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June 2022

Rail News: MOW

NRC chairman’s column: All the buzz from the NRC Railroad Equipment Auction

Steve Bolte, NRC chairman


Held in late April at Delta Railroad Services’ yard in Ashtabula, Ohio, the NRC’s 18th Annual Railroad Equipment Auction was a great success. Our Auction Committee put together a unique auction format. From April 22 through April 27, we held a virtual auction for small items, such as parts, tools and scrap. Then on April 28, we held a hybrid in-person/online auction for traditional on-track work equipment. 

Thank you to all who contributed to this valuable industry event. More than 330 items went up for bid. We appreciate all our sellers — particularly Delta Railroad Services and RailWorks — who donated on-track work equipment. All of the money generated by the auction goes toward developing safety training resources for our members. 

A special thanks to Blackmon Auctions for managing the auction and Delta Railroad Services for hosting the in-person event. Thanks, too, to Chef Ernesto Scarpitti for breaking out the grills and cooking some really fine brisket. We couldn’t do any of this without the many hours of planning and coordination by the NRC Auction Committee, led by Committee Chairman Danny Brown with support from NRC Vice President of Operations Mike McGonagle.  

While the auction was a success, we did not set any records this year. We didn’t expect to. Due to supply-chain issues, owners are holding onto equipment that would normally be rotated out of their fleets. Everyone — railroads, contractors and suppliers — is struggling to find new vehicles and equipment. This situation contributed to lower-than-normal equipment volume at the auction. 

The labor market was also part of the auction buzz. Reports show that some Class I production gangs are understaffed by 30%. The need for qualified labor extends to railroad contractors, as well. This environment is prompting employers to get creative in recruiting, retaining and training, with some offering signing bonuses and incenting employees for referrals. 

You don’t have to be a railroad contractor to be concerned about rising costs, particularly for fuel, which is up 30% or more over the last year. Those contractors and suppliers that have escalators built into their contracts can recoup some of these cost increases. Fuel surcharges are getting increasingly common. Companies are doing their best to offset declining margins with careful planning, causing procurement and operating personnel to up their game. 

A wise friend of mine at one of the Class Is said: “We are in this together. We must truly work as partners. Truthful communication — not promising something that cannot be delivered upon — and working together to solve issues will get us through.” 

As for good news: There is a lot of work out there and more in the pipeline. Passage of the recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act means there will be more opportunities ahead, allowing contractors and suppliers to gear up for the increased demand. Of course, our current economic situation and a myriad of unknowns will make planning and executing work more difficult. 

It’s a challenging time in the railroad industry. But, as the NRC Auction demonstrated and my old friend always says, we can get positive results when everyone does their best and works together. 

Building a Safer and Stronger Railway Construction Industry Together!

Steve Bolte, NRC chairman
The National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association Inc.
80 M Street, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003


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