Mar 5, 2014

Lok Sabha polls to be conducted in 9 phases from April 7 to May 12, counting on May 16

The Election Commission on Wednesday announced the schedule for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections saying they will be held in nine phases from April 7, 2014 to May 12, 2014.
Chief election commissioner VS Sampath announces the dates for the Lok Sabha polls in New Delhi. (AP photo)

Chief election commissioner VS Sampath announced the dates in a press conference. The two election commissioners HS Brahma and SNA Zaidi were also present.

The counting of votes to be held on May 16 and will be over in a day, Sampath told reporters.

The first date of poll shall be on April 7, 2014 which will be held in two states and six parliamentary constituencies will be covered. The second phase of poll on April 9 will cover seven constituencies in five states. The third phase on April 10 to cover 92 constituencies in 14 states and the fourth day of poll on April 12 to cover three states and five constituencies.

The fifth will be on April 17 which will cover 13 states and UTs and 122 constituencies and sixth phase will be on April 24, covering 12 states and 117 constituencies.

The seventh phase will be held on April 30 to cover nine states and 89 constituencies, eighth phase on May 7 will cover seven states and 64 constituencies and the last and ninth phase on will be on May 12 and cover 3 states and 41 constituencies.

He said that the model code of conduct has come into immediate effect. It prevents the government from making any decisions that can be seen as influencing voters. It also prohibits political parties from making unsubstantiated allegations against opponents.

He said that the total number of electorate this year stands at 81.4 crore and has increased by 10 crore as compared to the last parliamentary elections in 2009.

The chief election commissioner also said there has been a 12% increase in the number of polling stations in the country with 9,30,000 stations this year. There were 8.3 lakh stations in the last elections.


Andhra Pradesh, including the regions comprising Telangana, Odisha and Sikkim will go to polls to elect new assemblies.

Election commissioner Brahma said that all Maoist-hit areas will be covered in a single day across India.

The decision to announce the dates to elect 543 members to Lok Sabha was taken after a series of meeting by Sampath on Tuesday and firming up of the security plan.

In a first for general elections, voters will also be able to reject all candidates with None Of The Above (NOTA) buttons on 1.5 million electronic voting machines (EVMs).

The EC will also experiment with verifiable paper trail system with EVMs in about 10,000 polling booths.


Andhra Pradesh
April 30, May 7
Arunchal Pradesh
April 9
April 7, 12, 24
April 10, 17, 24, 30, May 7, 12
April 17
April 30
April 10
Himachal Pradesh
May 7
Jammu & Kashmir
April 10, 17, 24, 30, May 7
April 17
April 10
Madhya Pradesh
April 10, 17, 24
April 10, 17, 24
April 9, 17
April 9
April 9
April 9
April 10, 17
April 30
April 17
April 12
Tamil Nadu
April 24
April 7, 12
Uttar Pradesh
April 10, 17, 24, 30, May 7, 12
West Bengal
April 17, 24, 30, May 7, 12
April 10, 17, 24
April 10, 17, 24
May 7
Andaman & Nicobar Islands
April 10
April 10
Dadra & Nagar Haveli
April 30
Daman & Diu
April 30

The general elections for the 16th Lok Sabha will see the ruling UPA, with 232 members in Lok Sabha, face a spirited challenge from the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The NDA has 132 members in the present House.

The BJP drew the battle lines early by declaring Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate in September last year.

The Congress has resisted internal clamour to name party vice-president Rahul Gandhi as its PM candidate.

The summer elections will also see the national debut of the Aam Aadmi Party under Arvind Kejriwal, who has already declared a 40-day whirlwind election tour of the country.

The Left-backed Third Front -- of 11 parties -- is also trying to become a formidable force.

The term of the current Lok Sabha expires June 1 and a new House has to be constituted by May 31.

The general elections in 2009 were held in five phases from April 16 to May 13. Votes were counted on May 16.

"I appeal to all stakeholders, parties and candidates to uphold democratic traditions of nation," Sampath said.
Source-hindustan times

Anti-rail – why the bus decision won’t make public transport more attractive

The Spine Study will do nothing to make public transport more useable and attractive for the overwhelming majority of greater Wellington residents.

I used to be a member of the Regional Transport Committee, back in the days when “lack of rail penetration of the CBD” was recognized as an issue to be resolved and there was interest group representation. I was also a member of the tokenistic and ignored Reference Group for the Public Transport Spine Study.

It is quite apparent to me that the Spine Study was, from the start, a exercise promoted by the NZ Transport Agency to crush the persistent threat of rail transit as an alternative to the continued expansion of State Highway 1. ‘Roads only, not sustainability’ is the mantra.

