Views & News - December 13, 2023

Views & News


Issue Highlights:

Regulatory – ASLRRA, AAR provide comments on PHMSA ANPRM; FRA issues technical reports

Legislative – ASLRRA sends letter to senators calling for strong support of SLSI

Announcements – Consider a year-end donation to the education fund

ASLRRA Annual Conference – Beware hotel poachers when making room reservations for annual conference

Webinars – SLSI publishes new safety tip



ASLRRA Board Meets In Washington, D.C.

ASLRRA held its annual in-person Board of Directors meeting yesterday at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill. The meeting allowed regional vice presidents, committee chairs and ASLRRA staff to provide year-end updates on different aspects of Association business, and to prioritize initiatives for the coming year.

After Board Chairman Matt Walsh recognized outgoing board members, welcomed those incoming and offered introductory comments, ASLRRA President Chuck Baker and Association staff provided updates on their respective areas including finance, government affairs, communications, education and training, meetings, membership and data and technology.

The vice presidents of each region provided their reports after staff updates, followed by a supplier update from their board representative, individual committee reports and a discussion of new business.

Board Meeting Photo

Chuck and Joe Arbona Board Meeting ThanksASLRRA President Chuck Baker (bottom right) and members of ASLRRA's Board of Directors met in Washington, D.C. The group received year-end updates and discussed priorities for 2024.

Left: At the board meeting, Baker thanked outgoing Central Region Board Member Joe Arbona (right) for his work on behalf of the Association.


Association Seeks Board Member for Eastern Region

The election of Bob Babcock to vice president of the Association’s Eastern Region on the executive board leaves a vacancy in the group of Eastern Region board members.

ASLRRA is seeking nominees to replace Babcock, whose term continues through 2024. The elected nominee would then be eligible for two more three-year terms of their own. 

Board member responsibilities include attending two in-person board meetings annually and several conference calls throughout the year. They are also expected to attend ASLRRA’s annual conference and fall regional meetings and encouraged to attend Railroad Day on Capitol Hill. 

Those wishing to suggest themselves or nominate a candidate should contact Bob Babcock at Nominees must be full railroad members to qualify. ASLRRA’s Legal and Office Administrator Kathi Birch will assist with the election process and can be contacted at or by calling 202-585-3445.


Baker Column for Railway Age Tells Story of the Little Short Lines That Could (and Do)

In his most recent column for Railway Age magazine, ASLRRA President Chuck Baker invokes the popular children’s story “The Little Engine That Could” to talk about how modern short lines are consistently able to conquer outsized tasks for their customers while maintaining their trademark excellence in customer service.

Like the friendly little engine who achieved a seemingly impossible goal through grit and determination, ASLRRA’s short line members are consistently focused on doing their best to grow their networks and meet customer needs without compromising the railroad-shipper relationship. Baker’s column relays positive comments from shippers about their short line partners, such as, “Short lines are actually easy compared to trucks” and “Price is key for us, but we use rail for more than just cost. It helps with our carbon goals. It’s important to the safety of our facilities.”

Baker also talks about how Class I railroads are increasingly recognizing short lines as key partners; how government regulators are more engaged with and supportive of short line railroads; and how the availability of short line rail service can be a boon to local economies.

For Baker, short line railroads are real-life little engines, stepping forward to devise solutions for shippers and take on all sorts of challenges. More than just thinking they can, short lines know they can, then do.


Irwin Car Paid Ad



ASLRRA and AAR Comment on PHMSA’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

ASLRRA and the Association of American Railroads (AAR) filed joint comments in response to an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) issued by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) concerning the agency’s efforts to modernize the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR).

ASLRRA and AAR submitted comments because their members would be directly affected by PHMSA’s proposed regulatory changes. The comments respond to a number of questions concerning emergency response information, the use of special permits and approvals, unoccupied locomotive train placement and more. In the comments the associations support the use of electronic consist paperwork and encourage PHMSA to incorporate the use of AskRail in its regulations.


RRB Issues Year-End Information for Railroad Workers and RUIA Beneficiaries

The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) issued two press releases with end-of-the-year information for railroad workers, specifically concerning information about insurances taxes in 2024 and tax forms for those who received Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) benefits.

According to the RRB, tax rates on employers and employees will stay the same in 2024, but the amounts of compensation subject to tier I and tier II payroll taxes will increase. Also, the 1.5 percent surcharge on unemployment insurance contribution rates paid by railroad employers will not be imposed in 2024 due to improved economic conditions over the past year.

