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Rail News Home People

September 2014

Rail News: People

Rising Stars make their pitch for joining the railroad industry


By Julie Sneider, associate editor

How would you convince a future high school or college graduate to consider rail transportation as a career? What would your sales pitch be?

It’'s a question Progressive Railroading posed to this year's class of Rising Stars, a selection of 20 up-and-coming industry leaders under the age of 40 who've been identified by colleagues as having made a positive difference in railroading early in their careers.

Their responses reflected some common themes: opportunities to continuously learn new skills, face new challenges, work toward sustainable goals, help develop cutting-edge technology, advance to higher positions early in one's career and earn family-supporting pay plus generous benefits. A few also mentioned railroading's ties to U.S. history and the chance to honor that tradition by being part of forming the industry's future.

"I'd point out the satisfaction. Even though I do government affairs and association management and I'm not building track and running a railroad, I am helping people who are doing those things," says National Railroading Construction and Maintenance Association President Chuck Baker. "There's real satisfaction in knowing the industry has tangible benefits for the country. You can see the railroad tracks and trains running, and see people getting on the subway."

Here's how other Rising Stars responded:

"I work primarily in railroad operations, and to me, that's like a real-world puzzle. I enjoy the unique challenges presented every day." Joshua Bendyk, transit engineer and operations specialist, VHB

"The possibilities in this field are limitless. You can go into the capital side of things and build projects and see something being created. You can go into the operating side of things and improve people's lives on a daily basis and in doing so, you are making a huge difference. You can go into the government and legislative side of transportation, which gives you exposure to the state, federal and local levels of the industry." Jennifer Bergener, director of rail and facilities, Orange County Transportation Authority

"It's an older trade and the opportunities are endless and rewarding. You get the feeling of personal accomplishment, but at the end of the day, you're also part of a team." Jesse Chalich, executive vice president, Northern Plains Railroad

"The rail industry is one of the few industries that I think encourages cross-pollination: I can be on a sales track today and walk over to the superintendent and say, 'I want to learn about operations. I think I want to be a trainmaster.' I’ve been in industries where that doesn’t occur like it does in the rail industry. For someone who wants to have different careers within the same organization, the railroad offers that." Roquita Coleman, solutions manager for supply chain solutions, CN

"I do recruiting for our law clerks who work in our Union Pacific law department, so I have to make this pitch all the time. It's an easy one to make because this is such a dynamic, engaging job in that no two days are alike. And unlike working at a law firm, we have the unique advantage of being … able to give legal advice [and be] a strategic business partner with our client. On a broader scale, I also find it deeply satisfying to be part of the U.S. economy in the way that rail transportation is." Elisa Davies, senior counsel-franchise access, Union Pacific Railroad

"The amount of responsibility you hold in your position at a railroad is beyond what I think you would find in other industries. The railroad tells you: 'Here's a project, go make it happen.' There's some autonomy to make sure that project happens on time and on budget, and that's something you don't necessarily get five years out of college in another industry. You’re held accountable for those business decisions, and that's how you grow your professional acumen." Kevin Day, assistant chief engineer of technology, testing and standards, CN

"If you look at the age of most railroaders and what that [demographic] curve looks like, a lot of people are leaving the industry. There is a lot of opportunity for advancement. If you work hard, you could come in and be in a position of more responsibility and have a high-profile work load in short order." Kari Gonzales, assistant director of software services and internal research and development, Transportation Technology Center Inc.

"In transportation, there are just so many more roads the government can build. But in rail, we have more capacity that is available and it's not fully utilized. So, I think rail will be the wave of the future. I would ask [a young person] to come aboard and help change the current rail culture and make it what you want it to be." Jessica Hawkins Allen, director of process engineering, Amtrak

"Acquiring the skill set from working at a railroad is something you can't really get anywhere else, and it translates so well into other careers outside the railroad. If you can manage construction projects and perform engineering tasks at a railroad, you can do it at any other company." Jesse Heimowitz, project manager, Long Island Rail Road

"We participate in a lot of mature markets, but we also participate in a lot of emerging markets such as the wind industry, crude by rail, bioplastics — not to mention a lot of things from a technological standpoint. … For young people, if you want to be an active participant in the growth of the U.S. and greater world economy, this is a great place to be." Christine Howard, business manager, Union Pacific Railroad

"There is not an industry more attractive for careers for the long term. It's got this tremendous financial performance, low threat of new entrants, the aging workforce, and very few threats of substitutes. … All those factors should be incredibly attractive to young people. There's always that hot sector that young people are interested in working in — places with products or services that are glamorized in the media and then in a few years those firms don’t exist. I'll wager that the rail industry will be around at least during my lifetime and at least for the next 150 years." Mark Kelehan, senior vice president of investment banking, Wolfe Research Securities

"There will be great opportunities for young people in our industry to make some big leaps as far as technology goes, especially with things like positive train control and the different emissions standards. … As for women in rail, because more and more states are requiring part of their budgets be awarded to minority business enterprises or women-owned businesses, there is an opportunity for women to capitalize on those opportunities and to make a name for themselves." Jessica Kramer Havens, president, Diesel Supply Inc.

"There is a bit of a patriotic side to working in the American rail industry: We're building infrastructure, we're doing it safely and we're moving the country efficiently, so we're helping the country. We also have a huge card that we can play with regard to green technology. We're on the cutting edge of locomotive technology and fuel efficiency — whether it's regenerative technology or natural gas or whatever is the cutting edge." John Manutes, chief inspector, Federal Railroad Administration

"If you look at history and the role that [railroads] have played in the country's growth and the role that we will clearly continue to play, if you really buy into that and embrace where we can go, then I would say, 'Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that? Why wouldn't you want to write the next chapter of this industry's story?' " Michael Nicoletti, director of purchasing, Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad

"The railroads literally move the economy, and it's critical to never lose sight of the importance of railroad customers. … It's all about taking care of those customers and making sure they get the right rail car at the right time and at the right price. People who want to work for a business where they can make a difference can do so [in the rail industry] for thousands of companies." Adam Nordstrom, partner, Chambers, Conlon and Hartwell L.L.C.

"You have to be honest [with recruits] in that railroading is hard work. You're working in the elements — it's not a job where you sit inside at an always-comfortable temperature. But you're selling the fact that this is a career that offers a great living with great benefits and an opportunity to move up." Rachael Peterson, senior vice president of human resources, Watco Cos. L.L.C.

"Regardless of the economy, railroads seem to weather the downturns better than most industries. Railroad retirement also is an added bonus." Kristine Storm, assistant vice president of purchasing, Genesee & Wyoming Inc.

"The industry itself is growing year over year, with the Class Is having some of their best performing quarters in their history. Young professionals want to be a part of an industry that has a positive growth trajectory, sustainability, and one that is environmentally friendly. The railroad industry encompasses all of these traits plus the potential for accelerated career advancement." Daniel Stout, vice president, STX Railroad Construction Services

"From a planning perspective, transportation is fascinating because it shapes cities and regions. You're involved in shaping the public realm that people use every day. From an operating side, you can have an impact on people's daily commutes if you are working on a commuter railroad or at Amtrak. In addition, there is a real brain drain because of so many retirements. There are a ton of available jobs." Petra Todorovich Messick, principal officer of New York and New Jersey development, Amtrak


Browse articles on National Railroading Construction and Maintenance Association VHB Orange County Transportation Authority Northern Plains Railroad CN Union Pacific Transportation Technology Center Amtrak Long Island Rail Road Wolfe Research Securities Diesel Supply Indiana Harbor Belt Watco Genesee & Wyoming STX

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