Days of Deregulation

Days of Deregulation

Copyright 2007, Traffic World, Inc.

In 1972, I was working as a congressional press secretary and decided I would like to get back to the real world of news reporting. The late Bob Butler called me and told me of an opening covering Congress for his magazine, Traffic World.

I was interviewed and finally hired by the late Joe Scheleen, who had been editor of the magazine more years than I had been alive. Joe told me when I was hired that I was to cover all transportation matters in the House and Senate, as well as labor, and added that I should keep tabs on the railroad industry. I wouldn''t have to worry much about that part of the assignment, he said, since "nothing much ever happens there" outside the ICC.

Well, less than eight weeks later the Penn Central, already in bankruptcy, announced that it was not able to come up with a plan for reorganization. In short order, five other Northeastern railroads filed for bankruptcy. The game was afoot.

First came the 3-R Act in 1973 and then subsequent legislation, until Conrail was finally created on April 1, 1976. The names of people like Harley Staggers, Brock Adams, Fred Rooney and Vance Hartke became bywords in the transportation news business as they all performed yeomanlike service trying to straighten out the rail mess. It was to seem like a never-ending saga akin to a soap opera. In all, I guess I covered the story for 13 years.

Even though the Northeast railroad situation occupied a lot of our time, something called deregulation started to intrude as it was being slowly noised about on Capitol Hill. Like a lot of so-called knowledgeable people, we ignored it - at first. You must understand that Traffic World, like the industry it covered, was not in those days a hotbed of innovation.

Things began to move more rapidly, however. Air freight was deregulated, then the next year the airlines and then finally the railroads and trucks. Of all that crew, only the railroads really wanted it, with many airline executives saying deregulation would create an oligopoly, which of course is exactly what happened.

About the time the truck deregulation fight was hitting on all 18 wheels, we got a picture in the office one day of a half dozen suited gentlemen poised over dynamite plungers (for a ground breaking). We thought we''d have some fun with it so we put a caption on it that said the group was a bunch of Teamster local presidents awaiting Sen. Ted Kennedy''s arrival at their annual communion breakfast. Everyone at Traffic World would see it and have a big laugh.

It didn''t work that way. An editor who shall remain nameless (but not forgotten) put it through, believing it to be real. And the magazine went to press.

Fortunately, Bob Butler was on duty in the early hours of the morning and saw a page proof. After having a small heart attack, he pulled it off the press and substituted a house ad in place of the "Teamster" picture. We swore we''d never do that again.

We didn''t have to, someone did it for us. The picture and caption wound up in the unused material for the week (overset) and again showed up in the page proofs the following week, and again Butler spotted it and pulled the book off the press. That time he took a hammer to the plate.

-- Originally published in the Sept. 28, 1992, edition of Traffic World. Byrne spent 42 years in the news business, 18 of them at Traffic World. He retired in 1990 as associate publisher and editorial director. He died Nov. 26, 2001, in Port Charlotte, Fla.