Rising Stars 2022: Supply chain, workforce, technology and infrastructure top rail industry concerns

The Class of 2022 Rising Stars includes Elizabeth Lun, Metrolink; Josh Smith, The Greenbrier Cos.; Brian Steadman, Kansas City Southern; and Kelle Williams, Pioneer Lines.

Compiled by Senior Associate Editor Julie Sneider and Associate Editor Grace Renderman 


Supply-chain congestion, talent retention and recruitment, workforce diversity, new technology and the need for infrastructure investment are some of the major topics that the 2022 Class of Rising Stars identified as main obstacles the rail industry must overcome to succeed and grow.  

This is the 10th year Progressive Railroading has recognized 20 to 25 young professionals for making outstanding contributions to the rail industry early in their careers. The magazine posted profiles of this year’s honorees on progressiverailroading.com and celebrated their career successes during a July 27 virtual ceremony. A video of that celebration can be viewed here.  

In emailed interviews, the honorees were asked what they believed to be the greatest challenges railroads face in today’s economy, as well as how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the industry overall. Their answers follow. Some responses have been edited for length.  


 RailPrime  What are the most significant challenges the rail industry faces today? 

Lindsay Anderson, director of business analytics, Kansas City Southern
“Resource planning. Being able to accurately forecast and scale up/down the crew base and locomotives to meet the changes in carload demand.” 

Erica Antoine, project manager, Burns Engineering Inc.
“Recruiting top talent that will maintain and grow the rail network throughout the country. We have big shoes to fill as generations retire, and we look to build and connect infrastructure.” 

Sophie Bacchi, senior manager of IT service performance operations, CN
“The rail industry needs to use every single opportunity to keep being at the forefront of technological changes and innovation. We were revolutionary not that long ago, and we need to keep that spirit to lead how goods move.” 

Matthew Bolte, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Rail Equipment Co.
“Driverless trucking. If it is legal for a truck — which can move in multiple directions — to be driverless, then the same should apply to a train where less risk is involved and can only move in two directions.” 

Michelle Bowling, vice president of sales-logistics, Watco
“Visibility and integration: They go hand-in-hand. Each railroad can have best-in-class technology, but until we find a better way for our individual systems to talk to each other, we leave our customers trying to piece together a 1,000-piece puzzle without the bigger picture to support them.” 

Kevin Christy, director of financial planning and reporting, Conrail
“Addressing the aging infrastructure. Replacing critical assets over the next several years must be done in such a way that service is uninterrupted. While there are challenges, there are also opportunities for the railroad to use new technology to enhance service and efficiency.” 

Nicholas Clark, general manager of the central division, CN
“Railroads need to keep pushing limits and boundaries to keep innovating and improving. We must keep pushing on to the future of railroading, and that means not being scared to overhaul many facets of the business to achieve optimal efficiencies.” 

Jacquelyne Colvis, customer success manager, Siemens Mobility
“[E]levating the status of public transportation into the primary mode of choice everywhere. We need to improve reliability and passenger experience to keep riders and attract a new generation of devoted riders who choose public transportation not just because it’s cheaper, but because it’s more reliable and enjoyable.” 

Joshua Dantzler, senior specialist of diversity, including and belonging, Amtrak
“Retaining employees. The pandemic has shown us the importance of workplaces adapting to meet the needs of where we are now, and the rail industry is no different. It’s important for this industry to begin thinking creatively and embracing new ways of working that can allow us to meet the needs of the present and the future.” 

Clifton Ellis, general director of marketing and sales, metals and ores, Union Pacific Railroad
“Rapidly adapting to the needs of a more technologically savvy and sophisticated customer base in order to achieve long-term sustainable growth.” 

Tim Enayati, senior vice president of commercial development, Jaguar Transport Holdings LLC
“Finding and retaining talent seems to be the biggest challenge we have.” 

Ari Ferrand-Rodgers, director of organizational development, New Orleans Public Belt Railroad
“More needs to be done to diversify the workforce in the rail sector. The rail sector is an industry that women can flourish in; it has exciting, flexible and diverse roles. If the industry showcased this further and [raised] more awareness it would attract more women to the industry.” 

Evan King, senior business analyst, CSX
“Turning business requirements into tangible, valuable software at an ever-increasing pace. Our business stakeholders are very supportive of technology, and it is an exciting challenge to solve problems and return value to the organization.” 

