NEARS 2020 Conference Recap

The North East Association of Rail Shippers (NEARS) hosted its annual fall conference remotely September 21, 2020 – Sep 25, 2020. The NEARS 2020 conference consisted of several attendees that represented rail shippers, suppliers, and carriers. This was the first virtual event held by NEARS and proved to be very successful. It was a week-long conference that offered many great presentations. Let’s take a look at what was discussed with a NEARS conference recap.

NEARS 2020 Conference Recap

Class 1 Railroad – State of the Industry

The first presentation of the conference was held by Tom Tisa, Head of Business Development at CSX Transportation. He gave a high-level overview of the state of the industry from the CSX perspective. Tom revealed that, like all railroads, safety was their highest priority, and Q1 of 2020 was one of the safest quarters in CSX history. CSX is currently operating nearly 13,000 track miles and 1800 locomotives. Earlier this year, CSX rolled out a new initiative offering customers the ability to view and measure trip plan performance on ShipCSX. This transparency allows CSX customers to measure the performance for their shipments.

The New US-Mexico-Canada Agreement

Another great speaker at the NEARS 2020 Conference was Pat Ottensmeyer, President & CEO at Kansas City Southern. Pat discussed the new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and how it will help rail shippers. He mentioned that the previous agreement governing trade between the US and its two largest trading partners, Canada and Mexico, has been under attack for quite some time. He feels the new agreement presents a wonderful opportunity for North America. On Wednesday, July 1st, 2020, USMCA, officially entered into enforcement and replaced the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Legislators from all countries involved approved this agreement with strong margins.

Pat provided additional details about:

  • Existing Mexico labor laws in violation of USMCA that had to be updated before Mexico could participate in the agreement
  • Importance of this agreement considering the COVID-19 pandemic
  • U.S. based businesses abandoning Chinese operations in favor of building relationships with Mexico and China under the USMCA

Want to learn more about Pat’s views of the USMCA? Click here to access a 2020 opinion piece he contributed to The Dallas Morning News.

Women in Rail & Logistics

“Women in the Rail Industry” was a panel at the 2020 NEARS conference featuring four women who followed various paths to become leaders in the rail industry.

Michele Malski, President of Spring Recruits talked about her family’s history in the rail industry. Her father worked for a railroad and helped cultivate her love for the industry. She spoke about photos of her and her father standing next to rail cars and inspecting them. Michele did not imagine she would be where she is today. Before starting her own business to help railroads with the hiring process, Michele worked for several different railroads. She spoke about emerging trends in the workforce and the need for succession planning. Her company, Spring Recruits, focuses on two main goals; attract talent and retain talent for railroad and rail-related companies.

Another speaker, Karen McCash, serves as the Principal Marketing Manager for Rockwell Collins. Karen’s seven-year career in the rail industry began in a marketing role at an engineering design company.

She was given the option of what division of the company she wanted to work for, and she chose rail. Karen did not know she would have such a deep passion for rail as she did and when she was offered a position at Rockwell Collins, she could not pass it up. Karen mentioned that her experience marketing for passenger rail did not prepare her for freight rail because the two are completely different. She was up for the challenge and said she could not be happier with where she is now.

The other two panelists, Gena Mullenax, Director of Apprenticeships at FASTPORT and Kylie McLaughlin, General Manager at the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad, also had really great experiences in the industry and could not be happier with where they ended up.

These remarkable women set a standard for others hoping to join a predominately male-run industry. Their recommendations include finding passion, never giving up, and to move forward with eagerness and drive.

On-Demand Fall 2020 Conference

Overall, the NEARS 2020 Conference was a great way to learn where the industry is as we near the end of 2020. Additional topics included:

  • Railroading 101, presented by John Schmitter, President, KEP LLC
  • Boxcars, the Present and Future, presented by Chad O’Neill, Norfolk Southern
  • Freight Audits 101, presented by Niki Bolton and Monica Poyner of AMTR
  • Railroad Insider, presented by Mike Rutherford, Sinior VP, American Petrolog LLC
  • Rail Business Analytics, presented by Todd Tranausky, VP Rail & Intermodal, FTR
  • The Regional Railroad Perspective, presented by David Fink, President, Pan Am Railways
  • Short Line Railroading, presented by Chuck Baker, President, ASLRRA
  • Shortline Growth in Today’s Reality, presented by Robert Russell, SVP Marketing, OmniTrax

Hosting a conference virtually comes with a new set of challenges. The members of NEARS did a great job overcoming those challenges and making it a worthwhile event for all participants. We look forward to participating in all upcoming regional shipper conferences, as we believe they are a valuable tool for staying informed and connected.