The RRB also announced the availability online of W-2 and 1099-G tax forms for railroad workers who have received RUIA benefits in the last calendar year. Users of the myRRB website can log in to their accounts to view and download their tax documents. They can also opt to receive future RUIA tax forms via email instead of being mailed a hard copy, which enables them to access forms sooner. For 2023 forms, paper copies will be mailed no later than Jan. 31, 2024.


Governments and State Agencies Increase Efforts to Regulate Rail Emissions

Last week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm joined Canada’s Minister of Transport Pablo Rodriguez in issuing a statement committing the two countries to create a Rail Decarbonization Task Force to “develop a common vision to reduce emissions from the rail sector.”

This announcement was made on the sidelines of the recent United Nations Climate Conference in luxurious Dubai, known as COP28. Each year at this conference, the representatives of signatories to UN climate agreements meet to negotiate and agree on climate change policies and evaluate progress towards climate change goals. More information about the U.S. participation in this process can be found here.

The goals of the new rail decarbonization task force, according to the governments involved, include establishing a research agenda for testing emerging locomotive technologies; coordinating strategies to hasten the transition from diesel-powered to zero-emission locomotives; and collaborating on development of a net-zero climate model. ASLRRA staff expects the work of this new task force will be linked with federal rulemaking initiatives governing locomotive emissions in 2024, but it is unknown whether the task force will include participants beyond U.S. agencies and the Canadian government, such as representatives from the short line railroad community.

The creation of the task force reflects recent attempts by states and the federal government to push railroads toward more environmentally friendly practices beyond the efforts they already make in that vein and overlooks the fact that freight railroads account for only 0.5 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and 1.7 percent of all transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

In California, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) is working to reduce emissions at intermodal rail yards through the independent source rule (ISR) process, citing a lack of cooperation from Class I railroads in developing a more collaborative memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding emissions reduction. This current attempt is one of several ISRs the AQMD is pursuing to reduce emissions at warehouses, ports and railyards in southern California. Supporters of these efforts say that the AQMD’s pursuit of more direct rulemaking will help “strengthen the effectiveness” of the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) recent regulation mandating replacement of California railroads’ diesel locomotive fleets.

ASLRRA and others are critical of efforts to point fingers at freight rail as a high-polluting industry that must be strong-armed into pursuing environmentally friendly goals. The Association will continue to monitor AQMD’s rulemakings to determine potential impacts to short lines in California and possible implications for the broader rail industry as other regions and states look to copy California’s air pollution regulations. To help communicate the ways short lines pursue environmentally friendly practices, ASLRRA has developed an Environmental Impact web page that includes details about the environmental benefits of shipping by rail and what individual members do to ease their environmental footprint.




FRA Proposed Rule Would Amend Freight Car Safety Standards

A recently announced proposal from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) would advance a freight rail safety provision of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) by amending the Freight Car Safety Standards (FCSS). The FRA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) inviting comments on the pending regulation.

The rule is meant to protect U.S. rail equipment infrastructure and ensure the integrity and security of freight cars operating in the country. Manufacturers of rail freight cars would have to certify with the FRA that new cars are made by “a qualified manufacturer in a qualified facility” and that none of the sensitive technology on the car or its content originates from a country of concern (COC) or is sourced from a state-owned enterprise (SOE).

ASLRRA staff is monitoring the NPRM and its potential effect on short lines.


Report Identifies Progress RRB Has Made Addressing Management Challenges

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reveals results of a study on the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) and progress the agency has made in addressing key management challenges identified by the GAO and the RRB’s inspector general office.

The GAO conducted the study according to a directive in the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020. Some issues the RRB has been working to address are program integrity, an anticipated increase in the number of retirements and out-of-date information technology (IT) systems.

The report finds that the RRB has made some progress toward addressing challenges, including implementing an enterprise risk management process, incorporating key practices for effective strategic workforce planning and developing a strategy for IT modernization. However, the GAO did have two recommendations for the RRB, first that the agency develop a written plan for implementing the enterprise risk management process and second that it ensure written plans clearly state intended results of its IT modernization.


FRA Technical Reports Examine PTC Communications, Fatigue and the VBTC Concept

Three new technical reports from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) explore different railroad topics including positive train control (PTC) communications, locomotive engineer fatigue and virtual block track circuits (VBTC).

