This morning, on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Canadian Pacific CEO Hunter Harrison urged the government to stay out of the railroad industry and allow businesses to upgrade the infrastructure and manage the system themselves.
Harrison also called into question the railroad’s common carrier obligation, which forces railroads to haul goods, even if it is not profitable. His comments also fly in the face of the media’s ongoing push to spend billions on infrastructure. Whenever there are bridge problems, train crashes and more, journalists push hard to spend.
Harrison was on the program along with Canadian Pacific COO Keith Creel and activist investor Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square. They were discussing the turnaround made by Canadian Pacific since Harrison became CEO and Ackman took an active investment role. Squawk Box co-host Andrew Ross Sorkin then asked Harrison about rail safety and the need for government to provide infrastructure:
Sorkin: “How big of an issue do you think rail safety is? How much do you need to invest on the rail safety side? And how much, uh, infrastructure do you think government needs to play in all this?”
Harrison: “Well, look, No. one, with due respect, we don’t need government in our business. We’ll pay our own bills. We’ll do, just give us a level playing field, we’re not down at Washington or Ottawa crying for help.”
“Rail is at a critical juncture in this country, and I’m serious, an important juncture is going to take place. You look back three years, what were people saying about rail? They don’t have enough infrastructure, they’re not taking care of the business, Chicago is a mess, what are we doing. Now what are they saying? We got a common carrier obligation to haul stuff. The law says we got to haul it, and then people criticize us for obeying the law. So it’s politically all across the board. Someday, the people that understand, have got to sit down and we’ve got to make some longer term decisions about the infrastructure in North America and, uh, and the part we play and where it’s gonna take. What’s the future? You’re not gonna put this stuff on the highway, okay. You’re not going to put it in the air. We gotta get our act together.”