MARS Notebook: Meet the New Boss

Norfolk Southern President Alan Shaw in Wednesday’s appearance before the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers and the Chicago Traffic Club. (Train: David Lassen)

LOMBARD, Ill. – Notes from Wednesday’s appearances of Class I CEOs at the Midwest Association of Rail Shippers winter meeting:

Meet the new boss

New Norfolk Southern President Alan Shaw displayed a nice touch of self-mockery in his Wednesday lunch address to MARS and the Chicago Traffic Club, as evidenced by his description of his first interaction with members of the NS crew after promotion.

“It was important for me to be on the pitch this first day,” he said. “So I was in Toledo, because it’s our biggest crew change point on our system, and it’s a very important lane for us during the high season… I wanted to thank [employees] for their dedication to Norfolk Southern and our customers, and wanted to hear their thoughts on how we fix the service and how we continue to improve our productivity. …

“It was about 30 minutes after the announcement. And I see crew members sitting outside the crew change room, and I walk over to them… they are looking at a guy they are looking at. don’t recognize, and I’m wearing khahis, boots, and a collared shirt. Not necessarily a nice shirt. And they’re like, ‘Oh, great, here’s an operations supervisor.’

“So I walk over and introduce myself. They told me their names, and one of the guys said, ‘Well what are you doing?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m the president. ”And he’s looking at me, and I’m like,“ Not the president of Joe Biden, but the president of Norfolk Southern. ”And the other dude pulls out his phone, and he’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I see the ad. Congratulations! ‘

“So that made me feel good. And then the guy looks at me and says, “What profession are you from? … Were you a mechanic, or engineer, or conductor, or engineer? ‘

“And I was like, ‘No, I started in finance.’ He really wasn’t impressed with that. He said, “Dude, at some point we’ll have a craftsman running the railroad.” …

“It’s a little humiliating to go out and talk to them because they have their own expectations. “

Shaw also shared what he said was his first conversion with the Nova Scotia board of directors following his election as president and as the next CEO of the railway. He will assume this position in May, when Jim Squires retires.

“Their main message to me was, ‘Make no mistake’,” he said. “Now it was a little more powerful than that. I’ll let you use your imagination to find out what the real verb they used is.

“We have a good dynamic and I must continue on this momentum. “

Changes for the CP in Bensenville

Blue and yellow locomotive on tank car train
CSX locomotives drive an oil train from Canadian Pacific Railway’s Bensenville Yard in Franklin Park, Ill., In January 2021. CP CEO Keith Creel said Wednesday big changes are coming to Bensenville. (Train: David Lassen)

In his joint appearance with KCS CEO Patrick Ottensmeyer, Keith Creel of Canadian Pacific Railway said big changes are coming to CP’s Bensenville Yard in Franklin Park, Ill., With the settlement in 2020 of a dispute with Illinois Tollway over the agency’s plan to establish a toll. road to reach the west side of O’Hare International Airport [see “CP, UP, and Illinois Tollway reach agreement …,” Trains News Wire, May 21, 2020].

Bensenville was converted from a humpback yard to a flattened commutation in 2012, Creel noted. “There’s a big footprint there, but it’s not optimized. We haven’t spent a lot of money to reconfigure the yard. Part of the problem was a Union Pacific line that ran through the middle of the yard; for the most part, this road crossed CP property on a berm that pinched the shape of the facility into an hourglass. “Everything on the west side is a storage yard,” Creel said. “It can store cars, but it doesn’t serve a huge use when it comes to processing cars. And that limits our usefulness in optimizing this terrain.

It’s about to change. As part of the agreement between the two railways and the toll highway, as well as the related acquisition of land that included some industrial properties, the UP line will be placed on a bridge, parallel to the highway bridge. toll and eliminating the physical barrier between the two halves of the yard.

“It unlocks all that land that had buildings on. So effectively we will… almost double our footprint in Bensenville, ”said Creel. The railroad will use this reclaimed land and spend about $ 300 million to build a “state-of-the-art” switching facility, he said, as well as an intermodal terminal and automotive facility. The latter has particular advantages given its location next to O’Hare Airport. “This airport is the number one consumer of rental vehicles in North America,” said Creel. “So if you are a [manufacturer], and you need a place to land those finished vehicles, that offers a pretty compelling value proposition.

The CP-Amtrak Agreement

Two men on the platform at a conference
Kansas City Southern’s Patrick Ottensmeyer (left) and Canadian Pacific Railway’s Keith Creel speaking at the MARCH meeting on Wednesday. (Train: David Lassen)

Creel said CP was “proud” to have reached an agreement with Amtrak to allow the prospect of additional passenger service on the merged CP-KCS routes, which led Amtrak to offer its official support for the merger. [see “Amtrak backs CP-KCS merger …,” News Wire, Jan. 6, 2022].

Creel said he was well aware, after 30 years as an operations officer, that it is not easy for a freight railway to coexist with a passenger service.

“I sometimes understand the conflicts and tradeoffs sometimes when you mix high speed passenger rail with what is, in comparative terms, low speed freight rail,” he said. “I understand the challenges of track geometry, I understand the challenges of speed… But I also understand that if you prioritize correctly, and there are tradeoffs and balance in a partnership, you can be successful. And that’s the approach we took at CP.

“Five years ago, six years ago, we were not at the forefront of the Amtrak service industry. We have had it for five years. And that same spirit of partnership, trust and respect that we built by accomplishing this has enabled us to close a deal with Amtrak.

Creel said the possibility of including the KCS lines in this deal – after KCS previously did not host Amtrak openings – reflects the fact that “there are a lot of things that have changed today that allow us to do what we did with Amtrak that Tap [Ottensmeyer] never had the benefit of kissing. Among them: Amtrak’s funding in the recently passed infrastructure bill.

“Those billions of dollars in infrastructure support that the White House has given Amtrak to invest in the networks to develop the service is history,” said Creel. “But without the relationship we have enjoyed and the trust we have built… it wouldn’t have been possible.”

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