EDITORIAL: State forced to fund federal railroad mandate

The Alaska Railroad received about half of what it asked for from the Alaska Legislature to keep moving ahead on the major technological upgrade known as “positive train control.”

The $19 million inserted by the House into the capital budget is far short of the $35 million the railroad asked for to keep the project going for the next two years.

As a result, expect the railroad to be back in Juneau next year seeking more funds, as it struggles to regain financial stability.

Freight revenues are down because of reduced shipments of jet fuel from North Pole and reduced coal exports from Healy are also hurting railroad finances.

Positive train control is one of the biggest changes to railroad operations in decades, but it comes at a price — estimated to reach $155 million for the Alaska Railroad during the next five years.

The railroad has spent about $55 million already. With the $19 million added to the capital budget just before adjournment, the railroad still needs about $70 million to finish the job.

Former President George Bush signed the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which requires railroads to have the new technology in place by the end of 2015.

With this equipment, signals will be sent between trains to maintain safety and switches will be monitored to assure the proper alignment. Computers on each train and at railroad offices would track the position of each train by GPS and make automatic speed and braking adjustments.

The federal law says that if this equipment is not in place by the end of 2015, the Alaska Railroad will not be able to provide passenger service. There are some reports that an extension for the nation’s railroads will be approved, as railroads in every part of the country are struggling to meet this challenge.

With the deadline fast approaching, the state-owned railroad has to move with all deliberate speed to come into compliance. We’re glad to see the Legislature recognized the importance of this project to one of the most crucial links in Alaska’s transportation infrastructure.

Time to approve Keystone XL

-Topeka Capital Journal

Now that the State Department and the state of Nebraska have signed off on an expansion of the Keystone pipeline, there seems to be little reason for President Barack Obama not to approve the project as soon as possible.

That means the pipeline expansion should get this country’s OK in mid-May. The State Department issued a report March 1 that raised no objections to proceeding with construction of the pipeline expansion. That report started the clock on a 45-day period for public comments, after which Obama will decide whether to approve the project.

Nebraska has some issues with the pipeline’s route through that state — it was proposed to cut through some environmentally sensitive areas — but Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman earlier this year signed off on an alternate route that avoids the state’s Sandhills region.

With the State Department and Nebraska on board, there is no reason for further delay.

Opponents of the expansion project content the Canadian crude the pipeline would transport significantly increase greenhouse gases because it is the “dirtiest” crude to be found and requires additional refining.

That said, the original pipeline has been in operation for years and is carrying the Canadian tar sands crude to refineries in Oklahoma and Illinois.

Canada, having found an abundant source of oil, isn’t going to stop its production. The tar sands crude will find its way to refineries and that work can create jobs at U.S. refineries and spin-off jobs.

The pipeline expansion also will create a more cost-efficient method for moving oil from fields in Montana and western North Dakota to U.S. refineries. Much of the oil from those states now is being transported by rail to refineries in the west.

The original Keystone pipeline enters the U.S. in North Dakota and runs south through that state, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas to Cushing, Okla. An intersecting line carries some crude to Patoka, Ill. The pipeline expansion, known as Keystone XL, would enter the U.S. in Montana and cut diagonally across Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where it would connect with the existing pipeline.

The project also calls for extending the current pipeline from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Obama already has said he doesn’t object to that segment of the expansion.

Given that tar sands crude already is being refined in the U.S., and that more would be with the addition of the Oklahoma-Gulf Coast link to the existing pipeline, Obama should have an easy decision to make. He should keep in mind that the pipeline also will be carrying a lot of U.S. crude in a more economic manner, which would impact the final cost of the refined product.

It’s time to approve the project and increase the flow of crude to U.S. refineries.

05/02/2013 - 8:44am