Friends of BNSF members from in and around Vancouver, Wash. and Portland, Ore. enjoyed a train ride in the Columbia Gorge on Sept. 10.
The Friends of BNSF initiative is about establishing connections between BNSF and its many supporters and advocates in the communities where it operates. It's been around as an online community since 2011. This year, Friends of BNSF has taken the next step by hosting real-life events that bring members together in person.
The first event took place at BNSF headquarters in Fort Worth on July 30, when 21 members from the Dallas-Fort Worth area gathered to hear presentations about BNSF from executives, enjoy lunch and take a tour of the campus. Sam Sexhus, vice president service design and performance, gave an overview of BNSF and its operations, and Zak Andersen, vice president corporate relations, spoke about current challenges in the business environment.
The attendees got a good look at the Network Operations Center (NOC), the impressive command center from which dispatchers manage traffic on BNSF's rail network.
Then Friends of BNSF headed to Washington state for events in Spokane on Sept. 9 and Vancouver on Sept. 10. At both events, Friends members heard presentations from Andrew Johnsen, assistant vice president community affairs, and Courtney Wallace, regional public affairs director. Both groups then boarded vintage business cars to take a train ride out into the countryside.
The Spokane group of more than 40 Friends members rode the train southwest along forested hills out to Fishtrap and back, and the Vancouver group of around 60 members rode east through the scenic Columbia Gorge to Stevenson and back.
At all the events, executives engaged the Friends members in a discussion about ways the railroad can reach out to the public with its message about the central role freight rail plays in the U.S. economy. The members responded with good insight and numerous suggestions.
“We started Friends of BNSF because we knew there are a lot of people out there who feel an affinity for BNSF and appreciate its importance to our economy and meeting our nation's environmental and energy challenges and potential,” Johnsen said.
Wallace added, “These events are a great way to say thank you to our supporters and to start a conversation with them about how to help the larger public understand what our supporters already understand about freight rail.”
Response to the events was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
"I believe I can speak for everyone who was a guest of the BNSF Railway that they enjoyed themselves and not only appreciated the hospitality, but went home with a better appreciation as to what railroads are all about and why we as supporters of the railroads need to spread the word," wrote Friends member Leonard Morgan of Portland, Ore. after attending the Vancouver event.
"Thank you for the invitation and a very pleasant and informative day," wrote Jerry Barsness after attending the Spokane event. "The presentations were most enlightening and interesting. And the train ride and lunch were great. I wish you all the best."
Bob LaPrelle, president and CEO of the Museum of the American Railroad, attended the inaugural event at BNSF headquarters and wrote afterward, "Thanks for an enjoyable and informative series of presentations today. I was impressed with BNSF’s commitment to investment in the future, and the caliber of people in leadership roles."
Friends of BNSF plans to hold more events at locations around the BNSF network on a periodic basis. Registered Friends members who live within driving distance of upcoming events will receive an invitation by email. We hope to meet you in person at a future Friends of BNSF Day!
Zak Andersen, vice president corporate relations, speaks to Friends members on July 30 at BNSF’s Fort Worth headquarters.
Members take a look at BNSF’s Network Operations Center at the Fort Worth campus.
Joe Faust, regional public affairs director for Texas, gives Friends members a tour of the headquarters.
Andrew Johnsen, assistant vice president community affairs, greets Friends of BNSF members as they board the train in Spokane, Wash. Sept. 9.
Johnsen visits with Friends of BNSF members during the Spokane train ride.
Gus Melonas, regional public affairs director, visits with Friends members as the Spokane train trip gets under way.
Attendees of the Spokane event gather for a group shot after their train ride.
Ross Lane (left, with sunglasses), regional public affairs director, converses with a Friends member while the train approaches the Amtrak station in Vancouver, Wash., Sept. 10.
Friends members board the train at the Amtrak station in Vancouver, Wash.
Courtney Wallace, regional public affairs director, visits with Friends of BNSF members during the Vancouver train ride.
Members enjoyed breathtaking views of the Columbia Gorge during the train ride from Vancouver to Stevens, Wash.