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And we’re…Moving on!

June 10th, 2015

On June 1, at 3:30 pm, I left the Morristown & Erie.

(Right now, some of you are saying, “come on, Friedland, you have done that more than 4000 times before, what’s special about that?”)

On June 1, at 3:30 pm, I left the Morristown & Erie after almost 21 ½ years full time, and a total time of over 33 years on the property, for the last time as an employee.

Ok, now that I have your attention, let me explain.

Eight months after my 30th birthday, my father died. Following that, the Morristown & Erie became my focus. I needed the M&E to keep me going, and at times, the M&E needed me too. I wasn’t the owner or the principal of the business, but my role, as it was before my father passed, was to run the freight office, with customer service, billing, and event reporting being my responsibility. For the next year, I worked constantly. No vacation, no extra days off other than the weekends, nothing. I was so focused on my work, that it was only at the end of that year did I realize what I had done.

The next year, two things happened that changed my life. The first was the creation of Short Line Data Systems, which gave me a focus for my energies, and forced me to get away from the railroad. The other thing, which was far more significant, was the birth of my first child, Andrew. Being a father was one of the greatest things I had ever experienced, and gave me a huge amount of closure from my father’s death.

Over the next sixteen years, I was able to balance the needs of SDS, my duties at the railroad, and being a father. Six years after Andrew’s birth Rob graced us with his presence, and with a small reshuffling of my time, life went on. From year to year, the boys grew, SDS grew, and my role at the M&E remained the same. The job at the M&E was not any less important to the company, but as the years went on, I can say now that it was not as important to me. A couple of years ago I started to keep my eyes and ears open for other opportunities, but it wasn’t a high priority, and everything remained status quo.

You may have heard the term “precipitating event” and wondered where it comes from. It is actually from chemistry, and it refers to what happens when a single crystal of a chemical is introduced to a super saturated solution of that chemical, and the crystal causes all of the chemical to precipitate out of the solution all at once. A couple of weeks ago, there was a precipitating event in my world at the railroad. In retrospect it really wasn’t major, and in previous years it might not have led to what ended up happening, but after a lot of introspection and discussion with some very valued peers, I had made the decision that I needed to make: it was time for a change in my life, and the start of the change was to leave the railroad.

So what am I doing? Right now, my focus is on the two major parts of my life: my family, and SDS. I have been putting off some work for my customers lately, and now I am going to focus on them. I also now have the opportunity to spend the summer being a daddy, and I already got my start this week chaperoning a field trip for Rob’s fourth grade class. And, I have to keep writing this piece…

In the long term? I’m looking for something else. The M&E was a great place to learn my craft, and with the generosity of the people at the railroad I was able to learn and be involved with all of the functions of the company. The next opportunity will be there, and if it is the right one I would definitely be interested.

So for now, I have moved on. Looking forward, and with no regrets (Holly is picking on me though, since I am only working at one job at the moment).

—By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpg

Steve Friedland is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. At the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, he worked in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations. 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.

Be Heard

May 26th, 2015

Everyone has a voice. Some of us sing with it, some of us yell with it, others use the written word to be heard. Our country was founded on the principle that everyone has a voice, and you can use that voice to communicate with the people we have chosen to run it. Right now people is the time for you to use your voice to be heard in Washington.

There are two axioms that describe where the railroad industry is right now in Washington, D.C., and they are “Money Talks”, and “Knowledge is Power”. Before you go making assumptions, let me explain.

The short line industry, through its voice, has been successful in gaining an important tax credit that allows small railroads to better invest in their own infrastructure. Maintaining a railroad is not cheap, and the funds that 45G tax credit put back in the hands of these companies makes a big difference. Need an example? Look at these before and after pictures.

Before/After blog

I think you can see where the money has spoken here. How does this happen? Well, first you need a bunch of people in Washington that agree that your money is well spent on this. And, to get them agreeing with you, they have to have the knowledge. And where do they get that knowledge? If you want them to have the knowledge that you think they need to have, you better be the person giving it to them (or their staff, in all reality). That is where your power lies.

