'Train geeks' give railroad agency high marks

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On the top three floors of an office building wedged between the railroad tracks and the Southwest Freeway in Washington, a tight-knit staff of lawyers, economists and analysts churns out reviews and decisions in one of the most obscure corners of the federal government.

This year, the Surface Transportation Board has held hearings on coal shippers who ignore rules on coal-dust dispersal and a railroad's request to abandon a freight line in Northern Maine. It has investigated community complaints about the merger of Canada's national railway with a Chicago area railroad.

Pretty dry stuff. Yet the 150 bureaucrats tasked with the economic regulation of U.S. freight railroads came out on top among small federal agencies last week in a survey by the Partnership for Public Service of the Best Places to Work in government.

The self-described crew of train geeks and experts in the arcane field of railroad law gave their office high marks for teamwork (85 percent) and pay (81 percent) and their bosses winning scores for leadership (87 percent). They know it sounds trite, but they describe themselves as a family with parents who are demanding but fair and have pride in what they do, since not a lot of other people understand it.

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