Dan O’Neal, 81

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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Long-time Greenbrier Cos. executive and board member, and former Interstate Commerce Commission Chairman A. Daniel O’Neal died at home on Oct. 10 at the age of 81.

Dan O’Neal served Greenbrier for more than 30 years. He was Director of Greenbrier’s Gunderson subsidiary from 1985 to 2005. He also served in various executive positions with Greenbrier, including as Chairman of Greenbrier ntermodal from 1984 to 1994, Chairman of Autostack from 1989 to 1996 and Chairman of Greenbrier Logistics from 1996 to 1997. O’Neal became a member of the Greenbrier Board of Directors at the time of the company’s initial public offering in 1994 and held that position until 2016. He is credited with helping pioneer the market for the double-stack intermodal railcar that is still built at Gunderson today.

Prior to his affiliation with Greenbrier and Gunderson, O’Neal served as Transportation Counsel to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee chaired by Senator Warren Magnuson. In 1973, President Richard M. Nixon appointed O’Neal a Commissioner of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), where he served until 1980 including, from 1977 until his departure, as its Chairman after appointment to that seat by President Jimmy Carter.

After leaving the ICC, O’Neal served as a partner in a business law firm, and it was there he began his relationship with Greenbrier. He continued to be civically involved throughout his life, serving in key roles with the Railway Supply Institute, Washington State Freight Mobility Board, Washington State Transportation Commission, Puget Sound Partnership and many other non-profit organizations.

“For more than three decades, Greenbrier was the beneficiary of Dan’s keen insights on federal affairs and his deep understanding of the often inscrutable ways of operating inside the Beltway,” said William A. Furman, Chairman and CEO. “He was a trusted advisor and confidant to many. We deeply appreciate Dan’s numerous contributions to Greenbrier, particularly his warm friendship, and offer our deepest condolences to [his wife] Diane and his family. He is remembered as a dear friend, admired colleague and a devoted husband and father.”

Railway Age Capitol Hill Contributing Editor Frank N. Wilner, a friend of O’Neal and frequently a source for his writing, recalls:
“Dan, a Democrat, came out of what was known as ‘Maggie’s Alley,’ named for Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Warren Magnuson of Washington State. As support congealed for economic deregulation beginning in the 1960s, O’Neal, who was the committee’s counsel, observed that no issue ‘generated more heat and less light’ than the controversy over whether to ‘change course in our regulation of interstate transportation.’
“President Nixon named O’Neal Chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission (now Surface Transportation Board) upon his Senate confirmation in 1973, with O’Neal quickly distancing himself from deregulation advocates. As the 1976 Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform (4-R) Act was being crafted in Congress, O’Neal said that ‘what the railroads really want is to be able to increase rates where they do not have competition.’ The AAR accused O’Neal and the ICC of ‘a march toward more regulation.’
“Before resigning from the ICC in 1979, and as elements of the 1980 Staggers Rail Act were being assembled, O’Neal slowly warmed toward less railroad regulation. The Wall Street Journal observed in February 1980 that O’Neal ‘began to realize the [rail] industry’s frustration as it saw nearly all of that business going to trucks. Mr. O’Neal swung in favor of letting railroads raise rates without ICC permission on certain services, such as red-ink branch-line operations. And he decided the ICC should no longer impose restrictive conditions on railroads seeking to merge.’
“O’Neal was succeeded as ICC chairman by Darius Gaskins, a nominee of deregulation-advocate President Carter. Gaskins quickly told a gathering of the ICC bar association that ‘salvation for shippers and carriers alike lies in the marketplace, not in the halls of the ICC in Washington.’
“While working for the Senate Commerce Committee, O’Neal was an enthusiastic supporter of Amtrak’s creation, and may best be remembered for his comment regarding the ‘for-profit’ clause in Amtrak’s enabling legislation when it was widely known that no passenger railroad on the globe supported itself from the farebox.
“‘We added the for-profit clause,’ O’Neal said, ‘because we thought that this new entity should have high aspirations,’” recalls Wilner.

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