Surface Transportation Board seeks to modify waybill sample reporting
The rail regulatory agency says the changes would help make the rate review process more accessible and transparent.
The Surface Transportation Board (STB) is considering revamping the calculations included in the waybill sample as part of wider efforts to make the rate review process more accessible, efficient and transparent, the agency said on Nov. 29.
Waybills are documents that take information from a railroad’s bill of lading contract or a shipper’s instructions; this information includes originating and terminating freight stations; the railroads that are involved in the shipment; the points of railroad interchanges; the number and types of cars; the car initial and number; the movement weight; the commodity; and the freight revenue.
Freight railroads must submit waybill samples monthly or quarterly to the Board, and they are used to provide context for situations such as rate cases, exemption decisions, traffic and volume studies, stratification reports and analyses of industry trends.
The STB is seeking to simplify the sampling rates for non-intermodal carload shipments while specifying separate sampling strata and rates for intermodal shipments. The current practice has varying sampling rates based on the number of carloads on a railroad’s waybill. The Board says these proposed changes would result in a more “robust” waybill sample that could help the STB and others with their decision-making and analyses “without creating an undue burden on the railroads.”
This proposed changes stem from recommendations made by the agency’s Rate Reform Task Force, which had held informal meetings throughout the U.S. in 2019 before releasing a report in April 2019 on its findings.
The Board’s decision is here. The agency is accepting comments on this proceeding, Ex Parte 385, through January 28, 2020, with replies due by February 27, 2020.
The milestone brought cautious hope to western Canada’s beleaguered energy sector, whose low-density oil sands have been hit hard by the decline in global petroleum prices.
Trans Mountain will be able to handle nearly 900,000 barrels per day once the project is finished – slated for 30 to 36 months. The additional capacity could allow for additional exports to Asia from the Port of Vancouver.
Virginia’s port upgrade aims for quickest truck trips possible
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The Port of Virginia is citing the increased efficiency of its trucking operations as it vies with other ports for more container volumes. Yet even with trucks able to move faster than ever through the port, it is also offering shippers many alternative ways to access inland markets.
The third-largest container port on the U.S. East Coast, Virginia is one of the major beneficiaries of the move to bigger vessels and the shifts in overseas product sourcing. Through October, container volumes have risen just under 4% to 2.486 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). Imports of 1.159 million TEUs are up 5% over the same period.
The increase comes as the Port of Virginia nears completion of a three-year, $750 million project to increase container capacity by 40%, or 1 million units per year.
The biggest part of that went to the expansion of the Virginia International Gateway (VIG), the port’s main container terminal and one of the few semi-automated terminals in North America.
The project nearly doubled VIG’s capacity with 13 new container stacks, bringing the total to 28, and added an 800-foot wharf and four of the tallest ship-to-shore cranes in the Americas, as well as new truck lanes and doubled rail capacity.
The Port of Virginia is also halfway through another project at nearby Norfolk International Terminals (NIT). NIT will be able to handle 400,000 more containers, a 46% increase, through the addition of 18 new semi-automated container stacks and 36 rail-mounted gantry cranes.
Another part of the expansion starts in early 2020 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins a four-year dredging project in Norfolk Harbor, making it the deepest harbor on the East Coast.
The harbor will be dredged to 55 feet from 50 feet, and portions of the ship channel will be widened from 1,000 feet to 1,400 feet to allow two-way traffic of ultra-large container vessels. “That’s a big advantage when ships are not having to wait,” said Joanne Jenkins, VIG’s terminal services manager.
Along with the ability to better handle large ships, the port said it is seeing much better turn times for trucks. The VIG added four inbound truck lanes, bringing the total to 17.
Operational changes have also helped the port. The Port of Virginia struck an agreement with the local International Longshoremen’s Association to allow truckers to keep a container chassis for upwards of 10 trips before having to be re-inspected for roadability.
The port’s appointment system is also boosting truck fluidity. Drivers are able to make an appointment for a one-hour window for a pickup starting one day before the container’s availability at the dock. The appointment system, which is currently for gate moves between 4 a.m. and 2 p.m., is being expanded to 3 p.m.
The result of these moves is that turn times at the VIG are averaging just over 30 minutes while NIT turn times are 48 minutes.
The port’s biggest shipper, a major U.S. retailer, tested the VIG’s fluidity by moving just over 450 containers in one day during October, Jenkins said. This, without any special stacking of the shipper’s freight.
Railway Age reports NS wants to double-stack its trains as they move through Pittsburgh, but residents in the north side of the city are stacking up arguments and fighting back.
