Podcasts & Interviews

Technology & Innovation

Technology used throughout the 140,000-mile rail network — from big data to specialized computer software — ensures infrastructure and equipment remains safe, rail operations are efficient and freight rail’s carbon footprint is small. Hear from industry experts about the cutting-edge advancements happening across the industry today and how freight rail is transforming to meet the needs of tomorrow.

Inside Transportation Podcast: Freight Railroads & Big Tech (April 2021)

In a 45-minute interview with Inside Transportation, AAR CEO Ian Jefferies discusses some of the most exciting innovations happening across the freight rail network today. “For those that are focused on tech or working on tech, I think they would be absolutely astounded to realize the technological advancements that have occurred in the freight rail industry over the past several decades,” Jefferies says. “Yes, it’s still steel on steel. It’s always going to be steel on steel. But the locomotives you see today are literally self-diagnostic supercomputers rolling across a network of sensors and detectors that are constantly evaluating the health of the rail. And they’re determining their own speed to maximize fuel efficiency. So really, what we have is a smart network of railroads out there. And it’s really cool to be a part of it right now.”

MarketScale: How Technology is Advancing Freight Rail (July 2020)

In a 30-minute Roads, Rails & Rides episode from MarketScale, Jeb Morris sits down with AAR’s SVP of Safety and Operations, Mike Rush, to discuss everything from intermodal transport — the fastest growing segment of freight rail — to whether we can expect to see truly autonomous freight trains in our future. “From a safety perspective, we look at the whole issue of automation as pro-safety,” Rush says. “If we want to get safer and safer, technology is there to help us get there. We should be encouraging technology, encouraging automation”

Mobility Podacst: Live @ RailxTech - Governing Tech in Transportation (June 2019)

AAR’s 2019 RailxTech on Capitol Hill offered a panel discussion with transportation experts moderated by The Mobility Podcast’s Greg Rogers and Pete Gould. The panel hones in on the rapid innovation occurring across the transportation sector, the societal and economic implications of this transformation and how policymakers can encourage innovation.

  • “As a society, we need to get over the techno panic and embrace automation.” Robert D. Atkinson, President, ITIF
  • “We’re on the verge of the biggest transportation renaissance that any of us have ever seen.” Jennifer Huddleston, Research Fellow, Mercatus Center
  • “The freight rail industry is at a transformative point.” Patrick Lortie, Partner & Global Rail Leader, Oliver Wyman
  • “Over the next two years we need to drive forward the power of data.” James Ray, former Senior Advisor for Infrastructure, DOT

The Ross Kaminsky Show: Lisa Stabler, President of TTCI, Talks About Future of Rail Travel (July 2018)

Lisa Stabler — President of the Transportation Technology Center, Inc. (TTCI) —  discusses some of the technologies TTCI is developing that make rail transportation safer and more efficient. “There’s a number of devices on the locomotive that allow for real time monitoring of how the locomotive is functioning,” Stabler says. “There’s all kinds of wayside detectors that allow us to understand how the freight cars are operating and whether or not they need any repairs. In addition, we take a look at the track and track structures using all types of automation, including ultrasonic techniques, we measure them with lasers for track geometry. Finally, the rail industry is investing heavily in drones for inspections, especially of bridges. It’s amazing what those devices can do to be able to take a look under a bridge.”

Mobility Podcast: Emerging Railroad Tech (January 2018)

AAR’s SVP of Safety and Operations Mike Rush talks about the potential automated technologies have for transforming the rail industry, including through PTC. “From a sustainability perspective, we already are using technology in the train to tell the engineer what the optimal [speed] is from a fuel consumption perspective,” Rush says. “It’s very important for the railroads, who are major consumers of fuel. As that automation technology develops, you can see the ability for that train to become even more fuel efficient.”

COVID-19 Response & Recovery

As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve across the globe, North America’s freight railroads remain focused on safeguarding the health and safety of the rail workforce while maintaining the flow of goods necessary to preserve public health and sustain families. AAR CEO Ian Jefferies joined multiple podcasts and webinar interviews to give a deep dive into how railroads have remained resilient against the pandemic and the critical role they are playing — and will continue to play — in helping our nation recover.

The Hill: Coronavirus Report with Steve Clemons (June 2020)

AAR CEO Ian Jefferies speaks with The Hill’s Steve Clemons about the important role the nation’s rail system plays in recovering from the pandemic. “Freight rail have been around for well over 150 years,” Jefferies says. “Our industry has a lot of experience in working through crises and even past pandemics and natural disasters. I would use one word to describe this industry, and that’s resilient. Railroading is a 24/7, 365-day a year business. And businesses and communities and individuals continue to rely on the goods we’re providing, regardless of whether we’re in good times or bad.”