This isn’t just my jaundiced opinion. Internationally, Professor Peter Newman is one of the most prolific researchers into urbanism and sustainability – he literally wrote the book (in fact several of them) on sustainable cities and reducing car dependence – and has the practical experience of being the father of Perth’s enormously successful electric rail system. He visits Wellington quite often – some of you may even have met him – and after his latest visit last August he emailed this telling comment about the spine study:

… “the LRT option is very crudely dismissed through excessive costs and few benefits and the BRT option is highly inflated with benefits that cannot be justified from the literature. There is little science behind this study and a lot of politics as it appears to clear the way for motorway spending. I don’t think I have seen a study quite so crudely apparent in its anti-rail politics… It should be dismissed.” (email 19/8/13)

The Spine Study got off to a bad start when the Terms of Reference were issued, based on the absurdity that “the” (note the definite article) public transport spine extended only from the Railway Station to the Hospital, and that so-called “connections” north and south were only “possible”. The study arose from the Ngauranga – Airport study, which made no such silly assumptions about the extent and continuity of the private transport spine: State Highway 1.

Greater Wellington is a metropolis of nearly half a million, very highly concentrated on its CBD for employment (about 50%) and for most other travel-inducing functions like entertainment, tertiary education, tourism and so on. The degree of concentration into one CBD travel corridor and a compact core is very unusual, worldwide. For 75% of the metro population the public transport spine is electric rail, which carries 70% of the passenger kilometres and covers 92% of the main corridors shared by State Highways 1 and 2.

But Wellington is highly unusual in having a mature but incomplete electric rail transit system that does not penetrate its CBD. And we are surely unique in having a transit planning agency which has reversed its previous policy, and is now not seeking to fix that patronage-killing situation but perpetuate it. So much for being some sort of enlightened world-class “green capital”!

It was clear to me on the reference group that neither consultants nor staff had any experience of light rail, and their antipathy was obvious. Hence the model of light rail they produced, which can only be described as a straw man, set up to be knocked down as Professor Newman suggested.

Another result of the Spine Study is the intention that the impact of buses in the CBD will be increased – at a time when the problems of heavy bus traffic and the desire for a more pedestrian-friendly Golden Mile regularly hit the headlines.

Moreover, the bus rapid transit model (in reality only ‘bus priority’ – true BRT in downtown Wellington is impossible), coupled with the short shrift given to trolleys in the Bus Review, necessarily means de-electrification and more diesel buses, since trolleybuses don’t fit the model and unwired electrics are still impractical for trunk use. So we move further away from the goal of carbon neutrality that we once paid at least lip service to.

All over the world, light rail transit schemes are established to provide a seamless, comfortable and high-capacity journey from the suburbs into and through the CBD. For the vast majority of Wellington metro residents are concerned, the Spine Study means that this default attribute for a modern city will remain just a dream. The Public Transport Plan is set to adopt that stupid policy.

In 1993 the regional council and the railways produced a light rail proposal which the Evening Post noted would “create exciting possibilities for recharging retailing and ending commuter agonies” and that it “is a sensible option and needs now to be propelled to the front of the transport agenda.”

21 years later that has all been forgotten. It is my prediction that, because it is so ill-suited to greater Wellington’s actual needs, any passenger transport plan incorporating the Spine Study eventually will be, too.

Brent Efford is NZ Agent for the Light Rail Transit Assn and Information Officer of Trams-Action. This article is based on a presentation which he made today to the Regional Transport Committee – about its Review of the Regional Passenger Transport Plan and the incorporation of the Public Transport Spine Study into it.

