ARIELLE Giordano wasn’t planning a career in the railway sector, let alone becoming the only woman leading a government affairs office for a Class 1 in Washington, DC.
Managing Director US Government Affairs, Canadian Pacific
Age: 32. Years in the industry: 7
While studying at law school in Washington, she worked for a number of members of congress, including Iowa senator and Judiciary Committee member, Mr Chuck Grassley. While preparing for the bar exam, she received a note from Ms Sarah Duggin, previously vice-president and general counsel of Amtrak and currently a professor at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, wishing her good luck. Giordano responded saying she was still looking for a counsel job on the Hill, and Duggin told her that a former student, Mr Fred Miller, was hiring a legal counsel for the House Transportation Railroad Subcommittee.
“I went in not knowing railroads but knowing the Hill and that opened that door for me,” Giordano says. “Sarah Duggin and Fred Miller are the two people that got me in the industry. Fred especially. He taught me really everything I know about rail policy.”
After working on the subcommittee for three years, Giordano joined Class 1 Canadian Pacific (CP) in 2018, becoming the first in-house Washington DC-based government affairs representative for CP and the only female-led DC GA office for a Class 1. She has led the development of CP’s government affairs office from the ground up and since January 2021 and has been responsible for planning CP’s government affairs strategy in the US related to CP’s acquisition of Kansas City Southern.
“My role in the merger is probably my biggest career achievement at this point,” Giordano says. “I don’t think I’ve peaked yet which is hopefully a good thing. I was was presented with the opportunity to prepare all the strategic government affairs planning for something that is one of the most revolutionising events that’s could happen in US freight rail for a long time.”
Giordano is also part of the mentorship programmes at both CP and the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, where she is also president of the Alumni Council. At CP, she mentors other female employees, and at Columbus School of Law, Giordano’s mentee is a young woman working on Capitol Hill and seemingly pursuing a similar career.
Giordano reports experiencing both conscious and unconscious bias as a young woman in the rail sector, citing examples where people have assumed she is clueless about the sector or that her male colleagues are her superiors.
“That’s not intentional, that wasn’t that person being malicious,” she says. “But it is the perfect example of what unconscious bias is - you assume that a young woman is probably not the manager. I think that could hold women back. I’m a very assertive person, and I think that there’s not really a question sometimes that I have authority… but I know not everybody has that personality. And I know that a lot of women will struggle to progress in the industry and move forward if the mentality is that they’re not in charge or they can’t possibly be the leader of the group.”
Giordano has joined CP’s gender diversity and LGBTQ council, which she says is a first step to address the broader issues women face across the industry. She is also part of the League of Railway Women.
Giordano encourages new entrants to take opportunities as they present themselves and to find mentors in each stage of their development and career.
“My mother is an immigrant from Syria, my father is a second-generation Sicilian American, and I am a first-generation American,” she says. “I paved my own path. For every chapter of my educational and professional career I can identify someone I viewed as a mentor. For me, it’s about finding a person that you look up to, who wants to help you, then paying that help forward. And doing that at each stage of your career is important.”
Regional Director, Major Projects Advisory, CPCS
Age: 38. Years in the industry: 8
AFTER a professional cricket career was cut short by injury in 2014, Ragheb Aga entered the world of management consulting, initially in sports management and later co-founding Imitor Graphica, a London-based outsourcing company.
It was while working with Stagecoach on the TransPennine Express franchise bid in 2015 that Aga was first exposed to a career in the rail sector. His work as a contractor eventually evolved into a full-time role with Stagecoach, with Aga becoming a bid programme manager responsible for governing, delivering and responding to the rail franchising programme, delivering three board-approved bids between 2016 and 2018.
A chance conversation with a contact on the eve of a trip to Toronto resulted in an opportunity to move to Canada full-time with First Class Partnerships (FCP), a British-based rail advisory firm, which merged with CPCS in 2020. He was instrumental in securing an agreement with the Canadian public transport agency Metrolinx to support the execution of multibillion dollar capital infrastructure and transport projects in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), FCP’s largest ever contract.
His current focus is on a brownfield metro extension project and helping CPCS become the preferred long-term strategic, commercial and technical advisor to Metrolinx to support the delivery of its capital infrastructure and transport projects.
As his nomination for the award states, Aga “is making waves in the industry because one of his secret weapons is knowing how to establish influential operational processes.”
“You don’t want to be a slave to a process,” he says. “You want process to be an enabler, helping you deliver the best possible output or outcome you’re working so hard for, and hopefully have fun along the way.”
Aga played cricket internationally for Kenya where he grew up as well as for Sussex County Cricket Club in Britain after securing a scholarship from the University of Brighton. He credits his experience as a professional sportsman for shaping his approach to understanding and managing people.
Aga says he is deeply invested in making a positive impact in the GTA by helping Metrolinx deliver high quality, sustainable and integrated transit. He wants to see the overall travel experience improve and for passenger trips to shift to more sustainable modes, increasing climate change resilience.
One of Aga’s career objectives is to lead the management and delivery of major capital infrastructure and transport projects that exceed $C 500m ($US 370.5m) in capital value. He hopes to one day be part of a team responsible for delivering capital infrastructure and transport for an Olympic Games or another major sporting event like the football or cricket World Cup, thus combining two of his passions: sport and transport.
As his nomination states, “Ragheb masterfully simplifies complex topics into easy-to-understand concepts.” He is praised by Alstom for thriving in roles involving complex project delivery while Stagecoach says Aga is reliable, trustworthy, and diligent in the way he approaches his work.
