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Former NS exec Tobias dies at 72

Stephen Tobias
Photo – Norfolk Southern Corp.

Former Norfolk Southern Corp. Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer Stephen Tobias died Monday, the company reported yesterday. He was 72.

A 40-year veteran of NS, Tobias retired from the company in 2009. During his tenure, he "achieved an unparalleled legacy for employee safety and operational efficiency," NS officials said in a prepared statement.

"Under his leadership NS won 15 consecutive Harriman Gold Medal Awards for the best safety performance of any railroad in the United States," they said.

Tobias joined NS' predecessor railroad Norfolk & Western Railway in 1969 as a junior engineer. He moved on to serve in positions of increased responsibility, including terminal trainmaster, superintendent, general manager, vice president of transportation, vice president of strategic planning, senior vice president operations and executive vice president of operations.

In 1998, he was named vice chairman and COO, the position he held upon his retirement.

Tobias influenced countless NS employees during his career, company officials said.

"He was a great railroader and, I believe, the best operations man in the business," said David Goode, former chairman, president and CEO.

Tobias was an assistant superintendent at the Bellevue, Ohio, terminal when Mark Manion, former NS executive vice president and COO, first met him as a management trainee.

"He made an immediate impression as being a hard-charging operating supervisor," said Manion. "That is in fact what he was throughout his career. I was fortunate to learn from him and to know him personally when I left a trainmaster's position and worked as his assistant when he became the first general manager to 'cross railroads' following the Southern-N&W merger."

Deb Butler, former executive vice president of planning and chief information officer, met Tobias when she was a manager in the car distribution and utilization department. Over the years, he became a mentor and "valued friend," she said.

"He was smart and visionary, an industry leader in safety and an advocate of the concept of what he called 'scheduled railroading' long before we heard a similar term elsewhere in the industry," said Butler. "He loved the rail business, but he loved his family and friends even more. Steve was one of the great ones, and it's hard to imagine this industry without him in it."

Tobias was a "great leader and mentor," said Terry Evans, vice president, transportation.

"I worked with Steve in different roles for almost 30 years," Evans said. "He was a great leader and mentor — one of the very best railroaders I've had the opportunity to work with at NS. He poured everything he had into the operation. He had many sayings and teaching quotes: 'Discipline is training that makes punishment unnecessary,' and 'Good ideas are where you find them.' "

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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