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Rail News: Short Lines & Regionals

Short-line operator extraordinaire J. Reilly McCarren: 1956 - 2015


The short-line industry on Sunday lost what the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) characterizes as one of its most successful and creative railroad operators. J. Reilly McCarren — the majority owner and chairman of the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad Co. (A&M), and a former longtime leader of the Wisconsin Central Railroad Ltd. — died April 26 at his Kenilworth, Ill., home after a battle with cancer. He was 58.

McCarren also was the majority owner of Allied Enterprises Inc., which together with A&M provides rail, trucking, warehousing, packaging and rail-car leasing services. In July 2002, he gained ownership of A&M and became the short line's chairman.

McCarren previously was president of the Wisconsin Central — the nation's largest regional before it was acquired by CN in 2001 — from 1996 to 2001. In a Chicago Tribune article published Oct. 7, 2001, he said the Wisconsin Central showed that rail service could be produced effectively and marketed successfully at a time when "many in the industry were gnashing their teeth" over the rail industry's difficulty in continuing to make its product attractive to customers while providing attractive shareholder returns.

"In addition, we were a pioneer in reducing crew sizes and introducing technology to improve productivity," McCarren said. "I think we did bring a certain flair for innovation to an industry that has sometimes suffered from a lack of it."

Prior to leading the Wisconsin Central, McCarren founded and was president of the Gateway Western Railway, the St. Louis-to-Kansas City, Mo., route of the bankrupt Chicago, Missouri and Western Railroad that eventually was sold to Kansas City Southern in 1996.

He also was chairman of Operation Lifesaver Inc. (OLI) from 2007 to 2012, and served as a director of the Western New York and Pennsylvania and Livonia, Avon and Lakeville railroads at the time of his death.

McCarren was a strong advocate for OLI and its volunteers, and was instrumental in streamlining processes while keeping the organization focused on its safety mission, OLI officials said in a prepared statement.

"Reilly was truly one of the smartest and most dedicated people I have ever met," said Helen Sramek, who served as OLI's president from 2007 to 2012.

In 1978, McCarren received a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Science degree in civil engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then began his railroad career at Conrail.

At ASLRRA, McCarren was vice chairman, a position he remained active in "even as he struggled with his illness," association officials said in a bulletin sent to members. He served as a Central Region board member for seven years and was a member of ASLRRA's Legislative Policy Committee.

Railroading was his lifelong profession, and McCarren will be remembered for his many accomplishments in the short-line industry, ASLRRA officials said.

"But our memory of Reilly will be forever colored by two qualities that framed his approach to decision making and dominated his day-to-day life," they said. "Reilly had an intellectual curiosity that made him one of the deepest thinkers in our industry. Whether it be an operating problem, an accounting issue or a public policy controversy, he approached every problem with a respect for the facts, with an eagerness to explore new ideas and with the goal of finding the best solution possible."

McCarren also was a "genuinely warm and authentic human being," a serious man with "a finely tuned sense of humor," they said.

"He always had time to talk, or just to listen. He was eager to pitch in and help, no matter what the issue," ASLRRA officials said. "He cared about what those around him were thinking and was always eager to think along with them. Even in the difficult moments of his illness he maintained a grace and dignity that was admired by all."

McCarren is survived by his wife, Caren, and a son and daughter.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 4/29/2015