Women in Rail 2020

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
(Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

RAILWAY AGE, NOVEMBER 2020 ISSUE: The fourth-annual Railway Age Women in Rail awards recognize not only a continued commitment to service in the historically male-dominated freight, transit, government and supplier sectors, but also a demonstration of leadership, collaboration and innovation on the job and in the community. These 24 visionaries, selected from a field of more than 60 strong nominations, are from all levels of North American railroading. And these motivated, results-driven women are making an impact—for themselves, their peers, their companies and the rail industry.

JUDGES

Barbara Wilson, President and CFO, RailUSA, LLC

At RailUSA, a short line holding company that acquires and operates North American freight railroads, Wilson provides strategic leadership and is responsible for implementing long-range goals, strategies, plans and policies. Prior to joining RailUSA in 2019, she was President of Wells Fargo Rail, the rail equipment operating leasing subsidiary of Wells Fargo Bank. She led business growth by acquiring three industry competitors to build the largest railcar leasing business in North America. She holds a B.S. in Business Administration from Boston College and an MBA from Babson College.

KellyAnne Gallagher, KAG Strategic Advisory; Executive Director, Commuter Rail Coalition

Gallagher is a public transportation policy professional and a strategic advisor to industry leaders. With more than 20 years serving across industry sectors, in 2019 Gallagher founded the Commuter Rail Coalition, where she is shaping policy and driving the agenda of the association, which serves as the singular voice of the commuter rail industry. Previously, Gallagher was a member of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s senior leadership team, which she joined after 16 years with the American Public Transportation Association.

HONOREES

Rhea Adama, Assistant Vice-President Procurement, Canadian Pacific

Adama pulled together a previously disbanded procurement group in two years. During the pandemic, she led her team to source 30,000 face coverings (two per employee) in four hours, and mailed them in less than three. Among her strengths: leading and learning by questioning and identifying ways to approach gaps. As GM Locomotive Shops, she improved the metrics of an already well-run organization. Adama developed her expert staff, maintained high expectations—and delivered.

Bridgette Beato, Founder and CEO, Lumenor Consulting Group

Beato’s organizational change management experience is among the reasons the safety and operations projects her certified DBE/WBE/SBE firm handles succeed, from implementing enterprise asset management at NYMTA to improving maintenance tracking and reporting at MARTA. Beato is active in the Women’s Transportation Seminar; APTA; and International Council for Systems Engineers, where she is helping to create a standard approach to managing COVID-19 for transit.

Ann D. Begeman, Chairman, Surface Transportation Board

Begeman helped draft the ICC Termination Act of 1995, leading to STB’s formation. Before joining STB in 2011, she spent 20-plus years garnering transportation policy experience in roles such as Republican Staff Director and Deputy Staff Director for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Designated STB Chair in 2018, she led the effort to reform rail rates in a transparent, equitable way by creating a task force to propose solutions, which she implemented.

Deborah Bittner, Head of Transportation and PTC Systems, CSX

Bittner is responsible for developing and deploying systems for rail safety and operating efficiency, from customer service to dispatching technology. Integral to CSX’s leadership in PTC development, she helped shape the PTC infrastructure that enabled Class I’s to adopt compatible technologies and meet federal implementation deadlines. At CSX, the project integrated 1,800 locomotives, 423 radio towers and 4,400 trackside communication units, and centralized control center technology systems.

Ruth Brown, Regional Engineer, Structures, Norfolk Southern (Women in Rail honorable mention 2018)

Brown has advanced quickly in 12 years at NS. She spent five in the field as Bridge Supervisor and Assistant Division Engineer Bridges. As the only woman managing men conducting bridgework, she earned respect with her expertise and leadership. She has overseen large and small bridge projects; handled emergencies; and taken on additional roles at Women in NS and AREMA, as subcommittee chair of Technical Committee 15, Steel Structures.

Lora Cheatum, Senior Vice President, HR, Kansas City Southern (Women in Rail Honorable Mention 2017)

The highest-ranking woman on the executive team, Cheatum ensures KCS leverages the talents of 8,000 employees (U.S. and Mexico) and allows their voices to be heard. She worked with the CEO to develop KCS’ Vision, Values and Culture; sponsored a global HR system; instituted a rotational career development program; and modifies policies to align with governmental rules during the pandemic. She serves on boards to cultivate interest in railroad careers and support breast cancer awareness.

