Podcast: Platform Chats

 



Come “roll with AREMA” as we chat with Members from every aspect of the Association.  Each episode will contain entertaining and informative stories from our members about their time in the association and how it has advanced their careers.   

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Host

Walt Bleser, PE currently serves as President of ARE Corporation and remains Principal of Unabridged Structures, LLC.  Prior to this role he was the President of SENSR Monitoring Technologies, LLC. He has over twenty years in the North American railway vertical working with every Class I railroad, major commuter railroad and several transit agencies. Named a Progressive Railroading Rising Stars Top 20 under 40 in 2013 and again an honorable mention by Railway Age for Top 20 under 40 in 2019. He has done everything from design and inspection of structures to implementing technology that makes railroads more efficient through the use of structural health monitoring systems and cloud based bridge asset management programs.  Walt is an active participant in AREMA, currently serving as a Director, Structures Functional Group on the Board of Directors.  He is the previous Chair of Committee 7, Timber Structures, and a subcommittee chairman of Committee 10, Structures Maintenance & Construction, aiding in the production of the organization’s Bridge Management Best Practices.

Season 1 Guests (Episodes 1-5)


Episode 1 - The History of AREMA
Ed Sparks, PE
AREMA Past President - 2020-2021
Assistant Chief Engineer of Structures
CSX Transportation

Host Walt Bleser, PE discusses the history of AREMA with Past President Ed Sparks, PE and how the Association helps with a career in the railroad industry.
Episode 2 - Meet Erika Bruhnke, Rail Pros Rising Star
Erika Bruhnke
Vice President, Training Services
RailPros

Erika Bruhnke joined AREMA within the last five years and has quickly become a vital and engaged member. She is active on a Technical Committee and is working hard to give back to the industry. On this episode, she discusses her unique career path into the railway industry and how getting involved in AREMA helped her grow her network and continue her education.

Episode 3 – The Past and Future of the Rail Industry
Steve Hill, PE
Principal
XRDS Consulting

Steve Hill has over 50 years of experience in the rail industry in track and bridge engineering and construction. With a career that has taken him all over the globe, Steve reflects on his experiences with AREMA, the lessons he's learned, and the future of the industry.

Episode 4 - Environmental Impact in the Rail Industry

Kari Harris

Manager, Environmental Impact
CN

Leo Thorbecke
Vice President
TRC Companies

On this episode, Bleser sits down with Kari Harris, Manager, Environmental Impact, CN and Leo Thorbecke, Vice President, TRC Companies, leaders of Committee 13 - Environmental. They discuss Committee 13's role at AREMA, the challenges and opportunities found in a small committee, and how they're looking to help expand the rail industry. Environmental is more than just permits. Find out why on this episode.

Episode 5 - AREMA Student Chapters
Gio DiDomenico, PE, P. Eng

Track Engineer
Kiewit Engineering Group, Inc.

On this episode of the podcast, Host Walt Bleser sits down with Gio DiDomenico, Track Engineer, Kiewit. They discuss Gio’s path from AREMA Student Chapter member to Young Professional supporter for AREMA. Along the way they debate the benefits of Colorado living and the importance of engaging young railway professionals early in their career. It’s a lively episode you won’t want to miss.

Season 1 Guests (Episodes 6-10)


Episode 6 - New Technology in the Rail Industry

Mike Weber
Signal Engineer
Modern Railway Systems

Jerry Specht
Director of Signal Engineering
BNSF Railway

Join our host Walt Bleser as he sits down with Mike Weber, Signal Engineer at Modern Railway Systems, and Jerry Specht, Director of Signal Engineering at BNSF Railway.  The three discuss AREMA’s newest Committee 35 – Information Technology.  They take a dive into the future of AREMA, new technology in the industry, and the goals of Committee 35.  You won’t want to miss this episode.


Episode 7 - The Promising Future of the Rail Industry
Vic Babin

AREMA President - 2020-2021
Chief Engineering Officer (Ret)
NICTD South Shore Line

This episode, Walt sits down with AREMA President Vic Babin as they talk a little about the past and a lot about the promising future of the rail industry. Along the way they’ll touch on the upcoming AREMA 2021 Virtual Conference, the silver tsunami, and Super Mario Brothers.

