Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor

Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor

Mischa is originally from Grand Island, Neb., and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, with a major in magazine journalism and minor in business management. She began her career in journalism and railroading at Railway Track & Structures in 2001 when she joined as assistant editor, before being named managing editor in 2008 and editor in 2010. 

Mischa has worked for 515 Magazine and Drake Magazine, both in Des Moines, and 08004homes.com in London, U.K.

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Friday, 10 February 2012 11:25

Where will the money go in 2012?

Freight railroads gear up for a record year of capital spending estimated to reach the $13 billion mark.

Class 1 railroad budgets are gearing up for another robust year and the engineering side of the industry is set to benefit. Last year saw the completion or progression of several expansion projects and 2012 looks to continue that trend. Expansion isn’t the only aim of these projects; railroads are continuing their commitment to renewing existing infrastructure. Crosstie, rail and bridge rehabilitation and replacements look to have another great year in 2012. 

In our annual RT&S survey, we asked all the major railroads for a breakdown of their expected spending over the next year. In addition to the information gathered in our survey, supplemental sources such as industry association presentations and general reporting were used to develop the most accurate picture of the 2012 engineering forecast. All dollar figures should be read as estimates and are subject to change.

RT&S thanks all those who responded to the survey.


Amtrak’s engineering budget will see a slight increase to $483 million in 2012 from the $476 million budgeted in 2011. Amtrak’s C&S budget for 2012 is more than three times what its 2011 budget was, $42.8 million versus $13.1 million. One reason Amtrak will see a jump in its C&S budget is that the railroad intends to complete installation of Positive Train Control technology on a section of Amtrak-owned tracks along the Northeast Corridor by the end of 2012, which is three years ahead of the federally mandated deadline.

In addition to the PTC installation, Amtrak plans to move forward on several infrastructure improvements along the NEC. Close to $15 million will be spent for planning and other pre-construction activities on its Gateway Program; design, engineering and other pre-construction activities will advance on a project to upgrade speeds along a 24-mile section of the NEC between Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J.; construction will continue on the Niantic River Bridge replacement and work will continue on a multi-year project to replace track in all four of Amtrak’s East River tunnels that access New York Penn Station.

Amtrak plans to lay 153,000 rail feet of new rail, surface 600 miles of track and install 99,458 crossties, which includes 29,000 wood ties and 76,258 concrete ties.
“Amtrak is building the equipment, infrastructure and organization needed to ensure our strong growth continues into the future. We are investing in projects critical for enhancing the passenger experience, essential for supporting our national network of services and vital for the future of America’s railroad,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman.


BNSF plans a 2012 capital commitment program of approximately $3.9 billion, a $400 million increase over its 2011 capital spend of $3.5 billion.

The largest component of the capital plan is spending $2.1 billion on BNSF’s core network and related assets. The program also includes about $300 million for PTC and $400 million for terminal, line and intermodal expansion and efficiency projects. BNSF’s expansion and efficiency projects will be primarily focused on coal routes to improve velocity and throughput capacity and the new intermodal facility at Kansas City.

On the maintenance side of things, BNSF plans to lay 875 track miles of rail relay; install 3,518,000 ties of which 3,426,000 will be wood and 92,000 will be concrete; perform 600 miles of production ballast undercutting and 5,080 miles of production shoulder ballast cleaning and complete 140 bridge rebuilds including three major projects in Galveston, Texas, Burlington, Iowa and Plattsmouth, Neb.

Canadian National

In 2012, Canadian National plans to invest approximately C$1.75 billion (US$1.74 billion) in capital programs, which is up slighting from C$1.71 billion (US$1.70 billion) in 2011. Out of the 2012 budget more than C$1 billion (US$997 million) will be targeted on track infrastructure to maintain a safe and fluid railway network.
The railroad plans to lay 345 miles of new rail, install 1.6 million wood ties and 78,000 concrete ties.

In addition, the railroad will invest in projects to support a number of productivity and growth initiatives. These include speed/capacity initiatives, continued integration of the EJ&E, reconstruction of Kirk Yard, progress the AMT Infrastructure Program in Montreal, continued construction of the Calgary Logistics Park and several bridge projects. 
Bridges will continue to be a large part of CN’s plan in 2012 with work scheduled to continue on the Dubuque River Bridge, Oshkosh Bridge and Fraser River Bridge, along with 17 additional bridge strengthening and rehab projects, as well as another 70 bridge replacements.


Canadian Pacific

Canadian Pacific will increase the amount it spends on engineering in 2012 to $1.125 billion, up from $1.104 billion in 2011. The railroad plans to spend approximately $650 million on basic replacement capital and $33.2 million C&S expenses.

CP plans to lay 73,800 net tons of new rail, which is down slightly from the 85,600 net tons that was laid in 2011. Relay rail is up with an estimated 38,900 net tons to be installed in 2012 from the 34,400 net tons in 2011. Crossties also are expected to be slightly less with 862,000 wood ties in 2012 versus 910,000 wood ties in 2011 and 3,200 miles of track will be surfaced up from 2,650 miles in 2011.

