Nicole James, general manager, supply chain - network operations, Canadian National, Canada

NICOLE James is a highly-motivated leader who utilises her field and network operations experience to help North American Class 1 Canadian National (CN) deliver efficient, reliable and safe services.

“No matter the role throughout her railway career, she thrives on learning, developing and applying best practice to make a positive difference for her team, company and industry,” says James’ nominator, CN chief talent officer, Ms Carole Michelucci.

During her three years at CN, James has already increased and expanded her leadership responsibilities, demonstrating her professional impact and expertise. With 17 years of previous transport and operations experience with fellow Class 1 BNSF, Nicole joined CN in 2020 to oversee the maintenance programme for the company’s 2400 locomotives and 45,000 wagons. She pivoted from her previous roles into a mechanical position, drawing on her industry and leadership experience to develop new fleet maintenance initiatives using data analytics and innovation, which helped CN increase asset reliability and availability.

Nicole James, general manager, supply chain - network operations, Canadian National, Canada

Within a year of joining CN, James was promoted to general manager, network operations - transportation, where she oversaw safe and efficient train movements across CN’s 31,300km network. Here she again leveraged technology and disciplined process adherence to improve network fluidity, while drawing on her operations background and team-building skills. James also embedded a safety culture mindset within CN’s Regional Operations Centres.

As general manager, supply chain - network operations, James leads a team that develops service plans for the wagonload network to optimise asset utilisation and productivity while enhancing customer experience. She has already helped lead a team through record shipments during CN’s 2022 grain programme.

At CN, James has been involved with the Women’s Employee Resource Group, which is dedicated to supporting, attracting and promoting female staff at the company. As an active member and through panel discussions hosted by the group, James has discussed her career path, her personal story and her perspectives on how to foster professional success and growth. Her guiding principle: bloom where you’re planted. James has also served as a mentor to other women at CN.

For the wider industry, James serves on the customer service committee for Railinc, which provides rail data and messaging services to North American freight railways and is a subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads (AAR). She also is a member of the League of Railway Women.

In her community, Nicole and her husband, a former law enforcement officer and paramedic, fundraise for Stars, a charity providing medical helicopter transport for critically-ill and injured patients. They also financially support law enforcement organisations and charity events to support officers who are injured or the families of those killed in the line of duty.

Nataly Kats, acting deputy CEO, Israel Railways, Israel

ISRAEL Railways (IR) has experienced some radical changes in recent years. The opening of the A1 link between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and steady electrification of the network , as well as other infrastructure expansion and improvement projects, have enhanced the level of service provided to passengers. The railway is pursuing an ambitious growth policy and is aiming to carry 100 million passengers in 2025, 200 million in 2030 and 300 million in 2040.

A key figure in forming and ultimately delivering these improvement plans is Nataly Kats, the railway’s acting deputy CEO. In her previous role as director of the planning unit in IR’s infrastructure development division, Kats was part of the small inter-governmental team that devised the strategic plan for the development of IR up to 2040. In addition to electrification, the plan includes the rollout of ETCS Level 2, the deployment of new rolling stock, including high-speed trains capable of 250km/h, construction of new stations, and increasing the size of the IR workforce.

Nataly Kats, acting deputy CEO, Israel Railways, Israel

As acting deputy CEO , Kats is now leading cross-organisational processes aimed at assimilating the projects and technologies she planned in her previous role and optimising their delivery.

Kats’ rise through the ranks at IR is testament to the application and success she has demonstrated throughout her 17-year career with the railway. She began her work with IR in the safety division in 2006, supporting the work to establish a road and traffic regulation department that was set up following two serious accidents. Kats was part of a team that developed a new safety system for level crossings based on the use of advanced technologies such as a radar and movement detection cameras. She worked closely with the tech sector to deliver the system, which is now installed at level crossings across Israel.

