Getting Ready to Wow in West Palm Beach
March 30, 2017
April 7, 2017
While some of his peers played with Thomas the Tank Engine, Tom Rutkowski, Brightline’s chief mechanical officer, didn’t think trains were that big of a deal. That’s because his dad ran a railroad wreck crew.
Growing up in New Jersey, Rutkowski had other career ideas when he headed to Rutgers University. But then he took a summer job with New Jersey Transit and got hooked.
“It was pretty good money cleaning trains compared to what a college kid had which was not much,” Rutkowski laughs.
He continued working nights while getting his degree and eventually was hired by New Jersey Transit as an electrical technician. From there, Rutkowski was a rising star at New Jersey Transit (with a three-year stint at Acela).
Just prior to joining Brightline he was the General Superintendent of Equipment, running a huge maintenance operation that involved 205 locomotives, 1,100 cars and 600 employees.
Then a visit by a Brightline representative to his shop in New Jersey led to a job offer that Rutkowski says he couldn’t refuse.
“People said ‘Oh you know, companies don’t do private railroads in America,'” he says. “The best way to entice me is to say something can’t be done. I took a look and I saw the vision and I was sold right away.”
Joining Brightline in 2014, Rutkowski has been instrumental in helping create the first new, privately funded passenger rail system in the U.S. in more than 100 years.
He’s based at the newly opened railroad operations center, also called Workshop b, in West Palm Beach where the first two of five initial Brightline trainsets are currently being tested. Rutkowski and his team, together with representatives of the manufacturer, California-based Siemens, are putting the trains through their paces including on a nine-mile test track that begins about one mile from the new West Palm Beach train station.
After service begins next summer from West Palm Beach to Miami, with a stop at the new Fort Lauderdale train station, Workshop b will be where Brightline trains are serviced, cleaned and fueled. About 120 employees will work from the facility.
Rutkowski took a bet on Brightline, leaving not only an upward career path at New Jersey Transit but also moving his wife and three children to South Florida. He says everyone is enjoying the sight of palm trees and opportunity to swim year-round, and it was a good move.
“I love it, both the climate and the job,” Rutkowski says. “It is really a never-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity and I love what Brightline stands for and what it’s going to do.”
One thing he’s really looking forward to is for the convenient and comfortable train service to help ease congestion on the highways between West Palm Beach and Miami. South Florida traffic is a nightmare, he says.
“Even coming from New Jersey, the traffic here is something that is startling,” Rutkowski says. “It really brings down your quality of life when you spend that much time in a car. Passenger trains are the perfect solution.”