Views & News - September 6, 2023

Views & News


Issue Highlights:

Regulatory – ASLRRA hopes to increase small-business participation in OSHA panels; FRA publishes hazmat compliance manual

Legislative – Deadline for Congress to avert shutdown looms

Announcements – ASLRRA resources facilitate disaster preparation and recovery

Webinars – New live webinar discussing succession planning scheduled for Oct. 4

ASLRRA Events – New sessions added to General Counsel Symposium and Finance and Administration Seminar



ASLRRA Committee Profile: The Technology Committee Examines Tech Developments and Challenges From a Short Line Perspective

We continue our profile of ASLRRA’s committees this week, telling readers about the many contributions of these groups. There are 14 standing committees that guide the work of the Association and provide members a source of support and a forum for advice and information sharing.


The ASLRRA Technology Committee was established to help monitor technological developments in the small railroad industry; provide a forum for ASLRRA members to discuss technology challenges they face among peers; develop educational content for ASLRRA events; and advise ASLRRA staff on small railroad technology issues being addressed by Congress, various Federal agencies, and broader rail industry groups. The committee is composed of representatives from all railroad members and those associate members whose products and/or services focus on supporting the technology needs of small railroads.

Over the past several years, committee discussions have focused on issues related to regulatory challenges with positive train control (PTC) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) cybersecurity directives and how breakthroughs with drones and artificial intelligence can be utilized by short lines.

The group has also worked with industry groups on ways to improve the customer experience using technology. Through educational sessions at ASLRRA events, and in presentations at committee meetings, supplier members with new technologies can share with short line technology staff how their products and services could benefit their operations.

The Technology Committee is open to representatives of all ASLRRA member companies, though effort is made to recruit evenly between railroads and technology vendors to maintain a balanced set of viewpoints.

Transtar Chief Information Officer Alex Lang currently serves as the committee chair, with OmniTRAX Director, Enterprise Services Leah Twombly and TNW Corporation Director, Business Support and Development Joey Evans serving respectively as vice chair and recording secretary. The committee meets six times a year on a bi-monthly basis, with in person meetings typically hosted at the Annual Conference and Joint Committee Meeting, and other meetings hosted remotely. ASLRRA’s Fred Oelsner serves as the association’s staff liaison to the committee, and can be contacted to learn more about or join the Technology Committee.


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More Small Railroads and Suppliers Needed to Participate in OSHA Potential Standard Development Process

ASLRRA continues to seek small business members whose employees are exposed to high heat hazards at work to participate in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) efforts to develop a potential standard concerning heat injury and illness in work settings.

Transportation is one of the three sectors lacking robust representation in the feedback process. So far only one ASLRRA member is slated to participate in the panel. Other organizations interested in participating should contact ASLRRA’s Jo Strang.

OSHA will convene a Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR) Panel starting this month and needs representatives from small businesses, small local government entities, and non-profit entities from a wide range of industries to serve as small entity representatives (SERs). SERs must be a qualifying small business according to the SBA Table of Size Standards.


Letter Calls for DOT to Set Up Freight Office

ASLRRA joined a coalition of other organizations, including the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg calling for the establishment of the Office of Multimodal Freight Infrastructure and Policy, or Freight Office.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) calls for the creation of such an office, which would help “coordinate activities across the federal government and provide senior-level leadership to guide federal decision making in supply chain competitiveness, security, and fluidity.” The office is also supposed to help businesses, states and other freight stakeholders work together to address challenges.

According to the letter, lack of a Freight Office to provide oversight means interagency coordination is taking place “on an ad-hoc basis,” affecting how efficiently and well tasks can be carried out.


RRB Q&A Explains Railroad Industry Current Connections

This month’s installment of the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) Question and Answer (Q&A) series talks about maintaining a current connection with the railroad industry in order to maintain eligibility for certain benefits. These benefits include occupational disability and supplemental annuities.

The RRB explains what determines a current connection, how a current connection can be broken, and what exceptions exist to current connection determination procedures. Individuals needing help determining whether they have a current connection can call an RRB office or schedule an in-person appointment. Use this link to view an interactive map of the RRB’s field offices.


FRA Publishes Hazardous Materials Compliance Manual With Link to Updated Appendix Materials

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has published its Hazardous Materials Compliance Manual online, with a link to updated guidance to replace outdated information in Appendix A.

Chapter 1 of the manual explains that the document is discipline specific and meant to provide guidance for federal and state hazardous materials (hazmat) inspectors evaluating entities’ compliance with federal laws and regulations concerning transportation of hazmat. Inspectors are encouraged to refer to the manual as often as needed to help them understand their role in carrying out the FRA’s safety mission.

Information in the manual includes inspection and investigation procedures, field reporting procedures and forms, enforcement and compliance programs and tools and more. Appendix A comprises hazardous materials guidance notices, or HMG.


