Archive for October, 2012

October 30, 2012

NEW YORK — The price of oil recovered slightly Tuesday, rising to above $86 a barrel, even as a massive storm was pounding the heavily populated U.S. East Coast, reducing demand for fuel by keeping drivers off roads, closing businesses and silencing activity in New York City and other metropolitan areas.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for December delivery was up 50 cents to $86.04 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Crude oil prices fell 74 cents, or 1.3 percent, to finish at $85.54 a barrel Monday. The Nymex will be closed again Tuesday because of the storm, but electronic trading continues.

The biggest refineries in the northeastern United States shut down or throttled back sharply on Monday as the storm came ashore into New Jersey and hurled seawater at New York City, closing U.S. financial markets.

Analysts said the impact on demand, with power outages and the shutdown of major cities, could be significant. That impact on oil prices would only be offset partially by a drop in oil supplies, as some oil imports would be cut off.

Oil analyst Stephen Schork said in an email commentary that “with lower Manhattan in the dark, roads from Connecticut to Delaware closed and refineries shut, the lack of implied demand is overshadowing … potential supply disruptions from Sandy.”

Oil prices got some support from rising equities in Europe, boosted by some encouraging company earnings reports.


October 31, 2012

MONTREAL – Bombardier could face strikes in both of its business units as workers at its rail plant in La Pocatiere, Que., have taken a step towards joining Learjet employees in the U.S. on separate picket lines.

The strike in Wichita, Kan., has reached four weeks, the longest in the business aircraft unit’s history, surpassing a three-week strike in 2006.

Quebec rail workers decided almost 96 per cent in favour of giving their leaders authority to call a strike in a vote held Saturday, ahead of the two sides meeting with the help of a conciliator Tuesday morning.

October 29, 2012

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will provide a $400,000 grant to New Jersey Transit to study future opportunities for expanding and improving the Hudson-Bergen light-rail line, Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) announced last week.

The grant will enable NJ Transit officials to evaluate the need for a new station in northern Jersey City to accommodate and develop new housing and business opportunities; study the benefits of adding track to ease a choke point near the Hoboken Terminal; and review existing conditions and potential solutions to ease traffic congestion in the Paterson Plank Road area, the senators said in a prepared statement.

Since its inception, the Hudson-Bergen line has reached near-capacity with more than 42,000 riders per day, and light-rail stations in Hudson County have helped to spur economic development, they said.–33131

October 31, 2012

East coast passenger railroads continued to assess Hurricane Sandy-related damage to equipment and infrastructure today, and restore some service in limited areas.

Starting today, Amtrak will provide modified Northeast Regional service between Newark, N.J., and areas south, including Virginia service to Lynchburg, Richmond and Newport News. Amtrak also will operate Keystone service trains between Harrisburg, Pa., and Philadelphia, and modified Downeaster service between Boston and Portland, Maine. In addition, some overnight services will be provided to and from the Northeast, Amtrak officials said in a prepared statement.

Similar to other tunnel and rail operators in New York City, Amtrak crews are removing water and repairing track, signal and power systems within tunnels under the Hudson and East rivers.

“The amount of water intrusion into the tunnels is unprecedented …, so a date for restoration of Amtrak service directly to/from New York Penn Station from either the north or south is not available at this time,” Amtrak officials said.

As a result, there still will be no Acela service today in the Northeast Corridor, or Northeast regional service between Newark and Boston. From Newark Penn Station, there will be no connecting service to New York City, and service to the Newark Liberty Airport rail station remains suspended.

In the worst-hit areas of New Jersey and New York City, rail services provided by New Jersey Transit and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) railroads continued to be suspended until further notice, agency and government officials said. Limited bus service was available in New York City today. New York City subways are projected to be out of service for four or five more days, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in media reports. Service on both MTA Long Island Rail Road and MTA Metro-North Railroad remain suspended as damage assessment and repair work continues, MTA officials said.

New Jersey Transit has begun operating some limited bus service, but rail service remains suspended until further notice as crews continue to inspect facilities, infrastructure and equipment across all regions of the state, according to statements issued by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and NJ Transit.

Damage includes NJ Transit’s Rail Operations Center, the railroad’s central nervous system, which is engulfed in water. The center has suffered damage to its power supply systems, the emergency generator and computer system that controls the movement of trains and power supply, NJ Transit officials said.

Also in New Jersey, numerous downed trees across the rail system have damaged overhead wires and signal wires. Rail washouts remain across the system, including on the North Jersey Coast and Atlantic City lines, and several rail stations are flooded, officials said.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced that the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) rail service between New York City and New Jersey remains suspended until further notice.

Meanwhile, the Maryland Transit Administration completed a “comprehensive” review of track conditions, catenary wires, parking lots, tunnels and power supplies, and determined that it is safe to resume light rail, MARC train and bus service on regular schedules starting today, officials said.

Also restoring service: the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (yesterday) and Virginia Railway Express (full service to resume today).–33148

October 26, 2012

The union representing American Eagle mechanics has voted to ratify a new contract with the airline, while the dispatchers union has rejected its contract, the Transport Workers Union said Friday.

The mechanics approved their contract with an 82 percent vote in favor. The dispatchers rejected their proposed agreement by 90 percent.

Fort Worth-based American Eagle, the regional partner of American Airlines, pursued new contracts with its work groups as part of the airline’s restructuring in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Five of the six unionized work groups at American Eagle have ratified new contracts, including the pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, ground school instructors and fleet service clerks.

