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James A. Hagen

Former Chairman, President and CEO of Conrail

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

It is a sentiment Jim Hagen expresses often when talking about his approach to problem-solving. One can imagine he developed this pragmatic attitude growing up on the family farm in rural Iowa and working road construction with his father. To be sure, this philosophy served Hagen well as he tackled the problem of rebuilding the railroad system in the Northeast – a seemingly insurmountable challenge that defied any perfect solution.

Hagen came to work at the Federal Railroad Administration in December 1971 as the Northeast rail system was on the verge of collapse. The Penn Central and five major carriers had filed for bankruptcy. The roots of these companies stretched back as far as 1826 to the earliest days of railroading in the US. Their demise marked a historic, seismic shift with enormous implications for freight and passenger traffic, as well as the future of privately owned railroads in the region.

As head of the economics department at the FRA, Hagen was tasked with formulating a solution to restructure the Northeast’s railroad system. Later, as VP of Operations and Planning at the US Railway Association, he led the team that developed the final system plan approved by Congress to create the Consolidated Rail Corporation, or Conrail. Hagen would go on to serve as the head of marketing and ultimately CEO of the Conrail system he spent so many years analyzing and creating.

This is Jim Hagen’s story of the resurrection of railroading in the American Northeast.

To read the full interview transcript, click here.

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