Women of Steel is a term train buffs use to refer to women who are making inroads in the railroad industry, a field long dominated by men.
One of our Women of Steel is a locomotive engineer Samantha Tames, a 30-year-old single mom from Redlands, who seven years ago was struggling.
Just seven years ago, she was a college drop-out who lived at home with her parents. “I had no direction and no idea what I was going to do, but I knew I had to do something,” said Tames.
Tames took matters into her own hands and joined Job Corps, a career development program for low-income individuals; an experience that transformed her life. She was hired by Amtrak for onboard services where she cleaned toilets and made beds on sleeper coaches.
She eventually worked her way up to conductor where she transferred to Metrolink’s service. Tames decided to become an engineer, a decision she almost abandoned. During the middle of her training she became pregnant with her daughter Penelope, now 2, and faced the tragic suicide of her ex-fiancé. Regaining her focus and drive, she finished her training and became an engineer.
Today, Tames drives a powerful 600-ton train and is responsible for the lives of thousands of commuters every day.
But there is more to why Tames starts her career every morning at 3 a.m. — Penelope. Like many parents, she wants to provide for her daughter and give her a better life. With a well-paying career earning nearly six-figures, Tames is providing more than she imagined. More importantly, Tames wants to be a role model for Penelope.
“Whether Penelope wants to go into the railroad industry or not, I want her and other little girls to know that these positions are out there, and they can do them,” said Tames.
Tames’ humble beginnings and success are not lost on her. She has gone back to Job Corps to talk to the young women in the program and give them guidance. “I have been where they are,” she said. “I want them to see that there is opportunity.”
April will mark the one-year anniversary Tames has been a train operator. When asked if it was hard to break into a male-dominated industry she replied, “It’s not how it used to be. Other women have paved the way before me.”
From locomotive engineers to skilled technicians at the vanguard of train safety to directors guiding one of the nation’s largest commuter rail agencies, women are making a difference at Metrolink.
Half of Metrolink’s executive leadership and seven Metrolink board members are women. Forty-five percent of Metrolink’s 300 employees are women and they handle the gamut of jobs from administration to operations.
Although the job is not physically demanding, Tames noted that an engineer must be focused to deal with the multiple alarm systems plus radio communication, checking speeds, stations stops, and watching for people and objects by the tracks. With a big smile she added, “Women are a perfect fit to be engineers because we can multitask. I am a mom. I know.”
Tames was recently featured on ABC 7 Eyewitness News for her role as an engineer. To view the story, please click here.