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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Railroads have spent a lot of money the last 10 years, and customers have barely benefitted: FTR speaker

Article thanks to John Kingston and freightwaves.com. Links provided:
After spending plenty of money on investment in the last 10-plus years, the nation's class 1 railroads are basically standing still.

That was the sobering view presented by John Schmitter, a former railroad executive who now heads his own consultancy, KEP LLC. Addressing the 2018 FTR Transportation Conference in Indiana, his subject's title--"How Technology will Change Rail Economics"--reviewed how technology has made those changes, and yet has provided little shift in overall network velocity and essentially no increase in capacity since 2005.

All of that came to a head last year, Schmitter noted, with the rapid deterioration of rail service, a downward shift severe enough to have the Surface Transportation Board put the class 1 railroads under review.

With the failure to invest in more capacity, Schmitter said, "there's not much system resiliency or flexibility on most railroads. Rapid unexpected volume increases have and will result in congestion and service deterioration that can last months." And that's what happened in 2017, running into 2018.

If there's a culprit in all this, Schmitter said, it's the investment community. "If the railroads invested in too much capacity, Wall Street would kill them," Schmitter said. The lack of resiliency in the system, Schmitter said, "is a management a decision."

"A few railroads invested more than half their operating cash flow back into the systems," according to Schmitter, "but if it gets out of line and Wall Street finds they overinvested in capacity, they'll find some new management."

And when spending is undertaken to make needed fixes, it's too late. "The investments that are being made now are being done to handle the volume that showed up in 2017," he said.

Citing the weather for the 2017-2018 is misplaced, Schmitter said. "The reason was rapid unexpected increases in volumes, because the system by design is capacity constrained."

Schmitter asked the meeting's attendees in the room how many of them were rail customers, and how many had suffered disruptions during the recent disturbance. Of the hands that went up the first time, most of them stayed up when the second question was asked. But when Schmitter asked how many had changed carriers or moved that business over to trucks, virtually all hands went down. "So there's no penalty," Schmitter said.

Schmitter noted that the class 1 railroad competitive market basically boiled down to--though he did not mention the companies by name--BNSF vs. Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) in the West, CSX (NYSE: CSX) vs. Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC) in the east, with Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) and Canadian National (NYSE: CNI) in Canada with their systems extending into the U.S. (He did not mention Kansas City Southern (NYSE: KSC), but they view themselves as the "NAFTA railroad" into Mexico.) With that minimal level of rail competition, most locations have only one option on the rails, with a duopoly at best. Asked if that situation inspires companies to innovate, Schmitter said he questioned "that it's any one's goal to be better than the other guy. It's not really a competitive marketplace like you would experience in trucking."

The lack of capacity is stopping railroads from aggressively grabbing freight from a driver- and capacity-squeezed trucking market. "They haven't been able to take advantage of all the problems with trucking, and technology is not going to make it happen," Schmitter said. "This is a management issue, a strategic issue and a cultural issue." The goal, he said, needs to change company operations to ensure that "the shipments will be there when they are promised."

The reduction in capacity combined with the rise in demand for that capacity means that on multiple occasions in recent years, traffic on the rails has approached capacity. "Capacity on class 1 railroads is now closely matched to projected volume," Schmitter said. Echoing what he heard a rail CEO say about the capacity crunch, Schmitter exclaimed: "It's five minutes to midnight."

The lack of significant progress since 2005 is in stark contrast to the gains made between 1980 and that year. The start of that stretch, in 1980, is significant because it marks the year of the Staggers Act, which deregulated the U.S. rail industry. Not all of the gains in efficiency were because of technology, Schmitter said; some of it was just simply the abandonment of unnecessary capacity. But during that 25-year stretch, the productivity of employees and the network rose significantly, with volume up 84% while capacity has had no significant increase. The average freight per train is up 63%, according to Schmitter.

But now, Schmitter was mostly pessimistic: "I think things will get more efficient and safer, and there will be a good impact on the (operating ratio). But I don't see technology providing more capacity or to do much more for service."

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Semis involved in fatal collision shouldn't have been on road: Driver trainer

Article thanks to Jason Warick and cbc.ca. Links provided:

Saskatchewan semi drivers are required to pass a road test, but hundreds have passed without any training

