Union Pacific's past chairman and CEO John C. Kenefick dies at age 90

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Union Pacific
OMAHA – John C. Kenefick, president of Union Pacific from 1971 to 1983, died Friday, July 15, at age 90.

Born Dec. 26, 1921, in Buffalo, N.Y., Kenefick attended Princeton University. Graduating in 1943, he served three years in the Navy during World War II, primarily in the Pacific, before beginning his railroad career with the New York Central as a mechanical department apprentice. He joined Union Pacific in 1947 as a locomotive draftsman.

Kenefick made a concerted effort to learn firsthand how a railroad operates, holding assignments in various departments with UP, Denver & Rio Grande Western, and again at New York Central before returning to the UP in 1968 as vice president-operations. He took a promotion to executive vice president in 1969, and was elected chief executive officer of the transportation division in 1970. After serving as president, he was named chairman and CEO of UP in 1983.

During Kenefick's tenure, Union Pacific’s revenue swelled from $1 billion to $8 billion, and with his oversight of the 1982 Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific mergers, the railroad’s size doubled. Kenefick supported financing in 1984 for a connector line with Chicago & North Western, "Project Yellow," that gained the two railroads access to Wyoming's Powder River Basin and the nation's largest coal deposit. His strategic guidance also paved the way for mergers with C&NW and Missouri-Kansas-Texas, which shortened UP’s route from Kansas City, Mo., to Fort Worth, Texas, and on to the Gulf.

Described as the linchpin for the post-1969 period in UP’s history, Kenefick had an undeniable influence on the railroad and industry overall. He served six years on the Association of American Railroads board, beginning his term in 1980, the same year the Staggers Act passed, partially deregulating the nation's railroads. Kenefick retired after 40 years of service.

"Union Pacific is proud and privileged to have had John Kenefick at its helm," said Chairman Jim Young. "With great foresight, he strengthened our railroad and guided it through some of the most challenging times in our history. It is with great pride that we celebrate his memory and innumerable contributions to our company and community."
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