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Rail industry groups warn that new brake system and other requirements contained in last week’s crude-by-rail regulations could have a chilling impact on rail operations. On May 1, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a final rule for transporting flammable liquids by rail and aligned the rule with Canada’s new tank car standards.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) welcomed the new design standards for tank cars but questioned the rulings on both the ECP brake requirement and the 30 mph speed limit.
“First and foremost, the DOT has no substantial evidence to support a safety justification for mandating ECP brakes, which will not prevent accidents,” said Edward R. Hamberger, AAR president and CEO. He pointed out that the government’s ECP simulation analysis concluded with the cautionary note, “Given that this is based on a limited simulation set, the results could be a bit optimistic and should be taken with a grain of salt.”
Hamberger stated that the speed restrictions DOT handed down are dependent on the actions of rail customers or tank cars owners. “This decision not only threatens the operational management of the U.S. rail system, but trains moving 30 mph will compromise network capacity by at least 30 percent. The far-reaching effects of this decision will be felt by freight and passenger customers alike. Slow-moving trains will back up the entire rail system,” said Hamberger.
“Attention and resources should be allocated to addressing the underlying causes of rail accidents and brakes simply aren’t on that list,” continued Hamberger. “Unjustified regulations such as this trigger a reallocation of investments that will not generate the kind of safety benefits the industry and the public expects. The regulation does not take into account the disruption the ECP mandate will wreak on railroad – both freight and passenger – operations.”
The American Petroleum Institute (API) President and CEO Jack Gerard pointed out that the ECP brake regulation does not take into account the limited shop capacity that is available for retrofitting the existing tank car fleet with the new timeline.
“The safety impact of ECP brakes is marginal at best,” said Gerard. “It is concerning that regulators did not select one of several alternative braking technologies that have much clearer benefits for safety.”
“We support upgrades to the tank car fleet and want them completed as quickly as realistically possible,” stated Gerard. “The railcar manufacturing industry’s own calculations show it does not have the shop capacity to meet the retrofit timeline announced today, which will lead to shortages that impact consumers and the broader economy.”
The Greenbrier Companies, Inc., manufacturers of the “Tank Car of the Future”, which meets the new DOT-117/TC-117 tank car standards, was pleased with the rule for updating the standards and stated the timelines are achievable.
The company believes the tank car design improvements produce tangible and immediate safety benefits that far exceed any marginal benefit from U.S. DOT-mandated ECP brakes, which Greenbrier has consistently questioned.
Greenbrier said that a rapid replacement and retrofit phase-out timeline is completely feasible. A report prepared for the company by Cambridge Systematics indicates that the unjacketed DOT-111s and unjacketed CPC-1232s in crude oil service could be retrofitted in 3.7 years, while similar cars in ethanol service could be retrofitted in an additional 2.3 years.
The report also noted that, with 2015 manufacturing capacity for new tank cars at over 40,000 units, the entire tank car fleet that is currently operating without advanced safety features could be replaced in less than five years.
Upon announcing the new rule, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “Safety has been our top priority at every step in the process for finalizing this rule, which is a significant improvement over the current regulations and requirements and will make transporting flammable liquids safer.”
“Our close collaboration with Canada on new tank car standards is recognition that the trains moving unprecedented amounts of crude by rail are not U.S. or Canadian tank cars – they are part of a North American fleet and a shared safety challenge,” added Foxx.
The final rule for a high-hazard flammable train (HHFT), which constitutes a continuous block of 20 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid or 35 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid dispersed through a train, includes:
- Upgrades to tank car standards – new tank cars constructed after October 1, 2015, are required to meet the new DOT Specification 117 design or performance criteria;
- New risk-based retrofitting schedule – The rule requires replacing the entire fleet of DOT-111 tank cars for Packing Group I within 3 years and all non-jacketed CPC-1232s, in the same service, within approximately 5 years;
- New braking standard – HHFTs require a functioning two-way end-of-train device or a distributed power braking system. Each high-hazard flammable unit train (HHFUT), which is a single train with 70 or more tank cars loaded with Class 3 flammable liquids, that has at least one tank car with Packing Group I materials, must be operated with an electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking system by January 1, 2021. All other HHFUTs must have ECP braking systems installed after 2023.
