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Resolutions for a New Year

January 14th, 2015

So we are now into 2015, and I thought I would make a couple of resolutions, and lo and behold, I have already succeeded in keeping them for the first two weeks of the year!  But seriously, here are a couple of things that may sound like the traditional resolution, but stray off the beaten path a bit.

Resolution #1:  Meet new people

This one is pretty easy, since there has been so much change in our industry in the last couple of months.  We now have a new Acting Administrator of the FRA as of this week, our new President of the ASLRRA, and we also will be getting a new top Short Line person at CSXT, with the upcoming retirement of Len Kellermann.  A great place to see and meet these and other people in the industry is at the ASLRRA’s 2015 Connections in Orlando, FL March 28-31.

Resolution #2:  Lose weight

Now I could start a diet, keep it for a month or so, and watch that one go by the wayside.  What I have done instead is put my briefcase on a diet.  Right now, you are probably saying “so what,” but let me explain.  My briefcase, which is currently a backpack, has to carry my laptop, my iPad, chargers, a camera, batteries, and other assorted cables and electronic stuff.  I also have my travel necessities like my frequent flyer cards and other various membership materials in there, as well as probably $20 in coins that get tossed in when I am going through airport security.  All in all, it probably weighed over 25 pounds, and considering that I have one surgically repaired shoulder that the weight contributed to the original damage to already, it was time for a change.

What have I done?  First of all, I went through every pocket and compartment in my briefcase, got rid of cables and chargers that were both unneeded and obsolete, added to my kid’s savings accounts with the dumped coin, and also changed up my laptop for a windows tablet with a keyboard (sorry Microsoft, the tablet is nice, but the iPad stays).  The electronics change alone dropped almost three pounds from the bag, and my right shoulder is much happier with its lighter load.

Resolution #3: Exercise more

Sorry, none of this treadmill or walking the dog thing.  However, I can tell you that the travel schedule for the first quarter is much busier than it was last year.  I already have my first SDS trip next week, the CSXT Short Line Conference is in early March, and the aforementioned ASLRRA Connections takes up the end of March.  Toss on top of that the other SDS, committee and Class 1 meetings, RR Day on Capitol Hill in June, the ASLRRA Regional meetings in the fall and maybe a vacation or two thrown in for fun, I think I am going to get my walking in.

Resolution #4:  Keep writing

With this blog, I am starting year number seven of writing for RailResource, and this is blog #158.  When this first started back in 2009, I don’t think Kathy Keeney thought I had this much to say (I don’t think I did either), but I do enjoy writing this thing every two weeks (or so), and I haven’t been told to stop yet, so let’s see what 2015 brings.

—By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpgSteve Friedland is a child of the railroad industry. Following summers and vacations working on the track gang for the family-owned Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, he started full-time in 1994. He has worked in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations, and currently is a member of the management team for the company as director of operations in Morristown, N.J. In 1999, he founded Short Line Data Systems, a provider of railroad EDI and dispatching software, AEI hardware, and management consulting to the short line industry. He currently serves as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and is chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He also is a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

Changes in D.C.

December 29th, 2014

The Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting and Railroad Day on Capitol Hill are two events in D.C. that many in the railroad industry look forward to during the first quarter of every year. Both have major changes for 2015.

For the first time in nearly 60 years, the TRB Annual Meeting will move to a new venue. The TRB 94th Annual Meeting will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., from January 11-15. It had been held for years at three Connecticut Avenue hotels —the Washington Marriott Wardman Park (formerly the Sheraton Park), the Omni Shoreham, and the Washington Hilton.

With approximately 12,000 attendees, 5,000 presentations in more than 800 sessions and workshops, 350 committee meetings, and 200 exhibits during its four-and- a-half days, the annual meeting had grown so much that previous venues were stretched. Space in the Convention Center and at the adjacent, new Marriott Marquis headquarters hotel is expected to meet the needs of the annual meeting, with room for future growth.

Meanwhile, you shouldn’t have to worry about bitter cold weather or snow in D.C. for Railroad Day on Capitol Hill in 2015. Organizers have moved the lobbying event from its traditional February/March timeframe to June because of a scheduling issue.

