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2023 Women in Rail: Innovating, Inspiring

Written by Railway Age Staff
(Shutterstock/ narai chal)

(Shutterstock/ narai chal)

RAILWAY AGE, NOVEMBER 2023 ISSUE: Since 2017, Railway Age has celebrated women leaders who break down barriers and create opportunities for the next generation. This year, 23 honorees and five honorable mentions were selected from more than 100 Women in Rail awards candidates by judges Barbara Wilson and KellyAnne Gallagher, with input from the Railway Age staff. These visionaries from all levels of North American railroading are not only excelling in their respective fields, but also making an impact in the historically male-dominated freight, transit and supply sectors; supporting and inspiring more women to join the industry; and serving their communities. Congratulations to these women whose accomplishments are presented here.

Barbara Wilson is a freight rail industry C-Suite executive. She served most recently as President and CEO of short line holding company RailUSA, providing strategic leadership and implementing long-range goals, plans and policies. Prior to joining RailUSA in 2019, she was President of Wells Fargo Rail, where she led business growth by acquiring three industry competitors to build the largest railcar leasing business in North America. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston College and an MBA from Babson College. 

KellyAnne Gallagher, CEO of the Commuter Rail Coalition (CRC), is a public transportation policy professional and a strategic advisor to industry leaders. With more than 20 years serving across industry sectors, in 2019 she founded CRC, where she is shaping policy and driving the agenda of the association, which serves as the singular voice of the commuter rail industry. Previously, Gallagher was a member of the New York MTA’s senior leadership team, which she joined after 16 years with the American Public Transportation Association. 

2023 Women in Rail Honorees

Meghan Achimasi, Group Vice President–Chemicals Marketing, Norfolk Southern (NS) 

Achimasi began her NS career as an Automotive Marketing Co-Op and has built her reputation over the past two decades as a trusted relationship manager. As Market Director of Industrial Chemicals, she was charged with a $750 million account portfolio and developed process-oriented solutions for customers. She now leads a $2 billion per year business unit and was hand-picked to develop two customer-engagement apps to drive growth. Since NS’s train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Achimasi has continued her commitment to transparency and maintaining an open dialogue with customers. A “servant leader,” she recently led her team through a day of training where they learned the fundamentals of rail safety and gained a greater appreciation for craft employees. They are now regularly approached by customers eager to learn more about how to keep frontline workers and products safe. One of Achimasi’s strengths is pivoting quickly under pressure. During the pandemic, she was promoted to a new role in a new department. Onboarding as Senior Director–Investor Relations in a virtual environment and transitioning to meet the timeline for Q420 earnings were among the challenges she met. Beyond her work duties, Archimasi serves as a company mentor and member of her alma mater Virginia Tech’s Executive Advisory Board, supporting student projects for the Center for Business Analytics.

Jennifer Benton, Senior Vice President Commercial, Patriot Rail Company

Benton joined the freight rail industry in 2007, specializing in marketing/pricing analysis at CSX. She managed more than $200 million in revenue and converted $20 million-plus of incremental business from competitors—an accomplishment CSX recognized with a 2016 Chairman’s Award of Excellence. In 2017, Benton joined Patriot Rail, where she has assumed progressively senior responsibilities. By understanding and leveraging both macro-economic factors and specific market trends, Benton in 2020 helped Patriot Rail generate record revenue in several rail-related services, despite the pandemic. In 2022, she served as commercial lead for the company’s acquisition of Pioneer Lines, doubling its U.S. footprint. Also in 2022, Benton designed and implemented a pricing strategy to increase yield and still allow Patriot Rail to compete in the marketplace during a period of significant inflation. This strategy continues in 2023. Benton earlier this year took on her current role managing pricing for both freight and non-freight and overseeing the company’s railcar storage program. She is credited for the profitability success of Patriot Rail’s scenic rail services. Benton emphasizes the well-being and growth of her team and mentors several women at the company. She is also an active, long-standing member of the Patriot Rail Sustainability Group, leading charitable causes through financial giving and volunteering.

