Railway Age’s 2021 ‘20 Under 40’

Written by Railway Age Staff
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RAILWAY AGE, FEBRUARY 2021 ISSUE: Railway Age is honoring 20 “Fast Trackers” from a pool of more than 100 strong nominations for this year’s 20 Under 40 awards program.

Established in 2016, the annual awards are presented to top North American railroaders under the age of 40 for making an impact in their respective fields or within their companies in the United States, Canada and Mexico. They represent freight and passenger railroads as well as the supply and consultant/contractor and government communities.

For the 2021 awards program, Railway Age increased the number of honorees from 10 to 20, due to a growing number of entries and top candidates. 

Candidates, who had to be under the age of 40 as of Jan. 1, 2021, were judged on criteria that included industry experience and education, leadership skills, industry contributions, and community service involvement.

“Choosing winners was difficult,” said Michigan State Center for Railway Research & Education Director Nick Little, who again served as program judge and selected the winning 20, as well as 10 Honorable Mentions. (His biography is below.) “The nominations showed breadth of knowledge, experience and achievement coupled with application, commitment and agility in their field of expertise, yet also giving back to both the industry and society.

Michigan State Center for Railway Research & Education Director Nick Little
While in high school in Britain, Nick Little started his career with clerical and operating internships at Plymouth on British Rail’s Western Region in the early 1970s. He won a scholarship program with the British Railways Board that gave him a supply management degree plus training in all aspects of BR’s organization. Little then spent 15 years with BR in many locations, including Derby and London. In 1995, Little came to Michigan State University, initially for one year on  loan to work on a research program, but he stayed to follow his passion of helping to develop future generations of railway industry expert managers and leaders with deep business knowledge and experience. He took charge of MSU’s Railway Management Certificate Program at the Broad College of Business in 2013.

“There’s clearly a new paradigm emerging in the industry based on reading the nominations—the application of big data, analytics, machine learning, drones, LiDAR, to name but a few technologies enabling improved management of our complex business. Safety remains paramount and clearly top-of-mind. Similarly, the ability to value our people, build strong and lasting relationships with suppliers and customers remain vital. Now and going forward, we’ll be able to use technology to do this faster, better and reliably with greater accuracy, better decision-making and predictability.”

Erin Batt, Assistant Vice President and Chief Safety Officer, Union Pacific

Erin Batt has made significant changes to UP’s safety programs over the past 18 months. She revised Operating testing with a results-based focus on coaching and engagement, rather than discipline. Known as COMMIT (Coaching, Observing, Motivating, Mentoring with Integrity and Trust), the program moves beyond rules compliance and requires a 30-minute walk-along with agreement professionals so they can provide managers with feedback on further preventing incident and injury. She also led the development of an Operating Practices Command Center on Wheels, in which experienced managers are available to assist engineers and conductors with rules questions and train handling observations, for example. This mobile support increases field manager response time. All of these initiatives have helped UP reduce reportable incidents by 25% and derailments by 33%. Additionally, Batt has championed the use of UP subsidiary PSTechnology’s train simulator to increase safety and overall network efficiency. 

James Brown, Assistant Plant Superintendent, CSX

James Brown has contributed to improvements at every stop of his CSX career, which was inspired by his father—who also worked for the railroad—and has taken him across the network. He started as a utility worker at the Waycross (Ga.) Locomotive Shop, where he became a Relief Supervisor and entered the Management Trainee Program. He also worked at the CSX Operations Center, and was Service Center Manager in Birmingham, Ala. In his current role at Waycross, the service center has become CSX’s most productive and efficient locomotive facility. He created a servicing plan for all locomotives to reduce failures and the need for shop employees to respond to line-of-road calls. Additionally, Brown’s “one team” approach has changed the safety culture. He transformed safety team meetings to high-visibility events that include closing out action items and brainstorming ideas. Brown has also given back to the community, serving as a guest speaker at the local 100 Black Men Mentoring Organization Youth Program.