Repositioning the Rail Transport Sector

For many years, railway transportation in the country was dead. Almost buried! But it is obvious from the recent achievements of the Nigeria Railway Corporation that some revival has taken place. And rail transportation is breathing again.
Rightly so, the Nigeria Railway Corporation used to be a strong social and economic live-wire for all the sections of the country in terms of commuter traffic and volume of cargo from the regions to the ports. The role of railway transportation on the development of the country was pervasive.
Indeed, the catalytic role of the corporation was so significant and integral to national development and growth that it served a pivotal role in the struggle of Nigeria for self determination.
The importance of rail transportation peaked in 1964. But shortly after that, the NRC entered a long period of decline, inept management, and eventually a complete lack of maintenance of rail and locomotive assets until NRC declared bankruptcy in 1988.
Attempts to restore the corporation to its pride of place as a driver of social and economic development were epileptic and hampered by what it’s one time acting Managing Director, Mazi Jetson Nwakwo, described as lack of political will by a succession of leaders.
By 2002, passenger service was discontinued completely and cargo service shrank to insignificance.
When the NRC went into a comatose condition, the impact on the road network and the increased presence of articulated vehicles were far reaching in terms of maintenance cost and hazard to lives and properties. All the major roads between the ports and business hubs in Nigeria fell into disrepair.
Increased dependence on roads to transport heavy goods saw trailers, tankers and heavy trucks competing with commuter traffic everywhere, resulting in fatal accidents, infrastructural damages and insupportable cost of road rehabilitation.
Perhaps the most televised and reported of the wreck of social economic assets was the Lagos-Benin Express road which became a dangerous sigma and a nightmare until its redemption recently.
Also the NRC, which was at one time the employer of first choice, engaged about 45,000 people between 1954 and 1975, but employment plunged to only 6,516 in later years.
In an attempt to revive the corporation, some wagons were bought in 1993, but the effort was fruitless because most of the existing wagons were old; some dated back to 1948 and the track conditions limited trains to a speed of 35 km/h. Consequently, no serious economic activity could rely on the corporation as a service of first choice. The Nigeria Railway Corporation was literally abandoned as dead.
In 2006, the idea of rebuilding the entire existing 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) network to standard gauge was muted but the missing political will observed by Mazi Nwakwo came decisively with the transformation agenda of 2011. Where there is a will, there is a way. Thus the railway system has been undergoing a steady and confident restoration process.
According to latest figures from the Corporation: About 90 per cent of existing narrow gauge rail lines are being rehabilitated across Nigeria; Abuja - Kaduna & Ajaokuta - Warri standard gauge lines are nearing completion; the 1,124km Lagos - Kano Western Line rehabilitation completed; the 1,657km Port Harcourt - Maiduguri Eastern Line rehabilitation near completion; rehabilitation of the Mainline from Ebute Metta Junction to Apapa Local Station by Nigeria Railway Corporation has been completed; operation of six weekly express passenger train trips on Lagos -Kano and Offa - Kano; forty new oil tank wagons already lifting petroleum products; and the Eastern line, Port Harcourt-Maiduguri, 1,657km is nearly completed. Passengers and cargo services will be flagged off soon.
The rehabilitation of the narrow gauge lines is the first segment of the 25- year railway strategic plan, while the second segment is the modernisation programme.
The Lagos – Kano Line is being executed in six (6) segments on standalone basis in order to effectively fund the projects. The segments are as follows: Abuja (Idu) - Kaduna (187km), Lagos - Ibadan (181km), Ibadan - Ilorin (200km), Ilorin – Minna (270km), Minna – Abuja (145km), and Minna – Kano (360km).
Also, the construction of Lagos - Ibadan standard gauge line (double track) (180Km x 2) has commenced. Feasibility Studies on proposed standard gauge lines in various locations across Nigeria are nearing completion.
In further modernisation of the railway system, the corporation has procured 25 new locomotives, 40 Oil Tank Wagons from General Electric and refurbished 366 Coaches and Wagons.
It has also taken delivery of two sets of Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) with 540- passenger capacity each and six Modern air-conditioner 68-seater coaches. Also purchased are four new CNR locomotives.
Today, the railway is a song worth singing, one of the postmarks of President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda. The following are some of the immediate benefits of the railway revival process: Movement of wheat owned by Flour Mills Ltd from Apapa to Kaduna and Kano; freight haulage for Connect Rail Limited (A freight Logistics Company); weekly movement of 1,500 tons (equivalent to 50 trailer loads) of cement for Lafarge Cement Plc  from Ewekoro to Ibadan, Oshogbo, Ilorin, Minna and Kano; movement of laterite from Otukpo – Makurdi covering 100,000 tons (3,333 trailer load equivalent) for Messrs SCC Nigeria Limited; weekly movement of petroleum products equivalent to 30 tankers from Lagos up to Kano; and haulage of Heavy Materials for NRC Contractors: Lagos – Kafanchan and various destinations.
In total, from 2011 to date, about 561,883 metric tons of cargo have been conveyed by rail. Also millions of commuters have availed themselves of the following NRC passenger services: Lagos - Kano Express Train Services, once per week; Offa – Kano Express service, once per week; Lagos – Ibadan – Ilorin- Lagos Train (thrice per week, moving an average of 6,188 passengers weekly); Minna – Kaduna – Minna Train (thrice per week, moving an average of 3,450 passengers per week); Kano – Nguru – Kano Train (twice per week, moving an average of 850 passengers per week); Excursion Train: Highly patronised during festivities. E.g. Osun State utilised it during Easter; and Intra –city Mass Transit such as the Lagos Mass Transit Train (16 Trains per day- an average of 16,000 passengers per day); and the Kaduna Intra-city Mass Transit Train (10 Trains Per Day- an average of 10,000 passengers per day).
To ensure the sustainability of the transformation agenda with regards to the railways revival, an investment Incentive Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between General Electric (Transportation) and the Federal Government was signed to accommodate the upgrading and development of a multi modal Locomotives Assembly Facility in Nigeria to handle an initial target Assembly of 200 Locomotives over 10 years under a Special Country to Company Relationship.
According to the NRC, these are strategic gains that do not exclude similar other companies taking advantage of the resolute revival of a once iconic national network.
Commuters are looking to NRC for safe comfortable rides and our network of road will eventually be rid of heightened hazard and rapid degradation. The reversal of fifty years of undermined capacity is on course. And it is expected that the strong momentum the nation is witnessing will be sustained.
The world over, railways and roadways are complementary means of transport over the land. The advantage of railways over roads is that they can carry large number of passengers and large and heavy loads to long distances. A vast country like Nigeria cannot do without an effective railway system.

–Israel, a public affairs commentator, lives in Ilorin

Safety measures increase for crude transported by rail

After a series of explosive and fatal rail accidents involving crude oil shipments, more safety measures have been put in place by railroad companies and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

On Feb. 21, the U.S. rail industry voluntarily signed an agreement to increase track inspections, improve braking systems, lower speeds and fund training for first responder emergency response teams. Parts of the agreement start taking effect at the end of March, and are completely in effect by July 1.