Nicole Bucich, Vice President, Network Development, Amtrak

A 33-year industry veteran, Bucich is at the forefront of U.S. intercity passenger rail expansion. At Amtrak, she leads the team responsible for National Network growth, made possible through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. In just one year, she has built out a new department to plan, develop and implement future passenger rail services, and facilitated a consensus-driven planning process with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, Class I’s and member states. Bucich also partnered with the Southern Rail Commission to draft a federal grant application to link Meridian, Miss., to Marshall, Tex., with the support of federal, state and local officials. Prior to joining Amtrak, she served as a consultant for New York City metro transportation projects and spearheaded the Northeast Corridor Commission’s landmark CONNECT NEC 2035 plan, which sequenced 150 infrastructure projects to ensure the 457-mile corridor’s sustainable growth and development. The plan not only promises to revolutionize transportation in the region—including eight states, four right-of-way owners, and passenger, intercity and freight rail services—but also stands as a testament to Bucich’s visionary leadership and dedication to the rail industry, one of her four nominators said. Bucich is also an adjunct Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and a WTS member.

Angela Caddell, Group Vice President, Agricultural Products, BNSF Railway

Since signing on as a BNSF management trainee in 1996, Caddell has held roles in Industrial Products, Agricultural Products, Coal Marketing, and Equipment Utilization. She has collaborated with customers to create efficient supply chains to handle high growth markets such as ethanol, frac sand, and now renewable fuels. Currently, Caddell leads a marketing team that specializes in meeting the needs of whole grain, grain products, fertilizer, ethanol and bulk foods shippers. BNSF’s ag volume growth from 2013 to 2022 exceeded the rest of the North American rail industry more than fivefold. Last year, Caddell and her team moved approximately one million railcars of ag products, which are dependent on global markets that vary year-to-year, as well as geopolitics, such as the Russian conflict with Ukraine. In the 2022-23 crop year, U.S. corn exports were down about 33% and Caddell led her team to pivot quickly to non-traditional grain moves, helping to offset the lack of export demand. Caddell gives back by serving as Executive Sponsor of BNSF’s Working Caregivers Business Resource Group and on the STB’s Rail Energy Transportation Advisory Committee. Additionally, she is on the Board of Advisors for the Texas Christian University Neeley Business School, investing in up-and-coming talent, and an active member of ACH Child and Family Services in Fort Worth, Tex.

Josie Curtis, Vice President, People Services, R. J. Corman Railroad Group, LLC

With 25 years of human resources experience, Curtis has a vast knowledge of best practices for training, onboarding, counseling, and labor laws, and specializes in recruiting. She joined R. J. Corman in 2008, and has since restructured the People Services department, instituting clear points of contact for all HR-related matters, and contributing to the growth of the company, which includes 1,400 employees at more than 70 locations. Curtis leads a 15-member team and has built a robust work culture, supporting career development and serving as a mentor. Additionally, she is dedicated to advocating respectful and fair treatment and equal pay and opportunities for women. Curtis’s ability to build strong relationships with management, employees, industry peers, and customers is an asset, and she helped R. J. Corman navigate the COVID-19 pandemic successfully, leading the development of new policies and procedures and ensuring compliance and employee support. Curtis also serves the community and industry. She is on the employee-led R. J. Corman Charitable Contributions Committee, supporting non-profits in Kentucky and across the country; has been a Board Member for the American Heart Association in Central and Eastern Kentucky since 2021; and is on the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association HR Committee.

Lindsay Day, Director, Capital Markets, The Greenbrier Companies

Day joined Greenbrier without prior rail experience, but immediately proved an adept and capable learner, quickly retaining and applying new information. Over her five-year tenure, Day has grown from an individual contributor to a manager. She currently holds a revenue-generating position on the railcar syndication team—a subset of Greenbrier’s Leasing operations—which requires a mix of legal, finance, and negotiation/customer service skills and a strict attention to detail. She interacts with all sectors of the business, working directly with Greenbrier’s executive leadership, financial investors and operating lessors. She manages the process flow of syndicated lease transactions; runs transaction pricing and margin analysis to determine syndication offerings and purchase prices; and reviews Master Lease Agreements and consults on and approves negotiation points. When Greenbrier introduced Employee Resource Groups (ERG) in 2022, Day was among the first to take on a leadership position. She runs and serves as a mentor for the Emerging Leaders ERG, providing opportunities for members to learn about the company, meet upper management, practice presentation skills, and network with colleagues. Day also is Greenbrier’s liaison with the University of Oregon Law Program. She administers scholarships through the Oregon Law Students Public Interest Fund, from which she benefited while studying for her law degree. 

