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It’s Not Always About You

November 30th, 2016

This year’s ASLRRA regional meetings were a little bit different in content than in years past. With the advent of the Short Line Safety Institute (SLSI), it was decided that the first morning of the meetings would be dedicated to showcasing what the SLSI would be looking at and for when they were doing a site evaluation. In what was really a first for these meetings, all attendees were involved in an exercise that basically made each person an SLSI evaluator, and everyone got a chance to really see what talking the talk and walking the walk is in a true safety culture.

The vast majority of the attendees loved the exercise, and even those who did it in multiple cities were big fans of the exercise itself and the interaction between the attendees that it fostered. And while it was a clear majority, there were some voices that popped up from the minority. The one that really caught my attention was a supplier who, in more than one instance said that he didn’t feel the exercise did anything for him since he was a supplier and really didn’t get involved with the in the field safety culture that was covered. Thank goodness that he was in the minority.

Now I generally shy away from religious references in my writings, but in this instance, there is a section of the Jewish Passover Seder readings that come to mind, and that is the story of the four sons, and how the story of the Exodus from Egypt is to be described to them (for those of you who are fuzzy on the whole story, just watch the Ten Commandments the next time it is on television). The four sons are the wise one, the wicked one, the simple one, and the one who has no capacity to inquire.

For the wise one, you are to teach him all that you can, and include him in as much detail that you can. As for the wicked one, you teach him, but you show what it meant for you, not him. For the simple son, it is a matter of keeping the teaching at a level that he can understand. And for the one who does not know how to inquire, you have the responsibility to take the time to teach him from the most basic concept, and let him gain understanding as his skills grow.

While I wouldn’t call my fellow supplier wicked, he really did exhibit the traits of the wicked son. Safety wasn’t about him, and because of that, the whole intent of the exercise was lost. What also surprised me was that the exercise was a great opportunity to interact with attendees that you wouldn’t normally get a chance to speak with, and he was ready to dismiss this out of hand.

The bottom line here is that while you may not be the focus of the discussion, it is still important to be in the discussion. Safety culture is one of, if not the most important thing facing our industry right now, and while it may not touch you directly, it does touch those who you may work with or sell to.


steven-fb.jpg

Steve Friedland, vice president and general manager of Massachusetts Central Railroad, is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. He got his start with the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, where he worked for 22 years 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 has served as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and was chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He is currently a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

And Now for Something Completely Different

November 2nd, 2016

For those of you who remember the Tom Wolfe book and movie The Right Stuff, their catch phrase for describing what happens when funding is short for the space program: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” For railroads, it isn’t that different. Yes, we are businesses, and yes, we do try to make a profit, but, we have far different infrastructure costs than any other form of transportation. This is because we must pay for our own right of way and the infrastructure that goes with it. How do we do this? Well, most of the time we pay for it ourselves, but because railroads help alleviate congestion from the roads, there are state and federal sources of grants and loans to help us pay for capital improvements.

The one source of funds that you have heard short line railroads talk about a lot is the 45G Infrastructure tax credit. This tax credit keeps money in the railroad’s pocket to reinvest in their tracks, and over the years this has proven to be a very successful program. There are other programs that are run by both the federal government and states, and in Massachusetts, we have a program that is called the Industrial Rail Access Program (IRAP), and it supplies grants to industries that need to improve the infrastructure between them and their serving railroad. In the past it has been used to add switches, sidings, and extend main lines to improve rail access. The caveat has been that it can only be used for assets that are in the ground in the state.

That is, until now.

On September 30 of this year, the Mass Central Railroad was notified that it had been awarded a grant for a unique IRAP project: the acquisition of two boxcars. Wait a second, you say, that is not infrastructure that is in the ground. You are correct, but here is the catch: the cars are being used for captive service on our railroad to run between a warehouse on the line, and a paper customer. The state is looking at the cars as infrastructure, mainly because they will be used to get trucks off the road, and if you have seen the roads in my part of Massachusetts, any reduction of truck traffic is a good thing.

We are going out to bid on the cars, which will be regular 50’ Plate C boxcars, and we feel that there are still a bunch of good used cars on the market that will fit our needs. One thing we will probably do is stencil “For Service in the State of Massachusetts Only” on the sides of the cars. They are, part of the rail infrastructure of the state.

