Nicolas Spitaletta, 31 years old
Long Island Railroad MTA
Proponent quote: “In five years, Nick has become the kind of natural leader that I and all chief engineers hope for. … It exemplifies what the Rising Star program seeks to highlight – those among the best of the next generation in our industry. —Craig Daly, MTA Long Island Rail Road
Education: Bachelor of Electrical Engineering, State University of New York at Stony Brook University.
Job Responsibilities: Ensure that the on-board PTC system operates safely and integrates well with on-board and wayside signaling systems. Oversee reports, analyze day-to-day operations of PTC in the revenue department, and provide technical support and guidance to trade personnel for maintenance and troubleshooting activities.
Career path: After college, hired as a trainee electrical engineer for the Water Well Maintenance Division of the Department of Environmental Protection in New York City. Then hired by MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) as a junior electrical engineer in equipment maintenance. Promoted to assistant electrical engineer after two years. Another two years later promoted to General Foreman of Engineering.
How did you get into the rail industry? My dad worked on the railroads as a car inspector and occasionally took me to work. I was fascinated by the complexity of the locomotives he worked on and the history of the railroad itself. I have always respected my father’s work ethic and his philosophy. He is, by definition, a workaholic. He never skimps and always takes responsibility for his work whether it is correct or not. I wanted a career that had similar principles. The LIRR offered that, and my position offered the perfect opportunity to do work I could be proud of.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? During my first two months at LIRR, a general foreman told me, “Be respectful to everyone, because you never know if you’ll ever work for them. I interpreted this in two ways: one was the statement at face value; and two was never to fire anyone because of their position, title or function. Always take the time to listen and value what a team member has to offer.
What advice would you give to a new railroader? There are many moving parts and different departments within a railroad. I work in the mechanical (maintenance) department, and if it weren’t for my involvement in the PTC project, I probably never would have reached out and connected with the other railroad departments. My advice would be to reach out and open a channel of communication with people outside of your immediate group. For example, if you work on the way, familiarize yourself with the roadside signaling branch. Understanding how the rail system works will greatly improve the quality of your own work and expose you to opportunities for advancement and learning.
What was your very first job? In a mail room for a local insurance agency. I folded paper, prepared envelopes and delivered mail in the office.
Describe a fun fact about yourself. I am a skilled baker and even won a prize in a local competition. I submitted an Italian fruit tart, a family recipe I learned from my mother, and the fruit tart came out on top. What I love most about baking is that it combines creativity with the exact science of ingredients used in specific amounts.
What do you like to do in your spare time? In my spare time, I enjoy working with wood, making knick-knacks and small pieces of furniture. Downtime helps me reflect on past events and has a calming effect. Also, for me, there is no better feeling than making an item and feeling that sense of accomplishment on the finished product.
How has the pandemic changed your outlook on career and life in general? The pandemic has propelled remote working to the forefront of our society’s consciousness. Generalization of the concept has revealed that some work can be done remotely. The way the pandemic has been handled has shown the world that even a huge problem or challenge is scalable. Seeing society, industry, and business adapt quickly to meet needs made me feel less overwhelmed, and I took each day as it came until the next day.
The social aspect of my life has been diminished during the pandemic. However, I took advantage of this time and this opportunity to make new connections and friendships with my co-workers.