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Rail News Home Short Lines & Regionals

June 2020

Rail News: Short Lines & Regionals

Railway Association of Canada: Of evolution, leadership, diversity and a first-ever female chair

Fiona Murray
Photo – CN


By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor

Throughout the Railway Association of Canada’s (RAC) 103-year history, it has strived to represent the interests of both freight and passenger railroads in the world’s fifth-largest rail network. But the organization mostly has carried out that mission with an all-male board.

Up until two years ago, all 10 of RAC’s board positions were held by men. That finally changed in 2018, when Ontario Northland Transportation Commission President and Chief Executive Officer Corina Moore became the board’s first female member. Then last year, the board added VIA Rail Canada Inc. President and CEO Cynthia Garneau.

Now, the board has its first female leader. RAC’s board in mid-May elected CN Vice President of Public and Government Affairs Fiona Murray as chair. She has chaired the RAC’s public affairs committee for the past year and served CN for the past 28 years in positions of increasing responsibility.

Murray currently is responsible for CN’s stakeholder engagement initiatives, including relationships with governments at all levels, as well as sponsorships and donations, community relations and corporate communications. Her prior positions at the Class I include VP of industrial products, VP of corporate marketing, assistant VP of sales and marketing for industrial products, AVP of sales and marketing-P&C, director sales for M&M/petroleum and chemicals, and account manager for metals and minerals.

The RAC represents the interests of more than 60 members, including the two Class Is and a majority of the short lines and passenger, commuter and tourist railroads in Canada. In addition, a number of industrial railways and rail supply companies are associate members.

RAC’s mission calls for working with governments, communities and other stakeholders to ensure Canada’s rail sector remains globally competitive, sustainable and safe. Besides Murray, Moore and Garneau, the association’s current board members are Vice Chair Robert Taylor, AVP of North American advocacy for Canadian Pacific; Jeff Ellis, chief legal officer and corporate secretary for CP; Sean Finn, executive VP of corporate services and chief legal officer for CN; Louis Gravel, president of SFP Point-Noire; Gerald Linden, president of SRY Rail Link; Gord Peters, owner of Cando Rail Services Ltd.; and Phil Verster, president and CEO of Metrolinx.

Murray’s extensive experience in running a railroad and the respect she garners from peers will serve as great assets to the association and its mix of members, says RAC President and CEO Marc Brazeau. She is very familiar with regulatory issues, dealing with customers and working toward a consensus, he believes.

“She knows how to bring people together to work toward common issues and goals,” says Brazeau.

The RAC recently rolled out a new three-year plan that lays out the association’s objectives through 2022. It aligns well with Murray’s experience and skill set, Brazeau believes.

The plan’s four main elements are safety, environmental issues, innovation and growth. Murray helped develop CN’s sustainability plan, and has been active in trying to improve safety and build business at the Class I.

Safety needs to be taken to a higher level, which will require working with other stakeholders since that’s something every member of the Candian rail industry can work on, Murray says. She also plans to focus on rail advocacy and make sure regulations don’t have “unintended consequences,” she says.

“I want to encourage more engagement and discussion,” says Murray. “I’m a person who likes to get things done, to gain progress on issues. I’m open to new opportunities, and to not just do things the same ways.”

She also aims to elevate the RAC’s profile, which figures to take cooperation and participation on many levels.

“I have a collaborative style and a sense of curiosity,” says Murray. “I’m not the only person on the board. I will work with others.”

It’ll require those communication skills to ensure the association can better convey the rail story to politicians and regulators.

“We are just a stone’s throw from the capitol in Ottawa and we can find more opportunities to collaborate,” says Murray.

She plans to meet more often with the leaders of Canadian rail labor unions and shipper associations to better mold their relationships. Her goals also include making sure the RAC doesn’t just focus on the needs of the two Class Is in Canada, but of the short lines and passenger railroads there, as well.

“That they get attention is important,” says Murray.

Her election as RAC’s first female chair shows how the association needs to continue evolving to better reflect the makeup of its membership, says Brazeau. There’s been a shift to more diversity over the past decade in many industries, such as the auto industry.

“Railroads are a part of that,” he says. “Many railroads are installing more and more women in leadership positions. This is the time for this to occur.”

Murray is pleased and honored to be elected to RAC’s high-ranking position, she says. Although women now hold nearly one-third of the board seats at the association, “let’s not stop at 30 percent,” she implores.

“I see the rail industry as needing to be more inclusive and diverse, and my nomination is a testament to that,” says Murray. “It shows there are opportunities for diverse people to join and move up in the industry.”


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