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Rail News Home Rail Industry Trends

December 2010

Part 1 : Rail Outlook: 2011

Part 2 :

Rail Outlook 2011: Preface

Part 3 :

Class I Outlook: 'Year of Opportunity'

Part 4 : 'Certainty is what drives investment' — AAR's Ed Hamberger

Part 5 : Short-Line Outlook 2011

Part 6 :

Passenger Rail Outlook 2011 - 'Still a Little Tenuous'

Part 7 :

High-Speed Rail: In flux in 2011

Part 8 : Rail-Car Deliveries in 2011

Part 9 :

Going with the in-flux flow (Outlook 2011) and Class I workforce data (Pat Foran, Context, December 2010)

Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Rail Outlook 2011: Preface


By Pat Foran, Editor

North American freight-rail traffic has rebounded; for the most part, post-recession U.S. passenger-rail ridership has, too. Near term, rail execs don't expect a double-dip recession. Longer term? Rail's future is as bright as it's ever been.

OK, fine. But what's in store for rail in 2011?

The economic recovery will continue in varying degrees of s-l-o-w, say rail execs, who'll continue to plan accordingly.

Part of that planning involves factoring in the uncertainty that rules the roost in Washington, D.C. The sound-bite tenor that colors post-election D.C. does not necessarily provide the truest of cues to a new legislative or regulatory direction, as railroaders and industry observers reminded us during the information gathering for Progressive Railroading's annual "outlook" coverage.

In tone if not in these exact words, they also reiterated a sentiment they've been sharing with us for months: "Uncertainty, whether it's in an economic or political context, is written into our planning preamble. We aren't just used to it — we've gotten better at working with and through it."

The coming year's "to work with/through" list features more than a few familiar items. For freights, the bullet points include the balanced competition/"re-reg" (choose your term) question, the infrastructure tax credit measure (still), the surface transportation reauthorization bill (for-seemingly-ever) and the ramifications of additional carbon emission regulations under the Clean Air Act.

For transit agencies, it's the surface transportation reauthorization issue, as well; tax legislation (the alternative fuel tax credit, the equalization of the commuter tax benefit established under The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act); and the stimulus-funded gorilla in the room that is high-speed rail.

Of course, 2011 won't be all politics, all the time — not for this thing called "rail," which, despite the recessionary interruption, remains a growth industry. There's growth — traffic, ridership — on the near-term horizon, freight and passenger execs believe. What'll drive that growth? Where will it manifest itself? How will railroads/agencies nurture it? The devil's in (or will be in) the evolutionary details.

In the meantime, rail CEOs, agency managers and other industry thought leaders will be doing their part to keep the momentum going — in an incremental fashion that isn't likely to go out of style any time soon.


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