This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google
Terms of Service apply.
By Vesna Brajkovic, Associate Editor
Metrolink Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Wiggins’ first introduction to railroading was by accident.
In 1998, Wiggins first boarded a Metrolink commuter-rail train while working a temp assignment in the finance department of a Metrolink member agency. The regional program manager she reported to drove a flashy red sports car to work everyday, but it was in the smaller details that caught Wiggins’ attention.
“I’ll never forget, she had a license plate holder on her sports car that said, ‘My other car is a train,’” Wiggins says.
That piqued her curiosity. Wiggins went on to start her transportation career at the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority. She since has held high-level positions at three of Metrolink’s five member agencies. Between 2006 and 2008, Wiggins held various management positions at the Riverside County Transportation Commission, and in 2015 she became deputy chief executive officer of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
In January 2019, Wiggins assumed leadership of Metrolink, a 275-employee, 538 route-mile commuter-rail system that serves six counties across Southern California. By then, she had come a long way from her first Metrolink ride: She was now equipped with years of experience in strategic planning and procurement management. Commuter rail wasn’t just about transporting people anymore to her, it was about supporting the economy of Southern California and connecting people to education, jobs and housing.
And now, nearly two years into her tenure as Metrolink CEO, the League of Railway Women (LRW) has recognized Wiggins’ accomplishments with the “Railway Woman of the Year” honor for 2020. Co-sponsored by Progressive Railroading, the award honors women in the rail industry who demonstrate vision, initiative, creativity and guidance in a leadership role. They’re also recognized for being innovative and problem-solvers, for overcoming challenges and for bringing consistent excellence to their companies and surrounding community.
As Metrolink’s CEO, Wiggins of late has faced her biggest challenge of all: operating a commuter railroad during a global pandemic.
“The last nine months, dealing with this pandemic, has been incredibly challenging and I recognize, particularly as a fairly new CEO, how important our employees are to the success of the agency and myself as a leader,” Wiggins says. “So that really made the award even more touching, to know that the employees had submitted the nomination.”
Under Wiggins’ leadership, her team has developed a five-point recovery plan to restore the commuter-rail service that’s been reduced due to the pandemic, as well as allow the service to thrive in a post-pandemic world.
The plan focuses on health and safety, operational transparency, financial performance, and “future proofing” its operations.
During the pandemic, Metrolink ridership and revenue dropped 90%.
“It was a real wake up call to really examine agency-wide how we spent, why we spend, and to look for innovative ways to deliver service,” Wiggins says.
Metrolink’s tagline coming out of the pandemic? Smarter, better and more essential.
“We want to present a Metrolink system that is much different than the one that was pre-pandemic,” she says. “Because we want to thrive in a post-pandemic environment, we’re going to come out of this more essential and a better system and a smarter system.”
To do so, the agency has committed to enhanced cleaning across its rail system, focusing on adjusting service to better serve essential workers (health care workers make up 39% of current ridership), and offering a more flexible fare pass option to better serve riders who are telecommuting to work more often.
“As the first woman and African American to lead Metrolink, Stephanie Wiggins has brought diversity and inclusion to all levels of the commuter rail agency, from the C-suite to train conductors,” said LRW President Amanda Trainor Patrick in a press release. “Her leadership of Metrolink during an unprecedented pandemic with a focus on providing outstanding customer experience, improving system operations and modernizing business practices speaks volumes to her ongoing effort to improve the organization as a whole.”