Tomeka Bryant, Manager of Marketing and Sales, New Orleans Public Belt Railroad (Honorable Mention, 2020)

Tomeka Bryant has risen through the ranks over the past three years, with a “can-do” attitude that gives her an edge. Starting as a Trainmaster, she was soon promoted to Manager of Operating Practice, pioneering the railroad’s safety program in 2019. In 2020, she was promoted again, this time to Manager of Sales and Marketing, responsible for customer service as well as all business development. She has worked with the Operations team to balance fluidity and maximize storage capacity, and with NOPB’s Class I interchange partners to keep freight and intermodal volume stable during the pandemic. As the first African-American female manager at the railroad, she has paved the way for increased diversity and inclusion. She is a Certified Freight Conductor and a FRA Drug and Alcohol Certified DER. She is also a member of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association’s Young Professionals Committee and serves as a volunteer coach and instructor for a youth softball travel team.

Ricardo Chacon, AVP, Yield Management, Patriot Rail and Ports (Honorable Mention, 2020)

A nine-year railroad veteran, Ricardo Chacon took on a Yield Management Analyst role at Patriot Rail and Ports in 2017 and advanced to AVP, Yield Management just three years later. In addition to leading the company’s rail pricing strategy and helping to grow profitability and sustainability year-over-year, Chacon lends his experience in the industry’s international sector to Patriot Rail’s port business, assisting with lead generation and business development. Chacon also plays a key role in return-on-investment projects and mergers and acquisitions, which led most recently to Patriot Rail’s successful acquisition of the Salt Lake Garfield & Western Railway in Utah. Active in the community, Chacon participates in beach cleanups and has volunteered for Habitat for Humanity. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in finance, marketing and international business from Florida International University, and a Master of Arts in international business from the University of Florida.

Daniel Delgado, Engineer-Special Projects, MTA Metro-North Railroad

In four years at Metro-North Railroad in New York, Daniel Delgado, 25, has managed and delivered three Capital projects under the MTA Small Business Mentoring Program. The first upgraded deficient security lighting to energy-efficient LEDs at the Harlem-125th Street station. The second was a system-wide parking lot and roadway paving program, which included reconfiguration and reconstruction work of the Brewster Yard’s main entrance in less than four weeks and without disruption to train operations or yard functions. The third was a federally funded historic roof replacement at the 1914-built Ossining Station, which required strict compliance with State Historic Preservation Office and Federal Transit Administration regulations. The station building—elevated over the Hudson Line’s four main line tracks, serving Metro-North, Amtrak and CSX—remained open and in service throughout. Even with a one-month project delay due to the pandemic, the project was completed on time and on budget. Delgado is also an Operation Lifesaver-authorized volunteer. 

Rachelle P. Glazier, Chief Mechanical Officer-Car, CN

With 16 years of industry service, including experience as a journeyman locomotive mechanic, Rachelle Glazier serves as Chief Mechanical Officer-Car at CN, where her goal is to have the safest mechanical department and the lowest mechanical-caused derailments of all the Class I railroads. As CN rolls out its DEKRA program, she engages her workforce—from managers to agreement employees—for a total safety culture commitment. They have reduced car-caused derailments by following the data and adjusting car handling for cases of flat wheels and trending bearings. With Automated Car Inspection Portals at seven sites, Glazier leads a cutting edge team that is focused on developing 100 algorithms to fully automate the inspection process.  They want to identify every safety defect, not just draft gears, wheels and brakes. She served previously at Union Pacific and MTA New York City Transit (subway), and she is currently studying at SUNY-Empire. 

Michelle Hartmann-Grippin, Assistant Project Manager, Bergmann Rail & Transit Services (Honorable Mention, 2020)

Michelle Hartmann-Grippin, a five-year industry veteran, has overseen the construction engineering and inspection aspect for countless projects affecting Bergmann’s railroad clients in the Northeastern U.S. Her diligence and attention to detail has led to her rise to Assistant Project Manager. She now mentors a team of four. With continued training and growing work experience, Hartmann-Grippin proves to clients, colleagues and supervisors alike that she has what it takes to provide the level of construction inspection that is expected by Bergmann and its clients. She is American Concrete Institute Certified, OSHA 10-hour, Nuclear Gauge Trained and Certified, and Railroad Track Inspector Certified. She also holds confined space training, RWP Certification, and is NYS Hot Mix Asphalt Density Testing, and Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan Trained. Hartmann-Grippin earned an Associate of Applied Science degree from Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Community College. Among her goals: obtaining Project Management Professional Certification.

