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Rail Roundup: Leadership transitions, US rail traffic dips in January

News briefs from Union Pacific, Association of American Railroads, Greenbrier

This week's roundup includes news from Union Pacific and Greenbier. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Union Pacific names Beth Whited as EVP of sustainability and strategy

Union Pacific has named Beth Whited as executive vice president of sustainability and strategy, effective immediately.

This new role for Whited — she has served as EVP and chief human resources officer for UP since 2018 and will continue to lead that division — comes as UP (NYSE: UNP) is seeking to reach a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The railroad just announced plans to purchase 20 battery-electric locomotives as part of this endeavor. 

“Beth’s vast railroad experience makes her the perfect person to lead Union Pacific in these critical areas,” said UP President and CEO Lance Fritz. “Under her leadership, Union Pacific set its science-based targets and launched award-winning DE&I programs and employee benefits. She’ll now be a critical partner for me in our strategy discussions, decisions and implementations.”

Whited has held a number of positions since joining UP in 1987, including serving as chief marketing officer and having executive roles in strategic planning, investor relations, finance and marketing sales. She was also president of UP’s National Customer Service Center and president of former subsidiary Union Pacific Distribution Services.

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US rail volumes fall nearly 10% in January

U.S. rail traffic fell 9.5% in January amid declining intermodal volumes and lower volumes for grain, petroleum and petroleum products, and motor vehicles and parts, according to data from the Association of American Railroads.

U.S. freight railroads moved 1.9 million carloads and intermodal units in January, which was nearly 200,000 carloads and intermodal units fewer than January 2021. 

Of that, U.S. carloads were down 3% to 902,265 carloads, as a 5.6% increase in coal volumes and an 0.8% increase in chemicals volumes weren’t enough to offset a 14% decline in grain volumes, a 19.8% drop in motor vehicles and parts and a 20.1% decrease in petroleum and petroleum products.

Intermodal traffic was down 14.6% to 1 million containers and trailers year-over-year.

“For most traffic categories, U.S. rail volumes this January were down compared to last year,” AAR Senior Vice President John T. Gray said in a release. “That said, last January made for very difficult comparisons for a number of categories. 

“For example, January 2021 was the best January for grain since 1990 and was also, at the time, the highest volume month ever for intermodal. Conversely, and more optimistically, this year’s January was the highest volume month ever for rail carloads of chemicals, providing a strong base for future growth in a critical commodity,” Gray said.

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Greenbrier reports new orders of 2,900 units span across different railcar types

Railcar manufacturer Greenbrier has received new orders for 2,900 units valued at $345 million in December 2021 and January, the first two months of its second fiscal quarter, which ends on Feb. 28.

The railcar orders consist of a range of car types, from gondolas to covered hoppers and tanks to automobile-carrying units, according to Greenbrier. This reflects a potentially resurgent freight railcar market, the company said. 

“Railcar orders received during the first two months of the second fiscal quarter demonstrate Greenbrier’s strength in our core North American rail business. Almost all orders announced today originated from North America, where we have scaled our flexible manufacturing footprint to address the increasing levels of demand that we began preparing for months ago,” Greenbrier CEO Bill Furnan said in a release. “Order activity for Greenbrier and industrywide validates our recent investments in working capital to support the early stage of an extended recovery cycle for new railcar demand.”

Greenbrier’s new orders update comes as the American Railway Car Institute Committee for the Railway Supply Institute noted that fourth-quarter 2021 freight railcar orders grew by more than 50% from the third quarter to 13,477 railcars. This could reflect a favorable market for U.S. railcar manufacturers.

For its first fiscal quarter, which ended Nov. 30, Greenbrier’s new railcar orders totaled 6,300 units valued at $685 million. This increased Greenbrier’s order backlog to 28,000 units valued at $3 billion.

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Former OmniTRAX executive to head rail services provider Pacific West

Rail and industrial services provider Pacific West has named Peter Touesnard as its CEO. 

Touesnard served most recently as chief commercial officer for rail holding company and short line operator OmniTRAX in Denver. Before that role, Touesnard held key operating and sales roles at short line operator RailAmerica.

“I am delighted to join the Pacific West team and lead a company with such a strong history of customer service, attention to detail and workmanship,” Touesnard said. “I share the passion of the Pacific West employees for serving their customers, maintaining a strong safety culture and growing the business at a time when public and private enterprise is strongly focused on needed infrastructure improvements.”

Salt Lake City-based Pacific West provides services such as construction of railroad locomotive fueling facilities, rail yard air brake networks, wastewater treatment facilities, above and below ground mechanical facilities and security fencing, among other offerings to western U.S. customers.

Transportation and logistics investment group Bluejay Capital Partners acquired Pacific West in December. 

“Peter has an exceptional track record fostering business growth. His extensive career and success in the rail industry afforded him many meaningful relationships that will help drive the expansion of Pacific West’s service offerings. We are thrilled to work alongside Peter, pair him with Chief Operating Officer and co-owner Dustin Hall and collaborate to help Pacific West grow,” said Bluejay Capital founding partner Josh Putterman.

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RELAM opens new MoW equipment rental location near Sacramento

RELAM, which calls itself the largest lessor of maintenance-of-way railroad equipment in North America, has a new MoW equipment rental location near Sacramento, California.

The new location will better serve customers in the western U.S. and British Columbia, said RELAM, which has locations in Cleveland and Granite City, Illinois. Its rental equipment fleet includes production tampers, ballast regulators, spike drivers, and tie exchangers, as well as hi-rail vehicles, sky trim vegetation equipment, and hi-rail mini and full-size excavators.

“Adding a new rental location adds value by decreasing prices due to the cost of freight to transport rental equipment for customers within proximity to the new rental location,” said RELAM. “On average, trucking expenses can cost between $9-11 dollars per mile, depending on the type of machine. Expanding RELAM’s geographic footprint allows the company to save customers money on freight costs, receive their equipment faster, and access affordable late-model MoW equipment to enhance their safety and productivity goals.”

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.