Episode 8 - The Future of Hyperloop

Josh Giegel

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder
Virgin Hyperloop

Sarah Quick
Director Regulatory Affairs
Virgin Hyperloop

The wait is over. On this episode, host Walt Bleser talks with Josh Giegel, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, and Sarah Quick, Director of Regulatory Affairs, both of Virgin Hyperloop, about the exciting future of hyperloop and the role AREMA could play in that future. Along the way, they’ll discuss the importance of safety and safety regulations in the development of hyperloop, the importance of sharing knowledge in the rail industry, and the similarities and differences between hyperloop and the railroad. Leave your thoughts of pneumatic bank tubes behind, this is a discussion of an innovative option for a safe, sustainable future in passenger transportation.  This is the opportunity for seamless movement at super high speeds and yes, there will be bathrooms.


Episode 9 - How to Successfully Present Your Ideas

Trent Hudak, PE

Director Engineering Services
BNSF Railway

Stacy Spaulding, CAE
Senior Director, Executive and Board Operations
AREMA

Have you ever wondered what it takes to present your project or idea at the AREMA Annual Conference? On this episode, host Walt Bleser sits down with two experts on the topic: Program Committee Chair and AREMA Senior Vice President, Trent Hudak, PE, Director Engineering Services, BNSF Railway, and Program Committee Staff Liaison Stacy Spaulding, CAE, Senior Director, Executive and Board Operations for AREMA. The trio discusses what the Program Committee looks for in papers such as new technologies and groundbreaking solutions to old problems. They also consider what it takes to present during the General Session and the importance of inclusivity and the diversity of ideas.  If you want to know how best to position your paper for success, you won’t want to miss this episode.


Episode 10 - Preparing for Winterization
Brian Lindamood, PE, SE
Vice President, Chief Engineer
Alaska Railroad

This episode, host Walt Bleser, PE, talks with Brian Lindamood, PE, SE, Vice President, Chief Engineer of Alaska Railroad.  A Past AREMA President and Committee Chair, Brian offers his unique perspective on the subject of winterization and what a railroad needs to do year-round to prepare.  Who best to discuss winterization with than a resident of Alaska? Permafrost, avalanches, lasers, and fewer snowblowers than you might think, this is an episode for those who love the ins and outs of engineering.


Season 2 Guests (Episodes 1-5)


Season 2, Episode 1 - Debunking Myths of Committee Membership

Ashley Pate

AVP Business Development Manager
TranSystems

Ruth Brown, PE
Chief Engineer Bridges & Structures
Norfolk Southern Railway

Think you need years of experience to join a committee or that you must be an engineer? Then this episode is for you. Host Walt Bleser sits down with Committee 24 Chair Ashley Pate, AVP Business Development Manager, TranSystems and Committee 15 Vice Chair Ruth Brown, PE, Chief Engineer Bridges & Structures, Norfolk Southern Railway, two committee members and leaders, to debunk some of the myths surrounding Committee membership.  They each took a different path to AREMA and committee membership, but they have made the most of it and are happy to share their experiences. Don’t dwell on your fear of the unknown. If you try only one new thing this year, make it an AREMA committee. 


Season 2, Episode 2 - The Next Generation in Railroad

Jaclyn Whelan, PE
Project Manager - Design
Conrail

Skylar Leach
Senior Engineer - Track Standards & Specifications
Amtrak

In this episode, Walt chats with Jaclyn Whelan (Conrail) and Skylar Leach (Amtrak) two young professionals who are eager to share their unique perspectives on joining the rail industry and AREMA. Along the way, they discuss their hopes for the future and the feeling of walking into a committee meeting alone for the first time. Yes, TikTok will be mentioned but don’t judge. These young professionals appreciate the railroad and are excited for what comes next. Meet the next generation of railroaders, these are two names you will surely hear in the future.

Season 2, Episode 3 - Women in the Rail Industry

Cassandra Gouger, PE
Senior Director - Design
Union Pacific

Krista Keene, EIT, MSE, MBA, PMP
Senior Real Estate Development Manager - Utility Occupancies
Amtrak

It's Women’s History Month and on this episode, Walt interviews Cassandra Gouger (Union Pacific) and Krista Keene (Amtrak) as they reflect on the different paths and opportunities that led them both to a career in rail and leadership positions within AREMA. The group will touch on the history of women in rail, and the unique challenges women in the industry have faced since the 1960s. They’ll also discuss the importance of including diverse perspectives in the recruiting, hiring, and promoting processes. The industry has come a long way but there is still more work to be done and everyone can be an ally for diversity. From early education outreach to improving work/life, it's important to highlight and share the variety of career options available in the industry. Be it in the boardroom or on the track, no job in the railroad industry is off-limits.


Season 2, Episode 4 - Dr. William Hay

Michael Franke, PE
Chair of the Hay Award Selection Committee
Senior Director, State Government Contracts (Ret)
Amtrak

Christopher Barkan, PhD
Professor
George Krambles Director - Rail Transportation and Engineering Center - RailTEC
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Matthew Fletcher, PE
Railway Market Principal
Hanson Professional Services, Inc.

Dr. William W. Hay was a railroader and educator who mentored generations of leaders in the rail industry and his influence is still felt today, over 20 years after his passing. But who was Dr. Hay? Why were those who knew him inspired to create the Dr. William W. Hay Award for Excellence in his honor? In this episode, host Walt Bleser sits down with Michael Franke, Chair of the Hay Award Selection Committee and a former student of Dr. Hay, Chris Barkan, PhD a Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who still uses the textbook written by Dr. Hay as part of his curriculum, and Mat Fletcher of Hanson Professional Services Inc.  In 2020, Hanson won the Hay Award for their project, “Norfolk Southern’s Grand River Bridge Emergency Repairs in Brunswick, Missouri.” They discuss what made Dr. Hay so important to them, what the Selection Committee is looking for in a Hay Award-winning project, and the greater role previous winning projects have played in education. These guests all come from different backgrounds, but they do have one thing in common, the notable Dr. William. W. Hay.  All entries for the Dr. William W. Hay Award for Excellence are due by May 20. 
Season 2, Episode 5 - Rebranding in the Rail Industry
Michele Malski, MBA

Founder and President
Succession Planning for Railroads Investing in the Next Generation (SPRING)

Does the railroad industry have an identity issue? How do employers rebrand post “The Great Resignation”? How can railroads of all types draw the best talent when faced with fierce competition from tech and other areas of transportation? In this episode, Walt tackles these questions with Michele Malski, founder of Succession Planning for Railroads Investing in the Next Generation (SPRING LLC). As a recruiter for railroads and a second-generation railroader herself, Michele has firsthand insight into what the next generation of railroaders is looking for in an employer. One tip: they don’t want your grandfather’s railroad. It’s important to show that you are more than just a company and look beyond traditional related degrees for the best candidates.  The rail industry has endured many recessions before and has a strong future ahead. It’s an episode sure to generate some questions so it's important to stay open-minded.

Season 2 Guests (Episodes 6-10)


Season 2, Episode 6 - Non-Traditional Careers Paths to the Rail Industry

Bill Riehl

Chief Engineer Structures
Genesee & Wyoming

Will Riehl
Territory Sales Engineer
Atlantic Track Turnout

It’s a family affair on this episode as host Walt Bleser chats with two generations of AREMA members about the different paths they took to a career in civil engineering. William “Bill” Riehl, III, Chief Engineer Structures, Genesee & Wyoming has over 35 years of experience in the rail industry, and his son William “Will” Riehl, IV, Territory Sales Engineer, Atlantic Track Turnout is days away from completing his first year. Father and son share more than a love of model trains, they both offer a unique perspective on the industry and finding a career in rail outside of the traditional path. They'll also discuss the importance of networking in a relationship-based industry like rail and discovering how much business happens outside of work hours. And we'll answer the question, what exactly is the sound of money? It’s an episode that is sure to bridge the generational gap.
Season 2, Episode 7 - The Importance of Committee Work and Leadership

