Now Approaching Retirement, AAR’s Hamberger Aided Intermodal’s Emergence
Over nearly two decades, outgoing Association of American Railroads President Edward Hamberger led an industry in transition as intermodal displaced long-time King Coal as his industry’s largest and fastest-growing freight group.
As the 68-year old mainstay in Washington lobbying circles prepares to retire early next year, he embraced intermodal’s emergence.
"It is not a surprise that intermodal is number one these days," he told Intermodal Insights in an interview. "Take a look at what the Class I railroads have done with corridors, making sure the routes all are double-stack cleared. They clearly have made the determination that the future isn’t going to be unit coal trains from Appalachia and the Powder River Basin."
In fact, AAR’s statistics show that intermodal shipments have risen almost 60 percent over a 19-year period to reach 13.5 million for U.S.-based railroads. During that same extended period, coal shipments that were an industry mainstay since the 19th century fell approximately 40 percent. Industrywide, revenue nearly doubled over that period, which coincides with Hamberger’s tenure.
He became president and CEO of the rail trade group in August 1998, moving from a Washington law office after serving at the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, known as MARAD.
"IANA and AAR have had a close and mutually beneficial working relationship over the past two decades," said Joni Casey, president and CEO of IANA. "I have always been able to count on Ed as a dependable ally on issues that impact the intermodal industry. During his tenure, domestic intermodal has transitioned to one of the railroads’ primary markets and experienced sizable growth. This growth, largely through Ed’s leadership, has been achieved based on a stable regulatory environment and growing attention to creating an environment where railroads can continue to flourish. On behalf of IANA, I congratulate Ed on his many achievements and wish him the best for the future."
‘A Lot to Get Done’
"There is still a lot to get done," Hamberger said. Particularly, he cited ongoing attention to economic and safety regulation, truck size and weight, confirmation of two additional Surface Transportation Board members, capitalizing on international trade opportunities and devoting more attention to technology and industry demographics.
"Ed has been a great advocate for the rail industry. During his tenure, AAR did everything to effectively protect their view that the regulatory scheme that is in place should remain in place,"aid Daniel Elliott III, former chairman of the Surface Transportation Board and now a Washington attorney. "I have the utmost respect for Ed. He was one of the nicest men I’ve ever met."
Independent rail analyst Tony Hatch, who praised Hamberger’s "grit" in effectively fending off past regulatory challenges, said the industry still has to maintain that defensive posture against shippers and truckers trying to challenge railroads on economic grounds.
Right now, economic regulatory pressure appears to have eased. Hamberger noted that a small number of congressional members attended a recent House hearing where their attention focused on Amtrak, instead of past sessions where legislators "pounded the table calling for captive shippers to be freed."
‘Some of Our Best Customers’
the other hand, the controversy over truck size and weight continues. Hamberger said the railroads aren’t trying to inhibit competition with truckers, who he described as "some of our best customers." The issue, he said, is having each mode pay its fully allocated share for infrastructure.
Safety regulation and technology are increasingly important, Hamberger said, calling for greater recognition of rail technology achievements and a new regulatory approach at the Federal Railroad Administration.
"It is very hard to get FRA to allow and encourage new technologies," Hamberger said, while noting that new Administrator Ron Batory, a former rail executive, is aware of the situation. "We hope to change the mindset, to look at technology and safety enhancements, and not as a matter of lost jobs."
Another issue ahead is changing demographics, the AAR official said. "Management has to understand the younger person’s point of view," Hamberger said, recognizing workforce diversity and embracing technology in the recruitment process.