The Roundhouse Podcast

145: Women in Short Line Railroading

Join us for a conversation with Arkansas & Missouri Railroad President Caren Kraska, Cathcart Rail Senior VP of Sales and Marketing Vanessa Knapton, and Senior VP of Law and General Counsel for ASLRRA Sarah Yurasko. They discuss their careers in the short line railroad industry, how they are working to cultivate interest in the field, and where they are seeing opportunities for growth.

This episode is sponsored by Strasburg Rail Road Mechanical Services.

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Carol Kraska

Caren is the chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad.  With over 18 years of railroad industry experience in operations, marketing and finance, she became chairman of the board effective April 2015.  Her railroad career began with Conrail in 1979 where she worked in the Mechanical Engineering Department, Marketing, Industrial Development, and Sales. 

Under her leadership, the A&M has expanded transload and warehousing operations; she has also brought new customers to the railroad. Her diverse background and experience offers a fresh perspective on rail business development and customer service. The A&M values its customers and works diligently with them to find a shipping solution to meet their specific needs.  The Arkansas and Missouri Railroad is strategically located with a great potential to grow. 

Safety is a critical component of the operation with ongoing reviews and safety program enhancements. With a continued focus on rail infrastructure integrity; a grant was awarded to upgrade three bridges, including the Arkansas River lift span bridge.  She is honored to have the opportunity to lead the Arkansas and Missouri team to focus on the continued safety of its team members, serving our customers, and improving our local community.

Ms. Kraska is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering with an emphasis in transportation, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University.

Vanessa Knapton

Vanessa works for the largest independent railcar repair network in the US. She oversees the business development for Cathcart’s Field Services Division, where her teams function as car departments for short line railroads.  With over 50 partnerships to maintain, Knapton functions as the liaison between host railroads and the repair operating teams.

Knapton started in the railroad industry as a switchman-conductor for the Santa Fe (later BNSF) in Los Angeles, California in 1994. She had graduated from Smith College with a bachelor’s degree in government and economics. Knapton worked for four years as a union operations employee and had her first two children. In 1998, Knapton was promoted to Assistant Trainmaster at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

As Trainmaster, Knapton helped design the operations systems at BNSF for the massive influx of container business in the first international intermodal boom from 2000 to its height in 2006. During her tenure as trainmaster, Knapton completed an MBA program with an emphasis on finance at Chapman University and had her third child.

Knapton and BNSF parted ways in 2008 and Knapton worked in warehouse logistics and for a railroad shipper until she joined an early entrant in a niche market of the short line railroad railcar repair business in 2011. For the last dozen years, Knapton has worked for three of the largest running repair agent companies in the country and has established 25+ repair operations at railroads that previously did not have car inspection teams.

Sarah Yurasko

Sarah Yurasko is Sr. Vice President Law & General Counsel with the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA). In this position, she advises on all legal matters for ASLRRA and represents the short line industry nationally on policy matters. Prior to ASLRRA, she worked at the Association of American Railroads as Assistant General Counsel, focusing on safety law issues.

She previously worked at Amtrak on high-speed rail planning and policy development. She started her career as a trial attorney in the Office of Chief Counsel at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). While at the FRA, Ms. Yurasko completed the Executive Potential Program through the Graduate School USA, a leadership development program that provides training and developmental experiences for high potential employees.

She earned a JD from American University’s Washington College of Law and an MA in International Affairs from American University’s School of International Service. She also has a BA in French and a BFA in Theatre Arts from Southern Methodist University.

She currently resides in Spotsylvania, Virginia, with her husband and five children.

Question of the Day

For those who have worked in the railroad industry, what have you found rewarding, and what has been challenging?

Let me know and I will respond to your comments in the next episode.

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