The National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association has experienced healthy growth by keeping the needs of its members in the forefront.
Railway Track & Structures asked National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Chairman Terry Benton of Colo Railroad Builders, NRC President Chuck Baker and NRC Operations Manager Ashley Bosch about the past year and what they believe is in the future for the NRC.
RT&S: Terry, you are in your second year as NRC Chairman. What goals have you established for the NRC to be accomplished during your tenure and are you making progress towards those goals?
Terry Benton: My goals for the organization are to continue promoting the importance of the NRC organization to the membership by:
- Listening to our members and helping determine where the NRC can assist in meeting their needs, whether in construction and maintenance of track, structures, communication and signals or any of the other disciplines that the NRC represents;
- Continuing to maintain the momentum of the NRC's current legislative and safety initiatives and Promoting the NRC to non-members and customers to expand the membership of the NRC in order to build a stronger voice in Washington and to more fully represent the entire industry.
- The NRC will continue to provide support, leadership and advocacy for the industry in the safety and legislative/regulatory areas. I have been building on the legacy of leadership left by Past Chairmen Jim Perkins of Loram, Jon McGrath of McGrath LLC, Manny Ramirez of Mass Electric, Rick Ebersold of Herzog Services, Larry Laurello of Delta Railroad Construction and Scott Brace of RailWorks and will continue to grow the organization as my predecessors have.
NRC membership has grown more than 75 percent in the past six years, from 184 Member Companies in 2006 to 326 members in 2012. We have been joined by 65 new members in the past 12 months alone. Our Membership Committee, chaired by Stephanie Freeman of Coleman Industrial Construction, is doing a great job. Stephanie is joined on the committee by David Armstrong of Commercial Insurance Associates, Steve Bolte of Progressive Railroading, Danny Brown and Jim Hansen of RailWorks, Mike Choat of Railroad Controls Limited, Bob Hirte of Hamilton Construction, Phil McDonald of Koppers, Jody Sims of Kiewit Infrastructure West, George Sokulski of RT&S and Dave Stein of Holland Company.
RT&S: You mention expanding the membership. What benefits does the NRC offer to its current members and potential new ones?
Benton: The Membership Committee and our Washington D.C. staff, including NRC President Chuck Baker, Director of Operations Matt Ginsberg, Operations Manager Ashley Bosch and Grassroots Coordinator Tabitha Layman, have done an excellent job of identifying and recruiting companies in our industry who will benefit from being NRC members. The NRC exists to support rail contractors and suppliers, expand their business opportunities and protect them from harmful laws and regulations. We are the only organization entirely dedicated to this purpose. We keep a close eye on all issues that could affect our membership positively or negatively and we vigorously defend our position in front of legislative and regulatory bodies.
Bosch: We have a long list of specific benefits we provide to our members, which are detailed on our website at www.nrcma.org. Membership includes discounted registration at the annual NRC conference and exhibition and a full company listing in both the printed and online versions of the NRC membership directory, which is distributed to Class 1, shortline and regional railroads, as well as executives at rail transit and commuter rail agencies throughout the country. Membership also includes access to the Contractor Safety Award contest, the Annual Railroad Construction and Maintenance Equipment Auction and inclusion on the NRC's bulletin distribution list, which is full of useful information for rail contractors and suppliers.
At the moment, well over 350 rail construction, supply and professional service companies are members of the NRC, which as Terry said, is up more than 75 percent in the past six years. We attribute most of that growth to word of mouth, the NRC Membership Committee and our board members who have been the NRC's best evangelists. We have an impressive group on the board and they have the credibility with their colleagues to convince them to join the NRC and support our industry.
