Saturday, September 14

Public Perception of Rail Transportation Companies Might Benefit From Fresh Approach

If the tragedy at Lac M├ęgantic this summer, and the recent derailments in Calgary, have brought much attention to regulatory practices in the rail transportation sector -- shaking the foundations of how railway activities are perceived in the eyes of the public -- not much has been said in the media of rail companies' efforts to interpret their role in weaving the fabric of Canada over the years.

Until this summer, unless one does business with CP, the average Canadian's goodwill toward Canadian Pacific was pretty much influenced by a general awareness that CP is one of a few major players in Canadian rail transportation which have made the settlement and economic development of our country possible.

CP's Holiday Train comes through town around Christmas time, raising food, money and awareness for food banks in communities across Canada, bringing Christmas cheers and appreciative visitors each time.

For years, the Canadian Pacific Archives have helped researchers, writers and journalists gain a deeper understanding of the evolution of communications and transportation networks. Let's face it, railways played a critical role in shaping villages, towns and cities everywhere north of the 49th, to various degrees. The original city plan for Regina, Saskatchewan, was actually drafted by a CPR surveyor. From 1883 onwards, the city was effectively built as a settlement and economic growth mechanism, in symbiosis with the CPR main line that crossed it.

The fact is, as road and air transportation networks evolved, and rail networks shrunk - especially in the Great Plains - so has Canadians' awareness levels of the role of rail in their lives.

Canadian National (CN), in particular, has undertaken to reverse that course, by spearheading a drive to raise awareness of the role it plays for a number of reasons. First, educating the public about things like career opportunities in the company, has a positive influence on staff recruitment efforts and the availability of rail transportation training. Secondly, sharing how CN makes a difference environmentally, socially and economically in the communities where the railway operates, has a direct impact on how the CN brand is perceived. Thirdly, investors will be attracted to a vehicle that will generate revenue while remaining an exemplary corporate citizen more, than by one that is under regular public scrutiny.

Explaining to members of the public how railway activities today influence their quality of life, their livelihood and their ability to succeed in their careers, as members of their community, should be the preferred course in an economy that is more than ever emphasizing the need for beneficial and responsible business practices. Telling that story well, consistently and in a manner that resonates with Canadians is likely to become the path of choice from here on.