The only thing more extraordinary than Jacqueline “Jackie” Patterson’s rail career is the path she took to get there—from escaping war-torn Nicaragua to uniquely delivering signature rail projects over an astounding 40-year career. And neither have gone unnoticed as Railway Age just named Zephyr Rail co-founder and vice president Jackie Patterson as one of its “2022 Women in Rail” honorees.
“This is an incredible honor for me and I’m extremely appreciative for this recognition,” explains Patterson in characteristic modesty. Selected based on consummate “leadership, vision, innovation, and accomplishments,” Women in Rail honorees set an example through professionalism, hard work, and distinguished achievement in freight rail, passenger rail, government, and suppliers sectors through a “commitment to service, safety, and sustainability.” Like Patterson, all of the women named deserve those accolades. Patterson, however, achieved this rarified status by fighting the good fight against incredible odds. In many ways, it’s that journey that shaped her and sets her apart today.
Patterson is just different. But that difference manifests itself most keenly in how she surmounts challenges through deliberate, strategic action. For example, when she landed in Montreal without speaking a word of French or English, she set to work learning both, earning her bachelor’s and master’s civil engineering degrees at Montreal’s Concordia University. In fact, Concordia awarded her the Civil Engineering Medal, given annually to the highest-ranking graduating civil engineering student. She was the first woman and Hispanic person to receive this honor. Overachieving would soon become a Patterson hallmark.
After moving to the US and gaining experience at AECOM, Patterson soon opened JL Patterson & Associates. In 2011, CE News named it the top small firm in its “Best Civil Engineering Firms to Work For.” The firm finished second overall and was later acquired by Jacobs Engineering Group. Today, Patterson runs Zephyr Rail, which she co-launched in 2015. Bringing to bear her abundant rail experience, Patterson uses her knowledge, skills, experience, and preternatural focus on innovation to deliver high quality rail work on tight schedules and even tighter budgets. But in addition to successfully bringing in projects early and under budget, Patterson often introduces her clients to the future.
For example, Patterson herself became a certified Remote Pilot-in Command (PIC), serving as “the final authority and responsibility for the operation and safety of a small unmanned aircraft operation.” No hobby, she deploys drones in myriad ways—from rail project inspection to status fly-throughs, Patterson keeps an eye toward the future to integrate technology advantageously to established methodology. But her focus extends to the past as well.
On a recent project with LA Metro, Patterson and her team discovered ruins from Los Angeles’s first rail transportation palace. Keeping the project on track while preserving the find, Patterson and her team carefully extracted significant artifacts with Metro to preserve the city’s rail past, detailing her efforts in the article, “Taking History: Keeping the Future on Track While Preserving the Past.” Her contribution to rail, transportation, and society does not end there.
Believing devoutly in giving back to the community, Patterson and Zephyr routinely participate and donate to meaningful organizations and causes including Habitat for Humanity, WTS-LA and WTS Orange County, and numerous other nonprofits and associations. Patterson also serves both formally and informally as a mentor, vitally important in a discipline that is traditionally white and male. Many of these organizations have recognized her selfless contribution, including bestowing on her the WTS “Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award.”
For four decades, Jackie Patterson has led a remarkable career. And the only thing more extraordinary than that career is the path she took to get there. Now, Railway Age saw fit to honor that path and career by naming her as one of its “2022 Women in Rail.”