Silvia Festa, senior business development manager, Eurail, Netherlands

IN 2013 Silvia Festa joined Eurail, the company formed by European state passenger operators to market Eurail passes for travellers from outside Europe, as well as Interrail passes for European residents. Her first role was as market manager responsible for growing market share in southern Europe, and she now oversees global B2B distribution and international development, maintaining a strong network that enables Eurail to cooperate with its strategic partners.

Along the way, in 2019 Festa paved the way for today’s Eurail Ticketing System (ETS). To reduce costs and the number of ticketing tools that it used, Eurail was planning to remove the ticketing system then in use from its platform, but Festa realised its potential, given the right investment. Drawing on customer feedback, market intelligence and research, she presented a new business case for redesigning ETS, and in 2020 Eurail launched ETS 2.0 which is now one of the most successful tools used by distributors to book passes.

Silvia Festa, senior business development manager, Eurail, Netherlands

In addition, Festa’s focus and diligence were instrumental in delivering the digitalisation of Interrail and Eurail passes, a complex process that presented many challenges and involved several stakeholders. She played a vital role in educating and supporting operators during implementation, building trust and deploying excellent problem-solving skills to resolve conflict in a tactful and professional manner.

Festa’s dedication and commitment to the rail industry is demonstrated by the respect that she has earned among her peers. At Eurail she has mentored several young female colleagues by guiding them through the complex world of rail and by encouraging them to develop their soft skills. She has inspired many colleagues at Eurail and among the extended rail community around the world, her outstanding leadership and business-minded attitude allowing her to thrive in this traditionally male-dominated environment.

Joanne Wust, CEO, 4AI Systems, Australia

JOANNE Wust has been a key executive in the growth of 4Tel, a specialist rail technology company founded by her father, Mr Derel Wust, from around 30 staff to 65 in a decade. 4Tel now provides technology solutions across Australia and in Africa. Wust also co-founded specialist AI company 4AI Systems in Australia and has since established a subsidiary in New York, where she is now recruiting a US team to deliver local solutions.

Wust has been a public speaker at major industry conferences such as AusRail in Australia on the issues facing women in rail. She has also become a role model for younger women and fellow entrepreneurs in the Newcastle region of Australia.

Joanne Wust, CEO, 4AI Systems, Australia

Indeed, Wust is a member of the Emerging Technology Group and the Women in Technology Group in Newcastle, which meet regularly to network and discuss common issues impacting their work and company growth themes.

The operations of 4Tel and 4AI Systems were severely disrupted during the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, but under Wust’s leadership the management team introduced new systems and work-from-home guidelines to keep the businesses working, while meeting staff health and safety needs.
After these ways of working bedded in, both the companies were able to keep operating and grew income without the need to cut wages or lay off staff.

As the rail market has been wary of adopting artificial intelligence (AI) solutions, Wust has demonstrated tenacity and resilience in pushing ahead with AI solutions development. She has now moved with her family to the United States to spearhead in person efforts to grow the rail AI market in that country.

“Joanne has worked very hard over many years and across multiple time zones to promote her business interests,” Derel Wust says. “She believes in trying to make the rail industry safer and more efficient with innovative technology and is heavily invested in delivering practical outcomes. She cares about all our staff and actively promotes inclusiveness. She is a modern female leader and a practical role model for contemporary technology roles.”

Elise Gosch, assistant vice-president - strategy, Union Pacific, United States

ELISE Gosch joined Union Pacific (UP) in 2004 and in her current role as assistant vice-president - strategy, she leads an innovation programme identifying new sources of growth, steers the company’s sustainability strategy and disclosure reporting, and works with UP senior staff members to implement corporate strategy.

Gosch was previously assistant vice-president, marketing sales - intermodal sales, where she led a team of sales professionals in the domestic and intermodal segments of UP’s business, which contributes around $US 5bn of revenue annually. She had a prominent role in the team that won the Knight-Swift and Schneider contracts that helped make UP North America’s largest domestic intermodal operator.

Elise Gosch, assistant vice-president - strategy, Union Pacific, United States

She also championed the need to improve the driver experience for intermodal customers - namely improving the technology and processes for truck drivers using UP’s 31 intermodal terminals. This was accomplished by listening to customers’ needs and then working collaboratively with the UP operating and technology teams to create solutions such as making improvements to the UP Go app or installing new gate technology, reducing gate stopping times by over 65%.

In her current role, Gosch is also finding innovative ways to engage every employee with UP’s Serve, Grow, Win, Together strategy. She has developed an interactive experience helping leaders see how each team member fits into the overall strategy.

Gosch has also participated in UP’s rigorous Leadership Development Programme (LDP) and has led the team that implemented Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) in the rail marketplace. UP now has a robust API Developer portal allowing customers to connect easily with UP data sources.

As the parent of a 16-year-old child with the rare Angelman syndrome, Gosch is a founding member, past president and current advisory board member of UP’s disability employee resource group, Ease. With 1400 members, it is now one of the fastest-growing employee resource groups within the company.
In 2014 Gosch’s youngest daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia and she is now active in the Leukemia Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night campaign and has raised thousands of dollars. She also serves on the board of UP’s Streamline Federal Credit Union.

Maria Luisa Grilletta, head of industrial planning, Italian State Railways (FS)

ITALY’s national rolling stock fleet has undergone radical improvement in recent years. During a recent visit to Milan Central station, it was noticeable that virtually all of the trains waiting for their next passengers at the iconic station’s platforms were less than 10 years old.

Perhaps the most striking of these new trains is national passenger operator Trenitalia’s ETR1000. Built by a consortium of Hitachi and Bombardier (now Alstom), the bright red 360km/h high-speed trains entered service in 2015 and have proven both popular and highly reliable. The sleek exterior is matched by the train’s high level of onboard comfort across four classes of travel. The €1.5bn project to introduce the new fleet is also described as the most challenging in the more than 30-year career in the rail industry of Maria Luisa Grilletta, Italian State Railways’ (FS) head of industrial planning. It is also the project that she takes the most pride in.

Maria Luisa Grilletta, head of industrial planning, Italian State Railways (FS)

This is no mean feat. Grilletta has been responsible for leading project management on all of FS’ major high-speed rolling stock projects, including the ETR500, the ETR1000 and more recently the ETR1000 high-speed trains for use by Trenitalia in France and Ilsa in Spain. She has also worked on various regional fleet renewal projects.

Early career achievements include working as a member of the first working group on interoperability between Italy and France in 1996, and contributions to defining rolling stock interoperability in 1997. Grilletta also served as the first female manager in production management, specifically for maintenance and locomotive personnel. As head of customer care and later project management, she managed complex projects throughout Italy, creating teams to achieve excellent results, often in a short period of time.

Grilletta is praised by her nominator for always creating an inspiring and collaborative working environment that focuses on continuous improvement and staff development. Indeed, she is referred to as a role model for her peers by offering motivation and taking care and responsibility for their personal and professional growth. In particular, she takes a keen interest in supporting the professional growth of young and talented female employees, helping them to achieve their potential by reaching managerial and other key positions within FS.

Her experience has touched various business sectors within FS while she has also built strong relationships with suppliers, which have enabled the company to effectively achieve its objectives. In their response to why Grilletta should win this award, the nominator credits her work for helping to change the way of travelling in Italy and other European countries. There’s not much higher praise than that.

Part 1 of Women in Rail 2023 can be found here  

Part 2 of Women in Rail 2023 can be found here

Part 3 of Women in Rail 2023 can be found here