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Spending Time

July 24th, 2014

It seems that life these days is made up of the spaces in between when we work, and with all of the constant communication that goes on those spaces keep getting smaller.  In my life, I haven’t helped things by being in a position that essentially has me on call 24 hours a day, and the fact that I am a one man band with my own company that has me acting in a customer service role all the time.  In the early days of SDS I also travelled a lot, so my time at home was limited.  I have been very fortunate to have a wonderfully understanding wife who allowed me to do these things by covering during my absence, but there have been times that I have missed things that have gone on with my two boys growing up that I wished I had been there for.

Recently it seems that the roles have changed a little bit.  Holly has been teaching a college class at nights, so for a couple of nights a week it has been just the two of us (Andrew went to summer camp for a month, so it was just Rob and I), and I have really enjoyed the quality time.  While I can’t say that there have been deep conversations with Rob (he’s nine), it has really been a lot of fun having the one on one time.

As I mentioned above, our eldest, Andrew went to sleepover camp for the last four weeks, and we brought him back home last Friday.  Andrew is 15 now, and will be a sophomore in high school this September.  Freshman year of high school was not the easiest time for him this year.  Between learning about how to really study and manage his time, girls, wrestling, and all of the other assorted craziness that goes along with being a teenager there were more than a couple of bumps.  He hit bottom at the start of the last marking period, and really decided to buckle down and he had to study to pull his grades up.  Fortunately for him he was taking classes that were up my alley, physics and algebra, and I spent a lot of time helping him with his homework.  He also didn’t have any plans for the summer, and right near the end of the school year we found the camp that he ended up going to, which gave him something to do.  This was a huge turnaround for him.

At camp he worked with people with Autism, and also spent quality time with people his age that shared a lot of the same interests that he has.  When we picked him up last week, you could see a change in him (it took a day or so to see it because he came home and slept for 16 hours).  His grades also took a huge jump in the last marking period, and saved his year.

So as a bit of a reward, I took Andrew to Washington, DC for a couple of days this week, and I am not sure who had a better time, him or me.  For him, he got to see a bunch of things at the museums and monuments, and spend one on one time with his dad.  For me, I got to spend time with a young man whose maturity is just blooming, who is inquisitive and wants to learn about things.

I think I got the better end of the deal.

—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.

Ahh, Youth…

July 10th, 2014

As I mentioned in my last blog, I was at the NS Short Line Meeting in Roanoke, and like most meetings of this type, we were wined and dined, spoken to by members of NS senior management about all sorts of topics, and numerous meetings took place with market managers about business, old, current, and new.  There was something, though, that a number of us who had been attending the meeting for a long time noticed, and that was that there were a significant number of young people at the meeting.

So why is this so important?

Ok folks, time for a little history lesson here. People are what make railroads run. Yes, you have the guys at the throttle and throwing the switches, but they are just the tip of the arrow. There is a huge supporting cast that does everything from building and maintaining infrastructure, to financial services, to maintaining equipment, and everything else that makes the freight move. Railroads are also very much a hands-on industry, and a lot of what you learn to do your job comes from hands-on instruction, and not from a computer or book. Because of this, railroading does not provide an instantaneous path for upward mobility like a number of other jobs. You may be working at the same level for a number of years before spots open up to allow you to move up.

According to the most recent BA-6 from the Railroad Retirement Board, I have been working full time for over 254 months in the industry, and in those 21+ years I have seen three or four major waves of retirements. In those waves, we have lost a good amount of the knowledge about how things work in our industry. While there have been people who have filled the positions of the retirees, in many cases the numbers have not filled all of the seats, and we have also had to rebuild the institutional knowledge of the new people. What had been lacking was a visible group of younger people who were being exposed to all parts of the industry, and were going to be in this for the long haul. And it looks like we are starting to see them now.

And seeing them was a very important thing. Over the years I had met a number of younger management people from Class 1 railroads, and while most of them knew what a Short Line was, they had never been to or had met someone from a Short Line up until that point. What was truly scary was that some of them had been with the company for many years. It was great the NS had their younger employees at the meeting because they got the exposure to other railroads than the one they were working for, and hopefully that exposure will lead to better (and longer) relationships down the road.

For the longest time in my career, I was the “kid” in the room. I welcome the new crop of “children” and I hope that their careers are long and fruitful.

—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.

