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25 Under 40: Part 4 of 4

Written by Railway Age Staff
Shutterstock/ Kikujiarm

Shutterstock/ Kikujiarm

RAILWAY AGE, FEBRUARY 2024 ISSUE: Railway Age is proud to recognize 25 ‘Fast Trackers’ Under 40 in 2024.

Railway Age is honoring 25 “Fast Trackers” for this year’s 25 Under 40 awards program.

Established in 2016, our 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. Candidates, who had to be under the age of 40 as of  Jan. 1, 2024, were judged on criteria that included industry experience and education, leadership skills, industry contributions, and community service involvement.


Shutterstock/ Monton Tiemrak

“The field was strong, which bodes well for the future,” said Michigan State Center for Railway & Education Director Nick Little, program judge. “This year, there was a noticeable reduction in IT people as these skills clearly become assimilated into the more traditional roles. Many nominees talked about internal and external cooperation and cross-functional leadership qualities. I continue to be amazed by the contributions these young people have made in their careers alongside maintaining quality of life. Ten of the 25 are female, which says a lot about the quality of women in rail today. The range of backgrounds and skills range from locomotive engineer to civil engineer and from project leader to operations manager, and everything in between.”

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.

Stephanie Roop, Assistant Vice President Strategy & Planning, Norfolk Southern

As Assistant Vice President of Strategy and Planning at Norfolk Southern (NS), Roop leads a team of 24 employees who manage market planning and analysis, strategy development, and technology product ownership for the company’s Industrial Products and Coal (IPCO) marketing division. In 2023, she led 22 strategic initiatives for the department. Throughout her career, Roop has served others by meaningfully contributing to their development and career advancement. As an active member of Women in NS, Roop participates in initiatives aimed at fostering diversity and inclusivity within the Class I. Her involvement in an Employee Resource Group (ERG), focused on cultivating an inclusive professional development environment, demonstrates her commitment to creating equitable opportunities for all professionals. From 2020-2021, Roop served as Co-Chair of NS’s Navigator Internship Program, where she helped roll out a new mentorship program for the railroad’s summer interns. Additionally, Roop is leading a team that created Marketing University, an internal training program for new hires coming into NS from outside the rail industry.

Pedro Tomás Santos, Chief Technology Officer, HGmotive (formerly CNGmotive)

Growing up under disadvantaged circumstances in the Dominican Republic, Santos started from adverse positions and managed to come out successful repeatedly in education, language, business and personal challenges. His contributions to the industry include more than 10 patents in rail innovations, including safety enhancements to enhance the crashworthiness of high-pressure tanks for the carriage of hydrogen and natural gas, among other high-pressure fluids. Santos developed the first alternative fuel tender that complies with AAR’s M-1004 and the requirements for crashworthiness as evaluated by FRA. He also developed and assisted in manufacturing, and sold, the first commercial alternative fuel tender for carriage of high-pressure hydrogen in the world, currently in operational testing on Canadian Pacific Kansas City. In 2012, Santos was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Energy list. He was also featured as a Top 20 Latino Innovator by NBC in September 2012 during National Hispanic Heritage Month and received Congressional recognition in 2014 as an immigrant entrepreneur by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Cecilia Schmierer, District Manager of Risk Management, CSX

Since starting her railroad career in 2015 as a Manger of Field Investigations, Schmierer quickly established herself as someone who is highly motivated in her work and constantly looking for ways that she and her team can add value to CSX and the industry. She has been promoted to District Manager of Risk Management and has contributed to the industry as a member of the AAR General Claims Conference RRB subcommittee, as well as the RRB 10(o) outreach audit team. Schmierer regularly trains with the various Operations departments and shares this knowledge with her Risk Management peers and team. She is known for her ability to network internally, as well as externally, breaking down barriers in many situations. Schmierer also has a unique ability to handle many of her claims directly, which fairly resolves claims for employees and CSX. She is heavily involved in the community and volunteers with many different organizations, including Operation Lifesaver (OLI). Schmierer continues to expand her knowledge of the industry and is eager to support CSX’s culture of teamork, communication and respect for the contributions of all employees in all roles.