Now that will be something completely different.

–By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpg

Steve Friedland, vice president and general manager of Massachusetts Central Railroad, is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. He got his start with the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, where he worked for 22 years 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 has served as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and was chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He is currently a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

Let Me Introduce You

October 5th, 2016

Today we are going to start with a bit of an introduction. This person is a 48-year-old father of two who lives in Morris County, N.J., with his wife and family. He grew up in Maplewood, a New Jersey suburb, and graduated from Columbia High School in 1986. He works for a railroad, and has had a career that has lasted over 20 years in the industry.

Right now many of you are saying, “Wait a second Friedland, that sounds a lot like you.” Well, it does. However, while it is almost a duplicate copy of my career, it is not a description of me. It is a description of a friend of mine who I went to and graduated high school with, Tom Gallagher. Since I graduated over thirty years ago, I haven’t had any direct contact with Tom. Instead, as I ran into people that he worked with I would ask about how he was doing, and likewise, when he ran into people I worked with at the M&E, he would enquire about me and send his regards.

Tom was always one of those people that I knew where to find him but never took the time to actually do it. His career took him from the Stations department at NJ Transit to the Operating department, where he has been an engineer for almost 20 years, and my career was spent managing operations at the M&E and more recently into the responsibility seat at the Mass Central. Our careers were moving on tracks in similar directions, but last week his had an abrupt stop of the most horrible kind.

Tom was the engineer on NJ Transit Train 1614 on Thursday, September 28, 2016, and as his train approached its final stop at the Hoboken Terminal, the train failed to stop. The train, which was a push-pull consist, with a cab car, three coaches, and a diesel locomotive on the hind end, was being controlled by Tom from the cab at the front of the train. The train went over the bumping block on track 5, hit the roof of the terminal, and when it finally came to a stop, the nose of the train was sitting against the wall of the waiting room of the terminal. One person, a commuter who was unfortunately in the wrong place at the right time, was killed by debris from the crash, and over 100 people, including Tom, were injured.

I don’t have any inside knowledge of what went on, nor have I had any contact with Tom or his family. Like everyone, my information comes from the NTSB and the media, and I don’t have any really good ideas of what caused this accident to happen. I’m going to wait to see if PTC could have prevented this accident before I get on my soapbox to proclaim it a necessary savior of the industry (unlike a number of politicians, especially the senior senator from New Jersey). What I can do is make the introduction of one of the crew members, one that I did have the honor of growing up with over 30 years ago, and one that we are all going to get to know over the coming year.

I hope that you get to know the Tom Gallagher that I got to know back then.

–By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpg

Steve Friedland, vice president and general manager of Massachusetts Central Railroad, is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. He got his start with the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, where he worked for 22 years 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 has served as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and was chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He is currently a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

It’s How You Look at It

September 23rd, 2016

Who here remembers the Ferrari Testarossa? I’m talking about the one from the late 1980’s early 1990’s, the one that Don Johnson drove on Miami Vice and was a car that many of us of a certain age only dreamed of driving. The Testarossa was considered a super car, and for its time was a rocket ship with a 0-60 time of 5.2 seconds and a price tag approaching $200,000 (and it looked pretty cool too). Fast forward to 2016, and my Ford Edge Sport, which has a price tag far less than $200,000 has a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds and is 1000 pounds heavier and has 75 less horsepower (not to mention that I can do it with my whole family in the vehicle, which would be a little hard to do in the Ferrari). Now I will agree that my Bronze Fire SUV won’t be on a poster on my kid’s wall any time soon, I know that this is the closest I will be to going as quickly as a Testarossa on public roads in the near future. I think I can live with that half second of difference, especially if you take into consideration that if I were to race that 25-year-old car today, I would give you pretty good odds that it would break down long before my Ford.

So where am I going with this? Here we are again with looking at things from a different perspective. In the above case, in 1991, my dream car could do no wrong. It was fast, expensive, and looked like something that I had never seen before. Now, it wasn’t that fast compared to a contemporary vehicle, it’s still kind of expensive (you can buy one for roughly $80-100,000), and even today I think it looks pretty cool (the poster had to come down in the bedroom, though).

