ASLRRA Honors Safety Professional, Safety Person of the Year; Names 2024 Environmental Award Winner

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
ASLRRA President Chuck Baker

ASLRRA President Chuck Baker

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) has named Mission Mountain Railroad (MMR) Railcar Repairman Sam Pederson as its Safety Person of the Year and Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) Training Program Manager Albert Manning as its Safety Professional of the Year. Also, Sierra Northern Railway is named ASLRRA’s 2024 Environmental Award winner. All three awards were presented on March 25 at ASLRRA’s Annual Conference, held this year in Kansas City, Mo.

The Safety Person of the Year and Safety Professional of the Year awards, ASLRRA says, “recognize individuals who have dedicated their career to focusing on safety—leaders who hold their companies and their peers accountable to and for each other and participate in volunteer efforts to raise safety awareness in their communities.”

“A good day on a railroad is a safe day, and employees must be accountable to each other,” said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker. “Sam Pederson of the MMR, and Albert Manning of FECR make safety personal on their railroads. Leading by example, each has earned the respect of their peers, and made a positive and lasting impact on their railroad. We are pleased to highlight their significant contributions to safety culture and performance.”

Safety Person of the Year – Sam Pederson, Railcar Repairman, MMR

“Safety has always been a top priority for Sam on and off the job,” said MMR General Manager Kyle Jeschke. “She is conscientious about following all safety rules while performing her duties as a Car Repairman, she is always looking out for her fellow Team Members. Everything from making sure blue flags are in place to mopping up puddles from melted snow in the depot. Sam goes above and beyond.”

Pederson mentors new employees on the railroad and has participated in the Safety Team. She regularly stops unsafe procedures and offers support and redirection. Outside of working hours, you can find Pederson coaching youth soccer. Even there, she is safety-forward, offering guidance on safe practices such as hydrating properly that she learned on the railroad.

Safety Professional of the Year – Albert Manning, Training Program Manager, FECR

Manning’s career with FECR began as a conductor in 2005, followed by promotion to locomotive engineer in 2006. Over the next 16 years, Manning established a reputation among his colleagues as an expert in train handling on the FECR network. This expertise, along with his unique ability to build relationships and positively influence his peers, led to his promotion in 2022 to the role of Training Program Manager. This pivotal position, within the Safety, Training, and Compliance Department, ASLRRA says, is responsible for molding the safety culture at FECR.

As Training Program Manager, Manning played a vital role in redesigning the technical and field training program for conductors and engineers. The revised program incorporates additional classroom and hands-on training sessions during the OJT phase. The result is an improved experience for the employee and an opportunity to identify and remediate trainees struggling to master certain concepts.

“The hands-on approach Albert takes with trainees is evident in every aspect of the training program. He collaborates with local managers to identify employees who may be struggling to understand a process, and schedules individual sessions with these employees to bridge the gaps and build a coaching plan for their future success and growth,” explains Chris Guenther, Assistant Vice President, Safety, Training and Compliance, FECR. “Every employee gets the same message: Even though your formal training is over, I remain a resource for you, which you can call on at any time.”

The impact of Manning’s approach to training and coaching employees is evident in year-over-year incident numbers. In 2023, employees with less than one year of service were responsible for seven human factor train incidents, a decrease of 70% from 2022. Additionally, this cohort ended 2023 with zero injuries, compared to five injuries in 2022.

Manning utilizes his skills as a locomotive engineer not only for the benefit of FECR employees, but also to support the community and children in need. He volunteers his time to serve as engineer of FECR’s Santa Train, spreading holiday cheer to children along Florida’s east coast, as well as the annual Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Train Ride, providing an exciting escape for kids fighting childhood cancer and their families.

(Sierra Northern Railroad)

In related news, Sierra Northern Railroad was honored on March 25 for its “contributions to environmental sustainability and air quality improvements in central California,” an area served by the short line’s intermodal port and transload facility. In 2024, ASLRRA says Sierra Northern intends to be the first California short line to put a zero-emission hydrogen locomotive into full testing in revenue service, in a demonstration project funded by the California Energy Commission (CEC).

The ASLRRA Environmental Award recognizes a Class II or III railroad that has “designed and enacted the most innovative and successful environmental initiative in the small railroad industry, reducing the company’s environmental impact or contributing to meeting sustainability goals for the railroad and/or their shipper(s).”

“The Sierra Northern Railroad’s commitment to flexible and innovative client service led to CRISI-funded expansion of an inland port, and the construction of an intermodal transload facility, with a goal of reducing the environmental footprint of transportation in the breadbasket region of California,” said Baker. “Working with local area officials and key shipping partners, Sierra Northern has stepped in to fill the gap for customers by containerizing agricultural product, opening up markets in Asia and across America to the east. The net result is a trifecta – access to new markets for producers, significant improvement in congestion and air quality in rural areas and around ports, and efficient transportation for businesses that provide well-paying jobs. The hopeful addition of zero-emission hydrogen locomotives in 2024 and beyond, funded by the CEC and the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), will be a further environmental benefit for central California.”

Sierra Northern Railway’s Inland Port and Transload facility, ASLRRA says, is a groundbreaking development in freight movement in California’s Central Valley, resulting in thousands of tons of agricultural commodities transiting through the central valley being removed from the roads and moved to end users and port facilities by rail. Sierra Northern recognized that customers lacked the ability to properly load and unload commodities for delivery to and from remote operations. Containerizing commodities at the transload facility has allowed producers to serve growing Asian markets through western ports and to capture growth in eastern markets served by rail.

And the environmental benefits of transferring freight from truck to rail are significant, according to ASLRRA. Sierra Northern’s intermodal operations, combined with more dependable rail services into ports, have taken a significant amount of truck traffic off the roads—not only in the rural communities around the transload facility, but in the port-adjacent communities, as well, where rail service is easing gridlock and port entry delays and the attendant idling emissions from trucks.

Each railcar processed removes three to four trucks from the road, drastically reducing emissions and particulates from tires in the atmosphere and water. In 2023, the railroad processed 400 railcars per month, removing close to an estimated 20,000 truckloads per year.

In 2024 and beyond, if the demonstration projects being funded by CEC and CalSTA are successful, emissions will be further reduced by the integration of zero emission hydrogen fuel cell locomotives currently being built and readied for testing by Sierra Northern.

Finally, by expanding the economic base for the central valley, ASLRRA says the inland port and transload facility will be a “positive economic driver for years to come.” The inland port and transload facility both offer well paying positions to local workers with ongoing training, education, and transferable skill development for the local workforce.

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