CP will continue to rerail the North Line between Portage La Prairie, Manitoba and Wetaskiwin, Alberta in Canada, as well as bridge work including replacement of pile trestles on the DM&E acquired properties.

Photo courtesy of Canaidan Pacific


In 2012, CSX plans to install approximately 3.2 million crossties, lay 540 track miles of rail, surface 5,800 track miles, replace 18,000-20,000 bridge ties and perform approximately 50,000 welds.

The railroad continues to work toward the 2015 deadline for the PTC mandate. In 2011, CSX hired an additional 300 C&S employees and replaced more than 250 miles of obsolete signal equipment and equipped more than 1,000 locations with PTC communication solutions.

CSX continues to progress on its National Gateway Project with eight out of 10 tunnels under construction as part of Phase 1. Phase 2 and 3 of the project consists of 21 obstructions to clear with a target completion date of 2014. In 2012, CSX plans two overhead bridge removals, two track lowerings and two thru-truss bridge modifications. The railroad will also keep busy in 2012 with various new terminals and terminal expansions under construction including ones located in Worcester, Mass., Westborough, Mass., Winter Haven, Fla., Columbus, Ohio, Charlotte, N.C., and Beauharnois, Quebec, Canada.

The railroad’s central Florida capacity improvement projects are also expected to progress in 2012 and included 15 project locations, more than 51 miles of new upgraded track and more than 150 miles of new signal system upgrades.

CSX will also continue to work on the Chicago-area CREATE project, perform 20-25 miles of capacity construction and work on a number of passenger projects.


Kansas City Southern estimates its engineering budget to be $382.8 million in 2012 up from $366.6 million in 2011. On the C&S side of things, KCS plans to spend $21.5 million in 2012 up from $17.6 million in 2011 and the railroad will spend an additional $20.7 million on PTC-related expenditures not included in the 2012 C&S estimates.
KCS will lay 17,212 net tons of new rail in 2012. The railroad laid 35,285 net tons of rail in 2011, but that number includes a one-time stimulus-funded rail relay project of the Gulfport to Hattiesburg, Miss., line of approximately 63 miles. The railroad will put down 3,588 net tons of relay rail in 2012 as compared to 3,440 net tons in 2011.

On the crosstie front, KCS will install an estimated 927,500 ties in 2012, which includes 736,000 wood ties and 138,000 concrete. In 2011, the railroad installed 690,067 wood ties and 150,073 concrete. KCS will also surface 6,183 track miles this year, as compared to 6,009 track miles last year.

Photo Courtesy of Kansas City Southern

Norfolk Southern

Norfolk Southern unveiled a total capital improvement program of $2.4 billion in 2012, which is a 12 percent increase over 2011 numbers.
“The majority of our capital spending is targeted towards strengthening the franchise,” said Deborah H. Butler, chief financial officer during NS’ fourth-quarter 2011 earning conference.

The engineering budget for 2012 is estimated to be at $1.491 billion up slightly from the $1.424 billion in 2011. NS will lay 82,083 net tons of new rail and 25,259 net tons of relay rail this year up from 75,438 net tons of new rail and 20, 538 net tons of relay in 2011. The railroad will install 2,508,000 wood ties, which is about the same number as 2011. NS will install 322,000 relay ties, down from 409,817 in 2011 and surface 5,480 track miles, which is approximately the same number of miles as 2011.

NS will move forward on several major projects in 2012 including expansion of the Bellevue, Ohio, yard, the replacement of intermodal terminal bridges above 51st Street in Chicago and continuing construction of several intermodal terminals located at Birmingham, Ala., Memphis, Tenn., Greencastle and Harrisburg, Pa., and Charlotte N.C. 
NS also plans to spend an estimated $487.6 million in C&S capital and operating expenses in 2012, of which $231.7 million has been included for PTC. The C&S numbers are up significantly from $321.4 million in 2011, which included $75.1 million for PTC.

Union Pacific

Union Pacific’s projected $3.6 billion 2012 capital spend is the largest in company history. In 2011, UP invested $3.2 billion in total capital. In 2012, UP plans to spend $1.92 billion, which is 53 percent of the total number, on replacement capital. This includes approximately 4.3 million ties, replacing approximately 1,000 miles of rail and surfacing 4,369 miles of track. The railroad also plans to spend $335 million, which works out to nine percent, on PTC.

In a prepared statement, UP said that by 2035, railroads are expected to carry 38 percent more cargo than they do today. To set the railroad up to handle this kind of future volume, UP has several key growth projects underway in 2012.

In the Northern Region, UP plans to construct a second mainline at Blair, Neb., upgrade signaling and switching systems on the UP West Line in Chicago and continue ongoing CREATE projects to improve freight and passenger rail traffic flow in Chicago. In the railroad’s Southern Region, siding projects and double tracking will progress in Texas and Louisiana, terminal improvements are planned in the San Antonio, Dallas-Forth Worth, Houston and south-central Louisiana areas and enhancements will be put in place on the Eagle Pass and Laredo gateway routes to Mexico. UP’s Western Region will see continued double tracking of the Sunset Route in Arizona, construction will continue on the Santa Teresa, N.M., intermodal and fueling facility and siding extensions and terminal improvements are planned in the Pacific Northwest.