Last week I was home when the various explosive devices were detonated in Seaside Heights, N.J., and in Chelsea in New York City, and others were found in Elizabeth, N.J. In fact, I was watching the baseball game on TV and basically every time there was a commercial break the news people from the station I was watching would mention that there was both an explosion in Chelsea and another device had been found. What I found interesting was that the reaction by all, whether they were in government or in the media, was serious, but for once there wasn’t the wild speculation and sensationalism that we had seen just 15 years ago during the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Have we grown numb to all of this? Do we not care? I don’t think so. While this new normal is far different than what we had dealt with in the past, I truly think that we have all started to realize that the sky isn’t going to immediately fall on us, that information is far better than speculation, and that when it is time for us to have the information, we will get it. In less than four hours after the information about the suspect was sent out, he was captured. We all have access to a lot more information a lot faster than we ever have been able to get it, and taking the proper perspective on the flow of information means that we are better prepared to act, and not run around panicking.

–By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpg

Steve Friedland, vice president and general manager of Massachusetts Central Railroad, is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. He got his start with the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, where he worked for 22 years 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 has served as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and was chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He is currently a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

Volunteerism 101

August 30th, 2016

It is no secret that I write a lot about the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association on these pages. It is an organization that I believe in, and one that provides services and representation to our industry that would otherwise be too expensive or impossible to find by a small company. The ASLRRA accomplishes all that they do with a very small staff, and this efficiency comes partially from the staff’s dedication to the cause, and from the involvement by the membership.

I had never been a part of an organization with the level of involvement by its members until I got involved with the ASLRRA, and it comes at all levels of the organization. From the chairman of the board of directors to the board itself to the committee members to the volunteers who stuff convention name badges and greet attendees at registration, everyone is a volunteer, with their attendance and involvement committed to and paid for by their employers.

Last week I was a part of what is quickly becoming one of the major meetings of the year, the Joint Committees meeting. This three-day event was a gathering of over 70 members of the Safety & Training, Technology, Police & Security, Mechanical, Legal, Passenger, and Human Resources committees in Denver, and other than the generosity of Omnitrax providing the meeting rooms and some refreshments during the day, everything else was paid for by the attendees.

So what happens at the meeting? On the first two days, we had in-depth presentations from most of the committees on the important topics they are facing right now. With the presentations, there was one very important ground rule: instead of holding questions to the end of a presentation, participants were encouraged to ask their question when it came up, and this really stimulated the conversation. As an example, the first presentation, which was originally scheduled to take about an hour ended up taking 3½ hours due to the good questions and conversation that took place. This level of conversation and quality of presentation continued throughout the first two days of the meeting, and I believe that everyone walked away from the meeting having learned something new.

The meeting has had broader benefits to the industry too. After last year’s meeting, which had a very heavy emphasis on PTC, the ASLRRA formed an advisory committee on PTC, which also worked on a project towards the creation of a Back Office Server subscription service for those short lines that were going to need it when they deployed PTC. That project led to the ASLRRA receiving a $2.5 million grant from the FRA for the Back Office Server deployment. I’m not saying that these things would not have happened without the joint meeting, but I will state that they were definitely brought to the forefront a lot quicker from the meeting.

Next year, the Technology committee will be taking the lead on organizing the meeting from the Safety & Training committee, and the meeting will most likely move east following the last two being in Sacramento and Denver. One thing will happen for sure no matter where it is: the volunteer members of the ASLRRA will do what they do best, which is working together to better the industry.

–By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpg

Steve Friedland, vice president and general manager of Massachusetts Central Railroad, is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. He got his start with the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, where he worked for 22 years 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 has served as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and was chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He is currently a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

There is a Difference

August 16th, 2016

Anyone who has flown on an airline in the last couple of years has had to deal with the reality of charges for things that were previously included in the fare you paid (I’m sorry, but the reality of life is that there are really no free things included with something you have paid for, you just haven’t paid for them directly). When the airline industry realized that they could charge for things that they previously provided as a value added service (and that we would willingly pay for them), all of a sudden they found they could keep fare levels the same while providing less for that fare.