Originally Published Nov. 26, 2018  The three semi-trailers connected to the death of a Rosetown firefighter should not have been on the road that morning, says one of Saskatchewan's most experienced driving trainers.
"What were those trucks doing on the highway?" said Reg Lewis. "I don't care whose load was on those trucks. I would never have left Rosetown."
Lewis, a certified semi driving instructor for the past 22 years, was in Rosetown Wednesday morning. He was supposed to take a student for his semi road test. But Lewis postponed the test after seeing the thick fog and icy conditions.
"You couldn't see a block down the street in town. I never left until 1:00," he said.
According to RCMP, at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, two semi-trailers collided on Highway 4 roughly 20 kilometres north of Rosetown. One semi was attempting to come on to the highway when it was struck by the other.
No one was seriously injured, but Rosetown volunteer firefighter Darrell James Morrison was killed after arriving at the scene to help. He was struck by a third semi and died shortly after being transported to Rosetown hospital.
Lewis, whose own parents were killed in a collision with a semi, said mandatory, extensive training is the key.
Saskatchewan semi drivers are required to pass a road test, but hundreds have passed without any training. Lewis said mandatory training time on the road with a certified instructor will save lives.
"I don't believe any of these trucks is doing anything on purpose. I do believe that it's inexperience and not thinking far enough ahead," he said.
Lewis noted that another Saskatchewan man was killed in a semi collision Wednesday morning just one hour earlier near Wakaw.
A semi hauling crusher dust collided with a car just outside Wakaw. The semi driver was uninjured but the man in the car was declared dead at the scene. His name has not been released.
RCMP said Friday there is no new information on either fatality and both investigations are ongoing.
Lewis and others have been vocal advocates for mandatory semi driver training since 16 people aboard the Humboldt Broncos team bus were killed in a collision with a semi April 6. They say mandatory training would save lives.
Ontario is the only province with mandatory training, but Alberta and other provinces have set time frames to make training mandatory. Saskatchewan officials announced a mandatory training course in the weeks following the Broncos crash, but then reversed their position the same day. They've said things need to improve and they're looking at all options.


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Could a Verdict in Arkansas Transform Driver Pay?

istockphoto.com
Article thanks to truckinginfo.com. Links provided:
Oct. 22, 2018  A federal court in Arkansas ruled that drivers are entitled to earn minimum wage for all hours worked – even during waiting periods officially entered as "off duty" in log books – in a case that could eventually have national implications.
According to various news sources, including Business Insider, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, Fayetteville division, on Oct. 19 ruled again Tontitown, Arkansas-based PAM Transport, in a class action suit for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. 
The court denied PAM's motions to dismiss the claims of the three truck drivers who sued PAM in 2016 and the nearly 3,000 drivers who joined the class action suit. The decision means, in essence, that the court has decided that the time a driver spends waiting in his truck in the sleeper birth still constitutes work — even though the driver may log that time as "off-duty."
According to Justin Swindler, the attorney representing the drivers in the class action suit, the Arkansas decision suggests that drivers are entitled to minimum wage for 16 hours per workday — every hour spent in the truck save for eight hours of sleep time. Because the carrier has hired the employee with the knowledge that part of their job duties are waiting, the Supreme Court has argued that those employees should be paid even though they are not actively carrying out a work task.
As District Court Judge Timothy Brooks wrote in his Oct. 19 memorandum on the PAM case:
There is no ambiguity here, then, as to whether an employer must count as hours worked the time that an employee spends riding in a commercial truck while neither sleeping nor eating: time thus spent "is working" and "any work" performed "while traveling must... be counted as hours worked."
The judge also said that the DOT hours of service regulations "have little, if any, bearing on the matter at hand."
"It's worth noting the case only stands for the proposition that carriers must pay their drivers $7.25 per hour," Swidler told Business Insider. "Under the FLSA, hourly wages are considered over the course of a whole workweek. This means that while carriers nationwide should understand their minimum wage exposure, companies which pay reasonable wages to their drivers have no reason for concern."
The payout for this case hasn't been determined yet, Swidler added. In 2015, PAM paid truckers $3.45 million in a similar settlement concerning a class action suit by employees who alleged PAM didn't pay them minimum wage.
The Arkansas decision echoes other recent lawsuits around the country that have found in favor of drivers. Last year, a Nebraska court decided that Werner Enterprises must pay $780,000 to 52,000 student truck drivers for alleged pay practice violations. Another major carrier, C.R. England, paid $2.35 million in back wages to more than 6,000 drivers in 2016.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Officials scrambling for solution as truckers refuse to use Indiana toll roads following truck-only toll increase

Article thanks to Wimberly Patton and livetrucking.com. Links provided:

Citizens living off of these backroad highways have been noticing the traffic increase and are urging officials to do more than just post “no through trucks signs.”

