Mar 14, 2014

Rail project caught in unsavory political controversy

Ahead of the general election, the Rishikesh-Karanprayag rail line, a dream project which is expected to bring prosperity in the backward Garhwal region in Uttarakhand, is caught in an unsavory political controversy after developing slowdown syndromes.

Former railway minister and Congress MP from Pauri Satpal Maharaj has accused the state government of not handing over the land to the Railway Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) which he claimed is delaying the project.

RNVL is implementing the 125.09 km long rail project in the Garhwal region with a preliminary cost of Rs 4,295.3 crore, the foundation stone for which was laid three months before the 2012 assembly election in the hill state. The project was one of the key poll planks of the ruling Congress at that time.

“For the past two years, I had been requesting former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna and Chief Minister Harish Rawat to handover the land for the construction of Rishikesh-Karanprayag rail line repeatedly, but till now, the land has not been given to the Railway Vikas Nigam,” said Maharaj, a political rival of the Chief Minister amid renewed infighting in the ruling Congress.

Rawat is apparently peeved over the Chief Minister’s decision not to give horticulture portfolio to his wife Amrita, who is a state cabinet minister following an alleged polyhouse scandal which rocked the state recently.

Concerned over the delay in the Rishikesh-Karanprayag rail project, the then Chief Minister Bahuguna in October last had called on Union Railways Minister Mallikarjun Kharge at New Delhi to expedite the project.

Bahuguna had expressed the hope that the railways would give top priority to the national project. Besides, the Rishikesh-Karanprayag project, Bahguna had also held discussions with the Minister on Bageshwar-Tanakpur rail project which is also hanging fire for the past several decades.

The government has already assured all possible support from the state government for the new project which has the potential to become the lifeline of the backward Garhwal region. The proposed rail project would bring in prosperity in the hilly areas and generate employment opportunities for the people, experts said.

The rail project would pass through Dehradun, Tehri, Pauri and Chamoli districts and main railway stations would be at Rishikesh, Karnprayag, Srinagar, Rudraprayag and Devprayag. There would be total 128 bridges including 45 large and 83 small one, while, total number of tunnels would be 81.

Metro Fare Changes In A Few Charts

The Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority's board met yesterday to discuss the proposed fiscal year 2015 budget and possible changes to fares on Metro bus and rail, as well as MetroAccess.

While a vote was scheduled to take place yesterday, questions, concerns and the need for more information — especially regarding a change to MetroAccess' fare formula and a parking surcharge in Prince George’s County — delayed the decision, perhaps until the end of this month. But it was clear from the discussion that a fare hike should be expected for bus and rail riders. The question is: How much?

Under the proposed plan, Metrorail fares would increase by $3 percent and bus fares would increase to $1.75 when the rider uses a SmarTrip. A cash surcharge on buses would remain, bringing the base price to $2. While this theoretically pushes riders to use SmarTrip instead, Councilmember Muriel Bowser, a mayoral candidate and Metro board member, seemed to take issue with the difference.

DCist took a look at Metro's fare history from 1975 to 2012 and put together some charts to show just how gradually or quickly fares have risen. These charts do not include the proposed 2014 fares.

Here's a chart that shows the rise in off-peak, base bus fare prices in D.C. (Yes, there used to be a different charge for bus riders during "peak hours," but this stopped in the 1980s.)

And here's that same chart with the cash surcharge, which is now $.20 added in.

But here's the first chart adjusted for 2014 inflation, according to the Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator.

This one shows the rise in peak rail boarding charges.

The change to maximum fares.

And with inflation.

Maximum Rail Fare With 2014 InflationMaximum Rail Fare With 2014 Inflation1/1/19801/1/19801/1/19851/1/19851/1/19901/1/19901/1/19951/1/19951/1/20001/1/20001/1/20051/1/20051/1/20101/1/2010$0.6$0.6$1.2$1.2$1.8$1.8Year / Left vertical axis titleYear / Left vertical axis titlePeak Rail Boarding Charge (0-3 miles)Peak Rail Boarding Charge (0-3 miles)

Update: Now that we've added some charts to include inflation, the fare hikes don't look as severe. But wages for many American workers aren't rising with inflation.

Irish Rail warns of high risk at two local level crossings

Two unmanned rail crossings in Mayo are the most dangerous in the country, recording between them more than 40 per cent of all the serious ‘near misses’ between trains and road users nationally.

