With Railway Age since 1992, Bill Vantuono has broadened and deepened the magazine's coverage of the technological revolution that is so swiftly changing the industry. He has also strengthened Railway Age's leadership position in industry affairs with the conferences he conducts on operating passenger trains on freight railroads and communications-based train control.
In his own words, Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman, Railway Age’s 2011 Railroader of the Year, was a kid who loved trains. A fully qualified and licensed locomotive engineer, there are few things about his job he likes better than going out on the railroad and “seeing some folks,” meaning his employees.
The former Southern Railway track worker likes offering a friendly handshake and a “how’s it going?” to an engineer or brakeman or dispatcher as much or more than he likes, when he has the chance, to lay his hand on the throttle of a locomotive. He’s as comfortable wearing a pair of work gloves and safety glasses out on the road with the people who run and maintain the operation as he is wearing a suit in front of a Wall Street investor audience at an earnings presentation.
Prior to my traveling to Norfolk, Va., to interview Moorman, the NS Corporate Communications department sent a video copy of “A Week With Wick.” It’s a great snapshot of the man who leads what is arguably the world’s best transportation company.
“The most fun I have in my job is going out and seeing Norfolk Southern people,” he says. Boarding a brand-new GE AC4400, he asks the engineer how he likes the computerized display screens and other modern technology. “These locomotives are terrific,” he remarks. “They’re models of efficiency and high horsepower.” Taking a turn at the throttle, with a smile, he says, “Sitting in the cab—it doesn’t get any better than this.”
There’s something to be said about loving what you’re doing, and having fun at it. Moorman has always felt this way, going back to his days in 1970 as a civil engineering co-op student from Georgia Tech, learning about railroading on the Southern. His job as CEO of NS? “It’s beyond the icing on the cake.”
Wick Moorman and I have an unusual connection that dates back close to 40 years. My father, the late Professor William J. Vantuono, and Wick’s father, the late Professor Charles Moorman (The University of Southern Mississippi), were scholars and published authors in the area of Middle and Old English literature. I remember my dad, in the midst of one of his book projects, talking about Dr. Moorman, and referencing his work. Years later, when the younger Moorman became CEO of Norfolk Southern, I thought, “That name sounds very familiar.”
Coincidence? Maybe not. In any case, if you don’t know Wick Moorman, you should.
By William C. Vantuono, Editor
I could publish a book about my friend and colleague, Robert G. Lewis (actually, we did two of them together). Though we worked side by side at Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corp.’s New York City headquarters only three short years—he brought me to Railway Age in 1992, and retired in 1995—I feel as though I’ve known him a lifetime. I also thought Bob would live forever. One tends to think that way about people who, regardless of their physical age, never seem to slow down, and who approach life, and their life’s vocation, with an enthusiasm that’s hard to find. Bob made me feel old at times, and he was old enough to be my grandfather!
In Bob’s case, his vocation was railroading—working in the industry (for the Pennsylvania, beginning in 1934), writing about it (at Railway Age, beginning in 1947), documenting it (as a prolific photojournalist), but most of all, enjoying it, and sharing his enjoyment with his many industry friends and colleagues (below). I don’t know exactly how many miles Bob accumulated traveling by rail all over the world, but as you’ll discover in the next article, it’s probably around three million, or roughly 12 round-trips to the moon.
One of the many things that Bob taught me about journalism was to avoid using superlatives—words like “largest” or “fastest” or “heaviest” or “unique”—because you could rarely be 100% sure if you were right.
Well, Bob, I’m afraid that I’ve got to break your rule just this one time. You see, there’s only one word that I feel truly describes you: Unique.
One person who would certainly agree with me is Bob’s good friend Tony Hiss, a former New Yorker magazine writer, and author of In Motion: The Experience of Travel and All Aboard with E. M. Frimbo, World’s Greatest Railroad Buff, among other works.
Bob Lewis peacefully embarked on his final journey on Jan. 6, 2011. Rest in peace, my friend, and thanks for everything.