Velocity Matters

July 9th, 2014

Is St. Paul the new Chicago? Earlier this year when the railroad industry was criticized for delayed rail shipments, top executives cited the unusually harsh winter conditions, difficult operating conditions and blamed Chicago, in particular.

It’s July now and the rail industry is still dealing with slowdowns in the Midwest for grain shipments. And while the Chicago gateway is more fluid than it was this winter, another chokepoint has cropped up.

“Unfortunately even though the extreme winter conditions are over and gone, we are still experiencing congestion/bottlenecks at Chicago and St. Paul. Chicago has improved, but is still congested. More recently we have experienced severe congestion/bottlenecks at St. Paul,” CP President Keith Creel said.

“We estimate that there may be a backlog demand of up to approximately 10,000 to 12,000 cars on our railroad. In addition, we expect that over the course of the next five weeks we may see an additional demand for approximately 2,000 grain cars attributable to the 2013 crop year,” he said.

Last month, both CP and BNSF were ordered by the Surface Transportation Board to implement plans to resolve the backlog of grain car orders and address grain car delays on their networks. They were also directed to file weekly status reports with the agency.

CP says it has increased its U.S. grain loadings by more than 25 percent since April. CP said it would supplement the new regional carrier Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad’s grain car supply by approximately 300 to 400 grain cars per week, as needed, and to meet the estimated demand for the remaining 2013 crop year, planned to move up to 2,000-2,500 CP-supplied grain cars per week, including cars to the RCP&E.

In a July 7 filing with the STB, CP said it was working with RCP&E on several fronts:

• Scheduled daily train service to and from Tracy, Minn.;

• Allocated capacity to move grain empties from Chicago as well as directing grain empties in route for delivery to the RCP&E;

• Allocated capacity to move outbound traffic from the RCP&E for movement to final destination;

• Created daily internal scorecards and tracking of performance allowing for immediate corrective action;

• Established a weekly operations call to review car placements and to identify improvement opportunities; and

• Made a commitment to run extra trains to move loads and empties when required, as well as deliver unit trains of grain empties to the RCP&E when required.

CP said it is developing a new system to replace its current grain car request system. It has met with BNSF and is actively engaged in discussions to increase fluidity through St. Paul and is in regular discussions with other railroad owners of the Belt Railway Company of Chicago and BRC management to improve fluidity of the Chicago Terminal.  It is also working with its customers and other railroads to possibly reroute traffic around congested areas.

BNSF, meanwhile, said it filled more than 2,600 car orders during the week ended July 3. The railroad said it reduced the number of past due cars by approximately 9,000 since the high in March of 2014.

BNSF reported past due grain car orders of 7,388 for the week ended July 3, down 12 percent from the previous week. A car order is considered past due when it is greater than three days past the desired customer date.  Its active grain fleet is 25,070 cars, with 56.6 percent of it under load.

BNSF has taken short-term and long-term actions to improve velocity across its network and reduce the backlog of grain cars. The steps include:

• Aggressive coordination between train operations and maintenance activity to maximize the throughput of traffic;

• Ensuring equipment and manpower are located where they can best support increased velocity and volumes and remedy critical service situations;

• Moving grain hoppers that have been in shuttle service for which certificate commitments have expired into non-shuttle service;

• Hiring and training 405 new train, yard and engine employees from January through June 20, 2014 to work along the Northern tier, where most BNSF grain originations occur and many grain products and processor sites are located;

• Adding more than 200 locomotives to the network since the beginning of 2014;

• Assigning field supervisors from across the system to key locations to assist in streamlining communication, coordinating train flows, and managing critical resources;

• Undertaking several employee programs to further increase crew availability, including a vacation buyback program and incentives for eligible TY&E employees to stay past their eligible retirement date for 6 or 12 months.

Longer-term steps include bringing online 500 new locomotives and 5,000 cars, and spending more than $3.2 billion in maintaining and expanding its network in 2014. A significant portion of that investment, including key capital expansion projects, is focused on the Northern region of the network, across which significant volumes of grain traffic move.

While many of us are enjoying the lazy days of summer, it’s another crunch time for the railroads. They are in the national spotlight once again and know they need to deliver. Stay tuned….we’ll see how they do.

—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.

One Size Fits All … Or Does It?