- Reduced operating speeds – restricts all HHFTs to 50 mph in all areas and HHFTs containing any tank cars not meeting the enhanced tank car standards required by this rule are restricted to operating at a 40 mph speed restriction in high-threat urban areas;
- Routing analysis – all HHFT trains must have a routing analysis that considers, at a minimum, 27 safety and security factors. A route must be selected based on its findings. Planning requirements are prescribed in 49 CFR §172.820.
- Railroad point of contact for information – information related to the routing of hazardous materials must be provided to the state and/or regional fusion centers, and state, local and tribal officials when the train is traveling through their jurisdictions;
- Offerors of unrefined petroleum-based products – offerrors must develop and carry out sampling and testing programs to address the criteria and frequency of sampling. They must also certify that hazardous materials subject to the program are packaged in accordance with the test results, document the testing and sampling program outcomes, and make that information available to DOT personnel upon request.
Canada’s Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt said, “This stronger, safer, more robust tank car will protect communities on both sides of our shared border. Through strong collaboration we have developed a harmonized solution for North America’s tank car fleet. I am hopeful that this kind of cooperation will be a model for future Canada-U.S. partnership on transportation issues.”
FRA Acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg stated, “This new rule governing the movements of crude and ethanol trains will enable us to focus more precisely on oil train accident prevention, and mitigation. This rule will save lives and homes, and protect communities. As I have said before, there is no silver bullet that will solve this challenge. Improving safety requires constant re-examination of every procedure and protocol to make sure sufficient safeguards and redundancies are in place to protect the American public. We will continue to focus on this challenge, not just today, but in the future.”
The rule was developed by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), in coordination with Canada. A summary of the final rule is available on the DOT website.
The U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) has approved a joint proposal by Louisville & Indiana Railroad (L&I), a subsidiary of Anacostia Rail Holdings (ARH), and CSX to upgrade a freight corridor between Indianapolis, Ind., and Louisville, Ky. This decision allows CSX and L&I to jointly use the 106.5-mile railroad line in accordance with the freight railroad operating easement that L&I granted to CSX.
CSX plans to invest approximately $100 million upgrading the line to remove weight restrictions, increase track speed, and add capacity, which will allow better rail access to the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville and provide more efficient rail service for freight shipments through the region.
Oscar Munoz, CSX president and COO, stated, “These upgrades will benefit L&I and CSX customers in the Midwest and across the companies’ networks by improving operational efficiency, allowing more direct transit across Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, and reducing congestion in those states.”
“The privately funded upgrades, which will include the installation of new rail, upgrades to the rail bed structure and bridge improvements, will enhance service and capacity on this rail line,” said Munoz.
“This project enhances critical rail infrastructure that connects local customers to America’s freight transportation network, supporting local manufacturing, economic development, jobs and competitiveness,” said Peter Gilbertson, chairman and CEO of Anacostia Rail Holdings.
Under the proposal approved by the STB, CSX will be responsible for installing continuously welded rail and ties to improve the track from Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Class 2 (speeds up to 25 miles per hour) to FRA Class 4 (speeds to 60 miles per hour), where signaling and track geometry permit.
CSX will also be responsible for the replacement of Bridge No. 40.19 at Columbus, Ind., the modernization of the current train dispatching system, and removal of weight restrictions to increase the maximum gross weight from 263,000 pounds to 286,000 pounds on the line.
In 1994, L&I began operations on the 106-mile line. Since 2000, CSX trains have operated an approximate 52-mile portion of the corridor between Louisville and Seymour, Ind., en route to Cincinnati, Ohio.
