Lowell S. “Jake” Jacobson, 1940-2021

Jacobson was Railway Age’s 1994 Railroader of the Year as President and Chief Operating Officer of Hayden, Ariz. Class II Copper Basin Railway (CBRY), the first short line operator to win the award. In 1993, a section of track near Kearny, Ariz., was washed away by rising flood waters from the Gila River. Jake and all the employees of the railroad worked tirelessly to save the short line, even going against the Army Corps of Engineers at one point, building a dike to force the river back where it belonged. His actions during the flood and during the long months rebuilding the damaged sections of the railroad earned him the Railroader of the Year award.

In December 1999, Railway Age named him one of the Great Railroaders of the 20th Century. In 2000, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association renamed its annual safety awards the Jake Awards, presented annually to Class II, III and Switching & Terminal railroads that have an injury-free year.

“Jake has been compared to American railroad folk heroes Casey Jones and John Henry,” CopperArea.com wrote in 2012 . “He has been called many things in his life, including a living legend, a leader, innovator, hero, and a safety fanatic. You might say that railroading is in his blood. His mother, father and grandfather worked with the railroads. Jake was exposed to hard work and the railroads while growing up in Kansas. 

“It is not fanaticism that drives Jake’s quest for safety— it is just that he cares for the people that are railroad workers and the people he works with. Jake and CBRY use a family approach to safety. He has helped create a family-style safety culture that inspires his employees to be safe and has built a work environment that motivates employees to want to come to work. He leads by example and believes that safety ‘is a spirit and a morality.’ As signs at the work place attest, ‘Respect, common sense, safety and a sincere caring about the well-being of your fellow worker’ are mandatory … While other managers talk about the ‘power’ that drives their railroad as being the size or model of their locomotives, Jake coined the phrase that is the company’s motto and painted on the sides of its locomotives: Our ‘Real Power’ Is In The Pride Of Our People.

Jacobson, born in Riley County, Kan. on Sept. 17, 1940, served 29 years with the Rock Island and Union Pacific before joining the CBRY.

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