June 24th, 2014

With all of the travelling I do I rent probably a dozen different cars in a year.  Now I understand that the basics of driving are basically the same no matter what car you are in, but each car has its own little nuances. For example, last week I was in Virginia at the NS Short Line Meeting, and I had a Lincoln MKZ, which is the Lincoln version of the Ford Fusion, which happens to be what my wife drives. I’ve driven her car many times since she got in in December, and I am pretty comfortable with the layout and where the controls are. When I got into my rental car I had to take a couple of minutes to figure out where all of the controls were. I’ll admit the steering wheel and pedals were easy to find and figure out how to use them, but starting and shifting the car was a different story.

When I learned to drive you started your car with a key that went into a keyhole on the dash or steering column.  After almost thirty years of driving a car, I had to get used to a start button on the dash when I got my new car this year.  It took almost a week for the muscle memory to stop kicking in looking for the key to turn.  Shifting a car into gear was done with a shift lever on the column or on the center console.  Not on this Lincoln.  It had a row of buttons down the left side of the center console (some of you are saying right now “I had a Chrysler like that in the sixties”) that you used to select the gear.  I won’t tell you how many times over the week I reached for the gear shift that wasn’t there…

Railroads aren’t that much different than the car rental industry. Why, you ask?  Well, we basically rent a good number of the cars that are used to the shippers. Most of these cars are boxcars, and the Class 1 owned fleets are large. The problem is, they are also diverse. For example, while NS has eight different types of boxcars in their fleet, those cars have seventeen different types of fittings or doors. Not good if you are trying to improve the velocity of your fleet, because you are constantly trying to sharp shoot which car type goes where. In the end, you are lucky if you get one turn a month on a car.

So what is NS’s intended solution? Standardize the fleet, as much as they can. If they were in an ideal world, all of their boxcars would be 60’ plate F double-door cars. They have found that they are a good middle of the road solution for their needs. Unfortunately, they, like the rest of us are not in the ideal situation, and because of height restrictions on parts of their system that would prevent the 17’ plate F cars from getting to their destination, they are going to need a second car type in the boxcar fleet.  That will probably be a 60’ plate C (15’ 6” height) which will fit just about anywhere.

One of the interesting things here is that the days of the 50’ 70-ton plate C boxcar are done. They will go the way of the 40’ car, and the retirements are already starting.  By the start of the 2030s, they will be a thing of the past.  As they say, time and technology move on…

—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.

No Bucks, No Buck Rogers

June 4th, 2014

Anyone who has read Tom Wolfe’s book on the early space age The Right Stuff or has seen the movie knows what the above line is all about:  without funding, you can’t make the spectacular things happen.  In the case of the space program, you needed the attention of the people providing the funds, i.e. the government, and the way you got the attention of the government was through the people who paid and elected them, or us, the American public.

That being said, here is where I get your attention, American public.  We have all seen the stories in the news with all sorts of elected officials calling for more government inspectors because rail safety is suffering.  Sorry folks, all this is going to do is set up a situation where you now have someone who can point at a problem and say what is wrong, but it is your problem to find the funding to fix it.  Or, as the flow of legislation trying to add “risk reduction” systems (PTC and Hours of Service are good ones to use) starts to increase, we are going to be left with a laundry list of things we must do “for our own good” and no way to pay for (or develop) them.  And finally, where are these additional inspectors going to come from?  If they come from within our industry, are you pulling out the people with talent who should be solving the problems, or are you getting those who have less talent, and we are creating a situation where a little bit of knowledge is dangerous?  The FRA has a very talented group of people keeping the ship upright.  Let’s not weigh it down so it founders.

Where should the money (if there is any) go?  If we are going to reduce risk, let’s use the funds available to improve the ability to access these systems and avoid the situation we have in PTC right now that has some railroads installing safety equipment on a locomotive that has a value two to three times the value of the locomotive itself.  Attentive rulemaking is one way of reducing cost, but does it really reduce the risk because you are just saying that in some situations the amount of risk that would actually be reduced by these systems is so small that the cost isn’t justified.  My question is, if that is the case, is the original way we are operating intrinsically so safe that the system isn’t needed, or the cost versus risk reduction so lopsided that you are putting good money after bad?

To those in Washington that feel that inspectors are the solution, I’m sorry, but you need to have committed the act or have a process in place that will create the evidence for an inspector to find an issue to correct (this is also my argument against cameras looking into the cab of a locomotive, but that is for another blog).  Now I will agree that more inspections have a greater chance of catching a potential problem before it happens, but the problem has to be there to find it.  Why don’t we spend our limited funds on accessibility, which will have everybody operating with the same systems and procedures?

