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— by Pat Foran, editor
There was a palpable buzz during a number of presentations delivered at RailTrends® 2014 (Nov. 20-21, New York City), including Matt Rose's rousing address and Keith Creel's moving "Railroad Innovator Award" acceptance speech — see Tony Hatch's top 10 event takeaways. No. 5 on Tony's list? Gridlock at the Chicago gateway. It was top of mind at RailTrends and it'll continue to be next year, as CEOs told us during the information gathering for our 2015 outlook coverage.
"We don't have answers yet," BNSF's Rose told RailTrends attendees, adding that the "Chicago complex" concerns him more than anything at the moment. Class I execs have asked a "small group of people" — retired rail operations gurus, we're told — to develop potential solutions, Rose said. Canadian Pacific CEO Hunter Harrison, who attended but didn't speak publicly, confirmed Rose's revelation (see Tony's column) a few minutes after CP's Creel told attendees that "Chicago is a problem begging for a solution ... even if those proposed solutions aren't popular ones."
Like, say, CP's recent merger dialogue with CSX. At RailTrends, every Class I exec save for the CP leaders reiterated the message we've been hearing for weeks: that attempting to merge isn't a good idea right now and merging wouldn't fix the Chicago fluidity problem. Undaunted, Creel urged attendees to "keep your mind open" when it comes to solving the shared problem in the Windy City.
Presumably, the solution seekers Rose and Harrison referenced are doing just that. Expect them to issue a report in early 2015, Hatch notes. If so, it'll generate a buzz all its own.
Whenever I've sought nuanced answers to nettlesome questions in the rail-car market realm during the past dozen years, I've turned to Toby Kolstad, who penned his final column for us this month. His Muse, as he puts it, is taking him in a different written-word direction.
Since 2003, Toby has committed his insights to paper on a quarterly basis. He specializes in putting things — the rail-car market, in particular, but all things rail, really — into perspective. He builds a case, renders a reasoned judgment or projection, and sticks with it. Toby's contributions to Progressive Railroading extended beyond the written word. He delivered observations and forecasts in webcasts, and at the first nine iterations of our annual RailTrends summit.
I'd like to thank Bruce Harmon of Harmon Communications for introducing me to Toby; much obliged, Bruce. And Toby: Thank you for bringing that Muse-inspired insight to these pages, to our audience, at every turn. I wish you all the best. Wherever the Muse leads you.