“His ability to balance professionalism with a friendly demeanour makes him approachable and welcoming,” his nominator writes. “He’s a natural team builder and is always willing to put others ahead of himself. These skills and qualities make people and organisations want to work with him again and to recommend him to others.”
General Director - finance, Union Pacific
Age: 39. Years in the industry: 16
FOR Mr Tony Dowling, general director - finance at US Class 1 Union Pacific (UP), every day is different.
Growing up in a small farming town in Nebraska, Dowling went on to complete his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. However, he says he was unsure what to do after graduating, so he pursued an MBA at Iowa State University.
“I always wanted to get back to the agricultural roots that I had, and saw an opportunity with UP given their exposure to the sector,” he says. “The impact that the railroad has is far reaching, from grain to automotive, and the intricacies of seeing the economy first-hand intrigued me. That’s really what prompted my interest in the railroad, and here I am 16 years later, not regretting anything one bit.”
Dowling began working on the budgeting side at UP, before moving into capital investment analysis, followed by a four-year stint in investor relations before finding his way back into managing capital finance. He is now in charge of a team that has financial responsibility and oversight for all operating expense and capital investments for engineering, wagon and locomotive at the railway, with an aggregate annual budget of more than $US 5bn.
“What I find rewarding is that it’s something different every day, it could be looking at the valuation of locomotive reliability, or a lease versus buy on freight cars to support projected demand growth or replacement, or it could be something on engineering productivity,” he says.
During his time at UP, Dowling has driven strategic analyses of multi-billion-dollar investments including locomotive modernisation, terminal expansion and siding extensions. He was responsible for developing a quantitative model to assess the initial success of UP’s transition to Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), a complete overhaul of UP’s transport plan resulting in new key performance indicators and financial measures.
Leading a team is also an aspect that Dowling enjoys.
“I like to use real-life examples and… use it as a teaching moment, to really help get people to understand the process of thought, the process of analytics, that is something that I really take joy in, day in and day out,” he says. “Working through that and getting everybody to understand how to tackle [a problem] is really one of the benefits of what I get to do.”
For those just starting out in the rail industry, Dowling encourages them to have the confidence to ask questions.
“I think that’s a shortcoming that I had when I first entered the railroad,” he says. “I made a lot of assumptions, or I just didn’t want to bother anybody and didn’t want to take the time to ask questions. If you’re not going to ask those questions, you’re not going to learn, you’re not going to grasp the concepts, you’re not going to gain a fundamental understanding of the business, of any analytical model you’re doing.”
Principal Systems Engineer,
Age: 34. Years in the industry: 11
WHILE he anticipated following his father into aerospace after a promising sports career did not work out, the “test track” in his hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, is where Ryan Sheehan ultimately put his engineering degree into practice.
Sheehan recalls a downturn in the economy and a lack of jobs in the aerospace sector forcing him to pursue other opportunities after university. Friends who he studied with at Colorado State University Pueblo had secured jobs at Transportation Technology Center Inc (TTCI) (now MxV Rail) and encouraged him to do the same.
While Sheehan had an impression of rail as being simple - just running trains on track - he soon learned that he was very wrong. He was exposed to a variety of working practices in his early years with TTCI, and worked on projects ranging from introducing systems improvements to a TAD system for acoustic data collection from faulty bearings, designing and implementing primary and second power distribution systems, and implementing and training personnel to use Positive Train Control (PTC).
He says this work helped him transition from a traditional mechanical and electrical engineer to a systems engineer. Sheehan has established himself as a technical leader in systems engineering, train control, and automation technology, serving as one of the key technical leads from a team of 25 engineers working at MxV on the wider industry initiative to develop Automatic Train Operation (ATO).
Sheehan began work on the project at its inception in 2018 after contributing to a two-year feasibility study. He is now a key leader in the development of the concept, architecture, and initial specifications for the ATO programme, which harnesses PTC infrastructure as a backbone, and aims to integrate existing and emerging technology to support increased levels of automation to enhance operational consistency and safety. He has also overseen the development of the industry safety programme to support the ATO concept and is now leading an effort to prepare a coordinated industry automation development programme and roadmap.
Sheehan says the greatest challenge of this work is the new skillsets and the different roles and responsibilities it requires from the industry. He describes the work “to take rail systems engineering principles and make them apply across the wider industry, taking everyone who is working on it along with you” as “very, very challenging.” Yet, it is this close collaboration with colleagues at MxV as well as the North American Class 1s and suppliers which he finds the most rewarding element of his job.
As part of his work, he has mentored and overseen the progress of a number of the newer engineers working on the team. Sheehan also held volunteer leadership positions on the company’s Safety Resource Team (SRT) and Internship Mentoring Team, lending his leadership skills to wider company initiatives. He hopes these skills enable him to take on a more formal leadership role in both MxV and the industry to oversee the development and implementation of new technologies to enhance the safety, reliability, and efficiency of rail operations.
“Ryan has no shortage of enthusiasm for the work he takes on,” his nominator writes. “There is no limit to his initiative; he is an amazing team player, and he is a great public speaker. His leadership and technical skills, along with his desire to achieve more, will take him to great heights, and will benefit the industry immensely as his career progresses.”
Part 1 of Young Leaders in Rail Awards can be found here
Part 2 of Young Leaders in Rail Awards can be found here