Robert A. Kurdock, the recipient of the 2001 Benjamin J. Friedland Award for Meritorious Service to the Short Line Industry
The New Jersey Short Line Railroad Association has selected Robert A. Kurdock, Vice President of the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway (NYS&W), to be the recipient of the first annual Benjamin J. Friedland Award for Meritorious Service to the Short Line Industry. The NJSLRJ recognized Bob Kurdock's role in helping to keep the NYS&W a viable railroad during it's dark days in the 1970's, and for his continuing role during the subsequent rebirth of the railroad in the 1980's and 1990's. Bob also has been a very public champion of rail freight in general, and short lines in particular, in numerous public forums, such as before local, county and state political bodies transportation boards and organizations, and at the annual Transaction Conference.
Bob Kurdock was born into a railroad family, his father being employed by the NYS&W as a maintenance of way worker. Bob was born and raised in Paterson, NJ, which was home to the general offices of the NYS&W during the 1950's. He first began working for the NYS&W during the summer of 1955, while a student at Seton Hall University. Soon thereafter, much to his parent’s dismay, he left Seton Hall and began full time employment with the NYS& W. At this time he was serving as Assistant to the President, Ralph Sease. The mid-1950's were the end of the NYS&W’s "glory days" of heavy passenger and freight service. The economic downturns of the late 1950’s and the loss of significant customers such as Ford Motors in Edgewater would have a negative impact on the financial position of the company.
By the early 1960's, the railroad had been purchased by Irving Maidman. Bob worked in a number of capacities during this time, spending time in purchasing, freight claims, mechanical, a: electronic data machines (computers). He later became the Assistant to President Frazier. Throughout this time, Bob was in the "white collar" side of the business. After the departure Frazier, Maidman's wife Edith become more involved in the company, and Bob assumed a new role assisting her in operations and governmental relations. This being his first real operating experience, he remembers arriving at a derailment site located at a curve on the line, noting a pile of stick rail waiting to be used, and remarking "this rail won't help; where do we keep all of the curved track?” While Bob was quickly educated in the use of rail, he had to endure years of "barbs" from employees regarding this incident.
At this time Bob began to get more involved in dealing with local and state elected officials and the staffs. The railroad was slowly deteriorating, and as the government became more involved overseeing safety and other issues, Bob became the railroad's point person in dealing with them. He had grown up in Paterson, a strong point for Democratic politics in the state, and began capitalize on relationships in the political arena. He credits former Congressman Bob Roe for having the vision to help to keep the Susquehanna operating as a railroad, instead of it being broken up or sold off/abandoned as most had anticipated.
The railroad entered bankruptcy in the 1970's, and Walter Scott was appointed Trustee. While Kurdock had been close with the Maidman family, he impressed Scott, a self-made, no-nonsense businessman, with his tenaciousness and his understanding of both railroading and the politics of New Jersey. Kurdock eventually became Vice-President under Scott, and spent many days working in Trenton and other places to find the funding to keep the NYS&W operating.
After the purchase of the Susquehanna by Walter Rich's Delaware Otsego Corporation, Bob continued as Vice President and focused on governmental relations. Bob recalls one of the first rehabilitation projects under the DO leadership as the replacement of the grade crossing of the NYS&W Lodi Branch and NJ Route 17, which would involve a weekend closure of the highway. Kurdock had made the necessary arrangements with NJDOT and local governments for the project to move ahead, his customary responsibilities in projects of these types. Walter Rich informed him that DO operated differently, and he wanted his management to follow through with the construction efforts. Walter Rich indicated that he had arranged to have tents brought in and set up on the median of Route 17 for Bob to sleep in. Bob was shocked at the thought of sleeping in the middle of Route 17, so he made arrangement with a nearby railroad customer to have the tents set up on their property. He reported this to Walter Rich, who became upset that Bob had discussed this with customer. It turns out that Walter Rich's tent story was all a joke!
During the 1980's, the NYS& W gradually grew from a low-speed traditional short line to become a line haul railroad with mile-long intermodal trains moving at speeds up to 40 mph. Through this period Bob worked with the many communities along the line as the railroad was restored to service and upgraded. This was not always an easy task, as many residents were flabbergasted that some formerly forgotten tracks could now be hosting long freight trains.
In the last few years, Bob has reduced (but not eliminated) his involvement with the NYS&W, and will formally retire later this summer. He is enjoying his time with his new granddaughter, has become an avid gardener, and is also catching up on some fishing. Bob continues to keep up with the goings on in the railroad industry. The members of the NJSLRRA wish Bob all the best in his future endeavors, and congratulate him on his 46 years of service in the railroad industry.