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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.

It’s the Little Things

September 8th, 2014

I have written many times in the past about how much attention to detail makes a difference in providing service to others.  With that goes showing that you are actually paying attention to what you are doing, and not just going through the paces.  Unfortunately, I have two recent examples of how not paying attention to what you are doing makes you come off looking like an idiot.

First one comes from the school system where my children attend school.  More specifically, the transportation department for the school system.  One of our neighbors has two sons, one is a junior, and the other a freshman in the High School.  One child received a bus schedule that had them being picked up at a stop near the house at 7:18am.  The other received a schedule that had them being picked up at a stop one block closer and one minute later.  These are children with the same last name and living at the same address.  Someone just ran the computer program, and never looked at the result.

The other story comes from a recent car that was shipped to a customer on our railroad, and for a number of reasons got lost in a large yard on a Class 1 railroad.  When both the shipper and the M&E enquired about the car, we both got a by the book answer from the Class 1’s customer service people.  When the same answer was being given a week after the initial inquiry, we both started to get a little warm under the collar.  When the answer changed to “We are currently in the process of partnering with our field personnel to obtain an updated action plan” I had finally had enough.  If you have to take every buzz word you can find to say that you don’t have a clue yet as to what is going on and until we get in touch with the people who do have some clue so that we might be able to tell you how we are going to fix what is already a really bad situation for us and we really don’t want to have to tell you this but we have to because the person writing the message drew the short straw, maybe you should be spending more time on trying to fix what caused the problem in the first place.

Let’s face it, problems do happen, and sometimes we are faced with large volumes of work to get a project done.  As long as it is not an emergent situation, take a deep breath, don’t procrastinate, and take pride in the quality of your work product so that I won’t have to include you as an example in the future.

—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.

 

Travel Time

August 25th, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I was with our esteemed editor in chief in Orlando for the site visit for next year’s ASLRRA Connections, and we got started talking about the things that business travelers do differently than the average traveler, and at some point in the conversation she said “you know, maybe it’s time for a blog on travel tips.”  Not being one to ignore a suggestion by the boss, here we go:

1. Loyalty has its perks – I use basically the same airline, car rental company, and hotel brand every time I travel.  Do I get the best price every single time?  Probably not, but I am almost all the time, and by using the same companies I am able to accumulate perks through their frequent traveler programs like free checked bags and car upgrades that save more money in the long term.

2. Think about Pre Check – While being an elite traveler on an airline generally entitles you to use the first class security line, you still have to go through the regular security screening procedure of removing your shoes, pulling your computer out of your bag, etc.  If you have travelled recently, you probably have seen a third line at the security checkpoint, and this is for those who are considered “known travelers”.  These people have been through a prescreening, including registering their passport, being fingerprinted, and paying an $85 fee for five years of registration.  You can then use the known traveler security line, and can forgo having to disrobe and show your computer and iPad to the world.  And chances are, you won’t have the family with the double stroller and car seats in front of you on line.

3. In ain’t perfect yet, but close – The advent of the iPad has made my life much easier.  You see, I am a reader when I fly, and it used to be that before a trip I would load up my briefcase with anywhere from three to a dozen magazines.  The weight alone was one issue, not to mention the expense of loading up on reading material.  There is an electronic version of just about everything that I read regularly, and the cost is a fraction of what I would pay for the print versions.  Unfortunately, I still need my laptop for business reasons, but it doesn’t come out of the briefcase as much as it used to.

4. Learn the jargon – Recently, I checked in at a hotel in the late evening, and I was informed that I was upgraded to a parlor suite.  To the average traveler, you hear the word “suite” and you think this is a good thing.  In fact, it actually meant that the hotel was sold out of regular rooms, and to make sure that it could accommodate me without having to resort to moving me to another hotel (known as “walking a customer”), they took the living room portion of a regular suite, opened up the murphy bed, and turned the living room into a hotel room.  Is this as comfortable as a regular bed in the hotel?  Not quite, but you do get a little more space.  As it was, I was only staying one night at the hotel, and it didn’t make a difference in this case.

So as the summer draws to a close and the fall meeting season starts, keep the above in mind and it might make your next adventure a little easier.

—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 at the Top

August 19th, 2014

August in Washington is traditionally a quiet time. Not this year, however. (Just ask President Obama, who is trying to vacation amid tense domestic and international situations).

Late summer has also been a busy time for the corner offices of two major railroad trade associations. Both the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association and the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association have long-time leaders that have either left or are leaving shortly.

Chuck Emely, who has served as executive director and CEO of AREMA since 1998, has been replaced by Larry Etherton, who has been named interim executive director and CEO. A national search is underway for a permanent replacement.

Etherton retired as director of engineering for Norfolk Southern Corp. in 2009. A life member of AREMA, he previously served the association as president from 2007 to 2008. Etherton, who has a Professional Engineer Designation, has served on various AREMA technical committees and has been the chair of the AREMA Conference Operating Committee for many years.

It will be interesting to see if the AREMA board selects a professional association leader in the mold of Chuck Emely or a railway engineering type to lead the organization.