Railroad Day on Capitol Hill is June 4, and if you are not planning on being there, you are not only missing the point of everything I have said and have been saying over the last seven years, but you are missing what has become the most important table-setter for the year in our industry. And while the 45G tax credit is our primary discussion point, as you have seen in the news recently, it is not our only discussion point. You have to make the personal connection with our representatives in Washington and their staff, so, if there is an issue, they know who to talk to. Believe me, the opposition is talking to them right now, and there are more of them than there are on our side.

Now is the time to make your plans to be in D.C. next week. Your industry needs you, and your only investment is transportation and lodging. Actually, your only cash investment is transportation and lodging. Your other investment is your time. And that is the most important investment of all.

—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.

Ok, but…

May 15th, 2015

The final rule came out last week on tanks cars and trains carrying crude oil and ethanol. For the most part, the rule was pretty reasonable, but in one area, we are all left scratching our heads and going “what?”

The new tank car specification, 117, will definitely result in a safer car. It is stronger, less likely to leak when in a derailment due to valves sheared off, and if in a fire will survive intact longer due to enhanced thermal protection. Also in the rule is better identification of exactly what is in the cars, and better identification of the hazard they contain. There are also some other parts including speed restrictions and routing assessments, but the one that has caught my attention is the rule on Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) brakes.

What are ECPs? Well, let’s first take a step back. Way back, in fact, to 1869, and the introduction of the air brake by George Westinghouse (yes, that Westinghouse). All air brakes since the invention of the air brake have worked the same way: reduce the air pressure in the brake pipe, and the brakes will apply. This has served the rail industry well for over 150 years, because it is a fail-safe system. If the brake pipe pressure is lost suddenly, such as in an uncoupling or accident, the brakes will apply. Where the drawback is today, is that the system, by nature of its simplicity, can be slow in applying all of the brakes in a train, because the drop in air pressure in the brake pipe has to travel the length of the train (upwards of 100 cars) to tell the brakes to apply. The delay is brake application in a train can cause the hind cars in a train to run in towards the front of the train, and actually push the train while it is trying to slow down. This also puts huge stress on the cars in the train itself through the couplers and draft gear, and can cause flat spots on the wheels of the cars, which shortens the life of the wheel and of the track it rides on.

ECPs change the technology of air brakes by doing the communication portion of the brake control over a wire. The brake pipe just supplies air to the brakes, and the brakes will apply on a train almost simultaneously. Yes, this is a big improvement over what George invented back in the 19th century, but it comes at a cost. First of all is the money. To equip a locomotive with ECP, I have seen estimates of $20-$100,000, all depending on the age of the locomotive. Cars, $5-$15,000 per car. Next is the fact that every car in the train must be equipped with ECP brakes for the system to work. Third is while there is an AAR standard for the brakes from one manufacturer to be interoperable with the brakes from another manufacturer, no railroad has been actually able to make that happen at this time.

Adding to all of this is that there are technologies that are being used today that can just about replicate or in some cases exceed the performance of ECP brakes. Distributed power and two-way end of train devices can shorten the brake application time of conventional air brakes, and they don’t require any modification to existing braking systems. They also don’t require reprogramming of the braking curves in a PTC system, and are being used today effectively. But that didn’t change the minds of the rule makers…

There is a carve-out for a non-equipped train, and that is a speed limit of 30 mph. In fact, they mention in the rulemaking that this is specifically for small railroads. What they didn’t take into account is that there are 160 short line railroads carrying crude or ethanol, and 30 mph could really put a crimp into their operations, without reducing risk.

While it might look like the FRA might have taken a step too far in making this set of rules, let me propose that they might have been a little short sighted in the pocketbook. Railroads are scrambling to introduce and deploy PTC right now, throwing money and resources at the implementation so that they can reduce the overall risk to operate their railroads, and now they have been handed another unfunded mandate to reduce risk that will have to get in line behind PTC. Back in the 1980’s there was a movie based on Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff, and the famous line from that movie discussed the importance of funding to make (in this case, the space program) projects happen: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” It is definitely time for the government to make the dollars available if they want us to carry out their safety and risk management ideals.

