Farewell to a Friend

As has happened a bit too much recently, I received a shock on Friday afternoon. I found out that one of my close friends in the industry, Mike Paras, general manager of transportation for the Belt Railway of Chicago had passed away suddenly the day before. Mike was someone who I had got to know well over the years due to our involvement with the ASLRRA’s Technology Committee, and actually had the pleasure of “asking” him to become the Chairman of the committee a couple of years ago (I’ll explain the New Jersey definition of “asking” below, so stay tuned).The greatest compliment that can be given to someone in upper management is to be a person other people, even those outside of the company, would want to work for. Mike was one of those people. I have never seen someone more dedicated to improving his people. And while that may not surprise some of you, with Mike it was at all levels. A couple of years ago he did a breakout at the ASLRRA Connections about advanced learning and utilizing online resources to improve your staff, and it was amazing to see the interest in the session in a group of people who normally are concerned with ties, Railroad Retirement, and tax credits.I also had the pleasure over the last four years to participate on the Technology Round Table at Connections with Mike and Carl Belke, who is the other past chair of the Committee. The three of us billed the session as a discussion about what was going on with technology in the Short Line industry, and it always turned into an hour long group discussion with the audience covering just about everything. While we always seeded our moderator with questions, none of us knew where the conversation was going to go, and there was never any silence in the room, as we all had a fun time.As I said above, Mike was “asked” to be the Tech Committee chair. Carl Belke and I did it a couple of years ago when the chair at that time couldn’t continue with the post. Now, you have to understand that when you have two Jersey guys talking to a Chicago guy, “asking” takes on a whole different tone. In other words, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse, and he knew it. He had one request, that Carl and I would be sure to have his back with the committee, and we were both there at his side, and proud to be there.When Mike heard that I had left my job at the M&E in June he was one of the first people to reach out to me and to see what my plans for the future were. Every time we communicated since then he asked me how things were going, and there was always a suggestion for what I should do. We had planned to be together in Sacramento this month at an ASLRRA committee meeting, and one of our last conversations started with the email telling him that I had made my reservations entitled “Got your back.”Mike, we will always have your back. Your committee is already working to cover for your absence at the meeting, and while Carl and I will find the next person to “ask”, it is going to be a really hard seat to fill.---By Steve Friedland
steven-fb.jpgSteve Friedland is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. At the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, he worked in all areas of the railroad, including track, mechanical, signals, and operations. 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.