Good weather, but better information, could be found at the 2014 National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association Annual Conference.
For the tenth year in a row, the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association's Annual Conference can claim a record number of registrants, tallied at approximately 1,100. A feat made more impressive because the 2014 NRC Conference, which was held January 5-8, 2014, in Palm Desert, Calif., took place just as the rest of the country was being introduced to a new weather term: Polar vortex. The frigid cold, which was accompanied by heavy snow in some cities, took its toll on flights, with more than 12,000 cancellations occurring in the days leading up to the conference, stranding many would-be conference goers.
Once attendees arrived at the conference, they were not only treated to balmy weather, but to informative presentations, ample networking opportunities where many a travel story was swapped and the NRC-REMSA Exhibition provided the opportunity to discuss product and service offerings with more than 100 exhibitors.
Attendees heard presentations from 16 Class 1, shortline and transit system representatives about their opportunities for contractors in the upcoming year. Other presentations discussed the political climate in Washington, D.C., financial outlook of the industry, safety initiatives and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) delivered the gathering's keynote presentation. NRC membership also saw Terry Benton conclude his chairmanship and Bill Dorris take the association's helm for the next two years.
"We had a record crowd, the top speakers in both the freight rail and rail transit industries detailing their exciting 2014 capital investment programs and the weather even cooperated nicely," said Chuck Baker, NRC president. "We were thrilled and are already looking forward to the Jan 7-10, 2015, conference at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, Fla."
Following an opening reception and welcome in the exhibit hall, the general session began with Norfolk Southern's Ron Patton detailing the railroad's 2014 capital program. Scott Linn then hit the highlights of Genesee & Wyoming's capital plans for its 111 railroads.
Sen. Moran's well-attended speech focused on his efforts to reinstate the 45G shortline tax credit, legislation for which the senator is an original author. Sen. Moran said he recognized that uncertainty, such as not knowing if 45G will be extended, leaves many in the rail industry unable to plan for the year and has a negative effect on capital investment. He also was upbeat about the possibility of receiving an extension saying 45G works and an extension will likely be a result of its success. Sen. Moran noted that his primary interest was preserving rural America and thanked the rail industry for serving that interest noting the railroads' ability to move goods from the middle of his state of Kansas to the rest of the world.
Jo Strang, vice president for regulatory affairs with the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association and Jeff Moller, assistant vice president, Transportation Systems and Practices with the Association of American Railroads, spoke about federal rail safety initiatives and the RSAC Process.
Following a break in presentations for attendees to explore the exhibit hall, Florida East Coast Railway's Fran Chinnici discussed the shortline railroad's capital plans for the upcoming year.
Joe Smak, senior director – track maintenance and compliance, Amtrak, pulled double presentation duty. As current chairman of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) Board of Governors, Smak described AREMA's successful past year to the conference before going through Amtrak's planned maintenance and trackwork projects.
The NRC Safety Committee, which is in it's eighth year producing the association's safety DVDs, gave a preview of the fifteenth and sixteenth DVD, "Building a Turnout and Special Trackwork" and "Handling CWR."
Next, were two transit presentations from New York City Transit (NYCT) and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA). Lou Montanti with NYCT told the audience of the "inordinate amount of work" the agency is undertaking, while LACMTA's Krishniah Murthy presented the agency's plan to perform 30 years of work in ten.
Day One of presentations wrapped up with attendees hearing from Union Pacific's Kevin Hicks on the railroad's engineering plans for the upcoming year.
A reception in the exhibit hall was followed by a Florida State versus Auburn viewing party, sponsored by L.B. Foster Co., closed the first day of the conference.
The next day brought presentations from CSX, as well as shortline plans from Watco's family of railroads, Los Angeles' Metrolink capital program and an update on the California high-speed rail program.
The conference continued its focus on safety with the presentation of 2013 NRC/RT&S/Commercial Insurance Associates Safe Contractor of the Year Awards. In addition to the winners in four categories, 42 companies were recognized with Gold Awards, four companies won Silver Awardsand two were honored with Bronze Awards.
