It was a horrible national tragedy. Over twenty people died, the nation was horrified by the death and destruction, and first responders claimed at the time that they had never seen such horror. The instigator of the disaster used something legally obtained at a time that it should not have been used, and because of that the nation and our legislators, including a Senator from California, are calling for new regulations on these items.
Am I talking about the horrible shootings in Newtown, Connecticut? No, I am talking about the 2008 train collision in Chatsworth, California.
Wait a second. The fact pattern described above sounds just like what is going on now, doesn’t it? I’m not going to get on my soap box and start talking about the need for gun control or better access to mental health care. No, my cause at the moment is proper legislation.
In 2008, following the Chatsworth accident, the government passed a bill that we all know as the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act, or RSIA. The RSIA had the reauthorization funding for Amtrak, and a bunch of legislation that in hindsight really should have been regulations all along. We got such things as PTC, Grade Crossing signage, Hours of Service, Transfer Station (trash and construction debris) guidelines, and training rules. The bill was rushed through Congress due to the impending election and everyone wanting to get home to campaign, and once the laws were there, we, the people governed by the laws, were left to build the regulations that conformed to the laws, and then put them into effect.
All of these laws have cost our industry, and there are people (myself included) who have profited from producing products that help you conform to the laws. The price tag for the implementation of PTC alone will run in the billions, with almost all of it being paid for by the railroads. But wait a second. How do the railroads get their money? Through freight charges charged to the users of their services. And with the higher costs that the railroads will pass on to their customers, you (and me), the consumer will be bearing the cost eventually.
Now back to today. My hope is that as government looks at all of the issues and needs stemming from this latest tragedy we don’t get into a situation where we are rushing a bill through just to get it done. Let’s take the time to look at things fully, and come up with a solution that both fits the need and our ability to pay for the legislation.
This is my last blog of the year, and with that I hope that everyone has a very happy holiday season, and we’ll see you in the New Year.
—By Steve Friedland
Steve 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.