MxV Rail to forge partnerships with educators to help meet rail workforce needs

“We are problem solvers for the rail industry.” — Kari Gonzales, MxV Rail MxV Rail

By Julie Sneider, Senior Associate Editor 

MxV Rail President and CEO Kari Gonzales hopes her organization’s new partnership with Indian River State College (IRSC) will be the first of many more to come with colleges, universities and technical schools. 

Announced last month, MxV Rail and the Fort Pierce, Florida, college agreed to work together on education, training and research related to rail transportation safety, security and innovation. They plan to develop programs that encourage students to follow career paths into rail, as well as train people responding to rail incidents involving hazardous materials. 

“The future of rail requires unprecedented innovation, determination and diverse perspectives. Our partnership with IRSC enables broadening the diversity of talent within rail and creates a learning pathway to a range of careers in our industry,” Gonzales said in an April 19 press release. 

Formerly known as the Transportation Technology Center Inc. (TTCI), MxV Rail — an Association of American Railroads subsidiary — has long conducted research in rail engineering and technology, and offered training for emergency response providers who serve at surface transportation accidents and other emergencies. Based in Pueblo, Colorado, MxV Rail is home to the Security and Emergency Response Training Center (SERTC), which offers courses and hands-on learning in hazardous materials response to all forms of surface transportation incidents. SERTC is a member of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium, which funds first-responders' costs for attending training at the center. 

Preparation and training of those who respond to emergencies and disasters is something that IRSC is also well-known for. The college is home to Treasure Coast Public Safety Training Complex, a 50-acre, eight-building site that offers public safety training. The academic disciplines of criminal justice, fire science, emergency management, public administration, paralegal and human services are combined at the complex so students and trainees learn a coordinated response to all types of emergencies, according to IRSC. 

Timothy Moore Indian River State College’s new partnership with MxV Rail will help provide a “new level of preparedness” for Florida’s emergency responders and future railroaders, says Timothy Moore, college president. Indian River State College

The partnership with MxV Rail will complement the college’s School of Public Service Education courses, as well as bring a “new level of preparedness” for Florida emergency responders and future railroaders who train there, says IRSC President Timothy Moore. 

Finding the right partner  

The two partners were connected via an IRSC consultant who was familiar with MxV Rail’s work. Gonzales and other MxV Rail officials visited IRSC’s facilities earlier this year to see if the campus and its programming were a good fit.  

MxV Rail and IRSC are working out the partnership’s specifics; so far, a memorandum of understanding has been signed. At a minimum, the IRSC campus will serve as a dedicated East Coast Florida training location for MxV Rail, where first responders — firefighters, police officers, paramedics, EMTs, as well as railroaders — can learn how to safely respond to train derailments, particularly those involving hazardous materials. MxV Rail will provide rail industry expertise to those receiving training at IRSC facilities. 

The Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern Railway train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, underscores the importance of education and training for emergency service providers who respond to such situations, Moore said.  

The college is securing abandoned state property where it hopes to expand its training facilities for rail hazmat incident response training, Moore said. He hopes training opportunities shared with MxV Rail will be underway in 2024. 

Since the accident occurred in East Palestine, MxV Rail has also begun sending instructors to cities and towns to conduct eight-hour sessions on how to respond if a hazmat train derails in their communities. The sessions are being funded by the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Although MxV Rail doesn’t often conduct remote training, the course was quickly created and funded by FEMA in response to interest from local municipalities, Gonzales says. 

Wanted: Skilled workers interested in rail 

Meanwhile, IRSC’s expertise in educating people in skilled trades and crafts will help MxV Rail address the rail industry’s attempts to attract and retain railroad workers. 

“We’re looking at opportunities to not only introduce people to welding and carmen and trackmen principles, but we’re also looking to engage [potential railroaders] at an earlier stage in their education,” Gonzales says.  

IRSC, along with the Martin County School District, operates a new charter school that integrates traditional high-school studies with workforce college courses. The aim: to enable students to pursue career opportunities or higher education after graduation.  

“We think there’s an opportunity to start talking to students before they’re making decisions on their career paths,” Gonzales says. “Introducing students early on to careers in the rail industry is very important to giving them access to the knowledge” they’ll need to complete rail-related studies and training. 

Both parties are also researching potential funding sources that will help pay for the training, curriculum and other potential programs they hope to make available via the partnership. 

Going forward, MxV Rail will seek to sign similar partnerships and collaborations under its new strategy aimed at solving rail workforce challenges. The partnerships will fall under the purview of The Learning Institute, a nonprofit MxV Rail is forming.  

“We’ve seen over the past three to five years that workforce and talent is a big struggle for the industry,” she says. “And we are problem solvers for the rail industry. So, where we might be able to supplement the development of talent and provide opportunities for expanding the workforce and the diversity of the workforce, we’re very interested in doing that.”