FRA rolling stock chief Kevin Kesler dies

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WASHINGTON – Kevin Kesler, chief of the Federal Railroad Administration’s rolling stock research and development program, died in early December. He would have been 66 on Dec. 4.

Kesler joined FRA in March 2009, where he also managed a team responsible for R&D in hazardous materials, rolling stock, and human factors. Prior to his post there, he served as vice president of ENSCO Inc., where he had worked since 1975.

More than the years spent in railroading, his colleagues will likely remember him more for his passion for it and the breadth of his interests. In 2012, Kesler delivered the keynote address at Michigan Technological University’s annual Railroad Night. This afforded Pasi Lautela, assistant professor and director of the Rail Transportation Program, an opportunity to get to know him better. Lautela discovered that Kesler had a passion for educating tomorrow’s railroaders.

“A lot of people talk about getting new talent and new people into the industry but it never goes beyond speaking,” Lautela says. Kesler did more than just talk.

In 2013, Lautela created an advisory board for the Rail Transportation Program. He asked Kesler to join, although he did not believe the government employee would be allowed to do so. To his surprise, Kesler did join the board and was instrumental with helping forge its vision. “It feels like he was enthusiastic about every freakin’ thing he did,” Lautela says. He believed the industry needed greater communication and took that approach himself. He was always willing to give his opinion, whether it was in favor of something, or openly critical of it.

Lautela’s fondest memory provides an insight into Kesler’s personality many of us in the industry did not get to see. Kesler helped set up the university’s first Railroad Day and Expo, and brought with him a wayside horn.

“Every hour of the day, he would blast that horn,” Lautela says. “And every time he would giggle. Then he would put it away for an hour. That was so typical of Kevin.”

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