In her subsequent role as director of the roads and traffic regulations division, Kats contributed significantly to improving the safety of people living near the railway. She also actively promotes and leads the integration of women into management, engineering and infrastructure planning positions at IR, and is a passionate advocate for closing the gender gap at the railway.

Kats’ nominator credits her for helping to change public perception of the railway in Israel and for making clear the need to invest and develop the network. And she is well placed to continue to make a significant contribution in the years to come.

Shanda Durbin, vice-president of human resources, Herzog, United States

SHANDA Durbin joined Herzog over 11 years ago as a receptionist. After rising through the ranks in the contracts, recruitment and human resources departments, she was promoted in 2020 to become the company’s first ever female vice-president of human resources, leading a team of 12 that supports over 2400 Herzog employees working on railway construction projects, commuter rail and transit operations and maintenance, and infrastructure maintenance for Class 1 and shortline railways in the United States.

Shanda Durbin, vice-president of human resources, Herzog, United States

Herzog had taken a decentralised approach to human resources, relying on managers within its operating divisions to handle day-to-day interaction with employees. But with the company experiencing major growth, there arose a clear need to establish a new fully centralised human resources department that would also be responsible for recruitment. Described as a natural leader, Durbin was appointed as human resources manager to lead this initiative, and was later promoted to director of human resources. In this role she thoroughly immersed herself in the employment needs of Herzog’s five operating divisions, developing clear and concise dashboard reporting statistics that enabled management to access real time data on employee numbers, demographics and turnover rates.

Her nominator says that Durbin’s career trajectory, which has seen her become a vice-president at the age of just 33, shows what can be achieved through a positive attitude, the mindset to work hard every day, respect for colleagues and a relentless drive for excellence. Her leadership skills are shown daily by her willingness to listen and offer advice, while also providing constructive criticism without dwelling on the negative. She puts her colleagues first and equips them to succeed and grow professionally. A good leader also recognises those situations that require them to seek help, and Durbin is not afraid to ask for guidance or the opinions of her colleagues.

Katharina Jenny, general manager, Antofagasta Railway, Chile

ANTOFAGASTA Railway (FCAB) operates a 700km network in the arid climate of northern Chile, serving the mining industry that includes one of the world’s major producers of copper. In 2019 FCAB appointed Katharina Jenny as general manager, the first woman to hold this post in the 130-year history of the company. She is also the first Chilean woman to receive an IRJ Women in Rail Award.

Under her leadership, FCAB set a new all-time freight traffic record when it carried 7.1 million tonnes in 2022, while at the same time bringing down the accident frequency rate to 2.15, a 55% reduction compared with 2021. This was the lowest rate in FCAB’s history and also the lowest in the rail sector in Chile.

Katharina Jenny, general manager, Antofagasta Railway, Chile

In 2022 FCAB also reduced its Scope 2 or indirect emissions by 12.8%, saving 101 tonnes of CO₂, and under Jenny’s tenure the company is working to reduce its total CO₂ emissions by 30% by 2030. FCAB has acquired the first locomotive in Chile and South America to be powered by green hydrogen, which should be brought into service during the second half of 2024. It is also implementing the ambitious Railway Yards Reconversion Plan (PRPF). This unprecedented initiative for Chile will see 48ha site in the historic heart of Antofagasta released to create new public spaces and green areas, improving the quality of life for local residents.

Inside the company, Jenny has led FCAB’s diversity and inclusion strategy with great energy, as she is convinced that a diverse range of talents generates better results.

She has challenged her colleagues to recruit and retain more women, especially in those core areas of the railway business that have traditionally been the preserve of men. In 2019 women made up only 8% of the FCAB workforce, but by 2020 this had risen to 20%, up 22% on the year before, with 30% the target for 2025. Women are now present at all levels of the company, making up 38% of executive staff, 26% of maintenance personnel and 16% of operations roles.

Part 1 of Women in Rail 2023 can be found here  

Part 2 of Women in Rail 2023 can be found here

Part 4 of Women in Rail 2023 can be found here