Views & News - March 6, 2024

Views & News


Issue Highlights:

Regulatory – EPA rule regarding RMP omits transportation containers

Legislative – USDOT funding bill among six to be taken up by Congress this week

New Members – ASLRRA welcomes new members Alcohol & Drug Testing Services, Ecofab Covers International, Faith Technologies and Rail Vision

Annual Conference STB Vice Chair Hedlund is newest featured speaker

Grants & Funding – California short lines encouraged to pursue VW Trust funding for locomotive projects

Industry News – NARS lists upcoming meetings


ASLRRA 2024 Conference

Register Now Agenda Book Your Room



Short Line Notable News

In this section, we 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.

Baker to Testify Tomorrow at House Committee Hearing on Discretionary Grants

Tomorrow the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will hold a hearing titled “Department of Transportation Discretionary Grants: Stakeholder Perspectives.” ASLRRA President Chuck Baker will testify at the hearing, offering insight on how federal grant programs are performing for short line railroads.

The hearing will feature a wide-ranging discussion of federal grants and the grant process. Baker’s testimony will focus on the importance of short lines to the communities they serve and the national economy, and the positive effect grants like the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program have on short line operations. Baker will also offer recommendations for ways to improve the grant process.

Other witnesses are Amy O’Leary, executive director of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments; Jared Perdue, Florida Department of Transportation secretary; and Alan Winders, presiding commissioner of Audrain County, Missouri, who is testifying on behalf of the National Association of Counties.

Use this link to watch the hearing live at 10 a.m. EST. A copy of Baker’s testimony will also be made available at that same link, where a recording will be posted after the hearing. ASLRRA will provide a recap of the hearing in next week’s issue of Views & News.


Don't Forget to Register for Other Annual Conference Offerings – Golf Registration Closes March 15

More golfers are welcome to participate in the tournament at ASLRRA's Annual Conference in Kansas City, but there are only nine days left to register to play. Click this link to learn more about the tournament, which will take place at the Paradise Pointe Golf Complex on March 26.

Conference attendees can also register to receive continuing legal education (CLE) credits if they plan to attend eligible education sessions. Those who have already registered can still add it to their ticket, while those needing to register can take care of both – or all three, if playing golf – in one transaction.



EPA RMP Final Amendments Omit Certain Changes Affecting Railroads

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced final amendments to the Risk Management Program (RMP), which is meant to help prevent chemical accidents at facilities using certain hazardous substances. The amendments omit transportation containers stored for 48 hours or more as a type of stationary source that require owners to implement an RMP and submit the plan to the EPA.

ASLRRA applauds this decision by the EPA to omit transportation containers from the final rule. The Association had objected to the proposed changes, which would “largely affect railyards and other transportation facilities that have long been exempted from the threshold stationary source determination.” ASLRRA made these comments in a statement on the proposed rule, which was submitted to the EPA in 2022 with a coalition of other organizations including the American Chemistry Council and the National Association of Manufacturers.


Irwin Car Paid Sponsorship

Thanks to Irwin Car and Equipment for sponsoring this week's edition of Views & News


Focus of March RRB Q&A is Railroad Retirement Age Reductions

The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) discusses railroad retirement age reductions in the March edition of its question and answer (Q&A) series, explaining how the agency determines full retirement age and how it applies age reductions to railroad retirement annuities.

Employees with less than 30 years of railroad service can retire before attaining their full retirement age, but their railroad retirement annuities are subject to early retirement reductions if they do so. Those who retire with 30 years of railroad service do not have any age reduction.

The Q&A includes a chart detailing the expected annuity reduction for employees subject to different full retirement age requirements who are retiring at age 62 with less than 30 years of railroad service. There is a similar chart for spouse reductions, as railroad retirement spouse annuities are also subject to early retirement reductions.


Coffee with the Commissioners Presentation Discusses OSHA’s Proposed Emergency Response Rule

A recent presentation by Dave Denniston and Joe Frank of the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York (AFDSNY) focused on a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a new safety and health standard, Emergency Response, to replace the existing Fire Brigades Standard.

