In Their Own Words: T.J. Drake
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Part 1 : Class I Engineering Execs: In Their Own Words
Part 2 : In Their Own Words: John West
In Their Own Words: John West
Part 3 : In Their Own Words: T.J. Drake
Part 4 : In Their Own Words: David Connell
In Their Own Words: David Connell
Vice President-Engineering, Norfolk Southern Railway
T.J. Drake is Vice President Engineering for Norfolk Southern Railway. He began his railway career in 1976 as a management trainee at NS, where he served in various engineering capacities — from Tie Inspector to Division Engineer-Maintenance to Assistant Vice President MW&S — before being promoted to his current position.
1. What's your department's biggest challenge in the year ahead? Over the course of the next five years?
The biggest challenge to Engineering at NS in the year ahead as well as the next five years will always be, "How can we be safer than the year before?" This challenge is not only in reducing personal injuries but providing a safer and more efficient operation. Our goal has continually been how can we provide a work environment that will return every employee home safely. This challenge will be ever more difficult with a continually changing and younger workforce.
With the rapid rate of attrition in our workforce, we are losing a very trained, dedicated and seasoned group of employees. I believe we are hiring quality employees at all levels of the engineering organization, and we must insist on a more motivated, more conscientious and educated employee that we can depend on for the long term.
We must find ways to promote communication, knowledge of the rules, the dedication to look out for one another, and the ultimate belief that all injuries can be prevented. This will only be possible through a very intense and detailed training process involving everyone at the organization. Our belief is: Once we have established these fundamental values in all employees, they will provide the initiative to explore new ideas to provide the necessary improvements we need in cost control and reductions along with productivity gains that will continue to be our focus for the next five years — and for years to come.
2. How has the PTC mandate affected your department?
The biggest affect on the Engineering Department from the PTC mandate has been the creation of uncertainty. This initiative is unique in that never before has such an immature technology been mandated for large-scale deployment on such an accelerated timeline. NS and the Engineering Department have dedicated a lot of time and money to compensate for the scale and risk inherent in PTC when these resources would reap greater improvements in safety if applied in other areas. It is very difficult to forecast necessary manpower levels, allocate appropriate amounts of capital expenditures, and depend on the supplies and vendors available to meet this deadline.
Needless to say, the risk involved to our department as well as the rest of the industry is at a very high level. The success in this endeavor relies heavily on the ability for all railroads to communicate with one another, share ideas and work together for interoperability to meet this difficult deadline.