Rail industry pays tribute to E. Hunter Harrison

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E. Hunter Harrison
R.G. Edmonson
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tributes from the railroad industry poured in over the weekend for CSX Transportation CEO E. Hunter Harrison, who died on Saturday after complications from an undisclosed illness.

“Hunter was a giant of the railway industry for decades and a transformative figure at CN,” Canadian National, where Harrison was CEO from 2003 through 2009, said in a tweet. “On behalf of Hunter’s friends and former colleagues at CN, we’d like to offer our deepest condolences to Jeannie and the entire Harrison family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

Norfolk Southern, which tangled with the Harrison-led Canadian Pacific during its unwanted merger overtures in 2015-16, tweeted: “Hunter Harrison was a passionate leader who helped elevate the rail industry. We send our sincere condolences to his family and to the @CSX family. #respect”

The Association of American Railroads noted Harrison’s influence on the industry.

“I am deeply saddened by Hunter Harrison's passing and offer my sympathies to all who knew, loved and admired him. He was an icon who left an indelible mark on North American railroading,” said Edward Hamberger, president of the AAR. “On behalf of the entire rail industry, I would like to extend the sincerest condolences to Hunter's family during this difficult time."

The most heartfelt remarks came from Harrison’s protege, CP CEO Keith Creel.

"Words cannot begin to describe this tremendous loss. On behalf of our Board of Directors and the entire CP family, our thoughts and prayers go out to Jeannie and all of Hunter's family, friends and colleagues across the industry,” Creel said of Harrison, who led CP from 2012 to January 2017. “Personally, today I lost a friend and a mentor. I spent most of the last 25 years working closely with Hunter. Over that time, he taught me how to railroad but more than that, he taught me how to be a leader.

“Professionally, Hunter was unmatched in this industry. He will go down as the best railroader ever, plain and simple. What he has done at multiple railroads and for our industry the last 50-plus years is incredible, which includes bringing CP back to its rightful place among leaders in the Class I space in what some have called the greatest corporate turnaround in history,” Creel said.

“His legacy will be felt at our company forever, not only by shareholders, but by employees and customers who have all benefited from his leadership, foresight and tenacity. The foundation he built at CP, and at all the other railroads he led, serves us, and the industry, well for the future.
While Hunter will be remembered in history books as the best railroader there was, I will remember him first as a friend with a loving and giving heart then as a tremendous, visionary leader who always challenged the status quo. His greatest legacy is not the railroads he changed for the better, but the family and friends he left behind that are all blessed to have known and loved him. We grieve with them in the tremendous loss of a one-of-a-kind railroader and even better person, Mr. E. Hunter Harrison."

CP will honor Harrison by lowering flags to half-staff across its network.

Analyst Anthony Hatch of ABH Consulting said Harrison was almost certainly on his way to remaking CSX the way he changed CN and CP.

“It is, of course, an understatement to say he was a giant of the industry,” Hatch says. “I always used to say he was a ‘two-time Hall-of-Famer’ – likely on his way to a ‘three-peat.’

“He was endlessly fascinating, endlessly controversial – and never, ever boring,” Hatch says. “I liked him a lot.”
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