Your Invitation To The OnTrack2025 IntelliConference

OnTrack2025 IntelliConference

An IntelliConference and Talk Led by Michael Sussman, Founder and CEO, OnTrackNorthAmerica

“How Collaboration, Trust, and Railroads Will Save the World”

Date: December 5th, Tuesday
Time: 5:30 PM Sharp to 8:00 PM, Eastern Place: Temple University, Science, Education, and Research Center, Hazel M. Tomlinson Lecture Hall, 1st Floor, 1925 N. 12th St., Phila, PA
Cost: Free
Parking: On-street free parking or Montgomery Garage,1859 N.11th St., $10
Food: Dinner sandwiches will be served for in-person attendees
Participation Agreement: See below
Live Streaming: For Zoom Participation, Link Provided Upon Registration

Thank you for engaging with me in this conversation. I am honored to be hosted by Temple University’s Industrial & Systems Engineering Program to present the distillation of my thirty-year exploration of how to solve the world’s challenges. Early in my work in industrial systems, I learned that moving goods on a train saves 50-80% of the diesel fuel and consequent emissions compared to using a truck. I knew that this misuse of the wheel reveals everything that needs to be reoriented for society to deploy capital sustainably—not just financial capital but natural resources, land, and human capital.

In 1914, we had a 240,000-mile robust network of rail lines in the U.S. But instead of intelligently integrating the new trucking industry with railroads, government policies committed to building roads as a public investment. And what was the result of this development? An imbalanced freight system that pitted trucks and railroads against each other—as if this kind of competition is a productive orientation for society. We have been paying the price for that missed opportunity ever since, as the rail network has shrunk to 139,000 route miles. We can fix this. It is time to shift from the fearful rhetoric against “picking winners and losers” to a new era where we consciously and collectively design industrial policies that create “winners and winners.”

Having worked with and learned from over 10,000 individuals on infrastructure projects in 43 U.S. states and Canadian Provinces over the last 30 years, we have invented a practical and immediately productive set of methods and tools for helping communities and stakeholders solve problems and work together. This process, which we named IntelliSynthesis™, is eminently accessible and applicable to all issues.

That is why I am inviting you to this important evening on December 5th. Experience IntelliSynthesis™ for yourself and see how powerful it can be for charting a smarter future. Your unique perspectives and intelligence will make a valuable contribution.

Focusing initially on growing freight rail service will deliver cascading benefits to the economy, environment, and our future quality of life. We don’t have to stick with sub-optimal use of either railroads or highways, and together, we can redesign governance, commerce, industry, and supply chains. We all want to improve our quality of life, combat the climate crisis, and find better ways to co-exist. When we think and plan together with IntelliSynthesis, we have a way forward that vastly improves matters for all of us.

Come to the talk to learn how you can play a role in OnTrack2025, a two-year Action Planning Process for establishing the measures, goals, and design principles for advancing North American freight railroads’ role within a balanced and sustainable multi-modal industrial supply chain system. I look forward to your participation.

Michael Sussman
1700 Sansom St., Suite 701
Philadelphia PA 19103

In service to OnTrack2025, OnTrackNorthAmerica is introducing its North American Freight Forum, a new institutional model for the citizenry and their business and government representatives to think together for breakthrough results.

In the face of our seemingly most difficult yet critical issues, such as race relations, gun laws, and abortion, invariably, we hear someone say, “We need to have a national conversation.” But really, where would we have that conversation? Social media, press, courts, the town square?

The North American Freight Forum and OnTrack2025 provide the practical answer to that urgent need for large-scale, multi-stakeholder dialogue that is transparent, inclusive, and efficient.

Participation Agreement
IntelliSynthesis utilizes everyone’s time and intellect smartly, beginning with several fundamental participation agreements. Attendance is free, but more importantly, it requires: 1) commitment to attending unless a personal or professional emergency occurs, 2) arriving early enough to be ready to participate at the scheduled start time of 5:30 PM Eastern, 3) participating until the scheduled end time of 8:00 PM Eastern, 4) not using cell phones or email, and minimizing distractions during the IntelliConference in order to be present physically and mentally, and 5) keeping yourself on video if participating via Zoom.

Thank you, Professor Julie Drzymalski and the Temple University Industrial & Systems Engineering Program, for sponsoring our IntelliConference.