Frank Miller, III, PE
Vice President, Senior Project Manager-Director of Track Design, Transit & Rail
AECOM

Kevin Hicks, PE
Freight Market Sector Leader
TranSystems

On this episode, Walt chats with Frank Miller, PE (AECOM), and Kevin Hicks, PE (TranSystems) two outgoing members of the Functional Group Board of Directors, the group that manages the technical committee operations for AREMA. Between them, they have over 60 years of experience in committee work and committee leadership. They’ll discuss the ability to drive the industry through committee membership and the importance of having a voice. They’ll also discuss the role of a Functional Group Vice President in AREMA, the importance of what they do, and their path to leadership. There are many opportunities within AREMA for those who are willing. They’ll also answer the question “Is Committee leadership relevant?” Spoiler: the answer is yes and never underestimating the value of a good library.
Season 2, Episode 8 - First Look into the AREMA 2022 Annual Conference

Mike Freeman, PE

Director, Structures Design
UP

Joe Bamert, III, PE
Manager, Engineering Track Systems
Norfolk Southern Railway

The AREMA 2022 Annual Conference & Expo is almost here! On this episode, Walt chats with two members who play key roles in the success of the event. Mike Freeman, PE (Union Pacific) is President of the AREMA Board of Governors and Joe Bamert, PE (Norfolk Southern Corporation) serves as chair of the Conference Operating Committee which provides valuable volunteers for the Conference. The trio talk about some of the exciting changes planned for the first in-person Conference in two years and dish on some of the "behind the scenes" things they’ve learned from their years of involvement with the event. Gain an insider's perspective on Conference before the event in Denver!

Season 2, Episode 9 - Recap of the AREMA 2022 Annual Conference

Beth Caruso, IOM, CAE
Executive Director/CEO
AREMA

Desirée Knight, CAE, CMP, DES
Senior Director, Education and Meetings
AREMA

The AREMA 2022 Annual Conference & Expo has come and gone, but not without talking to the two major players in making sure the event goes off without a hitch.  On this episode, we talk to AREMA staff, Beth Caruso, IOM, CAE, Executive Director and CEO, and Desiree Knight, CAE, CMP, DES, Senior Director, Education and Meetings to hear the ins and outs of the Annual Conference. How long does it take to plan these things? Did they love the music as much as everyone else? What was it like to be back in person? You’ll learn the answer to these questions and other fun facts, including if they have a favorite Presentation of the Conference in this episode. For the record, no attendees were arrested while in Denver…we think.


Season 2, Episode 10 - Student Resources and Career Paths

Gary Babcoke
Project Engineer-West Lake Corridor
Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District

Bryan Schlake
Assistant Teaching Professor
Penn State Altoona

Are you a student looking to find your career path? While you may not have even considered railroading, let us put it on your radar.  Many of the engineering (yes, even civil), technical, and communications fields apply to the railroading industry and there are resources available to students to help them find their way. In this episode, Walt Bleser chats with Bryan Schlake an Assistant Teaching Professor at Penn State-Altoona, and recent Penn State-Altoona graduate Gary Babcoke now a Project Engineer with NICTD. Both are mechanical engineers who have extensive experience navigating the AREMA Student Program, from attending a Conference to applying for scholarships, to forming a Student Chapter, and now working in the railroad industry - they have tried it all. Their stories are a testament to making the most of your resources and taking advantage of every opportunity when starting your career in rail.

Season 2, Episode 11 - International Opportunities in the Rail Industry

Thomas Cornillie
Independent Consultant
ThomasCornillie.com

James Michel
Railway Safety and Risk Management Consultant

On this episode, Walt chats with AREMA members James Michel (Railway Safety and Risk Management Consultant) and Thomas Cornille (Independent Consultant and former Watford Fellow), two members of the US Watford Committee as they share their experiences with the Watford Conference, an international conference for railroad professionals and on other international educational opportunities in the rail industry.  In rail, your career is only bounded by your curiosity, so hope onboard as we take a trip around the globe.