The railroad industry does things a little differently than the airlines. First of all, your contract of carriage covers movement from point A to placement at point B, and that is what it always has covered. The railroad’s job was to move the car, and that was it. That worked until one day a customer wanted more than that, and the accessorial charge was born. What is an accessorial charge? It is literally the price to cover things that are outside of the rate that is paid to move the car. It can be for storage, extra switching, weighing, closing doors, rejecting cars, you name it. And railroads have tariffs that list these charges, which generally are reasonable, unless the charge is for something that is not so reasonable (cleaning sewage cars comes to mind). From time to time, railroads will review their charges, and make sure that they are at least covering the cost of doing the service covered (otherwise known as not giving away the farm), and from what I have seen in my career, this is one of those areas that gets the least amount of attention. We are required to provide the tariff with the charges to our customers in advance of any changes, and rarely do we hear anything from anyone.

Recently I made some changes to our accessorial charges tariff that included some nominal increases, and sent out the changes to our customers a month in advance of them going into effect. For the first time ever in my career, a customer had a problem with the increase. I asked the customer for a reason why they had a problem, their response was that they wanted a decrease. I explained to them that the increase was not only fair, it was the first increase in a number of years, and the increase didn’t fully cover how much our costs had risen in that time period. And that was all I heard until the rate went into effect and we sent the customer our first bill.

The customer sent me an email stating that they were not going to accept the charge. My response was that if the customer did not want to pay the charges, then they should not order the services in question. In fact, I informed them that those services would be terminated immediately, and I reminded them that if they could find similar services for less, they would be wrong not to utilize them.

So what happened in the end? I don’t think anyone completely won. While the customer isn’t exactly happy, they are paying the charges. For us, we now have to be concerned that they are looking for other alternatives, but in the end we didn’t give away the farm. We will work with the customer to improve freight rates if we can, and work more to explain the difference between rates and charges.

–By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpg

Steve Friedland, vice president and general manager of Massachusetts Central Railroad, is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. He got his start with the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, where he worked for 22 years 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 has served as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and was chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He is currently a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

It’s Been Quiet, too Quiet

August 3rd, 2016

Every once in a while, my mother will call me at work. Most of the time it is to ask about something that is going on with the family, or she might have a question about something in general. We will get through whatever she called about, and she will ask me if everything is ok, because I sound distracted. 99% of the time, she has called while I am in the middle of something else, and because I don’t want to be rude or get into a game of phone tag with her, I take the call. Now I don’t think that she thinks I am sitting around doing nothing waiting for the phone to ring, but she is surprised when I tell her that I was in the middle of something, and I was focused on it. Parents…

Railroads, as we have discussed before, are the ultimate disciples of Newton’s Second Law, which states that “an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon a force.” That law alone explains why railroads are so fuel efficient: once you get a train moving, other than overcoming friction and other drag, you don’t have to do anything to keep things moving at the same speed. Compared to other forms of transportation, we don’t have as much of those forces, so less fuel is needed.

Operationally, railroads (and especially short lines) are also like that in their organizations. Really, really efficient, because they don’t have a lot of drag. That lack of drag comes from the simple fact that we don’t have as many employees doing the jobs as a larger corporation does. The up side of this is efficiency. The down side can be explained with a comment that was made the other day when a friend at another railroad was promoted to a very high management position in his company. I pointed out to him that if he hadn’t figured it out yet, it didn’t make a difference what his title was, the job was basically the same. His response? “Oh, you figured that out too!”

With all of the above being said, no matter what your title in your organization, you have a lot of hats to wear. Most of the time during the year, you may have multiple hats on at one time, trying to juggle everything. Right now though, it is quiet. With people on vacation, school summer break, and various other things associated with the calendar, there just isn’t much going on in the railroad world right now.

Now don’t sit back and take this opportunity to take a nap. Use the time to catch up on all those things you will have to scramble to do when the due date sneaks up on you. When was the last time you updated your time table? How about your security or bridge management plan? Crossing listings? All of these things are things that need to be done, but we usually push them off to tomorrow. Why not take the time to get ahead in something, potentially helping yourself down the road for when you don’t have the time to do them, but the due date is looming?

Bottom Line? Just because it is quiet, doesn’t mean you don’t have stuff to do. Get it done, because there will be more to do.

–By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpg

Steve Friedland, vice president and general manager of Massachusetts Central Railroad, is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. He got his start with the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, where he worked for 22 years 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 has served as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and was chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He is currently a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

July 13th, 2016

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

If you were expecting that, with the title above, I am going to write about police involved shootings and police being killed, sorry, I’m going to leave that for those who think they have an opinion. Instead, I am going to talk about railroads getting along with the communities they operate through, and dealing with the public entities that own the railroad.

