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NRC FirstLook 2021 delivered on its promise to be a worthy substitute for our association’s annual, in-person conference held each January.
The first of four webinars during January kicked off NRC FirstLook in a strong way. Norfolk Southern Chairman, President and CEO Jim Squires covered a lot of ground during the fireside chat with actionable insights for just about every audience. His message to the railway contractors and suppliers who were participating online came through loud and clear.
Jim stressed that it’s vital to our industry’s long-term well being that we be the industry of choice. As a result, NS is focused on fashioning an appealing package of compensation and benefits and other aspects of work. That’s a strong endorsement for railway professionals and young people looking at our industry for career options.
He also emphasized the company’s commitment to investing in safety-critical assets, such as track infrastructure and equipment. “An investment in these assets in an investment in safety,” he noted, adding that NS is proud of the fact that they have a well-invested franchise, and we can expect a robust investment in core assets will continue in the future.
NS is transforming itself into a tech company … and we are invited to collaborate in that transformation. Using technology to enhance its operations is a core element in NS’s precision scheduled railroading (PSR) strategy. Jim sees tremendous opportunity to unlock the power of data for the engineering team, particularly with networked devices. He referenced predictive maintenance of assets and automation in the field, citing track inspection as an example, and use of mobile devices.
The next frontier will be technology driven, Jim said. NS will become more efficient through digital initiatives, often in collaboration with customers and suppliers. “There’s only so much you can do yourself,” he said. NS is extending its vision to others in the supply chain and sees lots of opportunities to work with contractors and suppliers on efficiencies.
Contractors and suppliers will play a bigger role in NS’s future. Jim thanked the entire rail supply community for being such valuable partners. He noted it is important to maintain strong supplier relationships that are mutually beneficial so together we can create value. “We could not do what we do and be who we are without our valued suppliers. You do much of the work of the railroad industry with us and for us and that is not likely to change. We will focus on what we do best and increasingly we will call on others to do tasks for us. That’s an inextricable trend in business.”
Jim is positive about 2021 and expects the economy will pick up. “We are fully committed to growth as a component of PSR,” Jim said, and affirmed a focus on operational excellence will pave the way. He stated that maximizing use of railway infrastructure is a way to achieve those efficiencies.
That’s a positive message for the contractor community, and we must be prepared.
“Building a Safer and Stronger Railway Construction Industry Together!”
— Jim Hansen, NRC Chairman
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