Yesterday, Irish Rail officials were at Kilnageer Level Crossing, near Breaffy, to launch a nationwide campaign to raise awareness among road users of the dangers of the crossings.

The Kilnageer Level Crossing recorded a quarter of all near misses on Irish crossings in 2013. The crossing is on a frequently used rural road with a school and creche nearby. It saw six near miss incidents last year, there were 24 nationally.

There were a further four near misses at the Knockaphunta crossing, near Derrywash.

Claremorris man Ernie Lynn has been a train driver for 13 years. He was at yesterday’s awareness event and recalled one near miss he experienced at Kilnageer just seven months ago.

“I was driving the morning passenger train, after leaving Manulla. We would be aware this is a dangerous crossing so I was sounding the horn quite a bit. The next thing I saw a white van approach. I sounded the horn and thought the van was slowing but then he kept going and went through the crossing.” Mr Lynn had to apply the emergency brakes and was left very shaken by the incident, which was only moments away from causing a collision.

He appealed to road users to use extreme caution at these crossings. “Don’t take that chance,” he urged.

A spokesperson for Irish Rail reinforced that cautionary message. “We want to communicate very clearly that if a gate is left open or if a crossing is not used in the correct manner, it may result in an incident causing long and lasting effects. It is the responsibility of the user to ensure it is safe to cross and that the railway and other users of the railway are not endangered.”

John O’Brien is Irish Rail’s infrastructural manager in the west. He said there are no plans to automate the Kilnageer or Knockaphunta crossings.

“It can cost up to €1 million to put in a CCTV crossing and a bridge can cost between €600,000 and €1.5 million. In the current economic climate, the funding is not there to do that.”

He did say Irish Rail is examining the possibility of installing early warning light systems at the crossings.

Legal scare highlights importance of rail-trails

Recreationists in the Yakima Valley and around the country got a scare Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that appeared to imperil the popular national rails-to-trails program. Initially, the ruling brought fears that landowners could file lawsuits that challenge the legitimacy of trails running alongside or through their lands.

A closer look at the ruling revealed a narrowly defined decision that will have little effect on Central Washington recreational gems like the Naches Trail just west of Yakima and the Klickitat Trail in Klickitat County. It could have some effect on the John Wayne Trail, which runs through Kittitas County. But the scare did call attention to the importance of the rails-to-trails system as a quality-of-life asset. It also pointed to the value of getting a trail into the “rail banking” program, which essentially allows abandoned rail lines to be converted into recreation trails with the proviso that the corridor can return to railroad use if demand for the service arises in the future.

Some old rail lines have returned to freight service in other parts of the country, and one rail-banked corridor in the Seattle area is being eyed for possible transit use. So add commercial and commuting value to the quality-of-life assets that come with preserving the corridors.

According to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, rail banking requires an entity that wants to develop a trail on an abandoned line to negotiate with the railroad. The negotiations come after the railroad informs the federal Surface Transportation Board that it intends to abandon the line in question, and the railroad must follow certain abandonment procedures.

Groups that operate rail-trails include nonprofits like the Yakima Greenway Foundation or governmental agencies like the Washington State Parks Commission, which manages the John Wayne Trail. The rails-to-trails nationwide network has grown into an extensive one in the 30 years since Congress authorized the program. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy says across the country, more than 1,600 pathways provide more than 20,000 miles of rail trails.

The Supreme Court’s ruling came in a Wyoming case that involved a private landowner who is fighting a U.S. Forest Service effort to develop a bicycle trail along an abandoned rail line. The line was not rail-banked; the landowner’s family was granted the land almost 40 years ago in exchange for turning a larger acreage over to the government.

Some trails have portions that are not rail-banked and could be subject to legal challenge, such as on the John Wayne Trail. The rail-banking process can be painstaking for the parties involved, but there is an upside for all sides: The railroads maintain a potential corridor should their original use start to pencil out again financially, and the trail administrators now have a level of protection. The rail-banked trails aren’t going anywhere soon, even as visitors make use of them in ever-increasing numbers.

• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.

Surge in Rail Shipments of Oil Sidetracks Other Industries

A train carrying crude oil heads west through the small town of Shelby, Mont., in November. A major snarl in railroad traffic is ricocheting through the supply chains of businesses across the U.S. AP

A major snarl in railroad traffic is ricocheting through the supply chains of businesses across the U.S., causing delays and losses for shippers of goods ranging from coal to sugar.