The PTC communications report discusses ways to improve confidentiality of information passing through the PTC network without having a significant impact on network performance. This report focuses on the fourth phase of the overall project, bringing together the results of research conducted in phases 1 through 3 to propose solutions to the confidentiality issue.

The study on locomotive engineer fatigue documents perceptions and opinions on the fatigue and safety of freight locomotive engineers, conducting follow-on research to better understand these issues from the stakeholders’ perspective. The research was meant to expand on results of an online survey distributed to members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation-Transportation Division labor unions. Results showed that while all groups agree fatigue is an issue in the rail industry, opinions differ across groups and between Class I and short line railroad industry representatives.

The VBTC report found that the VBTC concept, which enables division of physical signal blocks into multiple virtual blocks without requiring additional wayside devices or modification to current PTC onboard systems, could reduce train headways and increase rail network capacity. The report also suggests areas of focus for future research, such as development of standard requirements for the VBTC system.



ASLRRA Advocates for Strong Support of SLSI in Senate THUD Spending Bill

ASLRRA sent a letter to the chair and ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) calling for continued support of the Short Line Safety Institute (SLSI) in the fiscal year 2024 (FY24) transportation and housing spending bill.

The letter encourages Chair Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Ranking Member Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) to ensure more robust funding for SLSI. The letter points out the ways SLSI has been a key partner of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in an effort to improve safety at Class II and III freight railroads, and notes studies by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center have shown that SLSI’s efforts result in demonstrable improvement in railroads’ safety culture.

With an additional $2.5 million in funding, the SLSI can add two safety trains to its set of training tools while also continuing to provide its proven safety programs to short lines across the U.S., enabling the organization to “help even more railroads all across the country improve their safety performance.”


ASLRRA Industry Awards Nominations Ad



Make a Donation to the Short Line Education Fund Before the Year's End

Since its start in 2017, ASLRRA's Short Line Education Fund has been used to pursue projects that provide critical support for high-priority industry education and training initiatives and award scholarships that enable employees of small railroads to attend industry training and access educational resources.

Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the Short Line Education Fund. Click here to learn more about the scholarship fund, or send an email to get the donation process started.


Railroad Workplace Safety Part 214 Training Program Now Available Online

ASLRRA and Iowa Northern Railway’s (IANR) newest online training program on Part 214 is now available for use through ASLRRA and IANR’s Learning Management System (LMS).

The course covers requirements of 49 CFR Part 214, FRA Railroad Workplace Safety standards and several subparts of the regulation. Part 214 regulations are designed to prevent accidents involving employees engaged in certain railroad inspection, maintenance and construction activities.

Railroads using the LMS platform may train their employees using this new program, built using the latest technology and incorporating interactive tools to engage adult learners and ensure content retention. The ability to deliver this training through online LMS platforms will enhance the training requirement for roadway workers, and railroads can utilize the program for both initial classroom and refresher training.

Go to ASLRRA’s Short Line Training Center website to learn about industry training and resources available from ASLRRA and IANR or contact ASLRRA Senior Vice President of Education and Business Services Sabrina Waiss for more information and pricing.


Preferred Provider Loram Offers ASLRRA Members Cutting Edge Track Inspection Technology

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 your operations safer and more efficient.


ASLRRA Short Line Training Center


ASLRRA Annual Conference

End of 2023 Also Marks End of Early Bird Pricing for Annual Conference

Like 2023, early bird prices will disappear after Dec. 31 for all ASLRRA Annual Conference and Exhibition registration fees, including the golf tournament, club rentals, continuing legal education (CLE) credits and spouse registrations.

Click here to register now for the conference, golf tournament at the Paradise Pointe Golf Complex and CLE credits. The conference will take place March 24 to 26 in Kansas City, Missouri.

The expo hall at the annual conference also promises to be the go-to meeting hub for event attendees. Companies interested in an exhibit hall booth or an event sponsorship can follow the respective links to learn more or contact ASLRRA’s Kathy Keeney via email or on (202) 585-3439.

Be Aware of Unauthorized Vendors When Reserving a Hotel Room

Registered attendees will be able to reserve a room in one of three Kansas City hotels where ASLRRA has a room block: Loews Kansas City, Hilton President Kansas City and the Courtyard by Marriott Downtown Kansas City. Every hotel is either connected to or a short walk from the convention center. Saturday night reservations at the Hilton and Marriott are already sold out, so attendees should make reservations now.