Mr. Lewis meets Mr. Frimbo
By Tony Hiss
I’ll never forget one of my first sights of my wonderful friend Bob Lewis—he was upside-down, standing on his head. This was more than 30 years ago: Half-a-dozen distinguished businessmen had been gathered by Bob outside on the open platform of a 1920s observation car at the end of an otherwise ordinary-looking commuter train making its daily, 66-mile run across northern New Jersey, from Newark to Phillipsburg through what was then almost a storybook landscape of woods and meadows. Because everyone stayed outside the whole way, we got to hear leaves rustling as shadows lengthened and smell the sweetness of newly mown grass.
Otherwise ordinary-looking—this, as I learned, was the essence of Bob Lewis, who had organized the expedition, which ended in a steak dinner that Bob had also arranged. A brilliant organizer as a magazine publisher, he was equally brilliant at never surrendering a moment of life to eternity before extracting its essence. So a commuter trip could become an adventure; a commonplace suburban landscape could turn itself inside out and reveal its magic; it was as extraordinary as looking through the window of a Russian Easter egg.
The head-standing, for instance. It took me a while to realize on that run to Phillipsburg that I was in the middle of a genteel, cordial, but intricately plotted rivalry that was by then already decades old. I was only a young journalist and had been brought along by Bob’s good friend, my imperious New Yorker magazine colleague, Rogers E. M. Whitaker, better known to New Yorker readers as E. M. Frimbo, World’s Greatest Railroad Buff. Frimbo over a lifetime rode almost three million miles on the trains of the world; I was Frimbo’s Boswell, and had always thought that my mentor stood alone. But although Rogers was too proud and Bob too modest to mention it, it became clear from listening to the other men on the train that a mileage race was on and that Bob was at least a close second to Frimbo. (Perhaps, near the end of his days, Bob may even have tied or surpassed Frimbo.) Both men thought nothing of flying 1,000 miles just to ride over ten or twenty miles of tracks that were brand-new to them—a feat that Bob would celebrate by standing on his head (Frimbo was too staid to join him). And Bob would also stand on his head just to celebrate having a particularly good time—as on the commuter run where I met him.
Later on, as I got to know him better, I came to understand that because Bob gave equal standing in his mind to enjoyment and industriousness, he had an unparalleled knowledge of railroads and transportation in general—the history, the missteps, the possibilities, the ways that even daily travel could transform people’s lives. Whenever I started to write something—a New Yorker piece on bringing light rail to New York, for instance, or even my latest book, In Motion: The Experience of Travel—Bob was always The Source, the first person I would call in order to get grounded and get started. In recent years—thinking about our country’s neglect of railroads—I began to think that it was America that was standing on its head, while Bob Lewis was right-side up. Now it’s up to the rest of us to keep his optimism and enthusiasm alive.
Bob Lewis: An appreciation
By Arthur J. McGinnis, Jr., President and Chairman, Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corp.
When Robert G. Lewis became publisher of Railway Age in 1956, the magazine was facing the most severe competitive challenge in its 100 years of publication. Postwar upstart Modern Railroads was snapping at our heels for the leadership position. Bob immediately became part of an editorial/business team dedicated to holding the line.
That team consisted of my father, Arthur J. McGinnis, Sr., a principal owner of the Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corp. and later head of the company; James G. Lynne, editor of Railway Age and another major shareholder; and Joe W. Kizzia, executive editor.
Bob became a key player as the team produced (and successfully sold to advertisers) a series of special reports proposing solutions to critical problems facing the industry.
The “Outrage” issue in 1957, reprinted nearly one million times, was credited with helping pass the first deregulation legislation; The “Trap” issue in 1958 laid the groundwork for the fight against crushing working rules. Other reports examined everything from the specter of railroad nationalization to passenger train losses that threatened to undermine the freight side of railroading.
