• Train Derailments Spur Federal Safety Advisory, Office Attendance Edges Higher, Mortgage Application

    Train Derailments Spur Safety Advisory

    A series of train derailments since 2021, capped by a major accident in East Palestine, Ohio, have implications for the entire U.S. cargo logistics system. They also sparked a government advisory this week, calling on railroads to update their policies regarding the use of heat-sensing detectors that might have averted problems linked to crashes.

    The Federal Railroad Administration said at least five derailments since 2021 have been linked to what are known as burnt wheel bearings, also called journal bearings, the temperature of which can be gauged using hot box detectors or HBDs. Federal investigators are probing whether overheated bearings contributed to the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in the Ohio town where a massive cleanup of toxic materials is underway.

    “Preliminary investigation of recent train derailments indicates the cause of, or contributing factor to, the incidents was a mechanical failure, specifically burnt journal bearings,” the railroad agency said in a statement Feb. 28. “Accordingly, FRA is issuing this safety advisory to make recommendations to enhance the mechanical reliability of rolling stock and safety of railroad operations."

    The agency is calling on railroad carriers to deploy HBD data to evaluate thresholds for inspections, and ensure that those who calibrate, inspect and maintain HBDs are properly trained and qualified. Railroads are advised to issue alerts as necessary and take steps to improve the safety culture among operational decision-makers.

    The cleanup in East Palestine also set off interstate disputes over the transport of hazardous waste from the derailment site. The Environmental Protection Agency this week lined up facilities in Grafton, Ohio, and Roachdale, Indiana, to accept liquid and solid waste, after officials in Michigan and Texas objected to Northfolk Southern’s plans to move it to those states without prior notification.

    Office Attendance Edges Higher

    Office attendance has been trending up for the past month, with 10 cities in Kastle Systems’ “Back to Work Barometer” averaging 50.1% of pre-pandemic attendance for the week ended Feb. 22. That’s close to the pandemic peak of 50.4% reached in the week ended Jan. 25.

    The security technology firm’s weekly tracking is based on anonymous keycard data from clients’ office properties. As with prior weeks, Texas cities in the barometer had the highest attendance, with Austin at 66.4%, Houston at 60.6% and Dallas at 53.8% of pre-pandemic levels.

    They were followed in the latest tracking by Chicago at 49.4%, Los Angeles at 49.3% and New York at 46.7%. Seven of the 10 barometer cities registered increases from the prior week.

    Most U.S. cities have yet to reach 50% of pre-pandemic office use, even as workers increasingly spend at least a portion of the workweek in offices under company requirements.

    Mortgage Applications Decline

    Rising interest rates again kept downward pressure on the volume of U.S. mortgage applications, which declined 5.7% in the week ended Feb. 24 from the previous week, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported Wednesday.

    The trade group said refinance applications declined 6% from the prior week and were down 74% from the comparable week of 2022. Purchase applications dropped 6% for the week and declined 44% from a year earlier.

    The bankers group noted that 30-year, fixed rate mortgages last week were averaging 6.71%, the highest rate since November 2022.

    “After a brief revival in application activity in January when mortgage rates dropped to 6.2%, there have now been three straight weeks of declines in applications as mortgage rates have jumped 50 basis points over the past month,” Joel Kan, the trade group’s deputy chief economist, said in a statement. “Data on inflation, employment and economic activity have signaled that inflation may not be cooling as quickly as anticipated, which continues to put upward pressure on rates.”

    Rising rates keep many potential homebuyers on the sidelines, including apartment renters, which keeps multifamily demand high in many regions. Affordability is also an issue, with the latest S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller data showing U.S. home price growth slowing but still posting 5.8% growth in 2022 from the prior year.

    Source: www.CoStar.com