The AFDSNY Coffee with the Commissioners presentation offers an overview of the proposed rule that could be useful to ASLRRA members, as the definitions and requirements introduced in this NPRM could affect some in the railroad industry. OSHA is currently accepting comments on the NPRM, which are due May 6.



Senate Committee Advances REEF Act, Supported by ASLRRA and Other Organizations

ASLRRA joined several other organizations in a letter of support for S. 1274, the Railroad Employee Equity and Fairness Act (REEF Act), which the Senate Committee on the Budget voted unanimously to advance after considering the measure during a markup held this morning.

The letter, addressed to Committee Chairman Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ranking Member Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), encourages the Senate to pass the bill, which would eliminate sequester cuts to railroad unemployment and sickness benefits.

Congress paused sequestration during the COVID-19 national emergency, but cuts resumed when the national emergency ended, reducing temporary unemployment and sickness benefits to railroad workers by 5.7 percent. The letter points out that these reductions do nothing to affect the federal deficit because the railroad insurance system depends solely on contributions from the railroad industry, not taxpayers.

Other organizations signing the letter include the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak).


USDOT Funding Bill Part of Six-Bill Spending Package Congress Hopes to Pass Before Friday

Last week Congress extended its deadline to produce federal spending bills, averting a government shutdown that would have begun on March 2. Then, on March 3, Congress produced a six-bill “minibus” that would fund the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Justice, Commerce and Energy.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) would receive $106.4 billion, which includes additional funding for the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) safety, operations and research and development programs.

For the CRISI grant program, Congress provided $198 million in addition to the $1 billion guaranteed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Not counting the approximately $98 million set aside for earmarks and other special projects, there is expected to be $1.1 billion in CRISI funding available for competition for fiscal year 2024.

This amount is slightly less than what Congress provided in fiscal years 2022 and 2023, but many other similar discretionary transportation programs were cut this year and ASLRRA and short line members worked hard for the funding that was secured in the deal.

Congress gave a big boost to the Short Line Safety Institute (SLSI). The SLSI will receive the same amount of funding it received last year, $2.5 million, as well as an additional $2.5 million to “acquire, modify, and renovate rail cars in order to conduct hazardous materials emergency response training.”

The House and Senate are both expected to take up the spending package this week. Then Congress will need to focus its attention on the six remaining bills, which cover areas like homeland security, education and defense. The deadline to pass these bills is March 22.


ASLRRA 2024 Railroad Day Registration


New Members

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.

ASLRRA Welcomes Four Associate Business Members

Alcohol & Drug Testing Services, LLC, based in Hot Springs, Arkansas, provides on-site drug and alcohol testing for our industry. They provide nationwide on-site testing for both DOT and Company Authority requirements.  Also, they are associated with the FormFox Marketplace to provide walk-in testing throughout the U.S. In addition to specimen collections, ADTS, LLC provides a wide range of third-party administration services that include random generation with associated statistical summaries and management information system (MIS) reports; arranging for SAMHAS approved laboratory and MRO services; as well as providing dispatching and employee/supervisor training. Executive Business Development Director Thomas Cannella is our primary contact and can be reached on (501) 617-0117.


Ecofab Covers International Inc. specializes in railcar covers and hatches. It has a wide range of covers and hatches to suit all types of cars and loading/unloading systems. Its covers and hatches vary from manually operated equipment to fully automated systems. Ecofab’s latest technology, AutoHatch, allows hopper railcars to be opened and closed from the ground, eliminating the hazards of loading staff being on top of railcars during loadings. Our primary contact is CEO - Ecofab USA John Cruikshank who can be reached on (720) 256-4232.

Learn more about Ecofab by visiting Booth #1021 in the expo hall at our annual conference in Kansas City.


Faith Technologies Inc., based in Menasha, Wisconsin, is an energy expert and national leader in electrical planning, engineering, design and installation. Products/services offered include railroad signal design/build, rail signal consulting, AEI reader installation & repair, and hot box detector - dragging equipment detector installation/repair as well as electrical Installation and Controls Automation for moveable bridges DOT and Railroad. Project Manager Cody Clark is our primary contact and can be reached on (417) 214-0929. Many thanks to our friends at Drawbar for recommending that they join.


