When companies want to influence public policy they generally do it behind the scenes, either one-on-one between execs and officials or through trade organizations, unless the matter is very important and directly impacts their economic interests.
So it is with surprise that last year that I discovered that CRM/contact center solutions vendor Talisma was involved, through its VP of Corporate and Channel marketing Jim O'Farrell, in an effort to save and revitalize a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad line on the east side of Lake Washington, on the west side of which is Seattle. Yes, this is Microsoft country...The rail line's last major customer was the Spirit of Washington wine/dine train.
BNSF had wanted to rip up the rail line and King County wanted to buy it to convert it to a bike trail that would not carry anywhere near the amount of commuters, nor could it accommodate those with packages, the aging, and the disabled and of course not carry freight.
Mr. O'Farrell partnered with rail advocacy group All Aboard Washington to make the case for this project, which was intended to relieve traffic congestion and reduce pollution from parallel I-405 by putting in self-propelled diesel-powered commuter trains and encouraging freight rail. Solutions that are especially timely given rising gas prices and greater awareness of the need to cut greenhouse gases.
I was interested and involved with this issue because at the time I was a director/VP of a Canadian transportation advocacy group, which supported retaining the rail line. I also used to live in the Seattle area.
I was not quite sure, however, of Talisma's motivation behind the project other than being a good corporate citizen as it isn't exactly a major employer in the region, at least not in comparison with others that need not be named. I could not identify any commercial interests (was Talisma interested in going into the rail and or rail-oriented property development business?) And my sources in Washington State tell me that there have been other parties interested in the rail line.
Then after months of activity, Mr. O'Farrell and Talisma went quiet. Then this May the company was acquired by nGenera.
So I contacted the firm's PR rep, Jessie Brumfiel, who told me that he left Talisma last December and she hadn't so far found anyone at nGenera who is familiar with the BNSF rail line project.
The BNSF rail line's future is still up in the air. Though it was later acquired by the Port of Seattle with the indication that passenger and freight rail service may be a possibility, King County still wants to rip it up for cyclists and walkers, but is being opposed by rail advocates and supporters including the Discovery Institute. Also Sound Transit, the region's transit agency may or may not be going to the polls this fall to get voter approval to finance a light rail line from downtown Seattle across Lake Washington to the eastside.
After writing a recent article on Seattle area transit funding (one of several over the past 17 years) my view is that the light rail extension, which was put on ice when voters defeated a similar ballot measure last year should be deferred and BNSF commuter rail should go ahead, along with an aggressive program to encourage teleworking.
There has been no enthusiasm from elected officials for the light rail, which is also facing some 'interesting' technical questions, like how to build it on floating bridges which are the only practical means of crossing the lake; the plan is to fit it on one of two floating highway spans.
So where are you, Mr. O'Farrell, and what is your stance, nGenera?