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American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) officials on April 24 introduced a safety initiative they characterized as the association's largest-ever undertaking. To launch in January 2015, the initiative will help make the short line industry the safest industry in the world, ASLRRA officials said during the association's 101st annual meeting held in San Diego late last week. In cooperation with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), U.S. Department of Transportation's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and the University of Connecticut (UConn), ASLRRA plans to develop large libraries of training tools, technical materials and other educational resources to assist small railroads in instilling a good safety culture in their organization in addition to complying with all required safety regulations. The initiative first will focus on crude-oil safety because of the "crude-by-rail phenomenon" and number of train accidents that have recently occurred, said Michael Ogborn, a principal of Ogborn Consulting Group L.L.C., which is helping the association with the safety effort. There have been knee-jerk reactions in Congress to previous rail accidents that led to regulations being thrust upon short lines, said Ogborn, who previously was managing director and executive vice president of OmniTRAX Inc., and long has been involved in the association. "We need to take charge of this and do something ourselves, and not let Congress tell us how to run our businesses," he said. The ASLRRA and FRA plan to launch a six-month pilot project early next year aimed at improving and strengthening safety for short lines that handle crude. Assessment teams will be formed to analyze safety practices and procedures at the small roads and issue written reports that will provide the railroads' managers findings and recommendations. Data compiled by the teams will be analyzed to gain a greater understanding of short-line safety, said Ogborn, adding that other railroads and other commodities will be added to the initiative over time. "The aim is to create a Short Line Safety Institute that will heighten the intensity of the [industry's] safety focus," he said. The FRA will provide the ASLRRA a $250,000 grant to help kick off the initiative, while the Volpe Center and UConn will allocate a $150,000 and $100,000 grant, respectively, in the current fiscal year to help fund the program, said Ogborn. Additional funding will be needed to launch more assessment teams, he said. What's learned through the initiative should be transferrable to other railroads, said ASLRRA Chairman Ed McKechnie, the chief commercial officer for the Watco Cos. L.L.C., adding that it likely will take five to six years for the association to get the initiative as fully engaged as desired. For now, the ASLRRA is beginning the safety program with a large slate of railroads to choose from. "There are 550 different starting places," said McKechnie. Meanwhile, ASLRRA officials on Friday presented the 2014 Thomas L. Schlosser Distinguished Service Award to Farmrail System Inc. President and General Manager Judy Petry. The award recognizes an individual's outstanding service and commitment to the association. Petry has served on various committees and boards during her more than 20 years of service to the association, said ASLRRA President Richard Timmons during an award presentation at the San Diego conference. She joined her first association committee in 1994 and became voluntary chair in 1997, and has served as a board member since 2004, he said. In addition, Petry played a key role in helping to organize the ASLRRA's centennial convention held last year in Atlanta, said Timmons. The award is named after Thomas Schlosser, a former ASLRRA chairman and president and chief executive officer of the Fort Worth & Western Railroad who died in 2011. He was a longtime and valuable contributor to the association. Schlosser's railroading career included stints as VP and COO of the California Railroad, president and COO of Park Sierra Rail Group, senior VP for RailAmerica Inc. and CEO of Global Rail Systems.
— Jeff Stagl