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Rail News Home MOW

April 2021

Rail News: MOW

NRC chairman’s column: Railway contractors, suppliers are powering the technology train

NRC Chairman Jim Hansen


They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But a look at today’s railroads demonstrates the 200-year-old industry is anything but stuck in the past.

Railroads are technology leaders and poised to continue on that track in the future. They put technology at the forefront and consider it the means to achieving many key performance indicators. Recent comments by a handful of Class I executives back up that perspective.

In CSX’s last earnings call, President and CEO Jim Foote said, “Technology is foundational to our growth. We are actively investing in new technologies across the railroad, but are barely scratching the surface of what is possible.”

During Union Pacific’s last earnings call, Executive Vice President of Operations Eric Gehringer said UP’s engineering and mechanical departments are using technology “to reinvent the way they do their work,” adding there are “almost countless number of initiatives the related technology that are driving that (improvements) and you’ll see that continue in 2021 and beyond.”

UP Chairman, President and CEO Lance Fritz said technology definitely plays a role in their growth, and affirmed UP would continue to use technology to enhance efficiency and productivity.

In a January webinar that kicked off NRC FirstLook 2021, NS President and CEO Jim Squires spelled it out even more clearly, saying NS is transforming itself into a tech company. “The next frontier will be technology-driven,” he said, with NS becoming more efficient through digital initiatives, often in collaboration with customers and suppliers.

It’s no secret that railway contractors and suppliers are deeply involved in powering the technology train in our industry. These contractor-supplier partners have stepped up to work directly with railroads and with each other to develop and improve technology solutions that are literally changing the way all of us do our jobs. Railroad engineering leaders have told us that while they are always looking down the track, in this market, they put a premium on technology solutions that produce a quick return on investment with actual dollar savings. Oftentimes those gains fall in the areas of instrumentation and inspection for preventive maintenance.

The NRC’s recently formed Technology Committee, chaired by Allen Branham, president of B4 Solutions LLC, will be shining a proverbial blue light on technology information and opportunities to enhance safety and operations for NRC member contractors and suppliers, and their railway customers.

This committee is working to make sure our members are aware of Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) discretionary grant opportunities, particularly in the areas of measurement/inspection, pedestrian and crossing safety, roadway worker safety, vehicle/collision avoidance and working limits.

The committee also is evaluating ways to share and collaborate on technology developments through ongoing webinars and at the NRC’s upcoming annual conference in Phoenix next January. If you have a suggestion or want to get involved, please reach out to Allen or to Michael McGonagle, the NRC’s senior director of operations, at

Let me assure you that while I may be an old dog in this industry, I’m excited to be on the technology train. It represents not only tremendous opportunities ahead, but also is the key to our survival. All aboard!

“Building a Safer and Stronger Railway Construction Industry Together!”

— Jim Hansen, NRC Chairman

The National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association Inc.
80 M Street, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003

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