The final day of the conference was packed with valuable information on capital plans for the upcoming year from two Class 1s, BNSF and Canadian National, OmniTrax and two transit systems, Southern California's North County Transit District and Chicago's Metra. The final day also featured a Washington, D.C., update from Keith Hartwell, a business outlook report from Tony Hatch and the planned reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Pacific Imperial Railroad.
NRC also presented its 2013 Special Awards on the conference's last day. The 2013 Railroad Construction Project of the Year was awarded to Delta Railroad Construction, Inc., for its work on the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project. The NRC said the project "proves that large projects conducted in adverse conditions can be completed on time and on budget when a strong safety culture is embraced."
The association's 2013 Field Employee of the Year was awarded to Craig Almont, construction project engineer, Hamilton Construction.
Of Almont, the NRC said, "One year after his hiring, Hamilton Construction sent Craig to a job in Idaho where he not only exceeded the company's project goals and expectations, but he also immersed himself into the community and joined the coaching staff of the struggling local high school football team in need of inspiration. Craig managed to keep the project on time and on budget, while turning a losing football program into the fourth best team in the state."
The next NRC event will be the Annual Railroad Contracting Equipment Auction on Thursday, May 1, 2014, Austinburg, Ohio. Blackmon Auctions will run the proceedings, which will take place at the Delta Railroad Construction facility at 9 a.m. NRC's 2015 Conference and NRC-REMSA Exhibition will be held Jan. 7-10 in Hollywood, Fla.
2013 NRC special Awards
2013 Field Employee of the Year Award
Craig Almont Construction Project Engineer, Hamilton Construction
2013 Rail Construction Project of the Year Award
Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project; Delta Railroad Construction, Inc.
2013 NRC/RT&S/Commercial Insurance Associates Safety Awards
Category I - 30 employees or less
Winner: CR Construction Company Gold: American Rail Marketing, LLC; American Track Generations; Amtrac of Ohio, Inc.; Coleman Industrial Construction, Inc.; Crafton Railroad Company, Inc.; East Coast Railroad Services, LLC; K.W. Reese, Inc.; Railroad Construction Company of S. Jersey, Inc.; Sharp & Fellows, Inc.; US Trackworks, LLC
Silver: Northern Plains Rail Services; Omega Rail Services, Inc.
Category II - 31-99 employees
Winner: L.K. Comstock National Transit
Gold: Armond Cassil Railroad Construction, Inc.; Balfour Beatty Rail, Inc. - Gillette Division; Fritz-Rumer-Cooke Co., Inc.; Georgetown Rail Equipment Company; Kelly-Hill Company; Queen City Railroad Construction, Inc.; Ragnar Benson Construction, LLC; Railroad Constructors, Inc.; Rhinehart Railroad Construction, Inc.; STX Corporation
Silver: Mass Electric Construction Company; Clayton Railroad Construction
Category III - 100-300 employees
Co-Winners: Herzog Services, Inc., and Herzog Technologies, Inc.
Gold: Colo Railroad Builders, LLC; Delta Railroad Construction; J-Track LLC; Lone Star Railroad Contractors, Inc.; Moran Environmental Recovery, LLC; Musselman and Hall Contractors; Railroad Construction Company, Inc.; Scott Bridge Company, Inc.; Tranco Industrial Services
Bronze: R&R Contracting
Category IV - 301 or more employees
Winner: Balfour Beatty Rail, Inc.
Gold: Ames Construction, Inc.; Edward Kraemer & Sons, Inc.; Herzog Contracting Corp.; Herzog Railroad Services, Inc.; Holland L.P.; Kiewit Infrastructure West, Co.; PNR RailWorks; RailWorks Track Services; RailWorks Track Systems; RJ Corman; Stacy and Witbeck, Inc.; Trumbull Corporation
Silver: Loram Maintenance of Way; Trans-Global Solutions
Bronze: Railroad Controls Limited