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Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC) wants to double-stack its trains as they move through Pittsburgh, but residents in the north side of the city are stacking up arguments and fighting back.
A mediator has been appointed to represent the residents in Pittsburgh’s north side as talks continue with Norfolk Southern (NS). The Class I railroad wants to raise bridges at Pennsylvania and West North avenues, lower the tracks at Columbus Avenue Bridge and build a new Merchant Street Bridge. The track is lower in spots along the route through the city, but NS says it cannot go any deeper in some areas. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) gave NS a $20 million grant for the work on the bridges. NS will be contributing $8.2 million.
Rail traffic also would increase in the area, from about 25 trains a day to as many as 50. Residents are concerned about the noise pollution that accommodates more trains and more freight cars. A group tried to sway the Public Utility Commission’s consideration of the proposed bridges, but the PUC did not side with the group’s concerns.
The mediator representing the citizens of Pittsburgh’s north side says he wants to work with the railroad to come up with a solution both sides will agree on. PennDOT released a report that failed to recommend the best way to handle double-stacked rail freight, so the agency currently is meeting with community groups to take in all concerns. The study did say if the railroad cannot use the grant to fix the bridge, the responsibility would fall on the city.
The project is already in motion in the Pittsburgh suburbs, but no work has begun in the city since the grant was awarded in April 2017.
Clifford Petersen on the hope for successful pushback against California A.B. 5 and similar laws: "I choose to be self-employed because I like being in control of my own destination ..., knowing that my success is based upon my faith, my effort, my ability to learn, and my ability to adapt." Source: Death throes for the leased owner-operator model?
OFAC fires another sanctions salvo at Venezuelan oil tankers
The Treasury Department agency is closely monitoring vessel name changes used by Venezuelan and Cuban authorities to sidestep U.S. trade sanctions.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has blacklisted another six tankers operated by the Venezuelan government-controlled oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA).
OFAC said it has targeted Venezuelan oil shipments because the proceeds from the sales are used to finance the Maduro regime.
The blacklisted vessels are the Icaro, Luisa Caceres de Arismendi, Manuela Saenz, Paramaconi, Terepaima and Yare. All but the Icaro, which is registered to Panama, operate under the Venezuelan flag.
The agency also identified the Greek-flagged tanker Esperanza as blocked property of Caroil Transport Marine Ltd. The vessel previously had been listed on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN) List as the Nedas on April 12.
“Cuba and the former Maduro regime continue trying to circumvent sanctions by changing the names of vessels and facilitating the movement of oil from Venezuela to Cuba,” said Treasury Deputy Secretary Justin Muzinich in a statement.
OFAC said Cuba received Venezuelan oil on the blocked tankers this fall. During this same time period, PdVSA invoiced Cubametales, the Cuban state-run oil import and export company, for roughly 1.3 million barrels of fuel oil delivered this summer. On July 3, OFAC added Cubametales to the SDN List.
The money received from the oil shipments to Cuba was transferred to a Russian bank account, OFAC said.
OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit U.S. business transactions with entities and persons placed on the SDN List.
Lightning Systems raises $41M as demand for electric trucks grows
Electric powertrain manufacturer Lightning Systems announced a $41 million funding round to help meet growing demand for electric powertrains in U.S. commercial fleets. BP Ventures led the investment round, which was announced Dec. 3, with additional funds from Cupola Infrastructure Income Fund. Colorado-based Lightning Systems designs and manufactures zero-emission, all-electric powertrains for commercial fleets — …
Electric powertrain manufacturer Lightning Systems announced a $41 million funding round to help meet growing demand for electric powertrains in U.S. commercial fleets.
BP Ventures led the investment round, which was announced Dec. 3, with additional funds from Cupola Infrastructure Income Fund.
Colorado-based Lightning Systems designs and manufactures zero-emission, all-electric powertrains for commercial fleets — Class 3 to Class 7 vehicles.
The company is currently delivering powertrains for over $25 million in orders from major public and private entities in the U.S. — from food and delivery trucks to passenger vans and city buses.
The new funds will be used to ramp up production to fulfill new orders for electric powertrains for Ford Transits, Ford E-450s, Ford F-59 step vans, Chevrolet Low Cab Forward 6500XD trucks and Lightning Electric city buses.
“We are now delivering powertrains for over $25 million in orders from major fleets, propelling Lightning Systems to the position of the established premium provider of a full range of platforms for commercial vehicle fleets,” said Tim Reeser, CEO of Lightning Systems, in a statement.
The ramp-up, he added, involves “high-quality powertrains for new and repowered commercial vehicles across Class 3-7 on five major platforms that are on the road with customers today.”
