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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Chuck Emely, who has served as executive director and CEO of AREMA since 1998, has been replaced by Larry Etherton, who has been named interim executive director and CEO.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.

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.