On June 16 ASLRRA and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) filed a suit in the Eastern District of California on behalf of their members against the California Air Resources Board (CARB) over the board’s in-use locomotive regulation.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has released a notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) for the Multimodal Project Discretionary Grant (MPDG) program. This program features a streamlined application process for three grants: the National Infrastructure Project Assistance (Mega) program, the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program and the Rural Surface Transportation Grant (Rural) program. Grant applications are due Aug. 21.
Total funding for all three programs is $5.5 billion, including $1.8 billion for Mega, $3.1 billion for INFRA and $675 million for Rural. While short line railroads are not directly eligible for these programs, several ASLRRA members have benefitted from grant awards, particularly through INFRA, by partnering with eligible entities like a state or local government.
On June 29, at 3:30 pm Eastern time, the DOT will offer the first of several webinars to help potential MPDG applicants. Thursday’s webinar will provide a general overview of the application process. Register online here for the webinar.
Other resources from the DOT, including upcoming webinars, can be found on the MPDG main page. ASLRRA’s Member Discount Program also includes Preferred Providers HDR and Bergmann that provide assistance with grant writing.
Highlights from the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) two-day public hearings on the February derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio reveal frustration over communication issues that affected efforts to respond to the accident and resulting release and controlled burn of toxic vinyl chloride.
Lack of communication prevented the first firefighters at the scene of the derailment from immediately knowing what hazardous materials the derailed tank cars carried. There were also gaps in knowledge regarding how to best handle the vinyl chloride, a liquefied flammable gas that officials were worried would explode if the derailed tank cars failed. Officials ultimately decided to release and burn the vinyl chloride to prevent any explosion.
First responders who testified at the hearings also noted a need for more training for firefighters, especially volunteer firefighters, who were the first to respond to the East Palestine derailment. Further hampering response were incompatible radios preventing different fire departments from communicating with each other; firefighters’ lack of access to the AskRail app that contains information about hazardous materials a train might be carrying; and lack of immediate connection between the train crew and first responders.
These public hearings are the first held by the NTSB in six years, keeping a spotlight on rail safety. The final NTSB report on the East Palestine incident is not expected for many months, but both the House and Senate continue to push for additional railroad legislation. ASLRRA’s government affairs team continues its congressional outreach on behalf of the Association’s short line members in efforts to ensure any new legislation will not adversely affect small railroads.
ASLRRA has submitted a response to the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Request for Information (RFI) on the potential uses and options for disposal or repurposing used creosote-treated railroad ties (CTRTs), which are the wooden rail crossties that support the rail track.
ASLRRA supports efforts to find alternative options to keep CTRTs out of landfills. The Association notes that it and its members have been engaged in an effort since 2018 to petition the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) legitimacy criteria in 40 C.F.R. Part 241 and the definition of Paper Recycling Residuals to allow for CTRTs to be used for energy production.
The Association welcomes further collaboration with the FRA on this initiative and proposed several ways the FRA can further its efforts repurposing CTRTs into biochar.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to amend its hazardous materials regulations to require all railroads transporting hazardous materials (hazmat) to have an electronic version of its train consist, keeping it updated and off the train and ready to provide to emergency responders in case of an accident or incident.
Railroads would need to be able to send consist information to local first responders promptly after an incident involving a train carrying hazmat. Railroads would also still be required to have hard-copy versions of the consist, which must be kept updated like the electronic version.
Information in the consist would include quantity and position of hazmat on the train, the shipment’s origin and destination and a designated emergency point of contact at the railroad. PHMSA indicates its NPRM responds to a mandate in section 7302 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) to require Class I railroads to have this real-time electronic train consist information available.
ASLRRA’s in-house subject-matter experts are reviewing the rule for its impact on short lines, and the Association will submit comments on behalf of its members. Initially, however, ASLRRA is especially concerned about the proposed requirements, believing the rule oversteps the mandates of Congress, as short lines were not included in statutory requirements in the FAST Act.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has posted the PDF presentation from its webinar on Buy America and related requirements.