“We … have worked together to swiftly pinpoint new operating practices that enhance the safety of moving crude by oil,” Edward Hamberger, Association of American Railroads CEO and president, said in a press release.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued its fourth emergency order on crude oil transportation in seven months.

“From emergency orders to voluntary agreements, we are using every tool at our disposal to ensure the safe transportation of crude,” Anthony Foxx, Department of Transportation secretary, said in a press release.

The latest emergency order, effective immediately, requires proper testing, classification and packing of crude oil. The 72 Bakken oil tanks that derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on July, 6, 2013, which exploded and killed 47 people, were later found to be mislabeled as less flammable than they actually were.

According to the emergency order, 18 of the 21 tank cars that derailed in Cassleton, N.D. on Dec. 30, 2013 ruptured and exploded. An estimated 400,000 gallons of oil spilled, 1,400 people were evacuated and damages cost around $8 million.

The damage cost of the Lac-Megantic derailment is estimated at over $1 billion.

Another recent derailment occurred on Nov. 8, 2013 in the wetlands near Aliceville, Ala., where 11 of more than 20 derail tank cars spilled oil and exploded, with damages at around $3.9 million.

Oil transport by rail has increased in recent years in large part because of the Bakken oil boom, where oil production exceeds pipeline infrastructure.

The Association of American Railroads estimates that originated car loads of crude oil on U.S. railroads was 9,500 in 2008. In 2013, it was approximately 400,000 tank cars of crude, a significant increase. A standard car load of crude oil contains around 30,000 gallons.

The emergency order is not only in response to recent derailments of trains carrying Bakken crude (like the ones preceding it), but also due to concerns found in a Department of Transportation investigation call Operation Classification, commonly referred to as the “Bakken Blitz.”

Operation Classification conducts unannounced inspections of crude oil labels on trains in the Bakken. The investigation was launched in August 2013, a month after the Lac-Megantic derailment.

The railroad agreement stated it would have trains with 20 or more tank cares of crude run at 40 miles per hours in high threat urban areas, and 50 miles per hour in other places.

In Sidney, “this track isn’t designed for higher speed trains,” Rob Gilbert, deputy chief and Sidney fire marshall, told the Herald. He speculated that the Sidney area has a low risk for a train accident. In nearly 23 years of working with the fire department, he recalls one derailment where a locomotive ran into a truck, and another one a few years ago by Musket Corp. crude oil terminal in Dore, N.D.

Gilbert also said the trains passing through Sidney currently run at around 35 miles per hour.

The train route that goes from Trenton, N.D. to Glendive runs through Sidney, alongside the Yellowstone River. If an oil spill or explosive were to occur in the area, environmental concerns are another factor to consider.
Source-sidney herald

Metro North review to examine other rail-based solutions

A REVIEW of the decision to suspend the Metro North project due to take place next year will also consider other 'rail-based' solutions to the public transport deficit in Swords, it has been revealed.

Answering a Dáil question from Swords-based TD, Clare Daly (ULA), Minister for Transport, Leo Varadkar said: 'This review will examine existing proposals as well as other options for a rail-based transport solution to meet the area's needs in the long term.'

The minister did however, offer some assurances for those people who are worried that the proposal for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for Swords would put Metro North in jeopardy, saying the Swiftway BRT project was not a long-term replacement for a 'rail-based' solution.

He said: 'The NTA has also proposed a BRT Scheme as an interim solution to the short term demand needs of the Swords/Airport corridor. BRT would be a fast and efficient form of public transport in some parts of Dublin and would be cheaper to build, operate and maintain than rail.

'BRT will not on its own replace rail based solutions where a higher capacity solution is required in the long-term, such as on the Swords /Airport corridor.

'Under the current capital plan, funding is only available for the initial design and route selection of a small number of BRT schemes.

'These schemes, of which Swords/Airport has been identified as a priority, will be included for consideration with other projects in deciding on priorities for the capital plan post 2016.'

Explaining what will happen with the review of rail services to Fingal, next year in preparation for a new Government capital plan in 2016, the minister said: 'Following the comprehensive review of capital expenditure carried out in 2011 a decision was taken to defer the Metro North and a number of other projects which were not affordable in current circumstances.

'It was made clear at the time that these projects would be reviewed again in preparation for the next capital plan post-2016.

'The priorities under the current capital plan are to protect investment made to date, to maintain safety standards and to progress affordable projects such as Luas Cross City which add value to the existing network.'

Minister Varadkar added: 'Preparation for the next capital plan will be informed by work underway such as the Strategic Framework for Investment in Land Transport (SFILT) which is being developed in my Department and the technical consultancy proposed by the NTA to assess the long term raill transport requirements of the North Dublin/Fingal corridor, extending from Finglas to Malahide and including Dublin Airport and Swords.

'The specific projects identified to meet current and future demand will be prioritised for inclusion in the next capital plan.'

Warren Buffett, BNSF owner, pushes for stronger rail cars for oil

Warren Buffett, the Omaha billionaire who four years ago bought the nation’s second-biggest railroad, said Monday that rail tank cars need to be upgraded to safely transport the surging production of oil from North Dakota and Texas.

“It’s fair to say that we’ve found in [the] last year or so that it’s more dangerous to move certain types of crude than was thought previously,” Buffett said in an interview on CNBC. “There’s no question about it.”

