When faced with wild temperature swings, extreme weather events and even rattlesnakes, Omar Monge doesn’t make excuses.
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The director-Track Maintenance at Union Pacific is based in Tucson, Arizona, and is known for his resiliency, communication and commitment to safety.
It’s part of why Railway Track & Structures (RT&S) magazine selected him as part of its annual 10 Under 40 list honoring young engineers who best exemplify the industry.
“It was definitely a surprise,” Monge said. “You don’t do this job for the recognition. You do it because you love it. But to be recognized at that level, it puts everything into perspective.”
Monge leads a diverse team of almost 100 craft professionals, maintaining and repairing over 1,100 track miles from Southern California to Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.
In an industry traditionally managed via centralized command, Monge understands and respects different perspectives and experiences. This results in an atmosphere where ideas are heard, the status quo is challenged and mistakes are seen as a learning opportunity, not a failure.
Because of that, one of his workgroups is celebrating over 4,000 injury-free days.
“You can either be proactive or you can be reactive,” he said. “I always try to remind everybody to not let the noise around us dictate whether we’re going to be able to safely accomplish something.”
Before joining Union Pacific, Monge served his country in the Marine Corps.
He was deployed to Iraq in 2003 under Operation Iraqi Freedom and participated in combat operations in Basrah, Nasiriyah, Kut, and Baghdad, where his battalion took down Saddam Hussein’s statue in front of an international audience.
His active service concluded in 2004, but not before leading some of the military’s most difficult operations in Fallujah as a sergeant.
“There’s a lot of overlap between the military and the railroad,” Monge said. “You have to be able to talk to different people, be part of a very diverse team and be disciplined. In an incident situation, you can’t just say ‘Well, I’m done today. I’ll come back tomorrow.’”
He leads by example, knowing full well that if he’s not willing to do the hard work or follow safety procedures, he can’t expect others to.
By setting this example, Monge has garnered the respect from teammates, allowing him to build safe and efficient workgroups.
When a train was suspended over a 100-foot long, 20-foot-deep hole created by a recent washout, Monge attacked the situation in an organized, structured and disciplined manner.
He established set meetings every four hours to develop a plan, problem-solve and communicate to leadership an estimated return to service.
He united employees from track, bridge, signal, dispatch and transportation departments, creating one seamless team to safely restore service in less than 24 hours.
“You have to be able to communicate very specifically on any item that affects other crews, not just yours,” Monge said. “It has to happen on a higher level and sometimes through various channels.”
When he’s not at work, Monge enjoys spending time with his wife and two sons.
They help with school fundraisers, support the student body’s low-income families and provide transportation to not only their children but their children’s peers.
“This cannot be done by yourself; you have to have a strong support system at home,” Monge said. “I’m very grateful to my wife and my kids that have followed me in this journey.”