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5 minutes with… Leanne Redden, Executive Director, RTA Chicago

Posted by Sarah Wright on Jun 24, 2016

Leanne_Redden_Executive_Director_RTA_Chicago-1.jpg“I think that rail in all its facets is going to be fundamental – a life blood – to all regional economies.”

Living life in the fast lane is a daily occurrence for Leanne Redden, Executive Director at RTA Chicago. With financial oversight of the annual regional capital and operating budget worth $3.8 billion, there is little time to slow down and her success in the industry reflects this. After earning a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Redden began her career in public transport. Starting with the RTA in 2014, an agency devoted to leveraging funding for federal, state and local transport projects, she now heads the only local unit of government planning in the Chicago region. Alongside her work in Chicago, she also sits on the board of directors for American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Redden has certainly made a name for herself in the industry and continues to push for a better future, creating better mobility for all. Making time in her busy schedule, Redden spoke to SmartRail World reporter, Sarah Wright to tell us more about her story…Sarah Wright (SW): Thanks for joining us today! To start, how did you get into the rail industry?

Leanne Redden (LR) (@LReddenRTA): I came to rail, or more specifically public transport in my case, by way of transport in general. I started off on the municipal side, moved to highways and now on to public transit here in Chicago.

SW: What do like most about your job?

LR: I like that I am never doing the same thing twice. There are many different tasks and issues that I have to deal with and so it is always a changing scene. In the US, obviously we are facing some significant capital funding issues and whilst that can be frustrating, it presents us with a number of challenges and things to get done. 

SW: That leads into our next question. What’s the biggest challenge in your role?

LR: Funding for capital investment in infrastructure. In the US they haven’t been really dedicating enough funding for capital infrastructure, so as a team we plan and think creatively about funding. I think that financing capital infrastructure is at its most critical point right now.

SW: You recently won the “Woman of the Year” award from the local Chicago chapter of Women in Transportation, congratulations! How important do you feel these types of awards are for the industry?  

LR: Thank you! Personally, I was honoured to receive the award. I think it is wonderful to be recognised but I think what is more important, is the opportunity to give back, share and talk with the younger professionals coming up in the field. To share some of your experiences with them is a way to really to mentor young talent within the industry.

SW: We know here that it is a real challenge to get young people into the industry, to have that opportunity to influence and help them make their way is a great thing. Looking to the future then, what will be some of the biggest differences between rail now and in 10 years’ time?

LR: Well, I think that demand is going to increase, and I definitely think that, that is an international trend. I think that rail in all its facets is going to be fundamental – a life blood – to all regional economies. It really is what keeps regions and economies going both from the passenger standpoint as well as the movement of goods. I think that technology will play a huge role in that.

The mural was painted by Rob Estes and Brushstroke Signs of Paducah, Kentucky. Coincidentally, that city was the southern terminus of the trip I photographed this sign on. (Flickr: City of New Orleans Mural by stormdog42)

SW: So Leanne, our final question for you is what is your favourite rail journey?

LR: Good question. Well in the US I would say probably the best journey I have done, besides my regular daily commute of course, was a journey that I took from Chicago all the way down south to New Orleans. It's a long trip and runs through Memphis so that was a cool. I have done a few trips around Europe that have been fun but you know, some of the trains were pretty utilitarian! So the New Orleans one was a really fun trip and memorable so going to go for that one I think!

SW: That’s really great, and thank you so much for your time today Leanne!

To hear more from Leanne, about her work with the RTA and her ideas for the future of public transport, then join her at the upcoming SmartTansit 2016 (October 25-26th, New Jersey) where she will be joining us and 400+ attendees as an expert speaker. Click here to find out more.

5 minutes with… You? Each Friday the team here at SmartRail World will bring you a great new 5 minutes with... interview. This fun, fast-paced feature will help you get to know more about personalities across the industry, their ideas and experiences and of course their own favourite rail journey! Want to take part? Email: to find out more. 

Last week's 5 minutes with... Andrea Giuricin, CEO of TRA Consulting and head of the Studies Office and Strategic Consultant for Nuovo Transporto Viaggiatori (NTV), the first private High Speed rail operator in Europe.

Next week's 5 minutes with... TBC

Topics: 5minuteswith

Sarah Wright

Written by Sarah Wright

Post studying for a Masters in History at the University of Essex and taking time out to travel Europe and South East Asia, Sarah came into the world of events and marketing. She has been putting her communication skills and creativity to good use here with us since.

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