Carla Ewing, Senior Vice President of Service Assurance, Watco

Watco hired Ewing in 2008 as a customer service clerk, primarily supporting the Stillwater Central and Arkansas Southern railroads. Over eight years, she rose into sales roles including Manager, Senior Manager, Director, and Vice President. In January 2022, Ewing took on her current position, which encompasses customer service for rail support, revenue accounting, and fleet management. In fewer than five months, she was asked to lead additional areas: account services for the company’s multi-modal terminal and port facility, Greens Port, in Houston, Tex., and railroad dispatching. She now oversees 127 employees. She has not only helped reduce railcar demurrage at Watco terminals—one division comprising 25 terminals decreased it by 85% year-over-year—but also improved the waybilling process for Greens Port customers. Ewing also serves on the Board for RailPulse, a coalition of railcar owners and users, including Watco, whose goal is to create a neutral, open-architecture, industry-wide railcar telematics platform that will provide real-time information on railcar status, location and condition. She is leading the Watco Fleet Management and Mechanical teams’ installation of RailPulse sensors on company railcars; 150 cars have been equipped to date. Ewing is also a member of the League of Railway Women and serves on the Board for Women Helping Women in southeast Kansas.

Kari Gonzales, President and CEO, MxV Rail

Gonzales has been a part of Pueblo, Colo.-based MxV Rail (formerly Transportation Technology Center, Inc., or TTCI) since 2000, when she started as a student intern. She was hired full-time in 2002 as a research engineer, responsible for several projects that continue to impact the industry today, including foundational work for Brake Health Effectiveness testing; development, testing and evaluation of Machine Vision System algorithms intended to inspect rolling stock underbody structural components; development of an ultrasonic-based cracked wheel detection system that can scan trains in motion; and leadership of the software development team, including new developments in NUCARS® and TOES. In 2012, Gonzales was the first employee selected for the Railroad Exchange Program; she and her young family relocated to BNSF’s Dallas/Fort Worth facility where she worked for a year with the Condition-Based Maintenance team. Upon her return to Colorado, she managed the Association of American Railroads’ Equipment Engineering Committee, and revamped the Internal Research and Development program. In 2021, Gonzales became the first Latina to assume leadership of the 40-year-old organization. Soon after, she led the multi-million-dollar project to build a new full-scale test facility, taking just over one year to transition from packing to running the first test train on newly built track. Gonzales’s involvement in education and workforce development initiatives underscores her dedication to nurturing the next generation of rail professionals. She has partnered with Colorado State University Pueblo and Indian River State College to provide educational and training opportunities. Additionally, she has been involved with the League of Railway Women and the Parkview Hospital Foundation Board of Directors, and was recently named an inaugural Board Member for the Southern Colorado Institute of Transportation Technology at CSU Pueblo. Last year, Gonzales initiated the MxV Learning Institute, a 501 c3 non-profit designed to enhance and expand training opportunities for rail and hazmat first response professionals nationwide. Additionally, in 2021, she created “Pueblo Works,” a collaborative partnership between Pueblo School District 60 Paragon Online School and MxV Rail to help mentor high-risk youth and increase awareness of STEM field and other railroad career paths.

Cindy Greenwald, Power & Way Supervisor (Track & Structures), Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA)

Greenwald has served GCRTA for 23 years, earning her way up the ladder from entry-level track laborer to supervisor. She has reduced corrective maintenance work orders 5% annually and increased preventative maintenance inspections from 50% in 2015 to 98% currently, by developing and setting specific goals and metrics for her department to improve rail infrastructure. A certified track inspector, Greenwald aided in the 2013 development and implementation of the agency’s inspection and maintenance manual and has developed inspection tools and techniques that ensure current inspectors’ success. Additionally, under her direction, there has been an 80% increase in on-time inspection compliance. As the only female leader in the Track department, Greenwald has gained employee trust by showing how it’s done—and done right—in the field, according to her nominator. Following her participation in Frontline Supervisors Training at Cuyahoga Community College, she advocated for numerous employees to attend. Beyond her day-to-day responsibilities, Greenwald serves as Secretary of GCRTA’s Elevating Women Together Employee Resource Group; takes part in the agency’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee; and volunteers at local food banks.