The comments came little more than a week after the BNSF Railway Co., which Buffett-led Berkshire Hathaway Co. bought in 2010, announced it will buy 5,000 stronger tank cars with thicker walls and other safety protections. The decision came after several derailments in 2013 led to oil spills, fires and deaths. One accident involved a BNSF train that exploded after derailing near Casselton, N.D., in December; no one was injured.

With production growing faster than pipeline capacity, oil companies are choosing rail as a means to deliver crude to refineries. Proponents say rail is a faster and more efficient way to move oil, while critics say the risk of accidents is high, particularly because trains go through urban areas that pipelines tend to avoid.

Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF transports six out of every 10 barrels of oil produced in North Dakota, with most of that moving through Minnesota. An average of six oil-carrying trains pass through the Twin Cities each day, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation, citing tests that showed North Dakota crude oil was more likely to emit flammable gases, ordered companies to test each batch for traits such as the percentage of flammable gases trapped in the oil.

“There will be changes made, and there should be,” Buffett said on CNBC. “The oil from the Bakken [oil field in North Dakota] and Eagle Ford [in central Texas] has turned out to be more volatile than people anticipated. That requires, for one thing, that we lower the [train] speeds. But it requires a new kind of tank car, too.”

In his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway investors, released this weekend, Buffett repeated his conviction that owning BNSF was a bet on the economic future of the U.S. and that, due to large capital investments, America’s railroads have never been in better shape. BNSF spent $4 billion on maintenance and equipment last year and has said it will increase such capital spending to $5 billion this year.

“It’s a business that has real economic advantages if you look at fuel costs and at drivers’ wages on the highway,” Buffett said on Monday. “As long as more goods move from place to place in this country, rails will get their share. It should be a very profitable business.”

Despite being a railroad proponent, Buffett said he’s not against the environmentally controversial Keystone XL Pipeline that would bring crude oil from Alberta, Canada, through the Dakotas and Nebraska to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“It’s not that big a competitor,” Buffett said. “I think the Keystone pipeline is probably a good idea for the country.”

Opponents of the pipeline say the risk of environmental damage is greater. On CNBC, Buffett said he wasn’t sure which transportation method was safer in the long run. “If you measured moving millions of barrels for 100 years, one versus the other, I’m not sure how it would come out,” he said.

Dave Christianson, project manager for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said Buffett’s comments put an even greater spotlight on rail safety and could speed the development of new federal standards for tank cars.

“Buffett is forcing the issue by asking that older cars be retired as fast as possible and that new cars be built as fast as possible,” Christianson said. So far, BNSF is alone in saying it will undergo the expense of buying new tank cars.

The new cars are made with stronger steel shells that are designed to stretch before cracking or puncturing and have steel shields on either end to act as bumpers in a collision, Christianson said. In addition, the tank cars have better protection for pressure relief valves on the tops and bottoms of the cars, which should protect the valves from being sheared off in an accident or derailment.

“Our position is that a safer tank car that can answer the problem is already being built,” Christianson said. “The best way to keep the public safe is to adopt this car design and approve a safety standard based on it.”

Last month, U.S. railroads agreed to voluntarily slow down oil trains in 46 “high-threat urban areas,” including the Twin Cities. The new speed for oil trains after July 1 is 40 mph. BNSF said it will reduce its 50 mph zones around the Twin Cities to 40.

The worst oil-train accident last year happened in July, when a train derailed and exploded, killing 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

DOT Issues Emergency Order for Crude Oil Rail Transport

The U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order on February 25 to address the safety of transporting crude oil by rail. According to the order, all shippers moving crude from the Bakken must test their product to ensure it is properly classified before transit.

The order came in response to the series of crude oil train derailments, some of which led to explosions and injuries. Effective immediately, shippers will have to test their oil for a range of characteristics, and will be required to use more robust tank cars if the oil falls into certain categories. There is evidence that crude oil from the Bakken is more flammable than typical oil. The order also forbids the use of rail cars that are usually only used for less hazardous materials.

“Today we are raising the bar for shipping crude oil on behalf of the families and communities along rail lines nationwide — if you intend to move crude oil by rail, then you must test and classify the material appropriately,” said DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx in a press release. “And when you do ship it, you must follow the requirements for the two strongest safety packing groups. From emergency orders to voluntary agreements, we are using every tool at our disposal to ensure the safe transportation of crude.”

DOT said that it will issue penalties of $175,000 per incident per day for noncompliance.

Separately, Bloomberg is reporting that several refiners in California are looking to bring Bakken oil to the West Coast by rail, due to declining production in California and Alaska. The West Coast is not well connected to the rest of the country by pipeline, leaving rail as the next best option to bring oil to refineries in California. An executive at Tesoro estimates that 500,000 barrels of oil per day could begin running to the West Coast by rail by 2015.

Councils on track with push to return passenger rail services west of Ararat

A group of western Victorian councils say they will look at a feasibility study to determine the viability of returning passenger rail services west of Ararat.

The Wimmera and south-west councils met representatives of the State Government and Public Transport Victoria in Ararat last week to discuss the idea.

