Over the years, railroad track materials and maintenance have improved. Cars and locomotives have improved greatly also, as has inspection and maintenance. And so, there was recognition that we could do better with the people side of the equation, and provide education and support for a best-in-class safety culture on all of our railroads. Thus the Short Line Safety Institute was formed.

- Ron Hynes, Executive Director

About the Short Line Safety Institute

The Short Line Safety Institute (SLSI), a non-profit corporation, conducts safety culture assessments and is an educational, training and research source for short line and regional railroads concerning safety culture and other safety initiatives.  SLSI will heighten the intensity of the safety focus and involvement of short line and regional railroads and their management by combining ongoing assessments, feedback, communication, and recommended improvements and best practices.

  • Vision: For the short line and regional railroad industry to perform at an increasingly high level of safety.
  • Mission: To enhance the safety culture and safety performance of short line and regional railroads through meaningful and productive partnerships.

Timeline of the Safety Institute

The “Idea"

The American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) had identified safety culture as a top priority for the short line and regional railroad industry. Safety culture is defined as the shared values, actions, and behaviors that demonstrate a commitment to safety over competing goals and demands.

Other industry organizations, such as the American Railroad Association had also been working diligently (link to AAR’s History of Safety – to come) to focus attention on Safety Culture.

As increased media attention was paid to a series of unfortunate, and tragic accidents, members of ASLRRA’s leadership team approached the Federal Railroad Administration with a proposal supported by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Patty Murray (D-Washington), Ranking Member and Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation respectively, Congress to create an Institute charged with evaluating safety culture on short line and regional railroads. 

The new Short Line Safety Institute would:

  • Assess the operations and safety programs of short line railroads;
  • Develop best practices and work with short lines and regionals to implement these practices; and
  • Help improve safety culture and safety knowledge across the short line industry.

Toward that end the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Office of Research and Development put forward $250,000 to develop a pilot project to conduct safety culture assessments of short line railroads. Working with FRA, Volpe, and UCONN, ASLRRA has developed a comprehensive safety culture assessment program that includes surveys of all employees on a railroad, extensive interview templates to interview senior management, middle management, and rank and file employees, an evaluation process of these assessment tools, and follow-up processes.

Pilot Program Begins

After a number of training sessions and mock interviews, the safety culture assessment program was implemented in Phase One of the Pilot Project in March, 2015. Utilizing the vision, mission, and strategic goals set forth above, the Institute began Phase One of the Pilot Project assessing the short line railroads transporting crude oil in March, 2015. Three railroads were assessed in the following two months. During to the assessments, the team met a number of times to review the effectiveness of the tools and revised them as needed. They also engaged in a series of updated training exercises with the assessors to prepare them for Phase Two.

Phase Two of the Pilot Project began May 1, 2015. Congress appropriated $2 million to support Phase II which ran through 2015.  During Phase II additional assessments were made and the materials and outputs were refined.

At the conclusion of this process, the team evaluated the effectiveness of the initiative, and recommended to the FRA that the Short Line Safety Institute be formally established.

Short Line Safety Institute Established

In late 2015, the Safety Institute was incorporated as a non-profit organization, and its first Executive Director, Ron Hynes was hired.

Congress approved an additional $2 million to continue the work of the Safety Institute. 

The results of the assessments will be used in future years as part of the Institute's on-going tasks, including additional assessments, training, and education activities related to the vision, mission, and strategic goals of the Institute.

Today, the Institute continues to provide assessments, and will become an educational, training and research source for short line and regional railroads concerning safety culture and safety education.