Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Recap of a big month

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This is always a busy time of year around our offices. Between the Railroader of the Year dinner, Railroad Day on the Hill and AAR’s annual research review, I sometimes wish I had a cheat sheet of where everyone will be and on what day.

Even with the hectic schedule, I am forever impressed with the greatness of this industry and especially of the people who work in it.

This year’s Railway Age Railroader of the Year is David Starling, president and CEO of Kansas City Southern. Close to 400 people gathered at the Union League Club in downtown Chicago to honor Mr. Starling and were treated to a wonderful speech titled “Railroading in North America: This Generation to the Next” that touched on some major topics affecting our industry.

Starling mentioned his many mentors who directed and shaped his career, touched on the current rail renaissance, the role the rail industry plays in North America’s global competitiveness and how KCS plays a vital role in the industry.

In closing, Starling named five key areas of focus for the next generation of industry leadership. First, he said to remember the lessons of history and protect the successful and balanced regulatory environment of today; second, reinvesting in infrastructure, equipment and human resources will not only foster the current rail renaissance but will keep North America competitive and create new jobs for people in the global economy; third, be prepared to recruit and willing to invest in the training and knowledge transfer that will be required for the success of the next generation of railroaders; fourth, find ways to work together within the existing regulatory and economic framework to improve, explore and fortify our industry and fifth, make sure we never forget and never let the American public forget, the indispensable importance of the rail industry to the North American economy and the need to keep this industry healthy and able to grow.

“It is the most efficient, environmentally responsible and privately financed way to move goods we need for everyday life and we can never forget its importance to our national competitiveness,” said Starling.

It is Starling’s last point, to remind folks of the important role North America’s rail industry plays in economic development, which leads to another big event that took place in the past month: Railroad Day on the Hill.

According to the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, a total of 375 congressional visits took place and they couldn’t have occurred at a more critical time with the current surface transportation legislation set to expire on March 31. In each 30-minute appointment, Railroad Day attendees discussed preserving reasonable regulation, opposing bigger and heavier trucks, preserving the Section 130 Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Program and extending the shortline tax credit.

At the time of this writing, the Senate passed its version of the surface transportation bill, which does not include the shortline tax credit and House leadership has introduced legislation that would continue transportation funding at current levels for 90 days. This being politics and publishing, by the time you read this column that will have changed.

For me, all one needed to see was the packed Railroad Day on the Hill early morning briefing room to know the importance of this industry to North America’s economic well-being and development and how much those of us who work in it believe it to be.

by George S. Sokulski,
Associate Publisher, RT&S

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