Season 3 Guests (Episodes 1-5)


Season 3, Episode 1 - Sustainability in the Railroad Industry

Mark Coleman
Director Advanced Energy
TRC

Dava Kaitala
National Class 1 Rail Vice President
Jacobs

In this first episode of the new year, host Walt Bleser chats with Dava Kaitala and Mark Coleman, two active Committee 13 – Environmental committee members about sustainability in the railroad industry. Dava Kaitala is the National Class 1 Rail Vice President for Jacobs and holds a JD from Texas Tech University. Mark Coleman is the Director of Advanced Energy at TRC and holds an MS in Environmental Management and Policy from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Together the trio discusses the differences and nuances between sustainability and environmentalism. As well as the importance of taking a cross- functional view of sustainability.
Season 3, Episode 2 - What are the AREMA Functional Groups?

Michael Atzert, PE
Rail Project Manager
Burns & McDonnell

David C. Clark, PE
Director Construction
CSX Transportation, Inc.

What exactly are the AREMA Functional Groups? What role do they play in shaping the content we see at the Annual Conference and in our Manuals? In this episode, Walt sets out to answer those questions and others with two of the newest Functional Group leaders. Mike Atzert (Burns & McDonnell) is a Director of the Engineering Services Functional Group and has over 20 years of experience as a consultant in the rail industry. David C. Clark (CSX Transportation) is the Track Functional Group Vice President and has nearly 20 years of experience working in construction at a Class 1 railroad. Together, the trio discusses their paths to the industry, their plans for AREMA, and how they see AREMA changing in the future. It’s an episode you won’t want to miss.

Season 3, Episode 3 - The Importance of the American Short Line
Chuck Baker
President
American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association

We are back after a brief hiatus with a question. What do you know about short lines and other regional railroads? There’s more to rail than the cross-country trek; short lines represent a crucial, somewhat unknown, part of North American infrastructure. This episode host Walt Bleser chats with American Short Line and Railroad Association (ASLRRA) President, Chuck Baker. Together they lift the veil on the regional railroads that represent nearly 30% of the American railroad network. They’ll also discuss the valuable and complementary roles that trade associations and associations like AREMA play in the rail industry. It’s an informative and pun-free episode we know you’ll enjoy.

Season 3, Episode 4 - Meet Tony Hatch, Rail Industry Icon
Tony Hatch
Senior Transportation Analyst
ABH Consulting

On this episode, Walt chats with rail industry icon Tony Hatch, Senior Transportation Analyst, ABH Consulting. With over 30 years of experience as an independent transportation analyst, he wants to change the dynamics of railroads and the current public perception of the industry through the power of accurate information. Hatch pulls no punches as the duo discuss the latest news and events on everyone’s mind. From derailments and safety to changes in the C-Suite at Class 1s to the bright future ahead for rail, no topic is off limits on this fascinating and fast-paced episode.


Season 3, Episode 5 - The Impact of Association Memberships
Nate Irby, PhD
Executive Director
Railway Tie Association

On this episode, Walt continues his exploration of other Associations with Nate Irby, Executive Director of the Railway Tie Association (RTA). They consider the impact Association membership can have on a career, especially for a young professional. Tip: Immerse yourself and say yes! They also discuss the value of member testimonials and the importance of having strong industry competitors and allies. In the rail industry, the things that tie us together are stronger than those that tear us apart (Couldn’t resist just one pun). We think you’ll really enjoy this one. It has a little bit of everything, and we’d love to have Nate back when his book is published.