Jonathan Sunde, Chief Engineer and Site Director, Strato, Inc.

Sunde made an early splash in the industry by developing what is now Amsted Rail’s IBEX Truck-Mounted Brake System. This was a significant development because it was the lightest brake system ever made and allowed Amsted to expand into international markets. Since joining Strato in 2017, Sunde’s many accomplishments include being responsible for the development of the company’s SCU (Selective Cushioning Unit draft system), which is currently performing well on almost 2,500 active freight cars. Sunde also serves on the AAR Damage Prevention Committee and is a presenter for numerous conferences and events. He currently leads a team of more than 15 engineers and is well-known in the industry for his patience and perseverance in educating both his team and the industry leaders in general. Every summer, he also brings 10 interns on from various universities. His goal is to educate these aspiring engineers, as well as give them real-world experience. He also hopes that by exposing these interns to the railroad world, that they will one day join our industry.

Jonathan Wnek, Project Manager, RailPros

In his 13-plus years in the rail industry, Wnek has been a major contributor to the construction of high-quality rail infrastructure across the U.S. As a specialist in freight and passenger rail corridor design, he has developed track design plans for projects in numerous states and supported many project areas, including track rehabilitation and track alignment. Wnek has embraced challenging tasks, such as designing track and roadbed in highly constrained areas and revising formerly shelved plans. He has supported high-speed rail projects in multiple capacities, including as Senior Engineer of track geometry for high-speed intercity passenger rail, and helped realign a FRA Class II corridor to a FRA Class 6 corridor, allowing passenger train speeds up to 110 mph. Wnek serves as Chair for AREMA Committee 17 – High Speed Rail Systems and has contributed to multiple publications. He currently serves as Project Manager for the Amtrak LiDAR Extraction Project, which includes extracting all track, signal, structural, station, and electric traction features and assets along the 410-route mile NEC. He is a licensed Professional Engineer in Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Tim Worrell, Assistant Superintendent, BNSF Railway

Worrell is a subject matter expert in many of BNSF’s continuous improvement initiatives, including leading an endeavor at Galesburg to optimize the railroad’s hump yards. He also played a pivotal role in the industry, leading innovation on the Logistics Park Chicago Intermodal Hub when BNSF shifted to an all-remote overhead crane operation in 2023. A fifth generation railroader, Worrell is active in mentorship, developing the next generation of leaders within BNSF. He also serves as Chairperson for the railroad’s Emerging Leaders business resource group. Worrell’s goal is to lead a division within BNSF as a General Manager. He truly believes that zero life altering injuries/fatalities is possible in the industry and does everything in his power to make that goal a reality for his team. Worrell recently hosted a customer symposium in Galesburg that was focused on service and safety. The format gave local customers the opportunity to learn more about Galesburg, voice concerns and/or solutions, and meet some of BNSF’s teammates while touring the yard. In 2021, he was named BNSF Employee of the Year. On July 26, 2023, Worrell and his team accomplished more than one million cars humped injury-free.

Abby Zach, General Manager Alton & Southern, Union Pacific Railroad

Zach began her career as an intern with UP in 2013. Upon graduating from the College of St. Mary in Omaha, Neb., she transitioned to a full-time role as a Transportation Associate in the Operations Management Training Program (OMT). After completing the program, Zach quickly proved herself as a leader and has had consistent promotions and job growth. In February 2022, she was promoted to General Manager of UP’s subsidiary railroad, the Alton & Southern. In this role, Zach continues to thrive as a female leader in a traditionally male-dominated field by breaking barriers and defying gender stereotypes. She is the definition of a trailblazer who inspires and encourages other women to consider careers in railroad operations, and actively engages with aspiring female professionals, sharing experiences and providing mentorship opportunities. Zach is a Board Member for the Leadership Council of Southwestern Illinois, and this past holiday season, she facilitated the promotion of Alton & Southern’s Toys for Tots drive. She plans to continue making significant contributions to the industry by driving innovation and implementing strategic initiatives.


Shutterstock/ Blue Titan

Click here to read Part 1 of 4

Click here to read Part 2 of 4

Click here to read Part 3 of 4

For more on the Railway Age Fast Trackers 25 Under 40 program, read:

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