Jennifer Coyne, Global Additive Manufacturing Leader, Wabtec

Coyne hired and leads the team that built the Additive Manufacturing portfolio, which includes three global facilities. In 2019, 1,250-plus prototypes were made and Wabtec used metallic 3D printed parts in the production of rolling stock. Coyne, who holds five patents, was the co-inventor of and project leader for a locomotive adhesion technology now deployed at all Class I’s. She also led efforts to improve battery system reliability. She serves as a mentor/industry advisor for college students.

Stephanie Davies, Executive Vice President, GO Expansion, Capital Projects Group, Metrolinx

Davies is accountable for delivering $11 billion in capital investment for GO Transit, including corridor expansion, new stations and station improvements. She leads a team of 250 on projects, ensuring the consideration of operational, customer and community impacts. Davies works effectively with external stakeholders and fosters relationships with staff, peers and leadership, fueling the momentum needed for GO Expansion. She co-sponsors the new Women in CPG Employee Resource Group.

Clarelle DeGraffe, Director of Rail Transit, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; General Manager, PATH

A 30-year Port Authority veteran and civil engineer by training, DeGraffe is the first woman to serve as PATH’s GM. She leads the $1 billion PATH Improvement Plan to upgrade trains and stations, streamline train service, and improve customer service. Her work overseeing capital program implementation has included the ongoing project to replace equipment and rebuild tunnels that were damaged during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, as well as completion of the remaining phases of CBTC.

Janet Drysdale, Vice President, Financial Planning, CN

Throughout six years, three CN CEOs have relied on Drysdale’s expertise in investor relations, business development, mergers/acquisitions, ESG and other critical financial planning. In her role, Drysdale has shaped the vision for CN’s broader, more forward-looking agenda. She is on the Advisory Board of the National Research Council of Canada, Automotive & Surface Transportation Research Centre, and was recognized as best IRO among all publicly traded large-cap Canadian companies.

Sarah E. Feinberg, Interim President, MTA New York City Transit

Feinberg, a former Federal Railroad Administrator, assumed her role in March, at the pandemic’s start. Under her swift leadership, NYCT has spearheaded efforts to clean all vehicles and stations, including during unprecedented subway closures, and properly equip personnel with PPE; she is working to assure riders of system safety and reliability. Undaunted, Feinberg instituted a freeze on out-of-state travel and employee use of MTA vehicles for private trips and travel to work.

Jocelyn Gabrynowicz Hill, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail)

Gabrynowicz Hill plays an integral role in establishing and maintaining key stakeholder relationships. She has led high-profile transactions, such as the cleanup of Richmond Industrial Track in Philadelphia. She also secured $42 million in grants for capital infrastructure investment. Among the supported projects: improving Delray Interlocking (Detroit) fluidity and New York Metropolitan Freight Area capacity. She became a certified conductor in 2019 to better understand this key function.

Rohini Ganesan, Director of Applications Engineering, Railinc Corp.

Ganesan is essential to Railinc’s efforts to build out its infrastructure and provide applications addressing asset management/health for industry stakeholders. She has a penchant for creating IT solutions to address customer pain points. In 2019, she facilitated 300-plus successful project/product releases. She has provided tech leadership for the Location Management and Gateway Operations Services programs and a PTC initiative. Also, her guidance led to Railinc’s shift to cloud computing.

Elizabeth (Beth) Greene, Communications Manager, Urban Rail Signalling, Thales Canada

For five years, Greene, the first Urban Rail Signalling communications lead, has emphasized the technology’s importance to the public, government and stakeholders. Among her efforts: working with NYCT on article, video and press release communications for a pilot of Next Generation Train Control using Ultra-Wideband; managing the Thales Global Urban Rail Signalling Showroom opening (Toronto); and handling communications for North American employees during the pandemic.

Veronique (Ronnie) Hakim, National Transit and Rail Market Sector Leader, HNTB Corp.

Whether it’s negotiating contracts, overcoming political issues or handling budgets, Hakim gathers data, talks with experts and forms recommendations. This approach has succeeded over 33 years—from Managing Director, New York MTA and EVP/General Counsel, MTA Capital Construction to Executive Director, NJ Transit. At HNTB, Hakim has collaborated on strategic planning and the firm’s response to demands for social justice.

Carolyn Hayward-Williams, Director, Office of Railroad Systems and Technology, Office of Safety, Federal Railroad Administration

Hayward-Williams joined FRA in 2017 and inherited the PTC Division. She put in place processes for providing regulatory/technical guidance to help industry meet statutory deadlines for PTC implementation. Three months prior to the final deadline (Dec. 31, 2020), all but two of the 41 railroads required to be compliant were ready or on track. She received the U.S. DOT’s highest honorary award for her work.

