August 16, 2021
Interview With Carl Warren
In 2020, the North Carolina Railroad Company announced Carl Warren as its new President and CEO. Warren joined the company from Class I freight railroad, CSX.
During his tenure at CSX, Warren led teams focused on industrial, port and commercial development throughout the CSX system across 23 states and two Canadian provinces. His most recent role focused on driving growth to CSX by aligning business development efforts around short lines, port authorities, site selection consultants and new customers. He also has diverse public and private sector experience from previous assignments at the Port of Portland, Oregon and BNSF Railway, in real estate, operations planning, sales and marketing, and port development.
YOU JOINED NCRR IN AUGUST 2020. HOW HAS YOUR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE EQUIPPED YOU TO LEAD NCRR?
I’m very fortunate that over the last 20 years or so I’ve had the experience of working for two major Class I railroads. I’ve been in a leadership role at a major port authority and in the process of working through these roles, I’ve developed a strong understanding of how railroads function, their economic drivers, and the interface between a railroad and a state, as well as how railroads can influence and impact economic development, industry location and passenger rail service. Over my career I’ve worked on things that touch all these areas, so when I was contacted by the recruiter and learned what NCRR was looking for, I thought it would be fantastic to bring together all these elements to shape the future of NCRR.
LOOKING AHEAD, WHAT DO YOU SEE AS NCRR’S BIGGEST OPPORTUNITIES, AND HOW DO YOU SEE THE COMPANY PURSUING THESE OPPORTUNITIES?
I think NCRR has several opportunities in economic development with programs like NCRR Invests and Build Ready Sites. Through these programs, I see the company enlisting other partners and acting as a catalyst for getting rail sites ready for market to create more jobs and attract investment. Our programs afford us the opportunity to make strategic investments in rail-served industrial sites as well as educate site selectors and potential rail customers about the advantages of locating and growing their rail served businesses in North Carolina. With the right focus, I believe we can do this better than any other State, and our company can make a greater difference.
I also see NCRR being more thoughtful about the use of its assets, especially the rail. I think if we can do that well, we will be more effective in enabling economic development and improving the rail system overall.
NCRR WORKS CLOSELY WITH COMMUNITIES ALONG THE LINE, WITH THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ORGANIZATIONS ACROSS THE STATE, WITH NCDOT AND TRANSIT PARTNERS LIKE GOTRIANGLE, AND CATS BASED IN CHARLOTTE. DISCUSS THE IMPORTANCE OF PARTNERSHIP.
The successes I’ve witnessed over my career typically have resulted from a willingness to find common ground and find a way for all the players at the table to get something worthwhile out of it. Lopsided win-lose deals are the easy way out. To move beyond that, we must be willing to believe that shared gains create a better overall outcome.
I saw this early in my career when I was part of an effort that helped more than 20 political jurisdictions, three ports and two Class I railroads figure out how to develop a comprehensive grade separation program that met the needs of a region. When I was at CSX, I saw it again when we implemented the National Gateway clearance project and removed more than 60 overhead obstructions across six states, enabling double stack rail service to the Midwest.
At NCRR, we have partnered to help create an industry-leading property at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite and embedded the concept of shared gains in all our economic development programs. I am confident that as we work on freight and passenger mobility in North Carolina, we will apply the same principles going forward.
NCRR WAS CHARTERED MORE THAN 170 YEARS AGO FOR THE PURPOSE OF INCREASING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ACROSS THE STATE. HOW DO YOU SEE THE COMPANY FULFILLING THIS MISSION WITH A MODERN OUTLOOK?
In a lot of ways, the fundamentals are not that different than they were 170 years ago. North Carolinians needed to ship and receive products and raw materials and enjoy the improved mobility that rail offered relative to the other alternatives in the marketplace.
When I look at where we are today, we are in a much more interconnected space with intense pressure on land use and development, as well as continued competition for jobs and investment across state lines. When NCRR was built, it was a better choice than relying on horse carriages. Now the railroad is surrounded by interstate highways and must prove its value for moving passengers and freight.
I think we can continue to do some basic things – we must protect the corridor – or it will be consumed by the frenetic activity around it – but we must also see it for what it is – which is truly a platform for growth.
NCRR is a spine for the movement of people between Charlotte and Raleigh, but it will also enable regional transportation around places like Raleigh and Charlotte by providing a new option for regional connectivity with commuter rail development that could link the prosperity of urban and rural parts of the state.
By investing in the railroad itself, we create capacity that allows rail centered commodities like chemicals, ethanol, fertilizer, feed grains, lumber and stone to keep moving, connecting our North Carolina businesses with markets all over North America, and bringing in the materials we need to continue development in our state.
Finally, the foundation for making a difference resides in managing our assets wisely so they generate returns that enhance our ability to invest in our state. Doing that allows us to expand economic development across the state, enabling even greater long-term investments in North Carolina as well as increased job growth, while also fortifying the state’s competitive advantage in the recruitment of rail-served companies.