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March 2016

Rail News: Intermodal

The vision and grace of Gil Carmichael


— by Pat Foran, editor

We recently lost a transportation visionary, a graciously persuasive intermodalist and a dear friend. Gil Carmichael, a former Federal Railroad Administrator and longtime Progressive Railroading columnist, died Jan. 31. He was 88.

Gil Carmichael
Photo: University of Denver

Gil spent much of his early career in Meridian, Miss., where he ran two automobile dealerships and a real estate development company. After an unsuccessful U.S. Senate seat bid in 1972, Carmichael was asked by President Richard Nixon to chair the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s advisory committee. But the energy crisis that crippled the United States in 1973 prompted Gil to follow a new path. “I went in a highway lobbyist and came out an intermodalist,” he told me in 2002.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford appointed him to the National Transportation Policy Study Commission, which was charged with assessing transportation needs for the year 2000. From 1989 to 1993, he headed the FRA during the George H.W. Bush administration. He nurtured the first World Railways Congress and proposed a regional network of high-speed rail corridors. For the next two decades, Gil championed intermodalism and advocated viewing it in a global context.

In 1996, he was a co-founder of the University of Denver’s Intermodal Transportation Institute. In 1998, he was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council and was named chairman a year later — a post he held through mid-2002. And from 1993 through 2002, Gil shared his thoughts in “Viewpoint,” his Progressive Railroading column.

“Gil brought to our magazine great insight on the railroad industry, especially in the intermodal sector,” says Rich Zemencik, former co-owner and associate publisher of Progressive Railroading. “Gil was a true gentleman and friend of our country’s transportation industry.”

Long after he’d pared back his professional involvements in the early 2000s, Gil published and presented papers, advocating the need for a more efficient intermodal freight and passenger system.

When he told me a couple years ago that he finally had stepped back from his life’s work, I wasn’t sure I believed it. He’d certainly sown more than his share of big-picture policy seeds, but Gil always seemed to have more of them to plant, cultivate and share.

For four decades, Gil raised the level of transport policy discourse and took the high road doing it. It was always a joy to talk with him, to hear his earnestness, his politely ardent commitment. It was a privilege to work with Gil and an honor to be on the receiving end of his uncommon graciousness. I’ll miss him. So will every link in the transport chain.


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