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Rail Leaders Gather in Denver

More than 1,700 public transit professionals traveled to the “Mile High City,” Denver, to participate in APTA’s 2018 Rail Conference and International Rail Rodeo.

Conference activities included four general sessions, presentations by FRA and FTA leaders, APTA committee meetings, networking opportunities, technical tours hosted by Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD), rail safety and security awards, and dozens of presentations and panel discussions on policy and technical issues.

APTA has posted links to videos of the major conference sessions: for the Opening General Session, click here; for "Safety and Security Trends in an Uncertain World," click here; for the General Luncheon featuring FRA Administrator Ronald Batory and FTA Executive Director Matt Welbes, click here; for the Closing General Session, click here; and for the International Bus Rodeo Banquet, click here.

Opening General Session: Looking to Past and Future

With its rich railroad history dating back to the 1860s, combined with a modern light rail and commuter rail system that continues to remake urban life, Denver was an ideal setting for APTA’s recent 2018 Rail Conference and International Rail Rodeo.

APTA Chair and Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel P. Ford Sr. welcomed attendees, telling them, “We are engaged in the greatest mobility revolution since the introduction of the automobile … and how we respond and anticipate change now will determine our industry’s success for decades to come.”

In explaining that the transformative changes facing the public transportation industry led him to establish five priorities for the year, he discussed the significant milestones that have been achieved to date in each of these areas: Strengthening APTA’s Leadership and Advocacy; Building a Workforce of the Future; Leveraging Data-Driven Business Models; Promoting Enterprise Risk Management; and Shaping the New Mobility Paradigm.

Ford cited examples of innovative thinking in public transit agencies across the country and described new projects underway at JTA, including regional one-call/one-click trip planning and conversion of Jacksonville’s Skyway to accommodate a fleet of next-generation autonomous shuttles.

APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas talked about the growing number of communities that have invested in and benefited from passenger rail during the past 20 years. “Visit nearly any multimodal community and you’ll find a variety of rail and bus services are all part of one mobility network,” he said.

“Public transportation must continue to manage an increasingly diverse, highly integrated, seamlessly connected array of mobility services,” Skoutelas said, underscoring the need for more federal funding for both expansion and modernization, including state of good repair.

Calling this the most challenging and exhilarating time public transportation has ever faced, he said, “We need to make our industry ‘future-ready’ … and a strong federal, state and local partnership is critical to make that happen.”

Building upon Ford’s theme of transformational change, Skoutelas also encouraged public transit agencies “to innovate, reinvent and be willing to experiment” with new partnerships, emerging technologies and fresh ways of operating.

Representing the Regional Transportation District, host agency for the conference, were General Manager David Genova and Board Chair Doug Tisdale, who welcomed attendees to Denver. They urged attendees to explore the city using public transit to experience why Denver is among the top U.S. cities in attracting millennials and startups.

J.J. Ament, chief executive officer of Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation and a former investment banker, applauded the role of rail in the city’s transformation and economic growth. “We have a culture of collaboration,” he said, “and our public transit investments have helped make this area the best place to combine economic opportunity and quality of life.”

Greg Williams, editor-in-chief of WIRED magazine and a leading authority on technology trends, closed the session with a glimpse of the future. He explained how artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will change the way we think about mobility and the movement of goods, services and ideas.

Using examples from tech businesses, entrepreneurs and inventors in Germany, China and the U.S., Williams demonstrated a range of dramatic changes already underway in every sector—from personal flying “taxis” to 3D printers that manufacture buildings to components that “learn” how to adapt themselves to changing conditions.

“There are enormous opportunities for everyone in this room,” he said. “People will always want to connect face to face because we are social creatures; AI will simply change how we do that in all aspects of our lives,” including how we interact with and use public transit.

The session was sponsored by AECOM.
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