Mark your calendars: Railroad Day on Capitol Hill is Thursday, June 4. It is an important industry event that includes meetings with members of Congress throughout the day and a high-profile legislative reception and dinner, which draws a virtual Who’s Who in the railroad industry.  The host hotel is the Renaissance Washington D.C. Downtown. More event information is available here: http://www.aslrra.org/meetings___seminars/railroad_day_on_capitol_hill

Happy New Year to all my friends and colleagues. I wish you safe travels to D.C. and everywhere else on the rail meeting schedule in 2015.

—By Kathy Keeney


Kathy Keeney is Publisher of the Rail Group. The granddaughter of a railroader, she has been writing about railroads for nearly 30 years. She is a past president of The League of Railway Industry Women and served on the board of directors for the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association and for the Washington Chapter of WTS.

Challenges?

December 29th, 2014

Here we are, at the change of the year, and while I wouldn’t classify 2014 as a tough year by any measure, 2015 already has the makings for one that will tax (no pun intended) us a bit.  In the year past we have changed leadership at the ASLRRA (and the new president is already fast at work), got the 45G tax credit retroactively renewed, and have dealt with challenges like rulemaking on two-man crews, train securement, and crude by rail.  So what are the items that we will be facing in 2015?

New Congress

Starting in January, we will have a new Congress, with both houses being controlled by one party.  There will be a number of new members in Congress, and our challenge will be the same as it is every year with all of our politicians: educate, educate, educate.  The more knowledge they have about us, the less chance there is for “surprise” legislation (like the RSIA of 2008) that has an inverse cost benefit ratio.  There is also a bit of a time crunch with the next election in 2016 being a presidential one, and if past history holds, Congress will do even less than it does now once election season gets in full swing.

New FRA Chief

With FRA Administrator Joe Szabo’s departure, there is an opening at the top.  Hopefully, with the Republican Congress and a lame duck president we will see a slightly less controversial Administrator than Mr. Szabo, who had strong union ties, and at times did show some leaning towards their ideals.

PTC

As the law reads (now), on December 31, 2015, the railroads that need to deploy PTC must have the initial required deployment complete.  If you believe that it will happen, I have some nice oceanfront property in Colorado that I can sell you, and if that is not your taste, I do have an option on the Brooklyn Bridge.  That being said, do not think for a second that everyone is sitting on their butts waiting for the law to change.  Railroads and their suppliers are working as fast as physically possible to make PTC happen, and on a limited basis we are starting to see deployments take place.  Will we be ready?  No.  Will we make as good an attempt as we can, and might make the requirement 18-24 months down the road?  Most likely, and don’t expect Congress to do anything about this until the later part of the third quarter at the earliest, and maybe not until this time next year.

So as the old calendar gets tossed and the new one gets put up on the first page, do take the time to look back at what has happened over the previous twelve months. But don’t take too long, because the new year is going to get moving pretty quickly, and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon.

Have a Happy New Year!

—By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpgSteve Friedland is a child of the railroad industry. Following summers and vacations working on the track gang for the family-owned Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, he started full-time in 1994. He has worked in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations, and currently is a member of the management team for the company as director of operations in Morristown, N.J. In 1999, he founded Short Line Data Systems, a provider of railroad EDI and dispatching software, AEI hardware, and management consulting to the short line industry. He currently serves as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and is chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He also is a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

Winding Down

December 15th, 2014

I kind of like this time of year.  I’m talking about the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas, roughly three weeks that really signal the end of the business year (truth be told, I’m also kind of partial to it because my birthday falls in it, but that’s beside the point).  Yes, it is a time for parties and celebrating, but it is also a time that careers come to a close, and three people that have had an effect on my career are in the process of calling time right now.  Two of them you have probably heard of.  One, probably not.

Let’s start with the one you probably have heard of the most:  ASLRRA President Rich Timmons.  A lot has been written about Rich over the last two years, and I can conclusively report that he has actually retired from the position of ASLRRA President after a two year retirement tour.  I have had the fortune of working with Rich over the last twelve years, and am honored to call him a friend.  While railroading was always a backdrop to our discussions, my interest in military history will probably be a central part of our talks in the coming years.  I wish Rich the best, and I hope that his wife Margo will get to enjoy having her soldier home for a long time.