Elizabeth Lun, assistant director of design, Metrolink
“Working better together with passenger- and freight-rail operators to consider all things for the greater good. … We can create a much greater impact if we develop stronger partnerships in constructing and operating our railroads to transport people and cargo alike, ultimately serving the public and meeting their needs.” 

Matthew Bolte, Ari Ferrand-Rodgers Matthew Bolte, Railway Equipment Co.; and Ari Ferrand-Rodgers, New Orleans Public Belt Railroad

Jacqueline Martinez-Torres, track maintenance manager, MTA Metro-North Railroad
“Employee turnover. Retirees and employees choosing to pursue different careers has led to a loss of talent, knowledge and experience. There is a need to reform recruiting and practical training methods to compete with other transportation disciplines to gain valuable employees and, ultimately, retain them on a long-term basis.” 

Maria Christina Oviedo Mireles, LEAD program participant, Kansas City Southern de Mexico
“Being a woman in a male-dominated industry and not being taken into account. However, this is starting to change.” 

Kael Peterson, superintendent of operations, Gulf Division, CN
“Railroads, and especially our operating models, need to constantly seek out opportunities for growth while remaining true to the core principles of what we do. Some say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve things.” 

Kelly Pilarski, supervising engineer, WSP USA
“Working as a cohesive team with partner agencies to prioritize critical projects and aligning the right resources to execute the plan. With the spotlight on infrastructure, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the rail industry — not just to accomplish critical projects, but to improve how we build and leverage each other’s strengths moving forward.” 

Trevor Pusch, senior corporate counsel and assistant secretary, Anacostia Rail Holdings Co.
“Adaptation: Automation, evolving technology and volatility in the world market will pose new challenges for the industry, and railroads need to respond appropriately. … One of the biggest opportunities lies in harnessing data: We need to utilize software and systems that will enhance employee safety and reliability of service for our customers.” 

Josh Smith, manager of strategic pricing and production planning, The Greenbrier Cos. Inc.
“Rail is a mature industry, and it doesn’t strike many K-12 students as something to pursue as a long-term career or to study in college or trade school. Making younger generations aware of the opportunities in this industry is the first step to improving its perception.” 

Lee Sorrick, principal consultant, UP
“Effectively implementing new safety measures across the nation’s railroads. Each railroad has a different focus, in the manner of how it moves cargo or persons, but the rails are all connected. The issue of interoperability plays a huge role when developing and implementing safety measures.” 

Nicholas Spitaletta, general foreman, MTA Long Island Rail Road
“Effectively implementing new safety measures across the nation’s railroads. Each railroad has a different focus in the manner of how it moves cargo or persons, but the rails are all connected. The issue of interoperability plays a huge role when developing and implementing safety measures.” 

Brian Steadman, assistant vice president of capital investment accounting, KCS
“[T]he industry is constantly looking for the right balance between shareholder returns and ample resources to meet the needs of our customers. The extreme volatility due to the pandemic and other supply-chain issues only amplifies the importance of finding that equilibrium to ensure all stakeholders’ value is maximized.” 

Kelle Williams, vice president of real estate, Pioneer Lines
“Historically, it has been the lack of technological advances. Many of the small railroads do not have geographic information systems, payment portals or customer relationship management processes. It would be amazing if we could all join forces and share various types of technology so that short lines can run as efficiently in their administration as their Class I partners.” 

Sarah Yrkoski, general director of workforce resources, UP
“Within HR, one of our biggest opportunities is attracting more women to railroading. This is something we are extremely passionate about at Union Pacific and I am proud to be part of workstreams focused on specific talent acquisition and retention strategies.” 



 RailPrime  How has the pandemic changed the rail industry? 

Anderson: “The pandemic has created many challenges in the supply chain that allowed KCS to come up with innovative solutions. ... Most recently, we have rerouted vessels from the congested ports on the west side of the United States down to southern Mexico to rail all the way back north to Chicago. Even with the extended transit time, we have been able to save the shipper 20 days door-to-door.” 

Antoine: “The pandemic has stressed capital project funding for passenger rail systems. I am hopeful that the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and future funding sources help bridge some gaps as we work toward getting our infrastructure to a state of good repair, and create the kind of reliable, sustainable, resilient transit infrastructure that America deserves.” 

Bacchi: “It forced railroads to upgrade their internal technological capacities to face the new realities of work-from-home 24/7.” 

