CSX’s Van Tassel honored with environmental award

Written by Andrew Corselli, Managing Editor
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The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has named CSX Transportation’s Gary Van Tassel II the 2019 John H. Chafee Environmental Excellence Award winner.

The award is named after the late Rhode Island senator—an advocate for the eco-friendly benefits of rail transportation—and recognizes a railroad employee who’s demonstrated the highest level of environmental stewardship.

Gary Van Tassel II

Van Tassel “has led his team to focus on making the traditional intermodal facility more efficient by implementing new technology and modernizing site layouts allowing the railroad to operate with a smaller footprint, fewer diesel utility trucks, a transition to electrified cranes and significantly reduce truck dwell times,” AAR noted. “In the past year, Gary and his team have focused on how to adapt these concepts to modernize smaller terminals that do not use large rail-mounted gantry cranes. By optimizing for minimal movement, Gary has changed the operating concept of the terminal to reduce container handling and truck congestion. It is easy to apply modern technology to brand new facilities, but the nuanced and customized approach to smaller facilities is more difficult and takes the expertise that Gary has developed.”

“A modern terminal that maximizes efficiency and automation provides measurable benefits to the environment when compared to traditional terminal design,” AAR added. “It reduces potential air emissions by 90%, and the paperless system has cut $300,000 per year in paper costs. These are realized efficiencies and allow for far fewer handlings within the terminal, reducing the consumption of diesel, need for truck maintenance and the overall energy required to perform lift activities.”

In addition to Van Tassel, four other railroaders were nominated for the award: KCS’s Sheila C. Dougherty; Union Pacifics’s Mike McAndrews; BNSF’s Iz Salazar; and Amtrak’s Alison Simon.

Sheila C. Dougherty – KCS
While Sheila is responsible for managing marketing, branding and communications strategies, she has spent countless hours spearheading sustainable practices for employees and enhancing the corporate culture of sustainability for KCS. Whether she is working with 125 subject matter experts to deliver a revamped sustainability report or develop a marketing awareness campaign to encourage recycling company wide she has taken her drive and produced impressive results. The recycling campaign has resulted in a 38 percent increase in overall recycling. She also started the ‘Bring Your Own Glass’ campaign aimed at reducing the use of plastic cups. Her dedication has resulted in newfound momentum that has made sustainability a priority for each department.

Mike McAndrews – UP
“Mike McAndrews is Director of Mechanical Facilities and Equipment and has worked for Union Pacific for more than 19 years. He routinely approaches his responsibilities with environmental impacts top of mind. Throughout his career, he has completed numerous energy-conservation projects, including upgrades to shop lighting, air compressor systems and shop heating systems. These projects have reduced the company’s carbon footprint significantly, while also increasing safety and reducing maintenance costs. Replacing high bay lights at two facilities resulted in a reduction in energy consumption of 1.5 million kilowatt hours per year; enough to power 140 U.S. homes for a year. Mike’s efforts have resulted in more than $1 million per year in total utility savings since he came into his role with the Mechanical team.”

Iz Salazar – BNSF
“As a 24-year veteran of the BNSF Police Department, Iz was tasked with addressing the homeless issues for the railway, covering 28 states, three Canadian provinces, approximately 32,500 miles of track and almost one million acres of real estate. He was trusted to re-invent the process for addressing homeless encampments and homeless trespassers from the ground up. In advance of every removal project, he measures the scope of the work against an environmental check-list tailored for the railway’s homeless initiative. The purpose of the checklist is to ensure that every removal project holds the greatest respect for the environment and the local ecology. Since beginning the initiative, Iz has led the removal of more than 400 homeless encampments and did so without complaints, environmental regulatory violations and injuries. The collective effort contributed to a 16% reduction in system-wide trespasser incidents.”

Alison Simon – Amtrak
“Alison’s impact at Amtrak has been focused on improving the customer experience and she has turned that into a mission that helps the environment at the same time. Her commitment to finding better solutions led to the integration of sustainability language in areas surrounding fleet procurement, recycling and food and beverage. She designed onboard hydration stations to reduce plastic bottle use, increased recycling receptacle locations, and reduced single-use packaging on the new [Alstom] Acela Express trains. Her work has supported Amtrak’s goal by engaging with the Environment and Sustainability team early in their project to help them identify new ways to manage materials coming off more than 500 railcars. Alison’s dedication has led to a successful collaboration where seat covers are donated to a non-profit in Indianapolis to a project called People for Urban Progress (PUP). Since October 2018, PUP has processed more than one ton of leather by reusing the material to create consumer goods like totes, duffel bags and backpacks that sell out in a matter of days.”

“As the industry continues to modernize, it’s important to recognize our colleagues in the industry for their outstanding dedication to developing sustainable initiatives. Railroads continue to lead the way when it comes to sustainability in the transportation sector and we have these men and women to thank for their efforts,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “The conversation around sustainability is so important and I am proud that this industry is making it a top priority for generations to come.”

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