As founder, president and CEO of United Rail, Inc., Norwin Voegeli oversees a railway services company that provides state-of-the-art technologies to clients in the United States and around the world. With headquarters in Jacksonville and a branch office in Toronto, United Rail was recently ranked No. 6 on the Jacksonville Business Journal’s list of Northeast Florida’s 50 Fastest Growing Companies, with an average growth of 234 percent over the past three years. A native of Switzerland, he lives in Ponte Vedra Beach with his wife and two children.
What products and services does United Rail provide?
In addition to offering signal-engineering services, United Rail develops and maintains our own products like the Sentinel Solutions™. We also represent international rail technology suppliers and provide consulting services. With an extensive background in the United States and Canada combined with our international experience, we offer a unique service to our customers and business partners.
How did you come to found the company?
Starting my own business was a long-term dream. After extensive international experience and six years in North America with a large international company, I saw the perfect opportunity to begin. I worked out a business plan, quit my job and just jumped in, starting out of my house.
What brought you to Ponte Vedra Beach?
In late 2005, I was assigned to the United States by a large international company. After working in the headquarters in New York for a few years, I was sent to Jacksonville to start a new office. As a family, we carefully and diligently did our research and decided that living in Ponte Vedra Beach would be a great fit for us: great schools for our kids, a safe environment for the entire family, close to the ocean and great people living in Ponte Vedra Beach. We still feel that we live in paradise.
You’ve worked on projects around the world. What are some of the more innovative transportation systems you’ve seen?
I have seen very simple systems in countries like Vietnam, very advanced systems with a high density of trains in Europe and Asia, and high-tech systems like the Maglev in Shanghai. The U.S. rail market is by far the largest market in the world with respect to track miles. Every market is adapted to the needs of a region or a country. Technologies may differ, but they all share one overall goal: to make rail traffic the safest form of transportation.
Are there significant differences between American rail systems and those around the world?
In America, we do have a clear segregation between freight and passenger transportation. I would say these are two completely different markets with their own tracks in most cases, their own standard organizations and their own trade shows. This is different than in most parts of the world, where government-owned railroad companies operate both freight and passenger service in a mixed-traffic environment. In other parts of the world, high-speed trains are very advanced and use a highly sophisticated technology.
Are there any promising new developments with regard to U.S. mass transit on the horizon?
I see a lot of development in the rail sector, especially in the mass transit segment. Existing systems will be extended, new systems will be built, and old equipment will be refurbished and/or replaced with new technology. American rail transportation is going through a Renaissance, providing tremendous opportunities for companies like ours. In particular, light rail systems in and around cities, new street car applications and heavy rail systems (subway) are becoming very popular. In large cities, this is the only answer to the increasingly problematic street traffic.
How do you enjoy spending your free time?
I love to spend time with my wife Andrea and my kids, Fabienne and Noel. I’m a very active person and like kite surfing, powered paragliding, running, and road and mountain biking. I enjoy music, playing guitar, snowboarding, fast cars, scuba diving and much more. I also love to travel: So far I have visited 42 countries, but there is still so much more to see and explore.