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/Union Pacific) - Let's play a game.
Number of years it took to create the entire transcontinental railroad, which conquered mountains and deserts in opening the West to settlers back in the 1860s: 7.
Number of years it took to complete Boston's infamous "Big Dig" highway project, which opened officials to cries of "boondoggle" as cost over-runs and design flaws mounted: 16.
No, this isn't another story about how America's lost its mojo. In fact, the same company that laid hundreds of miles of those railroad tracks, Union Pacific, is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and -- while the public may accept politics-as-usual from their leaders -- you don't stay in business that long without consistently excelling.
"Practically everything that touches our daily lives moves on a train," says president and CEO Jack Koraleski. "That includes grains and produce to feed families, concrete for roads, lumber to build homes, and chemicals to make our water safe for drinking."
This year alone, Union Pacific (www.up.com
) will invest a record $3.6 billion in infrastructure -- "so taxpayers don't have to," as Koraleski notes -- and hire about 4,000 workers to help U.S. industries transport their products both domestically and globally.
Part of that investment is to meet the huge demand, here and elsewhere, for corn and wheat grown by farmers in Iowa and Kansas. (U.S. corn yield alone is expected to exceed 170 bushels per acre by the year 2015.)
Another part is to help seamlessly move everything from cars to steel to plastic both to and from Mexico -- the majority of it going south -- which is our biggest trading partner after Canada.
And for those wondering what The New Big Thing might be to get the economy booming again, one thing is on almost everyone's radar screen.
Shale drilling, it's said, is America's next Gold Rush.
And, yes, even as energy analysts go ga-ga predicting all sorts of bonanzas from the new technology that's made it easier to extract fossil fuels from the ground -- Citigroup puts the number of potential new jobs alone at 3.6 million -- good, ol' reliable Union Pacific is already busy shipping U.S. crude oil to Gulf Coast refineries short on pipeline capacity. As much as 100,000 carloads of crude by year's end, according to the railroad's estimates, plus as much as 230,000 carloads of steel pipe and frac sand used for drilling.