At its Annual Conference and Exhibition, which took place April 2-4 in New Orleans, the American Short Line and Railroad Association (ASLRRA) has recognized three member railroads for innovative business success and one with Veterans and Environmental Awards, in addition to honoring two individual members with career-level safety awards and one posthumous Schlosser Distinguished Service Award.
Business Development Award
Kiamchi Railroad (KRR); Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad (RBMN); and the Strasburg Rail Road Company were honored with the ASLRRA 2023 Business Development Award for “demonstrating innovative and successful business-building initiatives that will lead to significant increases in shipping volume and additional benefits for the customer and commodity.”
According to ASLRRA, construction was a common thread for all three winners with each award recipient having directly overseen development or worked with customers to build facilities that support local jobs and industry, diversify company income and offer an alternative to shipping freight by truck through nearby towns.
“The Business Development Award honors the hallmarks of short line railroading—having a keen understanding of customer needs, relentlessly seeking opportunities to grow customer business, and executing creative customer service solutions to benefit their customers and the communities they serve,” said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker. “Our three awardees identified opportunities to grow or transform their business, and like short lines do, found a way over, under and around every obstacle to deliver results—whether that was convincing a customer to build a new rail-served facility, seizing an opportunity to move freight from truck to rail, or bringing a 17-year-old vision of a new freight railyard to life.”
Despite the prospect of undertaking a large and complicated project, KRR was not “going to chicken out,” the railroad said. Instead, the team at KRR embraced a new business opportunity, convincing Tyson Foods to build a $65 million poultry feed mill on its line in McNab, Ark.
Tyson needed a new feed mill to replace an older facility, one that would be able to receive inbound unit trains of corn and manifest soybean meal cars. KRR offered a 145-acre site with space for more development, access to three Class I carriers and Highway 195. While Tyson constructed the mill, KRR invested nearly $9 million in building two main line switches and a side track at the site and upgrading the entire 180-mile Tyson route, including 80 bridges, to 286k capacity. KRR also worked with Tyson, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) and the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) to make improvements to Highway 195 to support truck traffic bringing feed from the mill to local chicken farms.
From the arrival of the first train at the new Tyson facility on May 10, 2022, to the end of the year, KRR says it hauled more than 3,100 carloads with zero FRA-reportable injuries. To maintain this new business KRR has hired four new employees, while the mill itself supports 50 jobs in the area and the entire operation helps sustain Arkansas’ poultry industry. Overall, KRR’s partnership with Tyson “shows how the effort to attract and support one rail customer is not only beneficial to the railroad and its shipper; there are broad economic benefits for an entire community,” the railroad said.
Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad
Dealing with the planned-for components of a project—permits, material acquisition, construction—can be difficult enough, said RBMN. Throw in the unpredictability of nature and a tough project can become almost impossible. According to the railroad, RBMN prevailed despite an unusually rainy season to complete the “largest, most comprehensive industrial development project in company history,” a transload facility in Tunkhannock Township, Penn.
The idea for a facility at Tunkhannock existed long before RBMN began construction in August 2021. Since Tunkhannock is closer to much of the gas well drilling activity, drillers in need of frac sand would be able to greatly reduce the amount of tonnage moving on local roads.
Nature complicated construction for RBMN. The site was overgrown with vegetation, which had to be cleared. Next came the installation of nearly 10,000 cubic yards of rock and dirt for a ramp to mitigate an eight-foot grade separation between the level of the sand terminal and the mainline track. But trying to complete landscaping during autumn 2021, one of the wettest in recent memory, nearly brought work to a complete halt and forced RBMN to rectify a significant drainage issue. Still, it took RBMN only six months to build two tracks with capacity for 34 car spots and areas for trucking and transloading and offices. Full operations began in early 2022, with RBMN receiving delivery of its first unit train of frac sand on May 15. Since then the railroad says it has handled 2,200 carloads of frac sand, which RBMN expects will as much as triple in 2023. From land development to track construction and final grading, RBMN took on all parts of the Tunkhannock project to “capitalize on a top-notch location and set itself up to capture even more of the area’s shipping business.”
