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Nicholas Spitaletta, 31General foremanMTA Long Island Rail Road
Nominator’s quote: “Nick has, in five years, grown into the kind of natural leader that I and all chief mechanical officers hope for. … He exemplifies what the Rising Star program seeks to highlight — those among the best of the newest generation in our industry.” — Craig Daly, MTA Long Island Rail Road
Education: B.S. degree in electrical engineering, State University of New York at Stony Brook University.
Job responsibilities: Ensure the onboard positive train control (PTC) system operates safely and integrates well with the onboard and wayside signaling systems. Oversee reports, analyze the daily operations of PTC in revenue service and provide technical support and guidance to craft personnel for maintenance and troubleshooting activities.
Career path: After college, hired as an electrical engineer intern for the water shaft maintenance division of the Department of Environmental Protection in New York City. Next, hired by MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) as a junior electrical engineer in equipment maintenance. Promoted to assistant electrical engineer after two years. Another two years later, advanced to engineering general foreman.
How did you get into the railroad industry? My father worked on the railroad as a road car inspector, and on occasion he would take me to work. I was fascinated with the complexity of the locomotives he worked on and the history of the railroad itself. I always respected my father’s work ethic and his philosophy. He is, by definition, a workhorse. He never cuts corners and he always takes responsibility for his work, whether it’s correct or incorrect. I wanted a career that had similar principles. The LIRR offered that, and my position presented the perfect opportunity to do a job I could be proud of.
What is the best career advice you’ve received? Within my first two months of being hired at the LIRR, a general foreman told me, “Be respectful to everyone, because you never know if one day you will be working for them.” I interpreted this in two ways: One was the statement at face value; and two was to never dismiss anyone because of their position, title or job function. Always take the time to listen to and value what a team member has to offer.
What advice would you give to a new railroader? There are a lot of moving parts and different departments within a railroad. I work in the mechanical (maintenance) department, and if it wasn’t for my involvement with the PTC project, I probably would have never reached out and formed connections with the other railroad departments. My advice would be to reach out and open a communications channel with people outside of your immediate group. For example, if you work in track, acquaint yourself with the wayside signal branch. Understanding how the rail system works will greatly improve the quality of your own work, as well as expose you to advancement and learning opportunities.
What was your very first job? In a mail room for a local insurance agency. I would fold paper, prepare envelopes and distribute mail to the office.
Describe a fun fact about yourself. I'm a skilled baker and even won an award for it at a local competition. I submitted an Italian fruit tart, a family recipe that I learned from my mother, and the fruit tart came in first place. What I enjoy most about baking is that it combines creativity with the exact science of the ingredients used in specific amounts.
What do you like to do in your spare time? During my free time, I enjoy woodworking, building trinkets and small pieces of furniture. The down time helps me reflect on past events and has a soothing effect. Also, to me there is no better feeling than crafting an item and feeling that sense of accomplishment on the finished product.
How has the pandemic changed your view of career and life in general? The pandemic brought telecommuting to the forefront of the consciousness of our society. Having the concept become mainstream revealed that certain jobs can be performed remotely. The way the pandemic was handled showed the world that even a huge problem or challenge is scalable. Seeing society, industry and business adapt quickly to meet needs made me feel less overwhelmed, and I took each day as it came until the next day.
The social aspect of my life was diminished during the pandemic. However, I took that time and opportunity to form new bonds and friendships with my colleagues at work.