Bob Bailey of the Port Jersey Railroad has been a mentor and friend of mine for almost as long as I have been in the industry.  Bob was very close with my father, working with him to form the NJ Short Line Railroad Association, and also served with him on the Board of Directors of the ASLRRA, where Bob eventually became the Eastern Region Vice President.  Following my father’s death, Bob was the one who got me involved in both associations, leading eventually to me being the Treasurer of the New Jersey association, and a director for the ASLRRA.  Bob was also the person who planted the idea with me of forming Short Line Data Systems, and even though his company never did sign up, he has been a staunch supporter of mine throughout the years.  Bob won’t be sitting still (if he did I think Bridget would kill him), as he is going to be consulting and spending a lot of time with his grandchildren.

Now the last guy I am sure that most of you have never heard of.  His name is Paul Yanosik, and due to the fact that he has a large proboscis and a slight build, it should be no surprise that he has been called “Bird” for a very long time.  I started working with Paul when I was in college and worked at the M&E part time on the track gang.  I learned most of what I know about how to build and maintain track from him, and also learned a lot about the history of the railroads in the area.  Paul was someone who always wanted to work for the railroad when he was growing up, and while he did work for a number of companies, most of his time was spent with us at the M&E.  In addition to his rail knowledge, he is also a talented musician and railroad modeler, and some of his scratch built locomotives put professional modelers to shame.  The youngest of this group of three, I have a feeling that Paul will be doing what he likes best now, chasing trains on gloomy days, volunteering for one of the museums in the area, and playing and restoring classic guitars.

Each of these three people has had a significant impact on me and my career, each in a different way.  In fact, without what I have learned from each of them, my personal library of railroad knowledge would be a lot more empty.  I wish each of them the best in their retirement.

—By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpgSteve Friedland is a child of the railroad industry. Following summers and vacations working on the track gang for the family-owned Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, he started full-time in 1994. He has worked in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations, and currently is a member of the management team for the company as director of operations in Morristown, N.J. In 1999, he founded Short Line Data Systems, a provider of railroad EDI and dispatching software, AEI hardware, and management consulting to the short line industry. He currently serves as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and is chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He also is a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

Risk and Innovation

December 1st, 2014

Picture this:  following the accidents that took place last year on short lines, people start calling for the end of the short line industry because it just simply isn’t working.  The industry just can’t do the job, and no one can tolerate the damage and deaths.  Crazy you say?  Maybe for our industry, but it did take place a couple of weeks ago in another industry that has small companies starting to forge new paths for transportation.  What industry am I talking about?  Private space transportation.

You might have seen the first accident that took place on live television.  Orbital Sciences Corporation, which is one of two companies that have won contracts with NASA to transport cargo to the international space station, was launching their Antares launch vehicle for the fourth time from Wallops Island, VA.  Liftoff was scheduled for a little after 6pm Eastern time, and what happened was something straight out of the old films of rocket launches from the 50’s and 60’s:  the rocket lifted off, had a problem about 15 seconds into flight, crashed back down to the ground, and blew up.  Big time blew up.  Fortunately, damage was minimal to the launch site, and no one was injured.  Very quickly the focus was on the engines in the launcher’s first stage, which were reconditioned and modernized engines that were built over forty years ago for the Soviet N-1 moon rocket, which itself had a habit of doing the same thing the Antares did.  So what did Orbital do once the accident happened?  It has picked itself up, brushed itself off, and has come up with plans to resume its contracted business as soon as possible.  Initially, it will use other companies to haul their spaceship to orbit while they work on a re-engined version of the Antares.

The other accident that happened was almost as violent, and did result in a loss of life.  Spaceship Two, which is designed to haul tourists (who have paid $250,000 a ticket) on sub-orbital flights, was undergoing a flight test over the Mojave Desert in California.  Shortly after the vehicle ignited its rocket motor a violent breakup took place, which killed one pilot, and injured the other, who parachuted back to the ground.  Initially people speculated that the motor was the cause of the breakup, but as investigators started to look at the wreckage and evidence, a different story emerged:  one of the pilots (unfortunately the one that was killed) unlocked a braking system earlier than he should have, and it activated at the wrong time, which caused the breakup of the vehicle.  While there might have been a flaw in the braking system, it is starting to look like the early unlocking of the system may have led to the start of the accident.  While the investigations in an accident that had a loss of life take much longer than ones that don’t, Spaceship Two’s builders are pressing on with the construction of a new vehicle and say they will carry passengers when the vehicle is done, and the testing says it is ready to go.

