and Amarillo, Texas; the beginning of triple-tracking projects from Needles to Ibis, Calif., and from Belen to Dalies, N.M.; and double-tracking projects in California, Washington, and Idaho.

Rasmussen also highlighted BNSF’s accomplishments in positive train control. The railroad has its PTC system 100 percent installed, across more than 11,500 route-miles and more than 5,000 locomotives, and has made over 1 million revenue trips using PTC. Some 80 percent of the railroad’s freight volume now moves on PTC-equipped routes.

Kansas City Southern’s major 2018 projects in the U.S. include expansion of the railroad’s Gulf Yard and its Wylie, Texas, intermodal facility; a siding near Corpus Christie, Texas, and bridge work systemwide. In Mexico, an extensive project list includes the expansion of two yards, three new sidings, and expansion of two others.

Notable 2017 accomplishments for KCS included conclusion of the 3 1/2-year project to expand Mossville Yard in Westlake, La., taking capacity from 600 to 2,100 cars, and rapid recovery from damage brought by Hurricane Harvey. The KCS Laredo Subdivision, shut down Aug. 27, was back in service Sept. 4; the Beaumont Subdivision, shut down Aug. 30, had service restored Sept. 9.

Genesee & Wyoming’s capital program in 2018 will be comparable to 2017 for its 122 member railroads, which operate 16,000 miles worldwide, with 80 percent in North America. Plans for 2018 include 765,00 ties, 120 linear miles of rail, 2,000 miles of track surfacing, and 15,000 feet of new sidings. The company will spend $23 million on bridge work, with a focus on strengthening older bridges. System-wide, it has received $48 million in grants for infrastructure work from a variety of government agencies. The budget also includes purchase of 16 locomotives.

•The LA-area Metrolink commuter-rail system has a $395.2 million capital budget for fiscal 2018. CEO Art Leahy said key projects for the agency are to increase capacity.

“We’re working with [BNSF] on a bunch of projects down on the Orange County-Riverside lines. … We’re going to be building additional operational facilities down in Irvine, in Orange County, and up into Lancaster... And there’s a lot of grade-crossing separation.”

Minneapolis Metro’s Bill Runzel outlined the 14.5-mile Southwest extension of Metro’s light rail Green Line, which is to begin construction this year and open in 2023. The $1.9-billion project will include 15 new stations, 21 power substations, 29 new bridges (totaling roughly 3.5 miles in length), seven bridge retrofits, two tunnels (one a half-mile long), and 6 1/2 miles of retaining walls.

NRC special awards went to Phil Hutton, track manager for Universal Rail Systems, field employee of the year; Kansas City Southern’s Mossville Yard expansion in Westlake, La., built by Ragnar Benson LLC, large project of the year; and the Union Pacific bridge project in Box Elder County, Utah, by Ames Construction, small project of the year.

More than 1,100 people attended this year’s conference. The 2019 NRC conference will be held at Marco Island, Fla.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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