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While contemplating relevant topics to discuss in this month’s column, I have come to realize that my colleagues and the industry at large are experiencing some serious pandemic fatigue. The country has collectively fallen into a “wait-and-see” mode as researchers anticipate the development of a vaccine to curb the spread of COVID-19.
However, some recent signs indicate there are reasons to be positive: The industry is seeing sparks of a rebound, Congress has passed important rail-related legislation and many industry associations are holding steady as they move their annual conferences into the virtual world.
There is room for optimism with the onset of the fall season. The market is slowly climbing out of a pandemic downfall that we experienced early in 2020: Railroad stocks are near historic highs, the fall harvest is in full swing and carloads are increasing. My hope is that after the general election in November, we can start to move forward, get back to normal and finally put all the frustration that has been percolating behind us.
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act expired at the end of September and, although both the House and Senate have made a run at their bills, it is very likely we will see a one-year extension of the surface transportation reauthorization. This isn’t out of the ordinary, as surface transportation bills typically require multiple extensions before passing a new bill. A year-long extension would give Congress some time to get through the upcoming general election, but we may have a very different outcome, depending on whether either chamber of Congress or the executive branch changes party control. Regardless, the passage of a robust multi-year bill is critical for the industry and nation as we continue to rebuild the economy.
The industry mainstays that the railroad community sets their clocks by (e.g., TTCI, AREMA, ASLRRA) are in the throes of virtual trade shows and webinars. As a longtime advocate of industry stewardship, I believe it is imperative that we collectively support our industry associations in their respective journeys into the virtual world. It is one thing you can do to keep the rail industry and your career moving forward.
The NRC staff has not missed a beat. NRC President and Progressive Railroading 2020 Rising Star Ashley Wieland has the NRC staff engaged in multiple endeavors focusing on value-adds for our membership. I’d like to point out a few:
• The NRC Scholarship program is still on for this year! The NRC offers three students the opportunity to receive a $12,000, $6,000 and $3,000 scholarship respectively for first, second and third place. This tuition assistance is available to qualified children or grandchildren of employees of NRC member companies. Students must be either incoming freshmen or currently enrolled at a college or university.
• NRC COVID-19 resources provide valuable assistance for members. See https://bit.ly/3b3pExi
• We’ve introduced a series of NRC webinars. Members have gained valuable insights on COVID-19 best practices as well as mid-year capex adjustments by Class Is. Contact NRC staff for the recording links.
The NRC executive committee has tightened its belt and is making sound prudent financial decisions. It is a pleasure to work with Steve Bolte of Danella Companies Inc. (vice chairman), Joe Daloisio of Railroad Construction Co. (secretary-treasurer), and Mike Choat of Wabtec (immediate past chairman). All are consummate professionals and dedicated to the successful future of the NRC.
We are truly blessed to be in such a great industry. Wishing everyone good health.
“Building a Safer and Stronger Railway Construction Industry Together!”
— Jim Hansen, NRC Chairman
The National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association Inc.80 M Street, S.E. Washington, D.C. 20003202-715-2920nrcma.org • email@example.com