Raishea Haines, Superintendent of Transportation, Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH)

Haines has been part of the PATH family for 17 years, starting as a passenger agent, transitioning to an engineer, and rising to her current role, charged with transportation operations for a railroad that serves 200,000-plus riders each weekday. Some 400 employees are under her direction, and she works collaboratively with regional rail transit partners New York MTA and NJ Transit, plus labor unions. As a leader, she is reasonable, relatable and calm, as well as tough and transparent, according to Clarelle DeGraffe, PATH Director/General Manager. Those attributes were put to the test during the pandemic as the agency faced severe employee, supply and other resource shortages, yet was able to maintain near-100% service levels. Haines worked 24/7 to make sure PATH provided full-schedule coverage, as well as a clean, safe travel environment. Now under way at PATH is a $1 billion improvement program that includes a 20% increase in rolling stock and longer trainsets; expanded station platforms; and a new CBTC signal system that will allow more frequent train service. Haines is among the PATH leaders making sure the program objectives are met and is one of the key reasons that PATH earned an APTA Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award for 2022, DeGraffe said. Haines also supports the community and industry by serving as a mentor for the Schools That Can organization and WTS Board Member.

Jennifer Hamann, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Union Pacific (UP)

Appointed to her current role in 2020, Hamann is UP’s first female CFO, responsible for managing all facets of financial activities, controls, and policies, including planning and analysis, accounting, tax, real estate, investor relations, treasury, supply, and audit. Under her leadership, UP has experienced a 17% boost in operating income and a 35% increase in earnings per share, and the return on invested capital went up 2.4 points from 2019 through 2022. In July 2022, Hamann represented all railroads during the PEB hearings, which eventually resulted in the carriers and unions reaching a tentative agreement and averting a work stoppage. The agreement led to many quality-of-life improvements for union employees. According to Hamann’s nominator, employees consistently comment on how connected they feel to the pulse of UP and Finance because of Hamann’s efforts to build an engaged and inclusive team. Those include departmental staff meetings and town halls that allow for collaboration and questions, plus weekly emails. Hamann began her UP career in 1992 as a member of the audit staff and moved on to HR and Investor Relations. In 2011, she was named the first female General Auditor of the Corporate Audit staff. Hamann is on the Boards of Grupo Ferroviario Mexicano, Steel Dynamics and TTX Co., and is Executive Sponsor of UP’s Employee Resource Group for women.

Lenora Isaac, Director of Rail and Transit Projects, RailPros

Isaac’s 35-plus-year transit career covers all aspects of program management. She has directed rail station, facility and infrastructure projects totaling some $7.72 billion. Prior to joining RailPros, she supported rail operations program management at NJ Transit, where she displayed exceptional problem-solving skills, according to her nominator. Isaac developed and maintained a 250-task program master schedule for reporting and held regular status meetings with every project manager or responsible department. When issues were identified, she met with outside agencies, including Amtrak and MTA’s Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Railroad, to resolve them. During a recent capital program, Isaac directed teams of in-house and consultant staff—from developing and monitoring project scopes to scheduling and budgeting—to ensure project delivery. At the same time, she maintained effective communication with federal and state agencies, local municipalities, transportation agencies, and other railroads to ensure coordination and regulatory compliance. Isaac is a member of the St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in New Jersey, where she serves as a Trustee, is part of the ministry partnering with Montclair Emergency Services for Hope, and chairs the Property Task Force responsible for a proposed project to construct affordable housing.

