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All photos by Jeff Stagl
The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) held its annual meeting and exhibition April 3-6 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.
The annual convention — which included a host of meetings, presentations and exhibiting hours — attracted more than 1,500 attendees, the third-highest mark in the association's 103-year history.
On April 4, ASLRRA 2016 Convention Chair Donna Coleman (left) and ASLRRA President Linda Darr cut a ceremonial ribbon to mark the exhibition's opening, while ASLRRA Chairman Ed McKechnie served as announcer. Coleman is a VP at Norfolk & Portsmouth Belt Line Railroad and McKechnie — the association's outgoing chair — is EVP and chief commercial officer at Watco Cos. LLC.
The event drew a record 275 exhibitors, besting the association's previous high-water mark set last year by 35 exhibitors.
Drinks and hor d'oeuvres served in the hall the evening of April 4 attracted hundreds of attendees to the exhibition's opening reception.
The convention center bristled with activity for more than two hours.
Exhibits included booths operated by some of the convention's 38 sponsors.
On April 5, 26 breakout sessions on various short-line industry topics drew many attendees to small meeting rooms located throughout the convention center.
At one morning session, Railway Tie Association President Jim Gauntt (at the lectern) said Class I demand for wood ties is soft, but purchases likely will only dip about 3 percent this year versus 2015's level.
An afternoon session on prioritizing track maintenance work was moderated by Georgetown Rail Equipment Co. COO and EVP Greg Grissom (at the lectern) and featured (at the table, left to right) OmniTRAX Inc. Senior Project Manager Michael Brown, OmniTRAX System Engineer Zach Vallos and Iowa Interstate Railroad Ltd. VP Chad Lambi.
A second reception with drinks and hor d'oeuvres the evening of April 5 drove another crowd to the exhibit hall.
A local celebrity wandered the hall, as well. The Abraham Lincoln mascot conducts races at Washington Nationals' home baseball games with other characters depicting former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, William Taft and Herbert Hoover.
An early morning general session got the convention up and running on April 6.
ASLRRA President Linda Darr (far left) began the session with a short-line CEO panel that included (from Darr to far right) Genesee & Wyoming Inc. President and CEO John Hellmann, OmniTRAX CEO Kevin Shuba, Watco CEO Rick Webb and Iowa Northern Railway Co. President Dan Sabin.
Hellmann said two-thirds of the economic factors impacting Genesee & Wyoming so far this year have been good, but the other third has been tough on the holding company. In such an environment, it's important to be smart about how capital is allocated, he said.
Watco's Webb said since volume for small railroads collectively is down about 6 percent year over year, short lines are hungry for business. So now is a good time for short lines to go to Class Is to revisit traffic-building ideas, he said.
Chambers, Conlon & Hartwell LLC Partner Adam Nordstrom (left) then moderated a Class I executive panel that included Norfolk Southern Corp. AVP of Short Line and Commercial Development Rob Robinson (right).
CSX VP of Emerging Markets Derrick Smith said his Class I is trying to work closely with its short-line partners to increase volume.
"We don't do nimble, you do nimble, which is one way the carload product succeeds," BNSF Railway Co. VP of Network Strategy Dean Wise told short-line attendees.
After the panel presentations, ASLRRA leaders presented annual marketing awards to Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad/Nittany & Bald Eagle Railroad, Indiana Rail Road and Reading & Northern Railroad.
Indiana Rail Road President and CEO Pete Mills (center) accepted his railroad's marketing award — which honors a successful intermodal partnership with CN — from ASLRRA's McKechnie and Darr.
Pacific Harbor Line President Otis Cliatt presented a Richard F. Timmons Award, which honors a short line's veteran recruitment efforts, to Delta Southern Railroad.
An exhibit in the convention center paid homage to the 287 railroads that received Jake Awards with Distinction for completing 2015 without a FRA-reportable injury, and the 37 short lines that received Jake Awards for achieving an FRA injury rate below the industry average. The awards are named after Lowell S. "Jake" Jacobson, Copper Basin Railway's president and CEO, who created a short-line safety award in 1995.
Next year's ASLRRA convention and exhibition will be held at another Gaylord resort in Grapevine, Texas.