Please be sure to use the hotel phone numbers and links to hotel websites on the ASLRRA Hotel Information website when booking a room for the conference. ASLRRA does not authorize any individuals to book rooms on the Association’s behalf, and anyone who receives solicitations from vendors saying they are “official ASLRRA partners” or “housing representatives” should contact Vice President, Meetings Amy Westerman immediately at or (202) 585-3449. Do not provide any sensitive information via phone or email to these individuals.


Nominations Now Accepted for All ASLRRA Awards Through February 9, 2024

The nomination period is now open through February 9, 2024 for all of ASLRRA’s annual awards. In addition to the Veterans Engagement Award and the Safety Person of the Year and Safety Professional of the Year awards, ASLRRA also recognizes those members doing extraordinary work in the areas of business development and environmentally friendly practices.

Last year’s Business Development Award winners were Strasburg Rail Road, Kiamichi Railroad and Reading & Northern Railroad. These short lines were recognized for designing and enacting the most innovative and successful business-building initiatives in the small railroad industry.

The winner of the Environmental Award was Pacific Harbor Line, recognized for achievements in reducing the company’s environmental impact or contributing to meeting sustainability goals for the railroad and/or its shippers.

Follow each of the links to learn about the awards and access online nomination forms. Nomination forms for all awards are due Feb. 9. Award Winners will be recognized during the general session at ASLRRA’s Annual Conference and Exhibition.


ASLRRA 2024 Conference

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Upcoming Webinars

CRISI Grants Spotlight: Locomotivation – Pursuing Funding for Motive Power Projects – December 19, 2023

In this webinar, participants will hear from the Federal Railroad Administration on the CRISI program’s eligibility for locomotive repower or replacement projects and best practices for applicants. Additionally, ASLRRA member locomotive suppliers will provide an overview of their product offerings that can be supported with CRISI funds and talk about their experience working with railroads and CRISI grants.

Presented by FRA Senior Advisor for Climate and Sustainability Michael Johnsen, Progress Rail Director of Advanced Energy Michael Cleveland, Wabtec Senior Sales Manager Ross Parisi, Knoxville Locomotive Works CFO Nicole Teska, Cummins Business Development Manager Whitney Foughty and ASLRRA Assistant Vice President, Policy and Industry Affairs Richard Sherman.

Employers’ Responsibilities Under RUIA – 12(o) Liens and 2(f) Recoveries – December 20, 2023

Learn about employers’ responsibilities under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) for 12(o) liens and 2(f) recoveries which impact the employers’ annual experience rating contributions to the RRB.

Presented by RRB Management Member Tom Jayne, RRB Assistant Director Unemployment Sickness Division Rick Easterday, RRB Senior Assistant to Chief of SUBS Stacy Ruffin and RRB Counsel to the Management Member Rob Perbohner.


On-Demand Webinars

ASLRRA’s Experts Cover Important Regulatory Information in Recorded Webinars

ASLRRA’s in-house subject-matter experts have presented several webinars focused on important regulatory topics. 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 regulatory category to find titles like:

  • Emergency Docket Waivers
  • FRA Penalties and Violations
  • FRA Regulatory & Program Requirements for Short Lines, Part 1
  • FRA Regulatory & Program Requirements for Short Lines, Part 2

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.


Industry News and Events

Feb. 27-29: AAR to Hold Quality Assurance and Industry Conference

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) will hold its 36th Annual Quality Assurance and Industry Conference Feb. 27 to 29 in Phoenix, Arizona.

The conference brings together members of the AAR Quality Assurance Committee (QAC), AAR auditors and other stakeholders to discuss topics including the AAR Quality Program and AAR auditor training. In addition to agency updates and presentations on the M-1003 standard, there will be workshops on different inspection techniques. Follow the link above for more information or to register.


SLSI December Safety Tip Focuses on Switches, Derails and Clearance Points

A new safety tip from the Short Line Safety Institute (SLSI) discusses switches, derails and clearance points, offering important tips and best practices for those using this equipment and working in these situations.

The safety tip includes information about each of the three topics, focusing on what safety issues to look for when inspecting switches and derails and questions to ask about how the company expects these mechanisms to be operated. When discussing clearance points, the safety tip defines what constitutes being “in the clear” and the importance of securing clearance points.

The newest safety tip is one of many available at no cost online to railroaders and stakeholders. Each tip has a downloadable PDF version, and many have accompanying informational videos. Both resources can be used by railroads to help remind employees of important safety information.


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.