Picking Out the Train Set

Most of us have had the thrill of getting a toy train as a kid, and for many of us that is what sparked our interest that led to us working in this industry.  In my case, things were a little different.  You see, my father was a true rail fan, and any trains that I received were done mainly to keep me from playing with his trains.  I got an N-scale layout on a board to play with so that I wouldn’t mess with my father’s O-scale trolley layout, complete with overhead wires.  As I got older, my father’s model train tastes moved towards live steam, and he built (with a little help from me) a 1 ½” to the foot scale version of a B&O 0-4-0 switcher, complete with freight cars to pull (and ride in).  Now this was a real steam engine, and we would go out to a club where he would run it, and occasionally he let me get behind the throttle too.I guess I don’t need to tell you what the next step was.  Shortly after my thirteenth birthday, following the death of my grandfather my father had hit a wall in moving up in the family business, and was starting to move away from that job.  He was doing some side work helping a contractor on a grade crossing on the M&E, and he found out that the company was in bankruptcy, and was available to be purchased.  The timing was right, and the rest, as they say is history, and his time as a railroad owner had begun.This leads us to an email I received shortly after returning from the ASLRRA 2015 Connections.  The sender was putting together a group that wanted to start a short line, and he was asking me for advice on places and people to talk to.  I didn’t respond immediately, because as I looked back in my mind to think of the people and companies I have dealt with over the years, there really wasn’t one way that worked.  For some, it was getting in with the real estate group at a class 1 and being there at the right time with the money to buy a spun off property.  For others, it was knowing someone at a facility and being there at the right time when the operators were looking to privatize, and for some it was buying a piece of property and utilizing the “if you build it they will come” method of operation.  I even know of a couple of crazy folks that have taken over the operation of a railroad that has failed under previous operators, and the new guys think they can pull the rabbit out of the hat.  In the end, it did not make a difference what method was used, there was one common thread throughout all of the cases:  the people were there, proactively reaching out, and really making sure that people knew that they were there and interested.So what was my advice?  Put together a strong group with good financing.  Talk to everyone, because you never know where the opportunities will pop up, and the more people that know you are looking expand your outreach.Always good to have the choice of which train set to get. ---By Steve Friedland
steven-fb.jpgSteve Friedland is a child of the railroad industry. Following summers and vacations working on the track gang for the family-owned Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, he started full-time in 1994. He has worked in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations, and currently is a member of the management team for the company as director of operations in Morristown, N.J. In 1999, he founded Short Line Data Systems, a provider of railroad EDI and dispatching software, AEI hardware, and management consulting to the short line industry. He currently serves as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR's Wireless Communications Committee and is chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He also is a member of the ASLRRA's board of directors.