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Class I Briefs: CSX, UP

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
From left, UP's Kim Hess, Assistant Vice President-Energy, Marketing and Sales; Ashok Fichadia, Assistant Vice President-Customer, Tech; Kaleb Koehn; Josh Saltz; and Rick Lichtas, Assistant Vice President-Network Integration and Scheduling, Network Planning and Operations. (Union Pacific photo)

From left, UP's Kim Hess, Assistant Vice President-Energy, Marketing and Sales; Ashok Fichadia, Assistant Vice President-Customer, Tech; Kaleb Koehn; Josh Saltz; and Rick Lichtas, Assistant Vice President-Network Integration and Scheduling, Network Planning and Operations. (Union Pacific photo)

CSX is honored with the 2023 Patriots in Business Award and assembles care packages for military members. Also, Union Pacific’s (UP) second annual “Hackathon” event inspires innovative approaches to real-world dilemmas; and Houston officials approve a $5 million fund to help relocate residents living near polluted UP rail yard.

CSX and Salute Mission Critical, a Michigan-based data center services firm, were honored on Sept. 26 as winners of the 6th annual Patriots in Business Award for their leadership in helping America’s veterans, active-duty military and military spouses.

The award, presented each year by Chief Executive magazine and Thayer Leadership, is part of an ongoing effort to “raise awareness among corporate leaders of best practices in helping military veterans and their families.” The award ceremony will take place on Nov. 10 at the 11th annual Veterans Day event in New York City, in partnership with Nasdaq Marketsite.

The Patriots in Business award—presented in the categories of large enterprises (greater than $1B annual revenue) and medium-sized businesses ($10M-$1B annual revenue)—recognizes outstanding businesses that “lead our nation in supporting active-duty military members, veterans and their families and exemplify the U.S. Military Academy values of Duty, Honor and Country through their business practices and throughout their community and industry,” according to Chief Executive Group, which publishes Chief Executive magazine.

Both companies rose to the top of a highly competitive, nationwide judging process in which a panel of Thayer veterans’ affairs experts and business leaders with military backgrounds assessed each nominated company’s programs. The business executives on the panel included: Nicholas Pinchuk, Chair and CEO, Snap-on Incorporated; Michael Volk, Managing Partner, GuidePoint Security (a 2022 PIB honoree); Troy Vaughn, President, Principle Services LLC (a 2021 honoree); Charlie Quinn, VP of Recruiting, HumCap (a 2020 honoree); John Perez, Director, Military & Veterans Affairs, Johnson & Johnson (a 2022 honoree); Tom Karinshak, EVP and Chief Customer Experience Officer, Comcast (a 2020 honoree).

“CSX is incredibly honored to be recognized with the Patriots in Business Award,” said CSX President and CEO Joe Hinrichs. “Due to highly transferable skills and a shared commitment to service, safety and performance, veterans and current service members make great railroaders. This is why our ONE CSX team is committed to recruiting and retaining talented employees with a service background. Through our Pride in Service initiative, we also take our shared commitment to military families beyond out internal efforts, by giving and volunteering across the communities where we live, work and serve.”

“Receiving the Patriots in Business Award 2023 is a tremendous honor as it is not just a recognition of Salute Mission Critical’s journey but a validation of the dedication and resilience that defines our company’s role in the business landscape and our impact toward the evolving digital economy. This award serves as a testament to the unwavering commitment of our team and reaffirms our mission to excel and inspire across the veteran and business communities,” said Salute Critical Mission CEO Erich Sanchack.

“Plenty of companies care for veterans and military families,” said Chief Executive Group CEO Marshall Cooper, “but these two companies are really in a class by themselves. They’re tremendous examples of best practices in supporting this important group in American society. We’re delighted to honor them both.”

“These two companies clearly stand out as going above and beyond in their support of veterans, military spouses, National Guard and Reserves, and military families. They showcase how military support can cross into industries both related and unrelated to the military—every company can offer support regardless of their mission and size,” said Co-President of Thayer Leadership Dan Rice.

