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2023 Was a Very Good Year — Really!

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Frank Sinatra in 1958.

FROM THE EDITOR, RAILWAY AGE DECEMBER 2023 ISSUE: A tumultuous 2023 comes to a close on many positive notes, enough to say that, on balance, it was a very good year (to paraphrase Frank Sinatra). Take a look at the positives: Rail freight traffic is recovering. Service is improving. Railroad workers now have much-deserved paid sick leave, on top of paid days off that were negotiated in 2022’s national bargaining. Passenger rail overall is making a strong post-COVID ridership recovery. The Biden Administration continues pumping billions in capital dollars into all modes of passenger rail. All good.

CPKC photo

2023 was also a landmark year. The merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern into CPKC, North America’s first and only transnational railroad, went off with barely a hiccup and almost immediately spurred more competition—exactly what the applicants told the Surface Transportation Board, which voted 4-1 to approve. Robert Primus was the lone dissenter. With all due respect, his dire predictions that “the transaction will further concentrate control over the nation’s railroads, which have already experienced massive consolidation in recent decades”; “does not adequately guard against merger-related service disruptions, at a time when rail service in general has been historically poor”; and “will harm communities along the path of the newly combined network” were just plain wrong. 

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks to the media on the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Feb. 14, 2023. (Screen shot from a WSYX news clip)

We can’t look back on 2023 without at least acknowledging Norfolk Southern’s major derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. It generated a media frenzy and political circus that, for many of us, was painful to witness because of the misinformation spread by uninformed media outlets, and worse, the political grandstanding by legislators at all levels mostly concerned with making themselves look good. I’m told, for example, that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine privately expressed to NS management he was confident in the railroad’s ability to handle the accident and its aftermath. His public statements were something else. He said it was “absurd” the train that derailed wasn’t designated a “high hazardous material train,” urged the U.S. Congress “to change current regulations,” and asked President Biden to “issue a Major Presidential Disaster Declaration” because “the possibility remains that the voluntary support provided by NS could at some point in the future cease.” Ugh.  

“I said from the beginning that Norfolk Southern would be here for the long haul and we will be here to see this community through,” NS CEO Alan Shaw told attendees of a Nov. 30 economic development roundtable discussion in East Palestine, Ohio. (NS photo)

In truth, NS responded to East Palestine by doing the right thing for the community, and not just with money—an ongoing effort that will continue to have extensive coverage here. NS has also instituted a new, comprehensive, multi-year safety improvement program. 

Smile if you want to trash the railroad industry! (Senate Commerce Committee publicity photo)

I sign off with the Railway Safety Act of 2023, a useless, ill-conceived piece of legislation that served no purpose other than to portray railroads as the foundation of a National Dystopian Nightmare and waste our valuable time with endless hearings on Capitol Hill. “Take everything you don’t like about railroads, hang it on the Christmas Tree and call it the Railway Safety Act,” one veteran railroader told me. “The tree has dried out and is going to the mulch pile.”

Yes, dear readers, the Railway Safety Act is dead, sent to the round file in Capitol Hill’s moldy basement (unless someone revives it in 2024). Che liberazione!

Here’s to a safe and prosperous 2024. Happy Holidays!

BNSF photo