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June 2008

Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

A few words about the genesis of Progressive Railroading


By Frank Richter

The idea for Progressive Railroading came from the mind and experience of Philip Murphy. He had gained much experience with Railway Purchases & Stores, which was launched by his father, a purchasing officer in the New York Central’s Cleveland office. As editor, Phil moved to Chicago. Later, Simmons-Boardman, publisher of the then-weekly Railway Age, absorbed Railway Purchases & Stores. That pretty much left Phil Murphy high and dry.

Undaunted, he pushed ahead in the railway publishing world with the creation of Railway Materials in 1958. Five years later, Murphy renamed his magazine in an attempt to reflect its true mission. The new title: Progressive Railroading.


I became Progressive Railroading’s new publisher in 1972, but I wasn’t new to the railroad publishing business. In 1945, I co-founded Modern Railroads with Dave Watson, whom I had met during my days with Welding Engineering magazine. Watson had proposed that he would take care of the business side as publisher and I, as editor, would take care of the content. I also became stockholder in Watson Publications Inc., and was the company’s vice president. I served as editor of Modern Railroads from 1945 to 1958; and then, as publisher, from 1958 through 1971. During that time, we also launched two other publications: Appliance Manufacture and Transportation Management (later known as Transportation Management & Logistics).

I had known Phil Murphy for some time — he was a neighbor of mine, and we often rode the same train together to and from work. When Murphy heard through the rumor mill that I’d left Modern Railroads, which was then owned by publishing giant Cahners, he asked me to join him at Progressive Railroading, believing we could replicate what Dave Watson and I had done with Modern Railroads (which Simmons-Boardman eventually acquired). Thus came the partnership known as the Murphy-Richter Publishing Co., which in turn created two more rail publications: The Car & Locomotive Yearbook and The Track Yearbook.

When Murphy died, he left the magazine to me and the team we’d formed to continue to nurture what had become the Progressive Railroading approach and values. I sold the company in 1989 to Ron Mitchell and Rich Zemencik (I remained as a consultant). In 1994, Mitchell and Zemencik sold the magazine and yearbooks to Trade Press Publishing Corp., which continues to attempt to put railroad industry issues and trends into clear, concise and current context for North American rail executives.


It has been well stated that “in any industry, technological progress induces efficiency, so if one doesn’t keep pace, there will be no overall improvement.” Well, the changing dynamics in this industry are most encouraging. Every railroad looking to advance transportation efficiencies points directly at each movement from beginning to end — that is, loading, line movement and termination unloading.

For help, they’ve turned to technology, tapping into IT advances that incorporate communication, electronic sensors of fixed and moving basics, and, increasingly, everything connected with the all-embracing digital world. Then there’s the hybrid diesel-electric locomotive and fuel-cell diesel applications. Improvements to traditional signaling and communications systems, as well as advanced train control. Car-by-car air brakes to full application by electronically controlled pneumatic brakes. Bringing brake action battery power to locomotives and electrified lines. The introduction of continuous-welded rail. The technology advancement list is long and getting longer.

Meanwhile, the intermodal evolution continues to point to the importance of the railroad as fundamental to transportation corridors in every nation. What’s more, there’s increasing awareness that rail — on ground, underground and above ground — can and should play more of a role in easing cities’ congestion challenges.

In short: There continues to be a basic value in the train that exists in no other form of transportation. The economical, environmental, practical solution — it’s all there, in the train’s power and vehicles, guided by the flanged wheels on steel rail. And that is what Progressive Railroading works to identify and clarify.

Since the 1940s, Frank Richter has reported enthusiastically and discerningly on what he terms as rail’s “remarkable course” — whether it’s been within the pages of Progressive Railroading, as a rail seminar panelist at conferences around the world, or in everyday conversations. In 2005, he authored “The Renaissance of the Railroad: A Chronicle of the Transformation of The Century.”


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