ASLRRA PERSPECTIVE, RAILWAY AGE, JUNE 2020 ISSUE: National survey data indicate that 70% of Americans have not left their homes to visit family or friends, more than 50% have not gone into work, 20% do not leave their home to shop for the essentials of life, and 33% have someone in their household that has either lost a job or took a pay cut because of the coronavirus outbreak. A stunning 39 million Americans have filed for unemployment since early March.
What hasn’t changed is the railroad industry’s ability to provide uninterrupted service, moving raw materials and finished products across the country 24/7/365. Class I’s and short lines alike are up and running over an incredibly resilient network. From the short line perspective, we are leaning heavily on what has always been one of our greatest strengths, providing flexible service based on close communication with our customers, made possible by dedicated, entrepreneurial employees. Here are just a few examples.
The Indiana & Ohio Railway (IORY) delivers inbound and fatty and cyclic alcohols to the Procter & Gamble production facility in Lima, Ohio. The two alcohols are the main ingredients of most hand sanitizers. As a result of the pandemic, IORY has been providing extra weekend switches to accommodate P&G’s increased production of hand sanitizers, and also expedited railcars from Cincinnati so that P&G can generate sanitizer more quickly. “IORY does whatever it can to help P&G when we require urgent or special shipments,” says Tony Fries, P&G’s transportation officer. “We appreciate the agility.”
Morning Star Company, a key California Northern Railroad (CFNR) customer, is the biggest tomato processor in California, a state that accounts for 95% of total U.S. output. “CFNR has been critically important to the success of our overall business,” says Morning Star’s Bob Henry. “We have a tremendous relationship with them, based on daily communication. What sets them apart from others is their willingness to be flexible with scheduling, and that’s key for us.”
The New Orleans & Gulf Coast Railway (NOGC) moves grain for export and materials and products to chemical plants. Unusually high water and swift currents on the Mississippi River have put some areas out of reach for ships, making NOGC even more important to customers along the river. At the same time, the NOGC’s service area is a hot zone for COVID-19 infections, which HAVE kept some of the short line’s employees in isolation. Balancing increasing customer needs with safety and family needs is a difficult challenge that NOGC is meeting every day.
The Gulf & Ohio Railways is making new infrastructure investments to accommodate additional customer requests for car storage, which is unfortunately a critical need for some businesses right now.
To paraphrase Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, you can always depend on the kindness of strangers, especially short line railroaders. In April, Tom Grassel of the Strasburg Rail Road delivered 13,000 candy eggs to the Lampeter Church of the Brethren where they were given out for Easter, because the Strasburg Rail Road had to cancel its beloved Easter Bunny Train Rides during the pandemic.
Riverport Railroad, LLC (RVPR) has created a virtual train ride for area pre-school classes in place of their annual field trip. The company has also been making financial donations to the local food pantry and to the Savanna Chamber of Commerce to support individuals and businesses in need.
Because flexibility is the short line watchword, we are turning our October 5-9 Connections Convention into a virtual event. We are committed to making this online event as invaluable, informative and interesting as the in-person variety. We will feature insights from key leaders, among them including Federal Railroad Administrator Ron Batory and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administrator Howard “Skip” Elliott; executives from rail shippers, Class I’s and short lines; and state and federal regulators and legislators. The program will include timely panel discussions, deep-dive breakout sessions, interactive Q&A and virtual networking for half the regular registration price (plus, no airfare, travel or lodging costs). Participants will be able to log on from the comfort of home or office and choose from a great selection of live and on-demand content.
We understand that, for our rail suppliers, which are such a critical part of our industry, our annual conference has been an important opportunity for networking and promotion. We are going to make every effort to duplicate those opportunities in this new environment. We look forward to your participation and urge your company to give it a try and support your association, so that we can keep supporting you.