“Today’s ratification demonstrates the willingness of the company and the TWU to negotiate new contracts that achieve the cost savings necessary for our successful restructuring. We realize this was a very difficult decision for our people,” said Andrea Huguely, American Eagle spokeswoman, in a statement. “We’re disappointed our dispatchers failed to ratify their tentative agreement.”

American Eagle said it will push its previously filed motion asking the bankruptcy court to reject the existing contract with dispatchers.

October 25, 2012

The major U.S. airlines reported third-quarter earnings over the past two weeks. The quarter included a good chunk of the busy summer season but also incorporated one of the weakest months — September. The airlines continued to face high fuel costs. They raised some fares in response, but still offered deals to keep planes full. And both business travelers and leisure travelers faced headwinds from slow economic growth and high unemployment.

Here is a summary of earnings reports from United Continental Holdings Corp., Delta Air Lines Inc., US Airways Group Inc., AMR Corp., parent of American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines Co.

— Oct. 25. United Continental’s profit shrunk to $6 million from $653 million a year ago. Quarterly revenue fell for the first time since the last three months of 2009 as fewer passengers flew on United. The world’s biggest airline also took a charge of $454 related to a contract agreement with its pilots. The integration of Continental Airlines hasn’t gone as smoothly as hoped following a 2010 merger.

— Oct. 24. Delta earned $1 billion in the third quarter, almost double from a year ago. Delta has been posting gains in per-passenger revenue — a key measure of airline performance — that have been higher than other airlines, and is aiming to cut fuel costs by purchasing an oil refinery near Philadelphia. Delta is making other moves to cut costs. It wants to shift to bigger planes to reduce maintenance spending and to give passengers a better flying experience.

— Oct. 24. US Airways posted record net income of $245 million, or $1.24 per share. Revenue rose 3 percent to $3.53 billion. The nation’s fifth-biggest airline predicted that revenue per mile will rise roughly 3 percent over last year for the final three months of 2012. The results are important as US Airways pursues a merger with American Airlines, which is reorganizing under bankruptcy protection.

— Oct. 17. Southwest Airlines posted a profit of 2 cents per share, compared with a loss of 18 cents a year earlier. Revenue was lighter than the company expected. CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC that Southwest saw some “softness” in business travel and that demand weakened in September. It’s possible that slowdown is over, however. Kelly said a key measure of revenue is 4 percent higher this month than in October 2011.

— Oct. 16. American Airlines parent AMR Corp. reported a quarterly loss of $238 million due to costs related to its restructuring in bankruptcy court. But the nation’s No. 3 airline said its operating performance was strong. It made more money per passenger and flights were fuller than in any previous quarter. American was plagued by delays and cancellations in September, but said those didn’t have a significant impact on its bottom line.

October 25,2012

To be among the first passengers to board a plane is often so crucial to keeping your sanity while flying that many travelers are willing to pay for it.

But what if you could have an edge over other fliers for free?

A recent Stanford University computer science graduate who came up with a way to boost passengers’ odds of boarding early on Southwest Airlines flights found lots of takers, but also drew scrutiny from the airline, which ordered him to shut down the project.


“It was funny because I actually didn’t think that anyone wanted to use this at all. I literally thought that it was something no one cared about,” Nikil Viswanathan told NBC News.

He was wrong. Thousands of travelers were captured by Viswanathan’s simple idea: to automatically check in for a Southwest flight the second you are able to, thereby improving your chances in the carrier’s first-come, first-serve competition for boarding times.

Viswanathan, who lives in Palo Alto, Calif., began the project while visiting his sister on the East Coast earlier this year. He kept forgetting to check in for his flights, so Viswanathan, 25, decided to create a tool that would automatically do it for him on Southwest – the airline he flies most. It took him less than an hour to write the code, which he incorporated on his website,

Here’s how it worked:

Southwest passengers don’t receive assigned seats, but they board in groups that are labeled either A, B or C, with the A group boarding first and getting the pick of overhead bin space and the best seats.

Passengers who buy Business Select fares are guaranteed an A boarding pass, while Southwest’s frequent fliers and travelers willing to pay a $10 fee for “EarlyBird Check-In” are checked in before everyone else, boosting their chances of getting into the A group. The rest dukes it out starting at 24 hours before departure.

Passengers who used Viswanathan’s website would be checked in the moment the process opened, virtually guaranteeing a spot in the A boarding group. There was no charge for the service.

Viswanathan unveiled the website on his Facebook page on October 2. It was featured on Hacker News three days later, and then picked up by two travel blogs. More than 10,000 people have visited since and about 1,500 flights have been entered into the site.

“People were getting really, really good boarding passes,” Viswanathan said. “This is a much better experience than trying to wake up in the middle of the night or the early morning, remembering to check in.”

But Viswanathan also soon heard from Southwest, which sent him a cease and desist letter last week. Programs like his violate the company’s terms and conditions of use, he found out.

“Southwest places a very high value on customer service and our personal relationship with customers,” said spokeswoman Katie McDonald in a statement to NBC News. “By intruding on that relationship and removing a touch point with the customer, check-in sites take away the ability for Southwest to provide its services in accordance with its policies and legendary personal touch.”

Viswanathan said he suspects Southwest is most upset that passengers who used his website didn’t see the ads on the airline’s check-in page.

He shut down on Wednesday, even though travelers have put in flights all the way until May of 2013. He’s hoping Southwest will allow him to honor those requests.

The project has even garnered Viswanathan a job offer from Expedia. He has declined, preferring to work on his “own stuff,” he said.