Rail Vision Ltd. produces obstacle detection systems, powered by advanced AI and machine learning technologies. Its two flagship products, MainLine and ShuntingYard, detect and classify obstacles with unprecedented accuracy, providing early warnings to locomotive drivers and critical insights to railway operators and managers. Marketing Manager Amos Bar-Zeev is our primary contact and can be reached on (312) 588-9206. Many thanks to New York Air Brake’s Janice Pfeil for recommending that they join.

Learn more about Rail Vision by visiting Booth #739 in the expo hall at our annual conference in Kansas City.


ASLRRA Annual Conference

Karen Hedlund Joins General Session Speakers, Exhibit Hall is Sold Out

Surface Transportation Board (STB) Vice Chair Karen Hedlund joins the list of featured speakers at ASLRRA’s Annual Conference. Hedlund will speak during the General Session about ways the railroad industry – with the help of short lines – can grow.

The addition of Hedlund is just one of the reasons why ASLRRA’s conference is the premier short line industry event. This year the conference exhibit hall is sold out, meaning attendees will likely need extra time to visit the over 260 booths filling every available inch of floor at the Kansas City Convention Center. Exhibitors represent all facets of the railroad world, bringing the latest in technology, services and products directly to the over 1,450 railroad industry professionals attending this event.

ASLRRA is also offering a diverse selection of educational opportunities to benefit everyone in the rail industry, including a new procurement track, new media management session and continuing legal education (CLE) credits available to legal professionals.

It is still possible to register for the annual conference and take advantage of all the event has to offer. Secure your spot today!


Grants and Funding

ASLRRA Grant Resources


California’s South Coast AQMD Board Opens New Cycle for VW Trust Funding, CA Short Lines Should Explore This Option Now

On March 1 California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) Governing Board announced the opening of a new cycle of competition for funding from the Volkswagen (VW) Trust. Approximately $109 million will be made available for two funding categories: combustion freight and marine projects and zero-emission class 8 freight and port drayage trucks.

The freight and marine projects category includes repower or replacement of switching locomotives. In this program, applicants may seek between 25 and 75 percent of funding for projects, up to $1.6 million depending on the project type. ASLRRA strongly encourages short lines operating in California to explore this new cycle of funding and to do so promptly. The agency began accepting applications yesterday and will continue to accept them until all available funds are exhausted.

Under this program, which is open to fleets across California, the replaced units or engines must be destroyed, and to be eligible locomotives must have spent at least 75 percent of their operating time in California in the prior 12 months.

California’s VW Trust funds may be used as matching funds for federal grants, including the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) CRISI program. California short line railroads should try to take advantage of these VW Trust funds, and potentially use them to leverage applications in the upcoming cycles of FRA’s CRISI program.  


Two EPA Grant Programs Accepting Applications Until May

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has opened the application period for two grants, the Zero-Emission Technology Deployment Competition and the Climate and Air Quality Planning Competition. Both of these are part of the agency’s Clean Ports Program.

The zero-emission technology grant provides $3 billion for equipment and infrastructure to reduce emissions at U.S. ports. Railroad projects are eligible for this grant, with short lines able to apply in partnership with a port authority or other eligible entity.

Grant applications are due May 28, with those who plan to apply encouraged to submit an optional “Notice of Intent to Apply” by March 28. The EPA will also hold a webinar on these two grant programs on March 13. Click here to register for the webinar.


More FRA Resources Aim to Help Grant Applicants

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published guidance on developing and implementing railroad capital projects, and also posted a presentation made by the Office of Railroad Development that focuses on preparing for upcoming funding opportunities.

The guidance is meant for project sponsors and partners and those who help plan, develop and implement railroad capital projects. The FRA “strongly encourages” use of this guidance to develop projects, as it is meant to provide a framework for project oversight and management. Included in the document are descriptions of the stages in the project lifecycle and a discussion of project management that mentions creation of a financial plan, schedule and capital cost estimates.