Oct 18, 2018  The recent 35% increase in truck only tolls on roadways in Indiana has led to some unintended consequences – truckers are now avoiding the toll roads altogether and are instead using back roads not meant for large commercial vehicles.
The toll increase went into effect on October 5th of this year as part of a $1 billion infrastructure plan by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, who claims that the 35% truck-only toll increase is fair because of the damage large trucks do to roadways, despite the fact that much of the money raised by the tolls will be used for improving the state’s railroads, airports, ship ports, walking and biking trails, and even broadband internet – none of which have to do with the roadways truckers are now paying heavily to use.
Now that the increase has been in effect for several weeks, state officials who previously ignored naysayers who advised that the toll hike would deter truckers entirely are noticing a decrease in toll road users and an increase in commercial truck’s usage of back roads such as US Highway 30, US Highway 6, and US Highway 331, reported ABC 57.
“I think that with the regular increases that we’ve had here and then seeing a 35 percent increase again I think you’ll find a lot of traffic is going to leave those [toll] lanes,” explained Chief Strategy Officer of Holver Lines, Carl Svendsen.
“They may make the decision to go on a different highway and that highway may not be designed to handle truck traffic in significant volumes,” he continued – and that’s exactly what is happening.
Citizens living off of these backroad highways have been noticing the traffic increase and are urging officials to do more than just post “no through trucks signs.”
“This is a main through fair for the shortcut from Bremen down to US30 so everybody takes this versus 331 a lot to save them several miles,” said Patrick Walters, who has been living on Fir Road off of US 30 for 25 years.
“[No through trucks] is posted on both ends of Fir Road that we don’t allow trucks, but they’re still using them [the road],” Walters said.
“Have them [police] start issuing tickets to people that are speeding, also the truck traffic,” he suggested.
Because of all this, the state will vote on an ordinance that may allow for clearer enforcement regarding the use of county roads in November but until then, trucking companies warn that drivers will likely continue to avoid the toll roads and that the cost of shipping goods through Indiana may spike if drivers and their companies are forced into paying tolls.


Saturday, October 27, 2018

'Lives are hanging in the balance': Why some newly licensed truckers aren't ready for the road

This report from north of the border thanks to Eric Szeto, David Common, Vincent LeClair · CBC News · Links provided:
Oct 12, 2018  Undercover novice trucker earns his licence in Saskatchewan but fails Marketplace road test in Ontario
Tractor-trailers can measure up to 23 metres long carry 30-tonne loads and barrel down the highway at high speeds, but in some provinces you need more training to give a haircut than to haul freight.
A hidden-camera investigation by CBC's Marketplace reveals how Canada's patchwork training and testing system leaves some new truck drivers ill-prepared to operate big rigs — the giants of the road that are involved in about 20 per cent of deadly crashes in this country.
Truck driver testing standards vary from province to province, but perhaps even more dramatic is the disparity in training standards. Many Canadians might be shocked to learn Ontario is the only province that currently has any truck driver training requirements at all.
That means depending on where a truck driver is based, they may have had more than 100 hours of in-class and on-the-road training before getting their licence — or none at all.
"I am completely on board with saying that seems crazy," said Carole Dore, an instructor at the Ontario Truck Driving School in London.
To test those disparities, Marketplace sent an undercover student, equipped with a hidden camera, to a truck driving school in Saskatoon, where he completed 16 hours of training before passing a 45-minute provincial road test to earn his Class 1 commercial driver's licence.
The newly licensed truck driver, a 51-year-old Saskatoon business owner named Heath Muggli, then underwent a series of skill-testing challenges at the Ontario Truck Driving School, which participated in Marketplace's experiment. The evaluation included an unofficial road test led by Dore.
The goal was to have Muggli demonstrate the skills necessary to earn his Class 1 licence in Ontario, where drivers are required to complete more than 103 hours of instruction before they can even take the test.
Muggli failed almost every challenge, including one of the most basic tasks required of any trucker: properly connecting a trailer to the truck.
"It's plainly not safe to be on the road," Dore said. "Just because he has his licence doesn't mean he's ready."
Canada's trucking safety standards came under intense scrutiny last spring after the horrific crash in Saskatchewan involving a tractor-trailer and a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team that killed 16 people.
The truck driver, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, 29, of Calgary, had reportedly only completed two weeks of training before getting his commercial licence. And two different Humboldt families told Marketplace that the RCMP informed them Sidhu was making his first trip alone as a professional.
He is awaiting trial on 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily injury.
Once someone gets a Class 1 licence in Canada, they are able to drive trucks of virtually any size anywhere in North America. (Drivers of trucks with an air or air-over-hydraulic brake system may have to pass additional tests to obtain the required endorsement on their licence.)  
So, despite having tougher training and testing standards for truck drivers, Ontario's roads aren't necessarily safer than those of other provinces.
The number of truck crashes has gone down in recent years, but there are still tens of thousands of collisions leading to hundreds of deaths in Canada each year.

Saskatchewan vs. Ontario

Marketplace enlisted Muggli to go undercover at Maximum Training in Saskatoon. His week of training included a total of 16 hours of training, 12 of which were behind the wheel.
While Muggli learned many of the skills necessary to drive a truck safely, some important lessons weren't covered, including how to couple a trailer and how to back in to a loading dock.
The skills he wasn't taught weren't part of the test — although they are in Ontario. And much of the route he drove during training was part of the provincial road test.
He passed, but earned five demerits for making a wide turn.
As Maximum Training owner Earle Driedger explained, the training is geared around what's required to get a Class 1 licence in Saskatchewan.
"If a client only takes a one-week course, we have to show them as much as we can in a short period of time," he said in an email after Marketplace shared the findings of its investigation.
In Saskatchewan, the examiner can be an employee of Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), the province's public insurer, or an instructor at a certified school.
In Muggli's case, his instructor was also his examiner.
"Road tests need to be made more challenging," Driedger said. "Testing should only be done by third-party examiners … We are in full support of mandatory training, but it has fallen on deaf ears."
Stephen Laskowski, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, the country's largest trucking industry group, agrees the testing standards in Saskatchewan are not tough enough.
"The test is not reflective of the occupational requirements to drive a truck, which it always should be."

'Humbling' experience

To see how ready Muggli was to operate a big rig, the Ontario Truck Driving School worked with Marketplace to stage a professional trucking test similar to what a company would ask a potential employee to complete before getting hired.
The test was based on Ontario's revamped test for commercial truck drivers.
It included doing a pre-trip inspection, coupling and uncoupling the trailer, emergency procedure preparedness, and a road test with a partially loaded trailer.
Muggli made extra wide turns that led to close calls with other vehicles. At one point, instructor Carole Dore had to pull the emergency brake because Muggli was about to run a red light into oncoming traffic.
She said Muggli failed the test before leaving the parking lot.
Muggli called the experience "humbling."
"I wouldn't say that I was overconfident, but I thought, 'OK, I'm somewhat comfortable doing this,' and it was a terrific illustration today of how unready I am."
Stephen Laskowski of the Canadian Trucking Alliance said the vast majority of trucking companies would never hire someone with Muggli's experience and skill level in the first place.
But "the frightening thing," he said, is the "bottom-feeders" just might, which puts Canadians at risk.

Driver shortage

Canada is facing a severe driver shortage and needs tens of thousands of new truckers to replace those who are retiring.
The combination of the driver shortage and the added costs associated with mandatory training for students could be one reason provinces have been reluctant to impose tougher standards, Laskowski said.
Since Ontario introduced its mandatory entry-level training requirements in 2017, only Alberta has committed to introducing its own version in 2019. Saskatchewan and Manitoba are considering changes but have not provided timelines.
"We know improvements are required," Joe Hargrave, the Saskatchewan minister responsible for SGI, said in a statement. "SGI officials have been working since last summer with industry and stakeholders to improve and standardize a training program for Class 1 drivers."

'Needs to be much stricter training'

Pattie Babij of Falkland, B.C., isn't willing to wait for the provinces to catch up.
She plans to present Transportation Minister Marc Garneau with a petition asking for a federal licensing program that would include mandatory training.
Her husband, Stephen Babij, was killed in 2017 after a semi crossed into his lane and collided head-on with his semi on a mountain road near near Revelstoke, B.C. The driver of the other truck was fined $2,000 for careless driving.​
Babij has since had to sell their farm and move to Alberta, she said.
"Why does a hairstylist require more training than a professional driver pulling, you know, just under 40,000 kilograms?" she said.
"There needs to be a much stricter training component. I really, really want it to be done federally."
Driver training and licensing is traditionally a responsibility of the provinces, but the federal government does have the authority to impose rules for commercial drivers who cross provincial borders.
Transport Canada already regulates how long truckers can be on the road without rest and will be making electronic logbooks mandatory as of 2020.
The Saskatchewan government told Marketplace it would be "in favour of uniform standards across the country" imposed by the federal government.
Garneau said he will encourage each province to adopt their own minimum entry-level training standards at the annual Council of Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety in January.
When asked whether he would impose federal standards if the provinces fail to act, Garneau replied: "It's a bridge I'll cross when it gets to that."

'Political posturing'

Russell Herold, whose 16-year-old son Adam was killed in the Humboldt Broncos tragedy in April, called the minister's message "political posturing."
"Lives are hanging in the balance and we're talking about timelines and hoping provinces jump on board," he said. "It just makes me angry."
Over the summer, Herold launched a lawsuit against the truck driver, his employer, and the manufacturer of the bus.
He said he hopes the lawsuit will help force the industry to change its ways, but the federal government should take action immediately.
"Make this a priority. Make saving lives a priority," he said. "Why would we wait until somebody else dies on the highway?"
Data analysis by Vincent LeClair, Roberto Rocha, Kirthana Sasitharan, David McKie. Additional research by CBC reference librarians Patrick Mooney, Ginny Oakley, Cathy Ross, Diana Redegeld and Kate Zieman.