Women in Rail 2017 – Jennifer Ryan, North County Transit District

Written by Railway Age Staff
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Jennifer Ryan has been a strong voice for technical consistency but also a voice for better passenger access and services. As a former Facilities Engineer in High Tech, she has also been a strong advocate for ‘designing for maintainability’. Her commitment towards bringing others along is shown in her involvement in various STEM programs to support greater diversity in Engineering and Transportation.

That focus has been invaluable at North County Transit District as the agency has negotiated the issues associated with the loss of maintenance access due to sharing the rail corridor with a new LRT line. Many of the permanent access easements and hi-rail pads being constructed by the Mid-Coast Corridor Transit Project for NCTD are the result of Ryan clearly articulating the maintenance access needs for the next 100 years.

Ryan’s focus on technical consistency was demonstrated in her work jointly creating with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) version of the Orange County LOSSAN Design Criteria and Standard Plans. These design criteria and standard plans are being utilized in multiple railroad projects under design and in construction in the corridor.

One of the first efforts at NCTD was to pull together an inter-department team to evaluate ADA Access at a new station platform under design. This could have been a ‘just meet the minimum’ of the law effort but instead started a discussion of how best to provide access to an elevated station platform when the Del Mar Fairground’s concerts end. The creative ideas of queuing down below using artistically painted lines will allow faster loading of the Coaster and Amtrak trains at the platform.

Ryan’s signature career accomplishment has been the successful construction of five of the six rail transit corridors she designed conceptually in the Portland, Ore., area for transit operator TriMet. The most recent one opened in 2015 with the signature Tilikum Bridge being located as identified in her 1999 American Public Transportation Association paper, “How Low Can This Bridge Go?”

Another signature accomplishment was as the Designer of Record for the initial Salem Walkway blocks in Salem, Ore., near the Oregon state capitol buildings. Ryan’s design team at HDR developed a walk-versus-move concept for the seven-block anti-trespasser corridor which was experiencing at least one fatality annually prior to construction. By converting an access road next to the Union Pacific Railroad track into a walkway trail, members of the community had a clearly defined location to walk along the tracks – and to stores and restaurants. Channelizing the pedestrians to the signalized grade crossings with decorative fencing and safe waiting zones reduced the trespassing. And in the end, the first block next to the Safeway has become a location for the community to safely enjoy watching trains.

Ryan has contributed to the rail industry by presenting several technical papers and presentations:

  • APTA Rail Conference 2017: Switching to Hi-Rail Based Maintenance
  • AREMA Annual Conference 2014: Systems Integration, A Tale of Two Agencies (Seattle’s Sound Transit and Honolulu’s HART)
  • APTA Rail Conference 2011 paper: Value of the Productive Time to the (HSR train) User
  • TRB/APTA Joint LRT Conference 2003 paper: Resolving Union Pacific Railroad Intermodal Concerns from TriMet’s Interstate MAX LRT Line
  • American Roads magazine 2002: Oregon DOT Rebuilds Railroad Grade Crossings
  • APTA/TRB Conferences 1999 paper: How Low Can this Bridge Go? Optimizing LRT bridge clearances over the Willamette River.

As a San Diego resident since 2014, she is actively involved in Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) San Diego Chapter. As NCTD’s primary WTS member, she hosts the WTS Professional Development Seminars at NCTD for North County area. She manages the WTS Professional Development Program of Quarterly Webinars, Mentorship Program, Book Club and Annual Workshop for San Diego Chapter 2017-18. In 2016 she represented NCTD on the WTS San Diego’s Women in Rail Panel, and helped develop WTS Knowledge Lab’s online presence. She also has been involved in other local programs to fund microloan to new immigrants and refugees to the U.S.

Prior to her time in San Diego, Ryan was actively involved in the WTS Seattle Chapter’s Mentorship Program and helped to start the Public Agency Nominations program at the Seattle and Portland chapters. She was selected as the WTS Oregon Chapter Member of the Year in 2003 for her work on starting the Nominations Program to encourage knowledgeable women in transportation to give back by participating on local, state and federal policy boards.

While in the Portland area from 1989-2003, Ryan served as the Society of Women Engineer’s Oregon Chapter President from 1992-94. She expanded the scholarship program to multiple universities and colleges, increased the diversity of programs offered and double membership during those two years.

A licensed Civil Engineer in Oregon and Georgia, Ryan maintained a professional but engaging approach towards negotiations with partner agency SANDAG and various Environmental Permitting Agencies (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, California Coastal Commission, Regional Water Quality Control Board, etc.). Her organizational skills have helped the agency establish credible review comments that shape SANDAG’s LOSSAN Corridor Rail Double Track designs and position the agency for future funding with “shovel-ready” projects.

Ryan works tirelessly to engage all parties and partner agency SANDAG early on in the negotiation/design process in order to guarantee collective agreement on project direction specific to NCTD’s and SANDAG’s needs. She follows through each discussion and meeting with extensive documentation in regard to consensus agreements with all attending parties in order avoid potential future interpretations, and is consistently able to provide a timeline of negotiation/design project decisions to be utilized as a detailed project reference.

Her work is marked by extensive knowledge of the transit industry, emphasizing design and construction of transit oriented rail facilities with great consideration for usability by the traveling public, operations and maintenance convenience for the transit agency, and integration with existing transit agency facilities and surrounding neighborhoods.

Ryan singlehandedly spearheaded the development of NCTD’s Design Criteria Manual over the past 24 months as a means of establishing a Design Criteria Manual that is now utilized by NCTD’s partnering agencies, consultants, and contractors when designing and/or performing construction within the NCTD LOSSAN Corridor.

With NCTD undergoing a series of reorganizations this year, Ryan has been a stable influence on the Engineering Deptartment. She has worked with the various Division Chiefs to establish inter-agency agreements procedures; to coordinate Absolute Work Window (AWW) shutdowns of NCTD’s San Diego Subdivision Railroad, and perform interdepartmental and inter-agency design reviews of LOSSAN Corridor rail designs. Ryan has the longest tenure within NCTD’s Engineering Department and has extensive institutional knowledge and hands-on experience with SANDAG’s LOSSAN Corridor Rail Double Track designs and subsequent construction projects.


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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