—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.

Some Random Reilly Thoughts

April 30th, 2015

Kathy Keeney wrote a wonderful remembrance of Reilly McCarren in her blog, and I thought I would toss in a couple of personal notes of my own.

The AM has been a long-time railroad customer of SDS, and in fact was the first GCOR user of our ROCSDispatch system.  As we went through the setup and installation of the system, I would get emails from Reilly asking about features, and at times he would make suggestions about what the system should do.  Mind you, he was not using the system, and I’m not even sure if he ever saw the computer that it was running on in Arkansas, but he always wanted to talk about what could be done to make it a little better.

I didn’t know this until about ten years ago, but Reilly and I grew up in the same area.  He was ten or so years older than I am, but his family was from Short Hills, which is the next town over from Maplewood, where I grew up.  How I found out about this was typical Reilly.

One day I was sitting at home and my cell phone rings and it is Reilly, telling me that he is in town, and asking would I like to get together for lunch.  Considering that I knew that Reilly’s home base was in Illinois, my first question was what was he doing out here, and next was where did he want to eat?  He explained to me that his mother’s house was in Short Hills (I later found out that she lived literally down the street from where my mother lived at the time), and that he would come to pick me up to have lunch in an hour or so.  An hour later, an old Buick came rumbling down my street, and there is Reilly.  We went and found a place to eat, and I then found out the other reason for him wanting to get together.

You see, he was working with a company that would become SDS’ competitor in part of our market, and he thought that bringing the two of us together would create a stronger entity.  As with any business opportunity I listened to what was being presented, and for a couple of months, we worked towards a potential merging of the companies.  In the end it didn’t work out, not because of anything he did, and from time to time would talk about what could have been.

I had the privilege of serving on the Board of Directors of the ASLRRA when Reilly served, and it was my honor to be the person who seconded the motion to nominate him as Vice Chairman.  I also saw Reilly a day or two before he went to the doctor to see why he wasn’t feeling so great.  That was not a good doctor’s visit.  One thing I will say about him throughout his short battle with an extremely aggressive disease: he never once complained about his condition.  He was happy to have the time he had, and was lucky to see some life experiences that initially he was told he would not likely make it to.  We were lucky to have the extra time with him, too.

—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.

 

Remembering Reilly

April 30th, 2015

Early on in my career as a railroad journalist I was very fortunate to interview and get to know some of the short line industry’s best and brightest. Reilly McCarren, chairman and majority owner of the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad, was near the top of that list.

I was saddened to hear of Reilly’s passing this week after a battle with cancer. I first met Reilly about 25 years ago, soon after he joined the short line ranks from Conrail. He was both a gentle man and a gentleman and was one of the smartest and most articulate railroaders I’ve ever met.

He was always a great interview. I had his phone number handy for those times when I was trying to make sense out of an ICC or STB decision on rail rates or service. He always had a way of cutting through the legalese and getting to the heart of an issue. He also had a knack for projecting the industrywide impact a development could have and often crafted practical suggestions or workarounds to solve an industry problem.

Reilly wasn’t just generous with his time in news interviews, he believed in doing what he could to advance his industry. In addition to serving on the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association’s Legislative Policy Committee, Reilly was a Central Region board member for seven years and vice chairman of the ASLRRA, a position he continued to hold during his illness. He also served as chairman of the board for Operation Lifesaver and as co-chair of the Railway Industry Working Group.

When I heard the news a few days ago that Reilly had passed away, I couldn’t help but think that the industry had lost another one of its brightest lights way too soon. He was only 58.

—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.

 

Picking Out the Train Set

April 14th, 2015

Most of us have had the thrill of getting a toy train as a kid, and for many of us that is what sparked our interest that led to us working in this industry.  In my case, things were a little different.  You see, my father was a true rail fan, and any trains that I received were done mainly to keep me from playing with his trains.  I got an N-scale layout on a board to play with so that I wouldn’t mess with my father’s O-scale trolley layout, complete with overhead wires.  As I got older, my father’s model train tastes moved towards live steam, and he built (with a little help from me) a 1 ½” to the foot scale version of a B&O 0-4-0 switcher, complete with freight cars to pull (and ride in).  Now this was a real steam engine, and we would go out to a club where he would run it, and occasionally he let me get behind the throttle too.

