Media Kit » Try RailPrime™ Today! »
Progressive Railroading
Newsletter Sign Up
Stay updated on news, articles and information for the rail industry

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

View Current Digital Issue »


Rail News Home Union Pacific Railroad


Rail News: Union Pacific Railroad

In memoriam: Former UP CEO and 'industry giant' John Kenefick


John Kenefick, who was president of Union Pacific Railroad from 1971 to 1983 and later served as the Class I’s chairman and chief executive officer from 1983 to 1986, died July 15. He was 89.

During Kenefick’s tenure as UP’s leader, the Class I’s revenue ballooned from $1 billion to $8 billion. He oversaw the 1982 mergers with the Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific railroads, which doubled UP’s size.

Kenefick also supported financing in 1984 for a connector line with the Chicago & North Western, which provided UP access to Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and the nation’s largest coal deposit. In addition, his “strategic guidance” paved the way for mergers with the Chicago & North Western and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas, which shortened UP’s route from Kansas City, Mo., to Fort Worth, Texas, and on to the Gulf Coast, UP officials said in a prepared statement.

An “industry giant,” Kenefick guided the railroad with even temperament through “stifling regulation and the threat of nationalization into a new age of health and competitive strength,” they said.

“Union Pacific is proud and privileged to have had John Kenefick at its helm,” said UP Chairman, President and CEO Jim Young. “With great foresight, he strengthened our railroad and guided it through some of the most challenging times in our history. It is with great pride that we celebrate his memory and innumerable contributions to our company and community.”

In the 1940s, Kenefick earned a mechanical engineering degree from Princeton University, then served three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He began his railroad career with the New York Central as a mechanical department apprentice and later moved to Omaha, Neb., in 1947 to join UP as a locomotive draftsman.

Kenefick then held assignments in various departments with UP, the Denver & Rio Grande Western and New York Central before returning to UP in 1968 as vice president of operations. He was promoted to executive vice president in 1969, elected CEO of the transportation division in 1970 and became president in 1971.

During the 1970s, Kenefick led an “aggressive upgrade” of UP’s network, promoting infrastructure investments that “would keep pace with future operating needs,” UP officials said.

“Kenefick oversaw the work, traveling the railroad’s entirety twice annually by train to inspect track, observe projects under way and express his appreciation to forces in the field,” they said.

Kenefick also had an “undeniable influence” on the rail industry, UP officials said. He served six years on the Association of American Railroads’ board, beginning his term in 1980, when the Staggers Act passed. He later retired in December 1986, ending 40 years of service for UP.

“His legacy lives on from the tunnels and tracks he commissioned to a park, business car and employee safety award named in his honor,” UP officials said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 7/18/2011