Strasburg Rail Road Company
The team at Strasburg Rail Road Company will be the first to tell you that hardly anyone associates their company with freight operations, the railroad said. But despite the popularity of Strasburg’s tourist operations, having a diverse income stream—meaning boosting freight operations—is necessary for the company’s strategic growth.
In 2023, Strasburg opened a new six-track freight yard in Paradise, Penn. The company says it currently handles almost 500 cars a year, up from 10, and is poised to grow its freight business “dramatically” in the coming years.
Strasburg faced a number of hurdles in the construction of its new yard, for which the planning process began in 2018. Since the project required developing land owned by Amtrak, Strasburg had to work closely with Amtrak on lease agreements, project design and permitting. Then the COVID pandemic dealt a blow to Strasburg’s tourist operations, severely impacting its main source of revenue and slowing work on the project due to supply chain challenges.
Strasburg finally began construction of phase one of its project in December 2021 and finished it three months later, enabling the railroad to make its first deliveries to Capital Forest Products while phase two got under way. Thanks in part to a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Strasburg finished the project and celebrated full opening of the yard in March 2023.
Now, Strasburg says it can handle more freight without burdening its existing freight yard or creating conflicts with its passenger trains. The freight business that comprises roughly 10% of Strasburg’s revenue can grow, and those who “once only saw the railroad as an opportunity to ride trains pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine will now see railcars piled high with lumber, proof the nation’s oldest continuously operating short line continues to evolve.”
Environmental and Veterans Engagement Awards
Separately, Pacific Harbor Line (PHL), an Anacostia Company, was the recipient of ASLRRA’s inaugural Environmental Award and the Veterans Engagement Award.
ASLRRA established the Environmental Award to “recognize a Class II or III railroad that has designed and enacted the most innovative and successful environmental initiative in the small railroad industry, with an emphasis on programs that have helped reduce the company’s environmental impact or contribute to meeting sustainability goals for the railroad and/or the shipper.”
These latest honors follow PHL’s 2022 reception of ASLRRA’s President’s Safety Award, which recognizes a railroad’s safety record as measured by its accident frequency rate. PHL won the Pacific Region award for companies with 250,000 to 500,000 person-hours worked. “Winning the President’s Award was a wonderful acknowledgement of the processes, follow-up, and results of PHL’s safety culture,” said PHL President Otis L. Cliatt II.
For Anacostia President and CEO Peter Gilbertson, the awards together underscore key elements of the company’s corporate strategy. “Improving the sustainability of rail operations has been and will be an ongoing focus at Anacostia and is manifested through people, safety, technology, and growing rail business. Hiring vets helps everybody,” said Gilbertson. “We thank ASLRRA for the recognition.”
According to ASLRRA, PHL, which operates 96 track miles in service to the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles, “has long demonstrated a commitment to sustainability and environmentally friendly operations.” The company was the first short line railroad to join the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) SmartWay program, which helps freight shippers and other stakeholders measure and improve logistics operations to reduce their environmental footprint. The railroad is a supporter of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives benefitting the community in which it operates.
According to ASLRRA, PHL was also the first railroad to upgrade its entire fleet to EPA Tier 3+ locomotives. The company has since added a Tier 4 locomotive and, this year, will acquire a zero-exhaust emission EMD® Joule battery-electric locomotive from Progress Rail, a Caterpillar company. Other initiatives to reduce emissions and make operations more environmentally friendly include use of solar power, renewable diesel, biodegradable lubricants, and locomotive fleet maximum utilization.
ASLRRA further congratulates PHL for winning the Association’s Veterans Engagement Award, which recognizes an ASLRRA member employer that “demonstrates positive policies toward U.S. veterans and who implements unique programs and practices to hire, recognize, support and engage with veterans in the workplace and the broader community.”
When it comes to its workforce, ASLRRA says PHL has demonstrated a commitment to recruiting veterans and members of the National Guard and military reserves. Such hiring efforts include attending job fairs for veterans and having a table at local veterans’ events to introduce attendees to PHL and its employment opportunities. The railroad also coordinates with the Pacific Gateway Workforce Innovation Network to identify military-affiliated candidates. As a result, approximately 25% of PHL’s employees have served or are serving in the military, and a recent class of new hires set a record with 55% of incoming employees identifying as military veterans.
