Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Can’t We All Just Get Along?If you were expecting that, with the title above, I am going to write about police involved shootings and police being killed, sorry, I’m going to leave that for those who think they have an opinion. Instead, I am going to talk about railroads getting along with the communities they operate through, and dealing with the public entities that own the railroad.It is a fact of Short Line railroading that in many cases, you don’t own the railroad that you operate, and if you are in that situation, you have an agreement with the owning entity that specifies your responsibilities to the owner. Usually, there is a rent payment, combined with a maintenance responsibility, and they also want you to grow the business on their tracks, so that you can continue to be able to pay for the first two items. The above has been the case at both railroads that I have worked at: for the ME the County of Morris owned roughly ¾ the mileage we operated on, and at the MCER the Commonwealth of Massachusetts owns most of the right of way.If you are the owner of the tracks, your hopes are that the operator is wildly successful, the track is maintained in perfect condition, and all of the surrounding communities are happy neighbors with the railroad. As they say, hope springs eternal, but this is not always the case for the track owner, who can regularly find themselves pinched in between the hopes for financial gain and the realities of the voters who live in those communities.If the railroad does their job correctly, most people in a neighboring community will never see them because the railroad operates in the day when most people are not home, and it doesn’t make a difference if the railroad moves one or a thousand cars of any commodity, because they never see it. Now if the railroad parks cars, either in transit or for storage, your moving target just became static, and all of a sudden people notice the railroad, because there are cars parked in their back yard. Again, it doesn’t matter if there are feathers or methyl-ethyl-death in the cars, just because the cars are there they are a hazard, and they could blow up and destroy the community.Now if you are the administrator in charge of the railroad for the owner, the easy thing to do is to tell the railroad to move the cars. Chances are, the railroad did their homework, and would not have parked the cars in that location if there was a better place to park them, and no other locations are appropriate or as safe. Now comes the “discussion,” and this can take place on the phone, via email, face to face, or in court. Complicating everything is that you have the track owners, who, indirectly have been hired by the constituency, and the track operators, who have been hired by the owners and have been given tasks that might not agree with the constituency, who of course hired the owners. This is one of those times that it might not be a bad time to have a mediator or judge involved, because everyone involved at this point believes that they are in a no-win situation.So how do we all get along? Like any situation between multiple parties, there has to be a little “give.” For the neighbors, listen to what the railroad and track owner has to say about what they are doing to ensure your safety, and make sure that they are doing what they say they will do. For the railroad, maintain an open line of communication with the owner and neighbor, and don’t go into a situation with bravado and be reasonably sensitive to the owner and neighbors. As for the owner, be aware that you are the one that both charged the railroad with growing the business and paying for maintenance, and that while the easy answer is to say no, the better solution might be to try to make everything work.Now don’t think that I have any illusions that we are all going to be sitting around the camp fire and singing Kumbaya, because that would be a mistake. My only point is that like most situations, a little communication can prevent a big public blow up.--By Steve Friedland
steven-fb.jpgSteve Friedland, vice president and general manager of Massachusetts Central Railroad, is a well-known leader in the short line industry who has devoted more than two decades to railroading. He got his start with the Morristown & Erie Railway, a 42-mile New Jersey short line, where he worked for 22 years 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 has served as the ASLRRA representative to the AAR’s Wireless Communications Committee and was chairman of the joint AAR-ASLRRA Short Line Information Improvement Committee. He is currently a member of the ASLRRA’s board of directors.