Each year, hundreds of executives, technical experts, engineers and safety officers from across the railway supplier universe engage in an activity that, while largely unheralded, is enormously important to our industry and the North American economy.
This is the countless hours people spend volunteering to serve on technical committees for the Railway Supply Institute (RSI) and other industry associations and professional groups. This contribution of knowledge, experience and know-how is critical to smooth and safe operations and helps keep railroads and the economy moving.
Let’s start with the experts who participate on RSI’s six standing committees: the American Railcar Institute (ARCI), RSI Committee on Tank Cars (RSICTC), Quality Assurance, Equipment Leasing, State Taxation, and Government/Public Affairs committees, whose members are engaged, civic-minded, and seasoned industry professionals impacting our industry in tangible ways.
One example is the vital role played by ARCI, which has been collecting and reporting on new freight car orders, deliveries, and backlogs since the 1930s. ARCI’s statistical data is collected quarterly and provides an important barometer for economic trends in our industry and the nation. Component suppliers use the data as a business planning tool to forecast the need for new rolling stock; Wall Street analysts use the data by car type to better understand the health of economic sectors such as mining, energy, chemicals, construction, auto manufacturing, imports and intermodal; the federal government uses the data as a measure of U.S. economic vitality. In addition to producing public reports, ARCI also works closely with its counterparts at the AAR, TTCI, freight railroads and component suppliers to identify and solve issues affecting freight car operation and utilization.
The RSICTC is another example where railway supply professionals are tirelessly working to remove the risk of moving hazardous materials by rail. The committee fosters and facilitates discussion, solicits and evaluates materials and tank car design improvements, and comments on tank car standards, regulations, and policy. In combination with the AAR, RSICTC funds the RSI/AAR Tank Car Safety Research Project that has invested millions collecting and analyzing data that has led to safety improvements such as head shields, shelf couplers and stronger types of steel. The RSICTC also developed the online Tank Car Resource Center, which demonstrates our commitment to reducing risk from tank cars used in flammable liquid service.
Of course, RSI is not the only organization whose committee work is vital.
The American Railway Engineering and Maintenance of-Way Association (AREMA) is an individual membership organization with 31 committees that drive improvements, supplier innovation and broader investment in sub-segments of the industry that include everything from structures, track, communications and signals, maintenance, engineering services and passengerrail. AREMA committees develop seminars and webinars, and create and edit manuals covering topics ranging from bridges, track, and rail-grade crossing maintenance to high-tech issues like PTC, commuter and intercity rail systems, track measurement and assessment. As AREMA Executive Director and CEO Beth Caruso puts it, “Our mission is developing and advancing technical and practical knowledge and recommended practices for the design, construction and maintenance of railway infrastructure. The work of our committees is an integral part of our mission and offers an invaluable way for our members to network with industry professionals.”
Committees are likewise instrumental to the good work done across the Coordinated Mechanical Associations (CMA). Whether it’s advancing product improvements, informing policies and regulations, promoting professionalism industry-wide, or putting together technical conferences, committees are hard at work behind the scenes of the five CMA member organizations: ABA, IAROO, LRIW, LMOA and MARTS.
In addition, the AAR has technical committees, many of which include railway supplier representatives. The investment of time and talent that they contribute each year to committee meetings, conferences and other industry events is invaluable.
Since 1827, when the Baltimore & Ohio became the first U.S. railroad chartered for commercial transport of passengers and freight, railroads have been one of the most reliable and successful industries in North America. The committee system, with its time-honored transfer of knowledge from one generation of professionals to the next, has led to an increasingly safer, more efficient movement of goods and people by rail.