Three different documents published recently by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) discuss important issues: pre-departure railcar inspections, positive train control (PTC) regulations and minimum drug and alcohol testing rates for 2023.
Safety Bulletin Reminds Railroad Employees to Conduct Visual Inspections Prior to Pulling Cars
An FRA safety bulletin brings industry attention to a recent fatal accident and serves as a reminder of proper pre-departure safety practices. A train operating on the mainline struck a piece of angle iron protruding from a freight car on the adjacent main track. The iron pierced a locomotive cab window and fatally injured a crew member.
The FRA issued the bulletin to increase awareness of the situation that led to the fatal accident. In particular, the FRA reminds train crews that in locations where a person is not on duty to inspect freight cars, it is important that a proper visual inspection be conducted prior to pulling cars, when it is safe to do so. Employees should look for protruding objects that may foul an adjacent track, and immediately report any such conditions if they are observed.
The safety bulletin goes on to list some of the hazardous conditions that are likely to cause an accident or casualty and that are readily discoverable during a customary inspection. These include a leaning or listing car body, insecure coupling, broken or cracked wheel and more.
Information Guide Discusses Positive Train Control Regulations
The FRA has also released a guide answering several frequently asked questions concerning existing requirements governing positive train control (PTC) systems under Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 236, subpart I.
The guide clarifies some of the regulation’s wording, explains what PTC systems are and describes some of the ways the FRA oversees railroads’ implementation of these systems.
Notification of Determination Announces Minimum Random Testing Rates
An FRA notification of determination announced the 2023 minimum annual random drug and minimum annual random alcohol testing rates for hours-of-service (HOS) employees, maintenance-of-way (MOW) employees and mechanical employees. The determination took effect on Dec. 20.
According to the notification, minimum testing rates will stay the same for the calendar year. They will be 25 percent for drugs and 10 percent for alcohol for both HOS and MOW employees, and 50 percent for drugs and 25 percent for alcohol for mechanical employees. The FRA’s rates only prescribe minimum testing, allowing railroads and railroad contractors to conduct FRA random testing at higher rates.
Testing rates for both HOS and MOW employees remains unchanged because the random drug testing positive rate for both groups remained below 1 percent for 2020 and 2021, while the random alcohol testing violation rate for both groups remained below 0.5 percent for those same years.
Because the FRA only expanded the scope of its drug and alcohol testing regulations to mechanical employees in 2022, there lacks two years’ worth of data to adjust the initial minimum rates of 50 percent for drugs and 25 percent for alcohol. The FRA uses Management Information Systems testing data and other factors from the last two complete calendar years when deciding whether to lower minimum annual testing rates.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the publication of a first draft of the National Broadband Map showing fixed and mobile broadband availability data submitted by internet service providers through the Commission’s Broadband Data Collection (BDC). The new National Broadband Map displays location-level information and is the most comprehensive, granular, and standardized data the Commission has ever made available on broadband availability. The broadband availability data displayed on the map reflects services available as of June 30, 2022.
As broadband companies and advocates for its expansion have frequently targeted railway corridors for fiber installation, ASLRRA suggests finding your railroad on this map. If your railroad and its easements are not covered, it could make your railroad a target for broadband expansion. ASLRRA suggests working with your state railroad association, as the topic of broadband expansion on railroad property is frequently discussed in state legislatures across the country.
Unlike previous FCC broadband availability maps, consumers, state, local, and Tribal governments, service providers, and other entities can now dispute the data submitted by providers and contribute to an ongoing effort to improve the accuracy of the map.
Stakeholders can now file challenges to the fixed and mobile broadband availability data shown. In addition, consumers may begin to submit corrections, in the form of individual challenges, to the location data in the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric, a dataset that includes all locations in the United States and Territories where fixed broadband internet access service has been or could be installed.
For additional information on the BDC resources including resources to aid bulk challenge submissions to mobile availability data, please see the Public Notice on the available bulk challenge process resources. For information about the background and purpose of the BDC, please visit the Broadband Data Collection Website.
On Dec. 23 the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on precision-scheduled railroading (PSR) after being asked to examine the effect of PSR on freight rail safety and service. ASLRRA was one of the stakeholders asked to contribute information to GAO researchers.
There were three objectives for the report: identify stakeholders’ views on operational changes associated with PSR; identify the effects, if any, of operational changes associated with PSR on freight rail safety; and identify the effects, if any, of operational changes associated with PSR on freight rail service.
Regarding the first objective, the report explains how stakeholders have associated certain operational changes with PSR, and railroads have implemented to varying degrees. For the second objective, the GAO says that Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) data on safety effects of operational changes associated with PSR are inconclusive, but the FRA is monitoring potential risks. And concerning the third objective, the report says that service effects from operational changes associated with PSR are unclear, but the Surface Transportation Board (STB) has monitoring efforts in place to track effects.
The 118th Congress returned to Washington, DC this week, focused on assigning leadership positions so that Congress can establish rules and begin work. In the Senate, where Democrats maintained their majority, Democrat Chuck Schumer has been named the majority leader and Republican Mitch McConnell will lead the minority. In the House, for the first time in 100 years, a candidate has not won the speakership on the first ballot. GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy has as of press time, failed to clinch the required votes to be elected Speaker, and voting continues to elect a speaker.
The Maritime Administration (MARAD) has published a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), announcing the availability of up to $662,203,512 in funding for the Port Infrastructure Development Program. Applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. E.D.T. on April 28, 2023.
Short lines are not directly eligible as applicants, but with the right partnerships with state, local and port officials, the program can benefit some short line freight railroad projects. More background on past awards is here. Minimum awards are $1Million, and 25% of the total available is set aside for small ports.
MARAD notes that it intends to update this NOFO on or about January 17, 2023, with complete program requirements and application information. The amended notice will be posted on Grants.gov and the PIDP website.
On Dec. 20 the Senate confirmed by voice vote the nomination of Robert E. Primus to the Surface Transportation Board (STB). Primus first joined the STB in January 2021 to fill an unexpired term ending in 2022. This current term will expire in 2027.
This comprehensive two-day training is always in high demand is now taking names on a first come first served basis. Space is still available in the seminar, but the hotel is filling up; anyone wishing to attend and willing to stay at another property should join the waitlist to receive additional details. Join the waitlist today!
ASLRRA is partnering with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to offer its popular Drug and Alcohol Training Seminar, Jan. 30 to Feb. 1, in Phoenix, Arizona. Presented by FRA Drug and Alcohol Program Specialist Sam Noe and ASLRRA Vice President Safety and Compliance JR Gelnar, this essential training includes an in-depth review of FRA Part 219 Drug and Alcohol Training and covers all sections of the rule and requirements for all railroads and contractors.
Visit aslrra.org/training to view full details on this and other 2023 training seminars.
Scholarships of up to $1,200 each are available to employees at railroads earning $10 million or less in annual revenues. Funds can be used to pay for registration fees, travel and lodging costs for training covering topics such as track, bridge and signal inspection and maintenance; railroad safety and operations training; locomotive and freight car inspection and maintenance and more.
Special consideration is given to employees at ASLRRA members in the southern region. The Association hopes to award eight to ten scholarships to southern-region small-railroad employees in 2023.
Follow the link above to learn more about the scholarship program, or click here to apply. Applications are accepted and evaluated on a rolling basis.
Registration is now open for ASLRRA’s Annual Conference and Exhibition, which will be held April 2 to 4 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. Those who register can also add on optional activities, including a tour of the Port of New Orleans by bus or boat.
ASLRRA staff is planning another exciting and engaging conference with the latest short line news and information from subject-matter and industry experts. Bookmark ASLRRA’s conference home page to keep track of all event updates, including the conference agenda.
Hotel room blocks are also open for those making travel arrangements. ASLRRA encourages attendees to use links provided on ASLRRA’s website to make hotel reservations and reminds attendees that the Association never uses outside solicitors to contact individuals to book hotel rooms. Please contact ASLRRA Vice President of Meetings Amy Westerman via email or phone at (202) 585-3449 with any concerns about unauthorized hotel vendors.
Click here to register and take advantage of early bird specials!
Exhibit Hall Booth Sales, Conference Sponsorships Continue
Sales of exhibit hall booths and conference sponsorships started earlier this fall and continue to move at a brisk pace. Still, there are many opportunities for organizations interested in showing off their latest products or supporting one of the event’s many components.
There are five different sponsorship packages, each of which come with their own benefits. View the sponsorship prospectus here for more detailed information about each sponsorship level.
Companies interested in purchasing booth space in the exhibit hall can learn more here or view the current hall floorplan here. Again, the hall will feature a green zone to showcase businesses with environmentally friendly products and services.
Please contact ASLRRA’s Senior Vice President of Membership and Business Development Kathy Keeney about sponsorship opportunities and securing a space in the exhibit hall.
ASLRRA’s Veterans Engagement Award honors industry employers who demonstrate positive policies toward U.S. veterans and who implement unique programs and practices to hire, recognize, support, and engage with veterans in the workplace and the broader community. The award program is open to all ASLRRA Railroad and Supplier members who submit an online application addressing the following questions:
Each year’s winner is awarded and recognized at ASLRRA’s Annual Conference & Exhibition. Information provided by nominees may be shared on ASLRRA’s website and may also be highlighted in the association’s print and electronic publications. Please contact Sabrina Waiss with questions. Click here to learn more about the important programs and activities of ASLRRA member employers who prioritize hiring, engaging and supporting veterans in the workplace and in the community.
Spark TS’s Holly Rainwater and Rio Grande Pacific’s Mitch Harris will join ASLRRA’s JR Gelnar to discuss the responsibilities for railroads with regards to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Clearinghouse for CDL drivers. This webinar is free for ASLRRA members.
Update on Part 240/242 Audits and FRA Findings– Jan. 12, 2023
Join the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Kevin Lewis and ASLRRA’s JR Gelnar for an update on Part 240/242 audits and learn what FRA has discovered during their first year of focused audits on short lines. Lewis will provide information and insight into findings and discuss what FRA will be doing in future audits. This webinar is free for ASLRRA members.
2022 Economic Update and What to Look for in 2023– Jan. 25, 2023
Association of American Railroads (AAR) economists Luisa Fernandez-Willey and Dan Keen will discuss what happened in 2022 with freight traffic and the economy and learn what economic indicators to watch for as we enter 2023. This webinar is free for ASLRRA members.
Further Railroad Knowledge Any Time With On-Demand Webinars
ASLRRA offers almost 200 webinar recordings in its On-Demand Webinar Library, covering a wide range of topics from regulatory compliance to environmental programs to the grant-application process. Members can access these webinars at any time, making them perfect for squeezing in educational opportunities whenever and wherever possible.
Most of the recordings also have a copy of the accompanying PDF presentation available for download. Visit ASLRRA’s webinar homepage and log in to view all the on-demand offerings in the Association’s webinar library.
Learn more about ASLRRA’s education offerings.
ASLRRA member Alaska Railroad will celebrate its centennial year in 2023 with special travel packages, events and more.
A limited edition centennial special tourist package will run from late May to Early September, taking tourists on a 12-day journey to destinations along the railroad’s historic mainline. There will also be a special exhibition at the Anchorage Museum focused on the railroad’s centennial, examining three key eras of Alaska Railroad history.
The railroad also commissioned special centennial-focused artwork from local artists, one of whom hails from Nenana, Alaska, where President Warren Harding drove the golden spike on July 15, 1923 signaling the completion of the railroad. In January, the railroad will host two signing events with the artists and their artwork.
Click here for a calendar of industry events.
Views & News is published by American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association. Please contact Amy Krouse, editor, with questions or comments.