It is a fact of Short Line railroading that in many cases, you don’t own the railroad that you operate, and if you are in that situation, you have an agreement with the owning entity that specifies your responsibilities to the owner. Usually, there is a rent payment, combined with a maintenance responsibility, and they also want you to grow the business on their tracks, so that you can continue to be able to pay for the first two items. The above has been the case at both railroads that I have worked at: for the ME the County of Morris owned roughly ¾ the mileage we operated on, and at the MCER the Commonwealth of Massachusetts owns most of the right of way.

If you are the owner of the tracks, your hopes are that the operator is wildly successful, the track is maintained in perfect condition, and all of the surrounding communities are happy neighbors with the railroad. As they say, hope springs eternal, but this is not always the case for the track owner, who can regularly find themselves pinched in between the hopes for financial gain and the realities of the voters who live in those communities.

If the railroad does their job correctly, most people in a neighboring community will never see them because the railroad operates in the day when most people are not home, and it doesn’t make a difference if the railroad moves one or a thousand cars of any commodity, because they never see it. Now if the railroad parks cars, either in transit or for storage, your moving target just became static, and all of a sudden people notice the railroad, because there are cars parked in their back yard. Again, it doesn’t matter if there are feathers or methyl-ethyl-death in the cars, just because the cars are there they are a hazard, and they could blow up and destroy the community.

Now if you are the administrator in charge of the railroad for the owner, the easy thing to do is to tell the railroad to move the cars. Chances are, the railroad did their homework, and would not have parked the cars in that location if there was a better place to park them, and no other locations are appropriate or as safe. Now comes the “discussion,” and this can take place on the phone, via email, face to face, or in court. Complicating everything is that you have the track owners, who, indirectly have been hired by the constituency, and the track operators, who have been hired by the owners and have been given tasks that might not agree with the constituency, who of course hired the owners. This is one of those times that it might not be a bad time to have a mediator or judge involved, because everyone involved at this point believes that they are in a no-win situation.

So how do we all get along? Like any situation between multiple parties, there has to be a little “give.” For the neighbors, listen to what the railroad and track owner has to say about what they are doing to ensure your safety, and make sure that they are doing what they say they will do. For the railroad, maintain an open line of communication with the owner and neighbor, and don’t go into a situation with bravado and be reasonably sensitive to the owner and neighbors. As for the owner, be aware that you are the one that both charged the railroad with growing the business and paying for maintenance, and that while the easy answer is to say no, the better solution might be to try to make everything work.

Now don’t think that I have any illusions that we are all going to be sitting around the camp fire and singing Kumbaya, because that would be a mistake. My only point is that like most situations, a little communication can prevent a big public blow up.

–By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpg

Steve Friedland, vice president and general manager of Massachusetts Central Railroad, is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. He got his start with the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, where he worked for 22 years 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 has served as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and was chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He is currently a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

Christmas in June

June 28th, 2016

It is well-known that once you hit December 15th on the calendar, you might as well wait until the new year to get something of any substance done in business. The fact is, between shopping, holiday parties, shutdowns, vacations, and the holidays themselves, the business year ends then and doesn’t restart until the first week of January. If you take a broader look at the calendar, the roughly five-week span between Thanksgiving and the end of the year sets up the ideal conditions for the year-end wind down.

Now what if I said that these conditions occur another time of the year too?

They do, and they are taking place right now.

Let’s start with the summer “holiday season.” There are roughly five weeks in between Memorial Day and July 4, and while the shopping isn’t as great, you do have graduations, the end of the school year, vacations, and the lot in the run up to Independence Day. Throw in on the financial side that you are at the end of the quarter and half of the year, and you have created the same conditions. We have seen it here at the railroad, where there has been a definite wind down of traffic going into the Independence Day weekend, and a number of our customers will have seasonal shutdowns or inventories taking place over the next couple of weeks.

Should we be looking for Independence Day decorations going on sale around Easter? I don’t think so, but I do think that business-wise maybe we should be looking at the year in two six-month segments instead of one twelve-month one. June is the new December, and July will start out slowly, just like January does. The good news is that unless you are reading this in the antipodes, we are in the height of summer, and fortunately we only have to deal with winter (and the snow) once a year.

