Daniel Rappaport wearing PPEs, standing on a bridge.

Professional Development Opportunities With AREMA

Professional Development Opportunities With AREMA

March 10, 2023
Daniel Rappoport
Daniel Rappaport wearing PPEs, standing on a bridge.
Daniel Rappaport on a bridge in St. Louis.

Professional growth can take many different forms. After entering the workforce, it can involve developing new skills through career training and ongoing education.

To increase your knowledge in your chosen subject, you might also enroll in seminars or workshops, go to professional or industry conferences, or get a credential. But what opportunities are there for young railroad engineers? After all, the profession is thriving, with the job outlook expected to grow by 5% between 2021 and 2031. Fortunately, there are numerous opportunities for emerging railroad engineers to learn and grow in partnership with like-minded colleagues through professional organizations like AREMA.

What is AREMA?

AREMA, the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association, was founded in 1997 by the merger of four organizations to cover all railroad engineering disciplines, including track, structures, communications, and signals.

Its 30 technical committees, composed of professionals and academia, work to develop recommended practices and host seminars for the industry’s advancement.

AREMA maintains a networking service for its 5,500 members and hosts an annual trade conference for suppliers, design consultants, railroads, and transit agencies. AREMA also runs a student program for engaging and educating university students across North America, creating a pipeline for new talent to fill the ranks of our industry.

My Professional Development with AREMA

My introduction to AREMA came in college as I pursued my Bachelor of Science in civil engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. My classmates and I were encouraged by faculty to join AREMA as student members, which led us to charter an AREMA student chapter at our university.

As the student chapter’s president from 2017-2020, I leveraged AREMA’s numerous resources to organize 32 industry speaker events and 24 field trips. My chapter also attended five local and national conferences.

The connections and education we received through these events have led many of the Illinois Tech Railroad Club’s members to now work at railroads, transit agencies, and engineering consulting firms worldwide.

My involvement in the organization helped me:

  • Obtain a maintenance-of-way internship with Union Pacific Railroad after my sophomore year.
  • Secure a track design internship with Gannett Fleming after my junior year.
  • A full-time career after graduation with Gannett Fleming.

I’m grateful to Gannett Fleming for supporting my continued involvement with AREMA after college, as I now serve on Committee 24, the Education and Training Committee.

Participation in Committees

Getting involved in an AREMA committee is a great way for a young professional to establish themselves in the railroad industry. Committees cover virtually every rail-related area of the industry and provide an opportunity for professional learning from some of the most experienced railroaders.

Committees meet both virtually and in person, even including field trips with railroads and transit agencies. One of my favorite memories of 2022 was touring the historic Metro Transit Eads Bridge during my committee’s summer meeting.

Each committee’s purpose is to carry out tasks for a specific rail discipline or topic. For example, Committee 24 is in charge of education and training. On the academic side, C24 runs AREMA’s student chapter, mentorship, and scholarship programs. It organizes student activities at the annual conference and runs railroad education symposiums for university faculty.

On the professional side, my committee hosts continuing education seminars such as the Introduction to Practical Railway Engineering Seminar and Track Alignment Design Seminar for engineers looking to advance their careers.

I serve on the student outreach subcommittee, which manages AREMA’s student chapter program. The Student Chapter Coordinator (SCC) leadership position handles running the program, such as mass communications, setting policies, etc. I support this position as Student Chapter Mentor, serving under the SCC in outreach activities to specific student chapters that need extra attention, such as chapters that are just starting or struggling to recover from the pandemic.

Daniel Rappaport and classmates
Daniel Rappaport and his AREMA chapter classmates.

Throughout my term as Student Chapter Mentor, I have connected chapters to speakers, established communications with four universities interested in starting student chapters, and mentored two chapters that needed help restarting after taking a pause due to COVID-19.

Committee 24 has been a great opportunity for me to connect with older generations of railroaders and help give back to the industry. I encourage all young railroad professionals to consider joining an AREMA committee that fits their interests.

Making Connections at Conferences

Another way to grow one’s career in the railroad industry is to attend AREMA’s annual conferences, which feature networking events, technical presentations, and an exposition of the latest railroad technology.

Supporting the attendance of AREMA conferences is one of the benefits Gannett Fleming offers its engineers.

Some events are specifically tailored for young professionals, such as Meet The Next Generation, which included my coworker Bharat Kumar Peddu, PE, PMP, ENV SP, as a panelist. This year’s conference also included technical presentations by Gannett Fleming’s senior project manager Rodney Miller, PE.

The conference is also a busy time for many committees. As part of my Committee 24 responsibilities, I co-led a leadership skills development workshop for new student chapter presidents and an introduction to networking presentation, participated in a panel at the conference general session, and organized a field trip with Union Pacific Railroad with over 50 student attendees.

My coworkers and I returned from the conference with backpacks full of business cards from all the connections we made, notebooks full of lessons from technical sessions to bring back to our teams, and a renewed interest in our industry.

Daniel Rappaport speaking at a conference.
Daniel Rappaport speaks at the 2022 AREMA conference.

How To Get Involved

Thanks to many professors, mentors, and my colleagues at Gannett Fleming, my passion for railroad engineering has been realized.

But what can other rail professionals do to help today’s engineering students and recent graduates join our industry? After all, increased infrastructure funding is increasing the demand for new talent.

I encourage companies to consider the value AREMA involvement can bring to advancing the careers of their younger staff and encourage them to:

  • Apply for membership.
  • Join a committee.
  • Attend an AREMA conference.

In addition, you can help AREMA’s investment in university students to produce strong candidates for your firm by having your staff sign up for AREMA’s mentoring program and student speaker database, as well as supporting the formation of an AREMA student chapter at your alma mater or a university near your office. Together, we can build a strong future for the railroad industry.

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