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Part 1 : What's at stake for the rail industry this election cycle; plus, vital signs on the rail industry trade-show circuit (Context, October 2012)
— by Pat Foran, Editor
With Nov. 6 looming, it's Election Central pretty much wherever you are, given our predilection for portable information access. One topic you won't see/read/hear candidates and campaign operatives talking, texting, tweeting or soundbiting much about is transportation, particularly rail. During the past several weeks, the Progressive Railroading staff — Angela Cotey, Julie Sneider, Jeff Stagl and I — talked with a cross-section of transportation industry stakeholders. We asked: What's at stake, or at least potentially at stake, this election cycle for transportation stakeholders? For rail? Stakeholders weren't shy about sharing their insights, rhetorical questions, frustrations and hopes.
They're worried about transportation infrastructure funding — from Amtrak to transit funding in general to TIGER grants. On the freight-rail front, some are concerned about potential changes to the regulatory framework, and the still-undecided truck-size-and-weight issue. Most of all, they continue to fret about the intensely partisan divide that's helped put a number of infrastructure issues in limbo — and made it that much harder to divine what truly may be at stake this election cycle, other than the consequences of inaction due to lawmakers' inability to work together. As ever, the devil is in the nuanced details. For a glimpse at how stakeholders are attempting to put those details in pre-election context, see our October cover story.
Our "what's at stake?" coverage doesn't end there. Online, there's a round-up of additional issues transportation stakeholders are thinking about this election season — click here. And we'll no doubt revisit a few of these issues at our eighth annual RailTrends® summit, which will be held Nov. 1-2 at the W New York Hotel in Manhattan. Check out independent transportation analyst Tony Hatch's program overview. For additional information, or to register, visit RailTrends.com.
Whatever political uncertainty may linger in the United States — in the world, for that matter — one thing seemed clear last month: The global industry that is rail is alive and well, if recent activity on the trade-show circuit is any indication.
Indicator No. 1 was the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association's (AREMA) 2012 Annual Conference and Exposition, held Sept. 16-19 at the Chicago Hilton & Towers. AREMA hosted 3,200 participants, including 2,500 conference registrants (a record for a stand-alone AREMA show) and 700 exhibitor personnel. The event also featured 300 exhibit booths and 285 exhibiting companies.
Then there was InnoTrans 2012, which is held every two years. Billed as "the International Trade Fair for Transport Technology," the massive event was held Sept. 18-21 at the Messe Berlin Exhibition Grounds in Berlin, Germany. InnoTrans also broke its own record attendance, attracting 126,110 trade visitors from 140 countries; the visitor total represents a 19 percent increase from InnoTrans 2010, organizers say. Also, 2,515 exhibitors from 49 countries showcased their products and services, versus 2,243 companies from 45 countries at the 2010 event.
Finally, there was the Railway Supply Institute Inc.'s (RSI) annual convention and technical conference of the Coordinated Mechanical Committees. Held Sept. 23-25 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, the event attracted 1,360 attendees, and exhibit space was sold out — RSI made room for an additional five booths, bringing the exhibitor total to 105.
Anecdotal evidence gleaned from a few of the Chicago events' educational sessions — and divined from the tone and tenor of the dialogue in the exhibit halls — suggest that lingering economic uncertainty will keep North American railroaders and the suppliers who serve them on a bit of an edge as they look to 2013. Of course, the edge is a place where many of them have been perched for some time now. What could help take a bit of the edge off: Class Is may set aside a bit more for capex next year than they did in 2012, if rumblings we heard in Chicago were in the vicinity of accurate. If so, that's a vital sign if ever there was one.