The Fast Trackers award program, established in 2016, recognizes the top 25 railroaders under the age of 40 who are making an impact in their respective fields or companies.
This year’s honorees were selected from North American freight and passenger railroads, government entities, and supplier, contractor, and consultant communities. They were judged on criteria that included industry experience and education, leadership skills, industry contributions, and community service involvement.
“Once again, a strong, strong field of tremendous experience and variety across the depth and breadth of the railway industry across North America,” said Michigan State Center for Railway & Education Director Nick Little, who served as program judge. “This year, I detected a shift away from technical expertise and data provision toward the ability to ask the right questions of the data. These are all very bright, capable, and dedicated people.”
Ricci sat down for a Q&A about his recognition and his time at Penn State Altoona.
Can you describe in a few sentences what your current job entails?
I am employed by AECOM, which is an engineering firm that provides consulting services for the railroad industry. Specifically, I work on a variety of rail projects including track design, public and private grade crossing consolidation, and real estate asset services for various class 1 and commuter railroads throughout North America.
What do you like best about your career?
AR: I enjoy the challenge of working on different types of projects and solving complex problems for our diverse clients. The best part of my career is that I never can expect a dull day! One day I can be working on a multi-disciplinary team designing a track for a port on the West Coast, and the next, I am traveling to Georgia to meet with local township officials to consider consolidating a public grade crossing.
What makes you a "fast tracker"?
I believe I was nominated due to my relentless drive and deep respect for the railroad industry.
How do you feel about being a recipient?
I am honored to be a recipient of this award and grateful to those who took the time to nominate me and to the program judge at Railway Age for selecting me. I’ve been fortunate to have several mentors throughout the start of my career who helped me get to where I am today. I am also very excited to continue and advance my career in the railroad industry.
Can you talk briefly about your experiences at Penn State Altoona and in the RTE program?
The Rail Transportation Engineering program at Penn State Altoona greatly prepared me for the start of my career as a rail engineer. Not only did I receive technical educational classes but also hands-on experience that gave me a deeper understanding of the railroad industry. For example, in the Engineering and Business Case Competition, I was able to propose creative solutions to increase sustainability in the Norfolk Southern Juniata Locomotive Shop. I believe those types of opportunities set me up for success in my career. I find myself relying on what I learned in the program when solving problems for clients in the railroad industry.
I would like to thank the professors, lecturers, and mentors at Penn State Altoona who provided the foundation for me to get where I am today, in particular Bryan Schlake, Hai Huang, Shihui Shen, and Steve Dillen.
What would you say to encourage potential students to go into the industry and do so through Penn State Altoona?
The railroad industry, which I have so much passion for, gives a lot back to those who choose a career in it, and there is such a wide variety of jobs to choose from. Penn State Altoona offers a program that is truly unique and positions graduates well for the start of their careers. In my opinion, there are few other programs that come close to the quality of education I received.
What does the future in the industry look like for you?
I hope to continue to learn and grow more in the rail industry as I advance my career. I’m also looking forward to opportunities to pass what I’ve learned on to the next generation of railroaders.
Penn State Altoona faculty members are not surprised by Ricci’s nomination and subsequent honor. They remember him as a high achiever who was always eager to learn new things during his time at the college.
“Our RTE faculty members are all extremely proud of Alex and his early career achievements,” says Bryan Schlake, assistant teaching professor of RTE. “It’s great to see him making a difference in the railroad industry and that his colleagues have taken notice and chosen to recognize him as a rising young leader. He is the first of our RTE graduates to go on to earn his professional engineering license, and he continues to set a high bar and a great example for our current and future RTE students."
Ricci offers his time and expertise as an alumni mentor for Penn State Altoona’s RTE program through AREMA, the college’s student chapter of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association.