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NS women making a difference

Fall 2014

Ruth Brown and Max Brinck
Ruth Brown, B&B supervisor, left, and Max Brinck, B&B mechanic, measure track gauge and cross level on a bridge in Harrisburg, Pa. Gauge is the distance between the inner edges of the two rails, while cross level is the difference in elevation between the top surface of the rails.


Ruth Brown: Gender doesn’t matter

As a bridge and building supervisor, Ruth Brown breaks down gender stereotypes with as much intensity as she drives spikes into bridge ties.

“I have to prove my mettle out here and do the same work as the men on the gang,” said Brown, who works on the Harrisburg Division. “That doesn’t mean I have the same physical capabilities, but they need to see me be willing to do the same work as they do.”

In October 2013, Brown became NS’ first female B&B supervisor, and she is now among a small but growing number of female supervisors within NS maintenance of way and structures. She joined the company six years ago as assistant engineer of structures in Atlanta. Before her latest move, she worked as a B&B project manager on the Dearborn Division.

While her previous positions focused on the design side of engineering, her current job often has Brown working in the field with 20 men she supervises in gangs based at Harrisburg Terminal and Lock Haven Yard. Her gangs are responsible for everything from installing bridge ties to inspecting and maintaining 385 bridges and thousands of culverts and tunnels on her territory.  An office component includes scheduling work outages to ensure minimal disruptions of train schedules, assigning tasks to the gangs, approving credit cards and payroll, ordering supplies, and ensuring that equipment is up to date and safety requirements are met. It’s a job that puts her on call 24/7 and compels her to always be attuned to the next task.

“You have to stay three steps ahead,” she said. “You have to get the project right because it affects rail traffic. It’s some of the most tiresome situations, but some of the most rewarding. Ultimately, I’m responsible for the quality of work, the safety of the job, and the work getting done.”

Ruth Brown

All in all, Brown, who was certified as a professional engineer in 2013, believes that her male crews have accepted her as a supervisor. “Gender as a whole really doesn’t matter,” she said. “We’re all railroad workers. The commonality is the job and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

A native of Augusta, Ga., Brown joined NS after graduating from Georgia Tech, where she received her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering with a structural focus. She had never considered working for the railroad until she saw an online job listing for NS.

“It’s a big step just coming into the railroad period,” she said. “It’s a very different lifestyle for any young engineer or supervisor out here. It’s challenging on your personal life, especially when you start moving a lot.”

For her next career move, Brown is weighing remaining in the field versus returning to an office setting. Eventually, she would like to become assistant division engineer for bridges, combining her design and construction experience.

“Every day has something to learn and new challenges,” she said. “If you’re willing to come out here and do the job, there is a lot of room for growth.”