The Horsham council's chief executive, Peter Brown, say the region is being disadvantaged by a lack of services.

He says it is an important project for the region which would have significant economic, employment and social benefits.

"The ability of people to have fast public transport to centres such as Ballarat and Melbourne is really important and something that other people in regional Victoria have access to," he said.

"The Wimmera and the south-west need similar access."

He says they will now look at a feasibility study to determine the viability of a rail shuttle service.

"Using the standard gauge line across the Wimmera and also the standard gauge line that runs up from Glenelg, connecting both those lines to Ararat and then joining on the broad gauge service that runs from Ararat through Ballarat to Melbourne," he said.

"That seems to us to have a lot of potential as a way forward to return rail services to the Wimmera and the south-west."

Cuomo to U.S. transportation chief: Hurry up and make freight rail safer

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, citing two derailments of trains carrying crude oil over the past week, has called on the feds to step up rail safety reforms.

Today, he sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, urging him to take action.

As my colleague Khurram Saeed wrote several days ago, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey have joined the call for tougher rules, and others on various levels of government are also involved. (As one example of the precautions, the Rockland Sheriff's Office uses radar guns to check speeds of CSX trains hauling oil and other freight through the county.)

Current rules, Cuomo wrote, don't do enough to prevent the accidents or to help fire fighters, police and other emergency responders when one occurs.

Here's the letter:


Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today urged federal officials to expedite and strengthen rail safety standards, require reporting by railroad companies of derailments, increase inspections and more clearly identify and track rail cars carrying crude oil.

The Honorable Anthony Foxx


U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue S.E.

Washington, D.C. 20590

The Honorable Jeh Johnson


U.S. Department of Homeland Security

12th & C Street S. W.

Washington, D.C. 20024

Dear Secretaries Foxx and Johnson:

I am deeply troubled by the pattern of incidents involving the rail transportation of crude oil, from major accidents in 2013 to two minor derailments in New York this week. As you know, New York State is a key corridor for the transport of high volumes of crude oil from North Dakota and Canada, which is destined for refineries in the Mid-Atlantic and New Brunswick, Canada. I am not convinced that federal regulations and oversight sufficiently protect New York's communities and natural resources from safety hazards in transporting this material. Therefore, I request that you move swiftly to strengthen regulations on tank car safety, require reporting of derailments when crude oil is involved, and increase inspections along the network in which crude oil is shipped.

In the past week, two derailments have occurred in New York involving trains engaged in the transport of crude oil, the first in Ulster County and the second in Albany County.The Ulster County derailment on February 25th involved empty rail cars that had recently off-loaded crude oil and occurred after the conductor missed a red signal and reversed the train through a switch.The Albany County derailment at the Selkirk Rail Yards on February 28th involved the derailment of thirteen train cars fully-loaded with crude oil. Although neither incident resulted in spills or injuries, they reinforced our concerns in a time of heightened awareness.

In response to the considerable increase in crude oil shipments by rail through New York, I issued Executive Order 125, ordering a comprehensive review of the State's crude oil accident prevention and response programs. As the federal government has nearly exclusive authority over railroad regulation, our effort has also included a coordinated approach with federal partners at the Federal Railroad Administration to focus inspections on crude oil trains.This past week, State and Federal transportation officials performed joint inspections of rail yards in Albany and Buffalo. I am grateful for this continuing inspection partnership with the FRA and ask that you commit to expanding inspections along the portion of New York's rail network in which crude oil is transported.

Current regulations are insufficient to maximize accident prevention or to assist state and local responders adequately in the event of an accident. Inspections and enforcement are critical, but stronger, mandatory regulations and more federal assistance are needed to prevent accidents and to respond to any that may occur. I ask that you prioritize the following actions:

1. Swiftly move to incorporate the voluntary agreement between the FRA and railroad companies into the mandatory regulations governing the shipment of crude oil;

2. Require that the railroads report within one-hour to FRA and NYSDOT any incident in which crude oil is transported;

3. Require railroads to add additional identifiers to tank car placards so that local first responders understand the type of crude oil being transported. If there were to be an accident, first responders currently would have to physically locate the waybill on a damaged train before they could identify its content; and

4. Add crude oil to the list of hazardous materials that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security tracks and provides to the New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. Secure real-time shipping notification about the movement of crude oil in New York State would make responses to derailments, spills and other accidents more expeditious and effective.

We look forward to continuing this important work with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the issues arising from the transportation of crude oil in order to ensure safety of New Yorkers and our environment.

Sustainable transport: Scottish campaigners call for ‘rail revolution’

Campaigners from Transform Scotland are calling for greener, faster and safer rail services across Scotland, to help “bring cities closer together”.

Its new campaign was launched on Monday in response to a rail industry that is “not fit for purpose”, with rail journeys substantially longer than road journeys and some even longer than they were 100 years ago.

Transform Scotland, an independent charity with around 60 organisation members, is also calling for rail operators to invest in their services to reduce carbon emissions and meet Scotland’s legally-binding climate change targets.

According to a spokesperson for the Rail Freight Group, investment in rail infrastructure could take around 300 lorries off the A9 – the main road route between Perth and Inverness – everyday.

