Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Women in Rail 2017 – Deborah Chin, Long Island Rail Road

Written by 
  • Print
  • Email

Chin has worked in program and project management at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for more than 25 years. During that time, she was and continues to be instrumental in deploying new technology systems to provide better service delivery, customer service and operational safety.

At New York City Transit she worked on the Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) project, which provided centralized train control for all the numbered lines. This project gave dispatchers at the Rail Control Center the ability to see the locations and identify all the trains on that subdivision. This system improved service delivery because operational perturbations could be resolved in a timely manner. She also led the project to implement Public Address/Customer Information Signs at 156 passenger stations on the numbered lines, which provided next train arrival information to customers.

Chin worked on a public-private partnership with Transit Wireless that installed WiFi at all subway stations giving MTA customers the ability to connect to the internet and communicate wirelessly above and below ground at all 470 subway stations. Chin also worked on the Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) Program, which was successfully implemented on the Canarsie Line, a computer-based system that provides overspeed protection and the ability of trains to operate safely at much closer headways. Currently, Chin is the Executive Director at Long Island Rail Road and in charge of leading the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC).

Chin has informally mentored younger staff who have worked in her Program Area. When she was the Acting Chief Systems Engineer at NYCT, she was instrumental in supporting all her systems engineers to get accreditation from the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), and provided training and sponsorship for them. She was a Mentor in the Women in Transportation (WTS) for four years and took the opportunity to “give back” to the industry by providing professional coaching to young women professionals in the transportation industry. Although she had to take a hiatus from the WTS Mentoring Program this year to focus on the PTC project, she continues to support the advancement of young professional women at LIRR and in the transportation industry.

Chin has a Professional Engineers license in New York State. She was the IEEE Engineer of the Year in 2008, and was the recipient of a Leadership and Service Award from NYCT in 2015. She is also a graduate of the class of 2012 Leadership APTA Program. Chin has spoken on numerous occasions at the New York Transit Museum about her career and projects that she has helped implement at MTA.

Chin led the implementation of many high profile and politically sensitive projects. In her position, this has required her to be able to effectively communicate, be honest, innovative and to appropriately “set expectations.” Being able to be a good leader on the Public Address/Customer Information Screens (PA/CIS) project was especially difficult considering the technical challenges encountered on the already-delayed project, and the strained relationship between the contractor and NYCT. Many executives at NYCT were ready to default the contractor, but this would have meant that the three years already invested in the project were for naught. Working with a joint team of contractor and NYCT engineers, Chin led the development of a new implementation strategy which focused on core system functionality, and was able to effectively get buy-in from all project stakeholders to support this plan. She served as the champion of the project; continually motivated the project team; was persistent and maintained a positive attitude, and always listened to others and utilized the information she collected to better the project.

On the PA/CIS project, Chin took the opportunity to work with Google and her IT department to develop an in-house mobile application, to provide train arrival information to MTA customers on their smartphones. By providing train information to customers before they arrived at their station at minimal cost, she gave her project better exposure and support from those who were previously the biggest critics of the project.

When Chin managed the implementation of the ATS project, there were many challenges in keeping on schedule. There was a significant amount of time required to develop the customized software to deliver system functionality. The system would provide schedule-based train tracking to dispatchers who were used to keeping this information manually with paper and pencil. This system would change the way the dispatchers performed their work and they resisted the change. No amount of explaining the importance of this system with normal project management terms such as scope, budget or schedule would convince them that they needed to embrace this new system. Chin had to find a way to find to show the dispatchers – the end users of the system – that it could improve or streamline their job.

Working with a core set of project stakeholders, she held a special brainstorming session to identify ways that could help train the dispatchers on the new system without overwhelming them. As a result, she realized that she needed to incrementally develop the system because of its complex nature, but wouldn’t it be beneficial to deliver system functionality for this system in a phased approach and also provide incremental functionality? This approach would give the software developers more time to develop the complex functions while also allowing the dispatchers to learn the system over time, rather than all at once. This proved to be a win-win situation for all those involved. It was also an approach that was embraced by the funding partners, as they were able to see the value of their investments as functionality was phased in.

The PTC has a federally-mandated deadline for compliance of December, 2018 and there have been many delays for various reasons, putting the project at risk. Chin had to develop a recovery plan to mitigate the delays. She evaluated the situation with several internal stakeholders to see how quickly she could implement a plan, and the resultant recommendation was to issue a change to the contractor. Chin took the lead to negotiate this change order with the contractor in a timely manner and to also expedite the process to get MTA Board approval. This plan of action has allowed LIRR’s installation efforts to stay off the project’s critical path, and there is no longer a major risk that this work will impact the project completion date.


Click here to see all the winners of the Women in Rail Award 2017 in the November 2017 issue of Railway Age. 







Get the latest rail news

Rail news and analysis from Railway Age, IRJ and RT&S by email