Regulatory – NTSB issues roadway worker safety recommendation
Legislative – STB’s Fuchs nominated for second term
New Members – ASLRRA welcomes Maine Switching Services
Announcements – Scholarship helps Durbin & Greenbrier Valley’s Harrison enhance track knowledge
ASLRRA Annual Conference – Army Major General Gavin Lawrence is newly added featured speaker
Webinars – Two new webinars scheduled for February
Industry News – Oral fluid testing training scheduled; SLSI publishes safety culture research
In this new section, we will showcase short line industry stories published in local media. Click a link to view the stories online.
Railroad members! If you want to be featured in this section, please email us the link. You can also tag us (@ASLRRA) in your social media posts. Interested in seeing your railroad showcased in your local newspaper? Contact Amy Krouse for assistance.
ASLRRA has chosen James A. “Jim” Bowers this year’s Schlosser Distinguished Service Award winner for his decades of service to the short line industry and his dedicated work with and support for ASLRRA.
“Jim has followed the path of many a small railroader, persistently applying his talent, building a one-man shop into a sustainable enterprise that creates value for many,” said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker. “Alongside growing Bowers & Company, Jim has been a willing partner and friend to many in the industry, and most especially to our Association, where his measured counsel has been instrumental in many successful initiatives such as the 45G tax credit, to helping our members understand the tax impacts of their actions, particularly during COVID, and to the Finance and Administration Committee. Jim has also had an eye on knowledge transfer in our industry, actively supporting others in his firm in taking committee leadership positions at ASLRRA, ensuring the next generation of railroaders will be similarly well-counseled.”
Before starting Bowers CPAs, Bowers worked as an accountant at Touche Ross (now Deloitte), where he eventually was named manager in charge at their Syracuse office. He decided to forge a new path in 1980 as one of the founding partners of the accounting firm Bowers and Company CPAs, now called Bowers CPAs & Advisors. In the 44 years since its inception, Bowers CPAs has expanded to three office locations in New York and features a staff of over 130. The company’s railroad arm offers short lines assistance in several areas including financial reporting, mergers and acquisitions, grant administration, tax planning and compliance and payroll.
Bowers himself has long been a short line advocate. He was instrumental in the creation and passage of the short line railroad rehabilitation tax credit, known as the 45G tax credit. He has been an active member of ASLRRA’s Legislative Policy Committee and Finance and Administration (F&A) Committee, and once served as F&A Committee chair. In addition to having helped plan previous ASLRRA annual conferences, Bowers has eagerly shared his knowledge with fellow railroad professionals as a frequent speaker at the Association’s various events. Bowers also encourages employees of the firm to participate in ASLRRA, with several chairing committees such as the Finance Committee and the Young Professional’s Committee.
Bowers has been active with other railroad organizations, such as the Railroads of New York (RONY) where he serves on the Board of Directors as an associate member. He is a member of several professional organizations as well including the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants (NYSSCPA).
The Schlosser Distinguished Service Award, named for former ASLRRA Chairman Thomas L. Schlosser, is the highest individual honor bestowed by the ASLRRA, recognizing long-term, significant service to the ASLRRA and the short line industry. Bowers will be honored on March 25, 2024 at the ASLRRA Annual Conference and Exhibition in Kansas City, Missouri.
Jim Bowers is this year's ASLRRA Schlosser Distinguished Service Award winner. He is known for his dedication to ASLRRA and the short line railroad industry through his firm, Bowers CPAs & Advisors, and his participation in Association events like the Annual Conference and Exhibition.
The opportunity to submit nominations for all of ASLRRA’s annual awards ends on Feb. 9. If they miss the deadline, those members hoping to be recognized for their exemplary work will have to wait another year for a chance to be honored at the ASLRRA Annual Conference and Exhibition, featured in Association publications and on ASLRRA’s website and lauded on the Association’s social media pages.