Transform Scotland spokesperson, Paul Tetlaw, “Scotland needs a rail revolution. Our campaign will build broad civic support for a planned programme of investment in the Scottish rail network over the next 15 years to bring all seven of Scotland’s cities closer together with a safe, civilised and sustainable mode of transport and make Scotland’s rail network fit for the 21st century.

“In doing so, we can reduce journey times, support travellers and commuters, create jobs, support the Scottish economy and reduce Scotland’s carbon emissions.”

The campaign also calls for the creation a new intercity rail hub at Perth station as a catalyst for transport connectivity, urban regeneration and economic recovery.

The calls come just week after a consumer survey carried out by Which? found that some train operators in the UK were providing a substandard service for higher prices, although the main operator in Scotland, Scotrail, was ranked seventh, scoring 56% for customer satisfaction.

Last year, Network Rail announced that it would be investing £37.5 billion in the British rail infrastructure, claiming that this would decrease emissions, speed up journey time and improve the quality of services within the next five years.
Source-blueand green tomorrow.

Grain Boom Busts Canada Farmers as Rail Lags: Commodities

Canada’s grain-supply boom is turning into a bust for farmers as record harvests and railroad logjams make sales almost impossible.

Consider Dennis Gallant, 76. He has yet to collect one cent on the wheat, canola, barley and oats harvested last year on the 1,000-acre farm in Warren, Manitoba, he has run since 1960. He has called the local grain elevator every 10 days since October. The answer since is always the same. No thanks. We’re full.

“This is crazy,” said Gallant, who normally has unloaded half his crop by March. The delays mean C$200,000 ($180,000) in lost revenue as prices slumped, and Gallant says he needs a C$100,000 loan to cover expenses. “We’re bloody strapped.”

Four months after the harvest, the crush of new supply is overwhelming a rail system needed to get grain to export depots across Canada, the world’s top canola and oat supplier and No. 2 shipper of wheat. A backlog of rail-car orders tops 60,000, eight times more than a year ago, boosting transport costs as most crop prices drop. The National Farmers Union estimates lost sales at C$3.5 billion, and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz threatened mandates if railroads don’t fix the problem.

Constraints in moving crops for Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and Canadian National Railway Co. (CNR) have been exacerbated by an unusually frigid winter across the Prairie Provinces and a surge in shipments of crude by rail in Canada, the top supplier of imported oil to the U.S. Grain companies halted purchases of some crops and pulled back on sales, prompting the biggest crisis for the industry since the government dismantled the grain-marketing monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board in 2012.
Record Harvest

Farmers collected more wheat, canola and corn than ever before in 2013, and surges from multiple crops in the same season placed unprecedented pressure on rail lines that handle 95 percent of Canada’s output.

More than 60,000 rail-car orders wait to be filled by railways, compared with a backlog last year of 7,300, said Mark Hemmes, the president of Edmonton-based Quorum Corp., which was appointed by the federal government to monitor Canada’s grain transportation system. Railroads are allocating fewer grain cars in the Prairies, where most crops are stranded, he said. They plan to send an average of 3,800 per week, down from about 5,000 in late 2013, he said. Each car can carry 90 metric tons.
Expanding Surplus

The delays have left more stockpiles of the two biggest crops than a year earlier. As of Dec. 31, wheat inventories were up 38 percent at 28.31 million tons and canola jumped 55 percent to 12.6 million tons, Statistics Canada data show. Reserves of coarse grains, including corn, barley and oats, increased 19 percent.

“This is the highest backlog ever,” said Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Winnipeg-based Western Grain Elevator Association, which represents handlers including Glencore Xstrata Plc’s Viterra unit and Richardson International. “We are many weeks behind in shipping, and we are paying vessel demurrage and contract-extension penalties on the sales in place right now.”

As grain sits unsold, prices are dropping. Last year’s record Canadian wheat crop of 37.5 million tons helped to expand the global surplus. World output will reach a record 708 million tons in the 12 months that end in June, the London-based International Grains Council said Feb. 27.
Price Outlook

The price of wheat, Canada’s biggest crop, is down 10 percent in the past year to $6.30 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, while canola in Winnipeg tumbled 30 percent to C$440.70 a ton. The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index of 24 commodities rose 2.2 percent in the past 12 months, while the MSCI All-Country World Index of equities jumped 16 percent. The Bloomberg Treasury Bond Index fell 1 percent.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicts wheat will tumble to $5.75 in 12 months, analysts led by Jeffrey Currie said in Feb. 12 report. Agricultural commodities will drop 9 percent over the next year, trailing only a 14 percent drop for precious metals among projections for raw materials, Currie said.

Lower prices will contribute to a 1 percent drop in domestic farm income to C$53.4 billion in 2014, and crop receipts will slide 3 percent to C$29.1 billion, the government’s Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada said Feb. 19.

