ASLRRA honors Gilbertson, safety leaders

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Peter A. Gilbertson

At its 2019 CONNECTIONS Convention in Orlando, Fla., the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) presented Peter A. Gilbertson, President and CEO of Anacostia Rail Holdings Co., with the 2019 Thomas L. Schlosser Distinguished Service Award, and honored Cleo Johnson, Jr., Maintenance-of-Way Foreman, Mississippi Export Railroad, was as Safety Person of the Year and David Nagy, Executive Director of Safety, Springfield Terminal d/b/a Pan Am Railway, as Safety Professional of the Year.

Gilbertson received the Schlosser Award “in recognition of his significant service to the short line industry over a thirty-plus year career,” ASLRRA said. “He quite literally wrote the book on how to start a short line. That was more than 30 years ago when he and Larry McCaffrey, a fellow railroad attorney specializing in railroad acquisitions, published a detailed handbook covering everything from buying short lines to negotiating the regulatory hurdles. It was considered the bible by many short line operators in the early post-Staggers Act era.”

Keith Hartwell, Peter Gilbertson, Chuck Baker

Gilbertson is past chairman of the Regional Railroads of America (RRA) and “was a driving force behind the merger of RRA and the American Short Line Association that created today’s ASLRRA,” the association noted. “He felt that the merger was an important move to avoid a divide between larger regional railroads and smaller short lines. Such a split could have diluted the voice of the short line industry in government affairs efforts and in dealings with Class I partners. He went on to serve as ASLRRA’s first Legislative Policy Chair, guiding ASLRRA’s grassroots campaign.

“Peter is a thought-leader in our industry, pioneering many of the processes that are commonly used today, such as the ‘10901 exemption’, and the formation of regional railroads,” said ASLRRA President Chuck Baker. “He was one of the first to understand the power of the short line story and worked to ensure that the fledgling industry would have a voice at the table, advocating for the formation of the ASLRRA, and short line inclusion in important industry committees. Throughout his career, short lines have been blessed by his industry engagement, willingness to share his expertise, and ability to create opportunity where previously there was none.”

After a role as a leading member of a prominent law firm that used provisions of the Staggers Act to develop and win some of the first 10901 exemption cases, Gilbertson joined the management team of a start-up regional railroad in Iowa in 1986. After this experience, he and others formed Anacostia & Pacific, a development firm that assisted in the formation of regional railroads such as MidSouth, Montana Rail Link, Paducah & Louisville and Twin Cities and Western. After assisting others, Gilbertson led the formation of Anacostia Rail Holdings, which owns and operates the Chicago South Shore & South Bend, Gulf Coast Switching, Louisville & Indiana Railroad, New York & Atlantic, Northern Lines and Pacific Harbor Line.

Gilbertson represented ASLRRA in negotiations with the Association of American Railroads (AAR) that led to the “Rail Industry Agreement” and chaired the STB Railroad Shipper Transportation Advisory Council. He is an alternating member of the board of the AAR and a member of the board of trustees of the University of Denver.

Named for former ASLRRA Chairman Thomas L. Schlosser, past recipients of the Schlosser Distinguished Service Award have included Mort Fuller, Gary Griswell, George Betke, Keith Hartwell, Judy Petry, Mike Ogborn and Tom Schlosser.


ASLRRA also honored two individuals for their career commitment to railroad safety.

Cleo Johnson, Jr., Maintenance-of-Way Foreman, Mississippi Export Railroad, was honored as Safety Person of the Year. This award recognizes a non-management employee of a member railroad “who has no reportable personal injuries, works with their company to make safety programs effective, exhibits a high degree of safety awareness, and contributes off-duty time to activities promoting safety awareness and initiatives in the community.”

Cleo Johnson Jr., Safety Person of the Year

In his 24-year career with the MSE, Johnson has served in a variety of roles, including trackman, speedswing operator, tie remover/inserter, track inspector, and ballast regulator. At the beginning of his career, he worked side-by-side with his father learning the railroad industry and the importance of safety. He continues to attend safety courses to improve his knowledge provided by the Gulf Coast Safety Council, local industries like Chevron Pascagoula Refinery, and others.

As m/w Foreman, Johnson is responsible for 60-plus miles of railroad track. he also supervises eight employees and three local industry track workers. MSE has received the ASLRRA Jake Award for the past 12 years, of which eight have been awarded With Distinction.

“Cleo leads by example, always wearing his personal safety equipment, thinking steps ahead for safety vulnerabilities, and coordinating among departments to guarantee everyone knows where the trains, equipment, and employees are at all times. Largely due to Cleo’s vigilance, his department has not experienced an injury in more than a decade,” said Kate Luce, President and CEO, Mississippi Export Railroad.

Mitch Harris, Cleo Johnson Jr., Chuck Baker. Harris, Director, Safety, Transportation and Regulatory Compliance at Rio Grande Pacific Corp. was ASLRRA 2018 Safety Professional of the Year.

The Safety Professional of the Year was awarded to David Nagy, Executive Director of Safety, Springfield Terminal d/b/a Pan Am Railway. This award is presented annually to “the railroad management employee who demonstrates an exceptional work ethic and dedication to safety.”

David Nagy, Safety Professional of the Year

Nagy started as a track worker with Pan Am Railway 19 years ago. He was quickly promoted to a position of Train Dispatcher, then Chief, before beginning his current role in Safety. Today, Nagy is responsible for employee and community safety consciousness on a regional railroad spanning nearly 1,700 route-miles over five states, with approximately 900 employees.

At Pan Am Railway, Nagy has developed training programs for personnel as well as community first responders. “He works tirelessly on growing relationships with surrounding Police and Fire departments offering on and offsite training events,” ASLRRA noted. “He continually seeks unique programs to keep training fresh and engaging while contributing value to the employees of Pan Am and the community.”

“David’s experience in the ranks has provided him with a unique perspective on the need for and implementation of Safety standards. This diverse experience enables him to bring such a passion and understanding to his role,” said Judy Page, Safety Office Manager in Nagy’s letter of nomination. “Through his direct efforts, our system-wide safety record has earned both the coveted E. H. Harriman and Jake Awards through the years.”

Mitch Harris, David Nagy, Chuck Baker

“Safety is foremost at every railroad. A railroader wants their peers to come home safe every night, while taking care of customers and their freight,” said Chuck Baker. “We are honored to recognize two individuals whose decades-long commitment to safety has positively influenced the safety culture at their respective railroads.”

To be honored with a Jake Award, named for Copper Basin Railway President and Chief Operating Officer (and Railway Age 1994 Railroader of the Year) Lowell S. “Jake” Jacobson, an ASLRRA member railroad must perform better than the Class II and III industry average injury frequency rate as reported by the FRA during the prior year. Jake Award winners “With Distinction” also have an FRA-reported injury-free performance during the same time. Jake Awards are awarded at ASLRRA’s regional fall conferences.

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