Follow each of the links below to learn about each award and access online nomination forms.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently issued a safety recommendation in response to a roadway worker fatality that occurred in Reed, Pennsylvania on Dec. 8, 2021. Their investigation identified the following safety issues:
The NTSB would like to remind the short line railroad industry of the importance of equipping new and existing roadway maintenance machines with backup camera technology. Click here to review the NTSB’s safety recommendations or click here to view the NTSB report.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has updated its forecast for key notices of funding opportunities (NOFOs). Of greatest interest to short lines is the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program, which is now forecast to open in March 2024.
ASLRRA’s government affairs team expects $2.38 billion to be available through the CRISI program and believes the application period will be open for less than 90 days. With such a short period of time between the grant’s NOFO opening and closing dates, ASLRRA encourages its members to begin preparing applications now. Furthermore, it is expected that the upcoming CRISI NOFO will be nearly identical to the fiscal year 2022 NOFO. Therefore applicants should feel comfortable using the previous NOFO as a guide when starting a new application.
Richard Sherman, ASLRRA’s assistant vice president, policy and industry affairs, says short lines looking to apply for CRISI grants need to take several key steps to prepare for the NOFO release. In particular, railroads should:
More detailed guidance for short line railroads seeking a CRISI grant can be found on ASLRRA’s CRISI Grant Application Information webpage. The Association’s Member Discount Program also features a grant-writing Preferred Provider able to provide assistance with various grant program applications.
A final rule from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requires freight trains transporting hazardous materials (hazmat) to provide emergency escape breathing apparatuses (EEBAs) for employees who could be exposed to inhalation hazards in the event of a hazmat release.
The FRA issued the rule in response to the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) Safety Recommendation R–05–17 as well as statutory mandates established by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA).
ASLRRA and the Association of American Railroads issued joint comments on the rule in June when the FRA first published it as a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM). In those comments, the associations cited multiple issues that remained inadequately addressed in the proposal including the lack of safety benefit justifying the rule; lack of full accounting for costs associated with program management; insufficient time for compliance for Class II railroads; and potential burdens imposed on small railroads. In addition, the comments note that the FRA has exceeded the congressional directives of rulemaking provided in section 413 of the RSIA.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced winners of fiscal year (FY) 2023 and FY 2024 INFRA and Mega grants. The two programs are included with the Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program in a single group known as the Multimodal Project Discretionary grant program (MPDG). View a list of INFRA winners here and Mega winners here.
ASLRRA member Alaska Railroad received a $17 million INFRA grant to replace an aging railroad bridge in Fairbanks, Alaska. The new bridge will be roughly 342 feet and have four spans placed on existing piers, while construction of an embankment will reduce the total bridge length by almost half.
In Florida, ASLRRA members Florida East Coast Railway and Brightline will receive a $130 million Mega grant to replace the 100-year-old railroad bridge over the St. Lucie River. The project will not only improve rail safety and efficiency, it will improve maritime river traffic and alleviate congestion for drivers.
The Port of New Orleans, served by ASLRRA member New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, will receive a $226 million INFRA grant and a $74 million Mega grant to construct a new container terminal that includes an intermodal rail yard and makes other rail upgrades.
In California, the Port of Long Beach was awarded a $283 million Mega grant to complete rail yard expansion projects. Among other benefits, the project will enhance container-on-rail service to and from the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles. ASLRRA member Pacific Harbor Line serves both ports.
ASLRRA Member is Latest DOT RRIF Loan Recipient
The DOT’s Build America Bureau formally announced Mendocino Railway and ASLRRA member Sierra Northern Railway will receive a $31.4 million Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan to make rail improvements in California. Representatives of the railroads and the Build America Bureau will talk about this RRIF loan at a dedicated education session during the 2024 ASLRRA Annual Conference in Kansas City.
A major new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program funded under the Inflation Reduction Act will provide up to $4.3 billion in grant funding to state and local governments across the country. The EPA’s Climate Pollution Reduction Grants (CPRG) program is soliciting applications for implementation grants from public entities by April 1.