People are Naturally Community-Oriented

Collaboration Will Take Us Where Competition Can’t

by Michael Sussmanpeople_network-672x372

Across the world, at any moment, on any given day, billions of people go about their business looking out for each other’s best interests. If that weren’t true, the world would not work as well as it does. Cooperation and thoughtfulness abound, while selfish, antagonistic acts pale in numbers.

“Are people inherently compassionate or self-centered?” has remained an oft-posed question because of the difference in impact between acts of cooperation or love and acts of aggression or thoughtlessness.

Hug someone today, and the feeling of love can fade by tomorrow. You almost have to hug them over and over again, and we do. Shoot or knife someone, drive drunk and crash, or meanly criticize another person, and the memory and consequence can last a lifetime. It is this severe and often lasting impact of violence and negativity that muddles our appreciation for the overwhelming amount of cooperation and consideration all around us.

So why did we orient the modern world’s commerce and governance on competition and mistrust rather than cooperation and trust? What would have us think that we must pit individuals, companies, organizations, political parties, and countries in an endless competition for success?

Read more…

Reinventing The Wheel

Place your hand on a steel rail after a 100-car train has just passed and feel the lack of heat. Friction is low when a hard steel wheel rolls over a hard steel rail. Consequently, the wheels last for hundreds of thousands of miles and the rail lasts for decades. Low friction means that hauling heavy weight and people over rails uses 1/2 to 1/6 the amount of energy while producing fewer emissions than moving comparable weight over roads.

Overusing the wheel under single vehicle cars and trucks on rubber tires over rough concrete and asphalt wastes fuel, pollutes air, and diminishes available space. Apply the simple principles of friction efficiency to the task of moving heavy weight and people over land and we take a major step in the direction of creating a sustainable, resilient society.

Hyperloop transit, autonomous vehicles, and flying hotel pods are all exciting possibilities. But let’s not allow the spectacle of high-tech to blind us to the positive immediate impact that could be produced by intelligent use of a steel wheel rolling on a steel track.

Our landing page says it all: “Nothing is more important to our future than our use of the wheel.”

It’s Time to Embrace Collaboration

By Michael Sussman

”Preserving competition in the marketplace,” by itself, is an incomplete regulatory principle that must be augmented with thoughtful collaboration if we are to produce an optimal, sustainable transportation system. When we saw the need for paving muddy roads to and from the railroads in the early 20th century, we missed the opportunity to thoughtfully integrate the newly developing freight highway system with the highly developed rail system. The resulting competition in commerce and public policy triggered a disastrous long-term shrinkage of the geographic footprint of the rail network leading to a suboptimal transportation system.

Coordinating across industries, companies, agencies, and indeed political parties requires respect, collaboration, and consensus-based decision-making processes. Our governing system, however, is structured to manage competing “factions” instead. Competition in the marketplace, competition for government attention, and competitive debate, rather than thoughtful deliberation, have stifled our collective ability to address the thornier issues of our day.
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The (Only) Path to a World-Class Transportation System is to Design it Sustainably

by Michael Sussmanrail-cropped

Building productive transportation systems can only be accomplished by designing them sustainably. We can’t overcome unavoidable limits on clean air, stable climate, and land by just spending more money. Our new imperative must be moving freight while minimizing its impact on the environment, open space, highway capacity, and the overall costs of building and maintaining infrastructure. Given the differential between trucks and trains in the space they require for moving goods, the environmental impact of their relative fuel usage, and the efficiency of steel versus concrete and asphalt, it is critical that we shift into designing systems that optimize use of these two modes.

The market can only support this if business, government, and community cooperate. This can be accomplished by aligning around whole-system lifecycle measures and sustainable investment strategies.

Considering the pressures of increasing population on land use, transportation congestion, and the environment, three significant evolutions must occur: 1) include shorter supply chain options in planning, 2) ship as much as sensible by rail to benefit from its energy and space efficiency, and 3) proactively think and plan for reduced dependence on fossil fuels. Accomplishing these transformations must include win-win approaches that support existing transportation providers through this transition. Our existing truck, rail, water, and pipeline infrastructure is too vital to strand assets.
Read more…

Has Anyone Seen The National Freight Strategic Plan?

National freight strategic plan

Submitted in 2015, the USDOT’s draft of a National Freight Strategic Plan invited public comment until April of 2016. Eighty-six comments later, the plan appears, here in early 2019, to have disappeared altogether. As a solemn marking of the third anniversary of the project’s last known activity, we’ll revisit  OTNA staff’s reading and commentary of the Plan. Were we overly critical? In review, we still don’t think so. Truth be told, it was barely a plan at all — really more of a report.


