Wednesday, April 29, 2015

J. Reilly McCarren, 1956-2015

Written by  William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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J. Reilly McCarren, one of the most accomplished and respected railroaders of the past 35 years, died April 26, 2015 at his Kenilworth, Ill., home after a long battle with cancer. He was 58.

Praised as one of its most successful and creative railroad operators by the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, McCarren was majority owner and chairman of the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Co. (A&M, Railway Age’s 2014 Regional Railroad of the Year), as well as the majority owner of Allied Enterprises Inc., which together with A&M provides rail, trucking, warehousing, packaging and railcar leasing services.

A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Science degree in civil engineering, McCarren began his railroad career with Conrail in 1978. In 1987, he, together with New York City and Chicago venture capital interests, founded the Gateway Western Railway as a leveraged buyout of the St. Louis-Kansas City route of the bankrupt Chicago, Missouri & Western Railroad. Gateway Western was sold to Kansas City Southern Industries in 1996, and McCarren joined the Wisconsin Central that year as president and CEO, leading the railroad until CN acquired it in 2001.

McCarren was vice chairman at ASLRRA, a position in which he remained active “even as he struggled with his illness,” the association said in a bulletin sent to members. He served as a Central Region board member for seven years and was a member of ASLRRA’s Legislative Policy Committee.

“Railroading was his lifelong profession, and Reilly will be remembered for his many accomplishments in the short line industry,” ASLRRA said. “Our memory of Reilly will be forever colored by two qualities that framed his approach to decision making and dominated his day-to-day life. Reilly had an intellectual curiosity that made him one of the deepest thinkers in our industry. Whether it be an operating problem, an accounting issue or a public policy controversy, he approached every problem with a respect for the facts, with an eagerness to explore new ideas and with the goal of finding the best solution possible. He also was a genuinely warm and authentic human being, a serious man with a finely tuned sense of humor. He always had time to talk, or just to listen. He was eager to pitch in and help, no matter what the issue. He cared about what those around him were thinking and was always eager to think along with them. Even in the difficult moments of his illness he maintained a grace and dignity that was admired by all.”


 was Chairman the Board of Operation Lifesaver Inc. (OLI) from 2007 to 2012, and served as a director of the Western New York & Pennsylvania and Livonia, Avon & Lakeville railroads. He also served as a member, Vice Chair and Chair of the Rail Shipper Transportation Advisory Council. In a statement, Helen Sramek, who served as OLI’s president from 2007 to 2012, described McCarren as “a strong advocate for OLI and its volunteers, and was instrumental in streamlining processes while keeping the organization focused on its safety mission. Reilly was truly one of the smartest and most dedicated people I have ever met.”

Conrail President and COO Ron Batory, a long-time colleague and friend of McCarren who worked with him at the Chicago, Missouri & Western, described him to Railway Age as “having an excellent balance of entrepreneurialism and a practical mindset.”

McCarren is survived by his wife, Caren, a son, Chris, and a daughter, Katie.

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