Railway Age, May 1993

Defy Conventional Wisdom for Unconventional Results

Conventional wisdom says you can't run a railroad using people who've never worked on a railroad before. Take part-time secretaries and teach them to to drive 100-car trains? It just won't work.

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.

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.

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Created July 21, 1995. Send comments to lblanchard@aol.com