ASLRRA PERSPECTIVE, RAILWAY AGE APRIL 2022 ISSUE: Even as a virtual event, Railroad Day on the Hill continues to be the premier railroad industry lobbying event showcasing the importance, vitality and resilience of American freight rail.
Over the course of two full days on March 9 and 10, some 360 rail industry representatives participated in more than 220 Congressional meetings. Every segment of the freight rail industry was represented, and every participant was able to speak to the importance of railroading in their corner of the country. I thank all the participants, and in particular want to give a well-deserved shoutout to SMART and TCU, which sent more than two dozen representatives. These are the men and women who keep the trains running, and they provided a valuable perspective in each of our meetings.
Each year’s Railroad Day on the Hill focuses on three issues. This year, those issues included full funding and streamlined implementation of the recently passed infrastructure bill (with a focus on the CRISI program and the new grade separation program), preserving balanced economic regulation, and opposition to increasing truck size and weight. The response we received from the Congressional offices was particularly encouraging on two counts. First, in discussing infrastructure programs, there appears to be widespread recognition of the environmental benefits of freight rail. The industry has been preaching that message for many years, and it appears that the message is increasingly understood and appreciated by Congressional decision-makers. Second, there was a significant “preaching to the choir” response to our truck size and weight position. This was especially heartening as the rail industry is seemingly required to fight this battle in some fashion in every session of Congress.
I am pleased to say that the short line industry is going to move from virtual reality to physical reality as we host ASLRRA’s in-person Annual Conference and Exhibition May 1-3 in St. Louis, Mo.—The Gateway City! This year’s event will feature a bustling exhibit hall with more than 175 industry suppliers ready to help address your business challenges, outstanding rail industry-specific education delivered by dozens of expert speakers, and presentations by industry luminaries and those in government who make the policy decisions that directly impact our businesses. Topics will cover engineering and maintenance-of-way issues, the best in marketing ideas and tools, legal and financial issues, safety, technology, and more. If you need to know it for your job, it’s likely going to be discussed at this conference.
Back in 2022 by popular demand will be the Green Zone in the exhibit hall. A concept introduced at last year’s annual meeting, the Green Zone will feature some 35 companies that provide products and/or services that specifically benefit the environment.
Of particular interest and importance to many will be various sessions explaining the new funding opportunities provided in the recently enacted Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act. This legislation dramatically increases infrastructure funding and provides numerous opportunities for short line railroads to apply directly or in partnership with state or local governmental entities for that funding. Given this historic level of funding and the difficulty Congress had in reaching a bipartisan agreement, it is not an exaggeration to say this may be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for short line railroads. Our various breakout sessions on this topic will feature detailed explanations of how each program will work, the timelines for applying, and strategic advice from experts who have written and processed successful applications over many years. It will be the kind of practical how-to information that you will not get from reading the government’s regulatory publications, and it will give you a considerable head start as you stare down the short 60-to-90-day window for completing applications.
A key scientific breakthrough that would eventually help protect millions from COVID-19 began with a chance meeting at a photocopier in 1997 between Professor Katalin Kariko, who studied messenger RNA technology, and Dr. Drew Weissman, who was trying to harness mRNA to create an entirely new kind of vaccine. That chance hallway conversation began the collaboration that laid the foundation for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The ability to meet and converse with your colleagues is the least structured part of our meeting, but can be the most fruitful. You may not be saving the world by attending this meeting, but, hey, you never know! And you will have the opportunity to share ideas and develop relationships that will help create new opportunities and groundbreaking partnerships to solve the problems facing you in the world in which you operate.
You can register for ASLRRA’s Annual Conference at www.aslrra.org/events/annual-2022/. We’ll see you there!