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September 2009



Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

RailTrends '09 - Rethinking Rail Strategies for a Changed World



By Tony Hatch

Once again, this year’s iteration of RailTrends (Oct. 6-7 in New York City) will be the only multi-disciplinary look at the railway financial and operating worlds. Our summit also serves as a crucial window into the thinking of key players who will be shaping change. Among them: an influential shipper; the regulators, lobbyists, unions and legislators making and changing rail policies in D.C.; key Class I and short-line strategists; and the sharpest forecasting minds, be they foretelling financial results, the equipment markets, positive train control (PTC) benefit analysis and rail-change strategy. Progressive Railroading also will present at RailTrends its first-ever Rail Innovator Award to a leader who could probably take the award with him in retirement, such is his legacy: CN’s E. Hunter Harrison.

Washington's World. Our annual presentation of leaders from the regulatory, legislative, industry association and labor fronts is relevant with threats (the possibility of “re-regulation,” albeit dimmed, hasn’t gone away) and opportunities (the Obama Administration’s newfound interest in rails for efficiency, infrastructure and carbon footprint reasons) all coming from Washington, D.C.

We begin Day One with our “Rail in a Restructured Economy” panel, which features the leaders of the Association of American Railroads, Railway Supply Institute and National Industrial Transportation League — Ed Hamberger, Tom Simpson and Bruce Carlton, respectively. (The National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association’s Chuck Baker will talk about the stimulus bill the next day.)

We’re also pleased to present the new head of the Federal Railroad Administration, Joe Szabo; Surface Transportation Board Commissioner Frank Mulvey; and representatives from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (John Tolman) and United Transportation Union (Frank Wilner). And if their schedules permit, we’ll hear from both sides of the House version of the regulatory debate: Rep. John Mica (R.-Fla.), who spoke so well last year about rails and investment; and T&I Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), one of the issue’s pivot men.

   
Tony Hatch  
The group we’ve assembled will address
most of the relevant questions as the
rail industry faces a brave new world.
 

The Wal-Mart Way. We’re also happy that two of Wal-Mart’s logistics leaders, Greg Forbis and Kelly Abney, will join us. Wal-Mart is the largest shipper and also the most innovative — from package sizing to enforcing “green” supply chains from their suppliers, Wal-Mart is the “Big Kahuna” now and tomorrow.

Carriers Plan for The Future. Among the Class I railroad thought leaders joining us will be Deb Butler, Norfolk Southern Corp.’s EVP of planning and CIO. With domestic intermodal offering such promise and PPPs on the funding horizon, the U.S. East is where a lot of the action is. Mexico is, too, with near-sourcing a renewed hot topic; Pat Ottensmeyer, Kansas City Southern’s CMO, will update us.

Short lines also will be well represented; Rick Webb, The Watco Cos.’ CEO, will discuss his company, which is well-regarded in rail and shipper circles. We’ll also present a case study of the Empire Link corridor, upon which many (including me) have pinned high hopes as a replicable model for Class I/short line interaction (as well as carload’s future).

Equipment & Technology. As ever, there are challenges and opportunities — the former in the form of the rail-car market (Toby Kolstad’s annual review) and locomotives (Jim Husband’s locomotive outlook session), and the latter in terms of the PTC picture. Our “PTC: Looking Toward 2015” session will feature Steve Ditmeyer from Michigan State University’s Railway Management Programs, and Jeff Young, Union Pacific Railroad’s AVP of IT. And UP General Director - Car and Locomotive Engineering Mike Iden will present “Genset and other Green Issues.”

Analysts & Strategists & Thinkers (Oh, My). RailTrends 2009 also features a session from Miller Tabak + Co. L.L.C. focusing on market intelligence as it applies today and tomorrow; the annual analysts’ panel, which this year comprises UBS’ Rick Paterson, J.P. Morgan’s Tom Wadewitz and, briefly, me; and a speech delivered by perhaps the deepest thinker on railways here and abroad, the original “Man Who Loved Trains” (and ex-NS strategist) himself, Jim McClellan. His session will be an eye-opener.

We may not leave RailTrends ’09 knowing all the answers, but we’ve assembled a group that’ll address most of the relevant questions as the rail industry faces a brave new world.

Tony Hatch is an independent transportation industry analyst and consultant.



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