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If recession is a key undercurrent running through this month’s issue (and oh man is it), then rhetoric (as in the study of the effective use of language, and the at-times feeble struggle to apply what’s been learned) frames it. It’s there, in the rhetorical questions we asked and the ones folks asked right back during the information gathering for our ninth annual Finance & Leasing Guide. And it’s a part-and-parcel premise of this month’s cover story — loosely, the extent to which rail rates on the “urgency” meter in Washington these days and how rail leaders, lawmakers and other transportation stakeholders might tailor their messages accordingly (cover story).
There’s been some message-tailoring, and there’ll be more — of the tweaking variety, mostly. But it won’t be (can’t be) about gimmickry or sloganeering. It can’t involve the use of obfuscation in any shape or form. When uncertainty rules in recessionary stretches like this one, clarity’s critical. Word choice always matters, but the choices will matter — on the Hill, in public-private partnership circles, in rail-customer conversations — that much more in the months ahead.
The good news for those who call the transportation industry home: “Transportation infrastructure” is an unambiguous phrase for a lot more people these days.
“We are definitely pleased with the way our message is being received, and the kind of overall understanding of the importance of investment in infrastructure, specifically rail,” says Chuck Baker, president of the National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association Inc., which aims to serve the needs of railroad contractors, suppliers, and the freight-rail and transit construction industry. “Everybody we talk to [on the Hill] who has a say in shaping policy realizes that rail needs to be part of it.”
Rhetorically, that’s about as good as it gets, clarity-wise.
Canadian National Railway Co.’s long and winding cross-country journey to fill “the last gap” in its network, as E. Hunter Harrison put it back in the fall of 2007, is finally over. On Jan. 31, CN completed its acquisition of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Co.’s (EJ&E) principal lines from U.S. Steel Corp. for $300 million. CN now will begin a measured, step-by-step integration of the acquired lines, which encompass 198 miles of track encircling Chicago, reaching Waukegan, Joliet and South Chicago, Ill., and Gary, Ind.
“With this closing, we can move forward to fulfill the promise of the EJ&E acquisition, which will help drive new efficiencies and operating improvements on CN’s network,” said Harrison, CN’s president and chief executive officer, in a prepared statement. “Streamlined rail operations, along with reduced congestion resulting from the acquisition, are critically important to the Chicago region’s economy and its continued role as one of America’s most important transportation hubs.”
CN remains “fully committed” to mitigating the transaction’s environmental impacts in communities along the EJ&E, Harrison added. The Class I has adopted a voluntary mitigation plan and reached mitigation agreements with 10 Illinois and Indiana communities. CN also must comply with the STB’s various monitoring and reporting requirements, including the appointment of a community liaison officer for municipalities along the EJ&E.
U.S. Steel’s Transtar subsidiary retains the railroad assets, equipment and employees that support the EJ&E’s Gary Works site in northwest Indiana and U.S. Steel’s operations. That EJ&E segment is now known as the Gary Railway.
The Progressive Railroading staff and independent transportation analyst/consultant Tony Hatch will present the fifth-annual RailTrends conference this fall. The two-day event will be held Oct. 6-7 at (for the second-straight year) the Affinia Manhattan Hotel in New York City.
As ever, this year’s RailTrends model will provide a comprehensive overview of the rail industry and critical insight on leasing and finance issues from an array of industry experts, analysts and investors. The summit is designed for railroaders, suppliers, equipment lessors, financiers, shippers — anyone and everyone who has an interest and/or stake in the industry’s future. For more information on RailTrends 2009, contact Progressive Railroading Publisher Steve Bolte at 561-743-7373, or log onto Railtrends.com.
Pat Foran, Editor