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As one segment of the North American rail industry scuffles to find its footing amid the ravages of recession, another is scrambling to keep pace with a mandated change that just might have “next-level” thinking written all over it. It’s a struggle-filled tale that made itself abundantly clear in my little corner of the rail world last month.
The saga began during the data-gathering for our annual “Fleet Stats” coverage. A year ago, car and locomotive builders/lessors had hoped the economic sluggishness they’d been slogging through during first-half ’08 would dissipate later that year. We know how that turned out. Now, they just hope it doesn’t get any worse. But they know it isn’t likely to get much better any time soon.
By contrast, there was almost no resignation and absolutely zero negative thoughts at Railway Systems Suppliers Inc.’s (RSSI) annual C&S Exhibition, held May 18-20 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn. The mood was ebullient, at times even giddy. In Music City, the struggle for C&S suppliers and service providers wasn’t to search for silver linings, it was to contain themselves. The reason? They have positive train control (PTC) fever.
“You couldn’t go 10 feet without hearing those three letters,” as one exhibitor put it. Added another: “PTC is like the new ‘dot.com.’” That phrase stuck with me for the rest of the show (thoughts of frenzy, unconditional embraces of the next-big thing, bursting bubbles, etc.).
This month, the Federal Railroad Administration likely will issue a rulemaking on PTC implementation. Some suppliers hope it’ll help them gear up properly for PTC, but many don’t seem to need to know more than this: that PTC is a mandate for change. Literally. And change, there will be — for C&S suppliers, as well as builders and lessors.
The builder-lessor landscape will look different, post-recession; consolidation’s coming, observers say. There also could be some alliance-building in the run-up to PTC. You didn’t have to listen all that hard to hear the talk in the RSSI exhibit hall, and some of it wasn’t just talk. As Alan Calegari, president and CEO of Ansaldo STS USA Inc., told me during the show: “We’re basically changing into a society where flexible thinking is a mandate.”
That need to sift and shift already is glaringly apparent in the rail-car and locomotive realms. At some point, it’ll be evident on Planet PTC, as well, which affords the industry “an opportunity to do this right,” Calegari said — and he’s right. Simply reacting to change (and the changes to come) won’t cut it. We’ll need to push it, proactively and in tandem, with every link in our respective chains as we scratch, claw and slog our way through this recession. Flexing the flexible-thinking muscles might be an unnatural act (i.e., a struggle) for some, but think of it as a PTC-like mandate. It’s certainly helped the C&S set to think “positive.”
The League of Railway Industry Women (LRIW) is seeking nominations for its 2009 “Woman of the Year” award. Any woman who works in the North American rail industry is eligible to receive the award, which is co-sponsored by Progressive Railroading. The award recognizes an individual’s dedication, commitment and contribution to the railroad industry. Last year, LRIW presented the award to Judy Petry, Farmrail System Inc.’s controller.
Applications can be downloaded and emailed to LRIW President Kathy Keeney. You also can fax nominations (410-788-0746) or mail them to: Kathy Keeney, Publisher, Rail Group, UBM Global Trade, 702 White Oaks Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21228. For more information, call 410-788-0376. The LRIW will accept nominations through Aug. 1.
The winner will be honored during the League’s 12th Annual Luncheon on Friday, Sept. 18 at the Chicago Hilton & Towers during the Railway Supply Institute Inc.’s Global Railway Tech 2009 and the Technical Conference of the Coordinated Mechanical Committees.
On Tuesday, June 23, at 1 p.m. EDT, Progressive Railroading will host a Webcast titled “Rail Car Counts 2009.” The presenter: Toby Kolstad, president of Rail Theory Forecasts L.L.C. and a Progressive Railroading columnist.
In this 75-minute session, Kolstad will share his take on the recession and the toll it’s taking (and will continue to take) on the rail-car community. He’ll also offer up his most recent rail-car delivery forecast and take questions from the audience.
The cost to attend/participate is $195. For more information or to register, click here.
Pat Foran, Editor