2023: A Milestone Anniversary Year

Written by Chuck Baker, President, ASLRRA
Chuck Baker, President, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association

Chuck Baker, President, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association

ASLRRA PERSPECTIVE, RAILWAY AGE FEBRUARY 2023 ISSUE: This year is the 110th anniversary of the founding of the American Short Line Association, our oldest predecessor.

On Sept. 17, 1913, 22 short line railroad managers met in Atlanta, Ga., to form the Short Line Railroad Association of the Southeast. The primary purpose of the organization was to deal with legislative matters, particularly amending the federal railway mail pay law so that short lines could obtain an increase in pay for transporting the mail.

By 1917, the membership had expanded beyond the southeast and the organization was renamed the American Short Line Railroad Association. Because addressing federal legislative matters continued to be the organization’s primary purpose, the headquarters was moved to Washington, D.C. 

This milestone anniversary year fittingly marks the in-person return of Railroad Day on Capitol Hill, a railroad industry lobbying event forced into a virtual format for the past two years due to COVID-19. ASLRRA first organized Railroad Day on Capitol Hill in 1994, and it has grown into a hugely successful industry-wide event that educates Congress on railroad issues and builds important relationships with the legislators and their staffs who impact our businesses. Thankfully, this event returns to an in-person format on May 17, and more than 350 railroad industry representatives will once again walk the hallways of Congress to carry on the important legislative work originally envisioned by ASLRRA’s 22 founding members.

The economics of mail transportation won’t be on the agenda, but there is much to be covered at this year’s event. First and foremost, there are more than 80 new Members of Congress who likely know very little about short lines and regionals and need to be educated on what we do, how we do it, and how their policy decisions impact us. We need them to understand the impact of regulations such as FRA’s unjustifiable two-person crew mandate and any increases to truck sizes and weights. We need to highlight the important railroad rehabilitation projects made possible by the CRISI/RAISE/INFRA/RCE programs and encourage the full funding of those programs in FY 2024. ASLRRA hopes to supplement these existing programs with a new agriculture-related infrastructure grant program to be included in the Farm Bill, which is up for reauthorization in 2023. Our proposed legislation would be aimed at improving the first-mile/last-mile connections for agricultural shippers and at providing funding for the customer infrastructure needed to reduce delays and increase capacity.

Two important dates for your 2023 calendar: April 2 and May 17.”

Prior to Railroad Day on Capitol Hill, ASLRRA will host its Annual Conference and Exhibition April 2-4 in New Orleans, La. We have fortunately been able to conduct this meeting in person for the past two years and are looking forward to a very well-attended and informative meeting in 2023. The meeting will feature a bustling Exhibit Hall with more than 150 rail suppliers and contractors showcasing the latest products and technology to address a wide array of business challenges, and we’re hoping to have north of 1,500 railroaders in attendance. 

The meeting will feature 40-plus hours of industry-specific education delivered by expert speakers. Individual sessions will include updates on current STB issues impacting short lines, responsibilities under the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse for short lines with CDL drivers on staff, an Operation Lifesaver Authorized Volunteer training session, presentations by winners of ASLRRA’s Business Development Awards highlighting innovative short line marketing successes, and the always informative and entertaining Railroad Industry Economic Outlook by railroad analyst Tony Hatch.

In what should be of particular interest to all railroads and suppliers, there will be a session covering the growing list of federal infrastructure grant opportunities. Infrastructure spending used to be synonymous with highway spending, but that picture is changing dramatically. Since 2017, across all the federal infrastructure programs where freight rail was eligible to compete with other surface transportation modes, there has been $15.8 billion in awarded funds, with approximately $4 billion of that benefitting freight rail projects. Nearly $2 billion was associated with investments in rail infrastructure owned by Class II or Class III carriers, or infrastructure over which a small railroad had access in the project area. Our session will provide updates on rail eligibility; 2023 application deadlines; and most important, a review of what makes for a successful application under the various funding programs. Our goal is to help short lines and regionals prepare better applications and to encourage more of them to apply for what has become a significant source of infrastructure funding.

Railroad Day on Capitol Hill is the event where short lines, regionals and rail suppliers help ASLRRA deliver the messaging that is so important to securing the public policy decisions critical to success. Our Annual Conference and Exhibition is the event where ASLRRA can help with information, education and networking opportunities critical to success, and where policies and programs that will drive the industry forward are discussed. Neither event should be missed! Registration information for these two meetings can be found at Register today. I’ll see you in D.C. on May 17 and New Orleans on April 2!

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