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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Railway Interchange general session offers thoughts on industry optimism, challenges

About 8,000 registrants, including more than 600 exhibitors, filled the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis early this week for Railway Interchange 2013.

The second biennial conference combines exhibits, presentations and technical conferences for the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA), Railway Supply Institute (RSI), Coordinated Mechanical Associations (CMA), Railway Engineering-Maintenance Suppliers Association (REMSA) and Railway Systems Suppliers Inc. (RSSI).

During Monday's General Session, welcome messages were provided by association presidents, including AREMA President and Norfolk Southern Corp. Chief Engineer-Bridges and Structures James Carter; RSI/CMA Chairman and Chicago Freight Car Leasing Co. Chief Executive Officer Fred Sasser; REMSA President and NARSTCO Inc. Vice President of Marketing and Sales John Fox; RSSI President Thomas Ulrich, who also serves as president of the Arthur N. Ulrich Co.; and AREMA Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Charles Emely.

Sasser also spoke about industry issues of concern to RSI, namely:
• fallout from the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, accident, which has put DOT-111 tank cars in the spotlight ("These tank cars were built to specification at the time, and they still operate safely every day," Sasser said);
• the need to continue — and increase — funding for intercity passenger rail ("Transportation patterns have changed in this country ... Passenger-rail ridership continues to surge, and investment is intercity passenger rail is needed"); and
• truck size and weight, particularly as the trucking industry again begings lobbying Congress for larger trucks.

Meanwhile, Ulrich expressed his optimism about the railroading's current status and future.

"I've been in the industry more than 30 years, and I don't know that I've ever found it to be as vibrant, exciting or challenging as it is today," he said. "We seem to be in the midst of a real renaissance."

The renaissance term, Ulrich said, was coined by Tony Hatch, an independent transportation analyst and consultant, who provided the general session keynote. Hatch also expressed optimism for rail's prospects.

"I believe we're going to see the second half of a renaissance in the second half of this decade," said Hatch, who also serves as a a Progressive Railroading columnist and program consultant for Progressive Railroading's RailTrends® conference.

Hatch said he is optimistic because:
• "green" is here to stay, and railroads are "not going to see a major reversal of the things that make them so modally competitive;"
• the well-maintained rail network is in the "best condition it's ever been in," while the highway system is "falling apart" and trucking productivity has peaked;
• intermodal will continue to be the lead driver of growth;
• crude-by-rail is here to stay, and cheap natural gas will help revive North America's manufacturing industry;
• grain traffic will pick up once again; and
• coal volumes will begin to stabilize.

That's not to say there aren't a few issues the industry needs to address. Even though it's no longer being debated in Congress, re-regulation remains a threat as the Surface Transportation Board is taking up the issue. In addition, rail service is "not as good as it was a few quarters ago" and safety numbers have deteriorated slightly, Hatch said.

Also during Monday's General Session, CN officials presented a $50,000 check to AREMA's scholarship endowment, joining NS, CSX Corp. and Union Pacific Railroad in funding the AREMA educational foundation, which provides scholarships to college students pursuing careers in railway engineering.

Also, League of Railway Industry Women (LRIW) President Susan Robertson — who serves as managing director of consulting firm Virginia Rail Solutions L.L.C. — and Progressive Railroading Publisher Stephen Bolte presented the LRIW's Outstanding Woman of the Year Award to NS Executive Vice President of Planning and Chief Information Officer Deb Butler. Sponsored by Progressive Railroading, the award recognizes an individual's dedication and contribution to the rail industry.

"I accept this award with deep gratitude to all my friends and colleagues at Norfolk Southern and in the industry who have generously shared their knowledge, skills, advice and — perhaps most importantly — their love of railroading," Butler said. "And as I look at so many students and young faces here today, I am reminded that I have an obligation to repay that generosity."

Railway Interchange exhibits and sessions will continue through Wednesday.

Angela Cotey

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/1/2013