Progressive Railroading

Newsletter Sign Up
Stay updated on news, articles and information for the rail industry

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

View Current Digital Issue »


Rail News Home People

September 2019

Rail News: People

What will drive change over the next decade? Railroading's future leaders share their ideas


By Progressive Railroading staff

Progressive Railroading recently asked the honorees of the 2019 Rising Star Awards what they think will be the most important trend or trends to affect railroading over the next 10 years. Because they are considered by their peers to represent the industry's leaders of tomorrow, their answers to this question may be instructive for today's leaders and decision-makers.

Following are the Rising Stars' responses, along with links to their profiles.

Terry Atkinson, 39
General director of marketing and sales
Union Pacific Railroad
"At a high level, the technology advancements that we are witnessing in our everyday lives. Whether we’ll be able to harness these advancements to make railroading more efficient, competitive and attractive to potential future employees will be one of the biggest trends that will impact our industry."

Cathrin Banks, 34
Maryland and Delaware Railroad Co.
"Precision scheduled railroading (PSR) and its implementation across the Class Is is going to have a major impact on our industry as a whole. It will be very interesting to see how the remaining Class Is unroll their PSR strategies and how this filters down to short lines and shippers.

"I also think the growth of intermodal traffic will be significant, and it will be interesting to see whether, and to what extent, short lines are able to participate in those opportunities."

Matthew Bell, 31
Rail government affairs consultant
"Technology and innovation — for the railroads, shippers and the rail construction and supply industry — will have a big impact on railroading. Over the next decade, autonomous trains and rail equipment will change the labor landscape. It is important that we adopt, educate and train the next generation of railroaders."

Jeffrey Brantz, 39
Business system analysis manager
"Technology on the railroad will continue to be the biggest trend. We have already started to see how positive train control (PTC) is going to affect the operation. As an industry, we will have to find ways to improve upon that system and work toward changing the way we have always done things. In a few years, we will be looking for ways to utilize PTC for train spacing and automating safety functions. As we refresh our infrastructure, we will find ways to improve communications with trains and crews."

Kelley Carr, 34
Senior manager of positive train control
"Technology innovation. The railroad industry has become enriched with technological advancements that have improved our resource and business efficiency. However, where we are today is just scratching the surface of where we will be a decade from now."

Landon Downes, 31
Assistant project manager
Balfour Beatty
"Technology in the railroad industry is only going to accelerate the material logistics and public demand for railroad transportation. I think applications will deliver light-rail vehicle locations to the public, notifying them of a train’s arrival, threats and opportunities. I think technology will improve safety of the railroad industry by improving our tools and the ways in which we build railroads."

Michaela Doyle, 29
Director of finance
Watco Cos.
"Technology and automation will likely have the largest impact on the railroad industry. I also think we are on the verge of having some of the more experienced members of our industry reach the age of retirement. It will be very important for companies to think about succession planning and investing in training the next generation of railroaders. When you combine that experience with a fresh perspective, you’ll start to see new solutions to problems that companies didn’t know they had."

Shannon Emberly, 32
Production manager
"Autonomous track inspection, advances in rail flaw detection and the use of drones for right-of-way and bridge inspections."

Sara Garza Gonzalez, 37
Director of chemical and petroleum marketing for U.S., Mexico
Kansas City Southern
"Digitalization and automation will play leading roles in the rail industry’s efforts to streamline operations and improve service. Whether it be by improving asset utilization, security or consistency or by reducing time and expenses, innovation will be integral to the success in these areas. I imagine some systems we’re using today will evolve and be replaced by more readily available applications. It’s the nature of the business."

Crystal Gitchell, 32
Director of regulatory affairs
American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association
"Longer and heavier trucks. This is an issue that I study daily, as it has the potential to upend the rail industry. A longer or heavier commercial truck will divert freight from the railroad, leading to more wear and tear on our already fatigued roadways. As technology changes, trucks will be given opportunities to use our publicly funded highways as proving grounds. The industry must remain actively engaged in this issue to keep freight on the rails."

Dustin Hall, 32
Security consultant
Security Through Safe Design Inc.
"In the coming decades, more and more people in cities and suburbs will be looking for alternatives to personal vehicles for their transportation needs. I believe commuter and light rail will become the go-to mode of transport for these populations. As such, we’re going to see a huge boost in ridership on existing networks and in public demand for the development of new ones."

Linda Hernandez Carrillo, 36
Industrial development manager
Kansas City Southern
"Automation. I expect to see advanced technology continue into all parts of the rail industry in order to lower costs and increase return on investment, to accelerate the information flow between origins and destinations, and to improve rail efficiency, safety and security."

