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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

From the editor: On forging partnerships and raising service standards


By Pat Foran, Editor

Last year around this time, most rail execs we talked with/heard from were bullish about 2023. Brighter days were coming, they believed.

But this past year wasn’t all that bright, particularly in freight-rail country. Service issues, high-profile train accidents and lingering economic uncertainty are making some rail strategists a bit less bullish — if not less than sanguine — about their respective railroads’ prospects for business growth in 2023. While many see silver linings in ‘24, as Managing Editor Jeff Stagl reports in this month’s 2024 outlook coverage, others say things won’t be brighter unless railroads do more than just say they will.

Yes, Class Is are building better relationships with employees and focusing harder to deliver on the better service promise they’ve been making to customers since I started covering this industry in 1997. They’re also working closer with stakeholders to improve safety. But growth, a regular topic of conversation at investor days and rail conferences, remains as elusive as ever.

“We talk a lot about growth — there is no growth,” as Genesee & Wyoming CEO-North America Mike Miller told attendees of our annual RailTrends® summit, which was held Nov. 16-17 in New York City.

Added CSX President and CEO Joe Hinrichs, also at RailTrends: “Every year we talk about growth and it makes us feel good. But if we don’t produce better service, it’s not going to happen.”

Miller advocated for more collaboration among stakeholders, adding that he was encouraged by the number of partnerships unveiled since the CPKC merger was blessed in May.

“No matter what, everyone in this room is a partner, whether we like it or not,” he said.

Meanwhile, the industry needs to raise its customer-service standards, Hinrichs stressed.

“If we don’t do it, the only ones left to do it are the regulators,” he said. “It’s OK for customers to demand more. They should. We should.”

Here’s hoping should inches more toward are during the year ahead. For nuanced insight on RailTrends ’23, read RailTrends Program Consultant and Progressive Railroading Columnist Tony Hatch’s recap; and Stagl’s comprehensive RailTrends e-book. Both will be posted at

Longtime railway educator Little to retire

After 28 years at Michigan State University, Nick Little plans to retire.

He’s served as director of railway education at MSU’s Center for Railway Research and Education, where he most recently led the Railway Management Certificate continuing education program.

Little hopes the industry’s “recent switch from focus on O.R. and cost cutting to a strategy of customer centricity and organic growth will herald a growth in freight rail and feature prominently alongside the recovery in commuter and passenger rail post-pandemic,” he told me last month.

Thanks so much for your work — and your conversation — over the years, Nick. Congratulations on a retirement well earned.

As of Dec. 1, MSU was still seeking Little’s replacement. For more information, visit:

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 12/11/2023