This column was published in The Eagle-Tribune.
By Bob Lefebvre
For close to a century, the team at Eastern Propane has been focused on one simple priority for all of our customers: Whether we’re working with families, businesses, developers or even those managing an auto fleet, our job is to make sure our customers can focus on the things that really matter to them rather than worrying about the cost or reliability of energy.
We take pride in our work, and if you ask us, we know how to do it well.
But far from growing complacent, we’re always looking for ways to do more, growing more efficient and, ideally, passing the savings and other benefits on to our customers.
We can get better through improved transportation infrastructure here in Massachusetts – improvements that help us ship and receive our products more smoothly, affordably and predictably.
And while meaningful improvements like roads and bridges can cost billions and take decades to realize, the good news is that we have an opportunity to grab almost immediate infrastructure gains here in Massachusetts through the pending merger of Pan Am Railways with CSX, a Class I national railroad.
Perhaps best of all, Eastern Propane isn’t the only company that will benefit from this merger.
Businesses, consumers and communities throughout New England stand to gain from the enhancements this merger will bring to our crucial rail system – one of the most congested and heavily utilized in the nation.
To be clear, the importance of this merger isn’t a matter of Pan Am performing poorly. On the contrary, we’ve been a happy Pan Am customer for years.
This merger is significant because a company with the size, scale, investment capacity and expertise of CSX can deliver performance and capital improvements that can’t be attained otherwise.
For example, many of the tracks Pan Am currently operates on, while perfectly functional, have limited weight capacity and restricted speed limits.
If the merger is approved, CSX will be free to invest in upgrades that will enable shippers to move more freight more quickly without sacrificing safety, which they have committed to doing.
Beyond upgrading tracks, CSX can also help update Pan Am’s existing fleet of locomotives, cycling in newer, more efficient and more environmentally friendly models and retiring older, less reliable locomotives.
CSX’s technical expertise will also help the entire system operate more reliably, improving performance for freight and passenger railroads.
Operational improvements like these have a massive impact on companies large and small to sharpen their own performance, and the effects on the bottom line can be significant.
Stakeholders across the region, from governors and members of Congress to the business community and even passenger rail authorities like the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, have lined up in support of the project in recent months.
The reason for this swell of support is simple: this deal is good for our region and good for our economy. And with a national company like CSX, we can bank on a solid track record and a history of making a positive impact in communities served around the country.
The merger is currently under consideration by the Surface Transportation Board, the rail industry’s regulator. If they approve – and I very much hope they do – companies like mine can capitalize on the type of improved infrastructure that makes everyone’s job easier.
Anything that helps us deliver for our customers makes good sense to me.
Bolstering critical infrastructure like railroads isn’t easy. It requires a significant capital investment and deep collaboration across sectors. Often these improvements also need taxpayer money.
In this case, though, we’re fortunate to have a clear path to real gains without spending a dime of taxpayer money.
Even in divided times like these, the CSX/Pan Am merger is a proposal we can all get behind.
Bob Lefebvre is the vice president of supply at Eastern Propane & Oil.