Reinventing the Rail Carload System for the 21st Century:

How can stakeholders work together to build a rail carload system
that best supports the nation’s sustainable prosperity?

There are many intelligent individuals in industry, government, and the community. What is typically missing are the forums and methods for those individuals to interact thoughtfully, productively, and collaboratively to advance improvements to everyone’s benefit. OTNA’s IntelliConference methodology provides just that opportunity. There is an urgent need to reflect on and reinvent our rail carload system in light of the decline of fossil fuel shipments, reshoring and reindustrialization, new natural resource development, increasing population and freight demand, and urgent environmental, congestion, and financial challenges. OnTrackNorthAmerica is launching this initial seven-month stakeholder dialogue for framing out the issues, identifying the opportunities, and charting a collaborative path forward.

The core questions of this IntelliConference

  • How has the economic and transportation environment evolved since WWII and how well has the rail carload system adapted to these changes?
  • What are the current trends in supply chain management and how do they impact the environment, the economy, and the quality of community life?
  • What technological, economic, social, environmental, and/or demographic trends are on the horizon that could impact supply chain dynamics and how might they influence how we think about an optimal rail carload system?
  • How do we want the economic and supply chain environment to evolve over the next 20-30 years and how well positioned is the rail carload system to meet these advances?
  • What factors, e.g. volume, pricing, modal share, profitability, revenue/cost ratio, turn times, etc. are best grasped to understand and define the current status of rail carload transportation?
  • What is the opportunity for 21st-century transportation? What are the criteria for an ideal approach to the country’s freight transportation needs?
  • What are the benefits of an expanded rail carload transportation system?
    What are the disadvantages of an expanded rail carload transportation system?
  • What are each stakeholder group’s desires, concerns, and needs related to an ideal 21st-century rail carload system as part of an optimal logistics system?
  • What commercial, technological, financial, organizational, procedural, and regulatory breakthroughs/adjustments are required for stakeholders to productively collaborate to create the ideal rail carload system?
  • What specific innovations should be considered as potential elements of an optimized rail carload system?

Second Stage IntelliConference

The second stage of this IntelliConference process will be convened in early 2017

Reinventing the Rail Carload System for the 21st Century:
What are the Design Elements and the Action Plan?

What is an IntelliConference?


An IntelliConference is an orchestrated, on-line, asynchronous conversation among stakeholders around some controversial and/or high-stakes issue or opportunity. The process starts by identifying a complete set of individuals and organizations concerned with the issue, inviting them to join the IntelliConference and welcoming them into the participant body.

For several weeks or months, the participants engage in an iterative on-line examination of the ideas and concerns around the issue with a specially-trained team of facilitators. In Round 1 the facilitator team sends out a carefully crafted set of initial questions on the issue, and each participant sends back their responses within a specified number of days. Using advanced analytic tools, the facilitation team quickly summarizes the responses into a Synthesis Document, which is sent back to the participants. Each participant then responds to the points in the Synthesis, and the facilitators summarize those responses into the next Synthesis. Outlier perspectives are welcomed and productively addressed.

The IntelliConference process unpacks the key ideas and concerns around a controversial issue or opportunity and produces a document, report, or action plan. It is intended to benefit from the best aspects of a Town Hall meeting and a stakeholder dialogue series, while sidestepping some of the more tedious and unproductive aspects of building consensus. For example, each participant can see that he or she has been heard, without dragging the group through hours of repetitive material, confusion, and miscommunication.

IntelliConferences generate transformational results by gathering a large body of collective intelligence into productive agendas and action plans that participants enthusiastically endorse as a natural outcome of the inclusive, respectful, thoughtful process.

OnTrackNorthAmerica IntelliConference Team


Michael Sussman, IntelliConference Director
CEO of OTNA and Strategic Rail Finance

Lawrence Gross, Subject Matter Co-Leader
Gross Transportation Consulting

Dr. Jeff Conklin, Lead Facilitator
Author of Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems

Dr. Barbara Gray, Advisor
Former director Penn State’s Center for Research in Conflict and Negotiation

Karen Risa Robbins, Advisor
Principal, Washington Progress Group

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