Enjoy the summer slowdown.

–By Steve Friedland


steven-fb.jpg

Steve Friedland, vice president and general manager of Massachusetts Central Railroad, is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. He got his start with the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, where he worked for 22 years 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 has served as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and was chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He is currently a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.

Pictures of You, Pictures of Me

June 9th, 2016

A number of years ago we were putting together the opening video for the general session at the ASLRRA Connections, and after doing the typical pictures of locomotives videos for the open in previous years, we decided that this year we wanted something different. We asked for pictures of people. And we got people pictures. Lots of them, and in the end we created a video that in a little over two minutes showed the faces of our industry, the people who made the freight move. It didn’t matter what part of the business they were a part of, from track, to operations, to maintenance, and administration, they all were a part of what made the freight move on the tracks. We did a number of opening pieces for the annual meeting over the years, and the one with the people is still one of my favorites.

It may surprise some of you that I did not get my start in journalism writing a blog for RailResource. In fact, my start in journalism came in the 1985-1986 school year at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J., where I took journalism as my senior English class, and I was the photography editor of the weekly school newspaper, The Columbian. I’ll admit now that I took the class more for the friends who were in it and the fact that I wasn’t going to have to deal with poetry or Shakespeare, and while I did write a number of articles throughout the year (including an interview with E-Street Drummer Max Weinberg), my primary focus was on the pictures.

Growing up I always had an interest in photography, probably because my father did, and he enabled my interest to grow when on my 16th birthday I received my first 35mm SLR camera. That was in the middle of my sophomore year of high school, and as I learned to use the camera and got (somewhat) better at composing photographs, people started asking for copies of my pictures. Remember this was the middle 80’s and getting copies of a picture wasn’t as easy as sending an email (email was not in wide use yet, and digital pictures only came from satellites in space), so I also learned to process black and white film and print pictures myself in the darkroom that my father had. I got better at my hobby, and by the time junior year ended, it was on to the newspaper world and “serious” photography.

I spent almost every day of school my senior year with my camera with me, and I took pictures. A lot of pictures. By the time the school year ended, I took almost 1000 frames of film, mostly B&W, and a bunch of slides. The pictures were of everything that one goes through in their senior year of high school, from plays, sports, special events, trips, classes and dances, and most of the pictures were never seen, because other than the couple that got used for the newspaper or maybe made it into the yearbook, the negatives got tossed into a box, and I moved on to the next week’s assignments.

Fast forward to 2016, and my high school class is putting together the plans for our 30-year reunion. With the advent of social media, especially Facebook, a lot of us have stayed in touch more than most would have in the past. For example, of the roughly 340 people in my graduating class, over 230 are in our Facebook group. As the discussions for the reunion started, and the planning committee worked on the details, I mentioned to a couple of my close friends from high school that I still had the box of pictures, and asked them when would it be the time to share them. One said that she was finally ready after 30 years to see them, and everyone who I spoke to was excited to see them. Then the fun started.

If you were judging the photos on quality alone, you probably would not be impressed. But these weren’t photos at this point, they were memories. So I scanned about 100 of them, and put them up on Facebook for all to see. And see them they did, and these photos, which had survived four moves, a basement flood, numerous opportunities to be thrown out, and more importantly 30 years, finally were seen by far more people than had seen them when they were just taken. My favorites (and by counting the likes, the favorites of my classmates) are the candid shots, which really were not my “assignment” to shoot. Some were taken because I was finishing off a roll of film, others were done as atmosphere shots, and because of this most were never seen until now. And now, they are there for everyone to enjoy.

Now that I have finished this box of pictures, I know there are more to be found, and the archeological dig will start in my house this weekend. The reunion is in October, and while a lot of the guys will be heavier and have a lot less hair, the women will be just as beautiful as they were 30 years ago. We will remember the old times, and we will remember the ones who can’t be with us, and we will all be happy to be back together again. And there will be a lot of pictures taken to last us the next 30 years.

–By Steve Friedland


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Steve Friedland, vice president and general manager of Massachusetts Central Railroad, is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. He got his start with the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, where he worked for 22 years 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 has served as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and was chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He is currently a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.