Dee Leggett, Executive Vice President/Chief Development Officer, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART)

Leggett has established herself in the rail industry by helping to start up or provide technical support for DCTA’s A-train, Trinity Metro’s TexRail, Capital Metro’s Red Line, and Trinity Railway Express in Texas; leading DART’s $2 billion, 26-mile Silver Line Commuter Rail project, which is slated to launch in 2025; managing DART’s rail rights-of-way; establishing a state-of-good-repair program for Trinity Railway Express; providing project management and operations consulting services for commuter rail system start-ups across the U.S.; and overseeing regulatory compliance of transit management properties in the U.S., Canada and Panama. When Leggett became Silver Line Project Executive, the project was behind schedule and over budget, and had strained relationships with project stakeholders and a development team in transition. She refocused the communication strategy to improve relationships with city staff and contractors; helped to guide political strategy related to third-party obstacles; and successfully negotiated critical issues with municipal and freight partners. The Silver Line project is now back on track. Leggett is a Board Advisor for Young Professionals in Transportation International and works with consultants and contractors to ensure that women and minorities have opportunities to participate in the management, design and construction of DART projects.

Erin O’Brien, Associate General Counsel and Head of Litigation, CSX

O’Brien has successfully managed, overseen, and partnered on litigation and arbitrations, and leads CSX’s efforts to defend against punitive damages and to create good law for the industry. She led CSX’s efforts in South Carolina to combat forum shopping through the courts that ultimately led to a new venue statute, and worked closely with the American Tort Reform Association to pass the Trespasser Responsibility Act. O’Brien has also been a major contributor to CSX’s trial strategy, which is based on rigorously defending the company’s reputation, people and resources in the face of specious litigation. Although the company works hard to resolve cases where the facts show that mistakes were made, O’Brien and her team purposefully try cases when the company believes it is in the right, even if some cases are lost. CSX’s litigation success speaks to the effectiveness of this approach, according to her nominator. O’Brien also gives back. She serves as Executive Sponsor of CSX’s Women’s Business Resource Group and has led the Class I’s pro bono efforts at the Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, helping families appoint guardian advocates for special needs children and recruiting colleagues to do the same. Recognizing that railroads must have a voice in Washington and in state legislatures, O’Brien is also the Law Department Ambassador for CSX’s voluntary employee PAC, the Good Government Fund.

La Shelle Pearson, Officer Signals and Communications Projects, CN

Pearson became Engineering Project Officer in CN’s Signals and Communications department in 2020. She oversees special capital projects that minimize risk and improve safety. The railroad’s Wheel Impact Load Detection and Cracked Rim Detection system projects—both of which help automate inspections and prevent derailments—faced numerous challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic. But Pearson and her team overcame them. As a woman who indirectly led an all-male team on the Wheel Impact Load Detection System project, Pearson established credibility, answering technical questions and providing clear, detailed instructions on what she required. Throughout the project, she kept in contact with field personnel to ensure they worked efficiently and effectively and had everything they needed to complete the job safely. She also kept all stakeholders informed. The project was completed on time and under budget with three system installations. Another system is slated to be installed this year. Prior to joining CN, Pearson was Infrastructure Manager for Memphis (Tenn.) Area Transit Authority, where she led the restoration of the city’s trolley system. Today, she is Chair of the CN Women’s Employee Resource Group and led the development of its mentorship program. She is also Chair of Kennedy Cares, which provides blankets and self-care items to the homeless community in Jackson, Tenn.

Catherine Pushchak, Assistant General Counsel of Litigation, Genesee & Wyoming Railroad Services, Inc. (G&W)

When Pushchak joined G&W 10 years ago, she focused on litigation. Since then, her practice has grown to include most matters involving the Transportation craft, and she has a strong understanding of preemption and environmental issues. She works to ensure that G&W’s railroads conduct business ethically and responsibly, in accordance with applicable law. Pushchak demonstrated her managerial acumen when she saw the need for a dedicated claims team and in 2021 established G&W’s Claims and Risk Management department. Under her leadership, that department focuses on resolving employee and third-party claims in a fair manner so that G&W’s railroad operating teams can keep trains running. Recently, she resolved a yearslong impasse by liaising with government agencies, insurance brokers, and operating personnel and devising an insurance solution that will enable one of G&W’s Ohio railroads to permit a cross-country trail. Pushchak also spearheaded a meeting with railroad management and the real estate, communications, and public affairs teams to determine how they could provide a community member living along a subsidiary’s lines with safe and legal right-of-way access while also educating the public. Having Ukrainian parents, Pushchak was integral to G&W’s collective efforts to support the people of Ukraine in 2022.