In their STB application filed in FD 35523, the applicants state that L&I would continue to provide overhead and exclusive local service on the line. At the time of the application, they said the line handled two trains per day between Indianapolis and Seymour (both L&I); four trains per day between Seymour and Jeffersonville Yard, Ind. (two for L&I and two for CSXT); and seven trains per day between Jeffersonville Yard and Louisville, Ky. (five for L&I and two for CSXT). Upon completion of the upgrade, the railroads said that there would be a total of 17 trains per day operating between Indianapolis and Jeffersonville Yard (two for L&I and 15 for CSXT), and 20 trains per day operating between Jeffersonville Yard and Louisville, (five for L&I and 15 for CSXT).
As part of their deal, L&I would be required to compensate CSXT whenever L&I moves cars that are taller than 18’6” above the top rail or weigh more than 263,000 pounds GWOR over the upgraded line without CSXT involvement (per car fee). L&I would also compensate CSXT when it originates or terminates, without CSXT involvement, a certain yearly number of those cars at customers that are served by CSXT or accessible to CSXT by reciprocal switch, unless that traffic is interchanged by L&I with a third-party carrier at Louisville or Jefferson (volume fee). Additionally, L&I would be precluded from granting operating rights to other Class I railroads without CSXT’s permission (a use consent provision).
In its ruling, the STB found that the record shows that the proposed transaction would benefit the shipping public and enhance competition by facilitating more efficient, cost-saving operations. Following the upgrade, applicants would be able to provide shippers with more efficient, competitive service. The proposed transaction would enhance applicants’ ability to compete not only with other railroads, but also with freight that currently moves via other modes of transportation, such as long and short haul trucking companies.
In particular, joint use of the line would create routing flexibility and performance improvements for CSXT in the Midwest. As applicants state, following the implementation of the proposed transaction, CSXT would be able to avoid routing traffic through Queensgate Yard in Cincinnati, a major classification terminal, and eliminate the use of circuitous routes, which are currently necessary to cross the Ohio River. CSXT has two Ohio River crossings on its primary north-south corridors, one at Henderson, Ky./Evansville, Ind. and one at Cincinnati, Ohio/Covington, Ky. The proposed transaction would give CSXT an additional crossing at Louisville, Ky. Additionally, CSXT could use the Line to reduce congestion on other CSXT lines, such as the Louisville Cincinnati Subdivision (LCL Subdivision). The upgraded line would enable CSXT to operate longer intermodal trains to intermodal terminals, providing operating economies for CSXT. Applicants anticipate that the systemwide efficiency increases for CSXT would reduce service time by approximately 130.5 hours per day, resulting in annual savings of approximately $11.8 million.
“In this case, we find that the public benefits from the infrastructure improvements to the line and the efficiency gains for the applicants outweigh any potential anticompetitive effects caused by the per car fee, the volume fee, and the use consent provision. We are satisfied that the per car fee, the volume fee, and the use consent provision are reasonable provisions intended to protect CSXT’s significant capital investment in the upgrade,” the STB said.
More than 1,600 railroad and supplier representatives were in town this week for the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association annual convention in sunny Orlando.
The event marked the first annual convention for the association under its new president, Linda Bauer Darr. She succeeded Rich Timmons, who retired last year after about a dozen years leading the short line group. She presided over the convention’s official grand opening and delivered a state of the industry presentation during the event.
The ASLRRA 2015 Connections convention featured the organization’s largest number of exhibitors. Rail industry suppliers and contractors took up more than 235 booths in the sold-out exhibit hall at the Hilton Orlando, displaying some of the latest technology products and services.
ASLRRA 2015 Connections featured numerous educational sessions addressing railroading’s hottest topics, including short line PTC implementation, bridge management plans, Hurricane Sandy’s impact on railroad rates and coverage, and natural gas technology for locomotives. Other highlights included updates on the Short Line Safety Institute, a panel discussion with top executives from short line holding companies and the presentation of prestigious safety, marketing and distinguished service awards.
