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BNSF’s Katie Farmer Named Railway Age’s 2023 Railroader of the Year

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

Railway Age’s 2023 Railroader of the Year Award, the 60th annual, goes to a groundbreaking North American rail industry leader: BNSF President and Chief Executive Officer Katie M. Farmer.

“Katie Farmer permanently changed the industry for the better by becoming the first woman chief executive of a Class I railroad,” said Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono. “She took the throttle of North America’s largest railroad, in terms of both route-miles and revenue, during unprecedented times, in the midst of a global pandemic. She has continued to press forward during a challenging, post-pandemic period, dealing with global supply chain and service problems as well as a difficult labor market, focusing on building a better BNSF. Katie knows her railroad inside and out. She’s held leadership positions in every major function of the company, overseeing a 32,500-route-mile network that spans 28 states and touches three Canadian provinces. She has been working with her team to shape the legacy of BNSF, which has seen industry-leading growth. In late 2020, when she was named as the railroad’s next chief executive, she told Railway Age how proud she was of the men and women of BNSF—railroaders who ‘know how to do hard’—and looks forward to continuing BNSF’s success.”

“It is humbling to be included among a group of individuals who have accomplished so much for freight and passenger rail and have contributed to the success of today’s North American freight rail industry,” said Farmer. “I am honored to be named the 2023 Railroader of the Year. However, I view this as affirmation that BNSF is an industry leader, thanks to the men and women who I have worked alongside for more than 30 years. BNSF isn’t great because of the work of one person. BNSF is great because of the hard work and commitment day in and day out of 35,000 people who deliver on our promise to our customers.”

Katie Farmer was appointed BNSF President and CEO in January 2021. She has been with BNSF for more than 30 years, previously serving as Executive Vice President Operations since September 2018, where she oversaw the entire Operations organization. Farmer received a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Texas Christian University. Upon graduation, she began her career with BNSF predecessor Burlington Northern in 1992 as a management trainee in Fort Worth, Tex., following an internship in the Engineering department between her Junior and Senior years in college.

Farmer is the 9th person from BNSF or one of its predecessor railroads named Railroader of the Year in the award’s six-decade history: Louis W. Menk, Northern Pacific (1967); John S. Reed, Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (1970); Lawrence Cena, AT&SF (1981); Darius W. Gaskins, Jr., Burlington Northern (1988); Robert D. Krebs, AT&SF, and Gerald Grinstein, BN (1996); Matthew K. Rose, BNSF (2010); and her immediate predecessor, Carl R. Ice, BNSF (2016).

Railway Age’s Railroader of the Year Award

The Railroader of the Year Award was initiated by Modern Railroads magazine in 1964 as the “Man of the Year” award. Railway Age acquired Modern Railroads in 1991 and has presented the award annually since then.

  • 1964: D. W. Brosnan, Southern Railway System
  • 1965: Stuart T. Saunders, Pennsylvania Railroad Co.
  • 1966: Stuart T. Saunders, Pennsylvania Railroad Co.
  • 1967: Louis W. Menk, Northern Pacific Railway
  • 1968: William B. Johnson, Illinois Central Railroad
  • 1969: John W. Barriger, Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad
  • 1970: John S. Reed, Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway
  • 1971: Jervis Langdon, Jr., Penn Central Transportation Co.
  • 1972: Charles Luna, United Transportation Union
  • 1973: James B. Germany, Southern Pacific Transportation Co.
  • 1974: L. Stanley Crane, Southern Railway System
  • 1975: Frank E. Barnett, Union Pacific Railroad
  • 1976: Dr. William J. Harris, Jr., Association of American Railroads
  • 1977: Edward G. Jordan, Conrail
  • 1978: Robert M. Brown, Union Pacific Railroad
  • 1979: Theodore C. Lutz, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
  • 1980: John G. German, Missouri Pacific Railroad Co.
  • 1981: Lawrence Cena, Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway
  • 1982: A. Paul Funkhouser, Family Lines Rail System
  • 1983: L. Stanley Crane, Conrail
  • 1984: Hays T. Watkins, CSX Corp.
  • 1985: John L. Cann, Canadian National
  • 1986: Raymond C. Burton, Jr., Trailer Train Co.
  • 1987: Willis B. Kyle, Kyle Railways
  • 1988: Darius W. Gaskins, Jr., Burlington Northern
  • 1989: W. Graham Claytor, Jr., Amtrak
  • 1990: Arnold B. McKinnon, Norfolk Southern Corp.
  • 1991: Mike Walsh, Union Pacific Railroad
  • 1992: William H. Dempsey, Association of American Railroads
  • 1993: Raymond C. Burton, Jr., TTX Co.
  • 1994: L. S. “Jake” Jacobson, Copper Basin Railway
  • 1995: Edwin Moyers, Southern Pacific Transportation Co.
  • 1996: Robert D. Krebs, AT&SF, and Gerald Grinstein, Burlington Northern
  • 1997: Paul M. Tellier, Canadian National
  • 1998: David R. Goode, Norfolk Southern
  • 1999: Edward A. Burkhardt, Wisconsin Central Transportation Co.
  • 2000: The Railroad Worker (“Railroader of the Century”)
  • 2001: Michael R. Haverty, Kansas City Southern
  • 2002: E. Hunter Harrison, CN/Illinois Central
  • 2003: Richard K. Davidson, Union Pacific Railroad
  • 2004: Robert J. Ritchie, Canadian Pacific Railway
  • 2005: David R. Goode, Norfolk Southern
  • 2006: Richard F. Timmons, American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association
  • 2007: William E. Wimmer, Union Pacific Railroad
  • 2008: Stephen C. Tobias, Norfolk Southern
  • 2009: Michael J. Ward, CSX
  • 2010: Matthew K. Rose, BNSF
  • 2011: Wick Moorman, Norfolk Southern
  • 2012: David L. Starling, Kansas City Southern
  • 2013: James R. Young, Union Pacific
  • 2014: Joseph H. Boardman, Amtrak
  • 2015: E. Hunter Harrison, Canadian Pacific
  • 2016: Carl R. Ice, BNSF Railway
  • 2017: Thomas F. Prendergast, New York MTA
  • 2018: John C. Hellmann, Genesee & Wyoming
  • 2019: Jean-Jacques Ruest, CN
  • 2020: Patrick J. Ottensmeyer, Kansas City Southern
  • 2021: Keith Creel, Canadian Pacific
  • 2022: Keith Creel, Canadian Pacific; and Patrick J. Ottensmeyer, Kansas City Southern
  • 2023: Katie M. Farmer, BNSF Railway
An empty grain train crosses Lake Pend Oreille into Sandpoint, Idaho, on December 4, 2022, using BNSF’s new bridge just two weeks after it entered service. Bruce Kelly photo.
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