RT&S: Women in Railroad Engineering 2023

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
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RT&S, JULY 2023 ISSUE - Setting the Example: Bringing technical expertise and hard work to rail engineering.

Railroad engineering is a complex and demanding field. You don’t get partial credit if the bridge falls down. Becoming an engineer requires rigorous education just to earn your ticket to participate. Then, the unique demands of maintaining the infrastructure of a business that features massive structures, large and heavy rolling stock, track and roadbed to support it all, and solving problems that don’t have an obvious answer are not for the faint of heart. This year’s honorees bring skill and dedication to their work every day. We are proud to showcase this group, each of whom was nominated by one or more of their peers. The nominators prepared the brief biographies and list of accomplishments for each honoree. 

Felicia Morgan: Track Design Manager, BNSF 

Has held design positions in both structures and track departments in addition to previous experience as a structures supervisor.

With real estate background makes for a strong railroad designer. 

Engineer-in-Training (tests for PE in August)  AREMA Committee 1 (Subcommittee Leader on Culverts).

BNSF Achievement Award – Bellefontaine Bridge 

Coordinates HS Students Studying Abroad Locally – places students with families as well as regularly hosting international students at home. 

Felicia brings a good spirit to the railroad and wants to get things done. She is impactful in her work and has a strong background in both track and structures – rare quality amongst railroading professionals. Soon will be a professional engineer and sky is the limit.  

Sarah Mueller: Senior Manager of Vegetation Management, Union Pacific Railroad 

Over her 7-year career with Union Pacific Railroad, Sarah obtained a wide range of field experience that has established her as a leader both at work and within her community. Sarah started her railroad career back in 2014 as an intern for the Twin Cities Service Unit, where she learned the various aspects of a Class 1 railroad’s engineering department. Once completing her Civil Engineering degree at Missouri University of Science and Technology, she returned to Union Pacific and completed the Operation Management Training (OMT) Program. Sarah has had multiple management roles within the UP operating department and is currently the Senior Manager of Vegetation responsible for the entire UP network. Sarah has never been one to back down from a challenge and is always looking to implement innovations to advance the railroad. In a former role, she led the battery tool initiative at UP to upgrade the engineering gangs’ track tools. Her team is currently developing a new on-track spray equipment that is modernizing the way vegetation is controlled on the UP network. 

Developing people and leading a team is no easy task, but Sarah has done so successfully across many different service units. Her leadership skills also extend to outside of work, where she volunteers at Lake Manawa Sailing Association as a sailing instructor and public media person. In addition, she assists the AFS Intercultural Organization, where she acts as a foreign exchange student volunteer and has hosted three High School exchange students over the few years. 

Completed Operations Management Training Program, Member of AREMA Committee 13. 

Jacqueline L. Patterson: Vice President and Cofounder, Zephyr UAS, Inc., dba Zephyr Rail 

Amazing, hard-driving, and compassionate leader who gives more to her team than she expects in return. Always looking for a way to innovate and improve what engineers and rail can do for society, Jackie never seems to sleep and always approaches the day with positivity.  Jackie Patterson has always strived for excellence. When 19 years old, she escaped war-torn Nicaragua, landing in Canada, learned English and French while at university, moved to the U.S. and went on to become an industry leader in rail design and construction management. Jackie is the role model young women should emulate. A world-class engineer, a considerate mentor, a devoted mother, Jackie Patterson personifies what it is to be a civil engineer and a world steward.  

BS Civil Engineering, Concordia University Montreal. Civil Engineering Medal – highest ranking graduate – first woman and first person of Hispanic heritage to receive the award  MS Civil Engineering, Concordia University Montreal.  EdD in Organizational Change and Leadership in process at University of Southern California.  Habitat for Humanity, WTS scholarship endowment.  Teaches rail-specific engineering courses at University of Southern California.   