EPA and Army Announce Final Rule Amending Waters of the United States Definition

On August 29, 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of the Army announced the final Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.  The new WOTUS rule makes major changes to clarify which wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA). 

The rule is a direct response to the Supreme Court’s Sackett v. EPA decision, which held that in order for wetlands to be protected under the CWA there must be a “continuous surface connection” to a WOTUS.  While the final rule does not explicitly state that railroad ditches are excluded from its definition, EPA states that many of those types of ditches are excluded under the “continuous surface connection” definition. View a fact sheet for the final rule here and a website dedicated to WOTUS information here.

The EPA and Army will host three free, public webinars providing updates on the WOTUS definition. The Sept. 12 webinar is full, but space is available in the Sept. 13 and Sept. 20 webinars. Use the links on each date to register. All webinars present the same information, so interested participants need only sign up for one event.


Agency Publications Focus on Conductor Trainee Fatality

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report concerning a conductor trainee who was fatally injured during a shoving movement. Meanwhile, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) discussed the Aug. 6 incident in the September issue of its OP Minute newsletter.

The NTSB report provides a more detailed explanation of the accident based on information gathered by investigators from recorded videos and photographs, interviews and accident reenactments. The investigation is still ongoing, with future activity to examine railroad employee training and the rail industry’s close clearance identification practices.

The information in the OP Minute newsletter focuses on providing safety recommendations to railroads. Similar safety details and recommendations can be found in an alert issued by the Switching Operations Fatalities Analysis (SOFA) Working Group as well as a Safety Bulletin issued by the FRA.


PHMSA Final Rule Suspends Transportation of LNG by Rail

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has issued a final rule suspending authorization of transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in rail tank cars pending either completion of a rulemaking examining changes to regulations governing LNG by rail movement or June 30, 2025, whichever is earlier. The rule is effective Oct. 31.



Members of Congress Return to D.C. With Little Time to Pass Big Bills

The Senate returns this week to Washington, D.C. and the House returns next Monday, giving them little more than two weeks to pass a spending bill and prevent a government shutdown before the Sept. 30 deadline.

The White House has asked for a stopgap bill to fund the government through mid-December, but conservatives in the House are expressing opposition to such a measure unless it includes certain policy changes. Already there is a big difference between the House and Senate’s respective appropriations bills, making it even more difficult for the two sides to come to an agreement on one spending bill by the end of the month.

Also putting pressure on lawmakers are the Sept. 30 deadlines for reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and passage of the Farm Bill, both of which cover a five-year span and were last enacted in 2018.


ASLRRA Disaster Prep Resources



Five Spaces Left in ASLRRA’s September Leadership Development Training

There is room for five more people in ASLRRA’s Leadership Development Training – Regulatory Module, which is co-located with the Association’s Central and Pacific Region Meeting in Long Beach, California. The leadership training will take place Sept. 26 to 27, overlapping with the regional meeting.

The seminar covers a broad selection of topics, including the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 217, Part 218, Part 219, Part 225, Part 228, and Part 243.

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. Applications are accepted and processed on a rolling basis.


ASLRRA Offers Resources to Help Plan For and Recover From Catastrophic Events

Flooding in the west and hurricanes in the east serve as an important reminder to ASLRRA members nationwide that preparation goes far in helping a railroad recover from natural disasters and other emergencies.

With support from railroad and supplier members, ASLRRA has assembled essential templates and checklists to assist members in developing response plans that can be put in place and used as training tools before disaster strikes, as well as emergency response tools and resources to aid in the recovery process in the aftermath of a catastrophic event.

Available resources on the Association’s Disaster Preparedness page include disaster planning, hazmat response and instructions on accessing an emergency docket, in addition to links to other government websites. ASLRRA members may download materials directly from the website. Find the Disaster Preparedness page under the Safety & Compliance tab.

ASLRRA also has a robust selection of recorded webinars available for members in the On-Demand Webinar Library that may be used to prepare and train for emergency situations.  Topics range from Crisis Communications and Media Training to Hazardous Materials Incident Reporting and Emergency Notifications Section Review.


Würth MSM Offers PPE Products and Services to ASLRRA Members at Preferred Pricing

Summer heat continues unabated in many parts of the country, and winter is just around the corner. Protecting employees from the elements as well as other on-the-job dangers is made easier by the Würth MRO, Safety, and Metalworking (MSM) Division, an ASLRRA Member Discount Program Preferred Provider providing Association members with important personal protective equipment (PPE) and related services.

Würth’s team of railroad specialists currently supports 196 short line railroads, rail industry contractors and six Class 1 railroad companies. ASLRRA members benefit from exceptional, personalized service and 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.

Log in to the Würth MSM page on ASLRRA’s Member Discount Program website to view the online e-catalog and start saving today!


Rail Prime Highlights ASLRRA’s Young Professionals Committee

Rail Prime, the online subscription arm of Progressive Railroading magazine, featured ASLRRA’s Young Professionals (YP) Committee in a recent article.

