BNSF: Family Legacy Runs Deep in Galesburg

Written by Leslie Smith, Staff Writer, BNSF
Tim Worrell, right, with his father, Ken Worrell, locomotive engineer. (Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

Tim Worrell, right, with his father, Ken Worrell, locomotive engineer. (Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

BNSF’s Galesburg, Ill., yard has a rich history that extends back to the 1860s. Through the years, one family has accompanied the facility almost every step of the way. Today, Tim Worrell, Assistant Superintendent at the Galesburg terminal and a 2024 Railway Age “Fast Tracker,” represents the sixth generation of Worrell/Leahy family members to work here. 

Worrell oversees the safe and efficient movement of trains in and out of Galesburg. When he looks out at the second-biggest hump yard in our network, he sees more than just a job. He sees a family legacy that spans 100-plus years of history at the same yard he’s now supervising. 

Worrell’s family began railroading in 1854 when his great-great-great grandfather, Lawrence Leahy, worked on the railroad building track for predecessor the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q). Leahy came from a small town outside of Limerick, Ireland, to Galesburg.  

Map of CB&Q from the time of Lawrence Leahy and Michael Leahy, 1854 through the late 1800s. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

Leahy’s son and Tim Worrell’s great-great grandfather, Michael Leahy, started working for the railroad in the late 1800s running a team of horses that pulled track materials for projects. 

Michael Leahy’s son, Jon Francis Leahy, followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps and worked out of the Galesburg yard as a switchman from 1925 until 1962 when he sadly lost his life in a work accident.  

Jon Francis Leahy. (Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

“My great-grandfather’s story always stuck with me,” Tim Worrell said. “His accident really instilled in me the importance of how safety is at the core of everything we do at BNSF. My mission is personal. I strive to ensure that all my team members look out for each other and go home the same way they came to work.” 

Jon Francis Leahy’s legacy continued beyond his tragic accident. His son, Richard Leahy and Tim’s great-uncle, railroaded from 1944 to 1989. His son, Dennis Leahy, also worked with his father as a yardmaster in the 1970s. 

Richard Leahy, on the left rail with his arms crossed, and crew in Galesburg. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

One of the biggest influences in Tim Worrell’s life is his father, Ken Worrell, a locomotive engineer. Ken Worrell started with BNSF in 2004 and continues to work in Galesburg. Before becoming a railroader, Ken Worrell worked as a police officer and at the local tractor supply shop. Tim Worrell learned the meaning of hard work and dedication from his father. 

“My dad was a huge supporter in me joining the railroad and was a role model,” he said. “His work ethic and the way he went after opportunities was something that shaped me into the person I am today.”  

His story started out a little differently because he was on track to become a lawyer. After graduating in 2014 with a political science degree focused on constitutional law and a double minor in business and philosophy, he wanted to gain work experience before going to law school.  

“While searching for a job, my dad said, ‘You know, you might want to try railroading. It’s been great for our family,’” Tim Worrell said. “And I was definitely not above throwing switches and working for the railroad. I applied for the corporate management trainee job in 2014 and began my career as a trainmaster.”  

Tim Worrell at the Galesburg yard. (Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

He quickly found out how rewarding and challenging a career with the railroad can be.  

“I really kind of fell in love with it,” he said. “I didn’t feel pressure from my father to follow in my family’s footsteps, but I did start to feel the pride that comes with working for the railroad. Knowing that what we do matters for our communities across the country and the pride in my railroad heritage really made me passionate about my job.” 

In his current position Tim Worrell was recently nominated as a Railway Age “Fast Trackers’ 25 under 40” honoree. The award is presented to North American railroaders under the age of 40 for making an impact in their respective fields or within their company.  

“I would like to continue my journey in the company, learning different aspects of the railroad while taking on new responsibilities,” he said when asked what’s next. “It’s fun now to think back on how many family members have been through the same spots I’ve been through in Galesburg. I’m the first supervisor in the family, so I hope they’re proud of me.”    

This article first appeared in the Rail Talk section of the BNSF website.

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