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By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor
A former Class I chief executive officer’s choices as the two most important events from the past 50 years are often-mentioned ones: the Staggers Act and technological change.
But Arnold McKinnon, who served as Norfolk Southern Corp.’s second chairman, president and CEO from 1987 to 1992 following Robert Claytor’s five-year stint, also identified a few not-so-obvious ones.
A destructive East Coast storm that caused flooding inland and damaged many railroads’ infrastructure prompted Congress in 1958 to provide what became the first federal funding available to railroads since the Depression era, says McKinnon, who began his railroading career in 1951, served NS and predecessor Southern Railway System for 36 years, and retired from NS in 1992.
“It saved small railroads that wouldn’t have been able to do any rebuilding without the funding,” he says.
McKinnon, 80, also considers the development of the hump yard to be an industry milestone. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, many railroads transitioned from flat yards — which required many switchers to move rail cars — to hump yards that use gravity to classify cars.
“It saved a lot in labor and materials, and you needed a lot less switchers,” says McKinnon, adding that former Southern Railway CEO Bill Brosnan developed a hump yard layout, which “more or less became the standard.”
And what does McKinnon believe is the pinnacle of the past half century? Something that railroads continue to work on today, he says.
“I think it’s the willingness to improve the operation of the railroad day to day, and to become more efficient,” says McKinnon.
As far as his own top accomplishment as NS’ CEO, McKinnon chooses an event that occurred in 1991. He was able to work closely with rail labor officials and other Class I executives to hammer out a crew reduction agreement that led to two-man crews.The agreement represented a cooperative landmark in management-labor relations that resulted in a more efficient industry, says McKinnon.
To honor his labor negotiation effort and others that “translated vision into goals and results,” NS last year named its Norfolk, Va., headquarters the Arnold B. McKinnon Building.