Stokes is stoked about becoming Anacostia's first chief engineer, managing MOW holistically

As the company’s first-ever chief engineer, Monte Stokes oversees MOW endeavors for Anacostia’s six short lines, including Pacific Harbor Line (PHL). Shown: Asphalt underlying work performed for PHL on Terminal Island in Los Angeles County. Anacostia Rail Holdings Co.

By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor 

A couple of firsts occurred at Anacostia Rail Holdings Co. late last year. The short-line holding company appointed its first-ever chief engineer to govern all six of its railroads. 

And the man installed in the position — Monte Stokes — assumed engineering responsibility for more than one railroad for the first time in his career. 

Stokes joined Anacostia in early 2021 as chief engineer for Pacific Harbor Line Inc. (PHL). He succeeded Robert Giannoble — who retired at 2020’s end — as the engineering point person for the 75-mile short line that serves the ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles, California. 

In October 2023, Anacostia widened Stokes’ responsibilities companywide. The goal: to employ a systemwide focus on maintenance-of-way (MOW) objectives and provide strategic engineering oversight for all six of the company’s railroads. Now, he’s in charge of track safety and maintenance, signaling, rights of way and other aspects of MOW. 

Since he became PHL’s chief engineer, Stokes has offered new insights and improved MOW processes based on his Class I and other rail industry experience, Anacostia officials say. He previously served as senior engineer of track, assistant division engineer and deputy division engineer for Amtrak, and held various engineering posts at CSX. Prior to that, he was a construction engineer for CH2M HILL Inc. and a project engineer for Moreland Altobelli. 

In his new role, Stokes aims to seek opportunities to share best practices developed at each Anacostia short line and identify synergies between them to improve engineering efficiency. Although that effort started with railroads “that are already in great shape,” he’s spent time the past few months assessing the condition of the short lines as a whole, he says. 

“I'm a visual guy,” Stokes says. “It’s how to find ways to plan your way out of a paper sack, so to speak. I like to engage in that. I always want to help and I always want to learn.” 

He recently made his first field trip: a visit to Northern Lines Railway (NLR) in St. Cloud, Minnesota. NLR was formed in 2005 to operate BNSF Railway Co. trackage in central Minnesota. 

Last year, the short line obtained a $381,000 state grant to modernize and upgrade rail and switches, and rehabilitate one concrete grade crossing. With additional funding from the city of Waite Park, NLR this year also will perform preventative maintenance work on a main yard track involving tamping, joint repairs and ballast additions. 

“The track project is due to high demand. We have the grant to upgrade the yard so it’s used the proper way,” says Stokes. 

There are MOW projects planned at Anacostia’s other five short lines this year, as well. 

PLH2 Last year, bridge tie replacement work was conducted on main track No. 1 of Pacific Harbor Line’s Badger Bridge. Work on the bridge will continue this year. Anacostia Rail Holdings Co.

“We see 2024 as a slightly busier year than usual,” says Stokes. 

At the New York & Atlantic Railway, a New York state grant will cover 80% of the cost to construct a new track at the short line’s main CSX interchange in Greenville. The track will hold a 10,000-foot train so other train movements can be conducted at the critical location. 

“We will lay 1,000 feet of track and cut in two turnouts,” says Stokes. 

For Gulf Coast Switching (GCS) in Texas, track maintenance work will continue in 2024. The project includes replacing 20,000 ties and performing undercutting and cribbing work. 

Last year, crews at GCS installed 19,000 ties, 1,500 switch ties, 25 switch stands and 3,100 feet of rail, surfaced 37 storage tracks, improved drainage and renewed the track structure to support two major Union Pacific Railroad storage-in-transit yards in Dayton and Angleton, Texas. 

The 2024 MOW work at PHL centers around an ongoing project to modernize the key Badger Bridge with new ties and switches. In addition, a wye track will be upgraded, ties will be replaced at the Farragut crossing to increase operating speed from 10 mph to 20 mph and improvements will be completed at the Tosco crossing. 

There is continuing work slated at the Louisiana & Indiana Railroad, too. Work will progress this year on a massive steel bridge across the Ohio River, including tie replacements on two more spans. The project is expected to continue into 2026.  

In addition, crews will improve industrial leads in Columbus and Jeffersonville, Indiana — a project funded by a federal Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement Program grant — install solar panels and convert an old engine house into an MOW facility 

Finally, work planned at the Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad (CSS) involves the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s ongoing double-track project between Michigan City and Gary, Indiana, which impacts CSS’ line. The trackwork is expected to be completed in mid-2024. 

While earning a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from South Carolina State University, Stokes was a record-breaking wide receiver for the college’s football team. He expects to rely on that tenacity and teamwork to reach his MOW goals at Anacostia. 

For example, he plans to collaborate at the local level at each short line to address any pressing MOW equipment needs, including tampers, ballast regulators and front-end loaders. 

But there will be the usual challenges that need to be overcome — many beyond one’s control — to accomplish all the planned MOW work, Stokes says. For example, winter has been brutal already in many areas. 

“We need to accomplish our goals despite the usual unforeseen circumstances,” Stokes say. “And getting materials on time is key — that’s a big enigma, as usual.”