Linda Bauer Darr will join ASLRRA this fall. Darr, who is president and CEO of the American Moving and Storage Association, will succeed Rich Timmons, who is retiring later this year after leading the association since 2002.

Darr is a Washington insider who has been at AMSA since 2007 and has many years of experience in transportation policy, association management and government relations. Her background includes management roles with the major trucking and bus industry trade groups, as well as serving during the Clinton Administration in a senior-level post at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

While Darr is not a railroader, she is familiar with railroad issues from her tenure at DOT, which oversees the Federal Railroad Administration. She is the first woman to serve as president of the ASLRRA.

Chuck Emely and Rich Timmons were high-profile leaders of their organizations and will be tough acts to follow. I look forward to meeting their successors over the next few months on the rail trade show circuit, which includes annual conferences and regional meetings their associations run.

—By Kathy Keeney


Kathy Keeney is Publisher of the Rail Group. The granddaughter of a railroader, she has been writing about railroads for more than 25 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.

The Final Act

August 8th, 2014

At this point you probably have seen the announcement from the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association about their new president.  Some of you are probably saying that it is going to be a big change for the ASLRRA, but I really am believing that this is really the final act in a path of change that Rich Timmons has had them on for the last twelve years.

Saying that the ASLRRA of 2014 is different than the ASLRRA of 2002 is a major understatement.  When Rich came to the Association, the process (pay attention to the word “process” we are going to be coming back to it a couple of times here) was disjointed, to say the least.  At the first regional meeting he attended, the first presentation that was given by one of his staffers was started with the statement “Folks, you are going to have to bear with me a bit for this presentation, because I found out I was giving it about five minutes ago.”  I was a member of the audience for that meeting, and I can assure you that was the last time I heard that statement from a staff member at a meeting.

Over the last ten years or so I have been involved with the execution of the annual and regional meetings of the ASLRRA, and one of the things I have witnessed and been fortunate to be a part of has been the growth of the attendance of the meetings, which has come from the massive improvement in the offerings at the meetings.  As an example, the ASLRRA has more content at one of its regional meetings now than it had at an annual in the late 1990’s.  The annual has grown to the point that while there are still three official days of the meeting, it really is now five days of activities.  If you ask Rich what are the reasons for the growth and improvements, he will tell you that it is because of the involvement of staff and a dedicated group of volunteers that have been the machine that makes the meetings happen.  That may be true, but the mechanic that has made that machine run smoothly has been Rich, and the process (see, I told you it would pop back up) has been his path to making it happen.

So what is this process?  Very simply, it has been a combination of understanding the issue, identifying the smart people on the issue, making sure that the resources are available to address the issue properly, and that there is enough time for these people to get their work done.  There is very little “we’ll do it tomorrow” allowed in the process, because if you put it off, there is a bigger group bearing down on you to get it done.

As we move into the ASLRRA’s presidential transition, the new president is coming to a group that is miles away from the one that Rich came into in 2002.  The short line railroad industry has never been a more cohesive group, and while things as a whole are far from rosy, the process is definitely in place to deal with whatever is in front of us.

—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.

 

Connecting in Orlando

July 31st, 2014

I just returned from a site inspection in Orlando for next year’s American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association’s annual convention (ASLRRA 2015 Connections).  It’s an easy trip from the Mid-Atlantic, although my flights both ways were sold-out and packed with kids, parents and grandparents visiting Mickey, Minnie & Goofy and other nearby attractions.

If you aren’t familiar with the term site inspection, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. A core group of association meeting planning staff, exhibit managers, and convention leaders from ASLRRA member railroads and suppliers gather every year for a few days to do advance work planning for the next year’s annual convention. We stay at the convention hotel (in this case, the Hilton Orlando), meet with key hotel contacts dealing with catering, sleeping rooms, A/V, fitness & spa, security, shipping & receiving to discuss the specific requirements for our convention. We take a lot of measurements for the exhibit area and for meeting rooms to make sure everything suits our needs. We also typically meet with the local convention and visitor’s bureau to get ideas for possible off-site events and look at golf courses for attendees.  We talk about things we can improve upon from the previous year’s event and pretty much map out the plan for the entire convention.

The Hilton is about five years old and has more than 1,400 sleeping rooms and a 50,000-square-foot ballroom that we’ll transform into an exhibit hall for more than 225 booths. Hilton Orlando is consistently ranked on TripAdvisor as one of Orlando’s top hotels and has received the highest honor from Hilton Worldwide three years in a row for overall performance, guest satisfaction, quality, loyalty and outstanding customer service.

The hotel is a short ride from the airport, next to the convention center and located near Sea World. Perhaps some of you will remember it as the hotel where AREMA held its convention a few years ago (and will again in 2016).

It looks like all the elements are in place for another great event next spring in a first-class facility that is conducive to both business and leisure. The convention will be held the week before Easter, with the main dates of March 28-31. Hope to see you there.

—By Kathy Keeney


Kathy Keeney is Publisher of the Rail Group. The granddaughter of a railroader, she has been writing about railroads for more than 25 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.