As we endure the evolving Coronavirus pandemic, railroads are not getting their due in the general media for the role they play in the economy. They’re not getting noticed for moving the coal that keeps the lights on in many homes and that creates the consumer goods that families need in an emergency – yes, we are talking about that elusive toilet paper!
All week long, I’ve been monitoring major television news sources. They’ve rightly given the bulk of their praise to healthcare workers and public safety workers on the front lines of the pandemic. They’ve also stepped back, and in the last week, I’ve seen full features on the valuable role the trucking industry plays in delivering consumer goods. They portray truckers in latex gloves and isolation masks as heroes. I cannot argue with that: They are dedicated people doing their jobs in a difficult time to keep the shelves stocked. But railroaders everywhere are heroes, too.
They’re moving the basic materials that create cleaning products, sanitize public water sources, and a whole lot more. They’re working in difficult conditions, too, and what is always a challenging physical and mental task has become even more challenging. Our freight railroads are just not getting the credit they deserve in the general media.
Some railroads have done a commendable job of telling their stories online in their own venues. Union Pacific’s Inside Track newsletter, and promoted on Facebook, had an excellent story about its efforts to keep cargo moving. BNSF Railway and CSX also had Website-based content about their efforts to keep stuff moving. BNSF, which ran a consumer-based ad many years ago, did especially well with a graphic about how it keeps essential goods moving. Others were not so public-minded. The Association of American Railroads on its Website Friday thanked Congress for help in the relief bill for railroaders unemployed as a result of CV19. Under a Coronavirus headline, AAR took readers to a short story about safety and railroad investment since the Staggers Act in 1980. Norfolk Southern issued the latest of five letters from Executive Vice President Alan Shaw that was obviously aimed at shippers.
Why am I not seeing heroic railroaders on the major television networks? A big part of the problem is that railroads have largely given up on broad-based public relations efforts, cut staffs in that area to the bone, and tried as hard as possible to be invisible. That effort has been underway for years, and it’s yielded an entire generation of journalists who don’t know what a railroad does, what their names are, or why it’s important. It’s a shame. American freight railroaders are heroes every day, but even more so during a major national emergency.