Season 3 Guests (Episodes 6-10)


Season 3, Episode 6 - Setting Goals and Leveraging Opportunities for Success

Trent Hudak, PE
BNSF Railway
AREMA President 2022-2023

Ray Verrelle, PE
Amtrak
AREMA Senior Vice President

As seasons change, so do the terms of Association Officers. On this episode, Walt chats with outgoing AREMA President Trent Hudak, PE, Director Engineering Services, BNSF Railway, and incoming AREMA President, current Senior Vice President Ray Verrelle, PE, Vice President Engineering Services, Amtrak. The trio discusses the importance of goal setting when taking on a new role. How a one-year term as president is a three-year assignment, so having a plan is vital. The importance of leveraging opportunities to make events more attractive and financially feasible for the industry. They’ll also consider how a mode of transportation as old as rail is surprisingly innovative and environmentally friendly. It’s an episode that touches on it all. It’s the last episode before the AREMA 2023 Annual Conference in conjunction with Railway Interchange. If there is anything keeping you on the fence about attending, let this be the episode that pushes you forward.
Season 3, Episode 7 - 2023 Hay Award Winners Discuss Merchants Bridge

Eric Fields
Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis

Nick Staroski
TranSystems

Kevin Eisenbeis
Burns and McDonnell

In this episode, Walt chats with the winners of the 2023 Dr. William W. Hay Award about their project “Merchants Bridge Main Span Trusses & East Approach Replacement.” Crossing the Mississippi River and originally built in 1890 by attorney turned engineer George Morisson, the Merchants Bridge is the second oldest bridge in St. Louis and has exceeded its design life. This innovative project was undertaken to bring it up to today’s design standards. Eric Fields (Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis), Nick Staroski (TranSystems), and Kevin Eisenbeis (Burns and McDonnell) share stories about the history of this amazing bridge, how the project was conceived, and what it means in the industry to be recognized with a Hay award.

For more information about the Dr. William W. Hay Award visit our Hay Award Webpage or listen to Season 2, Episode 4 - Dr. William Hay.
Season 3, Episode 8 - What Does NRC Have in Store for 2024? 
Ashley Wieland
President
National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association (NRC)

We end 2023 with a look ahead to 2024. This episode, Walt chats with Ashley Wieland, President of The National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) about their upcoming Conference in January 2024 and what’s in store for NRC in the future.  The duo discusses the safety resources NRC provides its members and the industry as well as its role in connecting industry professionals with policy makers. It’s important to be at the table so you don’t end up on the menu.
 
The NRC is a U.S. trade association that advances the mutual interests of railway contractors and suppliers who construct, keep, and supply railroads and rail-transit lines, creating a positive business climate. To learn more about the NRC, its membership, and upcoming events, please visit their website at www.nrcma.org.
 

Season 4 Guests (Episodes 1-5)


Season 4, Episode 1 - A Sneak Peek at the AREMA 2024 Sustainability & Resiliency Symposium

Ned Bagniewski, PE, ENV SP
Transportation Sustainability Leader / Senior Rail Engineer
HDR

Leo Thorbecke
Vice President - Rail/Transportation
TRC

The AREMA 2024 Sustainability & Resiliency Symposium is almost here. On this first episode of Season 4 and the New Year, Walt chats with two key members of the event's success: Ned Bagniewski, PE, ENV SP (HDR), and Leo Thorbecke (TRC). The trio talks about some of the exciting changes in rail around sustainability, resiliency, and the events planned for the first-of-its-kind Symposium. Changes are here. Hop on board the Symposium before you get left behind.

Season 4, Episode 2 - 2024 Hiring Trends

Kevin Forrest
Talent Advisor
CSX Transportation

Andrew Stahl
Founder
Stahl Recruiting, Executive Search

Soft skills, that little extra something.…what does it take to match the right person to the right job in the rail industry? Hiring qualified employees is critical in the railroad industry, these two guests are at the forefront. Kevin Forrest, Talent Advisor at CSX, and Andrew Stahl, Founder of Stahl Recruiting, understand the ins and outs of the rail, what companies are looking for, and how to set yourself apart from the crowd. Railroading is a lifestyle and the whole person matters. Recruiting trends, the importance of a holistic fit in the workplace, and the efficiency of rail, this episode touches on it all. If you are interested in a career in the rail industry, you won’t want to miss it.

After the episode, be sure to check out the Railway Careers Network to jumpstart your career in rail.


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