Women in Rail 2017 – Caroline Decker, Amtrak

Written by Railway Age Staff
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Decker, Vice President, Government Affairs and Corporate Communications, leads her team with great care, balancing multiple stakeholders and priorities against limited resources with professionalism and authenticity. All who work with her value her discipline and clarity of thought, which are apparent in everything she does. She is vital to many aspects of what Amtrak accomplishes.

Decker led efforts for Amtrak’s reauthorization during multiple Congresses and helped lay the foundation for the passage of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) in October, 2008. Her efforts helped revolutionize the way Amtrak does business with its state partners by establishing a single, nationwide standardized methodology for costs related to state-supported routes. Her efforts also helped lead to the establishment of the NEC Commission and its cost allocation policy, which has resulted in additional badly-need state investment in the corridor.

After Amtrak’s inclusion in the 2015 surface transportation reauthorization bill, the FAST Act, Decker was charged with leading this effort to ensure compliance. She made sure that the company not only met all its mandated targets, but did so in a strategic and thoughtful way that advanced our corporate mission and intercity passenger rail across the nation. After years of stagnant funding levels, Decker successfully led an effort that secured an additional $105 million in federal funding for Amtrak – a truly remarkable accomplishment.

Decker led the creation of Amtrak’s first company-wide women’s professional development group, Notch 8, to bring together the many women who work in Amtrak across the country to develop stronger networks and enable learning opportunities to enrich the workforce professionally and personally.

An alumna, Decker serves on the Board of the Regents for the Fund for America Studies (TFAS), programs for college students to inspire future leaders to make a difference in their communities and throughout the world. She also leads an annual holiday toy drive of Amtrak headquarters employees on behalf of United Planning Organization, for disadvantaged children of the District of Columbia.

After Amtrak earlier this year suffered from several operational issues at New York Penn Station that challenged the public’s trust, Decker developed a comprehensive communications plan to explain the work to the public, describe why it was needed, highlight the benefits, and provide customer information on how to navigate the system during the work period. Decker developed the NYP Renewal Coordinating Committee, which consisted of nearly 30 Amtrak employees representing a cross-section of departments. She energized the Committee and provided support and guidance as the team worked to develop and implement the communications plan. She emphasized consistency in messaging and the importance of transparency.

To produce a responsive, recognizable plan, the team developed a project logo, an Amtrak.com landing page, and related collateral material. The team held weekly media conference calls and supplied detailed progress reports to the public. Throughout the whole effort, Decker led by example to help with whatever was needed from weekend and late-night media staffing at NYP to covering status update calls at all hours of the day. She provided an extra set of eyes to review talking points, news releases, and briefings, and always brought a strong sense of detail and tone to materials meant for a range of audiences. She was skillful in helping Amtrak navigate significant negative media and political attention, always reminding her team to stick to the high road and stay focused on the task ahead. Internally, she served as a tremendous advocate for the NYP project, often tackling issues that were causing roadblocks and successfully finding solutions.

As in the rest of her work, her efforts on the NYP project were extremely thoughtful, consistently poised, and effectively organized. All on the team admired her leadership and focus, which were pivotal to changing the media narrative about Amtrak’s competence, strategy, capability, and dependability. Her team knows that she will provide clear expectations, trust her staff, and allow her team to contribute meaningfully and pursue innovative solutions whenever possible. This project serves as a clear example of her abilities to lead, to inspire, and to deliver in the face of a significant challenge.

One of Decker’s greatest gifts is her ability to combine professionalism and authenticity. While she is careful to respect the personal boundaries of those with whom she works, she creates an environment that takes note of the often heart-racing pace of the government affairs role while at the same time providing space for the life balance that is essential to the happiness and mental health of her team. It is likely that some of that compassionate leadership is born from the tragic loss of her sister, Emily, due to complications associated with Lupus, one of the world’s cruelest, most unpredictable, and devastating diseases.

While her sister courageously battled her illness, Decker did all that she could to do to support Emily as she lived the highest quality of life possible while she was able. She did so while maintaining a demanding professional life. Since Emily’s passing, Decker has been actively involved in both the national and local chapters of the Lupus Foundation. She generously volunteers her time, energy, and resources to this important cause. The heartbreak of losing a loved one is universal and while her sister’s life was cut short at such an early age and so painfully – Caroline has channeled her memory into a lifelong commitment to support other families in similar situations. In addition, she brings a rare kindness and heart to the workplace that honors that fact that while we may all have busy and demanding jobs, at the end of the day, our jobs are not all that define us. She is careful to encourage her staff to remain grounded in our personal lives.


Click here to see the winners of the Women in Rail Award 2017 in the November 2017 issue of Railway Age.


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