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25 UNDER 40

Written by Railway Age Staff
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RAILWAY AGE FEBRUARY 2022 ISSUE: Railway Age is proud to recognize 25 “Fast Trackers” Under 40 in 2022.

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

Established in 2016, the annual awards are presented to railroaders under the age of 40 in the United States, Canada and/or Mexico for making an impact in their respective fields or within their company.

For the 2022 program, Railway Age boosted the number of honorees from 20 to 25, due to a growing number of entries as well as top candidates. This year’s honorees were selected from freight and passenger railroads; government entities; and the supplier, contractor and consultant sectors. They were required to be under 40 as of Jan. 1, 2022, and were judged on criteria such as industry experience and education, leadership skills—which increasingly include diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) goals supporting both company and industry efforts—industry contributions, and community service involvement.

“Our seventh-annual awards program honorees not only represent the strength and growth of our industry, but also the ‘best of the best,’ and come from the highest pool of entries we have ever had—more than 120,” Railway Age Publisher Jonathan Chalon said.

“The quality of nominations continues to increase,” said program judge and Michigan State Center for Railway Research & Education Director Nick Little, who noted that the number of female candidates has also gone up as have submissions reflecting the importance of supply chain, service and mobility efforts. “It is amazing what can be achieved, the contributions to the railway industry as a whole, and the impact on society through giving back. And this is done alongside family obligations at a time when the pandemic has changed the way we live. I look forward to next year’s competition!”

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.

Folu Adepitan, Senior Sales Account Executive, Kansas City Southern (KCS)

A 15-year railroader, Adepitan lives the “customer focus” mission. She has been commended by KCS management for supporting customers while meeting the company’s Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) directive of improved yard management. For instance, she incorporated her customers’ concerns about variable invoicing while aligning the demurrage and switching fees at their facility. The head of KCS’s Customer Service department in Mexico also appreciates her dedication: “My team and I recognize that you look out for and advocate for your customers as well as work to ensure proper business practices. Your actions reflect great values of team work and customer focus.” Adepitan credits her success to training and learning more about self-awareness and relating to others—from customers to colleagues. Additionally, she is a Southwest Association of Rail Shippers Board Member; an Operation Lifesaver presenter; and a leader in Girl Scouts of the United States of America, helping girls develop their full potential. 

Will Baker, Vice President-Rail Sales, Evraz

Baker has been instrumental in Evraz’s development and introduction of APEX G2 Rail in North America. Additionally, he served as the architect of long-term rail supply contracts with Class I railroads that justified the construction of a new $500 million-plus, solar-powered long rail mill (320-foot rails) in Pueblo, Colo. Working closely with customers throughout North and South America, Baker developed the company’s “Mill to Milepost” delivery concept. He also worked proactively to ensure customers received critical shipments when an accident at Evraz NA’s Electric Arc Furnace cut steel production for a month last year, and adjusted schedules until the company could catch up on orders. Baker not only is active on the NAMRC membership committee and in the NRC, but also is involved in the Colorado State University-Pueblo mentor-match program, serves as an Advisory Board Member for CSU’s Hasan School of Business, and participates in the Evraz New Leaders program. 

Zachary Boehme, Assistant Vice President-Industrial Development, Genesee & Wyoming Railroad Services, Inc. (G&W)

Boehme began his eight-year rail industry career as a Conductor/Engineer, rising through the ranks to Trainmaster, Project Manager and Manager of Sales and Marketing. In his present role, he partners with existing customers interested in expanding their operations on G&W railroads, and works with national site consultants as well as state and local economic developers to bring new business opportunities to rail—without interrupting existing service. Specifically, he is creating transportation solutions for wind turbine power-generation and distribution facilities, which include hauling turbines whose blades can measure up to 243-feet long. In 2021, for instance, a customer invested more than $10 million in a new wind turbine distribution facility on G&W’s Illinois & Midland Railroad. Such projects have generated 7,526 carloads and more than $13 million in revenue since 2016. Boehme is a mentor with American Corporate Partners and a La Paz County (Ariz.) Economic Development Corporation Board Member. 

