HeritageRail Alliance to explore group purchasing

By Aaron Isaacs, HRA editor

With the merger of ARM and TRAIN completed, followed by a rebranding as the HeritageRail Alliance, HRA has turned its attention to program initiatives.

It has solidified its role representing railway preservation in the FRA regulatory arena. HRA is working with the American Alliance of Museums and the American Association for State and Local History to advocate for government funding of historic preservation. HRA has reached out to the Association of Short Lines and Regional Railroads to find common cause. Last year the Canadian Council for Railway Preservation became part of HRA.

Recommended Practices for Railway Museums is now being updated. An online technical resource library is being built. And of course the annual conferences continue to serve as essential networking and educational opportunities.

With all those initiatives underway, what in the adopted strategic plan remains to be done? One answer is group purchasing. Tourist railroads and railway museums purchase the same things. They buy fuel (including coal), lubricants, brake shoes, track materials, paint, tools, office supplies, store merchandise, and ticketing and point of sale systems. They also purchase an array of professional services, such as bridge inspection, insurance, drug testing, rail car moving, bookkeeping and economic impact studies. That list could probably be expanded.

In most situations, group buying provides two benefits.
1. The buyers can negotiate volume discounts.

2. Group demand can justify the manufacturing of custom or rare items or services that would otherwise not be available.

In the case of railway preservation, there is a third benefit. It demonstrates our economic impact and dovetails with another HRA initiative.

HRA has hired Stone Consulting to do an economic impact study of the railway preservation industry and the results should be available this year. The study will provide the data needed to promote our positive impact on local and regional economies. From my own research I believe railway preservation spends $500 million a year. The study will apply an economic impact multiplier and I’m confident that number will exceed $1 billion and hopefully more.

Economic impact brings respect and a certain amount of political clout. Because our industry is spread across North America, it can be difficult to demonstrate locally. Group buying is a way to aggregate those expenses, making it easier to demonstrate economic impact.

Rail preservationists are a frugal group of do-it-yourselfers, used to running their own shows. Persuading them to buy communally will be a challenge, but there are rewards to be had if we’re successful.

Before any group buying program can begin, HRA has to answer some questions. Are our members interested in HeritageRail pursuing some group contracts? What materials or services could we start with? Will group buys really save money?

HRA members should look for an online survey. Stay tuned. HRA will be exploring all group purchasing options over the next couple of years.

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