CSX chief details 'Railroad Renaissance' - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

CSX chief details 'Railroad Renaissance'

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By JAMES E. CASTO

For The State Journal

HUNTINGTON – In the 1970s, the nation's railroad industry was on the ropes, says Michael Ward, the president, chairman and CEO of rail transportation giant CSX.

The industry, he explains, was being strangled by excessive federal regulation while struggling with the interstate highway system that was enabling trucking companies to snare a larger and larger share of the nation's freight business.

What saved the railroad industry, bringing it back from the brink of extinction, Ward says, was the Staggers Act of 1980, a piece of landmark legislation that deregulated the railroads, enabling them to compete. The bill, he notes, was named for its key sponsor, the late West Virginia Congressman Harley O. Staggers Sr.

Ward's description of what he calls the "railroad renaissance" was part of his wide-ranging remarks as the keynote speaker April 30 at the annual dinner of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce at the Pullman Plaza Hotel.

Today's CSX, he noted, operates in 23 states and two Canadian provinces. It has 32,000 employees, including 1,600 in West Virginia.

Both Ward and Chamber President Mark Bugher emphasized the historic ties between the city of Huntington and CSX, stretching back to the city's 1871 founding by rail tycoon Collis P. Huntington, who created it as the western terminus of his Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, a key corporate predecessor of CSX.

Ward is familiar with Huntington, having lived in the community in 1995-96 while working his way up the railroad's corporate ladder. During his 34-year career with CSX, he has served in key executive positions in nearly all aspects of the company's business, including sales and marketing, operations and finance. He's been CSX president, chairman and CEO since 2003.

Huntington, he noted, is an important CSX division headquarters and the home of the railroad's mammoth locomotive repair shop. The city has 550 CSX employees.

CSX long has been a generous supporter of worthy causes and institutions in the Huntington community, including the United Way of the River Cities, Marshall University and the new children's hospital project at Cabell Huntington Hospital.

Margaret Mary Layne, executive director of the Huntington Museum of Art, a member of the sold-out crowd at the dinner, noted that a CSX contribution some years back enabled the museum to establish a children's program that's still in operation and "last year served 26,000 youngsters."

While Ward was in Huntington, he used his visit to reveal CSX's latest gifts.

Ward and Randy Cheetham, the railroad's regional vice president, announced CSX is donating an old rail bridge that spans the Guyandotte River in Guyandotte to the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health (PATH) along with $25,000 to help pay for the bridge's renovation so it can accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.

CSX also announced that it is making a separate $25,000 cash donation to the Rahall Transportation Institute (RTI) at Marshall University. State government's Bucks for Brains program will match the railroad's donation Ward said.

RTI is named for Congressman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., who introduced Ward at the Chamber dinner. State Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Cabell/Wayne, the director at RTI, was the master of ceremonies for the evening.

"We love the work that RTI does here because they take a very practical approach to things, not just for research's sake or to create a paper," Ward said. "They try to create things that improve safety and improve efficiency. It's one of the leading transportation institutes in the nation, and we're glad to support it."

The Chamber's annual dinner was its 122nd since 1891, when the organization was founded as the Huntington Board of Trade. The dinner was the last for Chamber President Bugher, who has announced he is retiring later this year. A search committee is working to find a successor.