In recognition of its efforts to support employees who are also members of the National Guard or reserves, PHL has received the Pro Patria Award and the Patriot Award from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, an office of the Department of Defense. PHL offers one-on-one support for employees while they are out on active duty and makes sure their families are doing well in the service member’s absence. To honor all its military-affiliated employees, PHL highlights them in the railroad’s annual newsletter, which is distributed to the hundreds of companies with which PHL does business.
“Short line railroads have long recognized the value that military veterans bring to our industry,” said Baker. “PHL has emerged as a leader in recruiting, recognizing, and supporting veterans and their families as they build careers in short line freight railroading. Bringing veterans into the short line environment is a win-win-win-win for the employee, the railroad, the industry, and the country. We’re so pleased to recognize PHL’s efforts in this field.”
Safety Person and Safety Professional of the Year
Additionally, Raul Guerrero, a track inspector at the Texas North Western Railway (TXNW) was honored as ASLRRA’s Safety Person of the Year and Austin Milton, Director, Safety & Training at The Indiana Rail Road Company (INRD) was named Safety Professional of the Year.
These awards, ASLRRA says, “recognize a career-long safety focus and honor leaders who hold their companies and their peers accountable to and for each other.”
According to TXNW Manager of Operating practices Chris Martin, Guerrero is “the most vocal employee about safety at TXNW.” Guerrero, who has fourteen and a half years of active railroad industry experience, is always looking for potentially unsafe conditions that need correction. This trait has helped TXNW realize important safety achievements.
Since January 2020, Guerrero has been a member of the Employee Safety Committee, a voluntary group comprising employees of parent company TNW Corporation who encourage safe practices at TNW’s three short line railways in Texas. The safety committee also acts as a voice for fellow employees, allowing them to share suggestions regarding safety initiatives.
In his primary role at TXNW, Guerrero is responsible for inspecting 165 miles of leads and tracks. His exemplary job performance has helped TXNW stay track-caused derailment free for over two years. According to Martin, Guerrero not only makes safety a priority at work, but he also demonstrates the importance of safety and safe practices outside of work as well.
Once, after training new employees all day, Milton was en route to visit INRD’s car department when he spotted, from more than 200 feet away, an employee making a critical safety error. Instead of passing by, Milton stopped and talked for more than 20 minutes with the individual to provide clear and positive instruction to correct the behavior. This example of dedication to company safety, INRD says, is a common occurrence for Milton, whose tireless efforts to improve INRD’s safety culture are lauded by his colleagues at the railroad.
“Our safety success is due to the hard work and dedication of Austin and his personal commitment to being safe and making sure all INRD employees have the knowledge and the tools to work safe,” said INRD General Manager, Operations Peter Jesperson.
Through his role as Director of Safety and Training, Milton has created an open environment wherein INRD employees feel empowered to speak out about any safety concerns they might have, according to the railroad. Milton also engages employees in dialogue about pending rule changes or new regulatory requirements, helping them take ownership of the safety process. With department leaders, Milton works to address safety issues proactively instead of reacting to problems after they occur.
Milton is also focused on keeping those in the community safe. He works with local law enforcement, first responders and community leaders to improve their knowledge of rail safety. He coordinates with rail safety organization Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI) to oversee the area’s Rail Safety Week initiatives, which include the Officer on a Train event, pedestrian and grade crossing safety blitzes and social media campaigns.
Thanks to Milton’s efforts, INRD says it has achieved several safety goals, including bringing INRD’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) personal injury frequency index and train accident rate to zero in 2022; instituting INRD’s “Keys for Driving Safety Success” program; improving INRD’s safety resources and materials; and developing critical work practices to improve the safety compliance of each field department. Milton has also worked with ASLRRA’s Safety and Training Committee to develop templates for compliance with 49 CFR Part 243, “Training, Qualification and Oversight for Safety-Related Railroad Employees.”
Milton got his start in railroading in 2008 before joining INRD in 2011 as a train operator. He rose to Manager, Safety and Operating Practices in 2017 before being promoted to his current position in 2022. His experiences in each of these company roles, the railroad says, have helped Milton better assess INRD’s safety training and practices and develop solutions to improve them, both for new employees and seasoned professionals.
