Photo showcase: Union Pacific's 150th anniversary celebration
Jack Koraleski had made peace with himself long ago that he would never be president of Union Pacific Railroad. So it was a shock when then-chairman, president and CEO Jim Young announced in February that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Young began treatment just days later and Koraleski — filled with both sorrow and excitement — was named to take over running the largest railroad in the United States.
It was an unexpected turn in what was supposed to be a celebratory 150th anniversary of the event that created Union Pacific, President Abraham Lincoln's signing of the Pacific Railway Act on July 1, 1862.
Koraleski, today president and CEO of the Omaha-based railroad, called the transition a “rare treat” that he never imagined would kick off the very special year. At first, he was overcome with a “Now what?” feeling.
“You think about the responsibility for 46,000 lives and our role in the country and what we have to do,” Koraleski said in an interview last month with The World-Herald. “I took a lot of comfort in our truly amazing team.”
The company's goal for the year was simple: Reach every railroad employee and connect with communities where they work and live to enhance the railroad's reputation and help people understand its place in hauling America's goods.
All 46,000 of its railroaders were part of celebrating the 150th anniversary through company hosted events — 40 in all. Each got a commemorative coin. The company also hired 4,000 employees through the course of the year.
U.P. officials traveled to hundreds of towns across the country, celebrating with about 2 million people along the way and holding more than 150 public events in various communities. One of the largest, in Sacramento, drew about 20,000 people.
At the same time, Koraleski said, U.P.'s employees drove the company to a record-breaking year.
The company's best-ever quarterly earnings — $1.04 billion in the third quarter of 2012 — surpassed the company's first time reaching $1 billion in quarterly profit, which happened earlier in the year.
The company also climbed in October to its highest-ever customer satisfaction index rating, a record broken both in the second and first quarters and is a goal Koraleski is particularly pleased about.
“After 150 years, we're at the top of our game,” he said. “Not many companies make it to 150 years and, after 150, we're having the best year in our history.”
Some other highlights of the anniversary year:
>> The railroad reached people through an interactive timeline that's online and in a mobile train car museum as a way to share U.P.'s history and solicit stories from people with connections to the railroad.
>> About 321 people posted stories to the online interactive timeline. They ranged from stories about passenger trains and weird weather encountered on cross-country trips, to families who formed after meeting through the company.
>> About 450 families registered as multigenerational U.P. railroader families and about one fourth are four generations or more. A couple were sixth generation U.P. families.
>> U.P. teamed up with Omaha's Joslyn Art Museum for an exhibit of 50 photographs — many of which had never been published or exhibited — by New York photographer Andrew J. Russell, who had been hired by the railroad to chronicle the initial track-laying west from Nebraska. During its run from late June to mid-September, which included special events like Family Fun Day and public lectures, museum attendance was 23,346, said Amy Rummel, the Joslyn's director of marketing. The future of that collection for now is undecided, but U.P. is in the process of preserving a large collection of photos and other archives for future generations, said Donna Kush, assistant vice president of corporate communications.
>> A contest to remake the railroad's 1970s “Great Big Rollin' Railroad” television commercial drew more than 200 entries, and a husband and wife team from Los Angeles won.
>> And while there's no official breakout until mid-January of the number of special U.P. license plates issued since they were unveiled in February, the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles had issued 1,790 organization plates — the only two right now are U.P.'s and one for Creighton University — as of the end of the year, said administrator Betty Johnson.
>> More than 3,100 news stories — with an audience of a half billion people — were written about the anniversary.
All of the planning put into the 150th celebration was done by existing internal resources from the company's communications, public affairs, heritage, commissary steam teams and other departments, Kush said.
“By every measure,” she said, “we think we knocked it out of the ballpark.”
Contact the writer: