The Future of Rail Freight

Speaking about his own role at the AAR, Ian Jefferies had a positive view:

“I am privileged to help lead this industry as the President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads (AAR). What’s particularly exciting to me is not just what freight rail has achieved throughout our nation’s history, but what our member railroads are doing now to transform their operations to drive the economy and serve the American people. Together, freight railroads are moving us into the future.

I begin my tenure at a time when freight railroads are working to meet the demands of a world that is changing not by the year, but by the minute. International trade and consumer expectations have seen our industry expand and advance at a stunning pace over the past few decades. Rail traffic in the U.S. has increased 84% since 1981, though the network size has remained stable. Looking ahead, the Federal Highway Administration predicts total U.S. freight shipments will increase 37% between now and 2040. I am confident we will be able to meet that demand because our industry plays the long game.

My path to AAR involved work in industries and institutions that bring people together to make things happen. A tech start-up early in my career provided a window on innovation and connection in the private sector. My work in government — from a mayor’s office to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, the Department of Transportation and the Government Accountability Office — gave me a first-hand look at how policymakers’ decisions affect people and their communities.

Through those jobs — which spanned the world of international trade, infrastructure, economic development and multiple modes of transportation — I gained a well-informed understanding of the unique contributions of America’s freight rail system. From the moment I stepped foot into AAR, and reaffirmed over the years, I saw how member railroads are committed to safety, excellence and investment in the infrastructure and technology that makes our network the best on the planet by far. Because of the criticality of our industry to the nation’s people and economy, we also play an integral role in building consensus and know what’s needed to get things done.”

At the beginning of our conversation Ian Jefferies pondered the early days of American rail freight. With his appointment as President and CEO of the AAR, he also drew a personal arc between the past, present and future:

“I can’t help but think about the future of freight rail when I ponder the future of our country. The world’s largest economy needs the most reliable and efficient engine on the planet, and with freight rail, the United States has that engine. Our country never stops creating or imagining or doing. While the story of the Golden Spike inspires us, even today, I know that freight rail will never be satisfied with yesterday and is ever transforming with an eye toward tomorrow.

When I think of our industry, I think of my family. My great-grandfather worked for the Southern railroad, and I recall my grandfather’s hobby room stocked with model trains, books, videos and other train memorabilia. My family’s love of trains can be traced generations back, and my Dad also caught the train bug. The imprint on me was unmistakable, and the passion still lives in my own house and with my own children. Trains are in the fabric of families like mine, generation after generation.”

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