Our Analysis of the Draft National Freight Strategic Plan – 2016

The National Freight Strategic Plan (NFSP) aims to serve as an outline of key issues, but its lack of depth and overall passive orientation will not lead to meaningful progress. Increasing pressures from population growth and environmental degradation compel us to think more systemically and powerfully in advancing transportation’s vital role.

For issues as critical as freight transportation, we need to integrate well-meaning government efforts with intelligent private-sector business perspectives to create not just goals and visions, but action plans and commitments. As a matter of fact, if one were to consider a plan as a living document that includes specific measures, baselines, targets, accountabilities, commitments, and action steps, the National Freight Strategic Plan does not qualify as a “Plan.”

What we have come to accept as a “Plan”, including the NFSP, is more of a report on the past, plus trends and projections, and not a plan. In doing so, we abdicate responsibility for transportation system development to the commercial marketplace that is perfectly capable of creating individual projects, but not efficient systems. The entire NFSP relates to the future of goods movement as a pre-determined fate for which citizens must simply pay the economic, environmental, and social costs that the marketplace doesn’t include, because after all, everyone benefits.

This is not a strategy for national power and it is certainly not an approach that will deliver the urgent 21st-century policy goal of economic activity that supports sustainable growth and a higher quality of community life. OnTrackNorthAmerica is providing leadership on the three key developments that are critical to enhancing the NFSP’s contribution to achieving that goal. The first is to identify the full life-cycle costs and benefits of transportation investments at the individual project and systems’ level via OnTrackNorthAmerica’s Lifecycle Project. The second is to transform transportation reports and projections into Transportation Action Plans. The third is to implement a new innovative method for collective multi-stakeholder thinking, planning, and action, called IntelliConference.

So let’s dive into the NFSP to further illuminate the specific elements which need to be augmented or added.

Read more…

Decreasing Transportation Impacts on Land Use and Environment in California

By Michael Sussman

In July, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Executive Order B-32-15 directing numerous state agencies to collaborate on and develop an “integrated action plan” by July 2016 that establishes clear targets to improve freight efficiency, transition to zero-emission technologies, and increase the competitiveness of California’s freight system. Caltrans and other state agencies have already solicited comments and are now fully engaged in the development of the action plan. OnTrackNorthAmerica’s intention is that the action plan implement strategies that better deploy freight rail’s economic and environmental benefits.

OnTrackNorthAmerica (OTNA) has been working throughout 2015 to contribute its expertise in freight transportation land use planning to the state’s progress. In light of the significant projected increases in the state’s freight traffic over the next 25 years, California must focus on the optimal integration of freight transportation and land use. Lower emission truck and locomotive engines alone will not be enough. Conserving highway capacity and road maintenance expenses requires an optimal modal balance between truck and rail modes.
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Revitalizing Direct Rail Service

As Featured in Railway Age, December 2014, Page 44


Written by Michael Sussman, OnTrackNorthAmerica President and Founder

North America has yet to achieve the full extent of railroads’ potential contribution to the economy, environment, and land use. In spite of the good work of railroad developers, investors and staff, as well as significant public sector support, railroads remain underutilized for moving goods and people.

Our freight rail system is already so robust that it is easy to miss the possibility of a continental surge in capacity and reach. But railroads are energy-, capital-, and space-efficient, and these benefits are key to our future. It is time to get working on the rail system that a growing, modern society ultimately needs to be successful and sustainable.

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An Open Letter to Warren Buffett

pen_writingMr. Buffett, congratulations on your purchase of the BNSF Railway. It is a welcome investment in North America’s transportation system. It also provides a timely opening to address a systemic, long-standing problem—the incongruence between the inherent value of railroads to any well-functioning modern society and the shortfall in our investment of capital, energy, and land for rail freight and passenger transportation.

Only by understanding this shortcoming and seizing the opportunity to transform its causes can we bring North America out of its economic malaise and environmental jeopardy.

If we act wisely, your acquisition will become a watershed moment. However, to make the most of it, decision-making must evolve beyond moving money simply to where the investor receives the highest return on investment, and adopting a new principle that puts capital into industries and regions in a way that maximizes the benefit of those resources to those systems. From that shared benefit, investors receive their return.

Read more…

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