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RSI Volunteers Make Strides for a Strong 2024

By Kristin Frankiewicz 

Last year, the Railway Supply Institute (RSI) and the rail community experienced its fair share of challenges and successes. Notable among the highs were strides made by RSI committees to educate the public and advocate for greater industry safety.

As we move into 2024 with renewed momentum, RSI is shining a light on a few volunteers and their committees that contributed to last year’s progress.

What follows are interviews with Mark Brecht, senior vice president of industry relations at Wells Fargo Rail and member of the RSI Equipment Leasing Committee (ELC); Chauncey Fallen, director of transportation and utilization-based leasing at GATX Rail and member of the ELC; and Ben Miller, director of tank car engineering at The Greenbrier Companies and member of the RSI Committee on Tank Cars (CTC).

We asked for their take on last year’s milestones, what they’re keeping a pulse on in 2024 and what makes them hopeful for the industry’s future.

Mark and Chauncey, you sit on the ELC. Last year, the committee participated in advocacy work that led to adjusting the Car Cost Factor. What should the RSI community know about the committee’s work in this regard?

Mark Brecht: The Cost Adjustment Factor portion of the AAR’s settlement value calculation was broken when the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stopped updating the source table for this data. ELC made sure that all its member car owners were aware of this situation because of its huge impact in settlement values. New car costs have risen dramatically in the last few years and suddenly the proxy for inflation in the formula was not available.

The heavy lifting was done by MxV Rail, the AAR Arbitration and Rules Committee (ARB), and the AAR Car Repair Billing Committee (CRB). Some of our RSI-ELC members sit on ARB and CRB and were key in the furtherance of the project to an acceptable outcome for all stakeholders.

Chauncey Fallen: The RSI community should be very encouraged by the results of ELC’s work on the Car Cost Factor. The committee used practical and sound reasoning to identify the key issues and to help develop a rule change acceptable for both car owners and railroads. Overall, this issue is an example of the impact ELC can generate when lessors work together to identify issues and create solutions that benefit the industry. It shows the importance of each company’s membership and participation.

Ben, you’re part of RSI’s CTC. What were some of the group’s wins and notable milestones in 2023?

Ben Miller: In 2023, knowledge and factual information were crucial. Thanks to CTC volunteers, we educated the public and the industry through different communication efforts, one example being the CTC’s presentation at the Railway Interchange on “Ensuring Tank Car Safety.” This presentation helped educate the audience on the history of tank car safety. It provided insight on the numerous improvements made over the years through research, analysis, design and manufacturing.

In addition to daily efforts by our leadership and membership, the CTC developed a detailed industry capacity analysis to assist with fleet planning, presented various educational programs and offered a thorough response to ANPRM HM-265A, with insight and historic information from industry experts. These initiatives allow us to summon the deep knowledge, information and expertise we have within the CTC and share it with all stakeholders. This increases the total knowledge base of the industry and allows us to move forward together toward best practices.

It Is important to note that the CTC couldn’t have had such a great year without the members of the RSI-CTC Technical Subcommittee and participants on the RSI-AAR Tank Car Safety Project. These two groups progressed significantly in 2023 and helped optimize the overall system, which improves our ability to address industry challenges in the future.

What’s on the agenda for 2024 that others in the community should be aware of? What trends are you watching?

MB: There are three things I’m keeping an eye on.

  1. Default rates. There’s a continuing initiative to overhaul the car hire process, mainly as it relates to how default rates are established. I’d expect ELC will continue to monitor this as it develops, keep members informed and advocate where appropriate.
  2. Advocate for increased participation on AAR Associate Committees by members. In 2023 we initiated discussions among RSI-ELC members, who are also AAR Associate Members, to encourage member participation and reporting on initiatives at the committees. We do not endorse nominees for seats. The AAR has adopted seat and term limits and consequently several seats have been left unfilled. We are encouraging a larger number of companies to participate in the Associates program and, indeed, have had a few companies increase their membership from Silver to Gold to qualify for committee seats. I’m really looking forward to furthering this initiative in 2024!
  3. Legislative matters. We will remain vigilant for new legislation from Washington stemming from the 2022 East Palestine, Ohio accident. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report is now expected around mid-year and legislative activity may once again ramp up due to publicity around this report. I expect we will be monitoring and advocating for common sense laws related to this accident.

CF: My main focus for this year will be to increase access to railcar movement records, and also to increase the accuracy of those records. In addition, I’ll be focused on supporting GATX initiatives to assess opportunities to improve service for our customers.

BM: As we advance into 2024, everyone needs to be on the same page. All members of this industry have common goals and it is our responsibility to verify we are moving in the right direction. Throughout 2024, I believe we will see increased communication to clarify requirements and processes. This additional communication will help align the incredible effort of the industry with best practices and make great progress in 2024.

What makes you excited or optimistic about the future of the industry?

MB: I think the rail industry, from the ELC members’ perspective, must be as good as it’s been for a long time. Demand for freight cars has remained strong and lease rates and terms seem to be healthy. I am optimistic that we will have healthy levels, growth and competition in our space — it should be a fun year!

CF: I’m excited about the ability of RSI members to work together to advocate for adoption of legislation and regulation that benefits railcar owners and improves the safety and effectiveness of the North American freight rail industry.

BM: The future of this industry excites me because of a renewed interest in working together. This renewed interest will bring together knowledge and expertise to progress toward our common goals. It doesn’t matter what area of the industry you are involved with; we are one industry, and we are all in this together.

RSI would like to thank its many volunteers — inclusive of and beyond the three individuals highlighted here — for the time, talent and dedication they give to this community each day. Together, we are making way for a stronger, safer rail industry. Onward into 2024!