Short Line Safety Institute Expands Training

Written by Tom Murta, Executive Director, Short Line Safety Institute
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Tom Murta

The Short Line Safety Institute (SLSI), celebrating its 5th year of operation this year, was formed with a grant from the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Research, Development and Technology with the mission of enhancing the safety culture on short line and regional railroads. The vision of the SLSI and its programs is for the short line and regional railroad industry to perform at an increasingly high level of safety because of a focus on safety culture, defined as “the shared values, actions and behaviors that demonstrate a commitment to safety over competing goals and demands.”

The SLSI has grown its offerings over the past five years to a suite of training programs that include Safety Culture Assessments—initial and follow-up Assessments, Hazardous Materials Training, the Leadership Development Program, and technical assistance.

To date, the SLSI has completed 86 of its signature Safety Culture Assessments and has already scheduled the 100th Assessment in 2020. A Safety Culture Assessment is a voluntary, non-punitive and confidential process with a rigorous methodology.

In a report issued in June 2019 by the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, the Safety Culture Assessment model was determined to be “the most comprehensive and robust approach in the U.S. railroad industry” in evaluating safety culture.

The Assessment tools review the Ten Core Elements of a Strong Safety Culture, as defined by the U.S. Department of Transportation Safety Council. The results of the Assessment, including findings and opportunities for improvement, are shared with the railroad’s management team upon completion of the project.

According to the results of SLSI feedback questionnaires over the past year, 100% of railroads that participated would recommend an Assessment to other railroads and found the information they received to be valuable in strengthening their safety culture.

The methods applied in the onsite evaluations and throughout the Assessment process have identified key industry best practices, and have paved the way for the SLSI in developing the next wave of programs to assist short line railroads in continuously raising the bar on safety culture.

The tables show the most commonly reported improvements made at railroads after an Assessment, based on interviews with personnel from a sample of participating railroads.

Based on gaps identified, the SLSI has developed two programs—a Hazardous Materials Training Program, started in 2017 and supported with a grant from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), and launched in the second half of 2019, a Leadership Development Program focused on proven leadership qualities and principles.

The specialized hazardous materials training curriculum is aimed at ensuring trainees are conversant with the regulations regarding the transportation of hazardous materials and emergency response procedures. The SLSI’s Hazmat Training Program offers three program types including direct training for railroad employees, instructor training for railroads that already have trainers in place, and tabletop exercises that are interactive, with hands-on problem-solving sessions designed to assist railroads in creating their own customized response plans for hazmat incidents.

To date, the SLSI has completed 26 training events for the Hazardous Materials Training Program, and four tabletop exercises. For some training sessions, SLSI has partnered with the Firefighter’s Education and Training Foundation, using its Safety Train classroom railcar and hands-on rail equipment.

To address some of the most common gaps found on short line railroads, including recognizing safe practices, coaching/mentoring/modeling and safety communications, the SLSI has developed, piloted and launched a new Leadership Development Program.

This program was designed to be interactive using a multimedia format, team-building exercises and group discussion, and is appropriate for new as well as experienced managers. Topics include effective communication, delivering constructive feedback, managing to agreement, coaching, building high-performing teams and giving credit. With three sessions completed in 2019, and six more planned for 2020, the SLSI anticipates that this will be a highly sought-after program.

SLSI Hazardous Materials Training and Leadership Development Programs can be customized to meet the needs of an individual railroad or can be tailored to a group of railroads. All programs are provided free of charge to short line and regional railroads. Visit or call (202) 628-4500 to learn more about scheduling an Assessment or Training on your railroad.

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