Stephen Hayne, Manager, Marketing and Pricing, Ontario Northland

Stephen Hayne started his career at Ontario Northland as an intern in the Diesel Locomotive Shop and Wheel House and in the IT department. Hired full-time, he served for three years as Rail Freight Marketing Analyst, responsible for developing, analyzing and negotiating rate structures with other railways. For the past seven years, Hayne has held the Manager of Marketing and Pricing position, part of the Transportation Services team. In this role, he maintains strong working relationships with rail freight customers; leads a team of unionized employees under the Freight Revenue and Administration Group; and works to grow revenue, increase carloads and establish new revenue streams, such as transloads. Between December 2019 and April 2020, he worked with stakeholders to merge the Freight Revenue and Freight Marketing departments to improve service to customers. Hayne has served the community as an assistant coach for the North Bay Minor Hockey Association and Cystic Fibrosis Canada as a Regional Director and National Conference Chair. 

Kaitlyn Hrdlicka, System Architect, Wabtec Corp.

Kaitlyn Hrdlicka has spent 13 years working on Wabtec’s Trip Optimizer, taking the fuel savings product from prototype to production. It has been deployed on more than 10,000 locomotives worldwide. For the first four years, she focused on the closed loop control and regulation portion of the product, which evolved from throttle control only to throttle and dynamic brake control, and integrated independent distributed power control. She worked closely with railroads to launch the Air Brake Advisement feature and spearheaded efforts to integrate Trip Optimizer with Wabtec’s I-ETMS version of PTC. Since taking on her current role in 2017, she has participated in conceptual design work for Trip Optimizer’s integration with Wabtec’s Battery Electric Locomotive. Over the past year, she has worked to improve the train handling functions of Trip Optimizer; testing was completed in fourth-quarter 2020. Hrdlicka holds five patents and has served for 15 years as a mentor for the McDowell High School Robotics team in Erie, Pa.

Jennifer E. C. Judge, Railroad Track Engineer, HNTB

Jennifer Judge, a six-year industry veteran, has served for the past year as track design lead for the Penn Station Access capital improvement project, which will bring MTA Metro-North’s New Haven (Conn.) Line commuter rail service to New York’s Pennsylvania Station. When her six-person team began all-remote work due to the pandemic, Judge assigned and distributed lists of component work to be accomplished; created and monitored shared working files; and held live check-ins to ensure the project stayed the course. The team’s final deliverable was submitted on time Jan. 4, 2021. At HNTB, Judge has served on the steering committees that developed the New York office’s Diversity and Inclusion Group, which launched in August 2020 with race/diversity and LGBTQ+ subcommittees, and that expanded the office’s young professionals group to the more-inclusive SPAN (Sparking People, Activities and Networking). She also volunteers as the office’s onboarding manager and serves on the membership committee of WTS International.

Michael L. Kraft, Principal Engineer, Amtrak

Michael Kraft has served the freight and passenger railroad industry for 13 years, getting his start at Conrail Shared Assets as Assistant Shop Manager and Manager of Mechanical Policies and Procedures. He moved to STV Inc. as a Rail Vehicle Specialist and transitioned into mechanical engineering and program management roles for numerous agencies, including Amtrak, where he served as the Lead Resident Mechanical Engineer on the Viewliner II procurement. This experience led Kraft to join Amtrak in August 2018, becoming Principal Engineer for Rail Cars. He served as Program Manager as well as maintained his role as Engineering Manager for the Viewliner II procurement, which is scheduled for completion this year and will inject 130 new long-distance cars into the Amtrak fleet; he also developed a team of Procurement, Supply Chain and Mechanical personnel to acquire parts to maintain the cars. Additionally, Kraft has been working to advance the procurement of Intercity Trainsets, which would replace Amfleet I cars.

Brian Lane, Director of Safety, Railroad Construction Company, Inc.

Brian Lane joined Paterson, N.J.-based Railroad Construction Company  in 2010 as Safety Supervisor and was promoted to Safety Director in 2017. He oversees all safety operations, covering diverse construction disciplines such as rail and track, heavy highway, bridge and tunnel, and building and electrical trade work. He is responsible for the implementation and administration of respiratory protection, lead abatement, accident investigation and silica awareness programs, and is constantly monitoring and implementing company safety programs and developing Site Specific Health and Safety Plans for individual projects. Additionally, Lane handles on-site project inspections and the coordination of necessary safety equipment for the full duration of a project. His role as Safety Director has taken on new meaning since COVID-19, as he has helped ensure that co-workers across all disciplines have a safe workplace. Lane also serves on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Safety Committee. 