Damien Cantrell, Assistant Vice President-Rail and Liquids, Watco

Watco has put Cantrell’s leadership skills to work. In 2015, a large coking facility it was servicing in central Alabama struggled with safety issues; Cantrell improved operating practices within the plant, resulting in a decrease in derailments and Reportable Personal Injuries, and the Watco road is now a Jake Award recipient. Later, as GM of Watco’s Louisiana Southern, a major customer was unable to grow outbound business due to a boxcar shortage and sporadic car distribution; Cantrell engaged the shipper, Class I, and local and state governments to provide consistent service and invest additional capital in track and storage, resulting in customer plant expansion, increased traffic and faster transit times for railcar equipment. His team also completed more than $3 million in track/bridge repairs after flooding in 2016. In 2019, Cantrell took over rail operations at Watco’s Greens Port Terminal in Houston, converting a stagnant storage business handling 15,000 carloads per year into a high-output operation handling 45,000-plus carloads per year.

David F. Casaceli, Railroad Safety Specialist-Technical Training (Track), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Honorable Mention 2020

Since 2015, Casaceli has served as FRA’s subject-matter expert on regulations related to railroad construction and maintenance-of-way, including track safety standards and railroad workplace safety. He participated in negotiated rulemaking via the RSAC process and was selected for and has completed the agency’s leadership training program. Casaceli is spearheading the FRA Track and Roadway Workplace Safety Symposium, the first collaborative safety gathering specializing in track maintenance and construction groups. His accomplishments include a 34% reduction in defect ratio (defects per unit of track inspected), from 0.47 to 0.31; and development, with railroads, of a track inspector training program. As a Manager of Track Maintenance at Union Pacific, Casaceli helped reduce on-duty employee injuries 66%, from one per year to one total injury during his three-plus year tenure, and helped reduce track-caused derailments by 30%, with no main track derailments with a track cause. 

Ben Dobernecker, Project Director-Trainsets, Siemens Mobility

Dobernecker’s ability to be open-minded and listen and learn from others have been key to earning the trust of top transit agencies and operators. And due to his business background from the Berlin School of Economics, he can successfully translate how the right technology provides important economic benefits for rail—especially useful in rationalizing and securing a broader base of funding for rail projects, both from the government and the private sector. Dobernecker served as Project Lead for Siemens Mobility’s recent contract with Amtrak, not only to renew its fleets with diesel-electrics, but also to introduce multiple power sources, including electric only and now a hybrid lithium-titanate battery system. Additionally, he was part of the Siemens team that landed the VIA Rail Canada contract to replace its Quebec City-Windsor Corridor trainsets. While many assumed Canada-based Bombardier had a “lock” on the bid, Dobernecker focused the team on proving the strengths of Siemens technology. 

Shanda Durbin, Vice President-Human Resources, Herzog

Durbin got her start at Herzog as a receptionist, one week after graduating from Northwest Missouri State. She moved to the contracts department, and then began recruiting for positions in rail construction, passenger rail operations and maintenance services, and Class I and short line maintenance-of-way services. To keep pace with Herzog’s national growth, the company promoted Durbin to Lead Recruiter and transitioned to a centralized human resources department, which Durbin established with a staff of 12 to serve some 2,400 employees. She streamlined communications with applicants and new hires, improved employee benefit program administration, and developed dashboard reporting statistics. She took on her current role in 2020 at age 33, and ensures that talent acquisition; training and development; compensation and benefits; performance management; and enterprise guidelines are aligned with Herzog’s long-term goals. In April 2021, Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons appointed Durbin to serve on the NMS Board of Regents.

