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Rail News Home People

July 2021

Rail News: People

Rising Stars 2021: Erika Bruhnke

Erika Bruhnke


Erika Bruhnke, 36
Vice president, training services

Nominator's quote: "She led the charge for the multiyear, company-wide, behavior-based safety program that became known as Approach Others. This program gave tangible examples of what safe behaviors physically looked like, gave permission to interact with each other when something appeared to be deviating from that safe behavior, and encouraged employees to take the concept home with them. Approaching Others shifted an entire mindset that safety was a condition of employment and something that 'had' to be done, to safety being a lifestyle and something employees wanted to be a part of." — Rick Bellew, RailPros

Education: University of Missouri, degree in marketing.

Job responsibilities: Oversees the safety department and required safety training of RailPros employees; leads the team that provides and develops safety training solutions for railroad employees, contractors and industrial employees that service railroads.

Career path: Began with BNSF as a trainmaster in Seattle; moved on to division manager of safety in Billings, Montana. Next move: BNSF headquarters in Fort Worth to develop behavior-based safety into Approaching Others; incorporated those principles into the safety processes of all BNSF departments. Also joined and later led the BNSF Women’s Network. Recruited to RailPros in 2018 to lead a new training organization.

How did you get into the railroad industry? Honestly, luck. After I began my railroading career, my family history surfaced — turns out railroading is in my blood. So, perhaps that luck was really a calling.

What is the best career advice you've received? Early on in my career I was very shy and hesitant to speak up and share my thoughts. I was often left feeling defeated because someone else had the guts to say what I was thinking. I was encouraged by a boss of mine with the following: You have been invited to the table. Your words matter so speak up. It changed my life.

What advice would you give to a new railroader? Be a sponge. It is perfectly acceptable not to know the answer. In fact, lean into it. Find those with the expertise and learn. Ask questions, no matter how silly they may sound. Get in the field. Literally see how it is done. Don’t be a jerk. Remember that respect and kindness go a long way.

What was your very first job? Barista.

Describe a fun fact about yourself: From the ages of five to 15, I was a competitive figure skater. Toward the end of my career, I was competing at a national level. Several of my teammates ended up going to the Olympics.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I love exploring new cultures, domestic and foreign. I want to do what the locals do, eat what the locals eat. Railroading has played very well to that passion. I have found myself in some places I never otherwise would have thought to visit, but am truly thankful for the experience.

What is the rail industry's biggest challenge? Adopting technology at the speed in which technology is changing. It takes us so long to implement, we are already outdated by the time we turn “it” on, whatever “it” may be. Let’s also not forget that railroading is a well established and mature industry. We can often be set in our ways. We shouldn’t let the phrase “we have always done it this way” deter us from exploring new technology.

Strictly speaking from a training perspective, our industry is quite behind the curve. It is amazing some of the advancements that have been made in the field of learning and development. We just need to be open to something new and different.


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