Bob was a part of all of this, finding time for such other publishing initiatives as founding International Railway Journal, 50 years old this year and flourishing. In 1968, he was instrumental in Simmons-Boardman’s acquisition of The Railway Educational Bureau, 112 years old this year and, with Simmons-Boardman Books, also flourishing. In 1991, Bob and I acquired Modern Railroads. All of this helped secure Simmons-Boardman as the world’s leading provider of railway information.
When Bob left the company in 1995, he left a legacy of editorial entrepreneurship and business integrity—a combination that brought Railway Age a few years ago to its 150th birthday and continues today in the capable hands of Publisher Robert P. DeMarco.
Following, some friends and colleagues share their memories of Bob Lewis.
Bob Lewis and Luther Miller had the great foresight and courage to set up International Railway Journal, even at a time when the future of the railroad industry looked rather bleak. IRJ has been a great success and is now one of the leading railway magazines in the world.
David Briginshaw, Editor-in-Chief, International Railway Journal
A little over 20 years ago, as I was leaving The Bank of New York to start my own company, I approached Bob Lewis at Railway Age with an idea for a regular financial column. As he was with every new idea, Bob was positive from the beginning, and we started what is today “The Financial Edge.” Other innovations followed, including our annual Railroad Financial Desk Book and the Guide to Equipment Leasing. Without Bob’s support, these ideas would have gone nowhere.
Tony Kruglinski, Railroad Financial Corp.
During my 21 years as head of Simmons-Boardman’s Railway Educational Bureau, Bob Lewis, who was instrumental in bringing the REB into the company, was consistently helpful in our successful efforts to bring expanded education opportunities to many thousands of railroad people. Our book publishing division took great pride six years ago in publishing the photographic memoir that Bob prepared with the assistance of Bill Vantuono and Robert Lielich.
One of the greatest honors bestowed upon Ferrovias Guatemala was Bob Lewis’s visit on the occasion of our first anniversary trip, a doubleheaded steam special in January of 2001. On behalf of Ferrovias Guatemala, we regret the passing of not only a friend but one of our biggest fans. In classic Bob Lewis style, he outlived our time as a functioning railway.
Henry Posner III, Chairman, Ferrovias Guatemala
Bob Lewis loved railroading and likely anything with parallel rails. My fondest memory was when I mounted an exhibit of his photography at an RSA show in the 1990s. Amsted Rail/Brenco sponsored it, which allowed me to visit Bob at his Florida home in Ormond By The Sea. Hearing Bob recount his railroad life with texture and depth to me personally, punctuated by a childlike laugh as he remembered things he had not shared in decades, was a few steps closer to heaven. I relished my privileged position and soaked it all in like a sponge.
Mike Edwards, President/Partner, iIRX
Bob Lewis was infectious while communicating his love and enthusiasm to everybody he encountered. I was born into the industry the son of a Pennsylvania Railroad signal engineer and came into the supply industry in 1955. I soon was involved with Bob in RSSI activities; as a board member, he was counselor and mentor. He had sought me out because of beginning his career working with PRR General Manager William C Higginbottom, my uncle, in Philadelphia. Bob’s understanding of the technical and philosophical foundations of what make the industry great inspired us all to use our talents in a very positive manner. We could never ask for a better friend. His memory is an inspiration in all we do.
Jim Higginbottom, The Okonite Co.
Bob Lewis’s fifth appendage was his camera, from his first Brownie in 1930 to the latest in film technology. He had an eye for composition and most of his pictures were priceless documentaries of railroad history. Of the tens of thousands of photos he took, he could remember most of the details of each one. It was an honor and privilege to work with him and Bill Vantuono to publish Bob’s best pictures and memories in the book Off the Beaten Track.
Robert H. Leilich
I knew Bob Lewis for almost 40 years. His was an extraordinarily genial personality, and at any kind of gathering of railroad people, Bob always seemed to be one of the best known—and liked—people there.
William D. Middleton
In 2006, Railway Age assembled the Sesquicentennial Limited excursion train to celebrate 150 years of publication. At one point during the trip, I remarked to Bob that with us were men representing more than 150 years of railroad writing: Bill Middleton, Bill Vantuono, Joe Kizzia, Luther Miller, and Bob Lewis himself—grinning like a kid.