LaVoy Golden, Regional Operations Manager, CSX

Golden has held several positions at CSX—from Conductor and Manager of Train Operation to Terminal Operations Supervisor, Terminal Manager and Regional Operations Manager. He helped design, set up and run one of the most advanced intermodal terminals in the U.S., CSXIT Fairburn in Georgia, and has worked on several projects to boost CSX productivity. In 2018 as a subject-matter expert, Golden visited all CSX terminals to roll out EDVIR, an app to track equipment health. It not only is changing the way Intermodal and Automotive run their equipment maintenance programs, but also is saving the company millions in equipment readiness. Currently, Golden is working with the Automotive Group to help advance automatic in-gate systems, among other measures. In addition to holding an associate degree from Columbia Southern University, he is Six Sigma certified. Golden is currently in the SOAR leadership program for African American men and a member of the CSX African American Inclusion Group. 

Cait Hicok, Product Team Lead, The Greenbrier Companies

Hicok’s contributions to developing an internal, cloud-based system to electronically capture tank car maintenance data at the shop-floor level, and her ability to design a system that integrates this data with AAR UMLER data, Car Repair Billing Data and other data has helped Greenbrier and several external customers find strengths and weaknesses in their respective programs. In several cases, using the collected data, Greenbrier was able to extend equipment inspection and test intervals, which improved asset uptime and reduced maintenance spend. Because developing a maintenance data collection system that synchronizes and exchanges data with other systems resulted in programming and deployment challenges at the shop-floor level, Hicok was instrumental in hosting a series of web-based forums, collaborating with users and identifying and fixing software issues. Outside of work, Hicok is Co-Chair of Drake University’s regional alumni association, helping first-generation students like her, navigate the admissions process. 

Matthew Hornak, Senior Manager-GTA (Greater Toronto Area) Intermodal Operations, CN

Hornak has made a number of noteworthy contributions at CN. He was a key leader in the Smart Terminal implementation at Brampton in 2019 and Malport in 2020. This automation initiative at intermodal facilities handling domestic and international traffic has led to significant gains in productivity, capacity and efficiency. The yard layout changes and reduction in lifts has allowed CN’s front-line supervisors to reduce manual work and lead through data and analytics. Hornak’s goal is to complete implementation at all GTA terminals by the end of 2022. Hornak was also instrumental in creating the Intermodal Supervisor Development Program, a yearlong training program that has produced 20 graduates over two sessions, eight of whom have been promoted within the Multimodal department. As well, Hornak collaborated with his team to alleviate congestion by stacking “mega-piles” for specific trucking companies; this allowed a terminal to serve the first container on top, reducing unproductive lifts.

Tiffani Jenkins, Director-Signaling Systems Renewal Program (SSRP), Office of Capital Program Delivery, Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA)

Following graduation from Missouri University of Science and Technology, Jenkins joined WMATA as a Power Systems Engineer. She was quickly promoted to Assistant Superintendent of the Maintenance Operational Control Center (MOC) and to Superintendent of the MOC and Track Access team, where she created a process that resulted in a 25% increase in on-track productivity and optimized WMATA’s work zone practices. Jenkins went on to become Safety Operations Manager, leading a corporate-wide fatigue management effort that resulted in a 57% decrease in fatigue-related accidents. As Project Manager for Safe Track, the agency’s largest rail renewal project that included replacing one-third of its track infrastructure, she completed three years’ worth of work in just one year. In her current role, Jenkins has grown the SSRP department to more 50 members, with an eye toward diversity and inclusion, and is developing the implementation strategy for upgrading WMATA’s signaling system, a $3 billion initiative.

Milan Karunaratne, Director-Digital Advanced Technologies and Applied Innovation, Wabtec

Early in his career at GE Transportation (now Wabtec), Karunaratne directed the technology validation of the industry’s first Tier 4 locomotive. He also led the development of 30-plus diagnostic algorithms to help increase the diagnostic capability on locomotive products. Karunaratne has since formed the Digital Applied Innovation team at Wabtec to help build Artificial Intelligence and Big Data-enabled digital solutions. The group has grown to 15 data scientists and machine learning engineers working on projects ranging from virtual simulations on billions of rows of real-world data to help improve software quality and speed, to intelligent diagnostics that have made it on board Wabtec’s locomotive controllers for safer and more predictable system health. The most recent products have centered on computer vision in the services, transit and digital electronic businesses to drive automation in inspection, visibility and asset tracking. Karunaratne holds more than 20  patents in advanced diagnostics for locomotive systems and other rail innovations. 

