Not Your Grandfather’s Railroad

-MOXY staff

Kari Gonzales began her career with MxV Rail in 2000 as an engineering intern from the Colorado School of Mines. Now she is the organization’s first Latina president and CEO.

It’s natural for people to associate the railroad  – one of America’s oldest industries – with clunky, unsafe steam engines chugging along in the dark ages. To the contrary, railroading today is one of the most innovative and sustainable components of our infrastructure. And it’s determined to not be the caboose on matters of DE&I.

On April 15, 2022, Union Pacific announced its first time being named as a Best Place to Work by the Women’s Choice Awards in three categories: Best Companies for Women, Best Companies for Diversity and Best Companies for Millennials. Only companies with the highest scores earn a Women’s Choice Award, and very few are recognized across all three categories.

Union Pacific was identified by the Women’s Choice Awards for meeting general needs of all working women, aiming to dismantle systematic barriers and close race-based gaps, and helping millennial women grow and advance in their careers. This recognition comes a year after Union Pacific announced its goal to increase the representation of women in its workforce by doubling the current population and growing its people of color in the workforce to 40%, representing a 36% improvement.

“Being identified by the Women’s Choice Awards is exemplary of our meaningful progress toward our diversity, equity and inclusion goals,” said Beth Whited, executive vice president – sustainability and strategy.

In other major women-in-rail news, Kathryn M. “Katie” Farmer has completed just over a year in her new role as the first female CEO of a Class I railroad, BNSF.

Though long overdue, it’s a significant milestone in the nearly 200-year-old history of North American railroading. In a recent podcast interview with Railway Age, she discussed the importance of creating an environment in which talented people can work and know that they are making a real difference.

“Retention is personal. People leave [jobs] because they don’t feel a connection,” said Farmer, adding that BNSF is committed to retention through its internal mentoring programs, business resource groups and diversity councils.

And the pay isn’t shabby either. In 2020, Class I freight rail employee compensation, including benefits, averaged approximately $135,700 per year. Further, according to the Association of American Railroads, the average Class I freight railroad employee earns total compensation higher than the average compensation of industries that employ 94% of US workers.

In terms of tenure, Kari Gonzales is clearly in it for the long haul. She has been a part of MxV Rail since 2000, when she started as a student intern and was later hired full-time as a research engineer upon completing her degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines in December of 2002. In 2021 she ascended to the role of president and CEO, and is the first Latina to hold that position in the history of the organization. 

A wholly-owned subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads (AAR), MxV (formerly the Transportation Technology Center Inc.) is the industry’s premier rail research and testing facility that works to improve the safety and efficiency of freight railroads throughout North America and the world.

“Part of our success is grounded in a name that communicates our purpose and demonstrates that our value and industry contributions are not dependent on a single location. Our new name, MxV Rail, is based on the formula for momentum: mass x velocity, evoking our dedication to creating the momentum needed to move our industry forward,” said Kari. “Our experts are guided by the principles of rigor, innovation, collaboration and real-world applicability that are key to helping solve the industry’s most pressing challenges.”

Also the education chairwoman for the League of Railway Women, Kari is passionate about the industry’s people and talents. “Rail is one of the trailblazers of transportation in terms of low emissions,” she continued. “The industry is still challenging itself in this arena, even though it is still extremely effective at using alternative fuels and technologies to ensure a low carbon footprint.”

According to the AAR, Class I railroads move one ton of freight more than 480 miles per gallon of fuel. Additionally, freight railroads also account for just 1.9% of US transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, Union Pacific has made significant progress toward reducing its environmental impact and is working to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Those interested in catching the next train to a new career with broad and exciting horizons should visit the League of Railway Women’s career page at

This article originally appeared in MOXY, the voice of women in infrastructure.