Five words best describe Bob Lewis: soft spoken, witty, charming, encyclopedic. He will be missed.
Frank N. Wilner
Will Florida’s loss be California’s gain? That’s one of many questions that arise from the Florida Supreme Court’s decision that Governor Scott was within his rights in spurning federal grants to bring fast trains to the Sunshine State.
If the Obama Administration really wants to see a corridor in the United States that meets international high speed standards—trains cruising at 200 mph—the fastest path right now may be to transfer Florida’s funds to California, just as the DOT recently transferred funds in smaller amounts from Ohio and Wisconsin, which rejected them, to Florida and California.
There’s a strong feeling at home and abroad that true high speed corridors will never gain a foothold in America until one is actually built to demonstrate its capabilities.
If the corridor fails to meet expectations, the skeptics will be proved to have been right.
If it succeeds, other parts of the country will not only accept high speed trains—they will demand them.
Let’s fund a test that will have more do to do with the nation’s transportation needs than with the proclivity of politicians to spread the money around to garner votes.
Meanwhile, keep going with other parts of your fast train initiative by funding them through Amtrak, which has the experience to build and run them.
—William C. Vantuono, Editor, Railway Age
By William C. Vantuono, Editor
What would E. H. Talbott, Railway Age’s first editor, think of social media? I’m sure that at the very least, he’d be skeptical at first. Social media like Facebook and Twitter, like the title of the final Star Trek movie with the full original cast (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, etc.), is still regarded by many as “the undiscovered country,” though the railroads are beginning to sit up and take notice.
This 155-year-old trade magazine has ventured into the new world of social media. You can now find Railway Age on Facebook at “Railway Age Magazine” (CLICK HERE) and follow us on Twitter as “RailwayAge” (CLICK HERE). In addition to our website and using an RSS feed to receive breaking news as we post it, you can now get our news stories throughout the day on your iPhone or iPad or Blackberry, or whatever personal digital device you happen to be using. By the way, don’t forget to “friend” us.
“Friend” Railway Age? Where I come from, “friend” is a noun, not a verb, but I guess that’s part of a new language I’m going to have to get used to. When I’m working on my laptop on a business trip, I’m “officing.” One thing I can’t bring myself to do is use some of those texting shortcuts—which include a total disregard for proper punctuation and capitalization—that people like my 17-year-old niece take for granted, like “how r u? im ok. whats up? nothing lol!” It reminds me of Newspeak from “1984,” which I read in high school.
(If you’d like to delve further into how language is “evolving,” see <a href=http://www.newspeakdictionary.com target=
By William C. Vantuono, Editor
Ever hear of “classical repulsion?” Portland, Ore., Tri-Met is wielding it to great effect to ward off young perpetrators of crimes like vandalism. In other words, if you want to discourage unruly teenagers from spraying graffiti on your system-map displays or light rail vehicles, play Stravinsky instead of Snoop Dog (woof!), or Bach instead of Britney Spears (Britney who?) on your station platforms.
Disclaimer: Your editor has been listening to jazz since he was out of diapers (and that’s no bull), and his grandfather was a violinist in the Newark (N.J.) Symphony Orchestra. Nevertheless, I am not a musical snob, OK? Some of this modern hip-hop stuff (at least the tunes with a melody) can be pretty good. I happen to like “Sexy Love” by Ne-Yo (Shaffer Chimere Smith, Jr.), though I wouldn’t recommend playing this hot little number on your station platforms, unless you want to risk extreme public displays of affection and arrests for indecent exposure.
But I digress.
Music has charms to soothe a savage breast—or drive it away, as the Los Angeles Times noted in an April 4, 2011 editorial, “Crime and Classical Music: Another Reason Sarah Palin Should Support the Arts?”
“We recently took Sarah Palin to task for dismissing the National Endowment for the Arts as a waste of tax dollars,” the L.A. Times said. “Art, we argued, matters to human development and the economy. In the case of classical music, art also deters crime. More specifically, it sends misbehaved teenagers scattering.