The event officially opened March 28 with various committee meetings and a service project and ends April 1.
Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (G&W) will acquire about 95 percent of the shares of Freightliner Group Limited, a London-based international freight rail operator, from Arcapita and other shareholders for approximately US$755 million and the assumption of US$13 million in net debt and capitalized leases.
The proposed acquisition, which is expected to be completed by the end of the first quarter, would dramatically expand G&W international investments in Europe and Australia and provide a “strong platform” for future non-U.S. investments, G&W executives said in a Feb. 25 call with reporters and analysts.
Freightliner is the second-largest freight rail operator in the U.K. with its subsidiary, Freightliner Ltd., the largest rail maritime intermodal operator in the country. Freightliner also has operations in Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia. The company employs over 2,500 people worldwide and has an annual revenue base of approximately US$785 million derived from the U.K. (65 percent), Continental Europe (25 percent), and Australia (10 percent).
Members of the existing Freightliner management team will retain an approximate 5-percent stake but G&W plans to own 100 percent by mid-2020.
“The acquisition of Freightliner is an excellent strategic fit for G&W,” said G&W President and CEO Jack Hellmann. “First, we are adding a world-class intermodal and heavy-haul franchise in the United Kingdom that will be the foundation of G&W’s European Region. Second, the overlap of our respective rail businesses in Australia and the Netherlands will unlock operating synergies and expand our presence in each of those markets. Third, we are pleased to be joined by a highly talented management team who have a long track record of success in building Freightliner over the past two decades.”
Post-acquisition, “we expect to build the existing business and also unlock a range of attractive rail investment opportunities worldwide,” Hellmann added.
Russell Mears, CEO of Freightliner Group, commented, “G&W brings additional investment firepower, extended international reach and increased below-rail infrastructure expertise to add to the existing strengths of the Freightliner Group. Their commitment to safety and service quality in all activities mirrors our own values.”
Freightliner owns 8 of the 13 U.K. maritime terminals where it operates and also owns a fleet of 250 trucks for pick-up and delivery. Its heavy haul subsidiary provides bulk rail freight service throughout the U.K., primarily serving the aggregates, cement, coal, and waste industries, and provides infrastructure train service to Network Rail, the owner of the U.K.’s rail infrastructure network.
In Continental Europe, Freightliner Poland primarily serves aggregates and coal customers in Poland, and operates in eastern Germany. The company’s Rotterdam-based ERS subsidiary provides cross-border intermodal services connecting 3 northern European ports to key cities in Germany, Poland, Italy and other countries.
In Australia, Freightliner currently transports coal and containerized agricultural products in New South Wales and is also an accredited rail service provider in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland.
Freightliner operates in open access rail freight markets with limited ownership of track assets. Its fleet of primarily leased equipment includes approximately 250 standard gauge locomotives (mostly diesel-electric) as well as 5,500 wagons, with equipment maintenance provided at its own in-house shops.
Hellmann noted that following the Freightliner acquisition, G&W’s corporate structure will be best understood by looking at three parts. “The first will be our traditional North American short line and regional railroad operations, which is expected to contribute approximately 77 percent of annual pro forma operating income, where we will continue to execute on our long-term plan of commercial growth across our coast-to-coast rail footprint as well as acquisition growth from further consolidation of the short line rail industry,” he said. “The second will be our Australian operations, which is expected to contribute approximately 12 percent of annual pro forma operating income, where our above-rail and below-rail operations in South Australia and the Northern Territory will be combined with Freightliner’s above-rail business in New South Wales.”
“The third part will be our European operations, which is expected to contribute approximately 11 percent of annual pro forma operating income, with Freightliner’s U.K. business as the cornerstone that also will lead the development of our intermodal business serving deep seaports in northern Europe and our heavy-haul operations in Poland,” Hellmann added.