Hopefully, it will lead us to the stars.

—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.

Railroading’s Best Women

June 4th, 2014

Well, it’s that time of year again. Time to think about the many talented women we work with and for and consider nominating one of them as Outstanding Woman of the Year.

The League of Railway Industry Women honors one woman every year for having made outstanding contributions to the industry. Some years, it is more of a lifetime achievement award, honoring someone for their contributions to the industry over their career. Other times, the award recognizes that woman’s leadership or unique contributions to particular events or projects that took place that year.

The nominees can be involved in any aspect of railroading in North America and work for a railroad, rail supplier, contractor, rail shipper, rail regulatory authority or rail trade association. Past honorees have included Deb Butler from Norfolk Southern, Jo Strang from the FRA (now at ASLRRA),  Lupe Valdez from Union Pacific, Judy Petry from Farmrail, Donna Acors from CSX, Murphy Krajenta from BNSF Railway, and Connie Sumara from Chicago Freight Car Leasing.

The award will be presented at the Plenary Session on Sept. 22 of RSI/CMA 2014 + Canadian Rail Summit in Montreal.  Submit your nominations by July 31 to the LRIW’s Sally Boven (sally.boven@reflectiveapparel.com).

This is a great opportunity to show appreciation for our industry colleagues, some of whom may truly be unsung heroes of railroading.

—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 Limelight

May 14th, 2014

As the saying goes, “be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.”  Right now, we, as an industry, are getting what we wished for.  What is it, you ask? Attention, with a capital “A”.  Is all this attention good?  Yes and no, but maybe this is an opportunity to turn the attention into something that can benefit all of us.

First of all, why are we getting all of this attention?  As they said in the Beverly Hillbillies, “oil that is, black gold, Texas tea…”  Are all of the railroads in the country handling it?  No, but enough of them are, and unfortunately the accidents that have occurred, both big and small, are getting everyone’s attention.  Honestly, would the derailment in Virginia last week have received the attention it did both politically and on the news if Lac Megantic had not occurred?  Probably not, but the fact is it did, and shortly thereafter we got the emergency order from the DOT and the advisory from PHMSA.  Again, the order didn’t come from one accident, but a series of incidents that have received enough attention that something needs to be done.

So while we wait for the rules and battles (like crew size) to be fought, what can we do?  I think this is a great opportunity to both reinforce training and procedures that you may already have in place, and also it is a good time to look at how you operate and make any adjustments that might be needed to your operating practices.  It doesn’t make a difference if you are moving unit trains of Bakken crude or a single car of sand, the operating practices are the same, just on a slightly different scale.

One other area that you can always improve by just picking up the phone is talking to the communities you travel through.  It’s never a good thing to meet the chief of the police or fire department for the first time when you have an incident.  Take some time, give them a call, and tell them about your business.  This way the railroad isn’t a mystery to them, and they can tailor their response properly to the situation, instead of them calling out a full-blown response every time that you drop a wheel in.

If anything, the latest instructions from DOT and PHMSA highlight practices we should already be doing, whether we carry crude oil or not, and this is the time for all of us to make sure that our time spent in the limelight shows our best side.

—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.

Execute Violently

May 1st, 2014

So here I am at my desk writing the annual “What happened at the ASLRRA Annual Convention” piece.  Let me get the usual niceties out of the way first:  Alan Matheson did a spectacular job chairing the event, and major thanks to all of the volunteers, staff, and others who made Connections (pun intended) in San Diego another great ASLRRA event.

Now that I have that out of the way, what were the big stories at the ALSRRA 2014 Connections?

For me there were two:  one industry wide, and the other personal.  The industry wide story is one that has been going on for the last year, and got a major public airing in San Diego.  And that, of course, is safety.  The accidents with crude by rail (CBR) trains have shifted the spotlight on to the short lines with rail safety, and we simply can’t sit there and say “I’m not carrying crude, and my railroad hasn’t had an accident, so we must be safe.”  The fact is that while short lines are safe, we still lag behind the Class 1 railroads.  Some of this has to do with the metrics, and some of this has to do with the culture, and a major initiative was announced by the ASLRRA to get a better handle on both.

The ASLRRA Safety Institute will be modeled after similar groups that have been formed by the Nuclear Power and Airline industries, and will serve as an evaluator of safety practices on short lines.  The results of the evaluations will initially be done on carriers doing CBR, and the results and recommendations will remain confidential.  It is expected that self-policing will not only improve the safety level of CBR carriers, but the plans are that the work of the Institute will spread to all carriers eventually, and we will all benefit in the end.