“David Ng at Culture Monster reports: ‘Whether it’s Handel piped into New York's Port Authority [bus terminal] or Tchaikovsky at a public library in London, the sound of classical music is apparently so repellent to teenagers that it sends them scurrying away like frightened mice. Private institutions also find it useful: Chains such as McDonald's and 7-Eleven, not to mention countless shopping malls around the world, have relied on classical music to shoo away potentially troublesome kids.’
“In the latest example of classical repulsion, the regional transit [agency] in the Portland, Ore., area has been playing orchestral and operatic tunes over speakers at light rail stations in an attempt to prevent vandalism and other crimes that result from teens having too much free time on their hands.
“Theories differ as to why teens react to classical music this way. Some experts believe the music has a soothing effect, while others think it has to do more with negative neurological response. Either way, if this genre of music prevents crime by teens, perhaps we ought to invest more on classical music. Another argument in favor of classical music: It can also inspire students in the classroom to learn.
“The Tri-Met light rail service in Portland, Ore., has begun playing classical music at train stations in an effort to ward off the kind of crimes that happen when people just hang around. A bill making its way through the Oregon legislature would expand the program to all light rail stops in Clackamas, Washington, and Multnomah counties deemed high-crime areas by police or residents.”
Maybe this is why the three-phase a.c. traction motor chopper controls on MTA New York City Transit’s R142 subway cars from Bombardier play the first three notes of “Somewhere” from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” when accelerating from a stop? It’s technically not classical music, but it sure fits New York!
Here’s a thought for the American Public Transportation Association: We might have the makings of a whole new Arts in Transit program. Why not bring a little culture to the experience of using public transit while fending off vandals and farebeaters? Look at all the major U.S. cities with rail transit systems that have a resident symphony: The Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Philadelphia Orchestra. The Houston Symphony. The Chicago Symphony. The New York Philharmonic. The Pittsburgh Symphony.
There is precedent, by the way, for this sort of program, and Pittsburgh was actually the first U.S. city to do it. “I started putting classical music into Pittsburgh’s then-new subway in 1985,” recalls APTA President Bill Millar, who was general manager of PA Transit at the time. “Today we would call it a public/private partnership: Port Authority of Allegheny County owned and operated the subway; WQED chose and recorded the music; PPG Industries Foundation provided the grant to cover the costs. It made for a very nice sound environment that complemented the world class art (Sol LeWitt, Romare Bearden) we had put in the stations. Others followed. We started with recordings by the Pittsburgh Symphony and later opened the repertoire to other local classical music groups.”
Perhaps the Chicago Transit Authority could commission the Chicago Symphony to produce a “CTA Suite,” underwritten by our erstwhile Tea Party President’s favorite taxpayer’s black hole, the National Endowment for the Arts. Think of the pleasure she’d take in blasting publicly supported passenger rail and music with just one shot of her moose- and wolf-mangling rifle!
A Fifth of Beethoven, anyone?
Oops, that’s disco!
It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to turn this month’s column over to Norfolk Southern Chief Executive Wick Moorman, Railway Age’s 2011 Railroader of the Year. In front of a March 15 Union League Club of Chicago gathering of more than 400 rail industry “family members” (my observation when introducing him), Wick gave an inspiring talk that clearly demonstrated his leadership qualities, but also showed a very humble, human side of him. Following are a few of his observations.
• “I was a self-described kid who loved trains and to be honored with the title of Railroader of the Year by Railway Age is something that is so far beyond anything that I could have conceived of when I was younger, as to be quite simply breathtaking. Last week I was having dinner with someone who knows our industry well and is very bright, and she asked me why I thought that I had received this honor. She was kind enough to not use the words ‘how on earth’ when she asked, but I think that it’s a question that’s been on a number of people’s minds, as in ‘Wick Moorman? Railroader of the Year? What’s that all about?’ Well, it took me a couple of minutes to figure out, but of course the answer is obvious: This award is really about Norfolk Southern and the great team that we have in our company, and it is with the clear understanding that I’m accepting this award on behalf of everyone in our company that I stand before you tonight.”
