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[Editor's note: Laura Mason was EVP of capital delivery at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) earlier this year when she was nominated for and named a Rising Star Award winner. In May, Amtrak announced it hired Laura to be EVP of major program delivery.]
Nominator's quote: "Following a challenging period at [WMATA] ... Laura was tapped to lead one of the most transformational projects, SafeTrack, in the company's history. SafeTrack was an accelerated track rehabilitation program aimed at bringing [WMATA's] aging track infrastructure to a state of good repair. Under Laura's leadership, SafeTrack completed three years of work in just one year." — Coree Cuff, WMATA
Education: Studied electrical and biomedical engineering at Duke University; pursued Master's in Business Administration from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University.
Job responsibilities: At WMATA: develop and deliver the major capital projects that enable the agency to deliver its mission of moving the region, and achieve our vision of becoming the transportation provider of choice for the Washington metropolitan region. Responsible for our engineering and architecture group A P.
At Amtrak: lead Amtrak's strategy in developing and delivering the company's largest-scale and most complex projects. Coordinate with Amtrak stakeholders and external partners to successfully deliver these projects as efficiently and effectively as possible, in compliance with all safety, regulatory, and program management and reporting requirements.
Career path: Began career as an electrical engineer working on the design of a power distribution system for a chemical weapons dismantlement plant. From that role, moved into project controls and cost engineering, then became chief of staff for one of the company's executives. Moved on to the construction of the extension of the D.C. Metro to Dulles Airport. Joined Amtrak in 2021.
How did you get into the railroad industry? After spending 12 years as a contractor building public infrastructure, I joined WMATA in 2016 to run SafeTrack, a year-long emergency track rehabilitation program. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to bring my construction and scheduling experience to solve a real and urgent problem for my hometown. Once inside an actual railroad agency, I realized there were many more opportunities to leverage my engineering and construction background to drive meaningful improvements in maintenance and capital renewal, and ultimately improve the safety and reliability of rail service delivered.
What is the best career advice you've received? While it is important to broaden your experience through rotating across different functions, it is important to be really good at something. Build your reputation around your core strength that sets you apart from others so that despite the variety of experience, people know you for something. For me that is strategy and the ability to distill complex challenges into clear decisions and actionable steps; skills I gained through roles focused on honing my commercial acumen and planning/scheduling skills.
What advice would you give to a new railroader? Try as many different roles/positions as possible in your first 10 years. Getting broad exposure to a lot of different types of work (engineer, cost engineering, scheduler, business development/customer engagement, etc.) helped me understand better both the bigger picture and myself, making me more effective in my work and able to make career choices that enable me to be genuinely happy with what I do every day.
What was your very first job? Working in a clothing booth at the Renaissance Faire, in full period costume. I learned that I'm very bad at accents, so I was mostly stocking the shelves and managing the cash register and not out front, interacting with the public.
Describe a fun fact about yourself: I have hiked on six continents so far and plan to get to the seventh soon.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I love to be outdoors, so you can usually find me hiking or skiing and snowboarding, depending on the season.
What is the rail industry's biggest challenge? Attracting more people to our industry. Looking out over the next 20 years, we have an incredible amount of work to do to modernize, rehabilitate, and expand our infrastructure and services. We will need to recruit more people from school and from other industries and open our minds up to bringing in people at all levels who don't have rail experience, but can bring valuable insights.