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By Pat Foran, Editor
In recent weeks, we’ve been asking North American rail execs to share their thoughts about the year ahead. Much of what they’ve told us is featured within the pages of our December issue. Some of it is posted on progressiverailroading.com. The rest is archived in our story-idea souls.
While it’s always something of a stretch to draw a definitive consensus about the collective sentiments real leaders share with us — our readers are in a range of industry segments and on various points of the economic growth curve — I’d say industry leaders feel pretty good about the year ahead. They’re telling us opportunities for growth are right there in front of them. They generally like what they’re seeing, business-climate wise. And slowly but surely, rail leaders are beginning to cite today’s (and tomorrow’s) technologies — not just rail-specific stuff, but innovations we all increasingly use in our daily lives — as key to productivity and growth. As Union Pacific Railroad Chairman, President and CEO Lance Fritz told us: “Innovation and technology are our core business strategies. Beyond the walls of the research and development lab, cross-functional teams of technical and non-technical employees are finding new ways to improve safety, service and efficiency.”
On Nov. 29, UP announced it had partnered with startup accelerator Plug and Play to help “drive freight transportation innovations.” As an accelerator, Plug and Play helps existing startup companies grow with seed money, mentoring and connections to large companies. UP will serve as an anchor partner in Plug and Play’s Supply Chain Innovation Platform. Railroad officials will participate in pitches from startups and vote on those they believe will deliver the most positive benefits, according to a UP press release.
“One of the main reasons Union Pacific continues to thrive after 155 years in business is because we are at the leading edge of innovation,” said UP Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Beth Whited.
More railroads are on or creeping toward that edge, as well — particularly if they are implementing positive train control (PTC). The technology will allow railroads to orchestrate tighter train schedules and improve productivity. PTC also will net data — heaps of it — regarding rail cars, components, track condition and the like. Expect to hear even more about Big Data and business development potential — and the new technology related to same — as systemwide PTC implementation nears.
The point: PTC, the innovations UP is talking up and other new technology railroads can’t wait to tell us about represent a step in the evolution of the Digital Railway and the “The Internet of Things” thing — all of which we’ll continue to cover extensively in the year ahead.