Baker: I'd like to specifically thank each of our board members. Other than Terry, they are David Armstrong of Commercial Insurance Associates, Danny Brown of RailWorks, Mike Choat of Railroad Controls Limited, Chris Daloisio of Railroad Constructors (NRC Secretary/Treasurer), Joe Daloisio of Railroad Construction Co., Bill Dorris of RailWorks (NRC Vice Chairman), Stephanie Freeman of Coleman Industrial Construction, Clayton Gilliland of Stacy & Witbeck, Scott Goehri of HDR Engineering, Jim Hansen of RailWorks, Norm Jester of Herzog Contracting Corp., Larry Laurello of Delta Railroad Construction, Greg Lippard of L. B. Foster, Dave Minor of A&K Railroad Materials, Scott Norman of Herzog Contracting Corp, Jim Perkins of Loram, Jody Sims of Kiewit, Mark Snailham of Balfour Beatty Rail and Daniel Stout of STX Railroad Construction Services. These ladies and gentlemen do an extraordinary amount of work to support the NRC and the rail construction industry.
Benton: The NRC is using a variety of methods to stay in touch with our members and get our message out to the world. In addition to constantly updating our website at www.nrcma.org and communicating via e-mail bulletins, the NRC has begun tweeting. I recommend following the NRC on Twitter. Just go to www.twitter.com, set up a quick, free account and follow "@theNRC" or just go to www.twitter.com/thenrc.
RT&S: What is the NRC doing to promote safety?
Benton: We have a very active Safety Committee. Tammy Mathews of RailWorks is our current Safety Committee Chairwoman and follows Ernesto Scarpitti of Delta Railroad Construction. Tammy is an excellent representative of RailWorks, the NRC and the industry as a whole.
The Safety Committee oversees the Safety Training DVD program, the NRC's participation in the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) process, the Contractor Safety Award contest, the NRC's Roadway Worker Protection training materials, the Pocket Safety Manual, our "Tool Box Talks" and all of the NRC's other safety programs.
The continuing series of safety training DVDs is led by Safety Committee member and former Board Director John Zuspan of Track Guy Consultants. The two most recent DVDs in this series, Safety Around Flash Butt Welding and Fall Protection in the Rail Industry, were unveiled at the conference in January 2013 and are now available to all NRC members. The entire series has received excellent reviews and is available at no cost to NRC members. The previous 12 DVDs, which are still available, are: Safety with Railroad Hand Tools, Safety with Railroad Power Tools, Safety on Freight and Industrial Track, Safety Around Railway Maintenance Equipment (Parts 1 and 2), Safety Around Transit Track, Safety While Unloading and Handling Material, Safety with Hot Work, Safety Around Thermal Adjusting of CWR, Safety Around Field Welds, Safety on a Rail Gang and Safety on a Tie Gang.
Safety Committee members, along with NRC staff, represent the NRC's interests on FRA's RSAC. RSAC membership and participation enables the NRC to provide input to the FRA as they create regulations dealing with such key issues as minimum training standards for railroads and contractors performing maintenance-of-way work, drug and alcohol testing policies, medical standards for safety-critical workers, bridge safety, roadway worker protection regulation updates, roadway maintenance machine operating rules, rail integrity testing, rail safety technology in dark territory, Positive Train Control implementation and track safety standards.
Safety Committee member and Board Director David Armstrong of Commercial Insurance Associates takes the lead for the NRC on organizing the very competitive "NRC Safe Contractor of the Year" award contest. RT&S also sponsors this contest and helps to publicize the winners, which is much appreciated. There are many excellent safety programs among our membership and this award is a valued acknowledgement of the hard work and dedication of the leadership and safety managers of our member companies. There were a record number of entries in the 2012 contest and the winners were announced at the conference in January, published in the March issue of RT&S and appear again in the NRC Membership Directory. The submittals of the winning firms, including a comprehensive outline of their successful safety programs, were available for viewing at the conference.
The NRC also offers a Roadway Worker Protection (RWP) training program, which has been developed by railroad safety professionals with feedback from FRA staff. The RWP training program, which is complimentary to NRC members and is available on the NRC website, includes a training presentation, complete with descriptions of the 49 CFR Part 214 RWP regulations, a training examination, an answer key and training completion cards.
Additional safety resources offered by the NRC to our members include the newly updated "Tool Box Safety Talk" series, the Pocket Safety Manual for workers to reference in the field and a model company safety program.