“Safety is priority number one in the short line industry,” said Baker. “Raul Guerrero of TXNW and Austin Milton of INRD live that priority every day, driving their fellow railroaders to perform safely, day in and day out. Their behaviors influence and elevate safety culture on their respective railroads and in their communities, resulting in outstanding safety performance on their railroads. We are pleased to honor their decades of service to the industry.”
Jake Safety Award with Distinction
Each of TNW’s subsidiary railroads—TXNW, TXR and TXGN—received ASLRRA’s Jake Safety Award with Distinction, given to railroads with no FRA-reportable injuries for the previous year.
Safety, the corporation says, is one of TNW’s four Core Values; the other three are integrity, servant leadership, and quality. TNW Corporation CEO Paul Treangen said, “I am thankful for all of our employees who are so diligent about putting TNW’s Core Value of safety into everyday practice. They have earned these awards and I am proud of them all.”
Schlosser Distinguished Service Award
Additionally, Jack Dale Parliament, former President of the D&I Railroad, who passed away in October, was posthumously selected by ASLRRA as the 2023 Schlosser Distinguished Service Award winner.
The award, named for former ASLRRA Chairman Thomas L. Schlosser, is “the highest individual honor bestowed by the ASLRRA,” recognizing an individual for his or her long-term, significant service to the Association and the short line industry.
“Jack Parliament was a man on a mission, and it was never about himself,” said Baker. “His drive to ensure that the smallest of our Class III members were well represented, well understood and well supported was notable, and his passion and quick laughter were legendary. He made ASLRRA a welcoming place for all size railroads, and established other short line groups such as the Outback Railroad Association as conduits to share best practices. His impact on our industry, particularly for small railroads, is immense and undeniable.”
According to ASLRRA, Parliament was very engaged with and supportive of the ASLRRA mission, representing small railroads on the Association’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee, and establishing the Small Railroad Committee on which he served as Chair until his retirement in 2019.
Throughout his tenure, Parliament stood up for small railroads and their employees, and his work “helped amplify and address their unique issues and concerns,” ASLRRA said. Under his leadership, the Small Railroad Committee worked closely with ASLRRA staff to develop essential tools and resources to help small railroads succeed in a complex, heavily regulated industry.
Among the projects Parliament pushed for are the Association’s live webinars and On Demand Webinars Resource Library and the Member Discount Program to “leverage the buying power of the entire industry and secure discounts for all short lines, especially the smallest railroads with limited resources.” His support for the Short Line Education Fund helped facilitate the creation of scholarships for employees of small railroads to attend important industry training, an effort that now awards more than $10,000 annually.
Parliament was also very active in ASLRRA meetings and events. He regularly attended Railroad Day on Capitol Hill and participated in advocacy initiatives on behalf of short line railroads. At meetings, ASLRRA says Parliament worked with the Association to “push for coverage of relevant topics to ensure members, especially small railroads, had access to information regarding grants, regulations, and legislative actions.” According to his D&I Railroad colleague Scott Van Den Top, General Manager, Parliament firmly believed in the networking opportunities provided as members of the ASLRRA.
“Jack’s leadership and vision helped establish some of the most important tools and resources we now offer to ASLRRA members,” said ASLRRA Senior Vice President of Education and Business Services Sabrina Waiss. “Part of his legacy is that he extended to small railroads a hand up through education; the seeds he planted have flourished and will continue to benefit the entire industry far into the future.”
Parliament started his railroad career with the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1979. Throughout his career, he worked for the DM&E Railroad as a conductor/engineer, the Ellis & Eastern Railroad as Superintendent of Operations and then the D&I Railroad as Operations Superintendent. He held the role of President at D&I from 1999 until his retirement 20 years later.
Parliament also was appointed to the South Dakota Railroad Board and served there for 10 years. He was a founding member of the Outback Railroad Association formed in 2014 to promote safety and training to short line railroads, regularly inviting ASLRRA to speak and provide updates to the many small railroads at the group’s meeting.