Bowing to regulatory and environmental pressures, a growing number of commercial vehicle manufacturers and fleets are investing in electric propulsion.
“The global electric vehicle market is growing at an unprecedented rate, and we are seeing the electrification of more and more commercial fleets,” said David Hayes, chief investment officer for BP Ventures, in the statement.
Lightning already has a very wide base of vehicles that use its powertrains, Hayes added, “which will be key as fleets look to scale their investments in zero-emission vehicles.”
Founded 10 years ago as a builder of hydraulic hybrids, Lightning Systems pivoted toward fully electric powertrains two years ago.
The company works with fleets to provide electric powertrains sized for the customer’s drive cycle, with a full suite of telematics, analytics and charging solutions to maximize energy efficiency.
By land or sea? Massterly sees autonomous vessels competing with trucks
Short-sea projects in Norway could lead to worldwide wave of crewless, emissions-free ships.
Massterly Vice President Pia Meling said the company jointly owned by Kongsberg Maritime and Wilhelmsen was not launched to eliminate human jobs.
“Our purpose is not to take the jobs of the seafarers on oceangoing ships. It is actually to contribute environmentally friendly and cost-efficient and sustained maritime logistics that can enable transportation of ships at sea. We are talking about competing with roads and trucks,” Meling said at the annual conference of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) in the Cayman Islands.
Massterly, founded last year and headquartered in Lysaker, Norway, touts itself as the first company established to operate autonomous vessels. Its name comes from the acronym for a maritime autonomous surface ship (MASS), defined by the International Maritime Organization as a vessel that, “to a varying degree, can operate independently of human interaction.”
“Trucks of course pollute and are involved in accidents, and there’s a lot of congestion around our cities all over the world. And there is a big political will to move goods from road to sea. But the problem is those trucks are dirt cheap,” Meling said. “That’s where autonomy comes in because you can reduce the crew costs, even remove the crew totally for some vessels potentially or reduce the number of crew. You can get to a lower cost base for shipping, meaning that it’s a new market for the maritime industry.”
Meling is a maritime industry veteran. The president of WISTA Norway, she previously worked for dry bulk operator Klaveness. She also was the marketing and communication manager for scrubber manufacturer Clean Marine and an area sales director for Wilhelmsen Ships Service.
She said Massterly is working with Norwegian authorities “to get approval to operate vessels on Level 4 autonomy as it has been defined, which means unmanned but with a shore control center and skilled operators sitting in that shore control center monitoring the voyage and also able to intervene if needed. We need to prove that this is equally safe or safer than conventional vessels.”
Level 4 autonomy means there will be “sensors on board the ship that will replace the eyes and ears of the crew,” she said. “Fundamentally, the captain aboard ship has now moved to a shore control center. That person is still responsible, is still liable. The ship management company is still liable. … It is not as drastic as one would think. The location of the people has changed, but there is a still a captain role on shore and there’s still the same responsibilities for the ship management company.”
Massterly is working with Norwegian grocery distributor ASKO to reduce its reliance on trucks. The Norwegian government has awarded ASKO 119 million krone (US$13 million) to help fund the development of a zero-emissions logistics chain that will involve two autonomous vessels crossing the Oslo Fjord. Massterly is preparing preliminary documentation and helping obtain approvals for shore-based operation of the vessels along the sailing route.
“They have decided to build two vessels that can take them across the fjord with the trucks on board instead of driving to the big city,” Meling said. “We’re looking at the Tesla trucks — zero-emission electric trucks — and also building two of these small ro/ro vessels. … It’s a very simple design but can carry 16 trailers of the trucks across the fjord. It can replace 150 truck trips per day and save 5,000 tons of CO2 per year. It’s also a fully electric vessel.”
Massterly is partnering with Samskip, Europe’s largest multimodal operator, and hydrogen integrator HYON on Seashuttle, a project to bring emissions-free, autonomous container ships to market. Seashuttle has received nearly 61 million krone in Norwegian government support to develop two fully electric ships connecting Poland, Sweden and Norway. The vessels will use hydrogen fuel cells for propulsion.
Meling said other advancements in the maritime industry include a Japanese tanker owner working on zero-emission bunker vessels for Tokyo Bay and a ferry operator using auto-docking functionality.
And then there’s the world’s first fully autonomous container vessel, Yara Birkeland, currently under construction in Norway and set for sea trials in the second quarter of 2020. The zero-emissions vessel will transport agricultural products company Yara’s fertilizer on short-sea voyages.
Meling granted that these early projects do not make sense from a cost perspective. “I must be honest about that, especially the building cost of the vessel. It’s two or three times on all pieces of equipment,” she said. “For the future, you can probably get the capex down. Opex will be a lot less, especially for short-sea vessels.”