Jonathan Kirby, Chief Road Foreman-PTC, New Jersey Transit (NJT)

A certified locomotive engineer and designated supervisor of locomotive engineers, Kirby has been an active participant in PTC development and deployment at NJT since 2017, and created the processes and procedures that all train crews used to integrate PTC into normal operations. In charge of testing, he coordinated with the contractor and prime subcontractor, mechanical department, and dispatchers, and he organized the crews running trains 24/7; he also helped analyze test results, adding his operational experience to the process. Without Kirby’s drive, organizational skills, constant communication with all parties, personnel management and leadership, NJT would have been far more at risk of not making the PTC deadline, according to the agency. Kirby has participated in Northeast Corridor-wide initiatives to improve PTC system operation and comply with FRA regulations, and in a working group of the seven host railroads operating ACSES/ASES-type PTC systems.

Stephanie Kuntzman, General Director-Consumer Products, BNSF

Kuntzman began her railroad career as an intern in BNSF’s Transportation department, moving to full-time work as a management trainee and then as a Trainmaster in Seattle, Wash. She has held multiple sales and marketing roles with increasing responsibility over the past 10 years in both the Industrial Products and Consumer Products business groups. As General Director-Domestic Intermodal, her team was charged with a $2.1 billion customer portfolio in one of BNSF’s fastest-growing business segments supporting e-commerce retail freight. Kuntzman recently transitioned to her current role leading BNSF’s efforts to increase digital integration across the intermodal supply chain. This includes the integration of information, processes and technology between BNSF, shippers and intermodal partners to drive greater visibility, fluidity and capacity. Additionally, she has participated in the railroad’s mentoring program, and volunteers for the Tarrant Area Food Bank and the Refugee Services of Texas.

David Lallier, District Manager, Ontario Northland Transportation Commission

Born and raised in northern Ontario, Lallier worked in the forestry industry before joining Ontario Northland as General Track Laborer. He worked his way up to Section and Track Technician, Foreman, Track Inspector, and District Manager, where he is now responsible for track performance. In 2021, Lallier and his team developed a plan for the removal of all slow orders in the district by fall; they succeeded. Even though Lallier is a 15-year railroad veteran, he is challenged with leading employees with more experience than he. His solution: listening to his team members and using positive reinforcement. Lallier always tries to reframe a new task or process and/or explain a new tool or piece of machinery so everyone can understand the efficiencies and safety benefits. Additionally, Lallier has served as Co-Chair of the Health and Safety Committee, and holds such certifications as MTR-Track Safety, CRO Rules, A100, and transportation of dangerous goods. 

Eilidh McGregor, Senior Engineer (Transit), Hatch Ltd.

In 2021, McGregor was recognized with a Hatch Leadership Award for successfully heading a remote team during the pandemic and delivering project milestones that met clients’ expectations. She also established the company’s Rail and Transit Graduate Development program in collaboration with regional leadership and now serves as Chair. Over the past year, McGregor acted as the Technical Procurement Lead for Metrolinx on multiple new station and existing station renovation projects using the design-build model, and as the Procurement Lead of a design-bid-build package for a complex mixed-use rail corridor. A thought leader in alternative procurement strategies, McGregor gives presentations internally to business leaders at the regional and global levels on the benefits and risks of project delivery for design-build and public-private partnership (P3) models. Additionally, she is Treasurer of a local Girl Guides chapter, fostering the next generation of female leaders. 

