Big Picture Trends, Areas of Collaboration and Next-Gen Advice: 2 Female Rail Executives Weigh In

While rail has traditionally been perceived as an industry driven by men, the fact is women have played a role from the start. Dating back to the late 19th century, individuals like Mary Walton developed a patent to deflect air pollutant emissions that would later be adapted for steam engines. In the 1970s, Bonnie Leake became one of the first female locomotive engineers for Union Pacific Railroad (UP). And in the same decade, Edwina Justus became UP’s first Black female locomotive engineer. 

The promise of progress continues in our modern era, as brilliant women and men alike work together to propel this industry forward. In honor of Women’s History Month, RSI sat down with two prominent female leaders in our industry: Jean Savage, CEO and president at Trinity Industries, and Lorie Tekorius, president and CEO at The Greenbrier Companies.

Here, they share the trends they’re watching shape the industry, areas of opportunity for RSI members to collaborate and advice they want to give to the next generation of women in rail. 

What are some trends or areas of innovation you’re keeping a pulse on?

Jean Savage (JS): Trinity is a leader in using telemetry in the North American freight rail network. This innovation is a sign of a new and important cooperation between railroads and railcar owners. Making railcars more than just “boxes on wheels” can change them from passive pieces of equipment to sources of insight in an interconnected rail network. In the future, railcars with sensors and communication devices could notify industry stakeholders, like railroads and shippers, when there are noteworthy changes in the location, condition, or health of the car or its contents. Remote monitoring on railcars has the potential to make railcars even more valuable for the industry’s value creation for shippers.

In addition to railcar-based telemetry, we are seeing our industry continue to build on its sustainability advantages. We all know that the North American freight rail network can move one ton of freight about 500 miles on one gallon of fuel. But railroads and rail equipment providers have not stopped there. Railcar providers are using modern designs and new materials to enhance the already impressive environmental benefits of our assets. Railroads are also making significant investments in lower or zero emission locomotives.

As well, generative artificial intelligence (AI) is an emerging trend in rail logistics that can create and optimize solutions for various challenges and opportunities. By generating novel data or content from existing ones, generative AI can simulate, test, and improve scenarios, strategies, and designs for the rail industry. We are committed to investing in and collaborating on this technology, as we believe it will have a significant impact on the future of rail logistics.

Lorie Tekorius (LT): Three trends in particular come to mind: artificial intelligence (AI), climate regulation and border issues.

AI: This topic has dominated headlines in recent years; it is not just a buzzword but a crucial tool that can revolutionize our industry. Despite concerns about job displacement, AI is set to enhance service quality and increase efficiency across sectors, including rail. In our industry, AI could play a pivotal role in safety regulation and risk reduction. For instance, by implementing software to monitor working conditions, organizations can proactively identify potential safety issues and prevent incidents before they occur, reassuring stakeholders about our commitment to their well-being. This underscores the significance of AI in our industry and its potential to shape the future of rail.

Climate regulation: A reality that has emerged in recent years is a large-scale focus on environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation. Recently, there has been increased demand from various stakeholders, including government agencies in the U.S. and the European Union. Fortunately, our sector has an excellent story to tell. Sustainability connects to most aspects of the rail industry, from manufacturing some of the most fuel-efficient transportation products to introducing more sustainable designs. We know that rail is ahead of the curve, as our industry continually works to enhance fuel efficiency and limit our impact on the environment, instilling confidence in stakeholders about the industry’s future.

Border issues: We closely monitor conditions at the southern U.S. border, including multiple border closures, causing shipment delays and cancellations. In addition, we are seeing an increased focus on immigration reform. Greenbrier has joined many, including railroad leaders, shippers and competitors, to draw government attention. Collectively, we will ensure policymakers hear our concerns and address impediments to commercial activity and trade at the southern border. As we approach the 2026 United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) review, this issue is more critical than ever. This underscores the importance of collective action and collaboration in addressing border issues and the potential for the rail industry to unite for a common cause. 