RT&S: Your annual conference took place in early January in Miami Beach, Fla., and set another NRC conference attendance record. To what do you attribute the success of your conference?
Benton: Our guest speakers are a consistently impressive group of industry leaders who address pertinent and timely issues. These are the people conference attendees want to hear in order to be current with the industry. The sessions are well-attended and people are attentive and engaged. These speakers detailing railroad and transit capital spending plans are the core attraction of our conference.
Bosch: In addition, several other industry associations and companies hold meetings in conjunction with our conference, such as the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association's Legislative Policy Committee, REMSA's Board of Directors, the Railway Tie Association's Executive Committee, the Association of Independent Passenger Rail Operators, GoRail, Nordco, Plasser American and RailWorks.
Multiple seminars were offered at the conference, including a legal seminar by Burns White on "Avoiding Imputed Liability for FELA," a contracting seminar on "Integrated Project Teams" by R&R Contracting, an RWP Train-the-Trainer seminar by Roadway Worker Training, Inc., and a passenger rail program seminar by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, including information on current timelines, prequalification requirements, bidding and Buy America rules.
Baker: This brings a new group of executives to the NRC conference, adding to the appeal for NRC members. It also allows many attendees to attend the conference and deal with other important business issues in a single trip, making the most effective use of people's limited time. This has worked well and we urge other rail associations, committees, railroads, transit agencies and state DOTs to consider coordinating their meetings and seminars with the NRC conference.
The NRC Special Awards have become a highlight at the conference, as well. These awards give NRC members an opportunity to recognize their colleagues for exemplary work in the industry. The 2012 Railroad Construction Project of the Year was presented to Utah Transit Authority's Frontrunner South project (see story on page 16), a Stacy & Witbeck/Herzog Contracting Corp. joint venture. The 2012 Field Employee of Year was presented to Dave Friehl of Herzog Contracting Corp. and the Hall of Fame Inductee was Jim Daloisio of Railroad Construction Co. of South Jersey.
Finally, we had some high profile speakers this year, which helped draw the record crowd. Congressman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania addressed the conference attendees in his first speech as chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, which was an important moment.
RT&S: Your conferences are generally held in warm locales, which provides a nice break for those of us coming in from the frozen north.
Benton: Glad to see you noticed! We hold our conferences in either south Florida or southern California in alternating years, just after the new year. It's typically a slow time for resort properties, which allows us to get good hotel rates for our members and we feel this is a good time of year for rail contractors and suppliers to get away, due to it being a slow time of year for construction in the northern parts of the country.
RT&S: Where will the next NRC conference be, in January 2014?
Baker: We're all set for January 5-8, 2014, at the J.W. Marriott Desert Springs in Palm Desert, Calif. We'll notify members this summer via e-mail when conference and exhibit booth registrations are available and also when the hotel room block opens and, of course, we'll advertise the event right here in RT&S. For more information, visit: www.nrcma.org/go/conference.
RT&S: Aside from the annual conference, are there other NRC sponsored activities during the year?
Benton: Yes, we have two major events, the equipment auction and Railroad Day on Capitol Hill. The NRC Rail Construction and Maintenance Equipment Auction occurs each spring. This year's auction took place in conjunction with the Union Pacific auction at the Blackmon Auctions Facility in Little Rock, Ark., on April 16, and it was our biggest one ever. Blackmon Auctions was the host and auctioneer and did a fantastic job.
Bosch: We were pleased with the quantity and quality of donated and consigned equipment. Most of the equipment at the auction is consigned by members and a portion of those proceeds go to the NRC Safety, Training and Education Fund. The fund benefits our membership and the industry as a whole and is the main source of funding for the Safety Training DVD program. And some of the equipment is actually donated by railroads or contractors to the NRC, with 100 percent of those proceeds going to the safety program. Balfour Beatty Rail, Railway Equipment Services, Delta Railroad Construction and Cahaba Truck and Equipment each donated significant pieces to the auction this year and we owe them a debt of gratitude.