Entities that received planning grants to develop a Priority Climate Action Plan (PCAP) under the first phase of the CPRG program are now able to apply for CPRG grant funding to implement projects in an eligible PCAP. Entities that did not receive a planning grant can also apply for funding to use on PCAP projects.
In most cases state or local environmental agencies, not transportation agencies, are submitting grant applications. ASLRRA has reached out to all the state agencies that received CPRG planning grants to encourage them to include short line projects for locomotive upgrades or replacements as eligible and targeted activities for CPRG implementation grant funds in their PCAPs.
With regulatory attention to locomotive emissions growing at the federal, state and local levels, ASLRRA calls on agencies to consider making available resources to economically constrained small railroads for investments in cleaner locomotives. From their side, short lines can reach out to develop a direct relationship with their corresponding agencies’ points of contact for CPRG planning and implementation grants to let them know of their interest and provide direct feedback on their potential participation in the CPRG program opportunity.
Last week, President Joe Biden nominated current Surface Transportation Board (STB) Member Patrick Fuchs for a second term. Fuchs has served on the STB since 2019 and, if confirmed by the Senate, would serve until 2029.
While Fuchs’s first five-year term has already expired, he is able to continue in his current position for up to a year while awaiting confirmation. Also likely to be in flux is the role of STB chairman. Current chair Martin Oberman has announced he plans to retire early this year, but has set no specific date for retirement.
Both Oberman and Fuchs will be featured speakers at ASLRRA’s Annual Conference during the General Session. They will participate in an STB Fireside Chat.
Know a company that would benefit from joining and participating in ASLRRA? Please contact ASLRRA’s Senior Vice President of Membership and Business Development Kathy Keeney via email or on (202) 585-3439.
Maine Switching Services, based in Unity, Maine, is a new associate switching member. It provides on-demand industrial railcar switching services. It also provides track inspection services and general rail safety training and consulting. President Joe Feero is our primary contact and can be reached on (888) 317-2142.
Both on-the-job and instructor training are vital to railroaders’ understanding of their responsibilities and how to execute tasks safely. For small railroads, financial assistance can play a significant role in helping employees supplement what they learn at work with additional training opportunities. ASLRRA’s scholarship program provides this assistance, and a $1,200 Golden Scholarship enabled Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad Signal Inspector Ross Harrison to gain important industry education.
Harrison attended the Railroad Track Inspections and Safety Standards course offered by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Tennessee Transportation Assistance Program (TTAP). For Harrison, who has been doing track inspections for nearly two years, the class was “a great addition” to the on-the-job training he has received from the railroad’s track foreman.
In an email interview, Harrison noted that, for him, one of the major benefits of the course was the way it helped him “tie together different parts of [his] inspections so that the ‘bigger picture’ of the track and its safe operation became clearer.”
As Durbin & Greenbrier operates both freight and passenger excursions in West Virginia and Virginia over what Harrison describes as “very rural and rugged terrain,” being more knowledgeable of track inspections and overall safety is critical.
“Keeping our tracks as safe as possible is the name of the game,” wrote Harrison.
Employees of ASLRRA-member small railroads earning $10 million or less in annual revenue are eligible for Golden Scholarships and the Jake Jacobson Memorial Scholarship. The application process requires filling out a simple online form, and applications are accepted and processed on a rolling basis. View the Golden Scholarship application here or the Jake Jacobson Scholarship application here. Contact ASLRRA with any questions about the process.
Annual membership dues for 2024 went out yesterday afternoon. They were emailed to the billing contact on the member company account. Payment options include ACH, checks or credit card. Most invoices include a link directly to ASLRRA’s payment portal if you wish to pay by credit card.
The invoices came from email@example.com and the subject line reads, "Your ASLRRA invoice is ready."
We hope to see all of our railroad and associate companies renew membership in 2024 for what promises to be an exciting year with our Annual Conference & Expo in Kansas City this March, regional meetings in the fall, myriad opportunities for short lines and partners to access unprecedented levels of federal funding that ASLRRA staff works hard every day advocating for, safety training, education offerings, webinars, detailed work across a dozen different committees, and more.
