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Words of praise for a Class I

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

I’ve known Andy M. Muller Jr., chairman and CEO of Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad Co., for close to 30 years, when he was just getting started in the business, operating local freight and steam-powered tourist trains on a short branch line emanating from Reading Pa.

Andy’s Blue Mountain & Reading, within a few years, had evolved into the Reading & Northern, a 309-mile regional system serving eastern Pennsylvania.

Andy has always been a straight-shooter who never sugar-coats what he has to say. He hasn’t always had kind words to say about his railroad’s Class I partners. That’s why, when I saw a letter to his employees in a recent edition of the railroad’s company magazine praising Norfolk Southern, I felt compelled to share it with our readers. It’s especially appropriate for the Christmas season, when many people tend to reflect upon relationships. But enough from me. I’ll let Andy tell the story:

“A few months ago, I wrote an open letter to all Reading & Northern employees reminding them of the importance of our customers. We published that letter in our Summer 2012 magazine because we wanted our customers and friends to understand that at the RBM&N our customers come first.

“Since then I have been thinking that there is another party out there that is responsible for much of our success. For those of you who know me, Wayne [Michel, RBM&N President], and our railroad, you might be surprised when I report that that party is none other than Norfolk Southern, our Class I partner.

“Now, I have been very leery of calling any Class I railroad a partner since the split-up of Conrail. As many of you know, I had a unique relationship with Conrail. Ever since Wayne and I got to know each other in 1988 we developed a close working relationship. That relationship resulted in two line sales and our being asked to join the CONRAIL EXPRESS network as a charter member.

“Over the years since NS took over for Conrail, there have been some choppy moments in our relationship. But I am pleased to report that those issues are long behind us and our relationship with NS is excellent. And I am not embarrassed to admit that publicly. The fact is that both railroads have worked diligently to build a relationship of mutual respect and support. At the Reading & Northern we see the Norfolk Southern effort in deeds both large and small.

“We were honored a couple of years ago when Wayne and [Vice President Marketing and Sales] Dan Gilchrist were invited to an NS Harrisburg Division customer luncheon with Wick Moorman. Wayne couldn’t stop raving about how classy an event it was and how gracious Wick was with his personal time and attention.

“We have seen the NS Coal Group go out of its way to help us develop the Pennsylvania anthracite business. This went beyond our old friends from Conrail days, Doug Evans and Ron Listwak, and extended to an entirely new group of people who had little experience with the anthracite business. Many thanks to Danny Smith, Mark Bower, Ken Joyner, and Dutch Tubman. We know that we could not have developed the new export facility at Fairless Hills without the active support of NS, and we know that NS has had our back on every anthracite initiative we have pursued.

“Our commercial support extends to all business groups. NS marketing people work with us on a myriad of business opportunities. Last year, Jim Schaff’s people assisted us in our purchase of over 400 freight cars for the anthracite business. Without support from the NS Paper and Food groups, we could never maintain and expand our business with Gallo Wine and Procter & Gamble, and our newest customer, Packaging Corporation of America. We appreciate the help of the Chemicals Group in helping us serve the dozen-plus customers who receive plastic pellets and chemicals.

“No discussion of our NS relationship would be complete without mentioning the support we get from the Short Line Group. Rob Robinson, Chris Spiceland, and Steve Lendway are always there when we need a hand. Thankfully, our relations with NS marketing folk are so good that we seldom need the Short Line Group to intervene, but when we do they are there. Thanks, guys.

“Our interaction with NS Operations has been good for so long that I almost take it for granted. We have worked with Jerry Hall and a succession of fine people to build a strong relationship of equal parts candor and respect. NS helps us to meet our customer’s service expectations, and as we raise the bar on our own performance, NS is there to help us exceed expectations.

“Sometimes a partnership is seen in the small things that go barely noticed; like paying bills in a timely fashion. But let me tell you this is no small thing. The fact that I can count on NS to pay us on time, and in very good time, for our interline business as well as our trackage rights fees means that I never wonder where the money is coming from to pay our employees and our bills. We really appreciate all the unsung heroes at NS who make sure our bills are processed quickly. Thank you.

“Sometimes a partnership is seen in the big things. I mentioned the development of Fairless Hills. NS also honored us years ago when it chose to run its trackage-rights trains over our route. The Harrisburg Division honors us every year when it chooses to use our excursion trains to treat its employees to a Christmas-time train trip. NS is respecting us as this letter is penned by considering how best to transition our operation in Hazleton’s Humboldt Industrial Park.

“I could go on, but I don’t want to go overboard. The fact is we will have our disagreements from time to time as businesses do. But it is equally true that we have developed a true partnership with NS. In the words of Wayne Michel, that partnership keeps us on track.”

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