An essay on concerns of the decline of the coal industry and the effect it is having on the rail freight industry was written by Norfolk Southern Railroad engineer Matt Tolliver, earning him top honors in the company’s essay contest for employees.
For his winning essay, Tolliver and company leaders were taken to Washington, D.C., for the annual Railroad Day on Capitol Hill.
Railroad Day is an opportunity for American freight rail industries to communicate with Congress.
Rail moves 25 percent of U.S. freight annually, according to Tolliver, contributing billions of dollars into the economy through wages, purchases, retirement benefits and taxes.
These figures were also included in his prize-winning essay.
Census numbers from 2010 suggested railroads in the U.S. employed over a quarter of a million people. These numbers also show that over a half million people receive retirement benefits.
Tolliver’s essay was written from the perspective of a railroad employee to promote the benefits of using rail freight.
He said the benefits of using freight are clear — freight isn’t easily affected by weather conditions and it uses minimal fuel.
Nonetheless, much of Norfolk’s business comes from coal.
“Our communities depend on rail and coal related jobs as much as Detroit has depended on the auto industry,” said Tolliver.
He also spoke of economic downturns across southeastern Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Tolliver knows he isn’t alone when it comes to concerns over southeastern Kentucky’s economy and unemployment rates.
Harlan County’s employment rate continues to climb, almost reaching a 17-year high, at 16.3 percent. Unemployment rates are nearly identical in Bell County.
People seem to agree the region has financial problems. However, people don’t always agree on the cause of the problems or their solutions.
For example, Tolliver points much of the blame toward current government and excessive regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet, others, such as Carl Shoupe, a retired disabled miner and organizer for United Mine Workers of America, have problems with coal companies not heeding the EPA’s warnings or sanctions.
Contamination in waterways and other health concerns are due to politicians and coal companies ignoring the problems, said Shoupe.
Whatever the perceived problem might be, Tolliver and Shoupe agree on the fact that the answer lies within the people’s voice and involvement.
“It’s going to take all of us,” said Shoupe.
Times are urgent and our people must rise up and get involved, said Tolliver.
The answer begins with people from our communities finding out more about their government, said Tolliver.
When the people get unified and make calls and write letters, change will happen, said Tolliver.
Reach Shane Pippin at 606-248-1010 ext 204, email@example.com