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JUST WHAT ARE UP'S INTENTIONS?
(The following opinion article explores the political connections of Union Pacific Railroad and speculates on intentions of Union Pacific to acquire rail routes in
Is Union Pacific (UP) in the hunt for
What UP possesses to make this a reality -- and which BNSF Railway, also in the hunt, may not possess -- are the political connections in
For sure, BNSF has the cash to make an unsolicited bid for stock control of KCS; but BNSF may not have enough political muscle to obtain Mexican government approval for control of KCSM.
It is said that with the right political connections in
Indeed, all it might take for UP to snatch control of KCSM is an unsolicited bid for KCS by a cash-rich private equity firm friendly to UP -- such as the Carlyle Group; followed by a break-up of KCS, with KCSM being transferred to UP with the help of politicos in Mexico.
So important are those political connections south of the border that even were BNSF to make an unsolicited bid for KCS, the KCSM routes could still be transferred to UP.
You see, it’s highly unlikely the U.S. Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission or even Surface Transportation Board could assert any jurisdiction over UP’s acquisition of a purely Mexican based railroad -- assuming those agencies, given UP’s superior political connections north of the border, would even blink an eye.
KCSM –-- whose 50-year concession KCS acquired from Mexican conglomerate Grupo TMM – is Mexico’s most coveted railroad, running from Mexico City to Laredo and serving vital Mexican ports, including the booming West Coast port of Lazaro Cardenas.
UP’s acquisition of KCSM is the sort of transaction over which 19th century rail barons Jay Gould and Cornelius Vanderbilt would have salivated.
With U.S. West Coast ports nearing capacity, and Lazaro Cardenas, on Mexico’s west coast, poised to become a major North American inbound container port, control by UP of KCSM would give UP domination over Asia-Pacific land-bridge traffic destined to teeming Mexico City, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Kansas City; and set the stage for a merger between UP and either CSX or Norfolk Southern, creating the first Atlantic-to-Pacific transcontinental railroad.
Likely to follow would be a BNSF merger with the remaining East Coast railroad, creating a transcontinental rail duopoly in the
A WHO’S WHO OF POLITICAL CONNECTIONS
And before you predict a transcontinental rail marriage would not gain regulatory approval, recognize that the U.S. Surface Transportation Board is the sole arbiter of domestic rail mergers, and the STB and its predecessor Interstate Commerce Commission have been facilitators of numerous other major rail mergers, including the 1996 UP-Southern Pacific merger that was strongly opposed by the Justice Department and other federal agencies.
For UP, the grab of KCSM would be equivalent to a month of Sundays.
Is this merely pie in the sky? Well, let’s look at the players -- all UP friends, who comprise a tangled web of well-connected rain makers and politicos.
Begin with UP and its
Add to the mix the Carlyle Group, a privately held $19 billion international investment firm with close ties to Bush presidents 41 (a former Carlyle adviser) and 43, as reported by Britain’s Guardian newspaper and U.S. investigative reporter Jerome Corsi.
Stir in other political allies of the Bush family, as well as Mexican politicos, and the tangled web takes on the look of carefully connected dots.
Recall that Covington & Burling, in September 2003, hired Linda Morgan, former chairman of the Surface Transportation Board, who supported UP’s 1996 merger with Southern Pacific, and who indicated to the Washington Post in 1997 that she favored a railroad duopoly in the
Morgan went to Covington & Burling after Covington partner Mike Hemmer, who headed Covington’s transportation practices group, departed in 2002 to become UP’s chief legal officer.
Morgan also sits on Canadian Pacific’s board of directors, suggesting rather than a
Focus now on the Carlyle Group. Recall that in 2002, it purchased the International CSX Lines Division for $300 million, then unsuccessfully sought -- in a plan backed by the Bush administration -- to sell its port-terminal operations to a
Among the Carlyle Group’s U.S. principals are Richard Darman, the first president Bush’s budget director, and Jim Baker, the first president Bush’s secretary of state and a partner in the Baker Botts law firm that has a long-history of acquisition projects in Mexico.
In November 2006, UP created a new board seat for Thomas "Mack" McLarty, president of Kissenger McLarty & Associates (we’ll get to them) and a senior adviser to the Carlyle Group. Previously, McLarty was President Clinton’s chief of staff and later
And just four months before McLarty went to the UP board, Andy Card, with ties to Carlyle Group principals, was elected to the UP board. Card was the first president Bush’s transportation secretary -- a job he acquired with assistance from former UP chairman Drew Lewis, also a former transportation secretary -- and was the second President Bush’s first chief-of-staff.
Also, let’s not forget that Vice President Dick Cheney is a former UP board member.
Moreover, the Carlyle Group is no stranger to KCSM. In 2003, the Carlyle Group itself unsuccessfully sought to acquire a 51 percent interest in KCSM (then known as TFM). KCS won the bidding war. In fact, Carlyle even inspected the lines of KCSM as part of what was termed, "due diligence."
THE MEXICAN POLITICOS
Back in October 2003 -- just weeks after Morgan went from the STB to Covington & Burling -- Kissinger McLarty & Associates entered a global strategic alliance with Covington & Burling. The Kissinger is Henry, the former Nixon administration globe-trotting secretary of state.
This was about the time that Kissinger McLarty & Associates -- specifically, Mack McLarty -- was advising BNSF on strategic transportation issues in
Now comes the Nov. 21 appointment of Luis Tellez, former head of the Carlyle Group’s
As for Tellez, he previously was on the board of directors of Grupo Mexico, which controls a smaller Mexican railroad, FerroMex, that just happens to be 27 percent owned by UP. Interestingly, Tellez joined the Carlyle Group in
KCSM AND LAZARO CARDENAS
Here is why KCSM is so coveted a prize:
* KCSM controls all tracks into and out of the
* The Port Lazaro Cardenas is blessed with a deepwater channel sufficient to handle the largest of container ships;
* KCSM already has acquired land adjacent to the port under a zero-price, long-term agreement;
* Port operator Hutchinson Wampoa is investing in a 10-fold port-capacity expansion;
* Wal-Mart, whose second biggest market is
* Analysts at UBS project KCSM revenue from Lazaro Cardenas rail traffic will soar from some $30 million in 2007 to almost $100 million by 2015, and $255 million by 2025;
* In terms of lifts, UBS projects an almost two-million 20-foot equivalent container throughput by 2025, compared with some nine million currently at
* The rail route from Lazaro Cardenas to
* CP Ships, NYK Lines, Maersk and APL already serve the port; and,
* Lazaro Cardenas enjoys a substantial labor-cost advantage -- its per-lift costs being some 30 percent cheaper than at U.S. West Coast ports.
Indeed, KCSM, with its sole rail access to the
BNSF remains interested; but UP, while not awash in cash as is BNSF, has something more valuable -- its new-found cash-rich Carlyle Group and Carlyle’s similarly extraordinary political connections. No wonder BNSF’s Matt Rose is so irritated.
Who said railroads had become a mature and financially boring industry?
(The preceding opinion article was published in Association Highlights, a publication of the Association of Transportation Law Professionals. The article does not necessarily express the opinion of the association.)"