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Job description: Touey oversees a construction management/general contracting agreement for state-of-good-repair projects. The work includes replacing special trackwork, switches and crossings for TriMet's MAX light-rail system. She serves as the project manager/resident engineer for the scoping, design, construction and closeout of each project.
Education: Bachelor's degree in civil engineering, Oregon Institute of Technology
Nominator's quote: “Sarah Touey is an insightful, intelligent, talented rising leader who is making rail transportation better and safer by creating and executing massive maintenance projects. … Without her dedication, guidance and expertise, TriMet would be tackling this much-needed work with a lot less grace.” — Inessa Vitko, Trimet
Why did you get into the rail industry?
To be perfectly honest, I “stumbled” into railroading. The funding for a multi-billion dollar bridge project fell through with my previous employer and I found myself in a very unstable position at that point. So I made the giant leap from designing drainage systems in Southwest Washington to managing short duration, complex projects for the MAX light-rail system. I knew nothing about light rail, but I knew that I needed a change of scenery and wanted desperately to learn something new.
What career accomplishment are you most proud of so far?
Before I made my transition to TriMet, I was terrified of public speaking, or even just talking in meetings regarding my work. My supervisor forced me to take a public speaking class in an effort to pull me out of my shell. Realizing that public speaking is all part of moving up and growing as a professional — especially in my position — I obligated myself to speak at each and every function I could. As a result, I have conquered, for the most part, a fear that has plagued me since high school.
What is a little-known fact about you?
I almost flunked out of high school. I couldn't fathom sitting in a class all day, so I just didn't go. When I realized that I could pass the majority of my classes completing them as independent studies, I went for it, studied at an accelerated pace taking almost twice the credits as a regular student and graduated from high school early. Math was my worst subject, and I had to take algebra twice. After I graduated, I realized that without a degree I really couldn't do and experience what I had hoped. So, after having a child at 19 and raising her as a single mother, I made the leap to attend engineering school. I moved away from everybody and everything I had ever known, with a toddler in tow, and managed to graduate while working as a calculus, physics and trigonometry tutor. It just goes to show how incredibly powerful the mind can be when you really want something.
What would you say to convince someone to consider railroading as a career?
It can and will take you places if you want it to. Among all modes of transportation, the railroad has been consistent throughout history and may be growing in popularity as a preferred method of travel in some areas of the world, and is used for the movement of goods worldwide. There are endless opportunities to apply whatever personal skills an individual possesses in the field of railroading. In just about every region of the world, there are jobs in rail.
What advice would you share with a first-year railroader?
Have ample patience and humility. Don't be afraid to ask questions and ask them often, because there will be plenty of mysteries as to the whats, whys, and hows of rail. Learning all of what railroading is about is an impossible undertaking in one year. The learning curve will be vertical for some time and if you're lucky like myself, you will be surrounded by coworkers and experts who are happy to share their knowledge.
Arthur Adams Jr.
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