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The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) presented its annual marketing, veterans recruitment and distinguished service awards earlier this week during its 2016 Connections conference in National Harbor, Md. The event drew more than 1,500 attendees — the third-highest mark in the conference's history — and a record 275 exhibitors.
On Tuesday evening, ASLRRA leaders bestowed the Thomas L. Schlosser Distinguished Service Award to Farmrail System Inc. founder and Chief Executive Officer George Betke. Named after the late Thomas Schlosser —a former ASLRRA chairman and Fort Worth & Western Railroad leader who died in 2011 — the award recognizes an individual's contributions to the association, including service on committees or the board, and the implementation of significant new programs or money-saving projects.A long-time ASLRRA member and leader, Betke currently serves on the association's executive and legislative policy committees. He founded Farmrail 35 years ago through a joint venture with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation after the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad went bankrupt in 1980. Betke helped grow the company to a 347-mile network among two railroads covering 12 counties through several extensions and an acquisition.Farmrail became the first short line to establish a formal employee stock ownership plan, according to the ASLRRA. Betke also designed the public-private financial structure for the Finger Lakes Railway Corp., a joint venture with five county industrial development authorities in upstate New York that Farmrail co-founded.In addition to the Schlosser award, ASLRRA leaders on Tuesday evening presented the 2015 safety awards, the winners of which were announced prior to the conference.Yesterday, during a morning general session, the association bestowed marketing awards to a Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad Inc./Nittany & Bald Eagle Railroad Co. joint venture, the Indiana Rail Road Co. (INRD) and Reading & Northern Railroad Co. The awards recognize regionals' and short lines' efforts to develop new business, boost traffic with existing customers, improve service or react to changing market conditions.The ASLRRA honored Buffalo & Pittsburgh/Nittany & Bald Eagle's work with Norfolk Southern Railway to serve the needs of a Homer City, Pa., power plant that would have closed if it hadn't added emission scrubbers to the facility. The railroads teamed up to build 4,600 feet of track and a yard at the plant to accommodate coal needs.INRD won its marketing award for an intermodal service established with CN in 2013 that has become highly successful, according to the association. The service targets trans-Pacific import and export freight moving to Indiana via Canadian ports in Prince Rupert and Vancouver, British Columbia. CN and INRD average an industry-best 22-day transit time for cargo moves between Asian ports and Indianapolis, and have diverted 110,000 trucks from highways with the service, according to the association. The railroads expect the service to generate 18,000 loads in 2016 after registering 17,200 loads in 2015.The ASLRRA recognized Reading & Northern for developing a railroad-operated warehouse last year in Old Forge, Pa., in only four weeks. The shipper needed the warehouse quickly to handle and store its wood pulp. Reading & Northern found a long-unused building along its track, negotiated a lease, modified and rehabilitated the facility, and acquired 20 box cars in a little over a month. The project helped the railroad — which now has won a marketing award three times in the past six years — retain business it was in jeopardy of losing, according to the ASLRRA.Also during yesterday’s general session, the association bestowed a Richard F. Timmons Award to Delta Southern Railroad. Named after the former U.S. Army lieutenant general who served as ASLRRA's president from 2002 to 2014, the Timmons award recognizes regionals' and short lines' efforts to recruit and support military veterans. The association also acknowledged the veteran-hiring practices at Florida East Coast Railway LLC and RailWorks Corp.— Jeff Stagl
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