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VOL. 123 | NO. 192 | Wednesday, October 1, 2008

U of M Begins Intermodal Safety Center

By Eric Smith

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FAVORED STATUS: Canadian National Railway Co. has donated $1 million to create the “CN – E. Hunter Harrison Center for Intermodal Safety and Emergency Preparedness” at the University of Memphis. -- PHOTO COURTESY OF CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAY CO.

The University of Memphis has created the “CN – E. Hunter Harrison Center for Intermodal Safety and Emergency Preparedness” thanks to a $1 million donation by Canadian National Railway Co.

The new center falls under the U of M’s Intermodal Freight Transportation Institute (IFTI), which is housed within the university’s Herff College of Engineering. The center will address issues “related to the preparedness for and recovery from natural and manmade disasters within the intermodal freight transportation industry,” according to a release issued by the university.

Dr. Martin Lipinski, IFTI director and a U of M civil engineering professor, said CN’s gift is important because earmarks from the federal government all require matching funds, so now the center can officially kick into gear.

“We can’t spend a dime until we have matching funds,” Lipinski said. “What these gifts do is give us the matching funds. Now, we can go out and say, ‘OK, we can begin to build capacity. We can hire faculty. We can develop programs. We have the go-ahead to basically spend the money.’ Without the matching funds, the earmark can’t be spent.”

Piece of the pie

The CN center is one of three administered by IFTI. The others are the Center for Intermodal Freight Transportation Studies (CIFTS) and the Center for Advanced Intermodal Technologies (CAIT).

Both of those centers were created last year because of the August 2005 federal transportation bill Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which gave $286.4 billion for surface transportation programs, including $7 million earmarked for the U of M.

Calling Memphis a city “steeped in the railroad tradition,” Danny Simpson of CN on Monday announced his company’s donation. Simpson, the assistant vice president for safety and environment in CN’s Chicago office, spoke to transportation executives from around Memphis at a forum called “Disaster Recovery in Freight Transportation – Moving Beyond First Response.”

Simpson’s announcement was greeted with oohs and aahs, and then rousing applause from the crowd inside the FedEx Institute of Technology on the U of M campus. He said the financial commitment – replete with the oversized check – was being made for one simple reason: CN considers Memphis an integral link in its North American rail network.

“CN knows the strategic value and significance of Memphis,” Simpson told the crowd. “We’ve been here for a long time, we’ve continued to make investments in this distribution hub and we feel it’s very important.”

The CN gift will help the U of M study disaster preparedness as it relates to the transportation industry. As Simpson noted during the forum, the need for better collaboration between the private and public sectors at all levels is integral, especially in this post-Sept. 11 and natural disaster-prone environment.

“What the center does is create a repository not only for raw data, but for open-minded thinking in how we can address some of these emergency-preparedness issues,” Simpson said. “Memphis, being a really important strategic location for us, we feel it’s well worth the investment to do that.”

End, beginning of the road

In accepting the donation from CN and Simpson, U of M president Dr. Shirley Raines said the university was grateful for the center, noting that its namesake, CN CEO Hunter Harrison, is a graduate of the U of M. She thanked Harrison for “remembering his roots.”

Simpson agreed that the connection between Harrison and Memphis is apparent in the way CN conducts its business here.

“I think all 22,000-plus employees at CN realize how dear to Mr. Harrison his home of Memphis is,” Simpson said. “I know that all of us, regardless of what position we occupy in the organization, step it up a notch when we come to Memphis because we know how important it is to Mr. Harrison. Not only is it important to him, but strategically, it’s important to our railroad.”

Lipinski pointed out that CN’s investment in the city of Memphis – with a new intermodal terminal, improvements at its conventional railyard and enhanced partnerships based on operations from Port of Prince Rupert, Canada – make the partnership between the company and the city a “no-brainer.”

Simpson agreed, citing Memphis’ crucial role in the freight transportation world.

“It really is the breadbasket of the United States, in many respects, especially in respect to intermodal transportation and the tie to the air freight capability here in Memphis,” Simpson said. “So it’s almost like all roads lead to and from Memphis when it comes to the shipping of freight.”

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