Danielle Libring, Senior Project Manager, RailPros

Danielle Libring is helping to improve grade crossing safety through several key RailPros projects. For the $36 million Van Nuys Station Project (Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Southern California Regional Rail Authority/Amtrak/Union Pacific, Van Nuys/Los Angeles, Calif.), she led final design and construction support for a new center platform with grade-separated pedestrian access; the configuration was a first for SCRRA. Libring also customized a risk management plan that reduced or eliminated key risks and restraints, saving more than $20 million in bridge retrofit and fiber splicing. Simultaneously, she obtained all stakeholder approvals and consensus as the project was accelerated to meet funding deadlines. Construction was completed in 2020. She is currently Project Manager for the development of the Vista Canyon Multi-Modal Center (City of Santa Clarita, Calif./SCRRA), and has implemented a key design modification to avoid approximately $5 million in fiber relocation costs.

Eddie Lott, Manager Crew Resources, Kansas City Southern

Eddie Lott joined KCS in 2019, amid Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) phase one implementation. As a Business Excellence Team member, he worked on projects for the Vanegas switching terminal in Mexico. The group reduced waste and increased velocity by 60%, which was instrumental to the 20% overall system velocity increase that KCS saw between 2019 and 2020. Lott also worked with Operations, Service Design, Business Excellence and Mechanical to improve system-wide delay tracking and to assign ownership for each delay type. He built a dashboard that provides improved visibility to key KCS stakeholders. In early 2020, he was promoted to his current role. Driving improved asset utilization has been core to PSR phase two, and Lott has led that charge for KCSM. Through a partnership with Operations and critical relationships with the union in Mexico, he helped keep trains moving during the pandemic. His focus on managing human resources and increased volumes was an integral part of KCS reaching its all-time-best operating ratio in third-quarter 2020.

Brian McClain, Assistant Vice President of Regional Operations, Genesee & Wyoming Railroad Services, Inc.

A 13-year railroader, Brian McClain’s biggest challenge to date has been indoctrinating Providence and Worcester Railroad’s (P&W) 107 employees to G&W’s safety culture after acquisition in 2016. In 2015, P&W sustained more than 10 reportable injuries, but with significant time in the field, a hands-on review of rules and processes, and a focus on two-way communication between field employees and management, P&W has steadily decreased its injury rate. From 2014-19, McClain served as General Manager of 10 short lines spanning nearly 500 miles in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Under his leadership, the approximately 160 employees worked reportable injury-free. Since late 2018, he has overseen nine railroads in the East Division of G&W’s Northern Region, comprising nearly 500 employees across more than 2,000 track-miles. Four have gone reportable injury-free for two-plus years, and one hasn’t reported an injury since 2012. A graduate of Central Ohio Technical College, McClain has served as an authorized Operation Lifesaver volunteer for five years. 

Frank Evan Palazzolo, Trainmaster, Conrail

Frank Evan Palazzolo is committed to providing a safe work environment for his train crews at Consolidated Rail Corporation’s (Conrail)  Detroit, Mich., Terminal. His strong communications skills and attention to detail when setting up the eight automobile manufacturing  plants under his jurisdiction set him apart. Palazzolo’s ability to lead under pressure is also an asset. On several occasions, Palazzolo has averted multiple shutdown situations to the assembly line through swift decision-making, and kept operations running smoothly. An eight-year industry veteran, Palazzolo holds an Associate degree in business administration from Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich., and is a certified conductor, licensed remote control operator, and hazardous material first responder. He is currently working toward a Senior Trainmaster position, with the ultimate goal of serving as Terminal Superintendent of Operations. 