Mindy White: Rail Engineering Design Manager, RailPros 

Mindy White is an exceptional candidate for the RT&S Woman of the Year award due to her remarkable qualities and contributions. She consistently demonstrates her commitment as a leader, managing the rail team encompassing both rail designers and engineers, while collaborating effectively with various discipline groups and project stakeholders to ensure adherence to designs and standards. Mindy goes the extra mile by mentoring junior staff, helping them develop and enhance their engineering skills. Her dedication and pursuit of service excellence benefit both her team and clients alike. Mindy’s remarkable achievements, coupled with her advocacy for women in engineering and extensive volunteer work, showcase her as a true role model in the field. She embodies the qualities and accomplishments deserving of this prestigious honor. 

Nao Nishio: Manager, Engineering Tech, Brightline 

Nao is a tremendous asset to Brightline’s MOW team, based out of our Orlando offices, as we continue our progress on our massive Orlando extension project which will connect Central and South Florida with higher-speed intercity passenger rail. Her engineering knowledge combined with her personality and engagement abilities set her apart and have positioned her as a leader on our team and in her field. Whether it’s in the office, in the field, or assisting other teams to engage with our stakeholders, contractors, or even community members, Nao’s style, approach and expertise is incredibly valuable as we continue to forge new pathways in the railroad industry. We are lucky to have her on our team! 

Karen Priscila Castro Rios: Project Design & Construction Manager, Junior, Canadian Pacific Kansas City de Mexico (CPKC) 

Karen is a deserving candidate for this honor due to her immense passion for collaborative work at CPKC. She plays a pivotal role in expanding network capacities and assists her colleagues in developing their skills. Her 10-year career at CPKC is marked by remarkable growth and impressive results in the railroad industry, which she takes pride in. Karen is a leader both within and outside the company, and her enthusiasm for developing youth is infectious.  

Katherine Barry: Senior Manager, Signal and Electrical Engineering, Norfolk Southern 

During her twelve-year career with Norfolk Southern, Katherine has made significant contributions to promote a safer and more efficient railroad. She began her career at Norfolk Southern as a Management Trainee before becoming a Signal Engineer. She earned progressively more responsible promotions, and she now leads the company’s signal design team as Senior Manager, Safety and Environmental Engineering.  

Throughout her career at Norfolk Southern, Katherine has been responsible for leading significant, wide-reaching efforts that have improved the railroad’s ability to safely serve customers. She developed and updated standard plan sets used for both crossing designs and signal designs. Over a two-year period, she managed the crossing design for more than 100 crossing projects. From 2013-16, she managed Positive Train Control Signal Design for over 400 miles of track. This effort was one of Norfolk Southern’s most ambitious signaling project undertaken in recent memory. She took a limited amount of field experience and training and immediately applied it successfully to the design environment during the PTC instillation. Most recently, she led the Advanced Train Control (ATC) team that performed breaking analysis to facilitate the transition to Tons Per Operable Break (TPOB) Timetable speeds. Katherine’s work enables Transportation to have more flexibility in train consist makeup and keeps operations fluid.      

Katherine has shown a strong work ethic throughout her career at Norfolk Southern. She has proven herself adept at navigating complexity and building effective partnerships both within and outside of the company to advance the success of significant projects. 

Kristin Leese: Deputy Chief Engineer Production, Amtrak 

Kristin has been my [nominator’s] peer since I joined Amtrak in 2016. She has an excellent attitude and inspires others to do the right thing. Kristin holds her own in a challenging industry and still shows up with a smile and an open mind. She’s learned from experience and is applying the lessons she’s taken to heart to advance the Amtrak’s production team. In the seven years I have known Kristin, she has supported me through many challenges and I’ve been grateful for the opportunities I have had to lend her the same support. Amtrak is lucky to have Kristin leading the production team, and she deserves recognition for her dedication and commitment to the industry. 