Following both of these accidents, which took place within a couple of days of each other, there were those who started to publicly question whether it is appropriate and safe for private companies to be developing and operating space vehicles.  What makes these companies any different than a short line?  Other than the fact that they are financially much bigger than most of us and are operating in a high tech industry, not very much.  They have the vision to make transportation better, less expensive (a relative term), and more accessible, which is not unlike a short line railroad.  Both of these companies will bounce back from these unfortunate accidents, and pave a similar road to space that the short lines did less than a hundred years ago.

Anyone want to lend me $250k?

—By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpgSteve Friedland is a child of the railroad industry. Following summers and vacations working on the track gang for the family-owned Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, he started full-time in 1994. He has worked in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations, and currently is a member of the management team for the company as director of operations in Morristown, N.J. In 1999, he founded Short Line Data Systems, a provider of railroad EDI and dispatching software, AEI hardware, and management consulting to the short line industry. He currently serves as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and is chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He also is a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

We Get the Best Field Trips

November 17th, 2014

I’ve written in the past about the meetings the ASLRRA Technology Committee have in the fall, and the cool places we get to go and see as part of our meetings.  This week was no exception, as following our business meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, we went on a little rail-related excursion.  No, we didn’t go to Tower 55, the famous UP yard, or any of the numerous other facilities in one of the busiest railroad towns in the country.  No, we got to go to the GE Transportation locomotive factory and the BNSF Network Operations Center.

I’ve been to GE’s other locomotive plant in Erie, PA and it is what one would think of as a “traditional” locomotive facility, because it has been around for over 100 years, and originally built steam locomotives.  Because of that, you wouldn’t exactly say that the facility has modern ergonomics or manufacturing flow.  The facility is laid out over 300 acres, and because they have needed to build new models, they have modified or updated buildings that were built sometime in the early 20th Century.

The new facility is more akin to being in an airplane factory.  You could practically eat off of the floors, and everything is in one building.  A one million square foot building.  I have never been in a building that made big locomotives look small.  It was impressive, to say the least.  The six hundred employees in the plant take sheet metal and thousands of individual components, and in just over forty days turn out a completed locomotive.  And how soon do the locomotives go into service?  Well, when the crew picks them up from the plant, the units could be on a train hauling revenue freight a couple of hours later.

Our other stop that day was to the BNSF Network Operations Center (NOC) at BNSF headquarters.  It is really impressive when you walk into the facility with four passenger cars on each side, and a visitor welcome center that rivals a number of museums that I have been in.  The NOC itself is very impressive.  It is a big circular room with workstations for almost all of BNSF’s dispatching and network operations people (their only distributed dispatching is on joint facilities with UP), and when you add in the big projection screens picture something like a big version of Mission Control or the bridge of the Battlestar Galactica.  Another very large and impressive facility, but one that will be getting some updating.

What are they going to be doing?  Well, when the facility was built, computers and displays were much bigger devices.  Now, with the equipment being smaller, they actually have too much space in between the desks, and can utilize the space better.  So what are they going to do?  Late next year, they move everyone out to a temporary location for about nine months or so, renovate the place, and bring everyone back.  Simple, right?

There was a common item at both locations:  the people.  Both places were run on the backs of their employees, and the pride in the work that they did.  At the locomotive facility they were very proud of their “Moonshine Shop” where employees could submit ideas for tooling to improve the assembly process, and an internally funded crew of people would bring those ideas to reality.  At BNSF, like many railroads, it was the employees with 30 and 40 years of experience trying to keep a very busy system flowing smoothly.

What’s up next for the Technology Committee?  Don’t know at the moment, but there are a lot more cool places to go.