During its first year of ownership, G&W expects Freightliner to generate approximately £510 million in revenues (US$785 million at current exchange rates) and £60 million of EBITDA (US$93 million), which includes annual operating lease expense of £45 million (US$69 million). G&W expects the acquired business to require annual average capital expenditures of approximately £17 million (US$26 million) and to have depreciation and amortization expense of approximately £18 million (US$28 million).
Following the acquisition, G&W said it plans to maintain approximately $500 million of available capacity under its revolving credit facility for future investments. “Given the above-rail nature of Freightliner’s operations with limited ownership of track, it is worth noting that G&W’s European segment will have a relatively high operating ratio (approximately 90 percent) due to its lower capital intensity as well as the prevalence of rolling stock under operating leases,” concluded Hellmann.
G&W owns and operates short line and regional freight railroads in the United States, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium. In addition, G&W operates the 1,400-mile Tarcoola to Darwin rail line, which links the Port of Darwin with the Australian rail network in South Australia. Operations include 116 railroads organized in 11 regions, with more than 15,000 miles of owned and leased track, 5,200 employees and over 2,000 customers. The company also provides rail service at 37 ports in North America, Australia and Europe and performs contract coal loading and railcar switching for industrial customers.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has announced that Michael Rush has moved from his post as associate general counsel to senior vice president safety and operations, succeeding Robert VanderClute who is retiring after 12 years with the AAR.
Before joining AAR, VanderClute served for five years as vice president of rail at Parsons Brinckerhoff. Prior to that, he worked at Amtrak for 27 years, eventually being named vice president of operations and chief operating officer.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee and completed the transportation executive program at Harvard University.
“Bob’s contributions to the AAR, to our members and to the rail industry worldwide are vast,” said AAR President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. “His depth of railroad knowledge and hands-on experience will be difficult to duplicate. As well, his love for all things railroading is unsurpassed. He is the consummate ‘train enthusiast,’ and his face lights up whenever a train goes by.”
Rush joined the AAR in 1980 and has counseled the AAR and its member railroads on environmental, hazardous materials and safety matters. He also spearheaded the freight rail industry’s push for stronger tank car safety standards.
Rush graduated with honors from the National Law Center at George Washington University.
“Safety has and always will be front and center for the rail industry and we are fortunate to have Mike’s expertise to lead this critical area,” said Hamberger. “Mike’s insights on myriad issues, particularly those with a safety focus are immeasurable.”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently announced that Sarah Feinberg, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) chief of staff, will serve as acting administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), becoming the second woman to lead the agency since it was founded in 1966.
Feinberg succeeds Joseph C. Szabo, who was appointed FRA administrator in 2009 and recently stepped down from his position.
“Sarah has been my partner and served as my closest advisor during her tenure as Chief of Staff at the U.S. DOT. With her ability to bring clarity, focus and direction to complex challenges, she has become a proven leader within our agency,” said Secretary Foxx. “Sarah has the right mix of experience and skills to adeptly lead the FRA as it continues its important work to ensure the safe, reliable and efficient movement of people and goods.”
As U.S. DOT chief of staff, a position she has held since 2013, Feinberg worked closely with Secretary Foxx and each agency in the U.S. DOT to ensure they are continuously raising the bar on safety. As FRA acting administrator, she will work to strengthen the culture of safety across the railroad industry.Norfolk
In addition, Feinberg managed the agency’s 10 modal departments and spearheaded the agency’s legislative, policy, and communications efforts. She provided strategic advice and counsel to the Secretary regarding operational and legislative initiatives across all modes of transportation and lead the department’s efforts on its $302 billion surface transportation reauthorization plan, which was sent to the U.S. Congress last year.
The Surface Transportation Board has refused to reconsider its controversial finding that railroad contractor Rail-Term Corp. is a rail carrier within its statutes.