Maite Ramos Gómez, Managing Director, Alstom Mexico

The first woman to head Alstom Mexico and considered one of Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women, Ramos Gómez is making her mark in the industry. She has more than 20 years’ experience developing and implementing transportation and mass urban mobility projects in Mexico and Central and Latin America, and most recently led the Tren Maya project, prioritizing the development of railway infrastructure that not only met the highest quality standards, but also preserved local character. As part of COPARMEX Mexico City, an independent, non-partisan and voluntary employers’ union, Ramos Gómez founded the Commission of Mobility, which is responsible for analyzing, proposing, and promoting public policies and actions related to urban mobility in Mexico. Specializing in railway signaling, ATS, OCC, toll systems, and collection and passenger information systems, Ramos Gómez has served as a professor at Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, where she holds a degree, and at Universidad Anahuac. In 2022, she was the first Mexican woman to receive a Medal of Merit from the French Senate. “Alstom Mexico’s partnerships with passenger and freight train operators demonstrate our commitment to the progress of Mexico,” Ramos Gómez tells Railway Age. “We have a team of more than 1,700 employees, whom we continuously train to positively impact their personal and professional evolution.”

Tamara Sajic, Assistant Director Analytics, Analytics Op Stan & Rules, Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC)

Sajic contributes not only to the industry, but also to her community. Throughout 2020, she developed unique solutions to support preventative locomotive maintenance using Regression Analysis and Machine Learning algorithms for Canadian Pacific, which earlier this year merged with Kansas City Southern (KCS) to form CPKC. This work led to a significant decrease in locomotive service interruptions and delays. Today, the CPKC Locomotive department has internalized locomotive reliability and maintenance as a daily process that will be integrated into legacy KCS practice. In 2021, Sajic and her team internalized contract maintenance using analytical and statistical modeling—saving the company some $2 million per year. She was awarded a 2021 CEO Award for Excellence for her efforts. Sajic also developed an enhanced trending algorithm to detect equipment failure trends and forecast failure dates. In 2022, she led the successful launch of Locomotive Voice and Video Recorders, as required by the Canadian government. In just nine months, 504 locomotives were equipped with the technology, which is now expanding to the legacy KCS fleet. Sajic is among the railroad’s derailment analysis leaders. Additionally, she has volunteered at the Calgary Immigration Center.

Beth Smith, Executive Vice President–Freight Car, Leasing & Recycling, Progress Rail, a Caterpillar Company

Smith started her railroad career as a health services manager for Progress Rail, leveraging her experience as an emergency room nurse and expertise in industrial health and safety. She was later promoted to lead the global Human Resources and Environmental, Health and Safety teams, and assumed responsibility for company communications and oversight of risks and regulatory compliance. Under her direction, Progress Rail’s recordable injury frequency (RIF) rate improved 68%—from 3.06 to 0.97; worker’s compensation costs were cut by 72%; and the company received Caterpillar’s Global EHS Platinum Award for ergonomic process improvement in 2013 and its Global EHS Silver Award for environmental sustainability in 2015. Smith also served as Project Manager for Progress Rail’s U.S. mobile training center, working on its design, purchase and implementation. During her tenure, she has worked to transition manual processes to automated processes, improving efficiencies in multiple Progress Rail departments. Smith also gives back. She participates in annual medical mission trips to Ecuador providing free healthcare to women and children. Additionally, she serves on the Boards of Real Life Pregnancy Centers, mentoring at-risk young mothers and teens; Court Appointed Juvenile Advocates; and Caterpillar’s Disabled Employees’ Employee Resource Group.

