Short-line railroad owners and operators are being encouraged to become more ''visible" to political leaders, the business community and the public on the national and local levels.
That is one message that is being carried to members of the American Short Line Railroad Association this spring during a series of regional meetings. Members of the association's eastern region met in Indianapolis this week."We're really pressing hard to say 'You guys have to be more visible - show the public who you are," said William E. Loftus, ASLRA president.
Edward M. Emmett, vice chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission agreed.
"You've got to be promoters - almost hucksters," he said. "There's a whole generation out there that don't know about railroads."
"Railroads have a lot to offer this country, and they need to be utilized," Mr. Emmett said. "People are ready for a move back to rail."
Speakers repeated the visibility theme through discussions ranging from the national economy to the how-to's of public relations.
Ralph A. Iden, director, corporate development, for Vassar, Mich.-based Huron & Eastern Railway encouraged his peers to establish good relations with members of the news media and political leaders.
"In times of controversy, you need all the friends you can get," Mr. Iden said. "Reporters can make us very uncomfortable, but we can take advantage of the situation if we think through the story we want to tell."
Mr. Loftus said among the issues short-line managers might want to bring home are concerns about long combination vehicles advocated by motor carriers, and federal laws affecting the railroad industry such as the Federal Employers Liability Act.
In particular, Mr. Loftus encouraged association members to support an amendment to the highway reauthorization bill by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D- N.J., that would limit twin 48-foot trailers and ban triple 28-foot trailers from the highways.
Short-line railroaders also were urged to increase their activity at the state level. Michael J. Connor, chief operating officer of Ohio Central Railroad, of Sugar Creek, Ohio, noted that no major railroad had its headquarters in that state. Only one Class 1 railroad, CSX, has a division office in Ohio.
It falls to the 24 small railroads operating in Ohio to state the industry's case on national issues, and state issues like heavier truck weights and highway crossing protection, Mr. Connor said.
"The time to build relationships is during the quiet times," Mr. Connor said. "They (legislators) need to think of us as part of the business community."
Short-line railroads can be industry leaders in increasing productivity and competitiveness, said Frank Wilner, assistant vice president of the Association of American Railroads.
Mr. Wilner said the railroad industry cannot depend on its traditional customers for future growth. In the future, railroads will have to reduce their costs and compete on price for freight that now moves by truck.
He pointed to union work rules as an impediment to railroad productivity, saying short lines' ability to be flexible on work rules has pointed the way for the larger railroads.
"Unless something is done about work rules, we're going to see our traffic base erode," Mr. Wilner warned. "You have saved them (the major railroads) an awful lot of traffic and an awful lot at the bargaining table."
The short-line railroad association's meeting in Indianapolis was one of four regional meetings. The association's southern region met in Savannah, Ga., two weeks ago. Other regional meetings are scheduled in June in Anchorage and Oconomowoc, Wis.