In a decision released Dec. 30, the STB affirmed its finding that Rail-Term’s performance of dispatching services on behalf of several short lines made it a rail carrier subject to the board’s jurisdiction. STB Commissioner Ann Begeman dissented from the majority opinion. “Rail-Term does not meet any of the definitions or associated requirements of a rail carrier. Rail-Term does not hold itself out to the general public as a provider of interstate rail transportation for persons or property. Rail-Term does not have track, locomotives, rail cars or crews, or have access to or operate a railroad line. Rail-Term is not equipped to provide service upon reasonable request. Rail-Term’s clients—the rail carriers—provide interstate rail transportation services, and only they are carriers subject to the board’s jurisdiction.”
She concluded: “the majority materially erred in the prior decision, and does so again here.”
This is considered a pivotal case involving the definition of a railroad contractor, and the STB’s finding could lead to eligibility by Rail-Term’s employees for employee benefits under statutes administered by the Railroad Retirement Board.
At issue is a decision issued Nov. 19, 2013 in Finance Docket 35582 in which the STB ruled on a referral question from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit asking whether Rail-Term Corp., a contractor that provides dispatching services for short lines, fits its statutory requirements to be considered a rail carrier. The issue stems from the court’s review of decisions of the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) finding that Rail-Term is a covered employer under rail employee-benefits acts that the RRB administers, entitling its employees to those benefits.
“We find here that, by performing an essential rail function on behalf of several short line railroads, Rail-Term has become a rail carrier under § 10102(5). Although Rail-Term does not directly hold itself out to the public as providing interstate rail transportation services, the dispatching services that it provides under contract with carriers are an essential part of the total rail common carrier services offered by its clients to the public,” the STB said, in that 2013 decision.
On Dec. 13, 2013, Rail-Term filed a petition for reconsideration. A few days later, several rail associations including the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association and the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association filed petitions to intervene in the case and comment.
The associations voiced concern that the STB’s original ruling runs counter to agency precedent that has found that the performance of dispatching services and other functions would not make an entity a rail carrier. NRC, which represents contractors, vendors and suppliers to freight and passenger railroads, voiced concerns about the precedent and the potential for uncertainty in the marketplace.
“NRC’s members are generally not considered to be rail carriers within the meaning of 49 U.S.C. 10102(5),” NRC said. “The board’s decision raises new uncertainty as to when companies that provide services or products to rail carriers may be “imputed” to be rail carriers for purposes of regulation by the board under the Interstate Commerce Act and the application of other federal law which applies to entities subject to the jurisdiction of the board under the ICA.”
Indiana Rail Road (INRD) Company Founder, President and CEO Thomas G. Hoback will retire, effective June 30, 2015, and be replaced by Peter Mills, whose position will be effective on July 1. Hoback will continue to serve as a director on the railroad’s board while pursuing other business and philanthropic interests.
“After nearly 30 years of concentrated focus on growth, and having reinvested nearly $200 million of our earnings into improvements, INRD is in the best physical condition it has ever been,” said Hoback. “With innovative marketing and customer service, we have grown our business by a compounded rate of more than 12 percent annually, and today we move the equivalent of more than 800,000 truckloads of freight per year.”
The INRD Board of Directors chose Mills as the next President and CEO of the railroad. He has served on the INRD board for 10 years and is currently vice president of finance operations for CSX Transportation, where he has been employed for 26 years. He will resign his position at CSX on June 30.
Mills attended the University of Delaware where he earned bachelors and masters degrees. He has held numerous management and financial leadership positions for CSX, including managing director of investor relations and director of international sales and marketing for Europe. Mills also took a business exchange assignment with British Steel, where he helped the company launch an innovative new product.
“Pete is a natural fit to assume leadership at Indiana Rail Road because he will continue the legacy of entrepreneurial thinking that has made us so successful,” said Hoback. “He will bring a real passion for business development while drawing on his commercial management experience.”
