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January 2011

Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

For transits, the new-media medium is the message; Mica to chair House T&I Committee; Sneider joins Progressive Railroading staff — by Pat Foran (Context, January 2011)

— by Pat Foran, Editor

For transits, the new-media medium is the message

Social media channels have changed and changed forever the way we read, respond, listen and learn, and rail-transit agencies have entered the powerful, fragmented fray that is the new information infrastructure. Agency communicators are tweeting service alerts, seeking project feedback via Facebook, posting PSAs on YouTube and penning blogs as they attempt to inform and engage riders, as Associate Editor Angela Cotey reports in this month's cover story.

This new-media channel surfing isn't just about getting better at communicating with passengers — it's about remaining relevant, as Cotey notes. The rider experience always did begin long before passengers hopped aboard, and continued long after they got off the train. Today's social-media tools enable — no, force — agency communicators to see just how long that ride is, how deeply rooted rail transit can be in a community and how tightly communicators must embrace the new rules of customer engagement, however decidedly non-rule-like they may seem. Setting up shop on the new information grid isn't enough, they realize. You have to monitor, read, listen, reconsider and respond in meaningful (as in “the spirit of the new medium” meaningful) ways: quickly (real time) and candidly (warts and all). Social networking puts your organizational vision/mission to the test, and the 24/7 nature of it is prompting some transit agency communicators to wonder how to manage customer expectations on the new grid.

The wondering will continue as agency communicators — all of us, really — experiment while seeking new-media ways to connect and, so, nudge the needle on the relevancy meter. We'll share tales of organizational attempts to engage, connect and learn as we unearth them. We'll also do more dabbling of our own. See/hear/read you out there.

Mica to Chair House T&I Committee

On Dec. 8, 2010, the House Republican Conference confirmed Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the 112th Congress. In the previous two congresses, Mica served as the committee's Republican leader.

Among Mica's priorities: passing a new surface transportation bill and cutting red tape to complete “stalled” projects, he said in a prepared statement. Mica supports U.S. high-speed rail (HSR) development, but has raised questions about how high-speed stimulus dollars have been distributed, including in his home state of Florida, which is proposing to build a high-speed corridor connecting Orlando and Tampa. He also favors implementing “true” HSR in the Northeast Corridor.

Bottom line: Mica and his staff understand transportation issues; they get rail. How said “getting” will manifest itself in practical terms, given the no-spending clamor in D.C. and the influx of new legislators coming to the Beltway (legislators who have varying degrees of knowledge/interest in rail issues), remains to be seen. But the engaging Mr. Mica, who'd yet to announce a Subcommittee on Railroads chair as of press time, can be persuasive.

So can you, actually: Don't be shy about letting Mica et. al hear your thoughts, concerns and ideas — perhaps in person at the annual Railroad Day on Capitol Hill, during which hundreds of rail industry reps lobby for rail-related legislation and policy pursuits. Originally scheduled for March 24, the event now will be held July 14. Contact the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (202-628-4500) or Association of American Railroads (202-639-2100) for more information.

Sneider joins Progressive Railroading staff

I'm very happy to announce that Julie Sneider has joined the Progressive Railroading editorial staff as assistant editor.

An experienced reporter/writer/editor, Sneider sharpened her journalism skills during stints with the Waukesha Freeman (a Wisconsin daily newspaper) and the Business Journal Serving Greater Milwaukee (a weekly). She's also free-lanced for a number of publications, including this one.

Sneider will cover a range of rail and transportation industry organizations, trends and issues; you'll see her work within these pages, and on and, our paid-subscription website dedicated to high-speed rail coverage. She'll also help ensure that we stay true to our aim of putting rail industry issues and trends into clear and current context. We're glad she's here.

Expect to hear from Julie (if you haven't already) in the weeks ahead.


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