• “I often tell people that I am possibly the most fortunate person that one could ever meet. Put another way, the two greatest strokes of good fortune in my life—and I want to be careful to point out here that I’m giving you them in chronological order, and not order of importance—were to go to work for the Southern Railway as an engineering co-op student in 1970, and then to meet my wife Bonnie some years later and persuade her to marry me. Some of you have seen the picture of me in Railway Age from those days when I was a track supervisor, and have probably questioned her judgment, but fortunately, I drove a big yellow Southern Railway pickup truck, and she told me later that that’s what sealed the deal. Anyway, she has been enormously supportive of me, and tolerant of the railroad throughout the years. I wouldn’t be standing here tonight were it not for her.”
• “I actually thought about just lifting large parts of Matt Rose’s excellent speech from last year, changing the BNSF stats to NS numbers and giving it again. Of course, Matt had the additional advantage of quoting Warren Buffett, but don’t worry, I’ve figured out a way to get Mr. Buffett into this talk a little later!”
• “As some of you know, the first recipient of this award in 1964 was D.W. Brosnan, the then-president of the Southern Railway. Mr. Brosnan was arguably the most influential leader in the past 100 years. Through what one of his contemporaries described as ‘a strange mixture of genius and ruthlessness,’ he almost single-handedly invented or implemented the mechanization of track gangs and car repair facilities; the use of large-scale information technology and telecommunications; the wide-scale use of modern hump yards; what we now call distributed power; modern, high-capacity freight cars, which many of you know took a Supreme Court case to make viable; the list goes on and on. You can look around our company and our industry today and still see his fingerprints.”
• “I now qualify as an old railroader, albeit with a young wife, and old railroaders like to tell stories about the past. While most of the people who work for NS today started their careers with NS, I believe that there is a strong component of Southern Railway DNA still in our company today that has been at least partially responsible for our success over the years. For those of you who tell David [Goode] about this speech, let me hasten to say that there’s some Norfolk & Western in there, too!”
• “Speculating about the future is always risky, and I heard a great line about this the other day, which reportedly was from Warren Buffett, who was quoting, of all people, Mike Tyson. Tyson said, ‘You know, there were a lot of people who got in the ring with a strategy of how they were going to beat me—and then I hit them.’ Regardless of how hard you plan for the future, something is likely to hit you. . . . Washington, with the threat of adverse legislative or regulatory action, is the Mike Tyson in the room, fully capable of knocking the industry back into the shape it was in, in the 1970s.”
In Abraham Lincoln’s day, the Illinois Central line linking Chicago with Springfield, Ill., and St. Louis was preferred for passenger service because, of the five major lines that connected the two major Midwest cities, it offered the straightest, flattest, most direct route. Lincoln himself used it to travel from Springfield to Chicago. And, according to Daniel R. Murray, “the timetables of that time show that a passenger could get from Springfield to Chicago over this line faster in Lincoln’s day than in ours.”
Who is Dan Murray, and why did he receive Railway Age’s W. Graham Claytor Jr. Award for Distinguished Service to Passenger Transportation? Murray is a prominent Chicago-based attorney, a senior partner in the law firm Jenner & Block and Chair of the firm’s Bankruptcy, Workout, and Corporate Reorganization Practice. In the late 1980s, he was named Trustee of the bankrupt Chicago, Missouri & Western Railway, a regional railroad that had acquired the Chicago-St. Louis-Kansas City line from the Illinois Central. Murray fought to keep the railroad, which hosted Amtrak service, operating “because of the public interest in continued rail service.” He managed to secure government funding by working closely with then-Illinois Governor Jim Thompson, U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, and U.S. Rep. (now Sen.) Dick Durbin.