Baker: The auction committee has been doing great work on this event and at the previous auctions. The key committee members are Danny Brown of RailWorks Corporation, Mark Gaffney of Stacy & Witbeck, Jay Gowan of Harsco Rail, Paul Laurello of Delta Railroad Construction, Dean Mackey of Progress Rail Services and Greg Spilker of Progress Rail Equipment Leasing. Dan Samford of Herzog Contracting Corp. is also a past chairman of the committee and is always extraordinarily helpful.
Blackmon Auctions is our auctioneer every year and they do a great job. The equipment at the auction typically includes air compressors, brush cutters, spikers, pickup trucks, hi-rail trucks, cranes, rail threaders, spike pullers, tie inserters and removers, tampers, crib consolidators, log loaders, adzers, pre-gaugers, speedswings, anchor and clip applicators, rollers, cribbers, swing loaders, etc.
Benton: The NRC is also a major sponsor and organizer of the annual Railroad Day on Capitol Hill event in Washington, D.C., along with the AAR, ASLRRA, REMSA, RSI, RSSI and RTA. Each year, many of our member companies are represented at meetings with members of Congress and their staff in order to present our side of the story on major issues affecting the railroad industry. There are many issues in Washington, D.C., that directly affect our businesses, such as tax credits to incentivize railroad infrastructure investment, major grant programs, such as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) and High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail programs, regulatory changes under consideration at the Surface Transportation Board and truck size and weight issues. It's important to have the representation provided by Chuck Baker and the NRC's government affairs staff, but it's equally important for each of us contractors and suppliers to keep up on the issues and to directly contact our representatives and senators, to let them know that their constituents care deeply about these issues. It provides contractors and suppliers an excellent opportunity to spend time with their railroad customers. I encourage everybody to visit our website or contact the NRC's office to learn how to participate and also to participate in Railroad Day on the Hill next year.
Baker: This year's Railroad Day on the Hill in March was a big success, and the next event is tentatively set for March 2014 in Washington, D.C. Please plan to join us in D.C.
RT&S: Speaking of Congress, tell us more about the NRC's Grassroots Program and why a railroad contractor or supplier would want to host their member of Congress?
RT&S: What are the NRC's legislative priorities right now?
Baker: We have been working hard to try to get an extension of the 45G shortline railroad rehabilitation tax credit, which will expire at the end of 2013. Two bills have been introduced in Congress, HR721 and S411, which would extend the credit through 2016 to provide the long-term planning certainty necessary to maximize private-sector transportation infrastructure investment. This is a crucial piece of legislation to help maximize rehabilitation spending in the shortline industry. The credit provides a 50-percent tax credit to shortline railroads for investing in their infrastructure, capped at $3,500 per mile owned. This results in more than $300 million per year of additional capital investment by shortline railroads, much of which is contracted out to NRC members or spent on materials and equipment from NRC suppliers.
The NRC's contractor and supplier members have been crucial in helping the shortline railroads build up record co-sponsorship numbers among representatives and senators. In the 112th Congress, well over half of the House (256 representatives) and more than half of the Senate (51 senators) co-sponsored the legislation, which is extraordinary. So far this year, we're at 88 representatives and nine senators as co-sponsors, and counting.
The NRC also continues to make the case to Congress against an increase in the size and weight of trucks that are allowed on the highways. We were pleased that the MAP-21 surface transportation reauthorization bill passed in 2012 directed the USDOT to study the issue before making any changes to these limits. Heavy trucks are already subsidized and increasing their weight and length would increase that subsidy and allow them to compete unfairly against the privately-financed freight railroads. Bigger and heavier trucks are unsafe and unwise – they're bad for the roads and bad for the rail industry. The American public is solidly against them and Congress was wise to drop the idea.
We are also actively supporting efforts by the freight railroads to maintain the existing reasonable and balanced economic regulation of their business and we will argue forcefully against legislation or regulation that would needlessly complicate rail service or cap rates. Reregulating the railroads is a sure-fire way to reduce much needed capital investment in the national railroad network.