Clayton Miller, Product Manager-Asset Characteristics, Railinc

A four-year railroader, Miller has worked with a Railinc team on a variety of projects to improve component tracking, tank car services and interline service agreements. They have also added wind speed/direction data to the AskRail app, which already provided hazmat cargo data, the location of at-risk geographic features and structures, and the position of hazmat railcars within a train to train crews and emergency responders at the site of an incident. Additionally, due to his team’s efforts, when Class I’s update a general order, Rail Document Interchange instantaneously transmits it across all North American railroads. Two years ago, when UN hazmat codes were issued between updates of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s Emergency Response Guidebook for first responders, Miller hand-built initial data files to provide the codes to railroads and first responders, while the team worked on the long-term solution, updating all industry files, which took months. 

Cassandra Mullee, Director-Chicago Transportation Coordination Office, Norfolk Southern (NS)

Mullee’s goal is to be an operations leader, cultivating and retaining talent to create a sustainable future for the rail industry. She was the first woman at NS to lead a Top 4 system classification yard (Chattanooga, Tenn.). While working in NS Network Optimization (Service Design) roles, Mullee led initiatives on work time adherence (line of road vs. terminal work event), which transitioned into a corporate KPI-assigned service for T&E employees; and on ensuring districts maintain a balanced train plan, for which she helped develop an IT process to facilitate the efficient utilization of assets (manpower, decrease in deadheads/detention), while improving T&E employee lifestyle by providing a train schedule. When crude/ethanol traffic wasn’t moving efficiently, Mullee analyzed market conditions and corridor capacity, and proposed and executed a bulk-slotting plan through the Chicago gateway, realizing substantial cost savings and improving network fluidity. A similar approach was taken with the recent increase in coal volume. 

Jason Murray, Director-Construction Observation, RailPros

In eight years of railroading, Murray has led process improvements in railroad logistics, railroad utility permitting and utility construction on railroad right of way. He was recruited by Union Pacific while at Michigan State, getting his start as a Logistics Coordinator. Two years later, he was hired into the Real Estate department and quickly established himself as leader in the Utility Group, volunteering to direct the team’s Standard Operating Procedures and Training Manual rewrite and serving as a liaison with the Engineering department. His desire to understand  the industry has been critical to his rapid growth, as has his willingness to take on additional tasks, earning him two promotions in just four years. In 2018, Murray became a Utility Observation Manager at RailPros. Here, he has streamlined and grown a fledgling program into one of the fastest growing business units at the company. In just a few years, the Construction Observation program has grown to serve UP plus another Class I railroad and short lines. 

Christina Roberts, Treasurer, Patriot Rail Company

For eight years, Roberts has rapidly assumed progressive responsibilities from Accounting Manager and Director of Accounting to Assistant Controller. Now as Treasurer, an executive leadership role, she not only oversees all cash and debt management and leads payroll and accounts payable, but also serves as the Finance department leader for all special projects, including acquisitions, new railroad integrations and other strategic transactions. As part of the Salt Lake Garfield & Western Railroad acquisition in 2020, Roberts led the incremental $20 million debt raise and coordinated an equity capital injection to support deal closure; she also drove cash management, payroll and accounts payable processes to integrate the railroad. As part of the Patriot Ports divestiture last year, Roberts spearheaded all financial due diligence requests, while maintaining professionalism and discretion. Finally as part of Patriot’s debt restructuring in 2021, she accomplished two debt repricings that together will save the company more than $3 million annually in interest expense. 

Zach Russell, Assistant Vice President-Asset Planning, Union Pacific (UP)

Since joining UP in 2006, Russell has worked in equipment maintenance; field and terminal, intermodal, and network operations; asset planning; and at the Harriman Dispatching Center. As General Superintendent of Premium Operations in 2019, Russell played a key role in UP’s implementation of PSR; under his direction, the railroad yielded numerous intermodal terminal consolidations, improved train size productivity, and increased equipment velocity, all while maintaining service reliability. Russell took on his current role during the pandemic, managing the distribution of the Intermodal and Automotive car fleets and distribution and maintenance of UP’s intermodal container and chassis fleet in the U.S. and Mexico. He is now leading initiatives to improve intermodal inventory automation and to deploy lift and drayage equipment telematics. Additionally, Russell is directing development of an intermodal excellence training program that will be rolled out to the field operating team in 2022. 