Many of the problems stem from pileups at BNSF Railway Co. in a critical northern stretch of the country where it is shipping crude oil from North Dakota's booming Bakken Shale region. The railroad, one of the biggest in North America, was already taxed by the heavy demand for oil transport. But its difficulties multiplied when it ran out of locomotives and crew, as a bitter winter forced it to use smaller trains.

That has caused a ripple effect across the country as shipments have been delayed. Deliveries of empty grain cars to farmers and grain elevators in the Midwest and Great Plains are running about two to three weeks late, the railroad says. The chief of a major sugar producer said he likes to load 50 railcars a day this time of year, but BNSF sometimes brings more than 50 and sometimes 30.

An executive close to big utility companies says coal-fired power plant inventories are running much lower than the usual 30 days. "The railroads tell us they aren't serving power plants until their inventories are in single-digit days," he said.

BNSF isn't the only railroad with capacity problems, but its woes have been aggravated by a big grain harvest and its surging crude business.

The railroad knew it was in trouble when winter hit. "We found ourselves behind the curve," said Bob Lease, vice president, service design and performance, for BNSF. "Now, we are finding we can't fill all of the demand" as quickly as usual.

The backlogs could wind up costing shippers hundreds of millions of dollars, says Steve Sharp, president of Consumers United for Rail Equity, a group representing agriculture companies, manufacturers and utilities. His group has been pushing for tougher railroad regulation.

Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, a trade group for farmers, worries that continued capacity problems could hurt U.S. competitiveness in the world arena. "Our reliability as a trading partner comes into question anytime we can't provide the most cost-competitive price in a predictable and timely manner," he said.

BNSF is scrambling. The railroad is leasing and buying locomotives by the hundreds and hiring new crews. In mid-February it began building new track on top of frozen snow-covered ground along its main oil-patch route. It normally wouldn't have attempted such a project until spring.

Mr. Lease says traffic should become more "normalized" by April 1, but he concedes that the railroad's challenges will extend through 2014. "It takes a while to unravel," he said.

BNSF, a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., BRKB -1.25% invented the business of carrying crude oil by rail when it launched its first long oil train, essentially a rolling pipeline, in 2009. The business has sharply exceeded its expectations. Shipments of crude by rail from North Dakota rocketed to a peak of 800,000 barrels a day last October from fewer than 100,000 barrels a day in 2010.

The surge has contributed to a tangle with potentially widespread impact. Larry Stranghoener, chief financial officer of fertilizer maker Mosaic Co. MOS -1.30% , says that transport problems, including the crunch in railroad capacity, could spell "a slower season."

"The primary preoccupation of our sales force, our supply chain and our customers frankly is getting product to them in time for the spring season," he told the Minneapolis-area company's investors Wednesday. Any delays transporting Mosaic's fertilizer to dealers could cause them to defer additional orders, he said.

Some shippers, eager to move their products, have opted to use trucks. Trucking rates compare with rail costs within a 500-mile radius, but beyond that companies can wind up paying four to five times as much on a per-ton basis, says one shipping official.

At Black Gold Farms, based in Grand Forks, N.D., Chief Executive Gregg Halverson says his company has had to pay more to hire trucks to transport its potatoes, which it sells to chip makers.

"There's more demand for truck transportation, and that hits us between the eyes," Mr. Halverson said. "It's not only the actual availability of the trucks, but trucking firms having trouble getting drivers, because of demand from the oil patch." He declined to estimate how much more he is paying for trucks.

American Crystal Sugar Co., which says it supplies about 15% of the nation's sugar, had to slow production at three of its five plants for 11 days in mid-February because it was running out of storage space while waiting for trains to ship its sugar to food companies. That has disrupted the Moorhead, Minn.-based cooperative's just-in-time delivery system, said David Berg, its chief executive. "The railroad just threw that into complete chaos," he said.

He said delays in outbound shipments of sugar have interfered with the production schedules of American Crystal's customers, many of them major food manufacturers.

While he said he wasn't aware of any food companies that have had to halt production, "They've been running on fumes for weeks," he said. "We've been humping trucks all over the U.S. to keep people in supply." American Crystal supplies General Mills Inc.,GIS -0.66% Kraft Foods Group Inc., KRFT -0.09% Nestlé SA, Mars Inc. and Kellogg Co.K -0.14% , among others.

