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— by Tony Hatch
RailTrends® 2014 will be our best summit yet, or close to it, and the adage about being both lucky and good applies. When we began planning the event — which will be held Nov. 20-21 at the W Hotel New York in New York City — we knew operational excellence, network planning, capacity and capital expenditures were evergreen, ever-relevant topics, and we recruited speakers accordingly. In light of the current service and capacity issues (real and perceived) facing the rail industry this year and likely next, we garnered some good luck along with our foresight.
First and foremost, RailTrends 2014 has star power on the speaker front. The 2014 Progressive Railroading/RailTrends "Railroad Innovator of the Year" winner, Canadian Pacific President and Chief Operating Officer Keith Creel, will join us. So will the 2010 "Innovator" award winner, BNSF Railway Co. Executive Chairman Matt Rose. CP and BNSF have suffered the slings and arrows this year, and RailTrends provides a forum for two stand-up guys to talk about recovery and growth. And that's just part of the story. Representatives from all seven Class Is and several regional and short lines will present, with an emphasis on operations and growth.
As ever, we'll kick off RailTrends with a D.C. outlook — in a time of increasing "re-reg" focus in the U.S. Senate, Surface Transportation Board Chairman Dan Elliott will deliver a message later on Day 1 and Federal Railroad Administrator Joe Szabo will be with us on Day 2. The D.C. outlook panel features National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association President Chuck Baker, Intermodal Association of North America President/CEO Joni Casey, Railway Supply Institute President Tom Simpson, and Association of American Railroads President/CEO Ed Hamberger. Can U.S. railroads hold off Canadian-style interference in order to resume their "renaissance"-like progress?
Freight railroads face critical questions about planning, matching resources with demand and growth potential. They also need to repair their network and reputation in light of events that began during (and because of) this past winter. The rail industry could point out that in 2014, it has continued to support a brand-new industry (crude by rail) in a formerly low-density region that helps reduce the national price of oil and gasoline while handling two of the largest harvests ever — this, while participating in an economic recovery and taking more trucks than ever off the highway.
In response to the network congestion and the opportunities, railroads are spending record amounts. Will their current spending level of about 18 percent of revenues ever drop? Or are the lessons from congestion that both operating expenses and capex will remain high, even as revenues and return on investment grow faster? At RailTrends 2014, operations is a focus. In addition to CP's Creel, we will hear from such operations leaders as Norfolk Southern Corp. Executive VP-Planning and Chief Information Officer Deb Butler, CN EVP and COO Jim Vena, and CSX Corp. VP and Chief Transportation Officer Cindy Sanborn.
On the growth front, we'll get our first real glimpse into the new industrial gas-powered future from Union Pacific Railroad VP and GM of Industrial Products Brad Thrasher. Intermodal remains the long-term growth story for rail, a story Oliver Wyman's Rodney Case will tell; Kansas City Southern EVP Sales and Marketing Pat Ottensmeyer will cover cross-border opportunities and Mexican port expansion; Florida East Coast Railway President and CEO Jim Hertwig will talk about building a two-way intermodal super-highway; and United Parcel Service VP of Corporate Transportation Services Ken Buenker will address the need for on-time rail availability.
We'll also hear from short lines. Genesee & Wyoming Chief Financial Officer T.J. Gallagher and Watco Cos. Chief Commercial Officer Ed McKechnie will discuss Australia's strengthening rail market. John Giles, CEO of the Central Maine & Quebec Railway (formerly the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic), will share the "new" railroad's three-year plan.
Of course, CBR is on the docket, courtesy of PLG Consulting President Taylor Robinson, while FTR Associates' Dick Kloster will provide a rail-car market update. And we'll have our annual analysts' session, this one featuring Avondale Partners' Don Broughton and me.
We expect the audience to be almost as luminous as the speaker list, so the networking breaks will be worthwhile. And we all will leave better informed than when we arrived. For more information, visit www.railtrends.com.
Tony Hatch is an independent transportation analyst and consultant, and a program consultant for Progressive Railroading's RailTrends® conference. Email him at email@example.com.