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Rail Roundup: NS tweaks operations leadership structure, plus green power initiatives

News about Norfolk Southern, BNSF and Progress Rail, funding to state rail projects

A Norfolk Southern train. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

NS organizes leadership around modified operations structure

Norfolk Southern is reorganizing the way it manages network operations, creating a combined transportation and network operations team that will be spearheaded by current executive Paul Duncan.

Duncan, who has been promoted to senior vice president of transportation and network operations, will oversee the team responsible for designing and executing network plans and coordinating the movement of trains across NS’ network, the railroad (NYSE: NSC) said in a Thursday news release.

Duncan most recently led the network planning and optimization team as well as NS’ network operations center. Both were responsible for implementing the company’s operating plan, including the new one for intermodal shipments that’s based off of precision-scheduled railroading in an effort to streamline operations.

“Since joining Norfolk Southern in March 2022, [Duncan] has made an immediate, positive impact on our operations,” said NS Chief Operating Officer Cindy Sanborn. “He has led the creation of our new TOP-SPG operating plan while putting in place processes to improve service for our customers. … He is a collaborative leader and this newly combined organization will help us drive greater momentum and help hone our focus on creating growth for customers and Norfolk Southern.”

Joining Duncan will be Floyd Hudson, who is vice president of transportation and oversees NS’ transportation department. Others involved with Duncan and Hudson will be Jacom Elium and Rodney Moore.

Moore serves as vice president of network operations and manages the team that executes NS’ operating plan through locomotive distribution, crew management and dispatch. He previously served as general manager for NS’ southern region operations. 

Elium will be vice president for NS’ network planning and optimization, where he will be involved in developing operating plans. He most recently served as group vice president of automotive marketing and sales in NS’ marketing division. 

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Freight and passenger rail explore further green technologies

Two unrelated announcements in recent days demonstrate the rail industry’s desire to test how to make trains move in a more environmentally friendly manner.

Caterpillar subsidiary Progress Rail said it will supply up to four EMD Joule battery-electric locomotives to BNSF (NYSE: BRK.B) in a bid to achieve zero-exhaust emissions. The locomotives will replace four diesel units operating in BNSF’s Southern California yards and routes.

Delivery of the locomotives will start in 2024.

The locomotives will feature charging systems that will allow for continuous operation. The first locomotive that Progress Rail will deliver to BNSF boasts 8 megawatts of storage capacity. Progress Rail will also supply two charging stations. 

“The Joule locomotive is an exciting advancement in battery-electric locomotive technology with more energy storage and faster charging,” said John Lovenburg, BNSF vice president of environment and sustainability, in a news release. “The project is well aligned with BNSF’s commitment to innovation and leadership in sustainable freight. We are focused on continuing to reduce the environmental impact in the communities where we operate and proud to do our part to assess the commercial and operational viability of emerging technologies that reduce emissions.”

Ballard Power Systems, which develops hydrogen fuel cells for transportation uses, will supply six 100-kilowatt FCmoveTM-HD+ fuel-cell engines to power what the company says will be the first hydrogen-powered passenger train in the United States.

The train, which will be operated by the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA), will operate in San Bernardino, California, in 2024 and will seat 100 passengers, according to a Monday news release. SBCTA could operate additional hydrogen-powered trains in the future.

Stadler Rail AG, a rolling stock manufacturer headquartered in Switzerland, submitted the order on behalf of SBCTA.

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Local freight rail projects receive federal and state funding

Federal and state efforts to bolster rail infrastructure via grants and loans continue.

On Thursday, the Federal Railroad Administration said it has awarded $4 million to three projects in two states to upgrade rail infrastructure and enable the more efficient transport of freight. 

The funding was provided by FRA’s Special Transportation Circumstances program, aimed at supporting states that lack intercity passenger rail service or don’t have access to the greater continental U.S. rail network.

The funded projects are:

— Up to $1.4 million to the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities for avalanche control at the Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARRC). The funding will replace an M101A1 howitzer avalanche-control process with a remote avalanche-control system at ARRC’s Portage Tunnel door 4 in Portage Valley, Alaska, located 50 miles southeast of Anchorage. ARRC will provide a 20% match of funds.

— Nearly $1.8 million to the South Dakota Department of Transportation for the Ringneck & Western Railroad’s (RWRR) efficiency and growth project. The railroad, located east of Plankinton, South Dakota, plans to construct a 558-foot industrial lead track and a concrete maintenance pit in an existing locomotive maintenance building. Plans also include constructing a loadout spur, six turnouts and a roadway for vehicular and transloading equipment access to facilitate transloading. RWRR will match the grant by 40%.

— Up to $800,00 to the South Dakota Department of Transportation for safety improvements on the Pierre-Rapid City subdivision of the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad (RCP&E). The safety improvements include upgrading and installing eight culvert structures between Fort Pierre and Rapid City in order to help the network withstand stormwater flows. 

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation jointly announced Monday nearly $8 million in grants and loans for five freight rail improvement projects.

“This round of grants will bolster how the state’s agriculture and paper industries move products from point A to B, supporting industry growth and success across the state,” Evers said in a news release.

The projects, according to the news release, aim to lengthen rail spurs, install conveyance equipment and increase storage capacity. 

The grants and loans will come from the state’s freight railroad preservation program, which can contribute up to 80% of a project’s costs. 

Recipients include: 

— Wisconsin and Southern Railroad Company near Boscobel, Grant County, will receive a $1.4 million grant and a $179,725 loan to replace an old timber trestle structure near the town on the Prairie Subdivision. 

— Rio Creek Feed Mill in Luxemburg, Kewaunee County, will receive a $1.5 million loan to improve efficiency of the Luxemburg facility for railcar loading and unloading by investing in above-track storage capacity improvements and conveyance equipment. The facility, served by the Fox Valley & Lake Superior Railroad, receives inbound carloads of canola meal, soybean meal, corn gluten and dried distiller grains. 

— Northside Elevator in Stanley, Chippewa County, will receive a $3 million loan to construct 6,878 feet of track for a new rail-served agronomy and feed terminal in Stanley on CN’s Minneapolis Subdivision. “This project will be the first phase of a multiphase, multiyear buildout of the site. If construction is completed in 2022, 650 carloads of potash, gypsum, canola meal, soda, corn gluten and other feed and agronomy commodities are forecast to be inbound per year to the facility by 2025,” the news release said.

— McDonald Companies in Green Bay, Brown County, will receive a $492,791 loan to reconstruct 521 feet of spur track that would serve a warehouse in Green Bay. McDonalds’ tenant, Quincy Recycled Paper, will be able to transport recycled fiber by rail to Green Bay Packaging’s mills. 

— DeLong Company in Port of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, will receive a $1.5 million loan for installation of conveyance equipment at its new rail-served grain terminal at the facility. 

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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.