Cleveland Radio Station WEOL (June 2020)

AAR CEO Ian Jefferies sits down with Cleveland radio station WEOL to discuss the state of the rail industry during COVID-19 and how freight railroads continue to deliver for the nation. “Railroads haven’t missed a beat, we’re an incredibly resilient network and delivering for our customers, communities and citizens throughout this time and doing it safely,” Jefferies says.

Cheddar: How the Coronavirus is Affecting America's Rail System (May 2020)

AAR CEO Ian Jefferies speaks with host Nora Ali of Cheddar — known as the “CNBC for Millennials” — about how the coronavirus is affecting the nation’s rail system. “Railroads have very close relations with their customers and are able to pivot quickly to meet their needs,” Jefferies says. “I’m proud to say they’ve done so at a very high level. Now more than ever we need goods flowing.”

C-SPAN Washington Journal: Railroads & the Coronavirus Pandemic (April 2020)

AAR CEO Ian Jefferies joins Bill Scanian to spotlight the many ways freight railroads are responding to COVID-19 while keeping essential rail employees safe. “Employee safety is priority number one,” Jefferies says. “Freight railroaders are out working 24/7 throughout the country and it is imperative that we work to keep our employees as safe as we possibly can. That is anchored around CDC guidance for critical infrastructure employees, including social distancing and increased cleaning and sanitation.”

State of Freight Rail & Policy Issues

From one end of the country to the other, America is connected by the best freight rail system in the world. The seven large “Class I” railroads — working with hundreds of smaller railroads and tens of thousands of rail customers — deliver economic growth, support job creation and provide crucial environmental benefits today while preparing to meet the freight transportation challenges of tomorrow. Discover more about the state of this critical transportation industry and learn how policymakers and regulators can ensure railroads’ continue to deliver for our nation.

The Federalist Society: The Staggers Act Turns 40 - Lessons Learned from Railroad Regulation (October 2020)

Timothy Strafford, AAR Associate General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, examines the history of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980 and why its core tenets are especially relevant for ratemaking and due process under the Fifth Amendment.

“Over time, the regulation of railroads didn’t necessarily reflect the changing dynamics, the changing economy, the changing technologies,” says Strafford. “In the Staggers Act, you see a wisdom in recognizing that markets are efficient and lead to good outcomes. We’ve seen tremendous results [since Staggers]; productivity has soared, rates measured in the aggregate over time have declined, railroads have been free to invest in their private networks and have done so in big numbers and there have been huge increases in safety.”

Hamiliton Place Strategies: The History & Future of Freight Rail Regulation (October 2020)

AAR CEO Ian Jefferies discusses the 40-year anniversary of the Staggers Act and how the dynamic and competitive industry fostered by its regulatory structure has helped the industry adapt to ongoing changes such as the coronavirus pandemic and the rise of e-commerce. “For freight railroads, it’s all private money going back into their system, supported by the revenues railroads earn…which is a product of Staggers, [bipartisan regulation] that allowed railroads to differentially price and compete in markets,” Jefferies says.

Eno Transportation: State of the Industry (July 2020)

Freight railroads continue to adapt operations to keep traffic moving and meet customers’ evolving needs during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. AAR CEO Ian Jefferies outlines the state of the freight rail industry post-COVID, where the industry is headed, and what the direction of the industry can reveal about the broader economy.

“We are an economically regulated industry and our mantra, for a very long time is it’s an absolute necessity that we have the ability to earn the revenues necessary to reinvest back into our networks to serve our customers, to grow into the future and maintain competitiveness, and that’s due to a smart regulatory framework around economic regulation,” Jefferies says. “Because of that framework, that is why we’ve been able to invest so much over the years. That is why we were in a position that we could be resilient.”

Logistics Management: Overview of Freight Railroad Industry (June 2020)

AAR CEO Ian Jefferies discusses a range of topics, including the current state of rail and intermodal volumes, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on operations and service, rail-related provision of the INVEST in America Act. and a look at shipper and rail carrier collaboration.

“Railroads were able to work very well with their customers to make sure they provided a product to their customers that met their needs in these drastically swinging economic times and continue to work with them,” Jefferies says. “Looking ahead, we at AAR are not in the forecasting business, but our railroads are working with their customers to identify what they are seeing down the road, to make sure they can flex up as demand, hopefully, continues to return and the economy continues to recover.”