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Bradley Walker, 38
Director of safety
Watco Cos. LLC
Nominator’s quote: “Brad often teaches in the field and classroom for four of Watco’s railroads that comprise about 1,500 of the company’s 5,400 short line freight miles and represent between 350 and 400 employees. He is the point man for Watco’s implementation of federally regulated programs, including making sure all operations on new properties are compliant on Day 1.” — Tracie VanBecelaere, Watco Cos. LLC
What is your educational background?
2000 Blue Springs (Missouri) High School Graduate
Describe your current job and responsibilities.
Currently, I hold the director of safety position for Watco Cos., specifically for our transportation group which includes all of our rail and switching services. I currently oversee and help manage all railroad compliance programs, recurrent training and incident tracking programs. I assist with positive train control (PTC) implementation and have a few other duties.
Describe your career path.
My railroad career with Watco Cos. started on the Kaw River Railroad 16 years ago as a conductor trainee. I quickly gained my certification as an engineer and a few years later became a trainmaster. Then there was an opportunity in our safety department as a quality assurance (QA) manager. That position transitioned into a QA and training manager and later led me to my current role as director of safety.
How did you get into the railroad industry?
To be honest, I have to give this credit to my now wife, who was my girlfriend at the time. I was frustrated with a job building houses; a company had recruited me but then later said there was no room for advancement without a college education. That led to looking for a different career path that became the railroad. She looked tirelessly for something she thought fit me and the railroad it was. Joining Watco has proven to be the one of the most rewarding decisions I have ever made.
What is the best career advice you’ve received?
“If you take that job I will divorce you!” It sounds a little funny, but back then, had I taken any other internal Watco opportunity, it might not have led me to the path I am on now, which feels like a good fit. I have had some great mentors at Watco and still have pretty amazing mentors who I have been able to lean on in times of need and who have always helped point me in the right direction.
What advice would you give to a new railroader?
Be ready to learn! Learning requires an open mind, good listening skills and the desire to explore.
What was your very first job?
Anything the neighbors needed, I was your guy! I was the neighborhood mower, painter, baby sitter and anything else I could do to figure out how to make a dollar. My first actual job with a paycheck was at Sutherland Lumber Co. at the age of 14.
Describe a fun fact about yourself.
I love to perform karaoke!
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love spending time with my family and friends. I have three kids who are all involved in several sports. When time allows, I help coach their baseball and softball teams. My wife Jacqueline and I also love to travel when I am not traveling for work, which I know sounds weird!
What is the biggest challenge the rail industry now faces or will face?
Right now, we are faced with a bit of economic uncertainty. This affects not only how railroads operate but also the individuals that go to work for them every day. Railroads are working tirelessly to come up with solutions for their customers' needs as they are changing daily. They are doing this in conjunction with ensuring their team is free from distractions with the ability to operate to the highest safety standard.