The presentation references lessons from the 2023 grant cycle to offer advice for grant applicants in 2024. FRA representatives gave an overview of the application evaluation process, included maps of grant award projects in 2023 and provided both cross-program takeaways and specific takeaways for grants like CRISI and the Railroad Crossing Elimination (RCE) program. 



Reduce Risk, Control Costs and Streamline Your Supply Chain With Würth

Würth is ASLRRA’s Preferred Provider of personal protective equipment (PPE) and related services and their customer-first approach to service and support has a long history. Since opening their doors, Würth has helped thousands of companies protect their employees and work with optimum efficiency for maximum output. Their team of railroad specialists currently supports nearly 200 short line railroads, rail industry contractors and Class I railroad companies.

ASLRRA members can depend on Würth for quality safety and industrial products and exceptional customer service, plus discounted pricing on a huge assortment of products and equipment needed to implement an effective and efficient safety program. Offerings include foot and leg protection, signs, ergonomic products, hearing and eye protection, clothing protection, lighting and electrical products, storage containment and environmental spill cleanup, traffic control and much more.

Visit the Association’s Member Discount Program page to view Würth’s complete product offering and suite of services and start saving today.


Attend One of ASLRRA’s Popular Training Seminars – Scholarships are Available

Online registration is open for five of ASLRRA’s popular training seminars. Individuals are encouraged to register early, as space is limited.

ASLRRA also offers scholarships to employees of small railroads to help offset training costs. Click here for more information about scholarships.


2024 Railroad Day Ad


Out and About

Staff Shorts – Who’s Where in the Rail Industry World

Last week, Jo Strang and JR Gelnar attended several meetings of working groups under the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC). They attended virtual meetings of the operating train brake modernization working group on Feb. 27 and 28 to discuss train makeup, distributed power and other operating practices. The electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brake group met to discuss the economic and practical feasibility of equipping trains with ECP technology and the wayside detector group met to discuss wayside detector placement, maintenance and communication. John Angel of Genesee & Wyoming Inc. and Greg Wilson of Iowa Interstate Railroad also participated in some of the meetings.

Also last week, Fred Oelsner attended the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Surface Transportation Security Advisory Committee (STSAC) meeting. The meeting included a tour of the TSA Systems Integration Facility and updates on STSAC’s work to advise Administrator David Pekoske on cybersecurity information sharing, security risk, insider threat and other security concerns.

This week, Oelsner will participate in the University of Maryland's Cybersecurity and Digital Railway Engineering and Operations Workshop and Conference.

On Tuesday, Chuck Baker attended the CSX Short Line Committee meeting in Jacksonville, Florida. The committee works to facilitate collaboration between short line railroads and CSX to improve growth, operating efficiencies and communication.



On-Demand Webinars

View ASLRRA's Series on FRA Part 243

Railroad safety and operations professionals will want to check out ASLRRA’s three-part webinar series on FRA Part 243 training rules, presented by Mitch Harris of Rio Grande Pacific Corporation, Katie Inouye of Spark TS and ASLRRA’s JR Gelnar. Look for the following titles:

  • FRA Part 243: Part 1 – Initial Training Requirements 
  • FRA Part 243: Part 2 – Requirements for Compliance 
  • FRA Part 243: Part 3 – Discussion and Q&A 

Visit ASLRRA’s webinar homepage and log in to view all the on-demand offerings in the Association’s webinar library.


Click here to learn more about our education offerings.


Industry News and Events

NARS Publishes Meeting Dates for Its Annual Meeting and Regional Associations’ Meetings

The North American Rail Shippers Association (NARS) has updated its website with meeting dates for 2024, including for its regional associations the Pacific Northwest (PNWARS), Southwest (SWARS), Midwest (MARS), Northeast (NEARS) and Southeast (SEARS). Below is a list of upcoming meetings and the dates they take place. Use the link above for more information about the organization and individual events.

  • PNWARS Spring 2024 Meeting, April 9-10
  • NEARS Spring 2024 Meeting, April 24-26
  • NARS 2024 Annual Meeting, April 30-May 2
  • MARS Summer 2024 Meeting, July 8-9
  • SEARS Fall 2024 Meeting, Oct. 15-16


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.