Regulatory – CRISI application preparation requires environmental considerations
Legislative – ASLRRA team continues advocacy work on Capitol Hill
New Members – ASLRRA welcomes OptiFuel Systems
ASLRRA Annual Conference – Descriptions, speakers listed for conference educational sessions
Industry News – EPA offers grant webinars; SLSI Safety Action Plan resources available online
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.
Chuck Baker assumed the role of president at ASLRRA five years ago this winter. This week, the Association asks Baker to reflect on the past half-decade and where he sees the industry going.
Q: Describe one of your favorite “firsts” at ASLRRA.
A: As I had come from 15 years of running other rail associations, particularly the NRC [National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association], and short line lobbying, I was blessed to know the environment and the players and the issues, so there weren’t too many surprising firsts.
My first State of the Association speech at the 2019 Annual Conference in Orlando stands out to me as a memorable first and a tremendous honor. And by the way, the state of the association was strong then as it is today!
Q: How has ASLRRA changed in the past five years?
A: The short line story has continued to become more and more well understood. It had always been recognized by individual shippers and rail media, but now more so by national groups, the STB [Surface Transportation Board], the FRA Railroad Development office, Congress, and the mainstream and political media.
The Association has engaged in new ways over the past five years on behalf of its members – addressing the environment, disaster relief, and working to ensure there are no unintended consequences for small businesses in regulations. The challenges are no longer solely from Washington, DC-based regulators and the U.S. Congress. For instance, short lines’ environmental profile should be a huge strength and we’d like it to be seen that way, but now we are also playing defense against nonsensical and counterproductive CARB [California Air Resource Board] locomotive emission rules.
Change is inevitable, and the Association will be prepared to meet those changes, just as our members are.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work and your role here at the Association?
A: It’s rewarding to pursue a worthwhile mission with dedicated, talented colleagues. Telling the short line story is frankly fun. Railroading; small businesses; energy, industrial, agricultural customers; rural areas, small towns, the heartland – that’s about as American and apple pie as you can get! And the whole team at ASLRRA loves telling it too.
ASLRRA members are team players, working collaboratively with us at ASLRRA and with each other. They compete for business when they’re located in close proximity to each other, and for transloads and for CRISI grants and for employees, but in general it’s more of a network business than a competitive business. They have more in common than not and are willing to help each other. Our supplier members are important to our success, providing solutions that meet the needs of a wide variety of challenges.
Q: What has been the most memorable moment of your tenure?
A: The short line 45G maintenance tax credit being signed into “permanency” on Dec. 27, 2020 with only seven days left before the 116th Congress adjourned stands out. There was so much drama, excitement and angst capping off more than 15 years of dedicated, relentless work by a cast of thousands.
Seeing the final text of the IIJA [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] bipartisan infrastructure bill with the eye-popping sums for the CRISI program was similarly memorable, and it came with less angst too.
Q: What do you see happening in the next five years at ASLRRA? What goals do you have for the Association?
A: I’m looking forward to seeing short line infrastructure continue to improve as 45G and CRISI investments and state programs supplement private dollars, benefitting our customers and our supplier members. Addressing our infrastructure provides an immediate impact on improving short line industry safety, which is at the forefront of our collective minds every day.
There’s no question the environmental footprint of rail and our oldest locomotives will continue to be a massive issue, and we look forward to assisting our members in finding solutions to that challenge.
Continuing to evolve operational practices and deploying technology with an eye toward improving safety and environmental benefits will be a continued focus, and an area where the Association is prepared to engage on behalf of our members with industry stakeholders.
ASLRRA is fortunate to have an engaged Board, and talented staff who are committed to meeting the needs of our industry and our members. If the first five years of my tenure are any measure, the next five will be even faster paced, more varied in its challenges and similarly gratifying.
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.
ASLRRA’s government affairs team expects the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to release the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Rail Improvements (CRISI) notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) in mid-March, with only 60 days until the application due date. The Association urges its members to begin preparing their applications now.
To support their efforts, ASLRRA will explore different topics related to the grant program and the application process in a revival of its Countdown to CRISI series. This week: environmental concerns.
The EPA’s NEPAssist Tool Helps CRISI Applicants Prepare a Draft CE Worksheet
All federally funded projects must meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). For short lines preparing CRISI grant applications, it is important to begin preparatory work on the environmental clearance for your project.
A common “class of action” under NEPA for many short line projects is called the categorical exclusion (CE), the simplest NEPA decision document. To secure a CE for a CRISI-grant funded project requires submittal of a CE worksheet to the FRA. While this formally occurs after a grant award is announced but before finalizing the grant agreement with the agency, one approach that FRA encourages, and that many short lines have put into practice, is to attach a draft CE worksheet to the CRISI application.
Attaching a draft CE demonstrates project readiness, showing the FRA that the railroad has considered any potential environmental impacts of its project and the tasks required to finalize and submit a CE worksheet for clearance if a CRISI award is granted.