I guess I don’t need to tell you what the next step was.  Shortly after my thirteenth birthday, following the death of my grandfather my father had hit a wall in moving up in the family business, and was starting to move away from that job.  He was doing some side work helping a contractor on a grade crossing on the M&E, and he found out that the company was in bankruptcy, and was available to be purchased.  The timing was right, and the rest, as they say is history, and his time as a railroad owner had begun.

This leads us to an email I received shortly after returning from the ASLRRA 2015 Connections.  The sender was putting together a group that wanted to start a short line, and he was asking me for advice on places and people to talk to.  I didn’t respond immediately, because as I looked back in my mind to think of the people and companies I have dealt with over the years, there really wasn’t one way that worked.  For some, it was getting in with the real estate group at a class 1 and being there at the right time with the money to buy a spun off property.  For others, it was knowing someone at a facility and being there at the right time when the operators were looking to privatize, and for some it was buying a piece of property and utilizing the “if you build it they will come” method of operation.  I even know of a couple of crazy folks that have taken over the operation of a railroad that has failed under previous operators, and the new guys think they can pull the rabbit out of the hat.  In the end, it did not make a difference what method was used, there was one common thread throughout all of the cases:  the people were there, proactively reaching out, and really making sure that people knew that they were there and interested.

So what was my advice?  Put together a strong group with good financing.  Talk to everyone, because you never know where the opportunities will pop up, and the more people that know you are looking expand your outreach.

Always good to have the choice of which train set to get.

—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.

Here We Go Again

March 24th, 2015

Tomorrow Holly and I head off to Orlando to start the wind up to the ASLRRA 2015 Connections convention.  This will be (I think) the fifteenth time I have attended the convention, and in that time a lot has changed.  When I first attended in 1998, I was a 30-something railroader that really did not know much beyond the confines of the railroads in New Jersey, and was just starting to learn about how railroads relate to their Class 1 partners.  By 2002 (I didn’t attend the meeting in 2000, and the 2001 meeting didn’t happen due to 9/11), I had expanded my world to include SDS, and we moved from the purely railroad world to the supplier world and started exhibiting at the meeting.  Since then my world has included being both a railroader and a supplier, committee chair, Associate and Railroad member of the Board of Directors, speaker, meeting volunteer, Audio Visual Chair, and Chair of the meeting twice, in 2007 and 2012.

This year’s meeting will include for me a couple of days of prep, including name badge printing, general session rehearsals, and graphics preparation, committee meetings and the Board meeting, and putting together our booth.  And then the meeting starts.  I will be bouncing between the General Sessions, appearances in the booth to talk to current and potential customers, helping with the massive machine that keeps the meeting running, and I’m also a speaker on a panel in one of the breakouts.  Following the meeting, we’ll take a couple of days to see the Mouse, sleep, and finally head for home.

If it sounds like a full and busy ten days, it is.  Some of you are probably thinking I am crazy for doing this year after year, and wonder what the payoff is for me.

Why do I do this to this level?  First of all, I need to support my customers, and hopefully find a couple of new ones too.  I am very fortunate that Holly is a great salesperson, and we have had help in the booth over the years from some great family friends.  Next, I believe in what the ASLRRA is here to do, and with a strong association, the small railroad industry will thrive.  Finally, these are my friends and my rail “family.”  You can’t put a better group of people together.  Whether we work for complementary or competitive companies, all gets put aside for the meeting, and we have a great time making the event happen.

As with every change of the calendar, it is also a time for some to move on.  At this year’s meeting we will be saying au revoir to two of our friends who will be retiring.  Tom Streicher has been the guru of safety and operations for the Association for a long time, and my association with Tom predates his time at the ASLRRA, and I am honored to call him both an associate and friend.  Cheryl Huyck is one of my oldest friends in the industry, and I first spoke to her when I was still in college.  I worked with her when she was at the AAR and Railinc, and she was one of the first people to know that I had decided to build the program that eventually became ROCS.  When I heard that she had left Railinc, I immediately called Rich Timmons and suggested that she would be a good person to bring into the ASLRRA fold (as did a couple of other people).  She has been at the Association since 2006, and it has been my privilege to call her a friend for well over 20 years.

