TTD in the News:

Food Supply Problems Pinned on Railroad ‘Negligence,’ Layoffs

Bloomberg Government
(Also published in Bloomberg Law, Bloomberg Environment and Bloomberg BNA)
Lillianna Byington
April 12, 2022

Labor unions are blaming freight railroad operators for cutting employees to streamline operations, contributing to rail delays and straining the nation’s food and energy supply chains.

Worker shortages caused by layoffs have hurt the U.S. economy by delaying freight rail shippers, the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO told the Surface Transportation Board rail regulator in a letter released Tuesday. It specifically called out grain companies’ concerns about disruption on tracks operated by Union Pacific Corp., Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Norfolk Southern Corp.

Rail labor unions, along with agriculture and energy shippers, say precision-scheduled railroading has allowed for leaner operations, but at the expense of job cuts and service problems. PSR is a strategy used by railroads to streamline their operations by adjusting their scheduling and using fewer rail cars.


Politico Morning Pro
Alex Daugherty
April 12, 2022

SERVICE DISRUPTIONS: A new letter from the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department to the Surface Transportation Board argues that feed and grain shippers are being hurt by freight rail carriers who are unable to complete shipments due to staffing issues.

“The notion that our nation’s food supply chain is threatened by the continued negligence and intransigence of the railroad industry is both stunning and unacceptable,” TTD president Greg Regan wrote to the STB. “It is clear that a lack of oversight has allowed Class I railroads to operate in a manner that is harmful to shippers, employees, and the American public, and these issues will not resolve out of self-regulation by the carriers. We urge the Board to continue to delve into the service issues faced by shippers, and how these issues have been caused or exacerbated by an overly reduced workforce, T&E and otherwise.”


Your next American Airlines flight could be on a bus

The Washington Post
Nathan Diller
April 11, 2022

American Airlines is launching a partnership to provide travelers with connections between airports … by bus.

Beginning June 3, transportation company Landline will connect Philadelphia International Airport, one of American’s hubs, to Lehigh Valley International Airport (ABE) and Atlantic City International Airport (ACY). Tickets for those trips with Landline service will be available starting today.

“Our partnership with Landline is one more way we’re making it easy for customers to connect to American’s premier trans-Atlantic gateway in Philadelphia,” Brian Znotins, American’s vice president of network planning, said in a news release from the airline. “Customers can start and end their journey at their local airport, relax on a comfortable Landline vehicle, and leave the driving to someone else while they work or start their vacation early.”

Can ‘Buses-As-Flights’ Get Americans Out of Cars — And Planes?

Kea Wilson
April 11, 2022

U.S. airlines are beginning to contract with bus companies to run on-the-ground “flights” between nearby cities — and advocates are suggesting that the intercity bus should no longer be ignored in the conversation about curbing car and plane dependency.

American Airlines sparked a curious mix of applause and outrage on Twitter last week when it was announced it would join the growing industry trend of replacing short-leg flights with “on-the-ground” alternatives — or, to be more precise, good old-fashioned buses and shuttles.

Tickets for those so-called “buses-as-flights” will be sold exactly as if they were connecting flights, through sites like Kayak and airlines’ own websites, and passengers and their luggage will be ferried directly from their homes to the airport — or, in some cases, directly from terminal to terminal — on buses branded to resemble American’s off-the-ground fleet.

EU ends airline exemption for cargo in passenger cabin

American Shipper
Eric Kulisch
April 12, 2022

European aviation regulators said Monday they won’t extend a safety exemption allowing airlines to carry critical supplies in the passenger cabin to make up for capacity lost when the pandemic closed down most commercial flights.

“The logistical challenges that arose in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 crisis no longer exist to the same extent,” the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) said in a notice. The permission for cabin cargo expires July 31.

EASA was one of the first civil aviation authorities to exempt airlines from requirements to submit a supplemental type certificate for proposed structural modifications or changes to the approved use of aircraft systems. A large number of airlines repurposed a portion of their grounded fleets for dedicated cargo-only flights to take advantage of high demand and rates. An early driver of passenger-freighters was the urgent need for COVID medical supplies and protective equipment.


Shoot the Whole Day Down: Subway Riders Don’t Like Mondays

Dave Colon
April 11, 2022

Everybody’s working for the (long) weekend.