The presentation contains information to help FRA grantees and partners understand and comply with Buy America rules and requirements. It includes key definitions and discussion of three statues that can potentially apply to grantees, Buy America, Build America; Amtrak Domestic Spending Preference; and The Buy American Act.
The presentation also gives examples of requirements under each statute. For instance, it explains which railroad turnout components and subcomponents are required to be produced in the U.S. Follow the link above to view the FRA’s presentation, or click here to view the FRA’s Buy America page or click here to see Buy America Frequently Asked Questions.
Today, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg joined Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and other officials in South Carolina to announce the latest cycle of RAISE awards. According to a preview of the award list from the DOT, 162 projects received $2.2 billion in funding, but projects with a clear rail element made up only a modest portion of the awards.
Fifteen rail projects received $259 million, about 11 percent of the funding. Of these, only one appeared to go to a short line railroad; the Hoosier Southern Railroad (HOS) received $11,575,000 to upgrade 14 miles of 120-year-old 75-pound rail to 115-pound rail. The HOS is a publicly owned entity, part of the Perry County Port Authority.
Ten projects involved an at-grade crossing element, either a grade separation or safety improvements at crossings. The only Class I identified in project descriptions was BNSF, with two awards related to grade crossing project on their lines.
RAISE applications must be made by a public entity, so any private freight railroad seeking RAISE funds will have to work through a public partner. RAISE is extremely competitive. A review of the application list, when it is released, may shed more light on the dynamics of the fiscal year 2023 RAISE round relative to short lines.
The Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBCS or the Agency), a Rural Development agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), announced the availability of approximately $450 million in competitive grants to eligible entities for activities designed to expand the sales and use of renewable fuels under the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP). Grants will be made available to assist transportation fueling facilities and fuel distribution facilities with converting to higher blend friendly status for ethanol ( i.e., greater than 10 percent ethanol) and biodiesel (greater than 5 percent biodiesel) by sharing the costs related to the installation, and/or retrofitting, and/or otherwise upgrading of fuel dispenser or pumps and related equipment, storage tank system components, and other required infrastructure.
The application windows for enrollment in the HBIIP will take place quarterly for five quarters, starting July 1, 2023, through September 30, 2024, with the option for a sixth application window if funding has not been exhausted.
Hosting of members of Congress for facility visits is one of the best ways that a short line railroad can actively and effectively support the federal policy goals of the industry. There is no substitute for meeting the workers and management of short lines, and seeing the railroad in action, to educate policy makers.
ASLRRA members interested in hosting a member of Congress or other federal official for a site visit and are in need of guidance should contact ASLRRA Assistant Vice President, Legislative and Regulatory Crystal Gitchell.
The Short Line Training Center, a collaborative project between ASLRRA and Iowa Northern Railway Company (IANR), is a comprehensive training resource available to all short line railroads. It combines an online Learning Management System (LMS) and a Mobile Technical Training Center to deliver essential regulatory, compliance and safety courses and materials to railroad employees. The project is funded by a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) grant and training is available to all short line railroads.
Participation in the program allows a company to take advantage of training in different ways: online through the LMS, onsite at a company location with the mobile center and in person at Iowa Northern Railway.
The LMS is an online platform/hub that provides and tracks industry-specific training and assessments. Users can access these resources at any time, including in conjunction with on-site simulator training. The Mobile Technical Training Center is equipped with two FRA Type II locomotive simulators plus classroom space for six students and an instructor, and can deliver personalized, instructor-led seminars and locomotive simulator training on location anywhere in the continental U.S.
ISB Global Services (ISB) is ASLRRA’s newest Member Discount Program Preferred Provider, providing Association railroad and supplier members with a suite of employment background screening products allowing them to gather appropriate and accurate information while remaining compliant with privacy legislation.