The personal story?  Well, here’s what happened:  On Thursday, which was the busiest day of Connections, I was busy with the General Session and two speaking roles I had on panels in the afternoon.  Holly, my wife, was manning the SDS booth with our friend Joel.  The morning was going ok, but I started getting texts from Holly that she wasn’t feeling well and that she was going up to our room.  When I finally saw her at lunchtime she didn’t look so great, and she was complaining of abdominal pain on her right side.  I suggested that it was time for her to seek medical attention, which she agreed to, and she went off to the doctor with Cheryl Huyck from the ASLRRA (Holly wanted me to be at my speaking engagements, but I do apologize to those in the sessions if I was a little distracted).  As my sessions were going on, I received texts from Holly that they were sending her to the hospital and that it could be appendicitis.  Needless to say, I made my way over to the hospital as quickly as I could after I had finished speaking, and by the time I had arrived there I received a text saying “good news – it could be kidney stones!”  The good news was that it was, and that she had passed the stone while she was at the ER, so with a prescription for painkillers she was released from the hospital in a couple of hours.

In our industry (as well as many others) we all make plans for what happens when there is an emergency.  We all hope that we don’t have to test them at any time, but when we do have to put them to work, it is great to know that the plans work.  Major kudos to Cheryl, who just by her presence with Holly put me at ease, to Alan, Dan, and Elizabeth, who looked ahead into my schedule to make sure that if I wasn’t going to be present that the show would go on, and to Joel, who rearranged his schedule to stay in San Diego an extra night and cover our absence.  To all of you, and everyone who expressed their concern for Holly, thank you.

—By Steve Friedland

P.S. – Right now, some of you are saying “what did that title have to do with the article?”  Here is the story:  As has become tradition during the Annual Meeting, Rich Timmons and I walk the event property so that he can get his bearings and it is his way of “reviewing the troops” in case there is some small thing that needs to be changed.  This year’s walk ended with an impromptu run through of the General Session with Elizabeth Petty, who is Rich’s assistant and my writing and producing partner in this year’s General Session.  We went through everything down to the final minute detail, with both Elizabeth and I playing multiple parts as Rich sat in the front row with the script.  When the run through finished, and the three of us were sitting there Rich looked at me, and said, “Well Steven, we have a plan, and we have backups.  Do you know what you do when you have a well thought out and fully prepared plan?”  I took pause for a second or two, looked at Elizabeth, who didn’t have an answer either, and she said to Rich, “what do you do?”  Rich looked at us both, paused and said “You execute violently.”

Blame It on Chicago

April 17th, 2014

Both rail shippers and rail carriers are paying a price for one of the worst winter weather seasons in recent history. The literal costs for additional crews, cars and locomotives as well as productivity hits like longer dwell time are obvious (or will be soon) in the major carriers’ first-quarter earnings reports.

The rail service crisis is also costing them in their reputations as solid service providers for shippers, and shippers themselves are paying a variety of additional costs, including those from diverting shipments to other modes as a result of the rail freight service delays.

At a hearing last week at the Surface Transportation Board, representatives of CP and BNSF and numerous shipper-related groups delved into the rail service crisis. Coal and grain shippers and even Amtrak slammed freight rail service in the Midwest, terming the situation “dire” in some instances.

Here’s a sampling of shipper comments from the hearing:

“Growers need the railroads probably more than the railroads need them.”

“What we hear is trust us, you’re not going to run out of coal” from the railroads.

“Oil gets headlines in North Dakota but agriculture is the state’s backbone. Rails need to move grain first, not last.”

“It’s crunch time. We need to get grain off the ground.”

“Railroads need to put more grain trains on the tracks.”

“Asked to use UP, but haven’t heard back from BNSF.”

And the situation is leading regulators, analysts and shippers to wonder if this situation is the new normal. “I’m not going to suggest it’s the new normal,” said Keith Creel, CP’s president and COO. “I’d argue it was unusual winter related. We’ve got a big hole to dig out of, but we’re making progress.”

He said CP is working with customers to reroute their freight through gateways other than Chicago. And with the weather slowly improving, Creel says Chicago is getting better and within 4-6 weeks should be close to normal if everyone does their part.

“As soon as Chicago corrects itself, our problem goes away,” Creel said. It’s not a people issue…it’s a velocity issue, he added.

