The Monday morning quarterbacks who commented on my previous blog (here) thrashed the CEO of the company that owns the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic pretty thoroughly. Ed Burkhardt made mistakes, he surely did, such as not showing up in Lac Megantic, Que., for days after the catastrophe that took some 50 lives.
Put aside what Burkhardt shoulda, coulda done before the accident. In fact, put aside Ed Burkhardt. Bear in mind that this man is almost 75 years old and the event in Lac Megantic was utterly unimaginable — that is, until it happened.
Now that we know the unimaginable can happen, I want your ideas on how the chief executives of other railroads, big and small, should deal with catastrophes when they happen. How should they react? What should they do? What should they not do?
I will cite one example of what I consider exemplary behavior. At daybreak on August 9, 1997, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief derailed near Kingman, Ariz., when a bridge gave way after a flash flood. Almost 200 passengers and employees were hurt, but none killed. Rob Krebs, the president of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (as it was then named), could have said, well, that is Amtrak’s problem and stayed put in Fort Worth and kept his mouth shut. Instead, he filled a plane with his operations executives and flew to Kingman that very morning and stayed there until the emergency was under control. Did Krebs bark orders and shout commands like a field general? I don’t know, but he was there, told reporters what he knew, and everyone felt his presence; in my book, that counts for a lot. I do not believe the president of Amtrak made it to Kingman.
Okay, guys and gals, be a railroad CEO for a day. Word is just in that your worst nightmare has occurred on your railroad’s property. Now what? — Fred W. Frailey