In 1990, the Gateway Western Railway Company acquired the St. Louis-Kansas City portion of the railroad, and the Southern Pacific acquired the Chicago-St. Louis portion. Today, owned and operated by Union Pacific (which acquired the SP in 1995), the Chicago-St. Louis line is well on its way to becoming a higher-speed (or high-performance) passenger rail line, with 110-mph Amtrak trains sharing the right-of-way with UP freights.
It is largely through Dan Murray’s diligence, and his strong belief in rail service, that Chicago-St. Louis HrSR is coming to fruition. As he is is quick to point out, there were many others involved in keeping the railroad operating during its darkest days. Among them were Conrail President and COO Ron Batory, who was Executive VP and COO of the CM&W; the UTU’s Chuck Downey and Pat Simmons; Murray’s former partner at Jenner & Block, Randy Mehrberg, who negotiated the sale of the railroad to the SP and the Gateway Western; and Judge John D. Schwartz, the chief judge of the bankruptcy court in Chicago, “who quickly came to the conviction that the continued operation of this rail line, from both a freight and passenger perspective, was in the public interest.”
“In my view, there are two valuable lessons that come out of this story,” Murray told delegates to Railway Age’s 18th Annual Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads Conference. “The first is that there is a vital public interest in continued passenger rail service, and that this interest can only be served with substantial support from the government—private enterprise has neither the incentive nor the disposition to do so. Freight railroads that host passenger trains are not subsidized by the government; they are the only form of transportation not supported by the government—unlike highway or air transportation, which enjoy their own very substantial hidden government subsidies. Government backing for rail transportation can only be secured if there is strong public support. So it is incumbent upon us to muster that public support.”
“The second lesson,” Murray said, “is that preserving essential passenger rail service in this country requires teamwork—as we saw in the Chicago Missouri & Western story among heroes who were not afraid to cross party lines, labor-management lines, and the federal/state divide.”
Daniel R. Murray (second from left) accepted Railway Age’s W. Graham Claytor Jr. Award for Distinguished Service to Passenger Transportation on Oct. 25 at the 18th Annual Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads Conference. Murray was joined by (left to right) Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo, Railway Age Publisher Bob DeMarco, and Conrail President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Batory.
Senior Consulting Editor Luther Miller aptly describes a sometimes-adversarial relationship that is at least partially fueled by the success of our freight railroads, which are without a doubt the best in the world. The testy relationship involves the railroads and a small but vocal group of customers that seek to re-regulate them.
“The swing of the political pendulum last fall was a severe reverse for the forces of railroad re-regulation, but it fell short of a knockout blow, in the view of strategists on both sides,” Miller writes. “New battle lines are likely to be drawn when the STB opens a long-awaited hearing June 23, ‘Competition in the Railroad Industry.’ Contentious shipper demands will be dragged out of storage and re-argued—for example, bottleneck rates and reciprocal switching, which some powerful railroad customers view as shortcuts to lower rates. Attention will be directed to the question of how the railroads could be ‘revenue inadequate’ while posting strong earnings, maintaining positions on the Stock Exchange at or near record levels, and pulling together enough cash and credit for a record investment of $12 billion in capital improvements this year. Return on investment will also come under scrutiny.”
Miller notes that the railroad industry “won some breathing space when last year’s GOP juggernaut flattened a strong initiative in Congress to limit railroad pricing freedom through antitrust action. But railroaders like Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman are not letting their guard down. As he accepted Railway Age’s 2011 Railroader of the Year Award in March, Moorman warned: ‘Washington, with the threat of adverse legislative or regulatory action, is fully capable of knocking this industry back into the shape it was in 30 years ago—a weak, ineffective, unsafe rail network.’”
Suppliers take heed, Miller warns: “Union Pacific is also closely monitoring the situation and says that any loss of regulatory freedom could force it to reconsider the industry’s biggest single capital improvement program, pegged this year at more than $3 billion. The 1980 Staggers Rail Act, which is now under attack, has come close to achieving its core goal. That goal was not, for the record, ensuring competitive choices for the railroads’ customers, but ensuring that there would continue to be private railroads with sufficient earning power to renew and improve their properties and provide not just desirable but essential transportation.
