Commencement for Pan-Am

THE PAN-AM TEAM HAS A LOT TO BE PROUD OF. IT IS WORTH REFLECTING ON THE WAYS THAT SHIPPERS, WORKERS, AND REGIONAL COMMERCE HAVE BENEFITED UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF DAVID A FINK AND OTHER PAN AM MANAGERS IN THE PAST DECADE.

The early years of Guilford Transportation were contentious. The company sharply reduced maintenance and endured two bitter strikes as it reduced crew size and total employment. More than half the traffic vanished. Allegations of poor service and a series of rule violations tarnished the company’s reputation.

It was with some surprise when I read 20 years ago within the pages of this newsletter that Pan-Am service was rated the best in Maine by shippers. I made inquiries and confirmed that indeed the railroad had been getting its house in order and was much more dependable than its public reputation implied. Over the years, there have been service challenges: parked crew-less trains, trains not run at all for lack of power or crews, etc. But since then, these glitches have become infrequent.

The fact is, Pan Am trains have generally run when expected and it is clear that the railroad makes the effort to understand customers’ needs meet them. That is the very basis of creating business value, and frankly something our industry has trouble with. It is tempting to say a business exists to make a profit, but over the long term, profit is impossible without delivering value for customers. Pan-Am has been doing so. Perhaps that is the highest praise a railroad can get.

Pan-Am’s marketing team deserves special praise for this enduring performance. Their knowledge of the territory and the history of rail traffic in the past is impressive. The railroad has made an effort to connect with potential customers large and small, and has some big wins, notably with waste, propane and Poland Springs water. While some big Maine paper mills have closed, the railroad is growing modestly otherwise. This reflects creativity, persistence and competence.

Passenger trains have been well-run on Pan-Am. An excellent relationship has developed with the operators of the operators of the Downeaster train. This has resulted in investment in Pan-Am track.

More than a decade ago I held a series of conversations that, altogether, revealed that employees at Pan-Am felt it was a good place to work. This was also a surprise, given the bitterness of the early years. But it is proven in action. Employees I communicate with generally seem to be satisfied. Of course there are complaints, most notably about obsolete and and substandard equipment, but workplace grumbling is a cherished American tradition, and it’s clear that things have improved over time.

Pan-Am has always been a safe railroad. That’s no accident. Safety over time reflects a well-run property with discipline and dedication. Contrary to some outsiders’ calculations, safety contributes to profit.

Executive Vice Presiden Cyndi Scarano also deserves special praise as well. It has been her responsibility to create a productive workplace and also to cultivate positive relationships in the community The company’s ability to work well with government agencies and other stakeholders has brought reward in the form of investment in track and a significant number of new rail shippers.

ANRP wishes the best for the Pan-Am crew in the future. You’ve done well. We wish for a happy and prosperous future for management and crews alike, and fervently hope that your experience and knowledge are not lost to the region. May the shippers be well served in the future and may the railroad – under a new name – continue to expand regional rail access and service.

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Associate Editor; Consultant for Rail Planning & Development
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Christopher has 15 years of railroad experience, starting as a Conductor on Cape Cod and 15 years of public policy advocacy and outreach work. Christopher is Executive Director of Vermont Rail Action Network, communicating the vision of better trains to elected and government officials, community leaders and the public. Christopher is a consultant for freight and passenger planning and development projects including operating planning, federal grant applications, marketing, and public outreach.