Friday, 10 February 2012 11:54

Preparing for the winter wallop

Snow, ice, wind and slush can all wreck havoc on railroad operations.

Winter is just a season for most of the lower 48. However, planning for winter and its slew of challenges is a year-round job for railroads. Avalanches can close routes and sub-zero temperatures can affect switches and engines. Plus, heavy snows can drive large game to follow cleared tracks. According to a report in the Juneau Empire, between October 2011 and January 20, 2012, 118 moose had been killed on Alaskan tracks. While an average moose that weighs between 1,200 to 1,500 pounds is no match for a locomotive, hitting one can be a sad and stressful experience for personnel.

RT&S asked North America’s most northern railroads, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and the Alaska Railroad how they are preparing for and dealing with winter weather.

Freight train en route near Jasper, Alberta, Canada. Photo courtesy of Canadian National.

Canadian Pacific

Canadian Pacific has a comprehensive winter plan in place for the 2012 winter season, which includes enhancements to strengthen its operation with contingent resources. The enhancements include increased staff in key critical locations to keep trains moving; 61 new locomotives in 2011 and 30 new locomotives in 2012, which will improve efficiency in adverse weather conditions and surplus older locomotives will be kept on hand in warm storage, making them easily accessible and immediately available to the operation, if weather conditions deem it necessary and increased snow plows, switch heaters and snow fences in critical areas.

Overall, the railroad says it’s pleased with its current equipment used to fight winter conditions but also notes that it is always open to any new equipment that may emerge.

“As you know, railroading is an outdoor industry and subject to all weather conditions, whether adverse or not,” said Kevin Hrysak, media relations manager – Canada. “CP has a rigorous winter planning process and has operating mechanisms in place to respond to all kinds of different weather situations from severe snowstorms, high winds to freezing rain. We have the infrastructure and measures in place to keep trains moving.”
CP says it has taken steps to enhance its robust winter plan and protect its service this winter thanks to lessons learned from the extreme, record-breaking weather conditions in 2010-2011.

“We have spent several months upgrading our plan and have increased our contingent resources to protect our service and believe we are prepared, if we encounter unfavorable weather conditions,” said Hrysak.

Avalanches that block routes are an operational and maintenance headache. ARRC coordinates efforts of its MOW and operations forces to monitor avalanche paths and hopefully avoid this scene. Photo courtesy of the Alaska Railroad Corporation.

Canadian National

Canadian National’s approach to winter preparation is simple: it’s all about teamwork.

CN has made enhancements to three areas to make sure operations run as smoothly as possible during the current winter season. The enhancements include a bigger winter fleet, an improved winter operating plan and increased communication.

The railroad’s winter fleet is composed of 438 distributive power locomotives with 40 additional high horsepower locomotives; 15 new snow fighting machines; five additional rail-flaw detection vehicles, 12 new switch heaters, five switch heaters that have been upgraded from cold to hot air and 101 upgraded hot air blowers.
CN says having more equipment in place means it can maintain service standards throughout the winter months. The railroad is also focusing on initiatives to maintain terminal fluidity, improve communication and strengthen its fleet.

Some of those extra efforts include a new drainage system in Prince George, B.C., to prevent flooding, 30 dragging equipment detectors and snow clearing gangs in place at major terminals.

Alaska Railroad

Alaska Railroad Corporation has two major concerns when it comes to winter. The first is the constant monitoring of avalanche paths, which requires coordination and careful considered judgment for both maintenance-of-way and train operations. The second is the extreme cold. The north end of ARRC’s system occasionally sees daytime highs of -32F.

“Cold weather patrols and train operating restrictions are used to mitigate this risk. The ARRC also installed a wheel impact load detector and we are seeing favorable results from controlling shelled wheels in cold weather,” said Tom Brooks, vice president of engineering.

While yards on the ARRC use graders, loaders, along with D6 cats and excavators for snow removal, most of the railroad’s snow removal operations employ ballast regulators. As snow accumulates, the railroad will run a snow fleet with a Jordan Spreader to push the snow further back, creating more storage for the ballast regulators.

Although, notes Brooks, larger ballast regulators may eventually eliminate the need for Jordan Spreaders and snow fleets.
ARRC also performs winter preparation during the warm weather months. Brooks says the railroad has an active summer program to upgrade avalanche paths with improved detection devices, mitigation or monitoring.

“We have a short summer season, so our summer equipment has to quickly convert to winter. This is particularly true of ballast regulators,” said Brooks.
Perhaps the best tool ARRC possesses to fight winter is a healthy sense of reality.

“It’s Alaska,” said Brooks, “winters are always tough.”

A CP locomotive in winter. Photo courtesy of Canadian Pacific.
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