Companies will be able to use ISB as a one-stop shop for employment screening services including employment history verification, education and professional credential verification, domestic terrorism watchlist searches, motor vehicle records search and more. ISB is also able to provide cargo loss and supply chain security tools and mobile identity verification for secure access to facilities.
Members can access product details and members-only pricing by logging in to ASLRRA’s Member Discount webpage.
ASLRRA is expanding the Association’s Member Discount Program (MDP) to include Preferred Providers of electronic record-keeping, background screening, and payroll processing services. Plus, we’re adding new providers to the grant writing services category.
ASLRRA is actively seeking proposals from member companies interested in participating in the program. Please contact Sabrina Waiss for the latest Request for Information (RFI) on the above-listed categories, or to recommend and discuss a new category of products and services for consideration.
ASLRRA will offer its Leadership Development Training – Regulatory Module at the same location as the Association’s Central and Pacific Region Meeting. The leadership training will take place Sept. 26 to 27 in Long Beach, California, overlapping with the Central & Pacific regional meeting.
ASLRRA’s leadership development seminar covers a broad selection of topics, including an overview of the federal agencies that regulate railroads and a discussion of federal legislation and leadership qualities for managers. The course will also discuss the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 217, Part 218, Part 219, Part 225, Part 228, and Part 243.
Front-line supervisors and managers from multiple crafts will benefit from this curriculum, as will anyone involved in day-to-day railroad operations. Attendees will gain an in-depth understanding of regulations that govern railroad operations and participate in facilitated, interactive dialog with expert instructors and peers.
ASLRRA offers scholarships of up to $1,200 to help employees of small railroads offset registration fees and costs for travel and lodging. Click here to learn more about the scholarship program, or here to apply for a scholarship. Those who attended or will attend other ASLRRA training seminars in 2023 can also apply for a scholarship. Applications are accepted and processed on a rolling basis.
Registration is still open for the Joint Committee Meeting in Anchorage, Alaska on August 21 to 23. The last chance to receive the discounted room rate at the Residence Inn is July 3.
Additionally, the train ride is currently sold out. Please check your travel arrangements to make sure you arrive in time to participate in the train ride. If you are not able to attend, please email Danialle Lovik to let her know you need to cancel, so we can clear others on the waitlist.
You must arrive at the train station Monday morning between 5:45-6:00 a.m., the train will not return until after 10:00 p.m. Monday evening. A TSA check of your ID is required.
The meeting offers Association members, particularly those who serve on ASLRRA committees, an opportunity to gather and discuss issues impacting the short line and regional railroad industry across a number of key topic areas.
ASLRRA members who are not a part of committees but are interested in learning more about how they work and potentially joining one are welcome to attend. Follow this link to learn more or register.
The Supplier Committee will meet on Tuesday, November 7, 2023 at 3pm Eastern time at the Eastern & Southern Region Meeting in Lexington, Kentucky.
The Legislative Policy Committee will meet on Tuesday, November 7, 2023 from 3:30-5:30 p.m. Eastern at the Eastern and Southern Region Meeting in Lexington, Kentucky.
One event unique to ASLRRA’s regional meetings is the presentation of President’s Awards for Outstanding Safety. At both meetings the Association will recognize member railroads in each region with the lowest accident frequency rate per person-hours worked.
Register today to join industry colleagues in recognizing safety excellence. Take advantage of early bird pricing for both meetings, the Finance and Administration Seminar and General Counsel Symposium. The Central and Pacific Region Meeting will be held Sept. 26 to 28 in Long Beach, California, while the Eastern and Southern Region Meeting will take place Nov. 7 to 9 in Lexington, Kentucky.
Attendees at both meetings will be able to participate in educational sessions, networking opportunities and sandhouse sessions. The Association will also host its Finance and Administration Seminar and General Counsel Symposium in conjunction with the Eastern and Southern Region Meeting in Kentucky.
The Association continues to welcome sponsors for all fall events. Sponsorships come with many benefits for companies, including mentions on ASLRRA’s website and social media profiles. Companies looking to sponsor ASLRRA’s regional meetings should contact ASLRRA’s Vice President, Meetings Amy Westerman.
