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— by Pat Foran, Editor
On Sept. 30, the Association of American Railroads reported that U.S. railroads experienced the year's highest weekly intermodal volume — and highest container count on record —during the week ending Sept. 25. Intermodal, it seems, is back. Particularly international intermodal traffic. As for whether said back-ness is sustainable or when volumes might return to the levels of 2008 — "the last time everyone felt good about the numbers," as Intermodal Association of North America VP of Member Services and Communications Tom Malloy told Desiree J. Hanford, who penned this month's cover story — it's anybody's guess.
Uncertainty will be the dominant color this fall, and maybe the next few seasons, if the thoughts Class I intermodal execs shared with Desiree are any indication. They're cautiously confident that container business is beginning to turn a corner just as leaves are beginning to do some turning of their own. But they aren't banking on it just yet. A common sum-up: "We like what we're seeing, but there are too many variables, vagaries and downright unexplainables to say anything definitive about where we really are or where we're headed." As BNSF Railway Co. Group VP of Consumer Products Steve Branscum put it: "Nothing that economists generally look at seems to explain why this is happening."
Accordingly, we'll hang with what we continue to hear: that rail execs don't expect a double-dip recession; that the recovery will continue, in varying shades of slow; and that rail's future is as bright as it's been since the brightness first appeared on the horizon a few years back. And intermodal, in all its enigmatically tinted glory, might be leading the way.
The American Association of Railroad Superintendents (AARS) recently announced the 2010 winners of the trade group's annual Frank J. Richter Scholarship program.
AARS awarded a $1,000 scholarship to Xiang Liu, a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign civil engineering student. Liu worked as a summer intern at Transportation Technology Center Inc. (TTCI) in Pueblo, Colo., where he tested and debugged a Wheel/Rail Interface Management (WRIMª) computer program that TTCI's developing. At TTCI, he also used statistical techniques to quantitatively evaluate the principal train accident causes in North America from 2007 through 2009. As part of his scholarship award, Liu receives a one-year AARS membership and an invitation to participate in the AARS Derailment Investigation Seminar scheduled for Nov. 8-9 in Dallas.
The association also awarded two $500 scholarships: one to Lars Leemkuil, a Michigan Technological University civil engineering student who's had a stint as a CN engineering intern; and the other to Pierre Berastain, a Harvard University social anthropology student. Leemkuil and Berastain also received one-year AARS memberships.
Co-founder of Progressive Railroading, Frank Richter is a quintessential student of rail, as well as transportation as a whole. Congratulations to this year's winners. And thanks, Frank, for all that you've done for the rail industry.
Marilyn Tonn, former executive secretary of the Railway Supply Association Inc. (RSA)/Railway Supply Institute Inc. (RSI), died Sept. 22. She was 70.
Marilyn retired as RSI's executive secretary in 2008. For 12 years, she and her husband, Howard — the former RSI/RSA executive director who also retired in 2008 — contributed considerable time and leadership to the success of RSI and predecessor organization the RSA, RSI officials said. "Hard work, integrity, character and hope: These are the things that characterize Marilyn and what she contributed to the Railway Supply Institute," they said. "Her institutional knowledge, passion for the RSI and its membership and diligent work ethic moved the organization forward."
Marilyn enjoyed getting to know others and knew most member companies and contact officers, RSI officials said. She also knew how to get things done.
"She felt truly vested in the success of RSI's members," as RSI officials put it. "In addition, she could always be found with a warm smile and kind words. Marilyn will be truly missed by her family and us here at RSI."
On behalf of the Progressive Railroading staff: Our thoughts are with Howard Tonn and the Tonn family, who ask that memorials be sent to the Prentice Women's Hospital for Leukemia, 251 E Huron St., Galter Pavilion, Suite 3-200, Chicago, Ill., 60611.