So, if you run into me at the convention, I might be hurrying to put out a fire, or look a little tired, but please understand, I’ll be having a great 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 Just Won’t Work

March 10th, 2015

Ok folks, tighten your belts and hold on tight, this one is going to be a full on rant.

This has to stop.  What, you ask?  People believing that if they stop their vehicle on a grade crossing that a magical bubble of protection will lower around them and keep them from harm.  Get over it people, that won’t happen, and in fact, you and your vehicle will probably be turned from a three-dimensional object into a quite flat two -dimensional one.  You will also put the crew (and passengers if it is a passenger train) at risk of injury or death.

Bottom line:  if it is a grade crossing, don’t stop on it.  Gates – don’t go around them.  Flashers – if they are blinking and the bell is ringing, stop.

Here’s something radical and probably excessive:  if a vehicle is found stopped or parked on a grade crossing, charge the owner with intent to injure.  No parking ticket here folks, we are talking a criminal act.  You can’t convince me that with all of the coverage the accidents are getting these days that people don’t know about what the potential outcome of stopping or parking over a crossing is, and the only reason I can come up with why they would do it would be that they were intending to harm the train.

Why am I this upset?  This is the result of a truck stopped on a grade crossing in the way of a northbound Amtrak train yesterday:


Do you see the locomotive sitting on its side perpendicular to the tracks?  It was being operated by a friend yesterday.  A friend who saw the truck parked across the tracks and put his train into full emergency braking.  A friend who braced himself and had to watch the collision and ride out the locomotive being flipped on its side.  A friend who was fortunate to walk away from the accident without physical injury.  A friend who will be living with the psychological effects from this accident for the rest of his life.

We need to protect our employees, folks, because right now, they are the ones who are at risk.

—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.

 

Dreaming of Warmer Times

February 22nd, 2015

As I write this, I am sitting in my office at the M&E wearing long johns and heavy socks, in addition to my usual attire.  It is in the single digits outside, and the heater for my office trailer is doing what it can to get the temperature up to 65 degrees. We have been fortunate (so far) in New Jersey to avoid the depths of snow up in New England, and we have a snow pack on the ground that is probably about eight to twelve inches.  We have also been fortunate that we have been able to keep the railroad running with minimal disruption.  This time last year we were in the middle of storm after storm, and at one point it took us ten days to clear one of our lines due to the snow and ice accumulation.

Enough talking about another dreary winter. Let’s move on to something that will be in a much warmer place, and the discussion of snow and freezing temperatures will be a thing of the past.

What is it, you ask? Of course I am talking about the ASLRRA 2015 Connections, which will take place March 28-31 at the Hilton Orlando in Orlando, Florida. Those of you who have been reading this blog over the years know that I am very involved with the meeting on a number of levels, so my reasons for you at attend come from a completely biased viewpoint.

Let me give you the biased reasons to attend first. The meeting is simply the biggest short line railroad event.  There is no other place that you will be able to interact with more people in your industry, no other place that you will be able to get more education about topics that affect your operations, and no other place that you will be able to see the best products and services available for your company.  Everything that has been used to describe this meeting usually includes the words bigger and more, because Meeting Chairman Gary Griswell and the planning committee have created an event that has more exhibitors in the biggest exhibition ever, more educational sessions, and more opportunities for interaction than ever before.

Now for the non-biased bit. It should be warmer and greener than just about any place that you are right now (if you are in Hawaii, Mexico, or Miami, you have my apologies).  Orlando in the early spring is not a bad place to be, and you are still at the start of Easter week, so the crowds won’t be too bad.  There won’t be any snow (if there is we have much bigger problems), ice (except in your drink), or bone chilling cold (if you set the air conditioning in your room that low it’s on you).  So make your plans to be in Orlando on March 28-31, and see what ASLRRA Connections is all about.