“A side effect of the ‘railroad renaissance’ was to make a number of shippers—of coal, wheat, and other commodities that that are not easily moved by truck—captive to a single carrier. One seasoned transportation lobbyist told Railway Age, ‘I have always believed that the captive shippers are funding their legislative effort less to gain the legislation and more to keep pressure on railroads for lower rates. I think both sides have legitimate arguments, but the fact is that most of the captive shipper problems involve coal and electric utility shippers who have sufficient market power to negotiate in the marketplace. The only winners over the past 30 years have been the lawyers and lobbyists.’
“If true,” Miller concludes, “this could be a story with no end in sight.”
Contributing Editor Larry Kaufman adds: “Competition is stimulated when investors put their capital at risk to engage in a business. Competition is the best regulator of market behavior. The rail regulation issue truly is a situation of ‘Don’t fix what isn’t broken.’”
“Buy America” broken?
Well, broken may be too strong a term, but the Railway Supply Institute is recommending three sweeping changes to current U.S. Buy America provisions and funding for transit, high speed rail, and intercity passenger rail that will ensure increased domestic content for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funded projects.
A new RSI position paper, “Rail Supply Innovation and Buy America Requirements,” urges the following changes: “Long-term dedicated sources of funding for high speed and intercity passenger rail through a menu of options; clarification of Buy America standards by streamlining the particular differences among provisions specific to Buy America, FTA, FRA, and ARRA funds; and a USDOT National Rail Plan that supports the U.S. passenger rail equipment manufacturing industry through a vision for sustained equipment purchases and equipment life-cycle policies that avoid ‘boom or bust’ procurement cycles.”
You asked, they delivered
For years, the railroads have been saying that their people are spread too thin to be able to attend all the traditionally separate supplier trade association shows. They’ve been asking the associations to consolidate things into a single event, and that’s exactly what’s happening with Railway Interchange 2011 this September.
RSI, RSSI, REMSA, and AREMA have done their part. Now, railroads, it’s up to you to follow through and participate to the fullest extent you can. What the associations don’t want, as one supplier told me, is “a bunch of exhibitors standing around talking to each other.”
Something encouraging seems to be happening out there in the media—the non-trade media, I mean. The railway industry is getting more and more attention, and it has nothing to do with grade crossing collisions or hazmat moving through your backyard. It has to do with the important business of moving goods and people in the most efficient way ever devised.
FOX Business News weekday 1:00 p.m. anchor Lori Rothman, an accomplished journalist who spent a decade at Bloomberg before joining FOX, “gets it.” Following an excellent “American Icon Series” special report on Union Pacific in which FOX reporter Dagen McDowell spent a day at UP’s Omaha headquarters talking with CEO Jim Young and other senior executives, Rothman (pictured)—a Metro-North daily rider—offered me her views on “why the railway industry has become so important to the news media.” What she had to say is nothing new to us, but that it came from someone so prominent in the general news media is, well, encouraging:
“While the railroad industry may have a reputation for being old-fashioned, it actually remains one of the most important contributors to the U.S. economy.
“What’s more, every rail job supports another 4.5 jobs somewhere in the economy, from suppliers, manufacturing, retail, and services. Railroads make huge capital expenditure contributions to the economy. Major freight railroads have projected capital expenditures of $12 billion in 2011. They are a great gauge of the health of the broader economy. In fact, Wall Street investors look at the Dow Transports Index as a leading indicator for the direction of the stock market. Often during a downturn, an uptick in the Index will signal a turnaround for the broader markets.”
Again, this is nothing new—to us. If it were me talking, you’d probably say, “Thanks for making the obvious less obscure. Now please tell me something I don’t already know.” But it wasn’t me. It was Lori Rothman. Thanks, Lori, for doing your part to educate the general public—something railroaders really need to do more of.
Economic Planning Associates sees 2009 and 2010 as “difficult” years for the freight railcar industry, based on the economic and financial environments as well as EPA’s analyses of customer market activities.