Paula Taylor, Assistant Supervisor of Locomotive Engineers, Metra (Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation)

Taylor began her railroad career 10 years ago as a Certified Conductor, and advanced to Locomotive Engineer, taking pride in delivering a smooth, reliable ride for commuters, while also maintaining a focus on safety and adhering to industry regulations. Recognizing her dedication and expertise, Metra elevated Taylor to her current position training future engineer candidates. She has developed comprehensive education programs, conducted hands-on instruction, and provided guidance and support to ensure successful candidate development. Taylor has gained the respect and recognition of colleagues and superiors alike by consistently delivering high-quality work and demonstrating resilience, determination, and a strong work ethic. Additionally, she has served as Vice President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division 131, and Vice President and Welfare Chairman of the National Association of Railway Business Women. Taylor actively seeks opportunities to empower and support women in the industry and to serve her community. She has participated in mentorship programs and networking events to share her experiences and provide guidance to aspiring women professionals. Taylor also volunteers at Sojourner Truth House, Night Ministry, and Sarah’s Circle, among other organizations.

Nicole (Niki) Theophilus, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Wabtec

Theophilus joined Wabtec in 2020, a year after the company completed its merger with GE Transportation. She and her team oversaw the complicated melding of two global companies, standardizing processes, advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives, and setting the foundation for the “One Wabtec” culture. Under her direction, the company has created seven Employee Resource Groups; established the position of Global D&I Leader and an executive-led D&I Council; and launched a global Mission, Vision, and Values framework. As a result of this commitment to inclusion, 55% of Wabtec Board Members are diverse, surpassing the S&P 500 average of 46%. Wabtec has also been recognized as an employer of choice, earning such recent distinctions as the 2023 Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion (Disability Equality Index); 2023 Best Companies for LGBTQIA+ People to Work (100% HRC Equality Brazil); and 2022 Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality (HRC Equality Mexico). Theophilus has more than 25 years of leadership experience in both human resources and legal departments. Prior to joining Wabtec, she served at ConAgra and at West Corporation. Theophilus is active in the community. She is Director of the Wabtec Foundation; helps lead Wabtec’s annual United Way drive; and serves as a Director and Vice Chair for the Midwest Housing Equity Group.

Jannet Walker-Ford, Senior Vice President and National Transit and Rail Market Lead, WSP

This 28-year industry veteran has been recognized as Outstanding Transportation Business Member of the Year by APTA (2022), as Woman of the Year by WTS Northeast Florida (2021), and as a Women Who Move the Nation Honoree by COMTO (2019), among other honors. Walker-Ford is an expert in management consulting, technology, mobility, and transportation systems, and a tireless advocate for equity in transportation and the power of rail and transit to transform communities, strengthen regions and connect the nation. At WSP, Walker-Ford is responsible for growing the firm’s business in national transit and rail markets. She leads a team of 300-plus employees with gratitude, always recognizing them—as well as clients and industry partners—for their contributions. Walker-Ford has elevated many minority women and businesses and steadfastly supported their growth. She is Chair of WTS International’s Board of Directors (2022-24) and a Board Officer of the American Public Transportation Foundation, promoting public transit careers and providing scholarships to and engagement opportunities for young professionals and students. Additionally, she has served as a delegate for APTA study missions and was selected for the Federal Transit Administration Delegation for International Transit Studies Mission to Asia.

Kirsten Watson, Vice President Government Relations and Transit Market Sector Leader, AECOM

As an experienced transit executive, Watson advises AECOM clients on issues of transit planning, customer service, operations and maintenance strategies, and the operational readiness for new transit services. Watson served previously as Deputy CEO of Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), the first woman to hold this most senior operations role. She provided leadership on PRESTO farecard system implementation; King Street streetcar right-of-way improvements; Automatic Train Control installation on Line 1; One Person Train Operation implementation on Line 1; and subway and light rail transit expansion operation. Watson also served the Province of Ontario as Deputy Director and acting Director of Dispute Resolution Services for the Ministry of Labor. She is the Toronto Area Chapter President for WTS. “Kirsten joined TTC in 2000 and led this organization with commitment and integrity, always putting other people first,” said TTC CEO Rick Leary. “She once wrote, ‘Transit isn’t easy. But that’s what makes it exciting! I love the complex issues that require efficient, effective, and quality execution. It’s about understanding priorities, working with stakeholders, building trust, and having an unwavering belief that there is always a better way. I thrive on making order out of chaos.’ It’s that attitude that allowed her to excel in every position she held at TTC.” Watson is a mentor to women and men at TTC, AECOM, and within the industry. 

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