—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.

 

Fit for Duty?

February 19th, 2015

We all go to work when we are tired. We might need an extra cup of coffee or tea on those days (or a Red Bull, I suppose) but we can get our work done, albeit a bit more slowly or less efficiently. For those of us with office jobs, it might mean having to read an email a few times to understand it completely or being a little less engaged in a conference call or staff meeting.

Tiredness, however, can be a serious problem in the transportation environment – especially when it’s brought on by an underlying sleep or medical problem.

Requiring medical fitness for duty was on the National Transportation Safety Board’s Top 10 so-called Most Wanted List for 2015. Sounds simple enough but in reality is it? Some pilots, vessel and train operators are not medically fit to operate vehicles. Those suffering from impairing medical disorders should not be at the controls unless they receive medical treatment that mitigates the risk to the public.

NTSB said the medical certification processes for safety critical personnel vary widely across modes of transportation. Although the NTSB has found that obstructive sleep apnea has been a factor in multiple accidents, transportation modes often still lack a complete screening process for this condition.

In a 2013 train derailment in the Bronx, the engineer’s sleep apnea was undiagnosed until the week following the derailment, despite many visits for occupational and personal health care. With a change in his work patterns, the combination of the untreated sleep apnea and fatigue from his disrupted sleep schedule led to his fatigue at the time of the accident.

In March 2014, a CTA Blue Line train struck a barrier and went airborne, landing atop an escalator at Chicago’s O’Hare airport station. The woman operating the Chicago commuter train that derailed and injured more than 30 people admitted she fell asleep before the accident and only woke up on impact. She said she had dozed off before and overshot a station. It’s still unclear what role an underlying condition or changing work schedule played in that accident.

Since 2001, the NTSB has identified obstructive sleep apnea as a factor in at least nine accidents in four transportation modes, and recommended that the Federal Railroad Administration require all railroads to screen for and treat sleep apnea more than a decade ago.

The Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study, a longitudinal study of cardiopulmonary sleep disorders among middle-aged working adults, estimated that 2 percent of women and 4 percent of men have sleep apnea. According to the Wisconsin study, 9 percent of women and 24 percent of men have undiagnosed sleep-disordered breathing, a condition that in some people results in excessive daytime sleepiness.

In mid-December, MTA Metro-North Railroad selected a health care company to provide medical testing and evaluation services for a seven-month pilot project focusing on obstructive sleep apnea and locomotive engineers. The railroad developed the pilot in tandem with Long Island Rail Road and New York City Transit, which will be closely following its results. All 410 Metro-North engineers and about 20 engineers in training will undergo an initial screening by the railroad’s Occupational Health Services Department based on industry best practices. Those locomotive engineers recommended for additional screening will be referred to a contractor that specializes in sleep disorders.

The vendor will provide training and test equipment for an at-home, overnight sleep test. In the morning, the engineer will use a prepaid mailer and send the test device back to the vendor. Test data will be analyzed and, if needed, employees will be referred to a sleep specialist for additional testing and/or treatment.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) charged that the MTA still does not have a specific plan to test and treat Long Island Rail Road engineers for sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, and urged that the MTA quickly expand its Metro-North pilot program to include LIRR engineers.

“A light rail crash in Boston prompted the MTA to start testing New York City’s subway engineers for dangerous sleep disorders and then, a Metro-North crash prompted the testing of Metro-North engineers; it shouldn’t take a Long Island Rail Road crash for the MTA to test and treat LIRR engineers for sleep disorders, like sleep apnea,” said Senator Schumer. “Time and again, NTSB has made common-sense recommendations that transit agencies have taken far too long to implement in a comprehensive way. There should be no delay in starting a pilot program for testing LIRR engineers who may suffer from obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, which could put thousands of daily commuters at risk if undetected.”

I don’t often agree with the New York Senator, but I’ve agreed with him at least twice in the last few weeks – once on sleep apnea testing for railroad workers and the other on his new legislation to provide more funds to improve engineering, education and enforcement at railroad grade crossings.

—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.