With more than 13 years on the job and over 800 presentations and trainings under her belt, Stephanie Paiz is truly a wealth of knowledge when it comes to staying safe around trains and railroad tracks.
As Program Support Coordinator for the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, Paiz is the go-to person for schools, government agencies, first responders, roadwork agencies, and pretty much any other business or organization that has an interest in rail safety.
“I always wanted to do something local,” says Paiz, a New Mexico native from the small town of Sile, which is located in the north central part of the state. “I wanted to be able to live in the area and help people in the places that I grew up.”
Educating the Masses
Her role at Rio Metro affords her the ability to do just that. Paiz visits schools across central New Mexico to talk with students and staff about being safe around the New Mexico Rail Runner Express and any other trains or railroad tracks they may encounter.
Another aspect of the job allows her to work with local municipalities, construction companies, and state agencies such as the Department of Transportation.
“I schedule and teach Roadway Worker Protection classes,” says Paiz. “The class is for anyone that does work next to the tracks, such as people that are building a new roadway, and participants learn basic safety skills for working around railroad tracks. I’ve taught this class 237 times.”
Yet another training that has Paiz working with local as well as national agencies is a full-scale emergency preparedness exercise involving the Rail Runner, which she coordinates every two years.
“This is a hands-on exercise with first responders who run through emergency scenarios that are probable, but not common,” says Paiz. “Such scenarios have included an active shooter and a person setting off bombs containing a biological agent.”
Pulling off a training like this is no easy feat. “We have monthly meetings for about a year in advance to determine what each agency wants to learn and take away from the exercise.”
According to Paiz, anywhere between 15 and 30 agencies participate. The most recent exercise involved Rio Metro, Herzog, Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque Police Department/SWAT, the 64th CST New Mexico National Guard, Albuquerque Fire and Rescue, University of New Mexico Hospitals, New Mexico Department of Health, and the Lady Grey Wolves Middle School Basketball Team which acted as volunteer ‘victims’.
In addition to all of these detailed and demanding tasks, Paiz fits in community outreach, smaller first responder trainings, and manages the emergency preparedness plan for the Rail Runner. “I update the plan every two years and provide training to the employees,” she says.
As a very engaged volunteer, Paiz also takes time to represent and make presentations for Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI). This is a national nonprofit organization that offers free educational outreach to teach communities about track and train safety.
“I started volunteering with Operation Lifesaver on May 31, 2006,” says Paiz. “My role with Rio Metro aligns well with their mission.” Since her involvement with the organization, Paiz has given more than 800 OLI presentations.
“We do community outreach events,” says Paiz. “We did a safety fair in Gallup a while back – they have the highest rail fatality rate in the state. We had almost 700 people show up at the safety fair. Mostly children and families.”
While there are many things that Paiz teaches about rail safety, she says that the most important thing she wants people to take away from her presentations is to stay away from the tracks. “I want the younger kids to understand that the train is bigger than the tracks. Even walking outside of the railroad ties on the rocks, someone can get hit by a train.”
As for the older kids and adults, she emphasizes trespassing. “Railroads are private property,” says Paiz. “Being on the tracks is trespassing. It is both dangerous and illegal. We don’t want anything bad to happen out there.”
A Rewarding Experience
When it comes to her favorite part of the job, Paiz really enjoys seeing that she has made an impact.
“After a presentation with kids, especially the little guys, it means a lot when they come up afterwards and give me a hug or say thank you. One time I had a little girl come up to me in Walmart who had been in a class I taught the week before. We talked for a few minutes about what she remembered from the presentation and she thanked me. That is the most rewarding thing for me.”
Schedule a Presentation
To schedule a free rail safety presentation or a workplace training, call (505) 245-7245.
Rail Safety Campaign
This feature is part of an ongoing rail safety series. Keep an eye out for a new staff profile each month through the end of 2019. These profiles provide a behind-the-scenes look at what the Rail Runner staff and crew do to help keep you safe.