—By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpgSteve Friedland is a child of the railroad industry. Following summers and vacations working on the track gang for the family-owned Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, he started full-time in 1994. He has worked in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations, and currently is a member of the management team for the company as director of operations in Morristown, N.J. In 1999, he founded Short Line Data Systems, a provider of railroad EDI and dispatching software, AEI hardware, and management consulting to the short line industry. He currently serves as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and is chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He also is a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

Inside the Numbers

November 13th, 2014

I’m a bit behind on my reading these days, but I finally got around to reviewing a recent report to Congress that projected dollars needed by short lines and regionals to address infrastructure needs.

The small railroad sector is one that isn’t easy to get your arms around so it’s always helpful to see reports like this with facts and figures. The report prepared for the U.S. Department of Transportation by the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute (UGPTI) suggests that short line and regional railroads have a current need of $1.6 billion for infrastructure improvement, with future needs of an additional $5.3 billion.

In conjunction with the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association and the Association of American Railroads, UGPTI surveyed 470 short line railroads and received responses from 115. Those responding reported that slightly more than $599 million would be required among them to meet current service levels and expected growth. When asked about their estimated needs over the next five years for infrastructure spending and equipment, they reported a collective need of over $1.2 billion with 80 percent of these investment needs going to infrastructure. While it is difficult to determine the spending needs for this entire segment of the industry, the Federal Railroad Administration estimates, based upon the survey results, a current overall need of about $1.6 billion while future needs are $5.3 billion, bringing total investment needs to about $6.9 billion. The railroads also reported that they anticipated funding most of their expenses out of cash flow, bank loans, and an array of programs offered by state and federal governments.

FRA noted that the rise of holding companies followed by greater access and options to the private capital markets is not a panacea to short line railroads’ access to capital to meet their investment needs. The holding companies interviewed stated that a mix of multiple funding sources is required.

There are 27 holding companies that control nearly 270 small railroads, according to the report. “This development has changed the relationship between the railroad and the banker and has also changed the lending calculus. Holding companies have railroads that encompass geographic and commodity diversity and have essentially reduced the banker’s risk of not being repaid. Holding companies have also taken a sophisticated approach to fund infrastructure projects and have relied on multiple combinations of funding from all programs available,” according to the report.

As the holding companies explained, there are still significant investments to be made, particularly the upgrading of track to handle 286,000-pound railcars as well as the repair and replacement of bridges. The holding companies also noted that the funding that is available often must be thinly spread among all carriers under their control in order to meet current and ongoing needs.

Small railroads owned by holding companies represent nearly 50 percent of the total number of short line carriers. Of these holding companies, Genesee and Wyoming controls the largest number of short lines. Following its acquisition of Rail America in late 2012, Genesee and Wyoming now controls over 100 railroads in the U.S. The Class I railroads control 11, state and local governments control 26, and shippers control 55.

The report highlighted the trend toward holding company ownership, noting that from 1996 through 2012, the number of holding companies has grown from 14 to 27. At the same time, the number of small railroads under the control of holding companies increased from slightly over 100 in 1996 to nearly 270 in 2012.

While control of small railroads is constantly in flux, FRA estimates that there are around 200 railroads that remain independently owned and come under no controlling ownership. Independent Class III railroads also face these same investment challenges and the need to access capital to upgrade track and bridges for heavier rail cars as well as maintain their systems.

State and federal programs have been helpful to finance projects. In total, the RRIF program has executed 27 loan agreements of nearly $700 million to 20 Class II and III carriers. Several carriers such as the Dakota Minnesota & Eastern Railroad, Iowa Interstate Railroad, R.J. Corman, Nashville and Eastern Railroad, and the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad have made use of the program more than once. To date, overall executed loan agreements under the program (including to Class I carriers and Amtrak) total over $1.725 billion with 40 percent of that going to Class II and Class III railroads, the report said.

FRA’s assessment of RRIF loans to short line railroads shows that slightly over 78 percent went to infrastructure (bridges and track) while 17.6 percent went to equipment.

TIGER grants have also been useful. “From the Recovery Act forward, there has been a total of $4.2 billion in funding for TIGER, including the most recent 2014 fiscal year appropriation. Of the $4.2 billion in the six offerings, nearly $810 million has gone toward freight rail projects, including port projects that have a rail component. The short line segment of the rail industry has received over $270 million, principally for capacity enhancements, track improvements, and bridge repairs,” the study said.

