Volunteerism 101

It is no secret that I write a lot about the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association on these pages. It is an organization that I believe in, and one that provides services and representation to our industry that would otherwise be too expensive or impossible to find by a small company. The ASLRRA accomplishes all that they do with a very small staff, and this efficiency comes partially from the staff’s dedication to the cause, and from the involvement by the membership.I had never been a part of an organization with the level of involvement by its members until I got involved with the ASLRRA, and it comes at all levels of the organization. From the chairman of the board of directors to the board itself to the committee members to the volunteers who stuff convention name badges and greet attendees at registration, everyone is a volunteer, with their attendance and involvement committed to and paid for by their employers.Last week I was a part of what is quickly becoming one of the major meetings of the year, the Joint Committees meeting. This three-day event was a gathering of over 70 members of the Safety & Training, Technology, Police & Security, Mechanical, Legal, Passenger, and Human Resources committees in Denver, and other than the generosity of Omnitrax providing the meeting rooms and some refreshments during the day, everything else was paid for by the attendees.So what happens at the meeting? On the first two days, we had in-depth presentations from most of the committees on the important topics they are facing right now. With the presentations, there was one very important ground rule: instead of holding questions to the end of a presentation, participants were encouraged to ask their question when it came up, and this really stimulated the conversation. As an example, the first presentation, which was originally scheduled to take about an hour ended up taking 3½ hours due to the good questions and conversation that took place. This level of conversation and quality of presentation continued throughout the first two days of the meeting, and I believe that everyone walked away from the meeting having learned something new.The meeting has had broader benefits to the industry too. After last year’s meeting, which had a very heavy emphasis on PTC, the ASLRRA formed an advisory committee on PTC, which also worked on a project towards the creation of a Back Office Server subscription service for those short lines that were going to need it when they deployed PTC. That project led to the ASLRRA receiving a $2.5 million grant from the FRA for the Back Office Server deployment. I’m not saying that these things would not have happened without the joint meeting, but I will state that they were definitely brought to the forefront a lot quicker from the meeting.Next year, the Technology committee will be taking the lead on organizing the meeting from the Safety & Training committee, and the meeting will most likely move east following the last two being in Sacramento and Denver. One thing will happen for sure no matter where it is: the volunteer members of the ASLRRA will do what they do best, which is working together to better the industry. --By Steve Friedland
steven-fb.jpg Steve 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.