Rewards for Railroads; Encouraging Capital Investment Cuts Down on Congestion

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 11, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Rewards for Railroads; Encouraging Capital Investment Cuts Down on Congestion


Byline: Michael J. Ward, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

America's railroads are solving real problems for the nation - big problems like traffic congestion on the highways and emissions from motor vehicles. Rail demand is expected to skyrocket over the next several years.

Railroads deliver around 70 percent of the automobiles produced in this country, ethanol that fuels a growing number of those vehicles, one-third of the nation's grain, raw materials to produce energy and military equipment that helps keep our nation secure. Our tracks also support passenger services nationwide.

It would be a real shame if we let the rail system fall prey to the whims of short-sighted investors. I'm the CEO of one of the nation's largest railroads, and that's what we're fighting today.

A common criticism of corporate managers is that they "live for the quarter." But that is precisely what some activist investors are demanding of railroads, regardless of the impact on safety, service and shareholder value. One hedge fund, for example, actually demanded that CSX freeze investment in its rail system and pile on large amounts of debt on the eve of the recent credit crisis. Keep in mind, the CSX railroad delivers essential products to two thirds of the American population.

By their very nature, railroads require constant investment to ensure high levels of safety and customer service. They invest well more than 15 percent of their revenues back into track, facilities and equipment. By contrast, the average American manufacturer incurs only about 3 percent in capital expenditures. In 2006 alone, the major U.S. railroads invested a record $8.5 billion in track and equipment.

At the same time, rail investors are being rewarded in a big way. CSX's stock price, for example, tripled from 2004 to 2007, placing it in the top 10 percent of all S&P 500 companies in share appreciation.

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