Rachael Peterson, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, Watco

Rachael Peterson has played a lead role in automating business functions at Watco. She helped the company adopt SAP (Systems Applications and Products) business management software. In nine months, she guided the transition to a cloud-based system that provided a centralized database for all human resource functions, including recruiting, onboarding, performance management, payroll and benefits. SAP reduced by half the number of people required to perform payroll, and eliminated the need for staffers to spend 90% of their time rekeying HR data. Peterson faced multiple challenges when she became Senior Vice President of People Services in 2014: employee turnover, a lack of manager and supervisor training, and gaps in employees’ technical and soft skills. She was instrumental in developing the solution, a formal online training program. In its first year, 2015, “Watco U” saved the company $3 million and reduced employee turnover by 7%. Time spent on mandatory OSHA recertification training was reduced by 67%. 

Stephanie Roediger, National Account Manager, Canadian Pacific

In 2020, Stephanie Roediger worked to establish Canadian Pacific’s first food-grade liquid transload in Montreal. Partnering with the railroad’s Transcare team and largest canola crush client, the facility was designed and is now under construction. While Roediger excels in Sales and Marketing, receiving a 2019 CP Golden Spike Award as a top salesperson, she started her CP career in Human Resources. She was promoted to Manager of Staffing Services in 2011. In 2013, due to business increases, CP needed to hire hundreds of conductors across its U.S. system in regions with low levels of unemployment. Roediger led an initiative to find cities with higher unemployment rates, targeted advertising in those areas and established successful job fairs, bringing on board more than 250 new railroaders. In late 2019, Roediger was elected to CP’s Employee Insights Focus Group and was recently selected to participate in the railroad’s Coaching Capabilities program.

Herbert Smith, Regional Executive Director, Government Relations, Norfolk Southern

Among his many industry contributions, Herbert Smith serves as Co-chair of the CREATE Advocacy Committee and regularly strategizes with the Chicago Planning Group (CPG) and Chicago Transportation Coordination Office (CTCO) to advance the CREATE program by securing additional federal, state and local grants. This work culminated in a $132 million USDOT INFRA grant award in 2018 to build out the first half of the 75th Street CIP, North America’s largest freight rail bottleneck. He has also been behind efforts to provide minority and women-owned businesses with new networking opportunities. Smith’s near-term goal is to secure a public grant agreement among USDOT, IDOT and the AAR, allowing the rail industry to construct the back half of the CREATE 75th Street CIP. Longer term, he is collaborating with CREATE stakeholders to address new infrastructure needs and relieve new chokepoints within the Chicago terminal to continue to meet the industry’s capacity and velocity needs.

Cara Weidling, Terminal Superintendent II, BNSF

Cara Weidling got her start in the industry 12 years ago as a BNSF management trainee, and has since held a diverse set of Operations roles. As Frontline Supervisor at the Ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, her work group was injury-free, and she served as Chair of the Safety Committee responsible for a rule change that improved ergonomics and safety for riding stack cars within the port complex. As General Manager of BNSF subsidiary Los Angeles Junction Railway, she led capital improvements that expanded short-haul cement unit trains from Victorville to Los Angeles, reducing the demand for more than 150 trucks per week through Southern California. Now, as Terminal Superintendent II in San Bernardino, Weidling leads more than 200 scheduled and exempt and 300 contract employees who handled record-breaking volumes in 2020: 733K containers. Due to the pandemic, she and her team implemented such initiatives as “Briefings 2.0,” allowing employees to share safety videos on a private YouTube channel to ensure social distancing.

Honorable Mentions

• Muneeb Abbas, Project Coordinator, MTA Long Island Rail Road

• Jeff Bernstein, Deputy Chief Financial Officer, New Jersey Transit

• Mohit Bhat, Assistant Vice-President—Technology Strategy, Architecture, Platform & Data Engineering, Data & Analytics, CN

• Andrea Dobbelmann, CFO, Progressive Rail, Inc. (Honorable Mention, 2020)

• Terry L. Hartwig, Terminal Superintendent, The Belt Railway Company of Chicago

• Dan Lang, Manager Systems Assurance, Hatch LTK

• Emilia Marceta, Project Manager (A), Signals &
Communications, Network Infrastructure, Metrolinx/GO Transit (Honorable Mention, 2017)

• Martin Ritter, CEO, Stadler US, Inc. (Honorable Mention, 2019, 2020)

• Brian Steadman, AVP Capital Investment Accounting, Kansas City Southern

• Shailesh Yerram, Managing Director BI Analytics & Cloud COE, Canadian Pacific

For more, see Railway Age’s 2019 10 Under 40.

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