New transit data show that the Big Apple is more like the Big Garfield, with a population that simply hates Mondays. Subway ridership stats from October through March show that weekday subway ridership on Mondays was roughly 7 percent lower than it was for Tuesdays through Fridays (discounting holidays that fell on Mondays or other days of the week).

The numbers? The average on a Monday is 2,815,166 million rides over the six month period. The per day average for non-Mondays was 3,026,371 million.

The four-day weekend pattern reflects the new reality of hybrid work schedules, where employees must be at their actual brick-and-mortar job site only twice or thrice per week.


Rails and regulators battle publicly over service issues

Joanna Marsh
April 12, 2022

The spring meeting of the North East Association of Rail Shippers (NEARS) saw three Class I railroads seeking to persuade rail shippers and other stakeholders that they are working hard to improve rail service.

For instance, the Class I railroads all told rail shippers that they are taking aggressive steps to increase their ranks of train and engine crews so that they have the capacity to meet demand. Absences due to the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated service issues, they said at the gathering last week in Baltimore.

The Surface Transportation Board doesn’t appear convinced. At the same time this meeting was underway, the STB announced that it will conduct a two-day public hearing in late April to gather testimony not only from the railroads but other stakeholders, including shippers and even unions, over whether deteriorating rail service stems from deeper issues related to precision scheduled railroading (PSR), an approach that seeks to streamline operations.

U.S. lawmakers hear pros, cons of STB regulation

Progressive Railroading
Julie Sneider
April 2022

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials held a hearing March 8 to collect stakeholder input on the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) role in regulating the freight-rail industry.

The proceeding was held as the subcommittee’s members prepare for STB reauthorization legislation, subcommittee Chair Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.) said in prepared remarks.

Speakers included House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and representatives from Amtrak and the freight-rail industry, such as rail shippers, associations and unions.

Amtrak makes $3.3B grant request for FY2023

Progressive Railroading
April 11, 2022

Amtrak is seeking $3.3 billion in total grant funding for fiscal-year 2023, as part of the national intercity passenger railroad’s annual appropriation request from Congress.

With the recent enactment of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Amtrak is entering a new era with a historic level of federal investment for capital projects and “a clear plan to transform and grow our business,” Amtrak President and CEO Stephen Gardner said April 8 in a statement after submitting to Congress the railroad’s general and legislative annual report.


Low-Carbon Fuel Standards Hit Snags Beyond West Coast States

Bloomberg Law
Zach Bright
April 12, 2022

A low-carbon fuel standard to cut vehicle emissions is moving ahead in Washington state but running into roadblocks elsewhere, leading some experts and opponents to pin blame on what they called a flawed policy.

Washington’s nearly $17 billion transportation plan (S.B.5974) signed March 25 makes it the third state—after Oregon and California—to implement a low-carbon fuel standard. Starting next year, fuel producers can earn credits for meeting steadily stricter carbon reduction targets, a policy that exceeds the national Renewable Fuel Standard with a wider array of gasoline and diesel beyond biofuels.

It’s the tool of choice advocates have pushed for in multiple states, seeking to lower greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change.

Ports and Maritime:

West Coast port labor talks carry high stakes for economy, midterms

Eleanor Mueller
April 11, 2022

More than 22,000 unionized workers at nearly 30 ports along the West Coast are set to begin renegotiating their contract next month against the backdrop of an already imperiled supply chain, a historically tight labor market and looming midterm elections.

The whirlwind of economic and political factors significantly ups the stakes for the talks, which take place every six years and have in the past stalled traffic at the busiest ports in the U.S. The Biden administration plans to keep close tabs on the talks — and intervene immediately should a breakdown appear imminent.

Washington State Ferries in need of new recruits

King 5 News
Chris Daniels
April 11, 2022

A March 8 report from the ferry system states staff shortages are “unprecedented” in the ferry system’s 70-year history.

Officials with Washington State Ferries acknowledge it is short staffed and in need of dozens of new recruits.

“It’s not good, quite honestly. We don’t have enough people to sail the vessels right now,” Washington State Ferry spokesman Ian Sterling said on Monday as he stood outside the Seattle Maritime Academy. “We need to hire, train, and get people out on the water.”

Workers and Unions:

Congrats! You formed a union. Now comes the hard part.