Kimi Khatami, 27
Director of customer service
Pacific Harbor Line Inc.
"The development of cargo visibility and communication technology. The total market share of railroads has historically been restricted due to our inability to quickly conform to customer demands. Today, we must be able to track and transmit accurate data to help our supply chain partners grow their businesses. Our future success will rely on addressing constant change and investing in IT products that stay ahead of the curve."

Nicolas Mabboux, 39
Director of IT application management, delivery
"Definitely automation. Technology capabilities are evolving at such a pace that railroads will be able to set new standards in operations and customer service, while driving safety levels up even higher. The Internet of Things will scale to the point that railroads’ physical assets will be more and more connected, allowing for a correlation of a huge amount of data that we will leverage to raise the bar on efficiency, customer service and safety.

"As technology continues to emerge, our industry will be disrupted by new models and new competitors leveraging new technologies. Now is the time for us to transform, improve through innovation and modernize."

Jessica Mefford-Miller, 38
Executive director
Metro Transit-St. Louis
Bi-State Development
"One of the biggest trends that may impact light rail is energy storage. The way we draw and store energy in light-rail systems impacts how and where we build passenger-rail systems, and onboard storage systems present opportunities for constructing light rail without catenary wires and wayside substations."

Brian O'Donnell, 30
Accident investigator
MTA Metro-North Railroad
"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."

Luke Olson, 38
Vice president of marketing, sales
Loram Maintenance of Way Inc.
"The underlying trend over the next decade will be how railroaders can do more with less — particularly, do more with fewer people. As the next generation of railroaders takes over the industry, we’ll be challenged by doing without the extensive base of knowledge that those who have worked in the industry for the last 40 years are taking with them.

"Our challenge will be to embrace data and inspection technologies to measure with data what our predecessors could not to make good decisions and realize the necessary productivity gains we need to remain competitive and relevant."

Amanda Patrick, 36
VP of trade shows, member relations
Railway Supply Institute
"We are seeing a competent pool of people retire and we need new enthusiasm, knowledge and talent to take our job-producing, environmentally friendly, business savvy industry forward. ... I think it’s critical for us to show those entering high school, trade school and universities the kinds of well-paying and fulfilling jobs there are in this industry, from welding, to engineering, to construction, to marketing."

Shirley Qian, 28
Senior planner
Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority
"The world is changing, from the climate to larger societal trends, and the railroad industry will need to prepare for those changes starting now. As impacts from climate change start to be felt in everyday operations in the next decade, I think we’ll start to see railroads be more active in planning changes, operationally and for capital projects, in response.

"Building and acquiring new talent to the industry will be important as well over the next decade, as the older generation of railroaders retires. There is opportunity to establish closer relationships with universities and internship programs to push the railroad industry to be more prominent in the younger generation’s minds."

Audra Rodgers, 39
Rail structure lead, U.S.
"Innovation and technology are going to have the most impact in the coming years. New technologies are being developed constantly inside and outside our field. You can see this in the recent developments in drone usage for inspections and surveys, in advanced LiDAR scanning, and in operations modeling. As an industry, I see us using and advancing these technologies in ways not even considered yet to further optimize railroading and increase efficiency and operational lifespan."

Devin Rouse, 35
Passenger-rail division staff director
Federal Railroad Administration
"The role of technology, specifically software driven electronics within the industry. Those who have worked with me have heard me mention many times that the investment in PTC infrastructure, and the skilled workforce it requires, will accelerate the use of other technologies throughout the industry as the industry tries to gain a return on its investment.

"Advancements like machine learning algorithms to improve operations and efficiency, and the use of multiple technologies to provide compound data points and monitor trends, can have an exponentially positive effect on safety and preventative maintenance, just to name a few examples."

Katie Sanders, 39
Assistant VP of IT operations, systems development
Union Pacific Railroad
"Automation will continue to disrupt all aspects of our lives and the railroad industry will be no exception. Technology is already an integrated, critical part of moving freight and it only makes sense that roads will continue to leverage new software and network capabilities to improve efficiencies, target new business opportunities and reduce human error."

Scott Schiemann, 35
Chief engineer
Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad
"The use of modern technology like drones to inspect bridges and smart phones to house rule books and eliminate paper copies."

James Schwichtenberg, 39
VP and chief safety officer
"Technology will continue to advance. If I think about the long history of the railroad, things have not really changed that much. The rails have always been 56½ inches apart. Automatic couplers and diesel locomotives have certainly been innovative — and now, PTC. But I’m excited to see what the future holds."


Browse articles on Rising Stars railroading's future Progressive Railroading rail technology autonomous trains automation precision scheduled railroading PSR intermodal digitalization IT positive train control PTC

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.