This month, ASLRRA Senior Advisor Mike Ogborn has made several trips to speak on behalf of short lines. He has given presentations in Duluth, Minnesota and Des Moines, Iowa to audiences that have included community leaders and representatives from state departments of transportation and railroads.
Ogborn’s June 13 presentation in Duluth, at the Railroading in 2023 conference sponsored by Northern Plains Railroad, included an overview of short line and regional railroads, ASLRRA, the Short Line Safety Institute (SLSI), and a discussion about railroading in the next five to 10 years.
Ogborn spoke on similar topics at the Four State Highway Railroad 2023 Safety Conference in Des Moines, addressing individuals from the departments of transportation in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. And, in a presentation at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) – Railroad Community of Interest (COI) meeting, also in Des Moines, Ogborn gave his short line talk but focused primarily on the Railroad Crossing Elimination (RCE) Grant program. Ogborn provided an overview of the RCE and how departments of transportation and other potential public eligible recipients could collaborate with short lines on RCE projects.
ASLRRA Senior Vice President, Education and Business Sabrina Waiss and Vice President, Safety and Compliance JR Gelnar spoke at the Mid-Atlantic Short Line Managers Meeting at ASLRRA member Everett Railroad Company. The event, held June 23 in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, was hosted by Everett Railroad President Alan Maples.
Gelnar provided an in-depth regulatory update that included contractor documentation requirements that railroads would need to maintain regarding Parts 243, 214 and 219. He also discussed the recent notices of proposed rulemaking for signal employee certification, dispatcher certification and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s real-time consist reporting.
Waiss shared information about regulatory and educational resources available to ASLRRA members and provided a quick tour of the ASLRRA website to show where resources could be accessed. She also provided an overview of the newly re-launched member directory.
Maples, who also serves on ASLRRA’s Executive Committee, organized the luncheon as a networking event for managers and supervisors in the mid-Atlantic area who may not have had the opportunity to attend an ASLRRA meeting or annual conference. After the lunch, attendees had an opportunity to participate in an Everett Railroad train ride.
Senior Policy Executive Adviser to the National Drug and Alcohol Screening Association Patrice Kelly will speak with webinar participants about the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) newly published final rule to permit oral fluid drug testing. The rule will take effect when two laboratories are certified by the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct oral fluid testing. There are also other changes to the DOT’s regulation for the procedural aspects of drug testing. This webinar is scheduled for 90 minutes to allow ample time for questions at the end of the presentation.
Other speakers include Mitch Harris, Vice President Safety & Compliance, Rio Grande Pacific Corporation; Holly Rainwater, CEAP, DOT Substance Abuse Professional (SAP), Lifeloc Master Trainer, Vice-President Drug and Alcohol Programs, Spark TS and Jo Strang, Senior VP, Safety, Regulatory, and Environmental Policy.
In this webinar, Loram Technologies Data Sciences Manager Brian Barthel and Quality and Production Manager Mitchell Christensen will focus on maintenance planning and practices designed to help optimize the life of your rail. Topics discussed include variables that cause premature rail replacement and rail grinding best practices to extend the life of rail.
Sponsored by Loram Technologies.
ASLRRA’s On-Demand Webinar Library features a variety of recordings in the Safety and Operations category that focus on railroads’ industry communications and reporting systems.
Members can view the following titles at any time:
ASLRRA’s online resource library offers nearly 200 webinar recordings on a variety of topics, from industry-specific finance, human resources and legal issues to business development, strategic communications and more. Log in here to search the library.
ASLRRA also welcomes suggestions for new webinar content. Members with industry-specific expertise can contact Senior Vice President, Education and Business Sabrina Waiss to discuss opportunities for presenting educational content via the webinar platform. Thanks to generous sponsors, the Association’s webinars are generally free to members.
Click here to learn more about ASLRRA’s education offerings.
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.