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August 2019

Rail News: People

Rising Stars 2019: Brian O'Donnell

Brian O'Donnell


Brian O’Donnell, 30
Accident investigator
MTA Metro-North Railroad

Nominator's quote: "Brian was part of a team that won Metro-North's 2016 Safety Excellence Award. He helped to train a group of people with little to no EMT/firefighter experience and established a working fire brigade for Metro-North's Stamford shop. His goal was to promote safety and to teach his co-workers to help others in an emergency."
— Justin Vonashek, MTA Metro-North Railroad, 2013 Rising Stars Winner

Why did you pursue a career in the rail industry?
Honestly, I never had thought of having a career directly in transportation, but I knew that the rail industry is a place where every day is different. I sort of was at the right place at the right time and accepted a position which I knew each day would present a challenge — and that’s exactly what I was looking for.

Describe your education after high school.
Attended the University of New Haven with a bachelor’s degree in fire science administration.

How you are making a difference in the rail industry?
When investigating rail incidents that include employee injuries and property damage, it is important to determine accurate root cause and contributing factors. The goal is to prevent reoccurrence and I’m involved with developing meaningful corrective actions to help my organization move forward without future incident. By using a committee approach with multiple departments, I have been able to successfully implement corrective actions that ensure the safety of employees and customers on a daily basis.

What is an interesting, unusual or little known fact about you?
I grew up riding dirt bikes and racing motocross. Although it has been a few years, I hope one day to line up and race again.

What was your very first job?
I was hired as a system safety specialist in the fire safety group at New York City Transit. When I started, I was fortunate to have been led by a knowledgeable team of people who introduced me into the industry. 

What is your philosophy toward life and/or your career?
I believe that to succeed you must always be honest, patient and have a positive attitude.

What is your advice to new railroaders who want to advance in their careers?
Always listen and ask questions first, but be confident to make a decision. Also, take advantage of every opportunity presented to you.

What do you think will be the biggest trend to affect railroading over the next decade?
Currently, there are many retirements taking place and a large percentage in the near future. The biggest impact is hiring a new workforce. The work and operation of railroading conducted 30 years ago simply doesn’t fit to the challenges presented today with a new, young workforce. In addition, new technology and training practices will unquestionably have an effect on railroading across the country.


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