“This is the career opportunity of a lifetime for me to join Indiana Rail Road,” said Mills. “Tom and his team have built a remarkable franchise with which I have been associated for the past 10 years in my role on the board. I am excited about this opportunity and look forward to the future.”
Hoback established the Indianapolis-based regional railroad from an unused branch line and began operations in 1986 with a team of 16 employees. Today’s INRD moves Indiana commerce to and from Asia and points all over North America and employs nearly 200 people.
“The transformation of this company has been truly remarkable, and it’s due to an entrepreneurial spirit and an outstanding group of professionals who are among the best in the business,” stated Hoback.
Hoback gave the “go-ahead” 25 years ago to INRD employees who wanted to operate the Santa Train. Since 1990, more than 100,000 people have visited INRD’s Santa Train and thousands of donated coats, hats and gloves have been distributed to Indiana and Illinois families.
Joseph C. Szabo, who has served as Administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) since 2009, announced he will be leaving the agency in January 2015. He has accepted a position as senior fellow with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the official regional planning organization for the northeastern Illinois counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake McHenry and Will.
A fifth-generation railroader, Szabo is the 12th FRA Administrator and the first to have the distinction of coming from the ranks of railroad workers.
At CMAP, Szabo will play a leadership role in major policy-related projects, including infrastructure funding, coordinating with local officials to develop and implement policies, and developing a national transportation policy in cooperation with other major metropolitan regions and national associations.
In a letter to his co-workers and leaders in the rail industry, Szabo said, “As a 38-year veteran of the rail industry – one who worked out in the ranks – the most meaningful improvement to me was the dramatic drop in employee fatalities to a new record low. Over the course of my railroad career, I’ve lost five good friends to on-duty fatalities and, like most rail workers, survived my share of close calls in the workplace. In 2008, the year before I came to FRA, 26 rail workers perished in on-duty fatalities – a rate of more than two a month.”
He continued, “Through your good work, we drove that down to a record low number of 14 employee fatalities in 2013 – still too many, but a remarkable improvement. Now, ten months into 2014, we are at 5 fatalities for the year and getting so close to the ultimate goal of zero. I’m counting on the practices we’ve put into place, particularly proactive programs like Confidential Close Calls Reporting, to get us to zero in 2015. And I’ll be watching closely from the sidelines.”
The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association praised the FRA administrator, saying his “support of the ASLRRA’s Safety Institute initiative has been unwavering and has set the groundwork for helping ASLRRA to establish improved safety processes and procedures on America’s short line and regional railroad operations.”
“We wish Joe well in his move back to Chicago and look forward to continuing to work with him in his new capacity,” the association said.
Seasoned railroad executive JR Sampson has been chosen to serve as coordinator to help launch the Short Line Safety Institute.
Sampson, former vice president of safety and rules at short line operator OmniTRAX, will serve a key role in the pilot project, which is the first step in establishing the institute, made possible by an initial grant from the Federal Railroad Administration.
Sampson will head up an initial assignment in coordination with the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, the FRA, the University of Connecticut and the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, resulting in both the creation of a training module and selection and training of safety assessment professionals for the pilot project. ASLRRA noted that this is a critical step toward the longer-range goal of developing a comprehensive industry-wide safety culture and safety compliance assessment program that will serve as the core of the Short Line Safety Institute.
The Safety Institute is an outgrowth of an ASLRRA proposal to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in January 2014 as a step toward improving safety for crude oil shipments by rail.
“The Safety Institute is a top line priority for ASLRRA and reflects the short line industry’s dedication and leadership on an issue of critical importance to communities, shippers and railroads,” said ASLRRA Chairman Ed McKechnie. “We look forward to working with JR on this critical initial assignment.”
The ASLRRA is a D.C.-based trade association representing more than 1,000 short line and regional railroad and associate members in legislative and regulatory matters.