Here we are, a little over a week into the New Year, and I am kind of wondering if we should be happy the 2012 is over, or should we be looking forward to all that is ahead of us in 2013? Personally and professionally 2012 had its highs and lows, and I got a lot done during the year, but I’m kind of happy to say that it is over. Now as we get up to speed in 2013 some things have already taken place that will get us going on the right path, but there are some major obstacles in that path ahead. Let’s take a look ahead at some of these issues.
45G Tax Credit
This is the issue that got our year started off in the right direction. After lots of hard work and lobbying by a dedicated group of railroaders, the section 45G tax credit was approved for the tax years 2012 and 2013 as part of the bill that was passed as part of the whole fiscal cliff negotiations. Yes, the credit was one of the special interest credits that got reported on, which lumps us into a group that includes NASCAR, film makers in Hollywood, and rum producers in Puerto Rico, but thankfully we were not put up as an example of what is wrong with the credits in all of the news reporting. Now the process starts all over again, and we will be going in to our various members of the House and Senate and thanking them for what they did, and reminding them that we are going to have to do it again before the end of the next Congress.
I think that when we get 2013 behind us (yes, I am really jumping ahead here) we will look at this year as the year that we started to make PTC a physical reality, and not just a regulatory deadline that is X years down the road. We will be seeing real production hardware installed on non-test locomotives and real wayside hardware being installed on lines, and by the time the year is over we will be well on the way towards implementation of actual PTC systems, whether we like it or not. Don’t ask me to predict if we are going to have an extended deadline or if we can make the existing one work, because there are too many pieces to these puzzles that need to be fitted before anyone can do that.
Conductor Certification, Bridge Programs, and Other Regulatory Fun and Games
2013 is the year that everyone will be getting their Conductor Certification programs up and running, once the FRA has approved them. There will be some confusion, some problems, and in some cases everything will work perfectly. The same can be said about the implementation of the Bridge Programs, and the rulemaking for Training Standards. The key word here is going to be patience. The more patient that we are with our regulators will definitely help as they create the new regulations that they will need to enforce. We will also need them to be patient with us and work with us to create regulations that both do what they are supposed to do and not put an unreasonable burden on either side.
2013 is going to be a very big year for the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association. First of all they are the group that is at the forefront of all that you see above, and they have to make sure that we are represented properly in front of the appropriate groups with the best answer to represent our part of the industry. Next it is their 100th anniversary year, and there is going to be a recognition of this at the Connections 2013 meeting in Atlanta April 27-30 (of course following up on the spectacular 99th meeting in Indianapolis in 2012 chaired by yours truly, but I digress and boast). This is one meeting not to miss. One other thing of note is that there is going to be a change at the top of the ASLRRA this year, with the end of Rich Timmons’ time at the association, and the end of the term for Chairman Mike Ogborn. Both of these gentlemen have skillfully guided the association through the issues mentioned above and many others, and we look to their successors to continue us on that path.
So as you can see the plate is kind of full at the moment, but it does look like we are going to have an exciting time in 2013.
—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.