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Douglas discusses the railroad’s efforts to give back to communities

Lindsey Douglas didn’t grow up in a railroad family.  

That didn’t stop the native of Overland Park, KS from seeing the impact that railroads such as the Union Pacific can have on the communities they serve.  I recently sat down with Douglas, the UP’s senior director of Public Affairs for Illinois and Wisconsin, to discuss the railroad’s efforts to give back to the communities through which they travel, and a lot more.

How long have you worked for Union Pacific?

I worked for Union Pacific in Kansas City for four years, and I just came back to the company in March, so it’s only been six or seven months since I came back, so it’s been about four and a half years.

Were you a train kid?

I was not.  My father worked for a utility company and my mom was a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner.  I wasn’t raised around transportation, but I got a bug for public policy and eventually found my way to it.  I really love it because it’s something that affects all our lives.  Our jobs, every aspect of our lives is affected by it, so it’s a really great industry to be a part of.

Why does Union Pacific invest in small towns like Villa Grove?

We are only as strong as our workforce and our workforce lives in small towns across our network.  They live in big towns too, but we know that communities need to be strong.  We know that Villa Grove was founded as a railroad town.  That’s how it started, and we know that having resources like a community center are beneficial to our employees.  We want to make sure that we’re making investments that improve their quality of life, both at work and in their community. 

Everyone in Villa Grove has some connection to the railroad.  Would you say that’s the case for our entire country?

Absolutely.  It opened up our country for development.  President Lincoln established the transcontinental railroad and that’s how Union Pacific was founded.  That really opened up all kinds of things.  We move building materials food, raw materials for things that we use every day, from the moment you wake up in the morning and flip on a light switch, whether it’s food or something else, everything touches a railroad at some point.  Even all those amazon packages that we buy.  A lot of those packages, or the raw materials needed to make those products came via rail.  It’s something that touches our lives, whether we realize it or not.  

Will Union Pacific utilize the space at the new community center in any way?

One of the things we talked with you all about in evaluating the application for the grant was knowing that this type of facility is available.  We heard today that there will be meeting space available.  I know we have an office space not too far away, but it’s always good to get off property and have some discussions so if we have folks coming through and those rooms are available, I can definitely see that being an asset.  

Are there ways that Union Pacific collaborates with cities and towns that no one hears about?

We hear a lot about the negative impacts that our company can have but running a warehouse without a roof and walls is kind of hard sometimes and we know that, especially where we’re interacting with road traffic, it can make for some challenges.  We know that a train can be in the way when you’re trying to respond to an emergency, based on the location of your police and fire buildings, we talk with communities all the time as they are developing.  Being able to invest in buildings like the community center is part of it, but if businesses want to come, we can work with the community to give them rail access as well. We know we impact the communities we’re in and I want to be available to discuss ways that we can work together.

What would you say to those who are upset by the crossings being blocked?

I would tell them that we aren’t making money when the trains aren’t moving! <laughs>   Truthfully though, we want them to be moving as efficiently as possible.  Sometimes something many miles removed can impact our ability to keep freight moving.  For example, we sometimes have to hold freight trains in Iowa so that they won’t impact the Chicago Metra lines during rush hour.  With our trains being so long, we know that they can impact multiple crossings in a town or city.  

What does the future of rail hold?

We’re going to be around forever! <laughs>  We’ve an environmentally efficient way of moving huge amounts of freight.  As we move to the future, technology is going to dramatically change our industry but it’s not going to push us away.  We’ve talked about electric trucks, and we are looking at electric locomotives and we’re trying to do things in our industry that our entire country has goals for.  We’re trying to reduce our environmental impact. We know that we can be a very efficient way of moving the goods that everyone needs.  

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