The NEPAssist GIS map website, hosted by EPA, aids the environmental review process and the environmental considerations involved with project planning. Click here to go directly to the NEPAssist tool, or here to view a NEPAssist User Guide.
FRA’s environmental staff makes available online many environmental resources for CRISI applicants, including a series of on-demand webinars on environmental topics. ASLRRA also expects the FRA to release updated environmental guidance relevant to CRISI applicants in the next few weeks, which the Association will share with members when it becomes available.
ASLRRA Staff Discusses Environmental Considerations for Small-Structure Projects
ASLRRA Senior Vice President, Safety, Regulatory, and Environmental Policy Jo Strang and Assistant Vice President, Policy and Industry Affairs Richard Sherman met with members of the FRA’s senior environmental team this week to talk about environmental considerations related to CRISI projects and wetlands and watercourses, particularly for small structure projects.
The group explored questions ASLRRA staff has received from short lines on this topic, particularly related to replacing small structures, such as small wooden bridges or trestles, with culverts, in the case of ephemeral or intermittent streams. These are projects that short lines are often interested in funding through the CRISI program, and they can be important investments to preserve or attain 286,000-pound weight capacity on a rail line.
Many railroads have questions about what is involved in environmental clearance and permitting for this type of work. FRA officials will discuss considerations for these projects in ASLRRA’s upcoming webinar, CRISI Grants Spotlight: Environmental Topics Discussion with FRA, on Feb. 13. Follow the link for more information and to register.
ASLRRA Offers Grant Assistance in Varied Forms – Including Opportunities at the ASLRRA Annual Conference
The Association’s Member Discount Program features a grant-writing Preferred Provider able to provide assistance with various grant program applications. These industry experts can help member railroads in the preparation and submission of grant applications for programs currently available from a variety of federal and state governments and other entities.
More detailed guidance for short line railroads seeking a CRISI grant can also be found on ASLRRA’s CRISI Grant Application Information webpage. The page features a list of tasks railroads can begin now, including ensuring they are registered with the proper government agencies and have begun outreach to project stakeholders and other partners.
ASLRRA’s On-Demand Webinar library also features grant-related recorded webinars, and ASLRRA’s Annual Conference and Exhibition will not only feature multiple CRISI-focused education sessions, representatives from the FRA will hold office hours to discuss projects and applications. Click here to register for the conference.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has published several new reports and resources in its eLibrary. Of most interest to ASLRRA members is a technical report titled “Improving Tank car Crash Energy Management (CEM)” and a copy of a presentation titled “The Impact of Trainline Air Leakage on Engine Efficiency and Decarbonization.”
The technical report is the result of a two-year research project to examine ways to improve the puncture resistance of hazardous materials (hazmat) tank cars. Researchers looked at different solutions to mitigate the effects of a side impact to a tank car. Some of these solutions included changing shell thickness, splitting one thick plate into multiple plates and making changes to the internal liner.
According to study results, the most promising mitigation approach is the multi-layer approach, which the report also refers to as the “tank-within-a-tank” approach. For this solution, different steel grades would be used for the tank car’s outer layers to maximize overall puncture resistance. The report goes on to recommend more research to explore the extent of the puncture resistance offered by this approach.
The air leak presentation, made by Southwest Research Institute Lead Engineer Chris Stoos, explains the extent to which air leaks in locomotive engines contribute to overall greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, Stoos notes that railroads should invest time and resources in addressing locomotive air leaks because fixing leaks reduces emissions and fuel consumption and improves overall efficiency. These benefits occur regardless of the locomotive fuel source.
Two other technical reports recently made available by the FRA include “Automated Train Operations Sensor Platform Framework Requirements” and “Improving Thermal Protection of Cryogenic Tank Cars Through Testing, Analysis, and Evaluation of Pressure Relief Valve System Performance.”
The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) discussed its Customer Service Plan in the most recent installment of the agency’s monthly Question and Answer (Q&A) series.
The RRB issues an annual report on its performance and the extent to which it met its service standards in the previous fiscal year. Overall performance is measured according to a timeliness index and the RRB met or exceeded all customer service performance goals set for fiscal year 2023, except in the area of disability decisions.
The ASLRRA legislative team continues to partner with the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks (CABT) to advocate in opposition to several bills that would increase the weight of commercial trucks. This week, ASLRRA’s Crystal Gitchell attended meetings with CABT representatives and House Transportation and Infrastructure offices to discuss a pilot program that would allow 91,000-pound trucks on the road. ASLRRA will continue to monitor the issue and engage with members of Congress on it and other short line priorities.
Staff is also focused on planning this year’s Railroad Day on Capitol Hill, which will take place May 8 in Washington, D.C. ASLRRA will open registration for Railroad Day soon, allowing industry representatives and stakeholders to sign up to bring a unified message to U.S. lawmakers about the importance of rail to local, state and national economies.
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.