Mr. Berg and Perry Cerminara, director of global sweetener and energy-risk management at Hershey Co. HSY -0.34% , called the problems caused by BNSF "serious" in a March 4 letter to regulators and stressed the "urgent" need to fix them. Mr. Cerminara wrote on behalf of the Sweetener Users Association, representing food manufacturers.

A spokesman for BNSF said it is working with customers individually to address their most critical issues and plans record spending on expansion this year.

Utilities are hoping railroads can improve their capacity before the busy summer season. "We try to build up inventories to around 40 days, so we're counting on spring," said one official at a coal-fired power plant. But, he added, "We're not counting on a magic bullet."

—Tony C. Dreibus, Annie Gasparro, Chester Dawson, David George-Cosh and Laura Stevens contributed to this article.


      1st Floor, North Avenue PO Building, New Delhi – 110001
Circular No. 13
Dated 2.3.2014





Dear Comrades,

The Union Cabinet approved the Finance Ministry’s proposal on terms of reference of the 7th CPC.  We have placed the full text of the same on our website.  None of the suggestions made by the Staff Side was accepted by the Government. 

However, our concern over the date of effect seems to have been taken note of.  The terms of reference has left the effective date of its recommendations to be decided by the Commission itself.  A united stand backed up by struggles will enable us to clinch this demand in our favour.  Undoubtedly it has been our endeavours and the two days strike action that has compelled the Government to have a rethinking on their earlier stand of Decennial (Ten years} wage revision for Central Government employees and the date of effect as 1/1/2016

Unlike on the earlier occasion, the Government has not decided to grant Interim Relief and merger of Dearness allowance.  Nor has it asked the Commission to consider and make appropriate recommendation in this regard specifically.  As pointed out in our earlier communication, inclusion of a labour representative in the Commission being not an idea the UPA Government cherishes, for it is diametrically opposite to its economic policies and ideology, they have stuck to the position of sandwiching the Honourable Judge with bureaucrats.  In the light of the agreement penned by Com. Mahadeviah, the General Secretary of the recognised GDS union with the Postal Board to the effect that a separate one man committee will look into the service conditions of the Grameen Dak Sewaks, it is not surprising that the Government chose to ignore our demand to cover them within the ambit of the 7th CPC.   Our demands for parity between the past and present pensioners and scrapping of the new pension scheme also stand rejected. 

As you are aware, the 6th CPC (and the earlier Commissions also) had refused to entertain the demand for removal of anomalies despite Government referring the same to the Commission specifically.  Therefore, the omnibus clause in the terms of reference requiring the Commission to submit interim reports may not be of any help to us to raise the anomalies before the 7th CPC.

At the conclusion of the meeting held on 24/10/2013 by Secretary, DoPT, with the staff side on terms of reference of the 7th CPC, it was agreed that the Government will consider our suggestion in the matter and will convene another meeting with the presence of Secretary (Expenditure) to iron out the differences, if any, and explore the possibilities of an agreement in the matter. But no such meeting was convened and no attempt was made by the official side to arrive at an agreed Terms of Reference.

We must now react to the arbitrary and unilateral decision of the Government.  We appeal all the State Secretaries, District Secretaries and Branch Secretaries of the affiliated organisations and the State/District COCs to immediately send the following Savingram to the Prime Minister.


(i) Interim Relief
(ii) Merger of DA
(iii) Bringing the Grameen Dak Sewaks within the ambit of the 7th CPC
(iv) Date of effect from 1/1/2014
(v) Parity in pension entitlement between the past and present pensioners
(vi) Coverage of the existing defined benefit pension scheme to employees recruited on or after 1.1.2004.
(vii) Include a representative of the Labour in the 7th Central Pay Commission.
(viii) Settle the anomalies raised in the National Anomaly Committee

While the National Convention scheduled to be held at Nagpur will chalk out detailed and phased programmes of action, we call upon our State Committees and Affiliated Unions to organise massive demonstration in front of all offices and important centres on 7th  March, 2014 (Friday) or any other immediate convenient date. Kindly instruct all the Branches to mobilise their members so that the demonstration has the participation of cent per cent of the membership of the concerned branch.  The State Units and affiliated Unions may issue pamphlets and posters and ensure its wide circulation throughout the country.

As already declared by the National Secretariat of the Confederation, we shall have to go for an indefinite strike action immediately after the General Election if our demands are to be settled.

With Greetings,
Yours fraternally,
Secretary General





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