Thursday, March 08, 2012

For short lines, regionals, work drive survives

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American negativists need to get out more, maybe. Too many people still bemoan the lack of can-do spirit, the absence of competitiveness, evil East Coast elitism, and listless Beltway bungling as signs of national decline. An election year can layer even more cynicism, a darker patina, on any picture. Woe be to us optimists who dare peer a bit deeper into the gloom, and find all is not as gloomy as one might suspect.

That doesn't fully explain why, whenever and wherever I go in the U.S. these days and years, I'm struck by the innovation and optimism occurring on so many fronts, in so many places, as a nation begins to seriously retool and re-imagine itself from the grass roots up.

That certainly includes short line and regional railroads, including (but not limited to!) the winners we at Railway Age choose each year to honor for notable performance. In cataloging the nominees each year, it was hard for me to avoid feeling absolutely buoyant about the prospects not just for the individual railroads, and not for the Class II and Class III ranks, but for their customers, and their communities, and perhaps best of all for the employees that make their railroad work. And work well.

Others feel the same, it appears, at least within the railroad industry. Following our awards announcement March 7, notes of gracious congratulations and well-wishes for both Vermont Railway and Indiana Rail Road Co. have come in from other nominees, or from suppliers who advanced their own champions for consideration. "We look forward to reading about the winners," one executive said, even as he professed pride in his own company and its accomplishments.

I'll be doing the honors detailing Vermont Railway's story in the April issue of Railway Age, while my colleague Editor-in-Chief Bill Vantuono reports on Indiana Rail Road, so we two (in part) also will be part of the "read it and learn" process (as we proof each other's stories!).

But I know one thing already: The work drive survives, indeed thrives, among individual properties and as a whole, as encompassed by the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA). More than an honor to follow that as a journalist, it's personally uplifting. It's fun. It's a restorative.

You can rain on my optimism parade should you wish, reaching me at That's the spirit!

Douglas John Bowen

Douglas John Bowen is Managing Editor of RAILWAY AGE. He also served as Editor of Intermodal Age from 1989 to 1991, and has held various positions at Inbound Logistics magazine, High Speed Transport News, The Journal of Commerce, and CNN/Money. Bowen began his journalism career at the Asbury Park Press, a New Jersey daily newspaper. A graduate of Rutgers University, Bowen resides in Hoboken, N.J. He served as president of the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) from 1987 to 2000 and again from 2004 to 2010, serving on the NJ-ARP board from 1984 until 2012; he remains a member of the statewide organization.