The world’s military superpowers already use autonomous technology, a fact that prompted Kathy Metcalf, president and CEO of the Chamber of Shipping of America, to ask, “Is anybody in this room ready to get on an airplane without a pilot?”
Metcalf, also a speaker at WISTA’s conference Oct. 29 to Nov. 1, wondered if the maritime industry should employ autonomous vessels, which she does not believe will be crossing oceans anytime soon. “Because we can, does it mean we should?”
She said her colleagues also have to consider what life would be like on a vessel with just a handful of crew members.
“We’ve had a number of discussions about seafarer welfare. What kind of social environment do we create on a ship with four people, all of which are on watch at one time? That is an issue.”
Bad oil news piles up in the Permian and for companies serving it: Dallas Fed
Recent reports out of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas paint a gloomy picture regarding prospects in the U.S. oil industry. Even as U.S. crude and total petroleum production continue to set records, that is happening while surrounded by cutbacks in operations that are leading to less spending and fewer jobs. That’s obvious in the …
Recent reports out of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas paint a gloomy picture regarding prospects in the U.S. oil industry.
Even as U.S. crude and total petroleum production continue to set records, that is happening while surrounded by cutbacks in operations that are leading to less spending and fewer jobs. That’s obvious in the recently released data and analysis from the Dallas Fed, contained in both the Permian Basin Economic Indicators and the bank’s Energy Indicators.
The most stunning number comes in its figure for October employment. The Fed reported that in October, the employment category of mining, logging and construction in the Permian Basin of west Texas was down 13.9% year-on-year. That sector, despite its name, is overwhelmingly oil & gas-related. For the first 10 months of the year, the Fed reported employment in the Permian Basin was down just 400 jobs, but that is because of growth in other sectors and oil and gas growth earlier in the year. Through the first 10 months of 2018, total employment was up 16,700 jobs.
“This marks the first time since 2016 that Permian Basin employment has lagged Texas job growth,” the Dallas Fed said in its report.
The two reports – the Permian Indicators and the Energy Indicators – are bearish across the board and show an industry that while not suffering from a sharp downturn in prices, is reflecting a growing drop in activity.
“Drilling activity…continued to erode, with firms cutting spending and orders for new equipment,” the Dallas Fed said. “Well completion activity has proved more resilient, particularly in the Permian Basin, slipping only slightly from recent highs. The oilfield services market remained depressed, with little optimism about better margins next year.”
For Texas as a whole, oil and gas extraction jobs in the state dropped in September by 740 jobs from a month earlier, but still, the state as a whole has posted an increase in those jobs of 4,290 for the year. It’s the support field that is getting hammered the most. That sector, mostly oilfield service firms, is down more than 10,500 jobs from a recent high level, the Dallas Fed said.
The report also breaks out Permian-specific data. For example, what it defines as the Permian Basin had production of 4.5 million barrels/day (b/d) in September, an all-time high. That means it’s more than one-third of current U.S. production of about 12.8 million b/d.
But the Dallas Fed data also reported that the rig count in the region – 417 in October, up just slightly from September – was also down 72 in the past year.
One way that production has been able to be maintained even as drilling activity is down is through the conversion of what are known as DUCs. DUCs are drilled but uncompleted wells, where the exploratory well has been drilled but the work to complete the well has not. Turning them into productive wells does not take more drilling, so they don’t add to the rig count. But they do bring on more production.
According to the Dallas Fed, DUCs in the Permian Basin hit a high of 3,713 in July but were down in October to 3,589. The drop between September to October was 4.3% and the decline means they’re becoming completed, productive wells.
The Dallas Fed has other data on how things are slowing in the Permian. For example, the median home price in the Permian, which stretches into New Mexico, was down 2.6% in October from August. That brought the median down to $301,045 from $309,094. Sales in October were down to 372, a decline of 3.6% from September.
And while it isn’t unique to the Permian, the broader Energy Indicators report of the Dallas Fed had some sobering statistics on the performance of oil and gas equities. Between March and October, the report said, independent exploration & production companies had a compound annualized decline in their stock values of 33%. That figure would not include integrated giants like Chevron. For equipment and service firms, it was worse – 43%.
The shale boom has been fueled by a great deal of debt and those obligations in many cases are trading at pennies on the dollar. According to the Dallas Fed, on October 25, the spread between non-energy high-yield debt – in other words, junk bonds for something other than energy – were, on average, trading 413 basis points more than energy junk bonds. That’s the highest since April 2016, when the market was just a month or two off its recent low price for oil.