Sam Sargent, Director-Strategy, Capital Metro

At Capital Metro in Austin, Tex., Sargent has worked hand-in-hand with the freight and commuter rail operation to secure federal grants for new infrastructure and Positive Train Control, and state grants for a new terminal commuter station. Between 2018 and 2020, he developed the successful strategy for Proposition A, Austin’s dedicated property tax to build a $7.1 billion light rail system. Following voter approval, Sargent worked with policymakers and Capital Metro’s President and CEO to launch the Austin Transit Partnership (ATP), which will ultimately design, engineer and construct the light rail system. It is Sargent’s job to see ATP through the federal Capital Investment Grant process before Capital Metro begins light rail operations later this decade. A lifelong rail evangelist, he frequently presents on Project Connect and transit, and enjoys speaking with local high school and college students. “With the scale of our program in Austin, we need the best and brightest young people to help us build a new rail system,” he says. 

Thomas Stuebner, Senior Director-Labor Relations, Metra (Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation)

Bargaining had already been under way for more than six months when Stuebner left Metra’s Law Department to manage Labor Relations. He immediately began to compile industry data to formulate a plan. When one plan failed, he recommended pivots where he saw opportunity develop and managed to succeed in providing Metra with an employee-friendly agreement, which bettered prior benchmarks as well as management expectations. Stuebner’s efforts have led to stabilizing and settling 15 out of 17 bargaining agreements; the vast majority of which were ratified under seven-year terms. Stuebner strives to hear all opinions before acting, and focuses on developing and mentoring his staff. When he joined Labor Relations, he immediately held regular meetings with employees to discuss what they accomplished, where they were blocked, and what they intended to do (SCRUM) in a non-judgmental space. Stuebner also continues to guide the Law Department’s less-experienced attorneys. 

Lionel Thompson, Assistant Roadmaster, Florida Central Railroad Company

After working full time to pay his way through Florida A&M, Thompson joined NS’s management training program and became an Assistant Track Supervisor, with Pennsylvania and Georgia assignments. In 2018, he returned to his hometown, Apopka, Fla., where he grew up next to the Florida Central main line and began leading the short line’s maintenance-of-way team. Among his accomplishments: helping holding company Regional Rail reduce derailments by 50% in 2021 across its Southern Region; working to improve track inspections and to provide focused maintenance work on the more than 200 miles of track the company operates in Florida; and ensuring the company’s Bartow Airport Industrial Park rail project was completed on time and under budget. Thompson received a scholarship last year through the ASLRRA Short Line Education Fund, which allowed him to take a University of Tennessee-Knoxville Railroad Track Inspection and Safety Standards course. His goal is to become a short line General Manager. 

Nicholas C. Walker, Vice President Operations-West, Canadian Pacific (CP)

Walker started his railroad career as a Canadian Pacific Conductor right out of high school, and took on a variety of roles over the next 16 years to learn more about the network. In June 2016, he was promoted from Assistant Superintendent to Superintendent and given an extraordinary task: turn around the Bensenville, Ill., terminal. Walker started by building a team and bringing together T&E, Mechanical and Engineering to create a plan. He also collaborated with union leaders and management to improve communication and to create an environment where at-risk behaviors and locations could be addressed in real time. Due to these efforts, Bensenville saw a 32.5% improvement in personal injury frequency, and an overall service improvement, with fourth-quarter Trip Plan performance at 97.7%. Additionally, cars handled per on-duty hour had a 9.2% improvement in 2016 with a 14.5% increase in the second half of the year. This success led to CP naming Walker Railroader of the Year and Bensenville terminal, Terminal of the Year.

Railway Age’s 2021 “Fast Trackers” 20 Under 40 Honorees
Railway Age’s 2020 “Fast Trackers” 10 Under 40 Honorees
Railway Age’s 2019 “Fast Trackers” 10 Under 40 Honorees
Railway Age’s 2018 “Fast Trackers” 10 Under 40 Honorees
Railway Age’s 2017 “Fast Trackers” 10 Under 40 Honorees


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