In related news, CSX recently joined forces with Operation Gratitude in Kearny, N.J., to assemble 2,500 care packages for military members who are serving across the world.

“Through our #CSXPrideInService events like this one, CSX is proud to encourage employees and community members to take part in acts of gratitude that offer moral support for military families and deployed troops around the globe,” the Class I said in an X (formerly Twitter) post.

During UP’s second-annual “Hackathon” event hosted by the railroad’s Tech Department, cross-functional team members leveraged creativity and innovation to tackle real-world challenges. Employees focused energy on driving improvements in critical areas like operational efficiency, customer service and field communications.

After four weeks of ideation and five weeks of building prototypes, seven finalists were chosen to present their projects to an executive panel. The 2023 winning team included Tech’s Josh Saltz, Senior Systems Engineer; Kaleb Koehn, Associate Systems Engineer; and Sabir Shakeel, Senior Systems Engineer; and Fran Haferkamp, Senior Manager, Customer Care and Support.

Rahul Jalali, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer, stands among Hackathon organizers and participants. Jalali was one of Railway Age’s 2022 Readers’ Influential Leaders.

According to UP, using a customer-centric approach, the team’s innovative project makes customer trace data available to the customer through the Class I railroad’s cloud platform. “The idea enables deeper supply chain integration, as well as access to Artificial Intelligence and data visualization capabilities,” UP said.

“Our team collaborated with business and technology partners to prove our idea works and has significant business value,” Saltz said.

All final-stage ideas will be pursued and prioritized for further evaluation and execution.

“The hackathon has been an incredible opportunity for me to explore beyond my current projects,” Koehn said. “I get to contribute fresh ideas that will have a positive impact on UP and our customers.”

Separately, Houston officials on Sept. 27 approved a $5 million fund to help relocate residents from neighborhoods located near a UP rail yard, which is polluted by a cancer-linked wood preservative from the site of the former Houston Wood Preserving Works (HWPW), that has been blamed for an increase in cancer cases, according to an Associated Press report.

According to the AP report, “residents and local officials have long blamed the high number of cancer cases on contamination from a rail yard originally owned by Southern Pacific and later bought by UP near two historically Black neighborhoods, Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens.

“The wood preservative creosote, which has been associated with an increased risk of contracting cancer, was used for more than 80 years at the site until the 1980s. City officials say the contamination has reached the groundwater in the neighborhoods.”

During a city council meeting in which the funding was approved, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Houston “has a moral obligation” to help relocate residents away from the four different cancer clusters that have been identified in recent years, AP reports. “Health officials have found higher rates of respiratory cancers as well as childhood cancers, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia.”

Turner said relocating families from among the 100 properties that have been affected by the contamination could cost up to $35 million. According to the AP report, the city is looking at other sources, including federal funding, to help pay for the relocation program.

According to the AP report, UP has said that additional testing is needed to accurately determine the “true extent and source” of the contamination in the neighborhoods.

In February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an order “compelling UP to conduct additional testing in and around the rail yard.”

“Union Pacific is fully committed to following through with the additional testing that all parties, including the city of Houston, agreed is necessary. We are currently in the neighborhood seeking formal permission from residents to conduct these critical soil samples once the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approves the testing plan. This additional testing will provide the essential data needed to make informed decisions regarding any required additional remediation,” said UP spokesperson Kristen South in a statement.

According to the AP report, in July, Turner said he “didn’t want to wait for additional testing” and announced a new city program that would help move residents on a voluntary basis.

UP, AP reports, has pushed back on the city’s claims. Last month, the railroad announced the Texas Department of State Health Services had found no cancer or other health concerns linked to the presence of chemicals, including dioxins, detected in soil samples taken by the city near the site.

The Houston Health Department accused UP of misrepresenting the state’s review of the soil samples, saying the rail yard’s “adverse presence in this community is undeniable,” AP reports.

According to the AP report, the approval of the $5 million had been delayed by a week as some residents had wanted more information about how the relocation program would work. Turner said Wednesday’s approval was “the first step in a process that will include input from residents on how the program will operate.”

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