Sez who? is the unconventional response of Bill Frederick, customer service representative and president of the Arizona & California Railroad (AZRC), where carefully trained, highly- motivated railroad neophytes like secretary-turned-engineer Patty Hamilton are driving trains and throwing switches -- and doing it superbly.
Conventional wisdom says that after the worst flood since the fifteenth century has taken a two-mile bite out of your track and put a total of 12 miles underwater (leaving you with mountains of mud to move), there's no way you can get the trains running again in less than three months.
Just you watch us, is the unconventional response of Copper Basin Railway's L. S. "Jake" Jacobson. With a copper mine and its community depending on the railroad for their livelihood, Jake had the track cleared and the roadbed rebuilt in an incredible fourteen days.
These approaches fly in the face of conventional wisdom and yield unconventional benefits in the form of dedicated employees from an unexpected labor pool on the one hand and minimal disruption of operations on the other. The managers of both lines have something in common: each put in more than twenty years with a Class I; each regards "can't" as a four-letter word; and each surrounds himself with talented people, most of whom have no railroad background -- and hence no fund of conventional railroad wisdom whatsoever.
Now, what if you take this unconventional mindset, this sez who? or just you watch us attitude and turn it to your marketing efforts? Here are just a few ways the AZRC -- and other short lines around the country -- are turning conventional wisdoms (CW for short) upside down.
This goes for rehabilitation assistance as well, where cooperation among local, state, and federal authorities is often what it takes to get railroads their share of available government funds.
In the ARZC's case, a former Santa Fe circus ramp for loading vegetables in Blythe, California became a mechanical COFC facility loading compressed hay to support Japan's beef industry. Up and running this spring, the facility is expected to handle 50 containers a week.
On the other coast, the Providence & Worcester is making hay from a variety of products, running a U.S. Customs-bonded, fully- secured intermodal terminal in Worcester, Massachusetts serving major steamship lines and handling goods from the Pacific Rim destined for the Boston market.
Conventional wisdom certainly does not always work for marketing in the short line environment. After all, if conventional wisdom could make a profit on those short lines, the Class Is would never have spun them off in the first place. So try flying in the face of conventional wisdom -- and watch your short line soar.