According to the ASLRRA, the Section 45G railroad maintenance tax credit has helped fund more than $300 million worth of short line infrastructure improvements annually. Since 2005, ASLRRA estimates that the tax credit has helped Class II and Class III railroads and their customers invest over $1.2 billion.

In addition to state/federal programs, short lines are increasingly partnering with Class I railroads to make capital improvements. Most of the situations in which this happens are when short lines own a strategic asset and have the possibility to improve the competitive position of a Class I through the joint use of that strategic infrastructure.

The report is entitled Summary of Class II and Class III Railroad Capital Needs and Funding Sources. Follow this link to access the full report: http://www.fra.dot.gov/eLib/Details/L16020

—By Kathy Keeney


Kathy Keeney is Publisher of the Rail Group. The granddaughter of a railroader, she has been writing about railroads for nearly 30 years. She is a past president of The League of Railway Industry Women and served on the board of directors for the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association and for the Washington Chapter of WTS.

Here, There, and Everywhere

October 16th, 2014

Just got back from a nine-day, 4,500-mile adventure that included two meetings in places that could not be as different as they were.  The calendar dictated the marathon trip, and as I will discuss below it was not without its issues, but there was a lot of good that came from the trip.

My first stop was in Pueblo, Colorado for the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee meeting.  TTCI in Pueblo is the railroad industry’s version of Disneyland.  They test new products for the industry in and on a collection of laboratories, tracks, test fixtures, and yes, a crash wall.  To say it is in the middle of nowhere is an understatement:  to get there, you have to travel miles past the Pueblo Chemical Depot (where the U.S. military stores and disposes of chemical weapons), and avoid the rattlesnakes and tarantulas that inhabit the desert out there.  One of the important jobs for the industry that is performed out at TTCI is radio frequency coordination and testing of new equipment to make sure it will integrate seamlessly with existing systems, so having a radio meeting out there could not have been a better choice.

So what went on at the meeting?  Well, the radio group is one that is in a unique position:  we have just come off a very successful transition from wideband radios to narrowband ones, and we are now starting to seriously start what will be the eventual transition to very narrowband digital communications, which is a whole new world for both our industry and the radio manufacturers.  The good news is that these steps are being taken by both the railroads and the manufacturers together, and both are communicating on an open, non-competitive basis to work through both the perceived and actual issues that are starting to occur with these new technologies.

My second (well really my third, after an extra one night “vacation” in Houston courtesy of United Airlines) stop on my adventure was the ASLRRA Southern Region meeting in Naples, Florida.  What was new there you ask?  New ASLRRA President-elect Linda Darr.  As Kathy Keeney mentioned in her latest blog, Linda is doing a lot of outreach to the membership to find out what their wants and needs are, and I have to say it was a pleasure meeting her and I look forward to working with her.  Other highlights?  Clarence Gooden of CSX had a lot of insight into what is going on in the industry at the moment (sorry folks, not even a flinch when asked about possible merger rumors), and Dan Elliott, chairman of the Surface Transportation Board, said as much as he could about the current goings on in the board.

While this trip was a long one, as I look at the calendar next month I have a ten-day adventure to Texas coming up centered on the ASLRRA Central/Pacific Region meeting in Ft. Worth.  At least I am home now, and have a couple of weeks to recover before that trip.

—By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpgSteve Friedland is a child of the railroad industry. Following summers and vacations working on the track gang for the family-owned Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, he started full-time in 1994. He has worked in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations, and currently is a member of the management team for the company as director of operations in Morristown, N.J. In 1999, he founded Short Line Data Systems, a provider of railroad EDI and dispatching software, AEI hardware, and management consulting to the short line industry. He currently serves as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and is chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He also is a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

Getting Acquainted

October 9th, 2014

Getting to know your customers is key to any business, but particularly in sales. For some of us, it’s even important to get to know our customer’s customers and their needs.

Railroading is a relationship business. Always has been and probably always will be, in my opinion. In that context, I was pleased to see that one of the first agenda items for the new president of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association was sending out a note to the membership introducing herself (yes, the new president is a woman), outlining her reasons for taking the job and seeking feedback on ways the association can help its members.