RT&S: How does the NRC attempt to accomplish its legislative goals on Capitol Hill?
Baker: As Terry mentioned earlier, the key to the NRC's legislative success in D.C. is the active participation of our membership. Congressmen only care what I have to say because I am representing their constituents. Hearing frequently and forcefully from those constituents directly is by far the most effective way to get our messages across.
Also, in addition to our own direct legislative efforts, the NRC is a member of the OneRail Coalition, with APTA, the AAR, ASLRRA, Amtrak, NARP, RSI, the States for Passenger Rail Coalition and other key rail industry groups. When all of those groups can agree and go to Congress with a coordinated message, we're a powerful force, representing hundreds of thousands of workers and tens of billions of dollars of economic activity.
RT&S: Beyond the immediate priorities of tax credits and guarding against increased truck size and weights and increased regulation of the freight railroads, what are the NRC's other legislative and policy priorities?
Baker: We are supportive of the TIGER grant program. Of the $3.1 billion in funding that has been distributed in TIGERs 1-4, almost $1.6 billion has gone to rail-related projects, including Class 1 projects, shortline system upgrades, port rail infrastructure projects, commuter rail extensions, light-rail lines, streetcar projects, transit stations and intermodal hubs. In 2012, 24 rail-related projects received more than $297 million out of the $500 million of available funding, which was great news for the rail construction and supply industry. A TIGER 5 program was funded at $474 million in the recently passed FY13 appropriations bill and that process will get underway shortly. The NRC will continue to aggressively back funding for these types of multi-modal merit-based discretionary grant programs, whether in the form of TIGER 6, or potentially a program of Projects of National and Regional Significance or an Infrastructure Bank in the next surface transportation reauthorization bill.
The NRC is also advocating for improvements to the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan program by subsidizing the interest rate and allowing payment deferrals similar to the Transportation Infrastructure Finance And Innovation Act program. Other improvements can be made by making the collateral rules more reasonable, enforcing the intent of the 90-day clock rules and allowing railroads to use the program for refinancing purposes as provided by law. RRIF is a $35-billion infrastructure loan program that is underutilized by the railroads, but we are seeing a recent pick-up in activity, at least on the application side. RRIF provides low interest (around 3.5 percent currently), 35-year loan money for railroad rehabilitation and construction. Since 2002, the FRA has approved 33 RRIF loans for a combined total of approximately $1.7 billion.
The NRC will work with our railroad customers to protect and expand the Section 130 Grade Crossing Program, which has a long record of success in improving public safety, but only funds a small fraction of the documented needs.
The NRC will work with APTA and other rail transit advocacy support groups to make sure that Congress continues the meaningful rail transit investments of the past decade. More and more U.S. cities are realizing the economic and environmental benefits provided by constructing and expanding light rail and metro systems and we are seeing a shift in travel patterns across the country. However, this momentum is at risk as the funding for the mass transit account of the highway trust fund is no longer sufficient to expand and maintain the system. Simply put, more funding needs to be dedicated to rail transit investments and the NRC will work hard in D.C. every day to get that message across to Congress.
And the NRC will continue work with passenger rail advocacy groups to aggressively support and fund a meaningful investment into the national intercity passenger rail network.
RT&S: Any closing thoughts?
Benton: I would like to thank my fellow board members and all the NRC member companies for supporting me in my position as chairman of the board. I am humbled to represent a great organization in a great industry. I believe the NRC has the proper priorities for our membership – leadership in safety initiatives and training materials, advocacy in legislative and regulatory matters, membership growth, a high-quality conference and maintaining a high level of interaction with the other key industry organizations.
We are gaining membership, setting conference attendance records and getting unprecedented participation in our "Safe Contractor of the Year" contest – all signs pointing toward a healthy and active organization. Our committee members and directors of the board are active and engaged with a high level of support from their respective employers. I would like to thank the NRC member companies that support those who serve on the board and on the committees for allowing us to dedicate some of our time to this quality organization.
The state of the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association is stronger than ever.