Teamwork, creative problem-solving, and pride are essential to keeping trains moving through North Puget Sound and Lower British Columbia, according to Ryan Kubo, BNSF’s superintendent of operations based in Everett, Washington.
“It all begins with our people,” says Kubo. “In our territory, people are constantly stepping up. They know how important their work is and how critical they are. It’s a source of pride.”
There is always something happening in this corner of the Pacific Northwest, which includes an international border, mountain passes, miles of shoreline, cities expanding with ever-increasing populations, and an eclectic mix of freight, including airplane fuselages, building materials, household goods, and other cargo.
Having great people at all levels makes the difference, according to Kubo, who says, “Our teams from Everett to New Westminster are very good. It’s a proud, close-knit group that comes together to solve problems.”
Kubo says one key to his team’s success is continual emphasis on efficiencies and improvements. He says this focus on innovation is a source of pride for local rail workers, who are always looking for ways to do their jobs better, show leadership, and work more efficiently.
“We’re in the community,” he says. “Neighbors and friends know where we work and we’re proud of our role in delivering the packages and commodities that make a difference in people’s lives.”
Recent changes in both the supply chain and the U.S. economy have affected all modes of traffic. Not to mention, competition for good industrial workers is at a premium, with BNSF offering $15,000 signing bonuses for new train, yard, and equipment operators.
“It’s an exciting time,” says Kubo. “It takes about 15 weeks to train these new hires, so we don’t see the benefit right away. But we are very excited to bring new people onto the local team. We’re looking forward to the benefits they bring as we move all the freight that’s critical to this region.”
Raised in South Dakota, Kubo was a restaurant manager before signing on to work as a railroad conductor 16 years ago. He then worked as an engineer before making the transition to management. He says the greatest rewards of his current position are building leaders and watching teams develop.
“Everybody is so different,” he says. “What are their strengths? How do we make them more well-rounded? It’s exciting to watch people develop into great leaders and I’m grateful that I get to be a part of their journey.”
With supply chain challenges ongoing even as people transition out of the pandemic, the unique issues affecting Northwest Washington and Lower B.C. don’t show any signs of abating, at least not anytime soon. But Kubo says his team welcomes the challenge.
“This is what we do,” he says. “We’re problem-solvers, tough-minded optimists. The railroad gives us new challenges every day. We lean in heavy to find new ways to run trains safely and efficiently through Northwest Washington and across the BNSF network.”