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Progressive Railroading and I designed RailTrends lo these many years ago to solve a problem — our ancient railway industry was filled with data and filled with meetings to share that data (as well provide opportunities to network).
But due in part to its very age, the rail industry, in some ways, had ossified into a series of job- or segment-specific silos ... and so had its conferences; perhaps a turret is an even better metaphor. If you specialized on the equity side as an analyst, you had a series (a tidal wave) of conferences to attend led by CFOs with updates on carriers’ recent financial performance. If you were in operations, you had a choice by specialty (AREMA, RSI, RSSI, REMSA, Railway Interchange, RTA, etc. — all of which I attend, by the way). There are insurance meetings. Legal conferences. Union conventions. Shipper meetings. All of these are vital in their own way, offering technology updates and passing on specific knowledge for a chosen career field.
I have been to many (most?) and learned at all of them. But none of them link together the turrets into the industry castle, with the obvious example of financial return expectations and the enormous capex programs of recent years, by linking the ROIC of the equity world with the MOW of the engineering world, and so on. It’s something I try to do in my speeches to these groups, but in a bigger way, RailTrends aims to present the links between the turrets — the players you don’t see when you spend time with CFOs or COOs alone. And I think RailTrends 2016 exemplifies our founding spirit of eclecticism, discovery and cross-discipline thematic discovery as well as any event in our history.
Of course, there are some givens at RailTrends — a D.C. (and Ottawa) update with the stars of the trade association world (Hamberger, Casey, Darr, Bourque, Simpson and Baker of the AAR, IANA, ASLRRA, RAC, RSI and NRC, respectively). We are lucky to have STB Chairman Dan Elliott and Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg, too, guaranteeing what should be a lively debate. And we’ll cover rail cars, of course, with Dick Kloster of AllTranstek/FTR. We have our analyst panel, with the bear (Avondale’s Donald Broughton) looking smarter than the bull (er, me) — at least on paper. We’ll see what happens “live.”
Then there’s the new stuff. We are so excited to have as our shipper commentator John Barrett, the GM/Supply Chain of Chevron Phillips Chemical — at the heart of the coming boom, which we cover from all angles: Beth Whited of Union Pacific Railroad, the largest chemicals transporter, also will present. Oliver Wyman’s Rod Case will discuss the digital transformation in a data-driven industry and age, supplemented by PTC.
The meat of our lineup is and always will be the railroads themselves. In addition to ASLRRA’s Darr, short lines this year will be well represented by Watco CEO Rick Webb. From the regional realm, Conrail’s Ron Batory will tell his railroad’s story — surviving and thriving as an open-access carrier for 20-plus years after the NS-CSX split — and Florida East Coast Railway CEO Jim Hertwig will talk about what it takes to be a successful short-haul intermodal player in the Sunshine State. Also joining us will be Australia’s largest carrier, Aurizon, whose esteemed CEO Lance Hockridge will discuss productivity improvements post-liberation from government ownership.
And then there are the Class Is: In addition to UP’s Whited, representatives from KCS, CSX, NS and CN will take their turns at the lectern. KCS CEO Pat Ottensmeyer — a regular RailTrends participant — will discuss the coming improvements in Mexican business. We also have two critical members of the new teams at CSX (Dean Piacente) and Norfolk Southern (RailTrends vet Mike McClellan), who will be critical to their carrier’s success rate in the post-coal world by running intermodal and merchandise, respectively, at their railways.
Finally, the 2016 Railroad Innovator of the Year: CN’s CEO-emeritus Claude Mongeau. He’s kept CN on course as the industry leader in cost control, continuing the legacy of his predecessor (also an Innovator of the Year winner). He’s also got his railroad reaching for and moving toward, as he likes to say, “the next level.” For that, Mongeau will be the lasting story of what should be a great, eclectic, silo-busting, castle-building RailTrends 2016!
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.