What are some areas of opportunity for RSI members to collaborate for the good of the industry?

JS: The industry must work collectively to tell our story for the benefit of our customers. The safety, efficiency and sustainability advantages of rail are meaningful to North American shippers. Collectively, we must share these advantages loudly and relentlessly.

  • Safety: A Texas A&M University study found that freight rail is meaningfully safer than highway transportation when measured by fatalities per ton mile.
  • Efficiency: The railroads have invested about $780 billion in North America’s freight rail infrastructure over the last 40 years, diminishing the burden on taxpayers to keep the economy moving.
  • Sustainability: Converting a load of freight from truck to rail can lead to a 75% reduction in emissions.

Because of these advantages to the customer, we need to work across the freight rail ecosystem to convert modal share back to rail. Given the interconnected nature of our industry, this requires a cross-functional shipment-by-shipment approach.

For example, a quality railcar is less valuable without reliable service from a railroad. In the same way, competitive rail service can be lacking without efficient terminal operations. Class 1 Railroads, shortlines, equipment providers and shippers must provide a competitive, resilient rail network that unlocks the key safety, efficiency and sustainability advantages of our mode.

LT: Building on my previous answer in regards to trends, I also see areas of opportunity in climate regulation and border issues.

Climate regulation: Working together to ensure that the regulations passed are good for the environment while being feasible for companies to implement is a vital collaboration opportunity for RSI members. The original SEC climate proposal imposed significant compliance costs for manufacturing companies of all sizes. Fortunately, the industry and our coalitions negotiated more realistic rules and regulations for the updated proposal. While climate regulations may require further negotiation, we are committed to working alongside others in the industry to ensure we make a positive societal impact while delivering the returns our employees and investors require. Our combined efforts in this area can significantly contribute to achieving our climate goals.

Border issues: Earlier in my career, I worked for Greenbrier’s president of manufacturing as the company expanded from a U.S. and Canadian-based company to establishing multiple operations in Europe and Mexico. We knew then, as we know today, that free trade would be essential to our success. We were early supporters of NAFTA, defending its creation in 1994 to its maturation into the USMCA in 2020. Next, we have the USMCA review in 2026. As challenges at the U.S.-Mexico border persist, we must continue to work together to support North American free trade and bolster the rail network.

What is one piece of advice you want offer for the next generation of women in rail?

JS: One piece of advice I would give to the next generation of women in rail is to cultivate intellectual curiosity. Rail is a dynamic and complex industry that requires constant learning and adaptation. By being curious, you can discover new opportunities, challenge assumptions and find innovative solutions to the problems facing the rail sector.

Intellectual curiosity will also help you grow your skills and knowledge, expand your network and advance your career. Do not be afraid to ask questions, explore different perspectives and seek feedback from mentors and peers. Intellectual curiosity is a powerful asset that will make you a valuable and respected leader in the rail industry.

LT: As a strong advocate for women, I believe in encouraging broad recruitment for talent that has been historically underrepresented. While there have been improvements, women still face barriers in specific career paths, including the rail industry. Companies must establish development programs that uncover hidden talent within their workforce so you don’t have to rely on catching the attention of the right person who recognizes your potential.

Initiative and a willingness to embrace new challenges are key to career advancement. Women often underestimate their abilities and hesitate to take on new projects. In my experience, being willing to say yes to projects and assignments is equally important.


About the Railway Supply Institute (RSI)
The Railway Supply Institute (RSI) is dedicated to advancing safety, innovation, technology, and sustainability within the freight and passenger railway supplier industry, both in North America and global markets. As the voice of the industry, RSI strategically engages in critical and urgent industry matters by leveraging the technical expertise of our members to advocate in the legislative and regulatory arenas, foster education, host impactful events, and facilitate networking opportunities. For more information visit, follow RSI on Twitter and LinkedIn

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