Farm Credit Canada, the largest agricultural lender, sent letters to 16,000 farmers who may have trouble making payments offering access to short-term loans, Remi Lemoine, executive vice-president and chief operating officer, said from Regina, Saskatchewan.
Cash Advances

Applications for federal cash advances jumped to 12,500 from 10,000 a year ago because of the backlog, said Rick White, general manager of the Winnipeg-based Canadian Canola Growers Association, the largest administrator of the government loan program. Average loan requests were C$130,000, up from about C$105,000, and a record 650 applied for the C$400,000 maximum because they can’t sell their grain, he said.

“There’s a lot of growers out there that have very little sold, and they just don’t know what to do,” said Jonathon Driedger, senior market analyst at FarmLink Marketing Solutions in Winnipeg. “The price has tanked, and they’re having a tough time finding delivery space for it.”

Harvest-season delays aren’t unusual in Canada, and the impact on farm income probably will be limited, said Jerry Klassen, the manager of Canadian operations and trading in Winnipeg for GAP SA. “Farmers will have to get creative over the next few months with financing because of limited delivery opportunities, but eventually the grain will move,” he said.
Strong Financials

Growers also are in better financial condition than in years past. Farm debt of C$72.63 billion in 2012, the most recent data available, was equal to 17.7 percent of assets valued at C$408.1 billion, down from 19 percent in 2009 and the lowest in at least a decade, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The number of bankruptcies plunged to 46 in 2012 from 235 in 2005, government data show.

Railroads say backlogs will ease once extreme cold subsides. Canadian National plans to allocate more than 4,000 rail cars a week when temperatures return to normal and is lining up crews and locomotives to send as many as 5,500 to country elevators once the Port of Thunder Bay reopens on Lake Superior, possibly in early April, Mark Hallman, a spokesman for the Montreal-based company, said in an e-mailed statement.
Deep Freeze

CN runs shorter trains when temperatures drop below minus 25 degrees Celsius (minus 13 Fahrenheit), boosting the need for more crews and slowing operations, Hallman said. The frequency and duration of extreme freezes across the Prairies and the northern U.S. have been “the most challenging,” Hallman said.

“Our railway will be returning to levels from the heavy harvest period in the fall,” said Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for Calgary-based Canadian Pacific.

That’s not soon enough for Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who called on the federal government to pass an emergency law to clear the backlog on rails controlled by Canadian Pacific and Canadian National. “We have a duopoly here,” Wall said Feb. 28 in Ottawa, after meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “There’s two options, and the product’s not moving.”

In Saskatchewan, the biggest wheat-growing province, farmers face delays as long as three months for grain deliveries, and some may not be able to meet loan payments to finance operations, the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, a farmer group in Regina, said in a Jan. 13 statement. After grain output jumped 40 percent last year, exports as of Jan. 5 were up just 2 percent, the group said.
Mandate Changes

With Canadian farmers expected to expand canola output by 40 percent in a decade and global demand set to surge over the next 20 years, railroads will have to make changes or else the government will step in to mandate them, said Ritz, the agriculture minister.

“We need the shipping capacity for what we produce today and must establish the capacity for what we will produce tomorrow as well,” he said at a Winnipeg conference on Feb. 24.

Canada should amend the grain-revenue cap to give railways a greater incentive, according to the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association. The Canadian Transportation Agency caps how much the companies can earn handling regulated grain.

In December, railways loaded 18,640 rail cars with wheat, down from 23,283 in November, the most recent government data show. Fuel oils and crude petroleum were loaded on 16,031 rail cars in December, up from 15,672 in November. Expanding output from Canadian oil sands and pipeline bottlenecks are boosting demand for rail shipments and calls for improved safety, after a July derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killed 47 people.
Slowing Sales

Shipments of grain will be 11 weeks behind schedule if railways continue allocating grain cars at current levels, Sobkowich said. Prairie elevators are at capacity, and some companies have told farmers they will not be able to take deliveries of grain until late spring or early summer, he said.

The delays are affecting sales. Japan bought 46,849 tons of U.S. wheat Feb. 6 as an alternative to Canadian supply. The Asian nation will probably need to depend more on American wheat as the bottlenecks continue, according to Nobuyuki Chino, who has traded grains for more than three decades and is the president of Continental Rice Corp. in Tokyo.

Canada exported 1.1 million tons of wheat in January, down 9.6 percent from the same month in 2013, and canola shipments dropped 30 percent to 498,100 tons, Canadian Grain Commission data show.
Wheat Board

The logjam is partly a consequence of the government’s decision to end the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board in 2012, said Bill Gehl, a Saskatchewan farmer and chairman of a group that opposed the change. The CWB, which was the world’s largest marketer of wheat and barley, had more power to negotiate with railroads than the private companies do and had more control over coordinating movements to ports, he said.

“This squarely rests on the shoulder of the federal government,” said Gehl, who estimates farmers will be stuck with more than 40 percent of their 2013 crops before this year’s harvest. “They got rid of the single-desk. That’s it.”

The few elevators that are purchasing in January were offering C$4 a bushel for the top grade of high-protein wheat, half the C$8 farmers got a year earlier, said Norm Hall, a farmer and president of the Agricultural Producers of Saskatchewan.

“It’s ironic after such a big crop being grown, Canadian farmers are victims of our logistics and transportation,” said Doug Chorney, the president of Winnipeg-based Keystone Agricultural Producers. “This is really unprecedented.”





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