And Now for Something Completely Different

For those of you who remember the Tom Wolfe book and movie The Right Stuff, their catch phrase for describing what happens when funding is short for the space program: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” For railroads, it isn’t that different. Yes, we are businesses, and yes, we do try to make a profit, but, we have far different infrastructure costs than any other form of transportation. This is because we must pay for our own right of way and the infrastructure that goes with it. How do we do this? Well, most of the time we pay for it ourselves, but because railroads help alleviate congestion from the roads, there are state and federal sources of grants and loans to help us pay for capital improvements.The one source of funds that you have heard short line railroads talk about a lot is the 45G Infrastructure tax credit. This tax credit keeps money in the railroad’s pocket to reinvest in their tracks, and over the years this has proven to be a very successful program. There are other programs that are run by both the federal government and states, and in Massachusetts, we have a program that is called the Industrial Rail Access Program (IRAP), and it supplies grants to industries that need to improve the infrastructure between them and their serving railroad. In the past it has been used to add switches, sidings, and extend main lines to improve rail access. The caveat has been that it can only be used for assets that are in the ground in the state.That is, until now.On September 30 of this year, the Mass Central Railroad was notified that it had been awarded a grant for a unique IRAP project: the acquisition of two boxcars. Wait a second, you say, that is not infrastructure that is in the ground. You are correct, but here is the catch: the cars are being used for captive service on our railroad to run between a warehouse on the line, and a paper customer. The state is looking at the cars as infrastructure, mainly because they will be used to get trucks off the road, and if you have seen the roads in my part of Massachusetts, any reduction of truck traffic is a good thing.We are going out to bid on the cars, which will be regular 50’ Plate C boxcars, and we feel that there are still a bunch of good used cars on the market that will fit our needs. One thing we will probably do is stencil “For Service in the State of Massachusetts Only” on the sides of the cars. They are, part of the rail infrastructure of the state.Now that will be something completely different.--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.