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By Mike Choat, chairman, National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association Inc.
Happy New Year to everyone in the railway community and the best of luck in getting off on the right track for the 2020 construction and maintenance season!
Safety First. The Holidays are behind us and the construction season is ahead. Let’s all put together our safety plans for 2020 and execute them with precision.
January Annual Conference. The NRC kicked off the new year with our annual conference at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, held Jan. 5-8. We had a tremendous lineup, featuring the chief engineers from the Class Is, short-line holding companies, and various transit- and commuter-rail agencies.
FRA Part 243 Extension. I am happy to announce that Christmas came early for NRC members at the end of last year with the extension of the FRA Part 243 Training Standards implementation dates. The FRA proposed delaying the regulation’s implementation dates for all contractors and certain short lines with 400,000-plus total employee work hours annually. The NRC applauds the FRA for issuing this extension. Meanwhile, NRC staff in Washington, D.C., continues to work closely with the FRA to review our proposed revisions to this rule, which would create additional cost savings for contractors — especially regarding reoccurring training. FRA Part 243 training templates are available to NRC members at http://www.nrcma.org/frapart243.
Legislative Update. NRC’s D.C. staff, in tandem with our Washington representative Matt Ginsberg, were involved in the year-end push to complete appropriations bills. As this column went to press, we were hopeful the 45G short-line railroad tax credit would pass in a tax extenders package before another year goes by without the credit.
We also are engaged on revenue adequacy issues being proposed by the Surface Transportation Board. The STB held a hearing Dec. 12 to consider dramatically changing today’s successful freight railroad framework. If these proposals are adopted, rail rates could be determined by the government rather than the market. This ultimately would undercut railroads’ ability to invest in their networks and could heavily affect the flow of freight railroad business to NRC member companies.
Legislative Outlook. The NRC will continue to advocate for more federal funding for rail projects through programs like FTA New Starts, FRA CRISI grants, and USDOT BUILD and INFRA grants. Additionally, we’ll look at legislation that can create new ways to enable railroads and transit agencies to contract out work, which would produce more flexibility and innovation for projects — and, more important, business opportunities — for our members. By drawing on their extensive experience, our members are able to find the most innovative ideas and methods to deliver projects for less cost and without compromising safety.
NRC Happenings. Prior to 2019’s end, the NRC held its annual Board of Directors Elections. Five members were re-elected: Dave Bergstrom, Ragnar Benson; Curtis Bilow, Ames Construction; Danny Brown, CTE Rail; Jim Hansen, Herzog, who was automatically re-elected NRC Chairman; and Kevin Riddett, RailWorks. One new member was elected: Lisa Roberts, Omaha Track.
Congratulations to all the elected board members and a warm welcome to Lisa Roberts as she begins her first term. I want to thank all my fellow board members for volunteering their time to the industry and this great association. I want to also recognize out-going board member Jody Sims with Stacy and Witbeck, who finished a successful term.
As my time as NRC board chairman comes to a close, I am grateful for all we have accomplished as a board and an association to make our industry safer and stronger. Our new NRC logo, introduced just before Christmas, is just one sign of the many ways we have worked and will continue to focus on bringing greater value to our members and strengthening our industry.
Looking Ahead in 2020. In the coming months, please watch for the chairman’s column to be written by Herzog’s Jim Hansen, who will be taking the reins and leading this premier association into the future. And remember to save the date for these key NRC events: • March 4 - Railroad Day on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. • May 14 - 2020 NRC Rail Construction and Maintenance Equipment Auction in Granite City, Illinois.
Have a safe day.