Sara Johnson, General Manager, Montana Division, BNSF Railway

During her 17 years at BNSF, Johnson has become the railroad’s first female GM; played a significant role in BNSF’s petition to FRA for a waiver that ultimately increased the distance for which coal, grain, taconite and intermodal trains can travel before undergoing intermediate Mechanical inspection, providing a model for the industry; and was instrumental in growing market share through unit train strategies. Johnson’s “people” focus continually allows her to earn trust and respect.

Kristin Leese, Director Business Improvements, Engineering, Amtrak

Leese’s 10-year Amtrak career has included leading a team to test electronic train approach warning systems, magnetic inter-track barriers and watchmen platforms. She was responsible for planning, coordination and execution of the reconstruction of a 1000 LF concrete block tie station track at Penn Station New York. At track 10, work was completed ahead of schedule, within budget and without injury/incident, and her team developed procedures for use in subsequent renewals at the station.

Lisa Matta, Founder and VP Product Management, Wi-Tronix LLC (Women in Rail honorable mention 2018)

Matta has been at the forefront of locomotive onboard technology for 16 years. Wi-Tronix’s IoT platform integrates data acquisition with AI, video analytics and machine learning. Matta, named in five patents, is instrumental in spearheading the design, development, test and launch of new software and products. She cultivates student engineering skills through the Society of Women Engineers and STEAM youth organization Destination Imagination.

Eileen Reilly, Founder and CEO, Global Train Services LLC

A 30-year railroad industry veteran, Reilly was a member of the FRA Rail Safety Advisory Committee that created 49 CFR 236, Subpart H and Subpart I. She was a PTC forerunner, participating in initial train control system research in the 1990s, and she led the Alaska Railroad through its implementation of PTC. Reilly is currently working with BNSF, tech companies and the U.S. government to improve satellite positioning (GNSS) for the rail industry.

Leslie Richards, General Manager, Southeastern Pennsylvania  Transportation Authority

Richards has a public- and private-sector background in strategic planning and management of transportation projects, including as PennDOT Secretary. She is committed to finding common ground and engaging communities. She took on her current role in January, leading SEPTA through the pandemic and focusing on meeting the region’s changing needs and preparing for future demands through “SEPTA–Move Better Together.”

Renay J. Robison, AVP Real Estate and Development, RailPros

Robison has been involved in real estate and economic development for more than 25 years and has extensive experience pursuing federal, state and local funding. She oversees RailPros’ real estate and development services in the national railroad market, including contract preparation/management and acquisition/property sales. She is Real Estate Section Chair of the American Railway Development Association, and helped bring together railroads for an annual Utilities Roundtable.

Christine Torrijas Dearing, Chief Financial Officer, South Shore Line, Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District

Dearing has been instrumental in SSL’s pursuit of double track between Michigan City and Gary, Ind., and a new corridor between Chicago and Dyer, Ind. She has effectively balanced revenue challenges and subsidies in 2020, and helped negotiate an innovative trackage rights agreement with Metra. NICTD and SSL have received the Excellence In Accuracy In Financial Reporting Award from the Governmental Finance Officers of America.

Kelle Williams, Senior Director of Railroad Real Estate, OmniTRAX

As the head of the Railroad Real Estate group, Williams has doubled revenues in four years by improving processes and building/training a formidable team. She leads the company’s GIS project, a central element of the OmniTRAX Property Engineering Network that provides users with track, milepost, locomotive and weather data. Among the challenges she’s successfully faced with her team: During OPEN’s development, they spent hundreds of hours ensuring system data was accurate.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Sonia Bot, Chief Executive, The BOT Consulting Group Inc.

Catherine (Cat) Dobbs, Senior Environmental Project Manager, HDR

Julie Eddy, Assistant Vice PresidentWest District, G&W Northern Region Railroads, Genesee & Wyoming Railroad Services, Inc.

Jennifer Guillette, General Manager, Operations and Maintenance, Bombardier Transportation

Lori Katzman, Senior Project Manager, Engineering, HNTB Corp.

Jeannie Kwon, Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, NJ Transit

Carole Morey, AVP, Capital Program Cost Management, Environment, Design and Construction, CN

Martita Mullen, Assistant Chief North, Track, CN

Larisse Nana-Kouadjo, Manager, Rail and Transit Canada, WSP Canada Inc.

Kim Schwab, AVP Comp, HR Digital and Talent Acquisition, Kansas City Southern

Stephanie So Hyun Park, Acting Assistant Division Engineer, Engr. Maint. East NY Track, Amtrak

2019 Women in Rail Honorees

2018 Women in Rail Honorees

2017 Women in Rail Honorees

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