Please note that ASLRRA has transitioned to an outsourced finance function with a major accounting firm. Most member interactions will continue to be with ASLRRA staff members but there may be outreach for some financial transactions, such as refunds, directly from our new accounting provider, Withum.
ASLRRA will hold its popular Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Part 219 Drug and Alcohol Training April 23 to 25 in New Orleans, Louisiana. FRA Drug and Alcohol Program Specialist Sam Noe has announced plans to retire in 2024 and this will likely be his final in-person training seminar.
The seminar provides an in-depth review of Part 219 covering all sections of the rule and requirements for railroads and contractors, including discussion of inclusion of certain mechanical employees to federal testing. Another integral part of the seminar is the interactive discussion of rule requirements and practices, with subject-matter experts on hand to address all attendee questions.
The Association expects seats to fill quickly and attendees are encouraged to register as soon as possible. Click here to learn more about the seminar, view hotel information and register for the event. ASLRRA scholarships can be applied to this and certain other ASLRRA-offered training seminars.
ASLRRA member railroads can turn tie inspections into savings and safety with Loram’s Aurora Track Inspection Technology. As an exclusive ASLRRA Preferred Provider, Loram offers discount pricing on its Aurora Track Inspection Technology featuring state-of-the-art imaging technology that scans track to reveal the specific condition of every tie along the way, pinpointing potential problems and marking their exact location.
A comprehensive tie inspection using Loram’s Aurora technology provides a detailed report that enables a railroad to streamline capital maintenance programs and helps ensure they are in line with industry regulations with compliance reports, while also helping them to plan repairs in the most efficient way possible.
All ASLRRA Member Discount Program Preferred Providers are carefully vetted companies committed to providing discounted pricing, special offers and guaranteed exceptional services on a range of industry-specific products and services. Visit the Association’s Member Discount Program page to view all Preferred Providers and learn how Loram’s Aurora Track Inspection Technology can make railroad operations safer and more efficient.
ASLRRA is seeking nominations by Feb. 7 for individuals wishing to run for election to the Association’s board of directors representing associate business members (suppliers). There is one board vacancy that will need to be filled at the 2024 ASLRRA Annual Conference in Kansas City, Missouri.
The term for a board member is two years. A member wishing to suggest themselves or nominate a candidate should contact Nominating Committee Co-Chairs Steve Friedland of Short Line Data Systems or Beth Garguilo of Lincoln Transportation Insurance Brokers. Garguilo can be reached on Beth.Garguilo@lincolnins.com or (315) 768-6110 and Friedland can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 769-6505.
Major General Gavin Lawrence will be a featured speaker at ASLRRA’s Annual Conference General Session, bringing knowledge of the importance of rail infrastructure to U.S. military operations based on decades of experience, including through his current role as commanding general of the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) headquartered at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.
The SDDC is responsible for managing and coordinating surface delivery of equipment and supplies to service members deployed worldwide. One component of the SDDC, the SDDC Transportation Engineering Agency (SDDCTEA), manages the Railroads for National Defense Program that includes the Strategic Rail Corridor Network (STRACNET). Rail is the primary transportation mode for deploying military units moving ammunition, vehicles and other supplies from their bases to ports of embarkation. Roughly 67 percent of all Army unit equipment moves by rail to a shipping port during military operations or exercises.
In addition to Maj Gen Lawrence, other featured speakers include CPKC President and CEO Keith Creel and the Surface Transportation Board’s Patrick Fuchs and Martin Oberman. Click here to register for the conference and secure a chance to listen to this engaging and diverse group of speakers.
Rates to Increase in Two Weeks
Those who want to hear this year’s featured speakers, attend education sessions or walk through the nearly 250 Expo Hall booths will have to pay extra to do so after Feb. 16. Rates for ASLRRA’s 2024 Annual Conference will increase for all conference activities, including golf, club rentals and spouse registrations.