Rani Molla
April 12, 2022

Union membership in the US has been in decline for decades, but there’s recently been a potential shift. Seventeen corporate Starbucks locations in the US have voted to form a union since the end of last year, and another 170 or so are slated to vote in the coming weeks and months — all in an industry where unionizing is rare. And in early April, workers at a Staten Island Amazon warehouse also voted for a union, making them the first to organize in a company known for quashing organizing. These successful votes are historic, and they’re an optimistic sign for unions in America.

But while the hard-won union votes might be the most cinematic part, it’s not the end of the story. The lengthy and difficult process of negotiating a contract that benefits workers has only just begun — and its conclusion is far from certain.


Tesla fans struggle to get loved ones on board with ‘full self-driving

Matt McFarland
April 11, 2022

Frugal Tesla Guy, a YouTube personality focused on Tesla, gives his passengers a speech to prepare them before he turns on “full self-driving.”

“I need you to understand that I have complete and total control. I’m behind the wheel. I have access to the brake, the accelerator and the steering wheel. Anytime it does something that I don’t feel is safe, I will take control of the car,” he says.

But the reassurances haven’t eased his wife’s concerns. She says the technology is often jarring and anxiety-inducing.

“If I’m reading, that’s when I’m like, ‘Oh good grief,’” Sadie Krueger told CNN Business. “It would be jerky or swerve just out of the blue. You’re like, ‘Whoa, are you drunk?’”

Amazon Drone Crashes Hit Jeff Bezos’ Delivery Dreams

Spencer Soper and Matt Day
April 10, 2022

Jeff Bezos went on 60 Minutes in 2013 and pledged to fill the skies with a fleet of delivery drones that could zip parcels to customers’ homes in 30 minutes. Asked when this future would arrive, the Inc. founder said he expected drone deliveries to commence in the next five years or thereabouts.

Almost a decade later, despite spending more than $2 billion and assembling a team of more than 1,000 people around the world, Amazon is a long way from launching a drone delivery service.

A Bloomberg investigation based on internal documents, government reports and interviews with 13 current and former employees reveals a program beset by technical challenges, high turnover and safety concerns. A serious crash in June prompted federal regulators to question the drone’s airworthiness because multiple safety features failed and the machine careened out of control, causing a brush fire. While experimental aircraft are expected to crash during test flights, current and former employees say pressure to get the program back on track has prompted some managers to take unnecessary risks that have put personnel in harm’s way.

Amazon is still struggling to make drone deliveries work

The Verge
Emma Roth
April 11, 2022

A report from Bloomberg details the obstacles hampering Amazon’s efforts to get its delivery drone program off the ground, citing a high employee turnover rate and potential safety risks.

According to Bloomberg, there were five crashes over the course of a four-month period at the company’s testing site in Pendleton, Oregon. A crash in May took place after a drone lost its propeller, but Bloomberg says Amazon cleaned up the wreckage before the Federal Aviation Administration could investigate. Amazon spokesperson Av Zammit disputed this, saying that Amazon followed orders it received from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to document the event and move the drone.


DeJoy says USPS will expedite midterm ballots, holds firm on electric trucks

The Washington Post
Jacob Bogage
April 12, 2022

Had the U.S. Postal Service incrementally made improvements over the years, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy says, Americans wouldn’t know who runs their mail agency. And DeJoy, the controversial leader of the mail service, wouldn’t be making “uncomfortable” changes at the Postal Service to make it fit for evolving consumer habits.

But when DeJoy, a former supply-chain logistics executive and conservative political donor, took over the Postal Service in June 2020, the agency was in dire shape. The coronavirus pandemic was on the verge of sidelining much of its workforce. Its complex transportation network was misaligned, a cardinal sin in DeJoy’s logistics world. The postal chief’s changes to fix what he saw as fundamental flaws cascaded into a mail-delay crisis before the 2020 presidential election that made DeJoy a household name.


Congress aims for next step to safeguard critical infrastructure

Roll Call
Gopal Ratnam
April 12, 2022

Lawmakers are looking to boost the U.S. government’s ability to safeguard from devastating cyberattacks on vital infrastructure sectors such as water supplies, electric utilities and pipeline operators.

The effort comes on the heels of a new law Congress passed as part of the fiscal 2022 omnibus spending bill that requires operators of critical infrastructure to report any cyberattacks they suffer to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

“How do we continue to mature the way the government engages with critical infrastructure – particularly those entities that are the most critical of the critical?” Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation of the House Homeland Security Committee said at a recent hearing.

Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO