Tag Archives: Union Pacific Corp

Union Pacific chief threatens action on oil train brake rules

Repost from Financial Times

Union Pacific chief threatens action on oil train brake rules

Robert Wright in New York, May 31, 2015 4:55 pm
In this photo from Aug. 8, 2012, a Union Pacific train travels in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Union Pacific said Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, that its third-quarter profit climbed 15 percent because price increases and more automotive and chemical shipments helped the railroad offset a 12 percent drop in coal shipments. The railroad reported $1 billion in net income, or $2.19 per share. That's up from $904 million, or $1.85 per share, a year ago. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
In this photo from Aug. 8, 2012, a Union Pacific train travels in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Union Pacific said Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, that its third-quarter profit climbed 15 percent because price increases and more automotive and chemical shipments helped the railroad offset a 12 percent drop in coal shipments. The railroad reported $1 billion in net income, or $2.19 per share. That’s up from $904 million, or $1.85 per share, a year ago. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

The chief executive of Union Pacific, the US’s largest rail network, has vowed legal action over a provision of new rules for oil trains that he says would cost billions of dollars and provide little benefit.

The pledge from Lance Fritz threatens further delay to rules that have already been years in preparation.

The Federal Railroad Administration and Canadian regulators jointly announced the rules less than a month ago to improve the safety of oil movements by rail, which have risen sharply following the surge in US oil and gas production in recent years.

The surge — from only about 1m tonnes of traffic in 2007 to roughly 40m in 2013, the last year for which full data are available — has exposed the shortcomings of existing safety rules for tank cars, with several trains exploding following derailments.

While Mr Fritz said that most of the new provisions were “great regulation”, he criticised provisions demanding that railways start controlling tank cars’ brakes via an electric signal either transmitted wirelessly from the lead locomotive or via electrical wires running along the train.

The new arrangement, known as electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking, is intended to speed up the transmission of the braking command compared with current methods, which rely on pressure changes in a pipe running along the train. That should reduce the number of cars that derail in a crash.

Mr Fritz said, however, that virtually the same improvements could be gained by spacing locomotives out along a train, as Union Pacific frequently does, and the extra benefits of ECP did not justify the costs. The new equipment would cost about $75,000 for each of UP’s 6,500 locomotives, while there would also be substantial costs for fitting out tank cars, nearly all owned by oil shippers or leasing companies.

“The juice isn’t worth the press,” Mr Fritz said. “We think that’s very ill-considered. We provided that feedback and we will continue to provide that feedback.”

The industry could appeal against the rule both through administrative channels and in the courts, Mr Fritz said. “We as an industry are taking that path,” he added.

Railways have been pressing for improvements in tank car design to avoid a repetition of disasters like the Lac-Mégantic explosion in Canada in 2013, in which 47 people died when a poorly secured oil train broke lose, derailed and exploded in the centre of a small town.

Operators are barred from refusing to carry cargo that meets the minimum regulatory requirements but have been concerned that under existing regulations cars were excessively vulnerable in an explosion.

Mr Fritz also criticised the new rules’ standards for thermal protection for cars, meant to prevent their exploding in a fire, saying they were not strict enough.

The Federal Railroad Administration declined to comment publicly on Mr Fritz’s criticisms but looks determined to press ahead with the mandate for ECP brakes.

UP, which has a larger track network than any other US railway, has been a significant beneficiary of the surge in oil movements. Mr Fritz said he expected a strong continuing role for rail in transporting US-produced crude oil.

The sharp fall in the oil price in recent months has shifted traffic away from the routes that UP serves, however, pushing down crude oil movements on its network by 38 per cent in the first quarter compared with last year.

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ABC News: Low Oil Prices Unlikely to Hurt Railroads Much

Repost from ABC News
[Editor: Significant quote: “…even with oil prices falling off a cliff, industry analysts and railroad executives point out that crude shipments still make up just a sliver of the overall freight delivered by rail. What’s more, because fuel is such a huge cost in the industry, railroads are a direct beneficiary of those falling prices.”  – RS]

Low Oil Prices Unlikely to Hurt Railroads Much

By Josh Funk, AP Business News, Jan 5, 2015

The stunning collapse in oil prices over the past several months won’t derail the railroads’ profit engine even if it does slow the tremendous growth in crude shipments seen in recent years.

Carloads of crude oil spiked well over 4000 percent between 2008 and last year — from 9,500 carloads to 435,560 — as production boomed and the cost for a barrel of oil soared into the triple digits.

Those prices have tumbled severely, to just above $50 per barrel Friday, and that has rattled some of the investors who have plowed money into companies like Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern and CSX.

All three of those companies have seen their stock prices slip over the past month, along with major U.S. stock markets.

But even with oil prices falling off a cliff, industry analysts and railroad executives point out that crude shipments still make up just a sliver of the overall freight delivered by rail. What’s more, because fuel is such a huge cost in the industry, railroads are a direct beneficiary of those falling prices.

Crude oil shipments remain less than 2 percent of all the carloads major U.S. railroads deliver. Sub-$60 oil might force producers to rein in spending but railroads ? which spend hundreds of million of dollars every quarter on fuel? will see their costs fall away.

Those falling energy prices have also proven to be the equivalent of a massive tax cut for both consumers and businesses, and railroads stand to benefit from that as well.

Fueled by a rebounding employment as well as rising consumer and business confidence, U.S. economic growth reached a sizzling 5 percent annual rate last quarter, the government reported this month. The rebounding economy is likely to drive even greater demand for shipping.

Edward Jones analyst Logan Purk says the importance of crude oil shipments by rail seems to have been inflated by investors.

“It seems like whatever loss in business they see will be offset by the drop in fuel costs,” Purk said.

The crude oil business has provided a nice boost for railroads at a time when coal shipments were declining. Profits at the major U.S. railroads have been improving steadily along with the economy, reaching $13.4 billion in 2013, up from $11.9 billion in 2012 and $10.9 billion in 2011.

Officials from Union Pacific Corp, Norfolk Southern Corp., CSX Corp. and Canadian Pacific all tried to reassure investors about crude oil shipments during their latest investment conferences.

“I don’t think that we are going to see any knee-jerk reaction. I don’t think we are going to see anything stopped in the Bakken,” said Canadian Pacific CEO Hunter Harrison said of the massive oil and gas fields that stretch from North Dakota and Montana into Canada.

The Bakken region is one of the places where railroads are hauling the majority of the oil because pipeline capacity hasn’t been able to keep up with production.

Through the fall, North Dakota oil drillers remained on pace to set a sixth consecutive annual record for crude oil production.

Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, said the lower prices will prompt oil companies to look for ways to reduce costs, but he’s not yet sure how much of an effect it will have on production in the region.

“It’s still a little early to make any firm assessments,” Kringstad said.

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