ASLRRA’s hotel block at the Loews Kansas City is also near capacity. The Loews is connected via a sky bridge to the Kansas City Convention Center where the conference will take place, making it a convenient option for attendees. Be sure to book a room using the hotel link or phone number located on ASLRRA’s conference website to avoid hotel poachers and other booking errors.
Jo Strang and JR Gelnar attended an ASLRRA Safety and Training Committee meeting hosted by Association-member parent company Watco in Birmingham, Alabama.
The group received an update from Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) representatives Mike Long, Dave Kannenberg and Adam Giovando. Short Line Safety Institute Executive Director Tom Murta spoke about the organization, while Strang and Gelnar provided a regulatory update and the group discussed the FRA final rule concerning emergency escape breathing apparatuses (EEBAs).
Amy Krouse attended the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) Most Wanted List Retirement Reception this morning in the NTSB boardroom in Washington, D.C. Several past board members joined the current NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy to speak about the success of this communication strategy in identifying and sharing the agency’s priorities. The communication of agency priorities and successes will be re-envisioned in the coming months on new platforms.
Presented by the FRA’s Amanda Ciampolillo and Stephanie Perez -Arrieta and ASLRRA’s Richard Sherman and Jo Strang.
Join senior officials from the FRA's Office of Environmental Program Management and an environmental specialist from Colliers Engineering and Design for a discussion on environmental requirements for CRISI projects.
Presented by the FRA’s Emily Grenzke and ASLRRA’s Richard Sherman and Jo Strang
In October 2023, the FRA launched its new Justice40 Rail Explorer tool, an interactive web application that combines data from the U.S. DOT Equitable Transportation Community (ETC) Explorer, the North American Rail Network (NARN), FRA's Grade Crossing Inventory, the Bureau of Indian Affairs tribal lands, and the 2020 Census. Join us for an overview and demonstration.
ASLRRA has offered several webinars discussing innovative technology used in railroad inspection and maintenance. The most recent one, an interesting look into building a railroad drone program, is already available in ASLRRA’s On-Demand Webinar Library for member access any time. Look for it and these other titles:
Visit ASLRRA’s webinar homepage to view these on-demand offerings and many more in the Association’s webinar library.
Click here to learn more about our education offerings.
The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) next Talking Freight webinar will focus on using discretionary grants for freight projects. The Talking Freight webinars are sponsored by the FHWA’s Freight Management and Operations office.
Although the webinar will likely be more focused on highway issues, it could provide important insight into freight-focused funding tools. Click here to view a brief description of the webinar and to register for the event.
The National Drug and Alcohol Screening Association (NDASA) will hold a regional training event March 11 to 12 in Memphis, Tennessee.
The event will feature a train-the-trainer course on oral fluid testing, updates on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) clearinghouse, a tour of FedEx Depot and more. Click here for more information and registration and hotel links.
The Short Line Safety Institute (SLSI) has released two new research studies focused on railroad safety culture, both of which can be found on SLSI’s research website.
R.E.S.P.E.C.T. and What It Means for Rail Safety, conducted by SLSI’s Dr. Julia Leone and Samantha Lacey and Janet Barnes-Farrell of the University of Connecticut, analyzes survey data collected during Safety Culture Assessments to understand how civility norms affect the relationship between a positive organizational safety climate and workplace safety outcomes. Results show that enhancing workplace respect can help foster an optimally safe work environment. Dr. Leone, Lacey and Barnes-Farrell presented their study at the American Psychological Association’s Work, Stress and Health 2023 conference, held virtually in November.
Dr. Leone discussed the second study, Developing Leadership Skills and Strong Safety Cultures Across the Railroad Industry, at the Transportation Research Board’s Annual Meeting in Washington, DC on Jan. 9. Working again with Lacey, Dr. Leone studied data from a post-class feedback survey completed by those who attended the SLSI’s Leading Forward course. The study noted that 98.1 percent of respondents said the class was a worthwhile investment in their career development, and 95.9 percent of respondents said they will use their newly learned skills in their current jobs.
Click here for a calendar of industry events.
Views & News is published by American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.
Please contact Mariel Takamura, associate editor, with questions or comments.