“As we begin our leadership transition, I didn’t want to let my first week on the job pass without communicating with you,” incoming ASLRRA President Linda Bauer Darr wrote. She said that she and Rich Timmons are working closely to ensure a smooth leadership transition at the association. (Rich officially retires at the end of this year).

She most recently served as president and CEO of the American Moving and Storage Association and previously held senior posts at the American Bus Association and the American Trucking Associations. Transportation has been the focus of her entire career and, in her new role at ASLRRA she likes the idea of representing “the small business workhorses of the railroad world. It appeals to me enormously that so many of you are local, family-run enterprises rooted in your communities. Together we have established a formidable and proven grassroots network capable of mobilizing quickly to produce lasting results,” she said.

She talked about a focus for future activities that she termed AIM, short for advocacy, image and money. “It’s time to get down to work.  We need to do things that help with your bottom line, and we need you to help with our bottom line if we are to be an effective organization on your behalf,” she wrote.

In addition to meetings with stakeholders, staff and other decision-makers, she kicked off a listening process that will help shape how ASLRRA moves forward. In her letter to members, she asked four questions: Why are you a member of ASLRRA? What have we done for you lately? What are we doing right? What should we add or change?

Based on my experience as a long-time ASLRRA member and person who interacts frequently with their membership, I’m sure she’ll find out quickly that the members she now represents are salt-of-the-earth type people and they aren’t shy about sharing their opinions. Welcome aboard.

—By Kathy Keeney


Kathy Keeney is Publisher of the Rail Group. The granddaughter of a railroader, she has been writing about railroads for nearly 30 years. She is a past president of The League of Railway Industry Women and served on the board of directors for the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association and for the Washington Chapter of WTS.

It’s Getting Cloudy Out There

September 24th, 2014

When you have lived in the same area for a long time, you get to know how things flow around you.  You know generally from which direction the storms come from, and if you are outside on a hot, humid, sunny day, you usually take a look in that direction to make sure that thunderstorms are not on their way.  Things are not that much different on the political horizon for the short lines, and there might be a couple of clouds forming in that familiar location.

Our old friends Senators Schumer of New York and Blumenthal of Connecticut have dropped S. 2784, the Rail Safety Act of 2014, and it has been referred to committee.  The bill itself is a mixed bag of items, ranging from making sure that PTC is implemented by the end of 2015 (not realistic), to funding for the Short Line Safety Institute (good), to inward and outward facing cameras on locomotives (concept good, reasoning flawed), and a number of other railroad-related issues that the senators decided to put together.  The various political statistical services put the chances of the bill passing through the committee at 10-15%, and the chance of the president signing it into law at less than 5%.  That is assuming, of course, that there are no outside forces that suddenly make this bill important.

Why did I make that last statement?  Well, we have been in this situation before, and been on the receiving end of legislation that otherwise would not have seen the light of day.

Back in 2008, there were a number of little pieces of railroad legislation floating around.  Most were “we’d like to do it” types of things that would get stuck onto other bills, but nothing on its own would have constituted legislation that would have made it to the president’s desk.

Then the accident in Chatsworth, CA happened, and all of a sudden all of those small pieces of legislation without a chance of seeing the light of day got put front and center when they were put together into the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008.  When all of those pieces of legislation were separate, we could fight our individual battles and make sure that our industry was protected.  When you gang them all up together, as they were in 2008 (and are in 2014), all of a sudden you have to pick and choose which part of the legislation you are going to fight, and which ones you are going to have to accept.

My point in all of this?  Very simply, be aware that the clouds are forming on the horizon, and hopefully that one little event to cause the full-blown storm won’t happen, because if it does, we will have more to deal with than we can handle at one time.

—By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpgSteve Friedland is a child of the railroad industry. Following summers and vacations working on the track gang for the family-owned Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, he started full-time in 1994. He has worked in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations, and currently is a member of the management team for the company as director of operations in Morristown, N.J. In 1999, he founded Short Line Data Systems, a provider of railroad EDI and dispatching software, AEI hardware, and management consulting to the short line industry. He currently serves as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and is chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He also is a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.