BNSF acknowledged the harsh conditions but said it operates a winter railroad and is “taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to restoring fluidity to the network,” according to Stevan Bobb, executive vice president and chief marketing officer. While moving to address the crisis at hand, it is also taking longer-term steps to improve capacity, particularly in its northern tier, that involve more people, equipment and infrastructure investment.

BNSF put out a special service bulletin this week advising of its plans to handle peak demand for fertilizer movements.  They include:

    • Handling unit fertilizer similar to the logistics of Grain Shuttles, where customers have the capacity for rapid load/unload.
    • For customers with this capability, BNSF will commit locomotives to these trains to reduce any potential delays and ensure expedited turn around service at origin and destination.
    • Adding an additional shuttle set into fertilizer service to increase capacity through increased resources.
    • Managing crew availability so that crews are in position when the train is ready to depart.
    • Working to ensure accurate ETAs so facilities can be prepositioned to load and unload as fast as possible.

CSX chief Michael Ward noted that the Chicago problems have had a cascading effect on the rest of the rail network. He said Chicago typically would either have cold winters or snowy winters—this year it had both.

In its first quarter earnings, CSX said its revenue grew 2 percent to $3.0 billion on volume increases of 3 percent, with strength in intermodal and merchandise markets offsetting declines in coal. Its operating income declined 16 percent to $739 million and the operating ratio increased 520 basis points to 75.5 percent, primarily due to the impact of harsh weather. CSX estimates that weather-related disruptions increased expenses by approximately six cents per share, and impacted revenue contribution by about two to three cents.

Shippers are tired of the blame it on Chicago and blame it on the weather reasons for the delays. It is crunch time for the railroads and they appear to be throwing everything they have at fixing the problem knowing that the ramifications are immense if they don’t.

—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.

A little thanks

April 14th, 2014

I’ve written in the past about how the ASLRRA’s Connections conference is truly a group effort when it comes to making things happen when we are on site.  The volunteers, led by Judy Petry, are a well drilled and efficient machine when it comes to making this meeting happen.  All of the people who volunteer their time to the cause while also trying to make sure they attend the sessions they need to deserve a whole lot of thanks, but in this blog I am going to give my thanks to two people who really give their all to the meeting, and without whom putting this meeting on would be both more difficult and much more expensive.

As many of you know, I help the ASLRRA with the AV portion of their meetings.  During the Regional meetings and Railroad Day you can usually find me at the tech table running the sound and presentations for the sessions.  As you can imagine, Connections is a lot more complex, with the two large general sessions, eight breakout tracks and numerous committee meetings and training sessions, all of which usually require a laptop and projector.  The hotel does have an in-house AV company that the ASLRRA does contract with to provide the equipment for the general sessions and things like the screens and sound in the rooms, but it falls to us to set up the projectors and computers in each of the rooms.

Who’s us you ask?  Well, for Connections the crew swells to three, and the other two members are whom I am shining the spotlight on.  These guys handle most of the lugging, setup and breakdown, and management of the tech portion of the meeting.  You probably won’t notice them because they bring very little attention to themselves while they are working, and a lot of the work they do is done when you aren’t in the room.  But I do think it is time to introduce and thank them for the work they do.

Dave Moran is someone that a lot of you know from his time at GE Transportation’s Optimization Solutions (the former RMI).  He has been helping us for I think five years now, and he is one of the most unflappable and efficient people I know.  He handles the Cyber Cafés and networking the ASLRRA’s computers on site, and generally has everything set up or broken down in record time.  If some of you are thinking “doesn’t he work for SDS’ biggest competitor?” yes he does, and while we don’t talk shop during the convention, I am thankful every year for his bosses giving him to us for the convention.

Our other team member is Dan McCabe, who is the CFO/CIO of Tacoma Rail.  Dan came to us three years ago at the recommendation of Dave, and he has been a huge help to us ever since.  Dan is cut from the same fabric as Dave, and despite having his responsibilities at the railroad and with a young family, he makes the time to help us each year.  Dan also works with me at the tech table for the general sessions, and he has also been taking on a bigger role with the Meeting App prior to the meeting.

So if you are in San Diego on Tuesday, and you see a couple of guys flash past in red shirts with Super Dave or The Man on the back of them, stop them and thank them for helping with the meeting.  Just don’t stop them for too long, because they have a lot of work to do.

—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.