The article highlights the efforts of the Association’s YP Committee to support individuals in the railroad industry who may have recently started their rail careers and could benefit from mentorship and networking opportunities.

Committee Chair Chelsea Sweet spoke to Rail Prime about the YP Committee and the importance of its work, while sharing stories about how her involvement with ASLRRA helped her make connections that have expanded her current role as an outsourced controller with Association member Bowers & Company, CPAs.



Association In-House Experts to Lead Sessions at Central and Pacific Region Meeting

ASLRRA’s staff of industry- and subject-matter experts will present several education sessions at this year’s Central and Pacific Region Meeting, which will be held Sept. 26 to 28 in Long Beach, California.

Participants can get a legislative, regulatory and legal update from Jo Strang, Zach Radford, Richard Sherman and Mike Ogborn, or attend a cybersecurity panel moderated by Fred Oelsner. Sabrina Waiss and JR Gelnar will discuss using virtual reality programming for employee training and Chuck Baker will lead a short line leaders panel. Gelnar, Strang, Radford and Sherman will also lead other sessions, including those on the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Part 243, FRA violations and grant funding.

In addition to this full educational schedule, the Central and Pacific Region Meeting agenda features numerous networking opportunities like separate sandhouse sessions for Central region members, Pacific region members and suppliers.

Click here to register for the Central and Pacific Region Meeting.


ASLRRA’s Focused Events Offer Crucial Information for Legal, Finance and Human Resources Professionals

ASLRRA staff continues to update sessions for both its General Counsel Symposium and the Finance and Administration Seminar, providing targeted, railroad-specific education for professionals in the finance, human resources and legal sectors of the rail industry.

General Counsel Symposium presentation titles include:

  • What’s Cookin’ at the Surface Transportation Board (STB)
  • An NTSB Investigation Case Study: East Palestine
  • Counsel’s Role with the Board of Directors
  • Effective Use of Indemnity Agreements to Shift Liability Away From the Railroad
  • FRA’s Risk Reduction Program Rule: What Short Lines Need to Know

Finance and Administration Seminar presentation titles include:

  • Fraud Trends, Prevention and Best Practices
  • Sales Tax Trends
  • Insurance Market Update
  • Grand Slam of Claims
  • Financial Freedom for Our Employees
  • Benefits Best Practices
  • Mental Health Strategies and Leveraging Employee Assistance Programs Within Your Railroad

Both the General Counsel Symposium and Finance and Administration Seminar are co-located with the Association’s Eastern and Southern Region Meeting. All three events will take place Nov. 7 to 9 in Lexington, Kentucky.

ASLRRA continues to welcome sponsors for its Finance and Administration Seminar and General Counsel Symposium. Contact ASLRRA’s Vice President, Meetings Amy Westerman to learn more.





Upcoming Webinars

Beyond CRISI: A Survey of Federal Grant Programs with Freight Rail Eligibility – September 19, 2023

Most short-line freight railroads are very familiar with the FRA’s CRISI grant program. But there are other federal grant programs that can support freight rail investments which could be a fit for a short line railroad project. In this webinar, ASLRRA’s Richard Sherman and Zach Radford will survey these programs, discussing elements like eligibility, match requirements, schedules and historical award patterns.


NEW! Expertise Management: An Innovative Approach for Succession Planning in the Railroad Industry – October 4, 2023

The aging workforce in the U.S. railroad industry creates risks for the loss of expertise and institutional knowledge. Succession planning alone, however, cannot fully address these risks. In 2022, the FRA funded a novel research project — Expertise Management for Safety Leadership Positions in the U.S. Railroad Industry — to address mitigating these risks. Expertise Management (EM) is a mature and under-utilized approach for identifying, capturing, and transferring expertise. EM builds on Cognitive Task Analysis methods that have been used successfully for training programs. This webinar will introduce the EM project, its unique approach, and its training products developed for the short line and regional railroad industry (e.g., Decision Games, Experts’ Stories, and Job Aids). The webinar will include a brief demonstration of how these products can be utilized in existing or new railroad training programs. 


Rail Maintenance for Optimized Rail Life – October 11, 2023

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.


On-Demand Webinars

Operations and Safety Recorded Webinars Discuss Railcar Health

Managing communications is an important topic for short line railroads. ASLRRA has offered several webinars on strategic communications, presented by subject-matter experts. Recordings of these webinars are available at any time to ASLRRA members through the Association’s On-Demand Webinar Library. Log in and search the communications category to find titles like:

  • Government and Community Relations Fundamentals
  • Using Social Media as a Business Development Tool
  • Media Training Basics
  • Not In My Backyard: Responding / Reacting to NIMBYism in the Community 
  • Crisis Communications Fundamentals for Railroaders

Visit ASLRRA's On-Demand Webinars Page and log in to access a complete list of all ASLRRA’s nearly 200 webinar recordings. 


Click here to learn more about our education offerings.


Industry Events


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.