Bolte: “The pandemic mostly changed the freight product mix with more focus on intermodal.” 

Bowling: “The pandemic put supply chains front and center. Railroads had to think broader than just moving freight from point A to point B.”

Christy: “We gained better teamwork and efficiency. COVID forced the industry to rethink the way things were done and explore new opportunities to make up for some of the impacts of COVID. It required even more collaboration across all functions to make sure service wasn’t impacted and value was still added.” 

Clark: “We became better. We collectively learned, and that further challenged the railroads to consistently review, enhance and update their operating plans, especially with regard to employee and non-rail related safety issues and how they impact service reliability.” 

Colvis: “The rail industry was forced to act and adapt quickly to change. In many cases, it forced the rail industry to embrace digitalization faster than it might have planned, while putting a huge focus on ridership safety and comfortability.” 

Dantzler: “We saw the critical need for reliable, safe and connected infrastructure throughout this pandemic. That has changed the way the industry focuses, not only on making those necessary modernization improvements, but also considering how to expand and grow, especially in communities without rail.” 

Ellis: “The pandemic has led to a faster adoption of e-commerce, which has resulted in a considerable increase in intermodal shipments. To accommodate this shift, the rail industry should continue investing heavily in its intermodal service products.” 

Enayati: “The change is still in motion, but I believe the pandemic is going to force the industry as a whole to get more creative around hiring and retaining people, timely and consistently servicing our customers, and finding ways to leverage technology to create a better overall experience for our team members and customers.” 

Ferrand-Rodgers: “Freight railroads are taking more significant precautions to protect the health and well-being of their employees. Many of them are constantly communicating with multiple partners to stay abreast of evolving public health developments.” 

King: “Our transition to remote work was relatively seamless, but the field operating teams we support remained on the front lines throughout.” 

Evan King, Sarah Yrkoski Evan King, CSX; and Sarah Yrkoski, Union Pacific Railroad

Lun: “As people began to work from home, our primary [Metrolink] users were essential workers and those traveling for leisure. We had to adjust and adapt our business to the changing needs of the public. That meant revising our schedules, providing flexible ticketing options and marketing in different ways with new incentives.” 

Martinez-Torres: “The pandemic has changed that ‘railroad is life’ outlook and not necessarily in a bad way. Employees are [now] wanting to spend more time with their families, go on vacations when they can and take time away for their mental health. Employees are trying to find a balance between home and work after the pandemic.” 

Peterson: “It showed the world how critical supply-chain workers are, and made it clear the role railroads play in the economy.” 

Pilarski: “The pandemic reinforced to Americans how important investment in rail infrastructure is. The value of our public transit systems was on full display, as conductors, drivers, mechanics and engineers continued to provide essential workers travel options to keep the country going, taking care of its most vulnerable.” 

Pusch: “The supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic will be present for some time. Every industry is currently addressing the growing calls for sustainability. However, railroads, as the most environmentally friendly mode of ground transportation, need to continue to pursue digitalization and sustainability efforts.” 

Smith: “The pandemic has made us more aware than ever of the supply chain’s dependency on rail systems, as well as how interconnected the world has become. From the increase in online shopping to skyrocketing demand for raw materials and goods after initial business shutdowns, we can’t ignore the importance of this work.” 

Sorrick: “Global freight supply chains are complex and include many parties, including truckers, railroads, ports, manufacturers, warehousers and retailers. From a technology standpoint, we have an opportunity to provide better upstream visibility and exceptional communication to build more dynamic operations for our customers.” 

Spitaletta: “The pandemic provided opportunities for railroads to evaluate maintenance cycles and perform infrastructure improvements during a temporary reduction in service, and in doing so, turn a negative into a positive.” 

Steadman: “The pandemic may have significantly altered the global supply chain for decades to come. We are likely to see shifts in manufacturing as companies look to gain better control of their complex supply chains through diversifying their transportation partners and ports as well as considering nearshoring to minimize delays and disruptions. Hopefully, railroads can be a key strategic partner as companies look to relocate facilities in North America.” 

Williams: “The rail industry has and should continue to boast why railroads are important to the U.S. supply chain. Ensuring the railroad remains in the conversation is vitally important to industry growth.” 

Yrkoski: “It created an opportunity for us to be more intentional about the health and well-being of our employees during extreme circumstances.”