Beth Bombalicky: Senior Communications Engineer, Modern Railway Systems 

Beth was a single mother who worked as a ski lift operator, movie theatre manager, bank teller and bartender. To save money, she was continuously teaching herself skills like car repair. When her daughters were teens, she wanted a more stable job and applied as a warehouse clerk at a small communications company called Rail Services Corp. People quickly saw her aptitude and hard work and she trained to become a communications engineer instead.      

Everyone who works with Beth speak very highly of her excellent work and attitude. Her designs are strong and her troubleshooting skills are unmatched. She continues to learn and seek new challenges. Beth is indeed the “best of the best” as a communications engineer in the railroad industry. 

Andrea Berry: Senior Manager Advanced Technology Development, Canadian National Railway 

One of the hardest working women in industry and consistently pushes to drive products to completion, have worked alongside and learn from her daily. 

After earning degrees in Biomedical Engineering and Electrical Engineering from Duke University, Andrea started her career as an electrical engineer for a large semiconductor manufacturer. In 2006, she pivoted to the rail industry, advancing state-of-the-art track evaluation technologies in both engineering design and product management capacities.

She joined CN in 2021 as the Senior Manager of Advanced Technology Development for the Engineering Department. The technologies her teams deploy generate key safety improvements, influence capital deployment strategy, and drive data-based business decisions and solve business challenges. In addition to her technical degrees, she holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. 

 

HONORABLE MENTION
Stacey Schmidt: Chief Technical Officer, voestalpine Railway Systems Nortrak 

Stacey Schmidt, Chief Technology Officer at voestalpine Railway Systems Nortrak (Nortrak), has been shaping new ways of doing things in the railroad industry since joining the company in 2016. She is a visionary leader with deep experience in transforming technical and design methodologies to build on Nortrak’s technical and industry reputation for excellence. Stacey leads some of the company’s most strategic functions—R&D, engineering, and quality—with a clear passion for continuous improvement. Her leadership and vision reshaped engineering at Nortrak by implementing the Siemens NX design platform coupled with fostering automation, creating standardized template designs, and upgrading processes, resulting in increased efficiency, a reduction in errors, and most importantly, reduced customer lead times. 

Stacey brings more than twenty years of experience working in the energy and defense sectors and brings a unique perspective to the industry. Her ability to question, challenge the status quo, and adapt with creative problem-solving helps engage Nortrak’s technical team to solve some of Nortrak’s and our customers’ most challenging problems. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Missouri – Columbia, an MBA from Baker University, a Professional Engineering License, and her Project Management Professional certification. 

 

HONORABLE MENTION
Jennifer Judge: Track Section Manager, HNTB Corporation 

Jennifer is unique among her peers. From the day she joined HNTB, she has been very ambitious and competitive, but she has never felt she was owed anything. Her dedication and work ethic are immense. Where others would reach a certain career milestone in five years, Jennifer gets there in three. What others would accomplish in 10 years, Jennifer does in seven. Over the course of her career, looking at the number of promotions she has earned demonstrates her meteoric rise. She is fully invested in her career. At the same time, Jennifer excels at people skills. She instills confidence in clients. Her leadership of SPAN has helped to create a work environment that adds to team members’ job satisfaction and enjoyment in working with one another. Jennifer has a well-rounded, holistic approach both to work and life. She has achieved a dynamic rise at HNTB without sacrificing relationships or work-life balance. “When Jennifer joined HNTB, she and I were the only members of the track section group in the New York office,” said her supervisor, Rob Dall. “I would never take credit for her success. Mostly I just had to give her opportunities and get out of her way. Jennifer welcomes challenges that take her outside her comfort zone, and that’s where she has always performed best. I’ve always relied heavily on her to step into roles she hasn’t had before, and she rises to the occasion and delivers work at the highest level. Fear will never stand in her way, and she is never going to hesitate to take responsibility for challenges that represent growth opportunities. Jennifer is a future leader, not just at HNTB, but in this industry.”   

The RT&S Women in Rail Engineering Awards can also be found in our digital edition of the July 2023 issue here.

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