Women in Transportation - The Series

The transportation industry offers many challenging and rewarding career opportunities for women, yet they continue to be underrepresented. This series highlights the important contributions women are making within the industry and captures their story.

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Oct 25

Elizabeth Olson, New Mexico Rail Runner Express Projects Manager, Rio Metro RTD

Posted on October 25, 2023 at 8:49 AM by Riann Martinez

Woman standing outside an office building smiling at the cameraWhat attracted you to the transportation industry?
I was attracted to the transportation industry because it is so fascinating, stable and has such a unique impact on connecting people to each other and opportunity. I was in architecture before and interned for about nine months, but it was right around the time the market was crashing so a lot of construction had stopped. I heard about the Rail Runner and it sounded interesting, but certainly not something I planned.

What has been your greatest professional achievement?
My greatest professional achievement is where I am today, and each step of my journey that got me here. I have been so grateful; excited and learned so much from each step along the way. I am proud to be working and learning where I am here as project manager and working with people in such a variety of fields (operations, marketing, finance, mechanical, construction, political). The more I’ve learned, the more curious I am to learn more!

How have women made a difference in the transportation industry?
I feel that women in transportation greatly impact the industry in many ways. Women bring a different element to all that they are involved in. We bring a unique element of resilience, strength, balance, empathy and personal connection. In my time, I have seen the women I work with help find resolution through connection and clarity through communication. We are able to provide inspiration to other girls and women interested in male-dominated fields.

What was the biggest influence in your selection of a career in transportation?
The greatest influence in my selection of switching from architecture to transportation back in 2008 was the economic setting of that time. I was looking for a stable job that I enjoyed and be excited to have, and could still provide an income that could support my dreams for my future (to buy a home and have a family). Personal fulfillment- dealing with people one on one.

What is your favorite aspect of your job?
The people. I get to meet, work with and learn from so many amazing people every day!

I like hearing their stories. Every time I advance, it opens up a whole new perspective of how much more involved it takes to get things going.

What lessons have you been taught from the important women in your life that you have applied to your own life?
So much. The women in my life have taught me strength, humility, and empathy. I have learned to work hard, educate myself, reach out to those I admire and to stand for what I believe and know, despite any adversity or challenge. I have learned from strong women in my life, like my mom, to know that I can do so with grace: how to be firm and kind at the same time. They have taught me to know myself and develop myself so that I can confidently know where I stand.

How have these lessons helped you succeed as a woman in transportation?
They help me have the resilience and confidence in myself to work in a variety of settings, the strength to handle challenges, to work well with others regardless of our differences, to look at the broader picture, and to be open to work with a diverse team to arrive at the best solutions for our railroad, transportation system and our community.

What natural talents do you possess that help in your chosen career?
I am motivated and I love to find resolutions. I love working and connecting with people, and curious to learn what they know and can teach me.

What part of your career story would you like to share with the world?
We are capable of so much more than we know. I remember admiring the people in the position that I have now serve, and I remember a time before when I thought it seemed unattainable. It’s not so much about the accomplishment as it is the journey and what you experience and learn along the way. Keep your goal in sight at all times. 

How long have you been working for the company/organization? And what positions have to you held prior to your current one?
I have been Project Manager for Rail Runner (Rio Metro) for about a year now. Before that I was train dispatcher for 6 years. I also worked on the Rail Runner as a train conductor for 6 years and a locomotive engineer for 2 years.

How does what you do/what the organization does make a positive impact in the community? 
I believe our positive impact on the community is connection. We provide affordable connection between many communities and provide opportunities that may not otherwise be available.

What do you think is needed to further attract women to the transportation workforce?
I believe we can attract women to the transportation industry further by outreach to our youth (school and college). As a mother, I think it would be wonderful if we could work towards developing part-time positions that provide full benefits. To do so would provide lots of opportunity for mothers (and fathers). This would benefit our industry as I see parenthood provides a unique skill set and experience that is transferrable in any industry.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to enter this industry?
Work hard, and don’t give up. I’ve wanted to quit because I thought it was too much and not for me in EVERY position I have served in this industry. Fortunately, each time there was someone who cared and believed in me (ironically all men!) who told me that I could do it and told me to not to give up. Perseverance pays off, so don’t give up!??

Anything else you would like to add?
When you have accomplished a goal, move on to another goal. Always have something you’re working towards. Stay motivated and curious. We are more capable than we realize. 

As told to Allyne Clarke, Marketing Manager, Rio Metro Regional Transit District.