OptiFuel Systems, LLC, based in Beaufort, South Carolina, is a systems solution integrator providing zero emission products and services in the hard-to-abate transportation and industrial markets. Its solutions bring modernization to heavy-duty transportation, ushering in the transition from diesel power to zero-emission power with available, affordable equipment and turnkey delivery solutions that minimize disruptions to operations. CEO Scott Myers is our primary contact and can be reached on (339) 222-7575.
Learn more about OptiFuel Systems at booths 1106, 1108 and 1110 in the Green Zone of our Annual Conference and Exhibition’s Expo Hall in Kansas City next month.
ASLRRA has expanded its in-person training opportunities in 2024, offering seven regulatory seminars featuring speakers and content specifically tailored for short line railroads.
This year’s lineup includes traditional offerings like Part 219 Drug and Alcohol Training, General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR), and the Regulatory Module of ASLRRA’s Leadership Development Program, plus new seminars including a Short Line Designated Employee Representative (DER) Roundtable, Part 225 Railroad Accidents/Incidents, Part 214 Railroad Workplace Safety, and an expanded Locomotive and Car Compliance Training Seminar.
Online registration for several seminars is now live and attendees are encouraged to register early, as space is limited. Visit ASLRRA’s website for complete details, dates, and locations. ASLRRA also offers scholarships to employees of small railroads to help offset training costs. Click here for more information about scholarships.
ASLRRA makes education a cornerstone of its Annual Conference and Exhibition, with Association staff, committee members and other volunteers dedicated to bringing the most relevant, up-to-date industry information to those who attend.
The Annual Conference website features an updated list of education tracks and related sessions, providing a description of each session and a list of speakers. Although it is impossible for one person to attend every education session, registered attendees will have access to all session presentations after the conference.
Legal professionals can also register for continuing legal education (CLE) credits; up to four hours can be earned depending on individual state rules. Click here to register for the conference and CLE credits before rates go up on Feb. 17. Remember to book a hotel room before the cutoff date on Feb. 27. Room rates will increase after Feb. 27. Use the links and phone numbers on ASLRRA’s conference hotel webpage to avoid hotel poachers and scams.
JR Gelnar traveled to CSX headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida to attend a meeting of the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Fatality Analysis of Maintenance-of-way Employees and Signalmen (FAMES) Committee. During their meeting the committee reviewed a recent worker fatality and updated the data for multiple reports.
The ASLRRA Legislative team attended the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Council on Rail Transportation Annual Legislative meeting last week in Washington, DC. Chuck Baker participated in a rail industry partners panel. Crystal Gitchell spoke on short line legislative priorities during the freight states program. Zach Radford and Richard Sherman also attended the meeting, which included many FRA employees and important industry partners.
In his most recent column for Railway Age magazine, Chuck Baker talks about the ways short line railroads have embraced efforts to maximize the environmental benefits of rail, recognizing that doing so is another way to add value to the services they provide their customers.
Baker talks about the work several ASLRRA members are undertaking to make their operations more environmentally friendly. He notes a study by Anacostia Rail Holdings showing that short-haul intermodal operations between the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles could divert a million trucks off Los Angeles expressways, reducing congestion and improving sustainability.
Baker also highlights efforts by Georgia Central Railway and the Heart of Georgia Railroad to pilot zero-emission battery-electric rail container technology. And ASLRRA itself is leading a project to evaluate short line locomotive emissions through field testing and testing of non-traditional fuel technologies.
Although short lines do not always have the largest budgets for research and development, ASLRRA and its members across the country are committed to responding to today's environmental challenges in many different ways.
Presented by the FRA’s Amanda Ciampolillo and Stephanie Perez -Arrieta, Colliers Engineering & Design's Karen Missell 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’s On-Demand Webinar Library features recordings of legal webinars that address topics of particular interestto legal professionals in the railroad industry. Look for the following titles under the legal category:
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 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold three separate webinars in March, related to different aspects of the grant process.
The EPA also provides recordings of previous grant webinars. Links to all webinars, past and future, can be found on the EPA Grants Webinars website.
ASLRRA member MxV Rail will host the 131st Damage Prevention and Freight Claim Conference June 3 to 6 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The conference will feature keynote addresses from industry leaders, technical presentations led by damage prevention experts, open industry meetings and a technical workshop with question and answer session. Information including a conference agenda and speaker list will be available soon, and registration is expected to open later this month.
One area where the Short Line Safety Institute (SLSI) can provide additional assistance to railroads is in the development of a Safety Action Plan (SAP). The SLSI’s website features resources to help organizations develop a SAP, all of which are available at no cost to railroads.
The SAP can bolster railroad safety culture by identifying the railroad’s safety performance history, outlining hazards to the safe operation of the railroad, specifying strategies to reduce occurrence of adverse events and assigning responsibilities for enactment of plan components.
The SLSI recorded a webinar discussing SAPs, and a recording of the webinar can be found here. A copy of webinar presentation materials are here. Interested individuals can also go directly to a fill-in-the-blank SAP template created by SLSI. Click here for a Microsoft Word version, or click here for an Adobe PDF version.
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.